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Of a Linear Circle - Part IX - Serpent in the Grass

Chapter Text

Salazar has been living in the Willow House in Sherwood-on-the-Marsh since the 1600s, but he doesn’t bother changing anything about it but for the plumbing until telephones become common. After that, it’s electricity, because torches and candles are nice, but electricity might be useful. Maybe.

He decides he’s not much impressed by electric lighting, but a wireless qualifies quite nicely. What he doesn’t expect is how fast everything happens. He thought the last few decades of the previous century were bad for sudden, constant changes in human invention, but the 20th century seems intent on being ever faster. Many things are larger, greater—including the wars.

Wireless radio exchanges become programs, which quickly expand to story serials, sporting events, news broadcasts, and record programs. Curiosity drives him to purchase a radiogram when he realizes someone has combined a wireless and a gramophone into a single, polished wooden bit of furniture. This one is capable of playing the newer vinyl records where a gramophone’s steel needle cannot.

Salazar won’t miss shellac records, but the change to plastic makes him shake his head. He coughed his way through the so-called Industrial Revolution. While there are many resulting benefits, he’s not certain that such a speedy transition to factory production was worth the ill health and poor conditions that now plague humanity, plants, and wildlife alike.

“Ah, pollution,” Nizar’s 992 portrait comments from his worn frame.

“Tell me it gets better.”

Nizar snorts. “You want me to lie to you, then?”

“Never mind.”

World War I helped nothing in that regard. Salazar hasn’t been able to stand the idea of going to Europe since the Armistice. The earth beneath his feet screams, never stopping, from all that was so abruptly and terribly done to her. Blood and metal, forests decimated, chemical warfare—mankind has yet to stop learning of new ways to do terrible things to each other.

In particular, fuck mustard gas. Salazar has not had such a terrible wound that took so long to heal since Antioch Peverell attempted to murder him with the bloody Elder Wand. The stupid crossbow bolt through the eye was far easier to cope with in comparison, even if certain painted beings still think the event hilarious—though if not for a nearby healer’s magic, Salazar imagines it would not be remembered quite so fondly.

The experimental wireless-based broadcasts of something called television intrigue him, though Salazar would have to go into London to see the results. As the first televisions are sold, Nizar tells him to hold off on acquiring one, suggesting he wait until the 1960s.

“What will be so special about a television by the 1960s?”

“Not sure.” Nizar lounges across his chair on his back, his hair brushing the floor on one side, his feet supporting him on the other, in a clear sign of boredom. “I think maybe that’s when it starts broadcasting in color.”

“Colorful, moving, broadcasted images.” Salazar blows out a long breath. Gods, but Rowena would be fascinated to see the reason why his little brother’s Recordari charms were always so different. “I’ll most likely be purchasing one sooner than that, if only out of curiosity.” A monochromatic moving image viewable at home is still just as fascinating in concept, even if he has advance warning of its creation thanks to a portrait’s recorded memories.

“What do you know of Grindelwald?”

Nizar’s portrait lifts his head from the floor and glances at him. “The name sounds a bit familiar. Hold on.”

“We have time,” Salazar says, knowing from experience that it can often take the portrait a while to find the earliest things it magically recorded, which would be his actual brother’s own memories. There is quite a bit that the portrait recorded on its own afterwards, century by century. By now, Salazar thinks the portrait’s recorded experiences likely make it unique among magical paintings.

Salazar returns from the kitchen with a cup of tea to find the portrait sitting up on his chair. “I’m not certain about this,” Nizar says warningly, “because that fucking book was the best cure for insomnia money could buy, and it didn’t even cost all that much. I think Grindelwald is mentioned in Hogwarts: A History.”

Salazar frowns. “I’ve heard tell that such a titled book will be published at some point this year. It should be available by now.”

“I honestly cannot believe it’s already 1936.”

“Some days I find it difficult to contemplate the same.” Salazar sips at the tea, strong and bitter. Several hundred years have passed, and still the British are too busy destroying the benefits of tea’s tannic acid with milk and sugar to realize that there are other sorts of teas to be had aside from grass-flavored green and highly astringent black. “I suppose I should purchase this book.”

Nizar’s eye tics before his entire expression twitches. “Sal, please do the entirety of Wizarding Britain a favor: do not read that book until you’ve no choice in the matter.”

“That bad, is it?”

Nizar rolls his eyes. “You’re a historical villain to all except the students of our own House, remember?”

“Yes, but I’ve grown used to that,” Salazar points out. It does help quite a bit that he hasn’t used his own name in public for a very long time.

“You would tear down the entire Ministry for what that book says about Helga alone.”

Salazar pauses, staring at the portrait, before he swallows the tea in his mouth. “Perhaps I will not be purchasing this book. Have you recalled anything about this Grindelwald yet? I only know what the papers have reported, and none of it is promising.”

“I know that, for some reason, Albus Dumbledore defeats Grindelwald in a duel, but that didn’t come from the book. That was on a Chocolate Frog card. No, you probably don’t want to know,” Nizar adds.

“Chocolate frogs.” Salazar shakes his head. “It sounds as if Britain’s magicians decide to focus on silly nonsense.”

“People do weird shit, Sal. That’s nothing new.” Nizar frowns. “Besides, I think the information you’re wanting wasn’t in the first printing. I remember noticing once that the Hogwarts library copy only had the title on the front, but the copy I purchased had something on it about being revised with new information in 1947.”

“Bugger,” Salazar mutters. That sounds very much as if the situation he’s watching unfold in Europe will have quite the historical impact.

“Forget the Prophet and that stupid book. What do the European newspapers say about Grindelwald, Sal?”

“The last delivery I received from France was a mixture of tales,” Salazar replies. “The non-magical and magical communities alike are fearful of the power that Germany has gained for itself. It hasn’t been long enough since the Great War for them to not be concerned by such. Grindelwald seems to be using the distraction to rally like-minded magicians to his cause, and that cause is domination. He wishes for magicians to rule over the non-magical.”

Nizar rolls his eyes. “Sounds like a wonderful guy. I thought it bad enough that Voldemort begins at Hogwarts in two years.”

“It does make me suspect that Grindelwald will be leaving behind the blueprints for a young madman to follow.”

It hadn’t taken long to find the child who will one day choose the name Voldemort. Nizar had once been able to dig the name of Voldemort’s father out of a jumble of terrified recollection from a base necromancy ritual. Salazar found the non-magical Riddles in the quiet village of Little Hangleton, which was still rife with the gossip that the Riddle family’s only son had once run off with a woman of questionable origins before returning with claims that he’d been led astray by lies.

Salazar’s heart jolted uncomfortably in his chest the first time he saw non-magical Tom Riddle, now in his early thirties and still a handsome specimen of a man. The son grows up to look very much like his non-magical father; both have black hair and pale skin, though the elder Riddle didn’t have his son’s blue eyes.

Riddle is not an entirely uncommon name, but Little Hangleton also supplied Salazar with a place and a year for Voldemort’s birth: 1926, London. The files in the Ministry were useless, with no records of Merope’s education, employment, or current address. Salazar turned to the non-magical registries and records, though it took a while to seek out the place where Merope Gaunt birthed her son, named him—and breathed her last, not long after.

Tom Marvolo Riddle was born on the 31st of December, the last day of a dying year before the birth of a new one. Salazar is not one to think of birthdates as portents, but perhaps there are exceptions.

Young Riddle still resides in the place of his birth, Wool’s Orphanage. Salazar needed no tour or personal introduction to find the child in early 1934. He’d idly stood and watched the small, fenced-in play area outside the orphanage, looking for dark heads of hair and pale skin until his eyes landed on Tom Marvolo Riddle. He’d been seven years old at the time, but the other orphans avoided him. Teenagers still consigned to life in an orphanage were afraid of an undersized child; the staff running the orphanage refused to meet Tom Riddle’s gaze.

Salazar was most often of the belief that children had to grow and learn to become monsters, but that child’s eyes were just as cold, just as heartless—just as bloody fucking terrifying—as those he’d once glimpsed in the water when a young man wearing a Hogwarts uniform committed murder.

He studies his brother’s portrait, noting Nizar’s expression. He knows what that look signifies. “There is going to be another war, isn’t there?”

Nizar hesitates before nodding. “Yes.”

“Worse than the Great War?” Salazar asks. Last year, the Italians invaded Ethiopia. In July, Spain faltered and finally plunged itself into a civil war that has been long in brewing, and he fears it will become bloodbath enough to compete with the Reconquista. Germany cut itself from Spain and Italy’s new fascist cloth when it elected Adolf Hitler.

The League of Nations passed a useless Neutrality Act while Germany united its goals first with Italy, then with Japan. China has managed to unite itself to fend off the Japanese Empire’s desire to claim it, but they are already in desperate need of aid that none seem prepared to provide.

Perhaps he is asking his brother’s portrait a stupid question. War is already occurring.

Nizar’s portrait considers Salazar for a minute. “Bear in mind that this is a recorded memory of a faded primary school education that I suspect was not very good in the first place. I tended to read more about science than history…but yes, I think it will be worse. No, I don’t recall when it begins or how it ends, but if Dumbledore has to go to Europe to duel Grindelwald when he can hardly be bothered to leave Britain, you might be looking at two different wars happening right on top of each other.”

“This bloody century,” Salazar mutters, meaning it literally. He will not realize his words are a terrible precognition of what is to come until several years later, and still the worst of it had not yet occurred.

In 1937, Japan again invades China and takes her former capital for itself. The Soviet Union immediately betrays its proclaimed intention to ally with Germany and Japan to instead aid China, most likely in recognition of the fact that China is their first land-based defence against a Japanese invasion from the south. The Japanese Empire is constantly attacking the Soviet coastline, both with the desire to conquer and in anger that their efforts to control China are being thwarted by Soviet assistance. The Chinese welcome their Soviet allies until they realize that the Soviets are claiming parts of their own country as their own. That then becomes its own very special sort of disaster.

Salazar rests his hands over his face as he listens to the news through the wireless. Why is it when men lose their minds, that madness so easily spreads?

In 1938, a united Italy and Germany annexes Austria. Nothing is done to stop them. They move on to stake their claim on part of Czechoslovakia. Still nothing is done but for France and Prime Minister Chamberlain willfully conceding the territory to Germany, ignoring the protests of Czechoslovakia herself. Then the rest of the country is split in two, with part given to Hungary and the rest claimed by Poland.

Grindelwald uses these many distractions to build a massive fortress in Germany, calling it Nurmengard. Salazar reads of the name in a quiet article from a magical newspaper out of Belgium and feels a chill of premonition.

The Nuremberg rallies, he realizes. Gellert Grindelwald has named his home in reflection of the city that hosts Germany’s yearly Nazi rallies. It is also the place where the recent Nuremberg Laws were passed, revoking the citizenship of every Jewish person in Germany. They have since been fleeing the country in droves, oftentimes to no avail. Desperate people are turned away at the borders of other countries for no reason other than the convenient politics of accepted bigotry.

“What the bloody hell is wrong with everyone?” Salazar wonders aloud. “Why are they committing all of these sacrifices, especially when their sacrifices are people who are not themselves?”

“They’re thinking on how much they don’t want another world war,” Nizar’s portrait says irritably. “They’ll give little thought as to who lives and who dies as long as there are no trenches dug and no machine guns to face. They’re just too bloody short-sighted to realize that it’s already too late.”

Salazar gives in and goes to France in 1939, intent on visiting his contacts in Beauxbatons. Instead of a school preparing for a new term, he finds a shelter preparing for war.

“Of course it’s a shelter!” Elise Mercier says to him in disbelief. “Do you not read the newspapers in your country, Saul Luiz?”

Saul grimaces. “I read every newspaper in Europe as well as those of Britain, Headmistress. What is happening?”

“You know there will be war. Yes?” Elise asks.

“Yes. One that is likely to eclipse the previous one that enveloped the Continent, which is a terrible thing to contemplate.”

“Exactly so,” Elise responds, sniffing once before directing her conscripted assistants, older students and teachers alike, to continue their efforts. “Beauxbatons has been well-hidden since it first opened its doors, Saul. It will remain so, but I will not stand by and watch as others suffer. School will continue, as our students will be safer here than they will be if they remain in their homes, but the dormitories will be crowded this year. According to our Seers, they will be crowded for many years to come. Thus, we act now to adjust.” Elise turns back to face him. “Why are you here? Why are you not in Poland?”

“I left Britain early this morning.” He’d arrived not to feel the earth beneath his feet echoing the damage from the Great War, but to an intense, watchful silence. “What has happened in Poland?”

Elise sighs and Summons a copy of that morning’s Des Temps Magiques. “See for yourself.”

Salazar blinks at the front page for a few moments after reading the brief article. “That explains why I felt it should be first September, then,” he murmurs.

Germany and its European allies have just invaded Poland.

“I would say that they cannot do such a thing, but I’m not that sort of fool.” Salazar returns Elise’s newspaper, which she promptly Banishes again. “If they seek Poland after what was done to Czechoslovakia…”

“They will seek everything,” Elise says in agreement.

“Just as Grindelwald does.”

Elise’s lips thin at mention of Grindelwald’s name. “If France has but one kindness granted to her at the moment, it is that Grindelwald has only raided. He has not yet issued an official declaration of war against the magical governments of Europe.”

“Even Wizarding Britain recognizes that to be inevitable, given the trouble Grindelwald has caused. What does he raid for?” Salazar asks.

“No one is yet certain, but he leaves no clues behind as to what he seeks. Those who are magical who live and dwell in Nuremberg, which places them near that monstrosity that Grindelwald has dubbed Nurmengard, have already retreated to places of assumed safety. Some of those families had sense enough to come to my school.” Elise bites her lip, which causes the hard set of her features to soften. At age thirty-five, she is the youngest Head Teacher ever to rule over Beauxbatons, but Elise witnessed the entirety of the Great War, and knows of all the ills that war brings. Salazar can think of none better suited to lead Beauxbatons in this time but her. “Our sorcier and sorcière brethren attempted to warn their neighbors, les gens sans. Most did not listen.”

In less than a year, Germany and its allies hold Luxemburg, Norway, Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands, and France, driving Allied forces from the Commonwealth out of the Continent entirely. By that time, Salazar is working with those magicians who choose to fight rather than shelter, and their entire operation is forced underground. Quite literally, in some instances.

“I hate crypts,” Aurelius Achilles mutters. He’s a German-born magician schooled in France, one who has no love of anything Nazi. Aurelius and his twin sister Alexis both worked in the Magical German Ministry before the election of Hitler; Aurelius was a translator, and Alexis was Magiemiliz[1]. They’ve proven themselves fonts of valuable information, for all that Alexis looks as if she would fit in fine in a burlesque club.

“I worry more about the water coming down from above,” Salazar tries to say, but it’s difficult to be understood when he has a torch in one hand, a map in the other, and his wand clenched between his teeth. They meet Alexis, who is waiting with five others, one of whom is new. The Achilles twins confirmed their new member’s devotion to secrecy before bringing them below the Paris streets, so Salazar has no concerns there.

“We can’t win back Paris. Can we?” Duipuis asks in dejection. Even his dark hair is hanging in limp threads, as if it has also given up.

“Not now. Given the way things are progressing, possibly not for several years yet.” Salazar is glad he left everything of true value to him in the Willow House in England, though he often longs for the company of his brother’s portrait. The occupying Nazis are liberal enough with their bullets that he might’ve lost everything to vultures searching a man believed to be a corpse.

They never find his wand. Some things do not allow themselves to be taken.

A dark-haired, dark-eyed magician who will only allow them to know her name as Marie drops the day’s non-magical newspaper onto the table in disgust. “They call themselves the Axis Powers now. Japan, Italy, Germany. All are in danger of this joining but the Soviets.”

A year. All of it in a single, bloody damned year!

By 1941, Salazar has spent just as much time assisting Libres Sorciers Occidentaux[2] as he did the Freed French Forces and La Résistance. The Resistance has communication firmly established with Britain; the Western Free Wizards are so well-entrenched that it doesn’t need their assistance any longer.

“Why do you help the les gens sans?” Marie asks him. Earlier in the season, their cell made the decision to take on the more difficult act of spying on Gellert Grindelwald and Nazi Germany on their home ground. It is now the end of October, almost Samhain. Salazar and Marie are the only two members of their original cell still in France, but they will not be for much longer.

Salazar has the advantage of being able to spy without disguising himself save for the need to bloody well dye his hair to hide his age. He’s spent the last year crafting the identity of a staunch Spanish fascist sympathizer who finds himself welcomed by Nazis as well as Grindelwald’s allies, though Spain herself will have naught to do with the Axis Powers. Aurelius and Alexis speak their birth language with no trace of a French accent, and appear to be the perfect Nazi Aryan ideal with their pale hair and blue eyes. Marie will have the true difficulty, being both French and Jewish, but she refuses to remain behind. The potion Salazar brews changes the color of Marie’s hair on her entire body, but everything else, she insists on doing herself.

“Why would I not help them? They are also living beings. Their use of magic should not matter a whit,” Salazar finally replies when the last patrols are gone. It’s easier, after that, to find a safe route in the darkness. If the country had bothered to keep to its own borders, they would now officially be in Germany.

“Grindelwald is meant to be a sorcier’s only concern.”

Salazar keeps lookout while Marie chooses the place where she will bury everything remaining that is precious to her: gold star of David, the lace handkerchief that holds all that remains of her hope chest, and photographs of lost family members. Some were executed. Others were imprisoned, yet cannot be found in any prison cell in France.

“Given how Germany treats your own people, I think you already know why I would also help those without magic.”

Marie returns to his side, brushing her dirty hands off on her trousers before straightening. “I do. It’s why we like you, Saul. You understand that there is more than one reason why this war cannot merely be endured. It must be fought, and it must be won.”

The fascist Spaniard magician Saul Luiz easily secures a meeting with Gellert Grindelwald. His picture has been in the newspapers, but in black and white print only. In person, he has white-blond hair, pale skin, and harsh, piercing pale blue eyes. He is nearing the age of sixty, the sharp planes of his features beginning to soften with age, but he all but radiates power and charisma. It’s no wonder so many fools have joined together under his banner—and it is a stupid banner. Grindelwald does not care where his allies come from so long as they are useful to him.

It will be hard to gain his trust to be an effective spy. Grindelwald is paranoid, but not without justification, and intelligent enough to turn paranoia into caution and an excess of security measures. Bloody hell, Salazar never thought he would miss any part of the Great War!

That first meeting in November grants him one thing, though, and it’s terrifying in its importance. The moment Grindelwald drops his wand into his hand to curse a sycophant who refuses to keep his mouth from spewing dangerous words, Salazar recognizes the carved length of the Elder Wand.

Salazar spends a great deal of time the next day by himself, pacing a rural bit of land and swearing under his breath while clenching his jaw. As if Grindelwald’s base of power was not enough of a problem, there is a cursed and powerful wand to contend with. It explains why magicians from America as well as an Allied International Confederacy group failed in their attempts to kill the bastard. It takes special circumstances, or outright foolishness on the wielder’s part, to overcome the Elder Wand.

It also stirs anew Salazar’s anger against his little brother’s caretakers during Nizar’s childhood. “The Tale of the Three Brothers” is now a popular Wizarding nursery story throughout the British Isles, Europe, and even the Americas, but Nizar had never heard of the Deathly Hallows until they were placed into Salazar’s hands.

Salazar hasn’t seen the Wand since Antioch attempted to murder him with it. His last glimpse of the Resurrection Stone was in the ring that Valerian, Cadmus’s son, passed on to his eldest when young Antonitis came of age. The last time he saw the Cloak—aside from the one safely stored away in the Willow House—Iolanthe had just died, and it was being given by Ignotus to his grandson Nobilis. It was once meant to go to Wychardus, but his parents outlived their only son.

He knows the Cloak is somewhere in the hands of a Potter magician in England. The unexpected difficulty is that there are many magical Potter families, all of them descended from Ignotus and Iolanthe Peverell. Only one of those family branches will hold Death’s own Cloak of Invisibility, and thanks to records lost during the fires in London during the 1600s, Salazar hasn’t the first clue which of them it might be. He could trace that particular lineage backwards after that, but only once he discovers if the family bearing the Cloak knows those lost names. Ignotus was a good lad, but he and his wife were not the source of his little brother’s Deslizarse blood.

In the second week of December, German newspapers gleefully print the news that Japan assaulted Pearl Harbor, the shipyards for the majority of vessels in the United States Navy. It is considered both a success and a massacre, a sign that Germans will prevail.

“Fuck that,” their newest spy mutters. Lewis is a blond man with blue eyes from Ireland. His family’s original plan didn’t include Lewis leaving the family pub (which will be his inheritance from his grandfather), but Lewis’s father died when the Germans pushed the Allied forces off the Continent. That was enough for Lewis to know where he was meant to be; he found his own way across the Channel and joined the first group of spies to recognize his talents. The man is so very Gaelic is nearly hurts to listen to him speak, but when he isn’t being true to his roots, Lewis can fake German mannerisms and regional accents better than any of them.

“They’ve not won any sort of victory, not by stirring up the Americans,” Lewis continues. “That’s like stickin’ your hand into a beehive an’ expectin’ the bees will sit all nice and docile-like as you rob them blind.”

“Given Germany’s easy victories but for the Commonwealth Allies, I would not be surprised if they expected exactly that,” Marie says in a bitter voice. “The article mentions that this was almost the whole of the American fleet.”

“They’ve other boats than those, and more can be built,” Lewis insists. “I’ve got a good feeling about it!”

Alexis rolls her eyes. “Saul, you’re the master of Divination. What do you think?”

I think I would dearly love to ask my brother’s irritating portrait so many questions right now. “I’ve no idea. They were only just recovering from an economic downfall that rivaled that of Germany’s fate after the Great War.” England had also felt the sting of the American Depression, but recovered quickly in comparison.

Salazar gestures until Alexis understands and passes him her half-full wine glass. It’s easier with his wand, but he doesn’t need one to read the water as long as his focus is true. They’ve plenty of candles to cast the right sort of light for rich reflections.

The very first thing he sees is a misty shoreline. Then the imagery skips ahead to boats approaching. The boats beach themselves in the sand before they reach land. Their fronts open, and soldiers—thousands of soldiers—are disgorged from their insides. Within moments, the ocean is as red as the wine, but still the soldiers keep surging forward. Salazar sees patches of Commonwealth colors, but mixed among them are also many to mark soldiers from the United States.

“Yes, they’ll join the war, but it seems the Allies will not land again in northern Europe without paying a stiff price for it,” Salazar tells the others.

“When?” Maxime Moscovici asks. She’s an Ashkenazi Jewish magician, French by way of her father and Romani by way of her mother. She taught Romani magic at Beauxbatons until news reached her of what coup-conquered and turncoat Nazi Romania had done to her family. Headmistress Elise Mercier sent her to Saul two months previous. “We need hope, Saul. It will be easier to fight if we know that we are not alone.”

“We are never alone,” Salazar counters, but magically prods at Alexis’s wine glass once more. He needs a date, something strongly tied to this oceanic bloodbath. An image grudgingly appears for him, that of a newspaper opened by someone with angry hands. Salazar freezes the image, squinting to read the date. “1944, but I cannot make out the month. January, June, or July. I suspect June.”

“Christ in Heaven,” Lewis whispers in the complete, haunting silence that follows Salazar’s words. “Three years from now?”

“Two years and some months, not three. Do not make it sound worse than it is,” Aurelius scolds him.

“Two years.” Marie regards her wine thoughtfully before drinking the remainder. “We’ve proved to British wizards that there is much that can be done on Continental soil. It’s high time we gained more from the Commonwealth than mere volunteers.”

Some of those volunteers, Salazar knows, are here already. When the Blitz began, a united magical defence arose to counter it. No offensive was mounted, no plans made other than the protection of British soil. When young magicians realized this, they joined non-magical soldiers in the Army, Navy, and the RAF in order to travel, to fight back. That this takes them away from Britain is a price they have chosen to pay, and Salazar will see to it that the Ministry respects those losses even if he has to bribe every last stingy, bigoted old bag of bones on the Wizengamot.

The next summer grants them another bit of good news, the last they’ll receive for quite some time. Wizarding Britain finally gets off its arse and begins participating in the war with the official creation of magical brigades. Some of them are intermixed groups of magicians and non-magical soldiers, proof of the Wizarding Britain’s Minister for Magic and the British Prime Minister’s pledge to present a united front for the duration of the war. Not everyone knows, of course, as the Ministry is still focused on maintaining their International Statute of Secrecy, but the current Minister all but steamrolled the Wizengamot to make certain there was internal cooperation between governments.

By 1943, it’s obvious that nothing much has changed. The promised magical brigades could not safely make it across the Channel. There are so many Nazis and bloody Wizarding Nazis on the Continent that boats are not a possibility. Even using a Port Key not approved of by Grindelwald is noticed at once. Morale among spies is sitting somewhere down in a mine shaft.

Grindelwald has magical control over everything Germany holds, which is most of Western Europe. His lack of progress ends with Spain and Italy, and his attempt to invade the Soviet bloc went as well as Hitler’s recent attempt—badly.

“Does no one learn from others’ mistakes?” Salazar asked Aurelius. “Do they not remember the name Napoleon?”

“Apparently they do not, or think they could succeed where he failed.” Aurelius snorts. “I hear rumors that Soviet snipers are immune to the cold, and had a fine time hunting their prey during the winter.”

“It’s like watching a polar bear attempt to invade Spain from the Mediterranean end,” Salazar mutters, which causes Lewis to snort and then choke on his own spit and laughter. Salazar smiles at Lewis, but rubs his temple with one hand while doing so.

Marie notices first, even though Salazar tries to keep the difficulty to himself. Considering the ways and means in which Marie places herself in harm’s way, Salazar is often amazed she is still alive. “You’re tired. More than the others.”

Salazar smiles at her and shares her canteen when it is offered. “I am a bit older than I look.”

“You look fine. I don’t speak of your appearance, you vain fool.” Marie watches the skirmish below as it unfolds, a batch of magicians from the French resistance fighting against an unfortunate group of Nazis who stumbled over their camp. Salazar discovered during the Great War that revolvers have no concern for magic, but semi-automatic or automatic firearms are not much fond of it.

Very few non-magical soldiers wander around with limited revolvers these days, not when a semi-automatic will hold more rounds. That is one group of Nazis who will not be leaving their chosen valley.

“Then what is it you speak of?”

“Magic. Your magic is tired,” Marie says. “Even though I see you expend very little of it.”

“I am an Earth Speaker. I do not necessarily ever stop,” Salazar replies. What he feels through the Earth is certainly not helping. It wasn’t so bad in 1939, but the accumulating damage is wearing on him.

“Not that, either. Who is calling for you that you ignore?” Marie asks bluntly. “Is it assistance they require while you remain in Germany, spying and fighting with us?”

“You have excellent Sight.” Perhaps there is a very good reason why Marie has survived so long, after all. “I bear a noble magical title in Spain, but Spain has been without a monarch since her king left the throne in an attempt to avert civil war.” Not that it had worked very well, or at all.

Aside from his brother’s portrait, Salazar has not spoken to anyone else of the distinctive, repeating chime of insistent magic that’s been plaguing him. Magical titles do not simply end because a king abandons his throne, and the magical title of Castile has been demanding that Salazar restore a royal ruler to Spain since 1931. It would have been better if Alfonso XIII had officially dissolved the monarchy instead of fleeing to another country. Over a decade of listening to that chime, of feeling that compulsion, is as tiring as it is frustrating.

With Salazar not responding to his kingdom, the magic of the throne might be seeking out his little brother, too. Salazar hopes that Nizar’s portrait within Hogwarts is protected from that call, else the students of their House might receive more of an education in language than they bargained for.

“I am not the only magician from my country who is hearing that insistent call, but to answer it right now would mean the death of any monarch we attempted to safeguard, and likely cause our deaths, as well.”

Marie is sympathetic as well as curious, but doesn’t ask questions that Salazar cannot answer. “That must be difficult to deal with.”

“One can get used to anything.” It’s the truth, but Salazar has never gone so long without a ruler sitting upon an Iberian throne. He is nine hundred seventy-four years old, and that is a long time to be used to a magic that never once changed its call…until it suddenly did.

Salazar taps into an Earth that is ever more unhappy, crosses an angry Channel, and visits London to give reports regarding their progress, or their lack of it. He goes home long enough to ensure that the Willow House is still standing, and takes a bottle or three of aging wine from his cellar. Germany might not be suffering the ration shortages of England, but Salazar has better taste. If an evening’s enjoyment of a rare vintage is the only thing he can give to the others to lift their spirits, he’ll willingly grant it.

Their luck turns, or it gets worse. Salazar often thinks it is both, but for whatever reason, Gellert Grindelwald is suddenly far more interested in Saul Luiz and Alexis Achilles. Grindelwald grows fond of them, even to the point of tolerating Salazar and Alexis’s “lesser” allies, which forces them to keep their safehouses nearer to Nuremberg. It’s dangerous, bordering on foolish, but the others are limited by anti-Apparition zones that are becoming thicker on the ground. With half of them now ensconced in Grindelwald’s court in some fashion, and the other half trusted by the Nazis controlling the city, it would be odd if they had no local address.

They move just in time. Nurmengard was already surrounded by anti-Apparition wards, but suddenly the whole of Nuremberg is surrounded by them, as well. They must continue their ruse to keep gathering the information they can, and in doing so, they’ve cut themselves off from the very people who need to receive it. Salazar is the only one who can tap into the Earth and cut through the terrible feel of the wards crawling across his skin, but he now finds himself trapped for weeks at a time in that foul man’s fucking castle. It goes on for so long that both Churchill and Minister Spencer-Moon must believe him dead. He doesn’t think either man would miss him overly much.

Finally, they’re granted a reprieve from Grindelwald’s company. Grindelwald is off to campaign in the eastern bloc in an attempt to gain Soviet allies with words instead of weapons, and only a few of his most trusted lieutenants accompany him. Grindelwald is hoping to gain favor by reminding the Soviets of his Austro-Hungarian heritage. Salazar finds the idea amusing; Grindelwald seems to have forgotten why the countries he courts are not much fond of Austrians.

Salazar and Alexis escape Nurmengard and go their separate ways, returning to the addresses in the city that Grindelwald and the Nazis believe to be theirs. Salazar is in no mood to keep to the walkways and takes a shortcut through a park, hands stuffed into the pockets of his suit coat and a scowl on his face. He’s exhausted, and is thinking on little else but his fierce desire for this fucking war to be ended already.

His sense of Divination screams of danger almost all the time now. It leaves him a bit deaf to true moments of impending calamity, and thus he has almost no warning at all. Instead, he hears the shrieking whistle all of Germany is learning to fear.

“Dammit,” Salazar mutters. He commits to a bit of Desplazarse that puts him on the other side of the park—just before a bomb turns the park, the street, and several buildings east of him into trenches, dust, and rubble.

When Salazar lifts his head, his ears ringing from the blast, he is lying in a new ditch. A halted wave of plowed earth is still dropping clumps of soil and pebbles down onto his head. “Mis dioses.

“You can certainly say that again, please and thank you.”

Salazar jerks his head in the direction of very precise King’s English in a place it most certainly doesn’t belong. The man opposite him in the ditch has very dark brown hair with odd glints of color and pale skin, though he was sensible enough not to dress as blatantly English as he speaks. The Nazi officer’s uniform he’s wearing would definitely have helped him to avoid being stopped by patrols. Not a single pin or patch is out of place. Just enough rank to remain unquestioned, but not so much that others would look to him for command decisions.

Then the Englishman lifts his head, and Salazar finds himself locking gazes with a man whose eyes are not merely hazel, but exactly like his own. Salazar’s magic, which has grown unused to having family to sing to, causes Salazar to sit up in abrupt recognition.

Family. This man is of his blood—distantly, but he is Deslizarse nonetheless.

Then the world decides it a fine time to remind Salazar that there are downsides to being a spy. Not all of Germany is fond of the Nazi regime.

Bastarde!” a young voice yells. Salazar can’t find them through the rising haze of smoke and dust.

The grenade that lands between Salazar and a wide-eyed English spy, however, is a bit obvious.

“Oh—fuck me,” Salazar bites out. He throws himself over the bedamned thing, calling upon the Earth to pull it down into the soil before the grenade explodes.

It works and it doesn’t. The blast is contained, muffled by the earth, but the force of it is still directed upwards. The world tilts on its axis in a wild spin before Salazar lands heavily on his side.

The English spy has an excellent grasp of German, accompanied by proper inflection, and has no difficulty in shouting his anger. “You fools! You have no idea what you’ve done!” Pistol shots follow his words. Salazar recognizes the sharp barks of a Mauser .30 caliber, one that doesn’t seem to have received the news about not working near magic.

Then the Englishman who shares Salazar’s eyes is rolling him over. “My God. I feared you dead already.”

Salazar lifts his head long enough to catch a glimpse of the large red stain spreading across the front of his shirt and jacket. “Alas, you’ll have to tolerate me for a bit longer,” he says, tasting blood. He is hurt, badly, if he is not yet feeling the wound.

“We have to find a medic,” his English friend says. It worries Salazar even more when being scooped up from the ground also does not hurt. “My healing spells were never much good for anything.”

“Start speaking German again before someone bloody notices,” Salazar tells him. “Idiot. Do you not know what they do to spies in this country?”

“Throw grenades at them, it would seem,” his rescuer says dryly, but at least this time he is speaking German. There are a nuances local to Nuremberg that he lacks, but that would be easily explained by claiming he originates elsewhere.

Salazar smiles. “Logical point.”

“This is not how I expected to find you, Saul Luiz.”

Salazar blinks a few times, annoyed by the feel of grit trapped beneath his eyelids. “You know who I am?”

“I was sent here to find you, actually,” the man admits. “You’re considered valuable enough to both our leaders that they wanted to know if you were alive, dead, or had decided upon a convenient exchange of priorities.”

“What a fanciful way of saying traitor.” Salazar closes his eyes for a moment and blacks out. When things come back into focus, they are much further away from the destroyed park. He can hear the whistles that signify other falling bombs, but they’re distant, following an eastern path that is counter to their western stumbling. His rescuer has to stop twice when he is addressed by Nazi squads who’ve been stationed in the city long enough to recognize Salazar, though the non-magical know him as Fernan Suero. The magicians always meet Saul Luiz. Grindelwald finds the translation of Salazar’s chosen name to be amusing.

“Fool! If Suero dies before I find a medic, you’ll be the next man I shoot! Now get out of my way!” The English spy marches on without waiting for the Nazi sergeant’s stuttered response.

“What a way you have with words,” Salazar slurs in Euskaran. He doubts the Englishman understood that. Blood loss is no man’s friend. “Wie heißen du?

“Harry.”

Salazar stares up at him in disbelief. “Hari? Really?”

“Truly. Well, it’s Henry Simon Potter, if you wish to be formal. First lieutenant, first battalion of the combined wizard and Muggle infiltration forces under the joint command of Minister for Magic Spencer-Moon and Prime Minister Churchill.”

“Hari,” Salazar says again, and starts giggling. That hurts, a burn in his chest and a deep ache in his belly. Any other man would be dead by now, a fact that only makes him laugh harder.

“I’ve read that blood loss makes a man giddy, but this is excessive,” Henry Potter comments. He’s gone right back to English again. “Do cease that at once and tell me how to find a medic in this godforsaken city!”

Salazar rattles off the address of the closest safehouse, though he has no idea if their new healer is in residence. “Can you find it?”

“Perhaps, but I didn’t have much time to study a map of Nuremberg before my arrival. Nothing today has gone according to plan, including the bombs. Their target time was dawn, and they must’ve missed it, since two hours ’til noon is most assuredly not sunrise.”

“Dammit.” He’s left with no choice, then. “Left jacket pocket. Spanish coin. Port Key.” It takes Salazar a ridiculous length of time to remember the activation phrase. “Bugger this for a lark.” At least Grindelwald isn’t in Germany at the moment to wonder at the use of an illegal Port Key.

“Last resort, hmm? Wise of you, given the tales we’ve heard. They chill a man’s blood.” Henry Potter glances around and then retrieves the coin not with a hand or a wand, but Summons it with a twitch of his fingers. “By all that’s holy, please don’t tell anyone I did that. I’m meant to be portraying a Muggle. Bugger this for a lark.”

Salazar vomits when the hook and twist of the Port Key ends. Right, that. He’d forgotten the other reason why he didn’t want to use that means of travel. Injuries such as these do not mix well with a Port Key’s abrupt magic.

“Oh, now what the fuck is this?” he hears Lewis asks in disbelief. “A Nazi, and—Saul? What the hell happened to you?”

“Young man, I believe that is rather obvious,” Henry Potter says, his voice authoritative. “Fetch your medic, and do it quickly, or they might not have anyone to save when they arrive.”

“Right. Yeah. I’m off to find her,” Lewis responds, and Disapparates with a crack. Salazar despairs of teaching that one to mute his magical travel. Marie mastered such years ago.

“Better.” Henry Potter kicks the kitchen table onto its side to clear it of its contents, then rightens it again with another practiced kick. He places Salazar on its rough wood and lets out a sigh. “That will have to do for the moment. Even with magical healing, a good medic should have water nearby. You, sir, are quite the mess.”

A rich, Pure-blooded Potter, Salazar thinks. It fits with his little brother’s history, but neither of them had any idea who Nizar’s grandfather had been or what he might be like, much less the man who may possibly be his great-grandfather.

Then again, there are so many Potter families. This man may be nothing more than a distant cousin…but somehow, Salazar doesn’t think so. He has come across no other Potter in England whose magic sings with the familiarity of House Deslizarse.

“Henry Potter.” Salazar feels a smile stretch across his face. So far, Henry Potter seems a sensible man, and Salazar is much fond of sensible. “I’ve been looking for you for quite a while, also.”

“Do be quiet, Saul Luiz,” Henry Potter chides him. “That is…you Spaniards must be a stubborn lot. I honestly don’t know how it is you’re still breathing.”

He must pass out again; Salazar wakes up trying not to shriek. “Fuck, what the hell—!” he manages, and chokes down the rest of his words.

Henry Potter glares at Salazar with his too-familiar eyes. He took off his officer’s jacket, bundled it up, and is pressing it against Salazar’s belly. “There is absolutely no need for that sort of language.”

“The fuck there isn’t!” Salazar’s voice goes high-pitched with pain. “One of those fucking rank pins is in my bloody spleen, dammit!”

Henry Potter pauses. “Well, I’ll grant you that bloody is quite accurate.”

Salazar and Henry Potter stare at each other before they both collapse into near-hysterical laughter. It hurts, fucking gods, he wasn’t exaggerating about that bedamned pin! “I’ve heard the Allies have shot men for that!” Salazar gasps out.

“I’d most likely deserve it,” Henry Potter agrees, but he’s still holding his ruined jacket in place. “You’re a special sort of man, aren’t you, Saul Luiz?”

“You’ve no idea.”

“But I’d very much like to find out,” Henry Potter responds. “You’ve survived this long, Saul. You had best not die on me before a healer or a medic arrives!”

The prod from Salazar’s magic is so strong that he is never certain afterwards if it’s the family magic, or his own divination talents screaming necessity at him. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. He understands what it wants, if not why.

“Henry. Hari.” Dammit. Salazar really did try to get it right. “There is no need for any healer to rush.” He swallows down blood, feels the sharp crunch and slide of dirt in his teeth. “I literally cannot die.”

Henry Potter draws back from the table, his eyes narrowing. “I didn’t realize Wizarding Britain would rely on a spy who would dare to use the Darkest of magics.”

“What?” Salazar stares at Henry Potter in confusion until he realizes what the man is implying. “No. No Horcrux. S’foul. It’s an…an entirely different sort of curse.” Then he blacks out once more.

 

[1] German: Magic Militia, i.e. the equivalent of British Hit Wizards

[2] French: Free Western Wizards

Chapter Text

“You’re a part of the Secret Intelligence Service, you know,” Henry Potter says the next time he wakes. Salazar is in significantly less pain, no longer bleeding, and his internal organs feel like they might be in the right places again. “No, don’t get up,” Henry Potter hurries to add when Salazar lifts his head. “Matron Schneider still means to have another go at your insides. You’ve a number of operatives who are quite worried about you.”

Salazar lets himself thump back down onto the table, but there is something soft beneath his head now. A folded suit jacket, perhaps, considering that his is missing and he’s now covered with a quilt. “Since when am I part of SIS?”

“MI6, actually, if you wish to shorten it,” Henry Potter corrects him. “The Germans are well aware of what SIS stands for, but MI6 is still a bit new. And you’ve been marked as part of MI6 since 1939. Madam Moscovici reported that you’ve been on the ground in France, helping to organize the resistance cells on both sides, since the war began in September that year. Then you moved camp to Germany and continued reporting on both the Nazis and that arrogant fool Grindelwald, which made Churchill rather pleased. Minister Spencer-Moon backdated your paperwork, and Prime Minister Churchill authorized it. When you stopped reporting in, both of Britain’s ministers wanted to know what happened to one of our most efficient spies. Thanks to my service in the Great War, my German is excellent. I volunteered to seek you out.”

“Being an efficient spy is terrible, then. It means I endure Grindelwald’s company far longer than I would prefer,” Salazar rasps.

“Can I get you anything?” Henry Potter asks, standing up from his chair. “You sound dreadful.”

Salazar’s throat is too dry, but the thought of attempting to consume water is nauseating. His thirst can wait. “No, not yet. Thank you.” He swallows and thinks he can probably manage a proper accounting, if a brief one. “I have most recently been forced to endure Grindelwald’s dubious hospitality for two solid months. Such has been happening often of late, much as I despise him. He took too much of a liking to myself and Alexis Achilles. It’s difficult to get away from someone who is as clingy as he is vile. I’d only just been granted opportunity to be away from Nurmengard when we encountered each other.”

“I’m not certain I would consider it an encounter. More as if we were nearly blown up together.” Henry Potter hesitates. “That grenade. You saved my life.”

“I was trying to send it into the earth so it would not harm either of us.” Salazar licks his lips until they feel less cracked. “I wasn’t fast enough, but I’m glad you weren’t harmed by it.”

“How is it that you cannot die? I don’t know how such a thing can be possible without…well. You did say it was not a Horcrux. Given your actions yesterday, I believe you, but I was never taught of anything else that could preserve life as yours has been. Matron Schneider was quite certain that your wounds should have been fatal. She ascribes your survival to my swift actions, but we both know that isn’t the reason you survived.”

Salazar grimaces at the idea of sleeping through an entire day. “If I’m meant to be MI6, I suppose there is a dossier with my name on it?”

“There is. I was allowed unrestricted access to what is known about you, which isn’t much.” Henry Potter’s words aren’t accusatory, merely curious. “You’re a British citizen of Spanish descent.” Salazar snorts; he is not British. “You’ve a house in the East Midlands, in Nottinghamshire, which appears to have been in your family for many generations. You’re known to both Minister Churchill and Minister Spencer-Moon due to your service in the Great War, though you refused any public recognition afterwards. That you’re a wizard isn’t in doubt in the slightest—oh, yes, that reminds me.” Henry Potter stands up and presses something into Salazar’s lax hand. “I’m terribly sorry for absconding with it, but it needed to be cleaned.”

Salazar wraps his fingers around his cherrywood wand, reassured by the press of carved runes against his skin. “Thank you.”

Henry Potter fusses with the quilt and frowns. “Why is it that you know of Horcruxes? I only know the basics of their existence, and that through learning of them from family, not schooling.”

Salazar closes his eyes. “I know of them to destroy them.”

He blearily returns to consciousness a short while later, given that Henry Potter is still the one sitting watch over him. He could possibly drink something now and not be ill, but he feels far too dizzy. “Out of Blood-Replenishing Potions, aren’t we?”

“Unfortunately,” Henry Potter answers. He glances towards the sitting room before returning his attention to Salazar. “You said it was a different sort of curse.”

It takes Salazar a minute to recall what he’d spoken of, when, and why. “You said before…” His throat isn’t as parched, and his teeth are no longer gritty. Elsa must have lost patience with his slumbering and decided she wasn’t about to let her newest victim die from lack of water. “That dossier. Did it mention I’ve a mastery in Divination?”

“It said nothing about a mastery, but there was mention that you were prodigiously talented at Divination,” Henry Potter says.

“It’s a natural talent. Thankfully, it is not Cassandra’s Curse.” Salazar thinks for a moment. How best to word this, when he’d planned never to reveal it at all? Perhaps if he’d not been bleeding and injured, he would have kept his wits about him long enough to resist that magical prodding. However, the damage is done. “A long time ago, I looked upon the water. My mother—she was just trained enough in her magic to be a Water-Speaker. I am not; I’m an Earth-Speaker, but water has always been my best medium for divination.”

“I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve no idea what you mean by Water-Speaker and Earth-Speaker,” Henry Potter says. “I would assume from the context that you mean a type of elemental magic.”

“Yes, but of the sort that isn’t taught. You’re born to it, or you are not.”

“I see.” Henry Potter waves his hand. “My apologies. I’m wearing you out by demanding explanations, but…”

“But you’ve concerns. I would feel similarly.” Salazar smiles. “I once saw that a threat to our world would arise, one that would require assistance to dispatch. Wizarding Britain has…they’ve forgotten so much, Henry Potter.”

“Just Henry, please,” Henry insists, but he looks gravely concerned. “You’re older than you appear, aren’t you?”

Salazar nods. “A bit.”

“And you don’t want others to know.”

“Sometimes I’ve told others,” Salazar says, “and it did not go well. They react as you did, fearful of vile magic, but were not convinced by the truth. Some have attempted to do terrible things. I’d rather those I spy with worry about this war and their safety, not concern themselves with my intentions.”

Henry shakes his head. “You could have kept your silence.”

“You witnessed my survival of an event that would have killed another man. What else was I to do?”

“Call it a miracle and leave it be, I should think,” Henry says wryly. “Why tell me? Why not let it be?”

“In truth?” Salazar swallows again, still tasting the echo of dirt and copper. Spots are beginning to steal his vision. “I really don’t know.”

If Henry speaks again, Salazar doesn’t hear. The next time he wakes, he feels badly bruised, sore, and tired, but no longer injured. He is also in the safehouse’s upstairs bedroom, tucked into a proper bed, cleaned up and dressed in someone else’s nightshirt. The eastern sunlight streaming in through the windows tells Salazar he has likely slept through another day.

The house lacks plumbing except for the kitchen, but a cast iron tub is in the bedroom, placed near the bedroom’s stone hearth. Salazar finds his wand on the bedside table and all but tosses magic in that direction so water will begin to collect in the tub, though the act makes his head spin. He waits until the dizziness passes before calling forth the wood and flame needed to have a cheerful fire. It might be late summer, but blood loss can chill a man’s bones for days afterwards.

Marie barges into the bedroom just before Salazar falls asleep in the bathtub. “Good gods, woman!” he yelps, grabbing his wand to Summon the nearest bit of cloth to cover himself.

“Oh, please. You don’t have anything that I’m the least bit interested in,” Marie retorts, dragging over the nearest chair before sitting next to the tub. “You’ve healed up well.”

“And you’ve forgotten your bloody manners,” Salazar mutters, vexed. The standards of modesty in this century are changing just as fast as its gadgetry.

“You’ve always said that if it was of vital importance, you didn’t care if we were yanking you out of the toilet so long as we told you,” Marie says.

That makes Salazar’s blood run cold, no matter the warmth of the water. “What has happened?”

“Alexis left Nurmengard in your company. The two of you split up to return to your respective safehouses.”

“Yes…” Salazar frowns. He hasn’t seen or heard the twins’ voices since Henry brought him here. “That is what we usually do. What went wrong?”

“Alexis was caught—not by Grindelwald’s people, who would have known to leave her alone. After the bombing, the Nazi patrols were thicker than usual, and…” Marie presses her lips together, allowing Salazar to finally recognize the shine of rage in her dark eyes. “The Nazis took an interest in her. It didn’t matter that Alexis is German, that she is blonde and blue-eyed. What mattered to that band of foul bastards is that she was a pretty woman walking alone. Alexis didn’t defend herself, thinking it would be a simple detainment until they confirmed her German birth…”

Salazar closes his eyes and prepares himself for the worst sort of news. “Have we lost her?” If Alexis is gone, Aurelius will not be long for this world, either.

“Alexis is still alive, though she doesn’t seem fond of that fact. We can’t leave her alone; she’s a on suicide watch.” Marie flexes her hands into temporary claws, a sign of the Animagus training she’d begun but never had opportunity to complete.

“What of these Nazis? Because if they aren’t dead already—”

“They are. Aurelius dealt with them.” Marie hesitates. “Because Grindelwald is fond of Alexis, Aurelius has earned a high place in Nurmengard for his swift retribution.”

“I suppose it’s nice to know that Grindelwald’s bargains with Nazis carry as much weight as those he makes with us.” Salazar breathes out a sigh and thinks he’s probably had as much peace as can be expected from this day. “Find me something to wear, please. I am not going downstairs in the nude, no matter your lack of interest.”

“Already done.” Marie retrieves a satchel from her trouser pocket, unshrinks it, and tosses it onto the bed. “We’re waiting for you in the kitchen. Don’t take too long. Don’t fall on your face, either.”

When Salazar does make his way downstairs later, it’s to find a literal full house awaiting him. The safehouse was never meant to host so many.

Aurelius is present, and nods when Salazar glances at him; someone trustworthy is sitting with Alexis, then. Salazar, Aurelius, Maxime, Alexis, and Marie are the only survivors of the original resistance cell they built together in France.

They lost Duipuis early in 1942. Evan fell to the wands of Wizarding Nazis later that same year. Beauchamp was not killed, but died of a sudden and unexpected aneurism in 1941. Belgian cousins Tessa and Mae were taken from them in 1940, caught and executed by overzealous allies who thought them to be traitors. Lysandra, an Englishwoman and magician who’d become trapped in France when the country was invaded while she visited with family. Marius and William, a Frenchman and his Welsh spouse, were two of their first losses in 1939. Joan, who’d assumed the Anglicized name of her country’s great hero, Jeanne d’Arc, was their third. Ulysses, Albrecht, and Jones died in January during a coordinated Nazi strike against one of the safehouses. The Nazis who killed them were searching for non-magical spies, but even magicians can be defeated by heavy artillery fire if they’re not aware of the danger.

Lewis of Ireland remains with them, His talents have matured, and his spying is ever bolder.

Madam Isabella Schneider, who prefers Elsa when not demanding she be known by her healer’s title, is a recent and valued addition. She is also a fully trained non-magical nurse who works shift in the local hospital, overhearing furtive whispers while attending her soldier patients.

Hornkoff is a tailor of local renown who gains their intelligence by way of his profession. Too many foolish Nazi officers think nothing of confiding their secrets to their favorite tailor.

John Morgan is another non-magical man, though he is wed to a female magician. His former occupation in England as a banker has served them well in keeping their finances out of Nazi hands.

Hopkirk is also from England, a Pure-blood who speaks of little that isn’t to do with spying on the Pure-blooded Wizarding Nazis who haven’t yet earned a place in Nurmengard. Salazar knowns that Hopkirk has a young daughter named Mafalda, but that is all.

Annette Rothschild is much like Maxime, a female magician on the warpath after Nazis arrested the whole of her family in Luxembourg for the sole crime of being Jewish. She did, at least, finally answer Salazar’s curiosity as to any potential relation to the Protestant magical Rothschild family in England, to which she claimed there is none unless it is so distant as to be ancient.

Richter is a non-magical man who is exceptionally closed-mouthed when it comes to sharing any details about himself, but he’s local to Nuremberg and would lose his family as well as his life if his true identity were revealed. He provides the cell with secrets, supplies, weapons, and words they might otherwise never acquire on their own.

Kaiser is a non-magical woman related to someone in high command in Berlin. She goes only by a spy’s nickname rather than endanger the rest of her family, who are not as impressed with the Nazis as her high-ranked relation. She was a teacher before Hitler’s election, but resigned rather than teach Nazi propaganda, and now hides in plain sight as an overlooked housekeeper working in a Nazi officer’s household—one who has trouble keeping his secrets to himself.

Winter Sauer is a Water-Speaker introduced to the cell by Kaiser as a friend. Winter admits that she is going by a nickname her parents gave her, as she has always had a fascination for ice, but Sauer is true enough. Salazar told her that her fondness for ice reminded him of his brother.

Issam Yilmaz is the youngest member of the cell at age nineteen, whose non-magical Turkish family moved to Germany after the Ottoman Empire’s dissolution in 1923. He was in law school before Germany decided it wasn’t in the mood to tolerate anyone from war-neutral Turkey, and now walks the streets of Nuremberg as a talented confidence man who changes his name as often as others change their pants.

David Nowak escaped the German occupation of Poland using resistance cells that formed before Poland was invaded, created by groups who already understood the danger that Nazi Germany posed. His original task was to warn the rest of Europe of Germany’s intentions only to realize he was too late. He remained with their cell after recognizing the danger of Grindelwald and the strategic importance of Nuremberg. The man is brilliant with explosives; with magicians as close cousins, he knows how to handle and use magical explosives, as well.

Fifteen spies and their guest have crammed themselves into this tiny kitchen, all of them with the same goal: to see the fascism of Nazi Germany and Grindelwald ended.

“I assume you’ve introduced yourself,” Salazar says to Henry, who is standing at the front of the room with the easy stance of natural leader. They do not much resemble each other, and still the man reminds Salazar so much of Nizar that it nearly steals his breath.

“I have,” Henry replies. “Madam Moscovici was kind enough to vouch that I was most certainly not a Nazi when the others felt a bit justifiably paranoid.”

Salazar nods his thanks at Maxime, who smirks at him, the minx. “I suppose now would be the best time for you to tell us why you’re here, then.”

“The first reason I was sent here was to see to your continued health as a group.” Henry’s words are well-chosen, meant to make all of them feel vital despite the Ministers’ orders that Henry concern himself only with Saul Luiz. “The second purpose is to grant you information, which must then be distributed to the other mixed Muggle and Wizarding resistance cells established in Europe.”

Henry takes a moment to pull at the collar of his shirt, which is damp with sweat. They’re all soaked with it except for Salazar, who is simply glad to be warm enough not to be shivering. While he was forced into enduring Grindelwald’s company, their healing supplies ran low, and Salazar doesn’t yet know when he’ll have the opportunity to brew more. None of them trust a potion brewed by a Wizarding Nazi.

Henry’s next words leave them all stunned. “Next summer, there will be a mass invasion of all our combined forces in a concerted effort to return Allied troops to the Continent. It is currently believed that the Allies will have a foothold in Italy by this September, but a foothold is all it may be for many months after that; hence the delay until next year. Our commanders are planning a two-pronged assault on the north and south of Nazi Germany. If the Italian invasion is delayed, there will be only the northern invasion—and it is the northern assault that will require the most assistance. I have with me a dossier of all of the discussed potential landing points, though our few reliable Seers all believe the Allies will ultimately choose Normandy.”

“Christ.” Lewis whistles. “I suppose that’s your predicted 1944 invasion, Saul.”

“Most likely,” Salazar agrees, thinking again of an ocean turned to wine by so much spilled blood.

“It has been suggested that you focus on clearing the Norman path, yes,” Henry says. “To that end, we know you cannot fight directly with the numbers you have, nor can you abandon your watch of Grindelwald, but through Prime Minister Churchill, the Allies are formally asking for magical assistance to perform massive acts of sabotage across the whole of Nazi Germany. Disruptions in communications. Booby traps. Time-consuming mischief. You won’t be acting alone; non-magical resistance groups are being asked to do the same. We’ll need every advantage we can get. The slower the Nazis are to respond to cries for assistance when soldiers land on the northern beaches next summer, the greater our chance of success—and succeed we must. This war has gone on for far too long, but until we have soldiers on the ground, the Nazis will continue to prevail.”

“Well, your lot doesn’t ask for much, do they?” Lewis asks, causing Marie to smile. “And no, I’m not your lot. I’m bloody Irish.”

“You’ll be gaining company, then,” Henry responds. “In this, the British Isles are united. The Welsh, the Scots, the Irish of our kingdom and your Republic, the Manx, the Cornish, the remaining Norwegian settlements hidden in the north, the Isle of Man, and England: all are sending wizards and witches to fight. We are coming prepared to engage the Muggle Nazis just as much as we are Wizarding Nazis, given that the former are most certainly in our way.”

“It is about time,” Aurelius murmurs.

“Right, that,” Hornkoff adds. “It could not have been done sooner? Last year, perhaps?”

Henry shakes his head. “Germany held dominion over the Atlantic. We could not even put together a true plan for a ground assault until their hold over the sea was broken. Also, I am afraid I’ve been ordered to temporarily abscond with your leader.”

“I don’t lead here. I spy,” Salazar corrects him in a mild voice. They are each their own leader; they each understand that a spy in wartime is most often on their own.

“Then consider that you’re the most well-known of our magical spies in regards to both our governments,” Henry replies, every bit the unflappable Pure-blood. “The British ministers wish to debrief you regarding the state of affairs in this part of Germany.”

“You’re famous, Saul,” Annette says in a bland voice. It’s her tacit approval of the journey, or at least the acknowledgement that it is an unavoidable necessity. The others say nothing to counter her.

“For all the wrong reasons, as always,” Salazar replies, signaling his agreement. “Aurelius, given that I was recently and publicly injured, do you feel that Grindelwald would accept my conveyed apologies for recovering at home for a time?”

Aurelius thinks it over before nodding. “He might not like it, but even Grindelwald respects that a grenade is not like a firearm. A grenade does not care about magic, only about doing what it is made to do. I would ask a favor, though.”

Salazar has a feeling he already knows what favor will be asked. “Name it.”

“Take Alexis with you. She needs a place to heal in safety, and that place is not to be found in Europe. I will explain to my sister what will happen and where she will go, but I fear what will become of her if she remains in Germany.”

“There is another thing.” Henry’s warning tone is unmistakable. “The bombing campaigns are only going to get worse. This year they are rare due to German occupation of the sky, but as we gain ground, so too will the bombers. If today did not prove to you that our accuracy is questionable, I’m not certain what could. Nuremberg is high on the Allies’ list of targets. You’ll need to find places to dwell outside of the city, and you should do it soon if you’ve not already begun.”

“That is not easily done,” Winter says. “There are anti-Apparition wards wrapped around the entire city.”

“Some of us do not have the benefit of Apparition and magic, and yet we manage just fine,” Richter responds, rolling his eyes. “There are other ways to avoid these bombs.”

“Bomb shelters. Reinforced ones, given the damage that last bombing run caused.” Issam glances at Hopkirk. “Could magic strengthen any shelters we build?”

Hopkirk scowls before nodding. “Yes, but we will have to act quickly. That makes it harder to act quietly.”

“Even I know that silencing spells exist,” Kaiser says dryly. “We can do it. The effort will be worth it to continue our work in safety.”

Salazar finds Marie after the meeting breaks up, everyone off to spread word of their plans in the safest means possible. No radios, no wireless; they trust in their codes and in each other’s voices. “When I leave with Henry and Alexis, you would be wise to accompany us.”

“You’ll need a woman to be with Alexis, to keep her calm around Potter, especially if he continues to wear that particular uniform,” Marie agrees.

“That is not why I’m suggesting such, though it’s a good idea.”

Marie scowls at him. “Why, then?”

Salazar decides bluntness will serve. “If you stay here, you will be dead before the year’s end, and your death will have served no purpose at all.”

Her scowl fades into confusion. “You’re that certain?”

“Very.” Salazar crosses his arms instead of giving in to the urge to reach out. Marie is not fond of another’s casual touch, even if no harm is meant. “If you go to England, you will be able to continue to assist in the war effort, and most likely not die of it.”

“Most likely, seeing as the Germans may launch another Blitz.” Marie sighs. “Someone needs to remain with Alexis, too. Someone she knows.”

“Or someone that she is introduced to,” Salazar replies. “Our new friend owes me a favor for saving his life, and I’ll be calling it in at once. Alexis needs a place to dwell in absolute safety. I have such a place, but it would be empty of occupants, as you’ll be needed in London. Henry must have at least one female relative who can stay with her for a time.”

“You don’t merely believe it, you’ve Seen that Potter has such a relative. You just like to be circumspect.” Marie narrows her eyes. “Did you give the others this warning? Joan? William and Marius? Lysandra? Ulysses? Did any of them receive the same chance, Saul?”

“Divination is not perfect,” Salazar retorts, but then he sighs in regret. “Some of them, I could see it as a strong possibility. I warned Duipuis, and he ignored my words. Tessa and Mae took every precaution possible when I told them of what might await them, and still lost their lives. Marius and William fell to the prejudice stirred up by Nazi Germany against homosexuality, and what I’d seen of their fate lay beyond that moment.” The two had bravely chosen to take a stand before a mob, ready to prove that they were not wrong to be as they were, but it was a mob of the frustrated, the scared, the hungry. Even Myrddin would have run instead of staying to face angry people fueled by those things.

“Then I would be a fool to ignore you, wouldn’t I?” Marie bites her lip and glances over her shoulder before turning back to face him. “Saul. You know how I feel about the camps.”

“I do. You’ve also showed me photographs of your missing family so often that I may well remember them for the rest of my life,” Salazar tells her. “I will search for them, I promise. You know Annette will, also. If we could safely liberate the concentration camps today, I would do so in a heartbeat.”

He wants to. Gods, how he wants to. He knows how badly Nazi Germany treats those they view as lesser. Two years ago, it was merely rumor, but now they know there are new camps to the northeast, ones that are far, far worse than those in the west—and those in the west already stand as some of the vilest things Salazar has ever seen.

“I know.” Marie clenches her jaw before nodding. “Very well. I suppose this is what I deserve for wishing so often to visit Britain after I finished school.”

Henry is sensible enough not to continue to wear a Nazi uniform in the company of spies. He cleans it but doesn’t Transfigure it, which might make it harder to return it to its original state. Instead, he retrieves a proper non-magical suit that was shrunk and tucked away in his wallet. Salazar has only to glance at Henry’s camel-colored wool suit to know it was modeled after daytime offerings of the 1860s in weave, cut, and style, though it was obviously tailored within the last five years. Lingering in the past to the point of stagnation has been Wizarding Britain’s preference since the creation of the Ministry, but at least Henry has both good taste and the intelligence to find something close to what is worn by the non-magical right now.

Salazar hasn’t bothered with magical robes in a full century unless he literally has no choice, curious about the direction men’s fashion turned. The previously worn long coats had been all but interchangeable with robes, but once those were abandoned, breeches went through several swift changes until they became what Nizar refers to as proper trousers. By 1855, his brother’s portrait had blatantly stared at Salazar wearing a new suit and said the last time he’d seen that sort of outfit, he’d been in Diagon Alley. In 1993.

“Half of them haven’t managed to get over the fact that the 1600s ended quite some time ago,” Salazar had responded at the time. “Somehow, I find I am not much surprised.” The late 1800s apparently stood as the provider of the rest of 1990s Wizarding Britain’s modern fashion palette beyond that of robes. Salazar has kept a great deal of his clothing from the 19th century stored away under Preservation Charms for just that reason, though it’s been decades since the non-magic consigned those styles to the metaphorical rubbish bin.

“What of women’s fashion?” he asked Nizar at the time. “Which century or decade will they decide to become stuck upon by 1993?”

Nizar’s portrait made a very specific face in response. “Take everything from the last thousand years and stuff it into a blender, Sal,” he’d said, which had then necessitated the explanation of blenders. Salazar pointed out that women’s fashion seemed to be changing at that rate of speed, regardless. Then, much like technology, women’s garments decided that the turn of the century meant it was time to change ever faster.

Salazar quite understands the griping of older gentlemen in regards to the rapid rise of women’s hemlines. He would never deny a lady the right to her own choices, but except for a few visits to certain other cultures, the idea of seeing that much of a woman’s bared leg in public has been anathema in Europe for Salazar’s entire fucking life.

By contrast, the 20th century has been rather sedate in regards to men’s fashion. A man’s jacket, waistcoat, neckties, trousers, bowties, or shoes haven’t changed very much. Their concerns have focused on shirts and hats, with the wealthy also concerning themselves with fabrics, pins, and elaborate pocket watch chains.

Salazar will readily admit that he is still particular in what he will wear. Too many tailors have no idea what to do with striped fabric; spats are ludicrous; the current baggy shapelessness of men’s trousers almost makes him long for hose. The theft of the northern clans’ colors, now dubbed plaid, is oft applied to any surface that will hold still. Wool-blended silk makes up for some of the negatives, though its quality in the West has fallen in the last few centuries, even among magical circles. He’s glad for the continued expectation that a man’s jacket and coat both have plentiful pockets, though he put aside the pocket watch when the leather-banded Santos wristwatch became an accepted and popular substitute.

He discovered early on that Marie feels similarly regarding clothing, fashion, and practicality. Marie was born and raised in Paris; like any Paris magician capable of looking beyond their own nose, she wears fashionable non-magical clothing. She once horrified Alexis by confessing she hasn’t worn a witch’s robe since she finished schooling at Beauxbatons. The other magicians among them wear non-magical clothing out of necessity unless they’re visiting Nurmengard, but it’s a learned endurance, not a preference.

“Is that the same suit you wore for the grenade incident?” Henry asks from the bedroom doorway. “I’d thought it too bloodstained to be recovered.”

Salazar gestures for the man to enter the room. He left the door open just to signal the invitation, but he and his fellow spies have disregarded certain courtesies for quite a while now. Henry, just joining their fight, is unaware of that. “It isn’t. I was fond enough of the material to have a spare made in the same style. I’m glad I thought to do so, as it’s now the last Muggle clothing I have in Germany not stained or destroyed by our delightful shenanigans.” Bloodstains can be removed by magic, but it’s easier if the blood is fresh. Salazar has long known that clothing worn when he receives wounds meant to be fatal often refuse to be cleansed at all. Fortunately, he has clothing still at the Willow House, though he’ll need to Transfigure slight adjustments. “I’m almost ready. We can depart if Marie has returned.”

“She hasn’t yet.” Henry falls silent as Salazar all but glares at his reflection while he knots the dark green silk tie. He misses the freedom of an open-collared shirt, but needs must. He will admit to being fond of the tie, at least, especially now that the collars of men’s shirts are no longer tall, starched creations that slice at the underside of his jaw. The suit’s jacket and trousers are silken wool in pale grey. The tie is a sharp contrast to both the jacket and his white shirt, but between the paler colors, dyed dark hair, and his lacking beard, Salazar appears much younger than his true physical age. He misses his beard, but facial hair is much harder to keep properly dyed. The potion to change hair color all over the body makes him ill for days afterwards, so he gave up on both.

Salazar sits down to lace up his short-topped boots, trying not to grimace as he does so. He still feels bruised from head to toe, and his muscles haven’t yet forgiven him for grenade-launched acrobatics. “You’re staring at me.”

“I was thinking it to be a nice suit.”

“I much prefer black, but too many people ask me who I’m grieving for when I wear it for anything except formal affairs.” Salazar finishes lacing up his boots and gazes at Henry in expectation.

Henry flushes in mild embarrassment at being so easily read. “I was being honest, even if that wasn’t all I was thinking of.”

Salazar gestures with one hand. “We seem to have a few minutes, and I’m quite difficult to offend. Please say whatever you like.”

“It isn’t Grindelwald who you saw while scrying upon the water.”

Salazar’s eyes widen at Henry’s certainty. “No. Unfortunately, it was not.”

Henry sighs. “And yet here you are in Europe, spying on both Muggle Nazis and the aptly named Wizarding Nazis who are loyal to Grindelwald. Why?”

Salazar smiles. He is being tested, but it’s testing fueled by a desire to know, to understand. “If you see something that is wrong, and you can do something to stop it, should you not do so?”

Henry’s nod has the slow, grim quiet of steely resolve. “That would be one of the reasons why I’m here.”

Marie has traveled by Desplazarse before with Salazar’s assistance and is accustomed to the single leap it takes for Salazar to arrive at the Continent’s northern shorelines. Henry is not, and gasps in alarm before the gasp turns to quick intuition. “Because you said you’re an Earth-Speaker, yes?”

Salazar nods, pleased that Henry was so quick to recognize it, but he is also distracted. He didn’t take them directly north or due west to a German or French coast, but directly southwest to stand on vibrant green cliffs overlooking the sun-glistening ocean. He sits down where he stands, closing his eyes. Salazar is vaguely aware of Marie pulling Henry and Alexis away, explaining Salazar’s brief need to rest before crossing the Channel.

When the Great War began in earnest, Salazar checked with the Elves of Ur Leial, making certain the elves who dwelled in his ancestral home would be well. When the true horror of the war penetrated his shocked senses, Salazar had hidden not just the keep, but the whole of his father’s lands. None can find this place but himself and Nizar; not even guests Salazar brings himself would be able to find his home again on their own.

This is the first time he’s returned since that was done. He should have come back long before now.

Salazar isn’t much surprised when a single elf pops into place beside him. Every elf born in Gipuzkoa took Basque names, though some of the ancient elves are still identifiable by their jewelry and their French names. “Hello, Toda.”

“You’ve been gone too long, Marqués.” Toda sniffs in disapproval. “Shall we prepare the keep for guests, or will you be departing again?”

“My apologies to you and your clan, Toda,” Salazar says, glancing at her. The silver jewelry she wears is brilliant in the sunshine. “The war has stolen all of my time, and recently attempted to steal all of my blood with it. When my chance comes to rest, you will see me again…or it will be my brother who greets you. I hope it’s the former before the latter.”

Toda loses her formal air and lays her hand on Salazar’s shoulder. “It will be you,” she announces, and Disapparates in silence.

Her visit was a kind reminder. This is Gipuzkoa; this is still home, even if he hasn’t dwelled here in centuries. The land soothes the exhaustion of the war, the fatigue of that irritating call to put a monarch back on Spain’s empty throne.

Salazar managed one final visit with Alfonso XIII before the former king’s unexpected death in 1941, not yet fifty-five years of age. His named Heir, Infante Juan, is a good man who married well and already has four Heirs of his own. Juan is a known ally of the British who earned his place in their navy, but Salazar does not think Juan will be king. Juan is in no hurry to fight for it, not with Franco’s current stranglehold on Spanish politics and government.

Salazar doesn’t dare go anywhere near Francisco Franco. An assassination would make things worse for his kingdom right now, not better. Hitler also seems to have a knack for evading assassinations, given how many times such has failed in the last ten years. Those failures don’t even account for the magical attempts, leading Salazar to believe that the gods want Hitler to be defeated by united Allies. He has no idea why it must be so, but the bastard has survived far too many assassination attempts that should have worked.

Grindelwald is yet another difficulty. Several times since earning Gellert Grindelwald’s trust, Salazar has been tempted to lift his wand and have done with it. The first time Grindelwald turned his back on Salazar, Grindelwald presented him with the very circumstances that would allow his easy defeat.

Of course, Grindelwald’s rabid allies would immediately take offence to the death of their leader, and that could prove to be a painful experience. Very, very painful.

Salazar also doesn’t want the fucking Elder Wand. He held it in trust; he never wants to be its master. Besides, if Nizar’s portrait is recalling correctly—and Salazar does not doubt this—it is Albus Dumbledore who is meant to defeat Grindelwald. If Salazar attempts to change history, he isn’t the only one who would suffer the consequences.

Thus, he spies. Salazar smiles at Grindelwald’s terrible notion of humor and prays that someone will soon convince Albus Dumbledore to hurry along and kill the bastard.

Henry returns perhaps twenty minutes later, sounding out of breath and amazed. “The feel of this place—it’s incredible! I asked Marie if she could sense the same, but Marie only said I’ve had too little fresh air if I’m so easily impressed by a bit of greenery. My estate is in the countryside; I know that not to be the difficulty!”

Salazar smiles and pats the sun-warmed rock next to him. “Welcome to my homeland, Henry Potter.”

Henry accepts the invitation, settling into place. “Where are we?”

“This is Gipuzkoa, part of what is now known as the Basque Country on the northern Spanish coast. My father’s family dwelled here for many centuries before I inherited this land upon his death. My mother was of Burgos,” he adds, answering Henry’s unspoken question. “My sister inherited what was hers.”

“Incredible,” Henry murmurs. “I’ve seen Burgos once before, though I’d be concerned to go near it now given the current regime. I thought it quite lovely, but this…this feels…”

“How long has your family lived in its current home?” Salazar asks when Henry trails off into silence.

“Oh, time out of mind, honestly. I’m not sure anyone in the family could tell you how long we’ve owned the lands around Godric’s Hollow—excepting Ilchester, of course.”

Salazar is three steps closer with one question asked. “Do you have children, Henry?”

Henry sounds a bit bewildered by the change of subject, but as it is a polite question, he answers. “Just the one, I’m afraid, though our Monty is a good lad, the best a father could ask for. He turned fourteen last month, and will see his fourth year of Hogwarts in September. Do you have children, Saul?”

“I did, once. They’re all gone now.”

“I’m so terribly sorry.”

“I don’t mind,” Salazar replies, and truthfully he does not. He misses each of them, but they lived their lives as they chose. He was glad of their happiness, even if he still feels that many of his children died too young. “Fortunata and Zuri were the children of my first wife. Ouen, Imeyna, and Betisa were the children of my second. Berenguela was not the result of a marriage, as her mother was not in the position to choose such a thing for herself. My fourth wife granted me Sibylla, Isidore, and Medeia. I had three other children who were conceived in the same manner as Berenguela, though only one survived long enough to have children of his own.”

When Salazar finally opens his eyes, he finds Henry gazing at him in sympathy, and no little envy. “What happened to them?”

“Time,” Salazar says, “and disease. By the time the Spanish Influenza was done with my family, there were no descendants left but a sparse branch of the non-magical who dwell in the United States, and two magical families dwelling somewhere in England. The branch of one is down to but a single family, but the branch of the other must also be sparse, because I could never find them.”

“A sparse branch.” Henry raises an eyebrow. “You said you’d been looking for me.”

“Did I?” Salazar can’t remember doing so, but Henry has no reason to lie. “I blame blood loss.”

“Given you’d lost quite a bit of it, that’s understandable.” Henry takes a moment to straighten the rucked fabric of his trousers. “My wife and I wanted more children, but we’d decided to wait until we were a bit older before having them. I was not quite thirty-six and Elizabetha thirty when our son was born, and yet it still seems that we waited too long. My parents had my sister and myself, and thought that enough until my sister’s death, but my mother still managed to give birth to my brother Charlus just on the verge of a witch losing her ability to bear children at all. Elizabetha, however, is the only child of an only child of an only child. We’ve not given up; I’m fifty years of age, and she is forty-four, but I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that the Pure-blood’s Curse reared its head. Charles—that’s Charlus—and his wife Dorea have been trying for a child for the last five years, but unless I return to London and discover otherwise, they’ve had no luck at all.”

“You’ve my sympathies.”

“Thank you,” Henry responds, inclining his head. “I can scarcely contemplate the idea of losing Monty when you’ve lost so many. I know your sympathy is no falsehood.” He quiets for a moment, toeing at the grass near his foot with his shoe before his eyes focus on the ocean. “Coming here reminds me of what it is like to return home after I’ve been away from it for far too long. We’re family, aren’t we?”

Salazar nods. “Distantly, but yes.”

Henry doesn’t look surprised, but thoughtful, as if considering the idea. “How did that come to be?”

“That, I’m afraid, is quite the long story.” Salazar turns his head as he hears Marie walking back. She’d hate to know he’d caught her peaceful expression, one hand held out to feel the grass as the wind blows it against her fingertips. He quickly turns his attention to Alexis. She is willingly following Marie, but her eyes are glazed from the Calming Draughts that are enabling her to make the journey without panic.

“Survive this war, Henry,” Salazar says. “By then you’ll have decided exactly how much of that story you wish for me to tell you.”

Chapter Text

Their arrival in London, mid-afternoon on 14th August, is unremarked upon because they wisely decide not to inform Command that they’ve returned to English soil. Salazar and Marie’s immediate concern is for Alexis; Henry, a gentleman first and foremost, agrees with them. They will be safely ensconcing her in the Willow House before debriefing with anyone.

Salazar owns three properties in London, and after considering the concentration of Germany’s bombing raids upon the city, offers Marie the one to the north of Edward Square in Islington. They arrive to find part of the southern area destroyed, and everything to the west of the building obliterated, but the building which houses the flat and its immediate northern neighbors survived the worst of the Blitz.

“Good God,” Henry murmurs. “And still they fared better than so much of London.”

“There is a very deep cellar beneath the building for emergencies,” Salazar reassures Marie, who looks concerned for her continued existence. Salazar should know; he had that cellar built along with the building, and owns as much of the land around it as modern London allowed him to get away with—which is almost none at all. “If that is not enough, there is an entrance to the Underground nearby. You’ll need that when venturing off to MI6’s current headquarters, anyway, as the bombing drove them quite literally underground.”

Marie reaches out to turn the switch for the lights upon entering the flat. Salazar isn’t surprised when nothing happens. “There are plenty of candles, and heat and water are still provided by magic, not modern means.” He’d never had the chance to upgrade this flat as he had the Willow House, and now is glad of the delay. London is doing its best to restore the electricity and water to every surviving residence, but so much of the city still lies in ruins. Salazar doubts the work will be completed until the military units return home at war’s end, adding to the number of able-bodied people capable of sweeping away debris, repairing what can be salvaged, and rebuilding the rest.

While Marie helps to see a stumbling Alexis into a bedroom, Henry takes himself and Salazar to a modest, single bedroom flat near to the Underground MI6 offices in Victoria. Aside from the parks, Victoria has been all but pounded flat by the Blitz.

The buildings closer to the river fared better, including 10 Downing Street. “Churchill still works there during the day, which is either bravery or insanity,” Henry says when Salazar asks. “Otherwise, I’m given to understand that Britain’s Prime Minister lives somewhere underground in Mayfair.”

“There isn’t much left of Mayfair for it to still be going by that name.”

“Of course not,” Henry agrees. “If there is nothing left, there is nothing left to bomb, and the bunkers remain secure. Technically, I’m not even meant to still be living up here, given my proximity to the worst of the bombing sites in the area, but I can’t stand sleeping below ground. I’m gone much of the time, anyway, so it’s all but a moot point.”

Henry parts from Salazar’s company for a few hours, leaving Salazar to the mild comforts of the flat. By some miracle, it still has running water for the bathroom. Salazar glares at the showerhead above the tub and tries three different charms before it will automatically heat the cold water flowing from the pipes. Baths are well and good for aches and pains, but the advent of the shower was a bloody gods-sent blessing. He feels truly clean for the first time in months.

 When Henry returns just before the dinner hour, he has not one person with him, but five. His younger brother Charlus, born in 1920, prefers to be called Charles. He resembles Henry acutely, though Charles has stark brown hair, blue eyes with faint hints of violet, and a light bronze cast to his skin. It makes Salazar wonder what sort of lineage Henry and Charles can claim aside from his own.

Dorea Potter is a slight, petite woman with wit and fire that make her seem far larger. She is recognizably a Black, bearing the family’s famous grey eyes to accompany her curling brown hair, which is cut in a modern style that would scandalize Wizarding Britain. She is also nearly as pale as Salazar’s long-lost Orellana, but it isn’t a sign of ill-health, merely familial influence.

Henry introduces his wife as Elizabetha Potter. Despite her name, it’s obvious to anyone with eyes that Elizabetha’s lineage is not European white. Salazar discovers in short order that Elizabetha is a practicing Hindu who still identifies as Jat, though the Lohats—renamed Fleamont under the ludicrous tenets of British Imperialism—left that region of India nearly three centuries ago. Her eyes are kind, and steadily insist on being solidly brown, highlighted with the barest hint of sienna. Elizabetha reminds Salazar very much of the female magicians he once met in the ancient hindavi kingdoms, the weavers of magic who lived and breathed its strength with unending, even-tempered grace. Her curling black hair, unbound, might possibly fall to her knees, and is also trying to escape all of the hairpins holding it in place. Between that and her son’s maniacally curly hair, Salazar is more certain than ever that he’s found his little brother’s family.

Elizabetha and Henry’s only child is named Fleamont, always referred to as Monty. He’s grown up in a household that mixes Christian, Hindu, and magical holidays together, and it shows in his vocal inflections, his easy blending Eastern and Western thought. Monty takes after Henry with his pale skin, but the boy’s wild brown hair reminds Salazar so much of Nizar’s too-short hair that it almost causes him physical pain for the way it curls about, does whatever it wants. Monty didn’t inherit the eye color of his parents the boy’s eyes are their own unique color of brown, marked by yellows and gold edging. In Salazar’s youth, Monty would be ready for magical adulthood, as his fourteenth birthday was in June, but this is no magician ready for an apprenticeship. Monty is a child still, and Salazar finds he is glad of it.

George William Potter prefers to go by Will, is Henry’s first cousin. He serves an example to Salazar that if Nizar had paternal family remaining to him after 1st November 1981, they would have been easy to find. Will looks exceptionally similar to Henry and Charles, brown-haired and blue-eyed, and has the same faint bronze skin as Charles.

“I’d love to introduce you to my parents, but alas, it’s two years too late for that,” Henry confides in a low voice while his family is distracted by discussions on what establishment they’re going to fall upon like ravenous wolves for dinner. “My mother was one of the last Westenbergs, named Adelina, married to my father Richard, the youngest of his siblings. They were…they were already old when this war began, and very set in their ways. They chose to live in our London townhouse rather than the manor, and relied far too much on magic to protect them even after Charles and I warned them of the dangers of the Blitz. Mother was killed in January 1940 when a bomb fell too near to a home she was visiting.”

Salazar lowers his head. “I am sorry for your loss.”

“Thank you,” Henry replies, and lets out a deep sigh. “Afterwards, Father was cautious and respectful of the damage Muggle armaments could do, but I think he missed my mother too much. He died just after his one-hundred-first birthday in December 1941.”

“Again, you have my sympathies.”

Henry nods. “I don’t think Father had many years left to him, regardless. He retired from the Wizengamot in 1920 and left it to me to carry on the family traditions, much to the irritation of many, who believed I stole the seat from rightfully deserving older relatives who didn’t actually want the damned thing.”

Salazar makes an amused noise. The Wizengamot hasn’t changed its ridiculous ways since its inception.

“Will and his wife Charlotte live in the London townhouse now, and they’ll be hosting the family here in the city until Monty departs for school on the first. That might change if the Germans decide upon another Blitz, but for now it should be safe enough.”

Salazar has suddenly gone from having no Potter magicians in his life to six of them, and Henry claims there are several others. Most of them are currently in Europe, fighting in magical or non-magical military groups, or acting in supporting roles for those who are fighting or spying. Henry’s battalion and its mixed soldiers is the only one in Europe, but not the only one of its kind. The others are only waiting for next summer’s planned invasion to join the fighting.

“We’ve even acquired one of the Dumbledores, and that was a shock. I hadn’t heard much of anything about the family after the last two brothers left Godric’s Hollow,” Henry told Salazar that very morning.

It had been a hard-fought battle for Salazar to keep his tone, his expression, from betraying his sudden and intense interest. Two Dumbledores? Salazar only knew of the one. “Oh? I’d thought Dumbledore to be a teacher.”

Henry nodded. “That would be Albus Dumbledore, Head of the Transfiguration Department at Hogwarts. Monty says he has quite the flair for demonstrating Transfiguration in class, but he’s still not certain about what sort of teacher he makes. But no, the man in the battalion is Aberforth Dumbledore, the younger brother. If you ever meet a tall mountain of a Scottish wizard with ginger hair fit to match his temperament, you’ve quite likely met Aberforth. He says he runs an inn in Hogsmeade, but I’ve not had the pleasure of seeing it for myself.” Henry snorted in amusement. “Aberforth put down his roots in Hogsmeade before Albus was hired on at Hogwarts. I imagine that didn’t go over well.”

“Scandal?” Salazar asked, curious.

“More a sad tale, but one that is not mine to tell,” Henry had replied, and like a proper English gentlemen, would speak no more of it.

Salazar telephones Marie—who goes into temporary ecstasy when she realizes she has a dependable telephone line once more—to request an invitation for them to enter what is currently her flat. With permission granted, Salazar and Henry give the others landmarks for the brief journey.

Monty clings to his father’s arm when they Apparate back to Islington. He doesn’t look to be much fond of Apparition, but he voices no complaints.

Salazar takes a moment to Summon a bottle of well-aged and rare bottle of rosé from the building’s cellar, one that was made predominantly with true Merlot blanc. On Britain’s current black market for rare delicacies, he could sell such a bottle and make a fortune, but gods, what would be the point? He would much rather present it as a gift to Marie for hosting an impromptu crowd.

Marie accepts the bottle and promptly bursts into the first tears he has ever seen her cry. Dorea is quick to rush forward to hug and comfort a stranger, which causes Salazar to glance at Henry, head tilted in query. Henry nods; Dorea, then, is the family member he will ask to act as a caretaker for Alexis.

No wonder Dorea Black wed a Potter. She would not have fit in among the other members of her mad family.

“Are you really a spy?” Monty is asking Marie, who is drying her face with Elizabetha’s handkerchief when Salazar slips off to the only occupied bedroom. Alexis is still resting, sleeping off the draught that saw her peacefully accept the necessity of Desplazarse to escape the Continent.

Salazar sits down in the chair at her bedside for a moment, needing the brief bit of quiet. Elsa had asked Alexis if she wanted to forget what happened to her with a careful Obliviation spell, but Alexis refused. Salazar was the one to ask if she would like to try the Deflection Charm instead, but Alexis surprised him by refusing that, as well.

“I do not want to simply forget,” Alexis had growled, weeping even in the midst of her fury. “There are too many who do not have such an option! If they must suffer, I will not place myself above them. To do so would be selfish.”

“No. It would be a means of caring for yourself when there are so many we cannot care for at all,” Salazar reminded her gently, but Alexis would hear none of their arguments. She would not listen to Aurelius when he attempted to remind her of the terrible limitations they’ve faced for many years now. It did not even help to remind Alexis that she could not continue to fight Grindelwald’s plans without allowing herself the means to heal.

Salazar could have warned Aurelius not to have tried those words, had he known they were going to be spoken. He has lived and breathed for nearly ten centuries. He knows when someone is done with war, and Alexis is done with this one, and with spying—and if she had her way, she would be done with her existence. He will settle for preserving her life, and hope she will find peace after the war’s end.

The war has to end. It cannot go on like this.

Gods, please, may this war end soon.

There are still restaurants and cafés open in London, carrying on as though bombs haven’t been falling upon the city for several years. The Potters are as well-acquainted with Islington as they are with London proper, and their choice of restaurant provides excellent service despite the limited nature of the menu. Salazar sees the glimmer of relief in the eyes of the waiter and judges him to be the owner, one who is grateful for the patronage. He mentally adds the restaurant to his list of acceptance London venues; if it survives the war, Salazar plans to return. Their chef is a bloody genius.

Will and Charlotte play host during the meal with the easy grace of Pure-bloods who haven’t let wealth or status go to their heads. Salazar observes them, much as he watches the others, and easily draws several conclusions. Charlotte is either a Half-blood or born of disowned magical relatives. Will is older than Henry by several years; he would have been one of those in line for the Potter Wizengamot seat who refused to accept it. Given the current Pure-blood domination of Wizarding politics in Britain, Will likely knew he wouldn’t be the best choice to represent the family.

Charlotte has pale brown hair with odd undertones of color that Salazar couldn’t put name to. Unlike the others, her hair is curled by artificial or magical means. Salazar thinks she might be a distant cousin of Dorea, given she also has the famous Black grey eyes, but there is nothing of the Black family in her mannerisms. A child of one of those that Lycorus cast out, possibly, and one who longs for a child of her own. Charlotte’s eyes linger too long and too fondly on Monty for Salazar to believe otherwise.

The next morning, Marie accompanies Salazar to the Willow House. She learns the words to the charm that will allow safe passage to the home’s front door. It takes another magical signal, as well as Salazar introducing Marie to the wards, for the house to be convinced to allow her entry. If he can trust her to keep their people alive for so long while trapped in Nazi Germany, he feels no difficulty entrusting her with the means to enter his home.

She turns around once in each room, observing the Willow House’s modernized interior, whitewashed walls, older furniture, and the ancient Persian rugs upon the floor, kept plush and colorful by magical saturation and Preservation Charms. “It’s peaceful here,” Marie admits, gazing at a portrait of Salazar’s last wife. Isis smiles at Marie once her portrait realizes the inspection is not a critical one.

“And it will remain peaceful as long as a certain someone keeps his opinions to himself.”

Nizar’s portrait stops watching Marie and turns to Salazar. “You look like shit.”

Salazar glances upwards in a bid for patience. “I’ve not seen you since August in 1939, and that is the first thing you say to me?”

“Yes, because you look like death warmed over, idiota!

Marie stares at the other portrait. “You argue with yourself. I suppose that’s an effective method of coping with your own thoughts.”

“This is not myself. This is a portrait of my younger brother. Nizar, this is Marie, formerly of Paris, though we hope she soon will be again. Marie, my younger brother.”

“Your brother.” Marie studies the painting with a spy’s unleashed intensity. “Why is he not assisting us?”

Salazar has to swallow against the sudden pain in his chest. “My brother is exactly where he is meant to be for this war, Marie.”

Marie glances at Salazar, frowns, and nods. “All right. I’m satisfied that this place will do wonders for Alexis, and I’m already fond of Henry’s choice for her guardian. Even Paris knows of the magical Black family’s reputation. The Blacks are ruthless, and Dorea will know when that ruthlessness might be necessary. Take me back to London, please.” Then she glances once more at Nizar’s portrait. “Be kind to Alexis. She was tortured recently. By men.”

Nizar stares back at her. “Call it what it is. She was raped by many.”

“And is that not torture?”

The portrait inclines his head. “Point to you, then. I’m never cruel to the undeserving, Madam Marie. Sal, you’d better give me a decent bloody summary when you return with Alexis. And who the hell is Henry?”

“Bloody is exactly the sort of summary you shall receive,” Salazar replies. He does not yet want to answer that last question, nor does he want to tell the portrait about the incident with the grenade, but trying to keep it secret won’t work. Nizar is just as conniving as a portrait as he is a person.

Salazar asks Marie to see herself out, as he must give the house a quick onceover before temporarily passing it along as a residence for Alexis. “Tell me this war ends,” he says to Nizar’s portrait in Parseltongue. “Please.

All wars end. Whether or not this end leads into the beginning of another war?” Nizar shakes his head. “I don’t know, Sal. A child’s primary school history book is not nearly that informative.

Salazar manages to share his desire to keep the number of those who know of his home’s location to a small group without causing insult. When he and Marie bring Alexis to the Willow House that afternoon, they are joined only by Elizabetha, Henry, Charles, and Dorea Potter.

“Oh, what a place you’ve made for yourself here.” Elizabetha closes her eyes in pleasure. “The magic beneath the bedrock sings so well. It reminds me of the manor, Henry!”

“A well-chosen home, then,” Henry comments. Salazar nods, deciding not to mention he chose the land before he chose what sort of home would be built upon it.

“And you’ve a proper radiogram!” Dorea exclaims, bidding Alexis to come and see. It would be covered in dust by now but for the housekeeping charms Salazar embedded in the house’s foundation stones. “We’ll be able to listen to the Muggle programs as well as the Wizarding Wireless, won’t we, Saul?”

Salazar nods, though his eyes are on the portrait giving him a suspicious look from a frame half-hidden by shadow. “It does both. Please be careful with the newer recordings. They cannot be played with the gramophone I still own. The steel needle would destroy them.”

Marie tucks Alexis’s arm against her own when Alexis’s attention begins to drift. Such has happened often since her physical wounds were healed, and it worries Salazar. He can’t tell if it is shell-shock that will fade, or some deeper damage that will linger for life. The usual healer’s charms avail him nothing, as physically, there is nothing wrong with her any longer.

“Come along,” Marie says to Alexis. “The only locked door down this hallway hosts Saul’s bedroom, but he says you can have your pick of any of the others. He certainly won’t be here to bother you.”

Alexis gives Marie a faint nod before looking to Dorea. “What of you? Should you not choose?”

Dorea smiles gently. “I will, darling, but only after you’ve chosen yours. I need to be certain there is nothing else Saul should tell me in regards to watching over his home while he continues to absent himself.”

Marie tugs Alexis in the direction of the bedrooms nearest the end of the house, away from any potential, startling noises that might emerge from the sitting room or the nearby kitchen. “Oh, gods,” Salazar says under his breath. He hopes Alexis shows improvement by the war’s end. He desperately hopes Aurelius survives to see Grindelwald fall, else Alexis might break further upon hearing news of her brother’s death.

“Truthfully, is there anything else I should know?” Dorea asks. “This will be a good way to spend my time when Charles follows Henry to Europe.”

“Which I still think is a foolish idea,” Henry utters in a flat voice.

Charles rolls his eyes. “I have no plans on dying for any Nazi, Muggle or Wizarding. Besides, maybe I’ll have a returning war hero’s luck and actually manage to get my wife pregnant!”

Henry snorts. “If that actually worked, you would have a nephew older than you are.”

Dorea seems resigned to Charles’s intentions, and ignores the brothers’ bickering to continue her conversation. “Well, Saul? I’d prefer to be honest with Alexis as much as is possible. That poor woman. Alexis was such a rock before this happened, wasn’t she?”

Salazar nods. “She was exactly that, but every rock can be shattered. I am hoping this is a temporary sort of shattering, but it was far too dangerous to chance allowing her to recover in Germany.”

“So Henry has said,” Dorea agrees, sighing. “The house, then?”

“The Willow House is under a Loyalty Charm, hence the rather long phrase I taught you all before we walked down the path,” Salazar explains. “You’ll not be bothered by nosy neighbors. Please do not invite anyone here, not even by Floo, unless they are standing in this room right now.” His neighbors were so bloody confused when his house, a known part of the village since the 1600s, disappeared in 1939 as Salazar prepared to leave. They’ll be confused again when it reappears after the close of the war, but answering the questions of the bewildered is a price he is willing to pay. “I will own no elves, who are meant to be free beings, so any supplies you require will have to be retrieved by Floo, and should be sent only by Elizabetha or Marie. Otherwise, you’ll have naught to concern yourself with but for the nosy bugger who is trying to peer around the frame behind me without being seen.”

“Tale-teller,” Nizar says, though Salazar doesn’t turn around to see if Nizar has revealed himself in the frame behind him. The expressions on the others’ faces tells him all he needs to know. “I suppose you must be the mysterious Henry my brother mentioned.”

Henry smiles. “I am. Henry Simon Potter is my name. This is my wife, Elizabetha. Dorea is our dear sister through her marriage to my brother Charlus, though he much prefers Charles. Who are you, then? You look a great deal like Saul, but that nose of yours is a bit different than his.”

“Unless you’ve since Transfigured it,” Elizabetha teases Salazar. He is truly starting to enjoy her company; she has a wicked sense of humor, and isn’t afraid to voice it.

“I am Nizar, Sal’s younger brother. Alas that I myself am unavailable, and you’re stuck with a bit of canvas instead,” Nizar’s portrait replies. “And no, there is no oddity regarding our differing names. We are Spanish and Basque, and our Euskaran family remembers the Arabic influence in Iberia quite well.”

“So I see. It’s fascinating to meet you,” Dorea says. Salazar notices as he turns to the side, able to view Nizar and his guests, that Dorea has captured Nizar’s full attention. Henry, Salazar notes, is studying the portrait, cataloging details in a way that makes Salazar wonder if Nizar had a flash of Divination before this particular portrait was painted. Nizar’s truis, boots, and black robes, which seem to lack almost all ornamentation unless one looks very closely, are not much removed from what magicians are wearing for robes right now.

“Are you…” Nizar tilts his head and studies Dorea. “You have familiar features, particularly your eyes. Were you a Black before your marriage?”

Dorea grimaces a bit at being recognized. “I was, yes. Dorea Aurora Black, sister of Pollux, Marius, Cassiopeia, and Walburga, though my poor older brother Marius was cast out for being a Squib before I could ever know him properly, and I’ve no idea what became of him. My family has not disowned me the way they did him, but they do not speak to me if they can avoid it because I married Charles.”

“I am very sorry for their behavior towards you,” Nizar says formally. “I hope you’ve found the happiness you deserve among the family surrounding you now.”

“Oh, now I certainly believe them to be brothers.” Henry chuckles. “They both have the same silver tongues.”

“Practice makes perfect,” Nizar replies. “How did you happen to meet my brother, Henry?”

“I was sent to retrieve him for a long overdue debriefing. We found each other when a bomb landed in the wrong place at the wrong time. Then some of the locals decided to take advantage of the opportunity the explosions provided, and attempted to rid Nuremberg of two more assumed Nazis with a grenade.”

“With a grenade.” Nizar’s expression morphs into a full-blown glower that he directs at Salazar. “You did something stupid, didn’t you?”

“Would you rather the man be dead, little brother?”

Nizar sighs and looks at Henry. “He threw himself atop the grenade, didn’t he.”

Henry smiles and nods. “I did appreciate that such an act likely saved my life, though the idea of having to report back to my superiors that the man I’d been sent to retrieve was deceased was something I did not look forward to. Fortunately, that wasn’t necessary. I carried him to a safe place with a capable medic myself.”

Nizar raises both eyebrows before bowing in gratitude. “Thank you for doing so, Henry Potter. As for you, idiota, I am yelling at you later,” he says, but Salazar doesn’t miss the way Nizar’s eyes linger on Elizabetha, whose hair is now straining to escape tightly coiled braids. Several short, thin strands have already succeeded, and are attempting to reach for the ceiling.

“Please reserve the yelling for the end of the war,” Salazar replies. “I still have to deal with whatever awaits us in London.”

Dorea sees them properly to the door. “Marie, do keep in touch. Saul has a proper telephone, and it would be nice to have company from both my sister and yourself when you’re not busy.”

“My child is off to Hogwarts, and my family off to war. I’ll have little else to do. If you don’t mind that I visit as well, of course,” Elizabetha says to Salazar.

Salazar shakes his head. “You are standing here. That should make it obvious enough, but if you’re requesting formality: Elizabetha Potter, you are welcome in my home.”

Elizabetha seems pleased by the courtesy. “Thank you, Saul Luiz.”

Salazar had expected to pass that night alone, but Henry and Charles must have bid their spouses a proper goodbye that morning. The three of them share Henry’s London flat that night. Henry offers to share his bed, but Salazar doesn’t want to get used to the luxury. Charles claims that he’s a mere twenty-five years old, and Henry should enjoy the pleasures of his own bed while it lasts.

Henry convinces Charles to sleep on the sofa and turns the lanterns down low after bidding Salazar goodnight, closing the bedroom door behind him. There is a bit of a pallet on the floor, but Salazar doesn’t think he’ll be using it tonight. He feels more at ease sitting in a faded patterned armchair, peering out the window at London’s quiet, unlit streets.

It’s so odd to see this city dark again, painted only by night’s shades of blue and violet. It also stirs a great deal of memory. Shakespeare. Isis. The fires. The occasional outbreak of plague. James I’s sudden ascension to the throne, which put Scotland firmly under the thumb of England. The gunpowder plot. Raleigh’s execution. The “scandal” of James I’s named husband, which really was not much of a scandal at all until Puritan-influenced thought saturated the idea. The Bishops’ Wars, which Salazar had involved himself on behalf of Scotland. English civil war, followed almost immediately by the importation of tea. Revolutions. Rights. So many people who are long dead, but for a time, Salazar and Isis had called them friends. Then it was over, and Salazar was left with only himself for company after a riotous century. He’ll readily admit he hasn’t been much for socializing since then.

If Salazar is reading the situation correctly, Henry is not just interested in Saul Luiz for their distant kinship, or for how old he is, though Salazar refuses to name that number. He isn’t much fond of dwelling upon it. Henry is attempting to claim Salazar as a friend.

It’s a harsh jolt for Salazar to realize he hasn’t truly had anyone he’d consider a friend, that he has not socialized beyond the requirements of polite society, in nearly three centuries. Even he and his fellow spies do not name each other friend, fearful of yet another loss. By war’s end, perhaps that will change, but for now…

For now, Charles snores. Salazar lets out a faint laugh and returns to his thoughts. The man will learn soon enough that spies do not have the luxury of snoring.

Salazar resists the siren song of his curiosity until the next morning, when the three of them walk to the entrance to the SIS’s claimed part of the Underground. “Fleamont? Truly?” he asks Henry in a burst of disbelief. Henry hadn’t struck him as the sort to inflict that sort of name upon an innocent child.

Charles starts laughing. “I was only nine years old at the time, and I warned my brother that he’d regret doing that!”

Salazar glances at Henry, who is frowning and trying to ignore his own blush. “Why Fleamont?” he asks again.

“Elizabetha wanted him named after her family, as she is the last magical Fleamont in England. She foolishly left me to take care of filing Monty’s birth certificate, and I’d misunderstood her meaning…” Henry smiles in wry self-deprecation. “I thought she’d kill me when she discovered that our son’s name was not Lohat. We filed an amendment later and granted Monty a second given name of Lohat, but I spent a number of weeks in the figurative dog house for that blunder.”

“The worst part is that Mother and Father thought Fleamont to be a perfectly acceptable and proper British-sounding name,” Charles adds. “That’s when my brother realized that in all the excitement of finally having an Heir, he’d stopped thinking.”

“Mother and Father would have hated calling my son Lohat,” Henry says with a smile. “They would never let on, but truly they would have hated it.”

Henry leads them to a literal entrance to the Underground, one cordoned off and marked as in disuse. Salazar had expected something a bit less obvious. “Welcome to the new and rather damp offices of the Secret Intelligence Service, Section Six, MI6…they’ve never quite decided, but I suspect MI6 will stick.” Henry removes a card from his wallet and presents it to the security guards at the turnstile. “Henry Simon Potter, Section D. Saul Luiz, Section D. Charlus Alistair Potter, Section D,” he recites, and they’re waved inside. Salazar notes the rust forming on the turnstile from the damp air and charms his trousers clean.

“The second guard, left side. Wizard,” Charles mutters.

Salazar nods. “Muggle on the right. It does speak well of them really meaning all of that talk about inter-British cooperation. Henry, what is Section D?”

“Those of us specifically dealing with matters in Europe. A great deal of what MI6 concentrates on has to do with decryption, but it isn’t as if we aren’t trying to attain secrets the old-fashioned way, either.”

“Old-fashioned,” Salazar repeats, amused. Listening to the words people say has served him quite well for a very long time.

“Those of us at least trying to pay attention to the Muggle world think the next time a war is fought, we’ll be decrypting television signals instead of radio transmissions,” Charles says. “Personally, I think that’s complete shite.”

“Watch your language, little brother! Especially given who we’re about to meet,” Henry warns.

“I’ve met them,” Salazar says to Charles, who instantly picks up on Salazar’s unimpressed tone of voice. “Be just polite enough to still have your place in the SIS when it’s done with, and it will go fine.”

“Stop encouraging him to be a lout,” Henry murmurs as he opens the door. It’s been fit well to the converted doorway, but moisture is still beginning to warp the wood. “Gentlemen.”

“Mister Potter!” Churchill exclaims as he stands up. “Bloody hell, it’s good to see you in one piece. And you as well, Saul. Pleasure to meet you, Charles!”

“Henry.” Minister for Magic Leonard Spencer-Moon is slower to stand, but he does seem to respect Henry a great deal as they clasp hands. “Charles. Saul.”

“Ministers,” Salazar responds for him when Charles looks a bit shell-shocked. Salazar thinks he hasn’t spent nearly enough time in the Wizengamot if he still believes a politician to be worth any awe whatsoever. “Here I am presenting myself, very much not dead. Might I go back now?”

Winston laughs; Spencer-Moon manages a tense smile. “Still at it with the jokes!” Winston declares. “You’re holding up rather well, then.”

I wasn’t joking, Salazar thinks, but the comment served its purpose. Charles has lost his shock and is now trying not to laugh. He’s extremely intuitive, perhaps even more than his brother. He’ll make a brilliant intelligence officer.

“You can at least linger for a drink.” Winston holds up a decanter filled with dark violet, red-blue liquid. “Spanish import from the 1920s, back before all of that unpleasantness occurred.”

The unpleasantness in Spain began well before that particular decade, but Salazar is willing to let that comment pass. “I should never have let on how to properly bribe me into enduring your company, Winston.”

In short order, they’re all seated, though both Potters decline the drink. Wise of them, given their unfamiliarity with the liquor. It’s best to keep your heads clear during a war, even among your allies.

The debriefing lasts longer than Salazar prefers, especially as Winston’s cigar smoke begins to thicken. When it extends from the ceiling down far enough to enter Salazar’s nose, he gets out his wand and rids the room of it all with a gesture. Winston ignores the bit of magic except to nod in acknowledgement; Spencer-Moon looks utterly horrified at Salazar’s blatant disregard for the Statute. The Minister for Magic is not normally so twitchy about such things. Politics in Wizarding Britain must be more fraught than usual.

In truth, there isn’t much of import for Salazar to mention except for Grindelwald’s attempt to court the Soviet bloc. Grindelwald had tried the same with Spain, but gave up on it after Franco sent Grindelwald’s magical emissary back to Nurmengard in several pieces. Grindelwald also ceased all efforts on the Italian front, claiming a newfound hatred of Italians. It’s decent cover; the truth is that Grindelwald is intelligent enough to realize that Italy is already a weak point in the Axis.

Spencer-Moon sits back in his seat when the briefing is done. “Saul, professionally as well as personally, thank you for saving Henry’s life. We’re in desperate need of his brilliant guidance within the Wizengamot during these treacherous times. It will be difficult to maintain control with Charles following Henry off to Europe!”

Henry’s eyes narrow. “My wife is quite capable of sitting in the Potter seat during sessions of the Wizengamot, Leonard. You would be wise to listen to her.”

Salazar resists the urge to sigh, roll his eyes, or simply hex the Minister for Magic. Spencer-Moon is either playing up current non-magical nonsense about a woman’s “place” to ingratiate himself to Winston, or he actually believes that shit. He hasn’t yet learned his lesson with Winston, then: the man either likes you, or he doesn’t. Gods help you if it’s the latter and you still have to work with him.

Winston dips the end of his cigar into his glass before he resumes smoking. “You’ve been in that mess the longest, Saul. What do you think that Grindelwald twit will do after the Allies take Nuremberg?”

It’s refreshing to hear someone high in command speak of Nazi Nuremberg’s fall as a certainty instead of faint possibility. The plans for the northern and southern invasions must be going well. “Grindelwald acts the part of a mad fool to cover up the fact that he is neither,” Salazar replies. “He’ll not make any of Hitler’s mistakes, and he won’t surrender even after the other war is won. Grindelwald will dig in and focus his defences around Nurmengard. All of our Allies should expect thicker Wizarding Nazi patrols on the ground, but these won’t be like Hitler’s conscripts, the men drafted and shoved into a uniform without choice. Grindelwald’s allies all chose to follow him, and they are fanatically loyal. We will eventually bring the magical war to his door, but unless he ventures forth, it will not be a battle. It will be a siege, one Grindelwald has had plenty of time to prepare for.”

Chapter Text

18th August 1943

London, England

 

“If you can Apparate from northern Spain out from central Germany, why can’t you Apparate us all the way back to Nuremberg from here?” Charles asks.

Salazar wrinkles his nose at the scent of the Thames as it wafts in their direction. “I’m an Earth-Speaker, not an Elemental Magician. Deep bodies of water, especially oceans, are more difficult to cross.”

Henry looks intrigued. “What is an Elemental Magician, then? One in control of all four of the traditional magical aspects?”

“Over all Elements,” Salazar corrects, smiling. “Think…oh…Myrddin Wyllt.”

“What makes you think Merlin was an Elemental Wizard?”

Salazar sighs at Charles’s insistence upon the gendered term. Henry is definitely the more well-traveled of the two brothers. “If you understand the capabilities of an Elemental Magician, the evidence in the historical records makes it a bit obvious. That does, however, require you ignore most of the sources printed in Wizarding Britain.”

Charles’s jaw falls open. “What? Why?”

“Because many of them are wrong.” Salazar sighs and shifts the bag he carries. All three of them have a bag of supplies slung over their backs treated with Undetectable Extension Charms. Marie suggested they do so once she realized Salazar was unaware of how much Nazi Germany had tightened down not just on delicacies, but was starting to claim shortages of all goods. Nazi Germany’s loss of the Atlantic, and thus the loss of imported goods, is going to hit the civilians hard. The invasion will make things even worse.

“If the Germans have to subsist upon rations, that would please British citizens immensely,” Henry commented when Marie insisted on doubling their intended supplies. “We’ve been enduring them for years.”

“How bad is it?” Marie had asked, though she does not fear rations. Spies are used to random and oft meager meals.

“Let’s just say that my body was getting to be rather round from the comforts of middle age before this war began.”

Salazar holds out his arm. Charles looks as if he still wants to argue over Wizarding Britain’s historical sources, but reaches out to grip Salazar’s jacket. The moment Henry latches on, Salazar crosses the Channel. He chose to return by way of Normandy, and drops to the ground the moment they arrive, pulling Henry and Charles with him. There is a gun emplacement manned by Nazi soldiers not far from their position.

Salazar gestures for quiet before anyone can protest. Charles grimaces at the guards and holds up one finger, mimicking the wave of a wand. Salazar considers it, but finally deems it too suspicious. Then Charles disappears from view as Henry retrieves a very specific Cloak of Invisibility to shelter them all from sight.

“You might’ve mentioned you had that earlier,” Salazar says after Charles casts a sound-muffling charm.

“Why?” Henry asks, his expression far too innocent. Salazar shakes his head; sheltering under Henry Potter’s Cloak is a bizarre experience, and he can’t even explain his reasons to them.

Salazar glances around now that it is safer to do so. The right bank of the estuary for the river stops him cold. All he can smell is gunpowder, cordite, blood, viscera, death—

Henry slaps Salazar on the head, which breaks the haze of precognition. “It’s a wonder that hasn’t gotten you shot,” Henry whispers, scowling.

“It has,” Salazar mutters, shaking off the rest of what he just experienced. “This is going to be one of the Allied invasion points next year. I don’t know if the invasion will succeed, but success or fail, the price paid in blood will be steep.”

“Dear Merlin.” Henry looks at the beach, which seems no more than a peaceful bit of cold sand fronting the Channel. Salazar has already seen what it looks like as a battlefield. The memory of red wine reflecting blooded ocean waves leaves him feeling cold, and very much alone.

“Let’s go,” Charles finally says. “I’m in no mood to stay until we’re witnessing the battle for ourselves.”

They return to Nuremberg and find Nowak waiting at the third safehouse address, whereas the first two were occupied by people who were most decidedly not part of their ring of spies. “We have been keeping to this one to placate the Nazis, who’ve needed to find new living quarters for civilians after the bombing runs left them homeless,” Nowak explains. “Only one other safehouse in the city is still ours, and that one is to placate Grindelwald.”

“You didn’t move out of the city?” Henry asks.

Nowak shakes his head. “It would be dangerous for so many to leave at once. The Nazis sometimes feel that those who leave the city are running from the war. They shoot them as traitors, even if it is obvious they are killing families, not soldiers. We stay, but the magicians, they did good work. The cellar of each house has been…expanded.”

“Magical space?” Salazar asks, noting with amusement that Charles repeats, “Wizarding space!” under his breath.

“Yes. I do not much care what creates the extra space as long as we all have safe places to sleep at night,” Nowak says. “There have been no more bombs since we have built these bunkers, but Winter is certain they will hold.”

Salazar raises an eyebrow. “Is she?”

Nowak scowls at Salazar as he blushes. “How much did you wager on us?”

“Not nearly enough,” Salazar replies, smiling. “What else have we missed?”

Nowak’s expression sobers. “John Morgan. We still do not know what happened to cause his death, but an officer ordered him shot. That you bring two more with you increases our numbers after the loss of Alexis, Marie, and John.”

“Gods.” Salazar shifts the pack again. “Were we able to retrieve his body? John’s wife, Ella, will wish to bury him.” Whereas John’s mother-in-law, disowned Iola Black Hitchens, will wish to avenge him. That will have to be a conversation carefully navigated; two spouses from the Black family have now been lost in this war in Salazar’s group alone. He’d prefer not to be cursed within an inch of his life—especially when considering that John’s sister-in-law is an equally vengeful English Rothschild.

“No.” Nowak holds up a metal box with a lid, which might once have held flour in a kitchen. “This is the best Hopkirk could do. When they cleaned up the city after the bombing, the Nazis did not concern themselves with funerals. Too many dead. They burned the bodies, and John was one of them.”

“How many?” Charles asks, frowning. “If they’re resorting to pyres…”

“True pyres would show the dead more respect,” Nowak interrupts, but he sounds tired, not temperamental. “There were hundreds of bodies, Saul. It was worse than March.”

“You really are lucky to be alive,” Salazar murmurs at Henry, who has blanched white. The Nazis certainly don’t want their citizens to know how heavy their losses are, not when morale already rests on a knife’s edge. “Please remind me to take John’s ashes home to his wife the next time I cross the Channel. Ella deserves to be told in person by one who knew him.”

“I will,” Nowak agrees, relieved to know the task will be done properly. He and John had been friends.

Salazar puts aside his grief, as there is no time to dwell upon it. He’s now glad that Charles insisted upon joining Henry in Europe, else their numbers would be too few. “Is there any specific place we should dwell, David?”

Nowak shakes his head. “No. As long as you are seen entering the address the Nazis or these Wizarding Nazis believe to be yours, from there you can retreat to either. Aurelius, he complained the entire time that it would be easier to wait and then build a tunnel between the safehouses with your assistance, but between myself, Hopkirk, and Kaiser, we confirmed it was properly done.”

“All right, then. Let’s find a place to sleep that hasn’t been claimed, and then I will be introducing Henry to Grindelwald.”

Henry gets over his shock quickly, glaring at Salazar. “Ah, yes. Just what I was looking forward to.”

“Turncoat,” Charles teases his brother, grinning. He then holds his hand out to Nowak. “Saul tells me that you’re the man to speak to regarding demolitions, magical and non-magical. I don’t have much of an understanding of TNT, but if you want something destroyed, I can certainly make it happen.”

Nowak’s eyes light up with the glee of a fellow devotee to breaking things before he clasps Charles’s hand. “Yes, I am, and your presence is quite welcome. Come! We have a railway line over a river that needs to become a former railway line!”

Gellert Grindelwald is disconcertingly pleased to see Salazar again. “Saul, my friend! It is good that you have healed. There are rumors that our German brethren will soon find themselves quite busy fighting the Allies. I want nothing less than the best at my side as we wait to see who or what might accompany them!”

And so many would hear only the first words, not what came after, Salazar thinks. “I have brought the man who saved my life the day the bombs fell last week. Gellert, this is Herr Potter. Henry, Herr Grindelwald.”

“You always leave off my titles,” Grindelwald complains, but his icy eyes are already regarding Henry with interest. “Not just any English Potter, but the one who sits on the Wizengamot and espouses a specific sort of equality.”

“We’re all wizards and witches in the end, are we not?” Henry replies in German. “The Allies think they sent me to spy on their behalf, but I’ve long been curious about the man who escapes capture time and again, and whose greatest ideal seems to be his concern for the ‘Greater Good.’”

“I suppose if you would bother to save the life of one who is understood to be loyal to me…” Grindelwald gives a slow nod and then shakes Henry’s hand. “Grüß Gott, mein freund. Inge and Anke are sisters and close associates of mine. They will introduce you to the others—yes, Saul, I pledge that none will hurt him. So long as he minds his manners,” Grindelwald adds, a sudden snapping of his words that belies the earlier smoothness.

“I was born with them, I assure you,” Henry responds dryly.

Grindelwald laughs, a sound that echoes in his castle. Salazar represses a shiver; this place always feels as cold as the foul bastard himself. “Saul, these bombings. I wonder if you might know of the means to strengthen the walls. I would hate for destabilization of the land to endanger us.”

“I can,” Salazar allows, but it is not Grindelwald and his foolish followers he will do so for. He will do it to protect those imprisoned within, the many they do not yet have the means to save. Grindelwald’s paranoia always extends to his favored guests. Even a single body missing from this castle will see him establishing a hunt that will not end until the escapee is found.

Henry and Salazar don’t speak again until sometime after midnight. Salazar casts the Invisibility Charm upon himself, adding silencing charms so his steps and breath go unheard in this echoing maze. The means to become truly invisible is a bit of magic others seem to have lost the knowledge of over the centuries, for reasons he has never quite been able to fathom.

Salazar pushes open the door to Henry’s room, not surprised when Henry wisely points his wand at the open and supposedly entry doorway. He shuts the door, wandlessly casts a privacy charm, and dares to speak. “It’s only me. Can I reveal myself without being hexed into next week?”

Henry snorts. “Who is the dark-skinned beauty in the painting within a house in the north Midlands?”

Salazar grins and dismisses the charms that hide him from view. “A beautiful lady named Isis. You’ll do an excellent job of performing your role as a double agent if you recall such precautions so easily.”

“I’m half-terrified out of my wits and paranoid beyond belief,” Henry retorts, blowing out a long breath. “I fear that will wear off, and I’ll give in to the lull of complacency.”

“Open your door and listen to the sounds of agony that drift up from below,” Salazar suggests, humor gone. “That has always served as an apt reminder.”

“There is nothing we can do for them, is there?”

“No. Not yet. It isn’t even safe to linger long in your company, even though I introduced you to Grindelwald as a friend,” Salazar says.

Henry frowns. “Then he is as paranoid as rumor says.”

“Yes, but he is intelligent in his paranoia. His instincts are excellent. If Grindelwald senses a lie, he will not stop hounding you until he uncovers the truth.” Salazar hesitates and glances off in the distance, but it isn’t pain he hears. Alarms? Air raid sirens? Definitely shouting, yes, but the words are indistinct—

Henry snaps his fingers in front of Salazar’s eyes. “That has been getting more prevalent even in the brief time I’ve known you. It’s dangerous, Saul.”

“I know.” Salazar scrubs at his eyes, then his forehead. “Such increasing moments of Divination often signal that an event of vast importance is coming.”

“The northern landings,” Henry says.

Salazar nods, but he isn’t certain. This feels closer than an event still nearly a full year distant.

He is suddenly very glad that he can use Desplazarse to escape even Grindelwald’s paranoid defences. “I worry about you more than myself, for obvious reasons. If Grindelwald discovers your duplicity—”

“Oh, that has already been taken care of. Grindelwald has a spy within the Ministry of Magic, and he works at Leonard’s side.”

Salazar stares at Henry. “I’ll kill him. I’m not yet decided on which one it will be, but one of them is going to bloody well die!”

“It’s awfully difficult to use a dead man to our advantage,” Henry reminds him. “Though, yes, I do agree that Leonard should have informed you during our meeting with the joint ministers. Leonard has been filling the spy’s ears full of his concern for my turncoat ways, how surprised he is by it, and how he simply must keep it a secret from the Wizengamot, as Leonard’s position as Minister is tenuous due to the war and they simply can’t afford the crisis in faith and morale that such news would cause—why are you grinning at me like that?”

Salazar sketches a brief bow. “Because I was suddenly reminded quite strongly of my brother. Are all Gryffindor-bound Potters such closet Slytherins?”

Henry draws himself up with a mocking sniff. “I,” he declares, “am a politician.”

Salazar tilts his head. “And I say my question still stands.”

“Saul Luiz, please get the hell out of my dubious chambers.”

When he isn’t smiling at Grindelwald while resisting the urge to strangle the life out of him, Salazar is often cataloging new “work camp” sites with Maxime. It makes him glad that Marie is in London; Maxime may well have already lost everything, but Marie is far more temperamental about it. She wouldn’t have been able to stand for the expansion of Dachau, or the satellite camps that are cropping up all over bloody Bavaria.

Rowena would hate it; Marie and Rowena would be of similar mindsets. While Helga and Nizar were often each other’s terrible enablers for violence, Rowena was practical in her ruthlessness. She did not enable terrible habits so much as invoke the sort of wrath that left behind nothing but scorched earth.

“I want so badly to do something,” Maxime murmurs, passing Salazar the binoculars she’s spelled so the glass won’t reflect light that would attract a sniper’s attention. “Winter is in position.”

Salazar nods and looks. Winter Sauer is leaning against the fence, far from the secured zones, with a young SS officer pressed up next to her. She smiles as she whispers into his ear, and the officer laughs. “I’m truly glad I was never so easily led about by my own prick.”

Maxime utters a ladylike snort. “Then you’re a rare man indeed, Saul.”

“Date night just ended early. Winter’s soldier boyfriend is being chewed out by a superior officer for abandoning his post.” Salazar bites back a smile. “Winter might be telling off the man for interrupting a good German girl’s rendezvous with her camp-stationed boyfriend.”

“Is he falling for it?” Maxime asks. “I’ve seen that one before—recognize him by the medals he insists on wearing even when it isn’t necessary.”

Salazar hands the binoculars back to her. “Winter is leaving and the idiots are smiling. I think it more likely they were told to be more subtle.” He waits as Maxime frowns, turning her head as she views every part of the camp they can see from this distance. “Any sign of your brother?”

Maxime sighs and puts the binoculars away, strapping the leather case shut to protect the glass. “No. Not the last two times we’ve been here.”

“They’ve been sending prisoners out to labor in other towns.” Another Allied group of spies managed to intercept a small labor group before they reached their destination, killing the guards and liberating fifteen prisoners. It’s not enough, but Dachau’s own citizens are hiding them. It’s the sort of reminder they all need, that not all of Germany wants what Hitler, the Nazis, and the fucking SS claim is best for their countrymen. “Manfri could be with one of those groups.”

“He could be,” Maxime admits, but doesn’t look convinced. Salazar would like to reassure her further, but he isn’t convinced, either. Entire families, entire neighborhoods have been emptied of everyone the Nazis have deemed unfit. The western camps aren’t big enough to hold everyone who has vanished across all of occupied Europe.

“I want to do something, too,” Salazar says, and Maxime nods. They both know that they can’t, that the liberation of those fifteen prisoners was miraculous in that it didn’t cause the murder of other prisoners due to Nazi retaliation. Salazar thinks again of Rowena, whose own duchy is northeast of here, magically hidden from prying eyes.

The Duchess of Raven’s Claw would not spy. She would go to war, and she would not stop until every last Nazi was dead and every prisoner free. One thousand years ago, Salazar would be at her side. Now, he knows how vile men can truly be, and how petty. If word spread that a powerful military force was engaging the guards of the camps and freeing the prisoners, telephones and telegrams would send swift orders that ensured there would be no one left to save. Himmler’s Einsatzgruppen have already demonstrated that truth often enough.

Returning from Dachau in the south means returning to Grindelwald in the north. Salazar might honestly prefer to go rolling about in a lava flow at this juncture, but still he goes. Henry and Aurelius are grateful to see them return, as it’s far more difficult to deal with Grindelwald alone.

Everyone in Nurmengard is required to attend to Grindelwald for a formal supper each night. Grindelwald, of course, wants to know where Salazar has been for the past few days, making it a subject of public discussion by doing so. Salazar, as always, wields the truth, telling Grindelwald (and everyone) that he visited Dachau to see why the Nazis felt such a need to open more and more of their “labor” camps.

It’s utterly chilling when Grindelwald laughs. “Oh, those are the tame ones. The camps in the east would be far more to Spain’s taste, I think!”

“Oh?” Salazar can’t move his arms without being noticed. He stomps on Aurelius’s toes when the man flinches. Stop that, he orders silently with another, gentler press of his heel. “I’ve heard there are more camps in the east, but little else.”

“The Germans want these to be kept quiet. They are not labor camps, not unless one counts being worked to death. Of course, then it makes the slogan of the work camps true, does it not?” Grindelwald salutes the idea with a raised glance of champagne. “Franco might have chosen to disregard my overtures, but I can still admire his swift dispatch of his enemies. It’s high time the Muggles of my homeland came to their senses and emulated him.”

“You mean the camps are not camps at all.” How Henry keeps his voice so mild in that moment, Salazar will never know. He’s now sitting on his own hands to keep from killing their host.

“Oh, they still bear the name, but I’ve heard them referred to as the ‘final solution.’ Execution camps, my friends.” Grindelwald chuckles again, delighted by the idea. “The Nazis are doing an excellent job of purging Muggles from Europe without my needing to lift a finger. It will be so much easier to conquer and control them once they’ve finished with their inspired solution.

“And you do not mind that wizards and witches of great talent may be dying in these camps?” Aurelius asks in a cool voice. He is one of the few capable of flirting with disrespect in regards to Grindelwald without risking punishment. “They could be of value to our cause.”

Grindelwald waves a dismissive hand. “They were given the chance to join me. I would have sheltered them in Nurmengard gladly! Alas, they’ve chosen another fate.”

Henry comes to Salazar in his granted quarters that night, closing the door behind him. It is long minutes before he removes the Cloak that hides him from others. “You didn’t challenge the entry of another into your room, Saul.”

“I knew it was you.” Salazar keeps his breathing steady, but doesn’t lift his head from where he is seated, elbows on his knees, the palms of his hands dug into his eyes. “None know of the Invisibility Charm but those who spy within this castle, and you were not using the charm.”

“I see.” Henry doesn’t ask why Salazar is so certain. In the four months he’s spent in Germany, enduring Grindelwald’s company, he asks fewer questions, seeking answers with his eyes and his ears. He’s learned, as they all have, to prioritize the information they spy for above almost everything else. “Are you all right?”

“Not really, but I thought it to be obvious.”

Henry walks over and sits down beside Salazar, the gossamer folds of his family’s Cloak balled up in his hands. “If we were not so drastically outnumbered, I would suggest assassinating him tonight.”

“I don’t know if I have it within me to be that subtle about killing the fucking bastard, Henry.” Salazar lifts his head only to let it fall back and rest on the stone wall behind him. “Extermination camps.”

“I know.” Henry sighs. “We need to get you out of here long enough to report back to England.”

“Would it do any good?”

“I don’t know,” Henry replies. “At least the Allies would know how costly any further delays would truly be.”

“I’m not certain they would believe it, Henry. I’ve been here since 1939, and I’m struggling to believe it!”

Henry pats his arm. “I hesitate to say it, but surely you’ve seen people commit atrocities against each other before.”

“Of course I have.” Salazar swallows back bile. “But this isn’t a single village turning on its own out of fear, or discovering the results of too many innocent victims slaughtered during a single battle. I’ve seen communities turn on each other, neighbors killing neighbors, frightened and angry people scapegoating the most convenient, most hated targets among them…but not like this. This is an entire continent, Henry.

“I’ve never lived through anything like this.”

 

7th June, 1944

Nuremberg, Germany

 

They’re too far away to listen through the non-magical wireless, not unless they wish to hear the details in heavily censored German. Instead, Lewis switches over to the Wizarding Wireless and picks up a signal out of London, which is reporting on what is being called Operation Overlord.

“What a name for an invasion,” Elsa comments, taking Lewis’s arm as he returns to her side. That is a pairing Salazar didn’t expect, especially given the age difference between them, but there is much truth to Shakespeare’s words: misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows.

“We have our update now. Wizards and witches of Britain, I am proud to say that the Commonwealth Muggle soldiers and our American allies have landed at Normandy, and the beaches are ours. We will not have more details until tomorrow—”

Maxime turns off the wireless. “That’s because the invasion occurred yesterday, and you’re only reporting on it now.”

“Not much point to it if he off and tells the Nazis what we’re up to, is there?” Lewis observes.

Maxime sighs. “I know. I don’t like this delay in communication that lies between us and our allies on the coast.”

Salazar doesn’t need to volunteer to jump back and forth between one of the new safehouses well outside Nuremberg and the Norman coastline. The others simply expect it, as he has done so for them from the very beginning, when codes were secrets waiting to be cracked and birds were targets to be shot down. Both are still true; both also try Salazar’s patience.

It isn’t until late July that the coastal Allies begin to make progress…but once they do, it is much like the 20th century’s progression of technology. They become a force that advances with greater and greater speed. Paris is liberated on 25th August that year. Salazar makes his escape from Grindelwald’s fortress by promising to seek out Grindelwald’s French allies, though Grindelwald is still confident enough never to ask what Salazar might seek them out for. He takes a certain cold pleasure in eliminating each and every one of them, returning to Nurmengard with the “sad news” that the Wizarding branch of the Allied forces discovered Grindelwald’s hidden followers and defeated them all in a brief, decisive battle.

Then Salazar goes to Marie, informing her of Paris’s liberation before the news can reach London. She bursts into joyful tears, hugs him, kisses both of his cheeks, and then Disapparates in order to inform their wartime ministers.

Gellert Grindelwald might hold the charisma to sway fools to his cause. He might have a firm grasp of tactics and logic. He even has the fucking Elder Wand, which Salazar never wanted to see again in this life, much less find it held by a genocidal, bigoted, magical Nazi, but Grindelwald’s arrogance blinds him to words he might otherwise pay closer attention to. Salazar has never told Grindelwald anything less than the absolute truth, and Aurelius’s eyes shine with grim delight each time Salazar uses Grindelwald’s blind spot against him.

Even when Germany pushes back, even when the military advances seem to slow, it feels as if almost no time has passed before Allied forces are holding the line to the west of Germany, staring over the banks of the Rur. A similar standoff is occurring in Italy. Allied forces are glaring across the Apennines at the last major German defensive line in the south. While Salazar and his watchful allies were keeping an eye to their Commonwealth brethren, the Soviets took advantage of Germany’s distraction to plow through the eastern defences. They find out only after Paris’s liberation that Soviet soldiers are occupying—and then controlling—most of what had been Poland before Nazi efforts split it into pieces.

“Dammit,” Henry mutters of Poland’s loss. “We were gaining some of our best intelligence from the Polish network.”

Salazar nods, similarly frustrated. The network might survive, but it will be a long time until they know if the intelligence is still truth, or if it is Soviet-controlled and contrived falsehood. The Soviets are their allies in the war against Nazi Germany, yes, but none of his spies have forgotten how Stalin “assisted” China.

“We’re winning, though,” Jack of Trades comments, rolling up maps on the latest intelligence on military outposts of both types surrounding Nuremberg. Each one goes into a case spelled to be unnoticeable by any except the bearer until they pass it along to the next spy in their linked chains. Jack is a recent English acquisition whose real name is Jack Trader, but the nickname was sung about by Lewis, and thus it stuck. “Holy shit, is all I have to say.”

“No,” Henry says in quiet correction. “As far as the tactics of this second World War are concerned, we’ve already won. The Nazis don’t have enough of their war machine left to fight us off on three sides. The only thing left is to watch the death toll grow when Germany refuses to concede and surrender.”

“I’ll not be saying we’ve won until all the guns are on the ground and the bombings have stopped,” Salazar counters. The Soviets have made the most progress now in the war effort, but even they haven’t broken through the Eastern front of Germany itself. The Germans are fighting the Allies on the Western front in the Ardennes, which none of them think will go well.

Their ploy of acting as Wizarding Nazis is maintained until the very last moment in December, when Salazar’s identity is discovered. It isn’t his fault, nor is it the fault of any of his fellow spies, but the timing is frustrating.

Salazar is leaning against the wall when he’s confronted, trying to remain unobtrusive during one of Grindelwald’s social gatherings. Grindelwald is wise enough not to force attendance, but he does not need to. These idiots will quite literally crawl over each other in a bid to win Grindelwald’s favor, which then grants them power. They’re too short-sighted to realize that the power they gain never lasts.

He sips at a bit of wine, ignoring the potions that’ve been mixed in. He has to admit, whoever Grindelwald found to tamper with the wine did an excellent job at choosing both the type of grape, its age, and the dosages. There is just enough Calming Draught to induce a light, pleasant state of mind that he destroys with Mind Magic, and just enough Veritaserum to be highly annoying. It makes Salazar glad that he taught all of his allies to spy using truths rather than fictions.

It also makes him wonder why Grindelwald didn’t ask Salazar to perform this bit of deception. He learns why soon enough.

Grindelwald approaches Salazar, trailed by Inge and Anke, Ernst and Lothar, and three of the American allies he has been courting for twenty years. There is a closed folder clasped in his hands.

Salazar has survived long centuries with only a few injuries that might have killed a mortal man because he trusts his instincts, and because he isn’t a sodding blind idiot. Grindelwald only brings this many of his followers along when he intends a confrontation.

And so it begins, Salazar thinks, but gives Grindelwald the expected smile of greeting. “I didn’t realize you were intent upon socializing this evening.”

“I was not, but then things changed.” Grindelwald holds out the folder, an innocuous expression on his face that doesn’t quite cover intermixed anger and glee. “Please, have a look.”

Salazar puts aside his glass and quietly spells a concentrated shielding charm over his hands, just in case the folder has been treated to contact poisons. Grindelwald’s personal escort all have their wands out, twirling them or idling looking down their lengths as they wait.

When Salazar opens the folder, he finds his own face staring back at him in a black-and-white, non-magical photograph, accompanied by documents that bear the marks of being run through a loose-leaf copier. A mole has definitely crawled their way into the SIS and found their way into Section D—specifically, the part of Section D that involves British Muggle-Wizarding cooperation for the war effort. It isn’t his entire file, thank the gods, as his English properties aren’t listed, but what it does include is enough to damn him in Grindelwald’s eyes.

It’s just as well. Salazar was beginning to dread waking in the morning, and that is when he can find sleep at all. It will be a relief not to cater to Gellert Grindelwald’s whims any longer.

“That isn’t a very good photograph,” Salazar comments, shutting the folder but not returning it. There is no sense letting Grindelwald keep it, even if magical copies have already been made. Grindelwald keeps his information to himself; if chaos ensues, this could easily end up in the hands of another Wizarding Nazi idiot.

Grindelwald shakes his head and then clucks his tongue at Salazar, as if he were a misbehaving chick. “Saul. Saul Luiz. I am so very disappointed in you. Spying? Upon me? What did they promise you to become a traitor to our ways? We were going to change the world, you and I.”

Salazar breathes in and out, checking the state of the anti-Apparition wards that are woven through the very stones of Nurmengard. “I’ve never changed my spots, Gellert. You just didn’t notice.”

The expression of expanding fury is a joy to behold, but Salazar doesn’t wait to see more. He Apparates to Henry’s side, who grabs hold of Salazar’s coat sleeve. Henry was close enough by way of the social nonsense to know and understand what happened, and their priority is now simple: escape. Aurelius and Winter have no idea anything has gone wrong, but they’ve long been trained for this potential. They grasp onto Salazar’s coat without a single word needed.

It’s a fight to get through the anti-Apparition wards in the walls while carrying passengers. The wards that surround Nurmengard give him a second battle before they’re all safely away, landing in a heap in the cellar of the closest safehouse. If Salazar did not have the earth to assist him, he wouldn’t have succeeded.

As it is, Salazar collapses to the ground, exhausted. “Send! Send!” He rests his face in the dirt, gasping for breath, and listens as three Patroni are cast and sent to the others. The code phrase is simple: “Formation broken.”

Salazar catches sight of a bit of white and idly notes that Henry’s Patronus is a great northern stag. He’d very much like to find out why that particular Patronus follows his little brother’s bloodline.

Aurelius picks Salazar up from the ground. “This time, we are doing the work,” he says. “Winter has Henry. There is a house nearby under the Loyalty Charm, one that is known by no Nazi of any sort. Bring on the war, for it is at our doorstep.”

Salazar shakes his head to clear it as the coded phrase brings knowledge back to his head. “Understood,” he rasps, and then they’re Apparating again. The house is quite large, two storeys built above ground to grant them three levels of space for all the spies who live and work around Nuremberg. A magician built it, so instead of a separate structure, the house is physically fused to the rocky hill and partially sheltered by a reinforced overhang of dirt and stone. The cellar is reinforced rock, a place for supplies and a means of escaping bombs if they drop over the hillside.

He awakens in a chair inside the house, but knows he hasn’t been asleep for long. The others are still arriving from the other safehouses, bearing belongings and supplies. There is a great deal of talk on how much Grindelwald might compromise their operations against the Nazis with this unwanted event, along with discussions of it being possible for any other magician to be capable of earning their way into Nurmengard to continue spying.

Salazar pushes himself to his feet and finds the folder on the sitting room’s coffee table. He picks it up, lurches a bit as he attempts to walk, and then shakes off the rest of his fatigue. “I have to go,” he tells Issam, who has the misfortunate of being the closest person to Salazar when he decides upon insanity.

“Saul, you look like death,” Issam responds bluntly. “Can it not wait for a day?”

“No.” Salazar holds up the file. “MI6 has to know that there is a spy in their ranks. Ours is not the only group that could be compromised. If I’m not back until tomorrow, it’s because I debriefed London and fell on my face.”

Issam grins and clasps Salazar’s shoulder. “I’ll let the others know. Be careful.”

“And you,” Salazar replies, and immediately Apparates. He doesn’t go to the northern coast, but again retreats to Gipuzkoa’s cliffs overlooking the ocean. “Oh, fuck,” he gasps, and then drops down to sit on his arse.

That was so close. If there had been others inside Grindelwald’s fortress aside from Aurelius, Winter, and Henry, he wouldn’t have been able to breach so many anti-Apparition wards. He would have failed, and they would be prisoners.

Grindelwald is not kind to his prisoners, even if he does not kill them. He wants their company too much.

Salazar lifts his face to the cool breeze coming from the south, not strong enough to hide the scent of salt in the air. Five minutes more, perhaps. Then he thinks he can cope with bureaucracy.

The elf Rissa Apparates out to join him. “You do not look well,” she observes in French, peering at Salazar in concern. She is frailer than last he saw her, but still filled with an elf’s vitality.

Salazar smiles. “I’m not feeling well, either, but I have to go to London as soon as I can gather my wits.”

“And you wisely came home.” Rissa gives him a pleased look before sitting next to him. “Let me tell you of how the lands and keep fare while you regain your strength.”

“I would consider it a great kindness.” Salazar listens to Rissa’s precise, lilting recitation of how the keep’s structure has needed a few repairs, of the wintering gardens, and two new elf births among the clan. Salazar had previously offered them more space within his family’s home, but the elves declined and built an underground extension that leads to their own. The new domain is a copse of trees atop a hillside which never had trees before, hidden from the eyes of all but Salazar and his family.

One of Rissa’s sons, Pierre, learned Parseltongue in order to communicate with the basilisks during their visits to the caverns below the keep. The basilisk reports from Burgos were startling. For a brief time, Spain helped Jewish groups to escape France and Germany. That apparent generosity ended last year, but the scales remain unbalanced in light of how many of Spain’s own people were murdered by an utter bastardo in the name of politics.

Salazar might also hate Franco for what he has done to Gipuzkoa and Biscay, and to the Euskaldunak. He ordered their language erased, their tongues stilled, their names changed. Salazar does not want to be the only speaker of Euskara left in the world, not when his father’s language is older than the first hesitant stumblings of words emerging from the Myceneaen tribes.

When Salazar arrives in London, he cheerfully goes through all of the security checkpoints within the Ministry of Magic. He’s allowed into the Minister’s office on the current strength of his name, and proceeds to terrify the name of the mole out of Leonard Spencer-Moon’s Senior Undersecretary while Leonard keeps his back firmly pressed to the corner wall.

“GRETA!” Ursinus Burke finally wails, dripping snot and other unpleasant liquids. Salazar is almost disappointed by how easy he capitulates. “GRETA MEYER!”

“And the name she is currently using within the SIS?” Salazar asks. Leonard starts swearing under his breath as he finally recognizes what must have occurred. It certainly took him long enough.

“E-E-Elizabeth! Elizabeth Mortimer!”

Salazar drops Burke on the floor. “Your family would be ashamed of you.” He hopes they would; the Burkes of the previous century certainly would have found Ursinus’s actions appalling. They were Slytherin enough to understand that turning traitor to gain power is too much risk. There are plenty of other underhanded means to rise in the Ministry’s ranks.

“A Nazi spy would dare use the name of one of Wizarding Britain’s most prominent Jewish families?” Leonard shakes his head in disgust before he calls for the Aurors that guard his office. Salazar recognizes Lucretia Black by the recent minor scandals she caused, first by joining the Aurors upon graduation from Hogwarts, and then by marrying Ignatius Prewett, the white sheep of that particular branch of the Prewett family. Her partner and mentor today is Rufus Scrimgeour, who oft looks as if he attempted to Transfigure his head into an African lion but never quite succeeded.

“Finally!” Scrimgeour barks as he spies Burke lying on the floor. “I’ve been wanting to do that for months!”

“What prompted this outing of our spy?” Prewett asks in a much calmer voice.

Salazar hands Leonard the folder Grindelwald gave to him. “That.”

The Minister for Magic goes ashen as he flips open the folder and spies its contents. “I see. Are you off to their offices, Saul?”

“As soon as I’ve witnessed these two take Burke into custody.”

Leonard closes the folder. “Rufus, Lucretia, please remove this man on my authority. Don’t kill him, even under wartime privileges, as we may need his testimony for other crimes, but feel free to fully interrogate him. I think the time has come to weed out the other spies from our midst.”

Scrimgeour grins as he lifts Burke to his feet, allowing Prewett to restrain him. “We’ll be having quite the time, then. Saul Luiz, I’ll be seeing you down there next year when we’ve retaken the Continent. I’m not much for spying, but I won’t be sitting out the rest of the war!”

“I’m certain the Germans will regret it,” Salazar replies, thinking that others might, as well. Rufus Scrimgeour is a decent man, but he doesn’t understand the meaning of the word subtle…or of empathy, for that matter.

Leonard retrieves his hat and coat. “We should fetch Winston. This is his purview. He’ll need to know. Take us to Ten Downing Street, please.”

Salazar Apparates them to the Disillusioned point not far from 10 Downing. “If the Ministries are going to continue to cooperate, you need a more secure means of communication than this.”

“We’re working on it,” Leonard replies. “Good afternoon, Adam, Eric.”

Adam pulls a face at Leonard’s appearance, though he seems appeased by Salazar. He resists the urge to roll his eyes; Leonard has no sense of color coordination, but his clothing is otherwise fine. Eric is the one to nod at Leonard and pull open the door. “Minister, good to see you again. The Prime Minister is in his office. Saul, don’t break anything this time.”

“I always repair what he breaks,” Saul retorts, stepping inside.

“Obvious which one is the Muggle and which one is the Half-blood, isn’t it?” Leonard asks.

Salazar nods. “More and more so every day,” he says, but he’s thinking on the growing rift between Pure-bloods, Half-bloods, and the dubbed Muggle-borns. Grindelwald strengthened the old blood bigotries, and this war is refining it, helping it to gain new traction. Tom Marvolo Riddle will soon be taking advantage of the tensions awaiting him after his graduation from Hogwarts. “Has the Prime Minister ever Apparated before?”

“If Winston hasn’t, he is about to learn.”

Watching Winston tear hell through the officers in charge of vetting new members of the SIS and Section D is an entertaining way to spend an afternoon. Once Menzies comes along and hears why the Prime Minister is on a rampage, he joins in the fun. Salazar leans back against a damp wall of the Underground, staying out of their way. There will certainly be another debrief after this, if only so he can reassure three stressed officials that at least one of their spying cells is intact.

“How the hell did this happen?” Winston is still yelling three hours later, slamming his fist down on Menzies’s desk.

“Winston, I don’t bloody know,” Menzies replies, scowling. “Just getting into the room housing the records for Wizarding Britain’s service members requires special permission, not to mention my own damned key!”

“Then they have a copy of the key,” Winston grumbles, sinking into a chair while clutching his cane. “What a mess.”

“The locks are being changed as we speak,” Menzies says in reassurance. “I daresay if this young lady had turned out to be a witch, she wouldn’t have needed a key in the first place—and there! That, right there, is the question! Why would Miss Meyer assist a Wizarding Nazi?”

“She must have been groomed for it. She hasn’t been cursed and convinced to do so by magical means,” Salazar says. “How bad is the damage?”

“We don’t know.” Menzies sighs. “We’ll have to wait for each group with representatives from Wizarding Britain to report in, and that is at least a day’s delay, if not longer. Fortunately, your other identity is intact.”

“I did notice there wasn’t a mention of Fernan Suero in that folder,” Salazar replies. “Separate files?”

Menzies inclines his head. “Leonard, Winston, and I discussed it, and it seemed wisest to keep two separate dossiers on each agent working for us through Wizarding Britain. If we ever need to call on them to work in completely mundane circumstances, there will be no mention of the Ministry of Magic for another agent to find. Miss Meyer concentrated only on the magical files.”

“We can’t just rely on individuals reporting in,” Leonard says. “The documents themselves should be checked.”

Winston gives his fellow Minister an appreciative look. “The letter copier leaves imprints on the original. Good thinking, Leonard.”

“I’ll make certain all of mine are still who they say they are,” Salazar offers, standing up to leave.

“How close was it?” Winston gives him a hard stare that makes Salazar hear the whispering in the back of his mind, the terrified screaming of horses forcibly engaged in war. “To us losing our Grindelwald watchers?”

Salazar doesn’t see any reason to imply otherwise. “Close. It was very close.”

“Will he run?” Leonard asks. “Will Grindelwald run? That’s always been his modus operandi before.”

“That was before Nazi Germany built up a powerbase that Grindelwald could cocoon himself in.” Salazar glances at the other three, all who’ve remained seated. It is, he realizes, a subconscious signal of respect among men who were taught by their families and their schooling that every single gesture has power and meaning. “Grindelwald is intelligent enough to realize that Germany cannot hold everything it has claimed, but he doesn’t believe they will fail to defend their original borders. The Allies will be knocking upon Nurmengard’s front door before Grindelwald realizes he was wrong, and by then, he won’t be able to run. His own paranoia has ensured it.”

Chapter Text

It’s 2nd January of the new year before Salazar can escape London. He has to deal with the SIS, and then the bloody Ministry of Magic. The latter is its own special frustration, as he doesn’t even work for those people! Then there is a British Prime Minister who wants Salazar to get absolutely pissed with him for the holidays before Churchill is off home to get pissed again with family.

Salazar checks on the Willow House, updating Dorea on her husband’s madness—dear gods, it’s genetic—and assures dear Alexis that her brother is fine. Before departing again, he finds Dorea exchanging bemused looks with Nizar’s portrait. “What’s this about, then?”

“Oh, I found myself caught on the fact that your brother easily recognized me as a Black,” Dorea says in a thoughtful voice. “The idea just would not let me be until I realized it was because I find him familiar, as well. I told myself it was because he so resembles you, but that’s not it. I swear I’ve seen this particular face somewhere before.”

Salazar tries not to let that concern him, though Dorea should have no uncertainty regarding what should have been a central piece in her Common Room. Like every Black known to Salazar except for the man who will one day be his little brother’s godfather, Dorea is a Slytherin. “There may still be portraits within Hogwarts. Ones who are of my family, from long ago, before the option to school at Beauxbatons, Durmstrang, or the Irish Academy was a possibility.”

“Oh, I never paid much attention to any of the portraits,” Dorea says at once, shaking her head. “Have you ever been inside the Black Family townhouse in London, Saul?”

“I’ve not had the pleasure, no.”

“It’s not a pleasure.” Dorea’s smile is a bit thinner and unhappier than is her wont. “The portraits in the house, they are…unwelcoming, at best. I learned from an early age to simply avoid them, and the habit carried over to Hogwarts. Given Slytherin House’s reputation, it seemed wiser to avoid any portraits in the dungeons. I didn’t want to hear yet more shouted vileness.”

That would certainly explain why his brother’s visage was only of vague familiarity rather than something Dorea should be quite familiar with. “I’m quite sorry to hear that.”

“Charles dotes on me and allows me to keep our home free of magical portraits, so all is well. Nizar and Isis aren’t bothersome in the slightest, though; perhaps I’ll entertain the idea of magical portraits in the house once more—as long as they’re nothing like the ones in the family townhouse,” Dorea adds, shuddering.

Before leaving England, Salazar visits Marie, who insists he take another large sack of pilfered black-market goods back with him after hearing of the food shortages. “Trust me, it will get worse before anything gets better,” Marie says, and Salazar nods in agreement. Fields cross Europe are barren of crops or lie fallow from the damages of war. Imported items are getting harder to find, and all the more expensive for it. They’ve a garden hidden next to the safehouse, but even an Earth-Speaker can only do so much to encourage plants to grow. It’s his herbology knowledge and their mixed means of creating fertilizer that grants them any sort of harvest at all.

Salazar returns to the Nurmengard safehouse just in time for an Allied bombing raid to begin. From the sound of it, they’re in for a terrible night, but Salazar isn’t concerned for his hearing. He’s worried about those who live in the city itself.

He enters the safehouse to find that it offers no respite from the racket. The others are shouting, their raised voices reminding Salazar far too much of the air raid sirens. “QUIET!” he roars, and is relieved by the silence until he sees the pinched, worried looks on too many faces. “How many of ours are still in the city?”

“Aurelius is safe in Nurmengard. Charles, Jack, and Lewis are in Reims, as scheduled,” Issam says. “But—”

“Nowak, Henry, and Winter are missing. Hornkoff, also. Winter and Henry aren’t responding to Patronus-sent messages,” Annette breaks in, her words fast and clipped. “Hornkoff was finishing his tailoring work for the evening. The others were to meet Nazi officers at the theatre. The old city, Saul.”

Salazar saw the fires lighting up the darkness. The bombs are still falling. “¡Mierda!” He drops the sack, pulls his wand, and marches right back out the door.

“WAIT!” Maxime grabs him by the shoulder before he can Apparate. “You insane fool. Plan! You’d be the first to tell us: we need a plan!”

Salazar stares at her, and then at the others crowding the doorway. It takes more effort than he’d ever thought to need not to hare off into the city. “Right. You’re right. Thank you.”

Maxime nods. “Plan. Now.”

Salazar closes his eyes briefly. “Much as I do not want to remain here…the bombs are still falling. I will not endanger the rest of you if you are so foolish as to follow me into a bloody inferno.” He lifts his chin and opens his eyes. “We’ll wait. The moment we’re certain the raid is over, we go. Four of us are missing. Four pairs. Richter, you’re with me. You’re more familiar with the old city, and I want you to show me the fastest way to that theatre once we’re on the ground.” Richter nods. “Annette, Kaiser. You’re looking for Hornkoff. Try the shop first. If you don’t find him there, or can’t get to it, try his flat. It’s only a few blocks distant. Issam and Elsa, Hopkirk and Maxime. You’re in reserve. Search the surviving crowds that will be gathering. If we find one but not the others, we’ll send word. If your partner has no magic, do it for them. Bubblehead Charms, fire-proofing spells, shielding charms. Take no chances.”

The waiting grates on Salazar’s nerves. Not that he has many of those left, but he’d like for what remains to hold out until the war ends. The moment that the impacts cease, Salazar grabs Richter’s outstretched hand, and they go.

Mein Gott,” Richter whispers when Salazar Apparates them to the edge of the old city. Salazar winces at the piercing wail of the air raid sirens, still blaring their warnings into the night, but it’s far too late. Most of the old city, the original buildings that found their roots when Salazar was still a young man in Burgos, is gone. Everything is either pummeled rubble, craters in the ground, or on fire.

“Ready?” Salazar asks, because he has not yet given up, and he will not. Not until he is pulling bodies from the wreckage.

Ja.” Richter waits for the magic to be cast, but his face twitches in response to the charm that will keep the smoke from killing him. “I hope the others had time to do the same.”

“So do I,” Salazar replies, trying not to think of Hornkoff. He was alone; he isn’t a magician.

The heat is blistering, even through shielding charms and fireproofing magics. It feels like breathing in the fire of a smith’s forge, but Richter refuses to go back, and Salazar will only go forward. They call for Henry, Winter, Nowak, and even Hornkoff. There are almost no landmarks, not with everything still burning.

“How much ordinance did they drop?” Richter asks in shock. “This is madness, Saul.”

“I don’t know. Too much.” Salazar casts yet another diagnostic charm and turns away from the bodies he sees under the rubble. The living come first.

They don’t find anyone alive until dawn, when other survivors begin to creep out from the air raid shelters that didn’t collapse during the night. Richter shouts in wordless exclamation, pointing east. Salazar turns in that direction, wand ready, and then lets out a sigh of relief. “Henry.”

Henry is carrying a child with a bloodied leg, but otherwise the girl seems to be all right. Her rescuer has a blackened scorch mark on the side of his face; his dark hair is nearly white with dust and ash. His suit has certainly seen better days. Behind him are three individuals, a man, a young boy, and a woman, who is nearly walking on Henry’s heels in her effort to maintain her hold on the girl’s hand.

“I’m very glad to see you both,” Henry says. By the hoarseness of his voice, he didn’t quite manage a Bubblehead Charm in time to keep from breathing in noxious smoke, but he’s on his feet and alive.

“Where are Winter and Nowak?” Richter asks while Henry passes the girl along to her insistent mother. Another woman comes shrieking out of the wide-eyed, grey dust-cloaked survivors to attach herself to both child and mother, crying out words of relief to find the rest of her family alive. “They were with you!”

Henry shakes his head, dabbing at the burn on his face with a dirty handkerchief. “No, not when the sirens went off. The meeting at the theatre did not go well. Nowak and Winter went north afterwards. I went south. I was on the verge of Apparating back to the safehouse when one of the first explosions toppled me over. I landed wrong and hit my head. That family there, they were on their way into their own shelter. They were kind enough to pull me inside to join them. When I woke up, I kept the walls from crushing us all when their building was struck. It hasn’t been a good night for anyone.”

“Except for those in the planes,” Richter says bitterly.

“Do you think they’re…” Henry trails off, not wanting to voice the words. He is a man of two wars, but neither took away his concern for the cares of others.

“Not until we find bodies. That is always the rule,” Richter replies.

“What shall we do in the meantime?” Henry asks. “I assume we help with the cleanup, as we’ve done in the past, but…but this is massive. I scarcely know where to begin.”

“The living come first. Fuck the Statute of Secrecy. Germany doesn’t have a Ministry at the moment, anyway. Are you well enough to assist us?” After Henry nods in assent, Salazar grips Richter’s arm. “Regroup with the others searching among the survivors. Find your family.”

“Thank you.” Richter clasps Salazar’s hands in thanks and then darts off, disappearing into the haze of smoke covering the ground. Fires are still burning, flames licking along great massive piles of crumbling stone that used to be buildings.

“At least there are no trenches,” Henry mutters.

Salazar grimaces. Some of the smoke on the ground has a yellowed tint from burning paints and chemicals. He cannot afford that sort of flashback right now. “I truly think this might be worse.”

Issam and Elsa find evidence of Hornkoff’s death. Elsa later confides that between the fires and the collapsing buildings, it was too dangerous to attempt retrieval of their favorite tailor’s remains. Aurelius, back from Reims with Jack and Lewis, volunteers to find Hornkoff’s family. They dwell on the far side of Nuremberg in newer buildings; they’re likely still alive.

Hopkirk finds Nowak and Winter while Maxime is using up their supply of bandages to wrap the wounds of the injured. All Hopkirk will say afterwards is that the two were together, but the blank despair in his eyes tells the others all that is needed. They know the risks of the life and task they’ve chosen. To die in the company of a loved one is much preferable than dying alone.

“Over one thousand dead, and most of a city destroyed. For what?” Salazar asks, feeling ill as he watches the bodies pile up. “No military targets were destroyed. These are civilians.”

“They’re…well, they’re Nazis, Saul,” Lewis ventures. “It’s war, and they chose their side.”

Salazar rounds on him, vaguely aware that green flame is appearing around his hands and arms as his anger takes form. “That child, right there!” He points at a small boy who so unfairly looks as if he’s only sleeping. “DID HE CHOOSE A SIDE?”

Lewis backs up a step, eyes wide in alarm. “N-no. No. I suppose he didn’t.”

“War is always about sides!” Salazar shouts. “But you stay true to the fight, you bear your wand and your weapons against the soldiers the enemy sends against you! You do not slaughter!

“Saul.” Henry takes his hand, ignoring the green flame of Salazar’s magic. “Come. Come along. Leave him be. Lewis is just trying to cope with this madness, same as the rest of us.”

Salazar has no idea where Henry leads him; he is blinded by rage, sick with guilt and grief. Marie still has the right of it: this war must be won, but Salazar has lived long enough to know that wars can be ended without this much death. Hatred is what drives slaughter. People who have become not living beings, but targets. Enemy. Other.

“Did we Apparate?” Salazar asks when he realizes they’re within the confines of the hillside safehouse once more.

Henry shakes his head. “No, Saul. You didn’t really…well, at least you’re no longer terrifying the locals.”

Salazar looks down at his hands, which are free of flame. “My—my apologies. I lost my temper.”

“It was actually wondrous to behold, though Annette and I worried you were going to burn poor Lewis out of existence.” Henry presses a glass into Salazar’s hand, filled with vodka attained by the Soviet’s new presence in the local black market. “Drink it. I think we both need it.”

The vodka burns going down. “Gods, that’s cheap,” Salazar coughs out, trying to clear his throat. He’s slowly realizing that his hands are blackened and filthy, that his shirt is no longer white, but wholly grey from digging through debris. His trousers are torn at the knees, his boots scuffed and ripped. Henry didn’t fare much better. The only clean skin on his face is below his eyes.

“I was twelve when I first saw war.” Salazar coughs again, surprised by his own unplanned words. “It was terrible, the spilling of blood, death—but we were soldiers fighting other soldiers. We weren’t slaughtering each other’s people. They might’ve wanted our land just as much as we wanted ours back from them, but land means nothing if the people are gone.”

Henry sits down beside him, letting out a deep sigh. “The trenches of the last war were awful. I still dream of them. The mud, the water, the stench. I still dream of being terrified of going over the wall, and I had magic to shield me from German bullets. Too many of the friends I made did not, and I couldn’t shelter them all. Still, we were soldiers fighting against other soldiers. Perhaps we’re both too old for this sort of war.”

Salazar rubs his finger along his glass, studying the smear of filth he leaves behind. “You are never too old to stand up and say that others have a right to exist.” The leveling of old Nuremberg makes Salazar wonder if the Allies are doing the same, all unknowing, to the camps. If they only see uniforms and military targets, and not all of the innocents trapped within.

Gods, he hopes not. The fucking SS don’t need the help.

Henry pours them each another round of terrible vodka. “Then may this war finish what the Hague Convention started. May humanity recognize all of these wrongs on both sides, and declare that they should never happen again.”

Salazar nods and taps Henry’s glass. “I’ll drink to that.”

In February, Kaiser is the one who screams up at the sky, shaking her fist. “COULD YOU NOT DO A BETTER JOB OF ENTIRELY MISSING THE MILITARY TARGETS?”

Salazar bitterly agrees with her, but this time manages to hold onto his temper. This was a raid conducted during the day. The weather was fair. There was no excuse for them to miss so badly, and now another thousand civilians are dead for it—probably far more than that, but grudging estimates are all they have. They do what they’ve done from the start, helping those who need it while listening to the words that float through the air from angry Nazi soldiers who forget—or do not care—that spies can be anywhere.

The Allies continue to advance on all fronts, surrounding Germany, but the bombs still fall. March sees the city burying or burning more civilian dead. Only in April do the bastards flying overhead get it right, but by then the city itself is under siege. Nuremberg is screaming from top to bottom, the earth a blaze of injured rage beneath his feet.

“Do you think it’s a coincidence that the Allies are finally hitting what they’re supposed to be aiming for now that there are Allied soldiers in the area?” Charles asks.

Salazar snorts his opinion of that. “No.” He has perspective enough to understand the rage from the pilots in the RAF, those who’ve lost families or suffered under threat of the Blitz. He is not so forgiving of the USAAF, whose anger should properly be directed at Japan.

Perhaps he is not too old for this sort of war, but he is certainly too cynical, and far too bitter.

The Nazi soldiers who survive the bombing runs choose to fight back against the encroaching Allies. Some of the civilians who are truly enraged by what has been done to their city, to their people, assist them. The twelve remaining members of their spying group remain in the safehouse and wait out the battles, else they risk being killed by friendly fire.

Salazar loathes that term. There is no such thing as friendly fire. If it kills you, it was not your friend.

Nuremberg falls to the Allies. Grindelwald’s fortress still stands like a blight on the landscape.

Then Berlin is invaded. Soviets and their eastern allies all but destroy the Reichstag, but none among Salazar’s people mourn the loss. Kaiser goes wide-eyed upon hearing the news, apologizes, and then steals a Nazi officer’s car to help liberate her city of birth.

They’ve no sooner learned of U.S. President Roosevelt’s unexpected death when word arrives that Italian dictator Mussolini was executed by his own people. A few days afterward, Hitler is dead by his own hand.

Salazar is not the only one who breathes a sigh of relief when Spencer-Moon and Churchill don’t attempt to follow the others’ ill-timed examples. Stalin is also still hale, which might prove problematic later, but Salazar can only focus on so many difficulties at once.

On 8th May, Nazi Germany formally surrenders. It’s been less than a year since Operation Overlord turned the ocean into bitter wine. The battles in the Pacific are not yet decisive, but they lean more towards victory than failure.

Gellert Grindelwald does not surrender. The non-magical war in Europe might be over, but the Wizarding War is not yet won.

As Salazar predicted, Grindelwald is smarter than Hitler. Instead of sending out his army of magicians to wage offensive campaigns, he withdraws. He fortifies the land around Nurmengard, turning a simple assault into a siege.

There is no more spying to do. With the arrival of the mixed magical and non-magical brigades and the volunteers who’ve joined them, it is now down to fighting. True to his word, Rufus Scrimgeour is with them, and he is as vicious as his visage. Regulus and Lycorus Black arrive in command of a different group, which inclines Salazar to think more favorably of them than he does of their parents. He spies one wizard who is possibly a Longbottom, but that isn’t confirmed until Charles identifies him as Harfang Longbottom. Ignatius Prewett is present where his Auror wife is not, but Lucretia has an infant to look after, and a Minister to keep an eye on. Alphard Black, cousin of Regulus and Lycorus, nephew to Dorea, looks far too young to be on a battlefield at all, but that can be said of many. Robert Hitchens II, brother-in-law to John Morgan, is intent upon revenge on his family’s behalf. Will Potter arrives with the same mixed brigade Rufus fights with; two other Potter cousins, father Victor and son Gilbert, are fighting in another. Henry identifies a cluster of Weasleys, blue-eyed gingers to counter the brown-eyed ginger Prewetts.

Too many of their allies still fall to Grindelwald’s wand.

Churchill is forced by politics to resign on 23rd May, which makes Salazar find an empty building in which to howl curses, some of them literal. This was not the time to leave the Minister for Magic scrambling to continue to fight the rest of the European Wizarding War alone! Britain will be without a Prime Minister until one can be elected, and Churchill is now very limited in what assistance he can provide. The combined Muggle and magical Allied battalions stand strong, but they’re becoming nervous, shifting bodies—and not only because they’re trying to pry Gellert Grindelwald out of an impenetrable magical fortress.

Salazar wakes up in the middle of the night the third week of July, baffled. For the first time he can recall, he dreamed of fire, but not flame. Sunlight, perhaps? The sun itself? He doesn’t know which it could be; he only knows that it was bright, and it was burning.

He gets up and makes a cup of truly horrific instant coffee, the container supplied by one of the occupying Allied soldiers in trade for a decent bloody map. Then he spies Aurelius growling under his breath as he climbs the cellar stairs to the kitchen. Salazar finds an extra tin cup to make another horrible bit of coffee.

“Thanks,” Aurelius grumbles in acceptance. “Why are you awake, Saul?”

“A dream that I don’t understand—”

Words stop making sense. The surge of power beneath his feet is so foreign that it obliterates thought.

Later, all he can tell the others is that it was not magic. It was not good. It was simply power, of a sort that did not belong. It was accompanied by the rumbling echo mindful of an earthquake, but the others later say that they experienced none of these things.

Then comes the sensation of burning. It touches the soles of his feet, spreading upwards, until Salazar feels as if the fire he dreamed of is now consuming him, and it will not stop

The next time Salazar opens his eyes without pain, there is a canvas tent ceiling over his head. He recognizes the feel of magic in the air and realizes he’s in one of the medical tents for the Wizarding-Muggle Allied battalions, which conveniently swallowed all of the Allied spies they encountered along the way. He feels burnt, but worse is the feeling of sickness lurking behind it.

There is no one nearby when Salazar attempts to reach out, seeking to find whatever has been done to the earth. The worst earthquakes never affect his affinity for the earth in such a fashion. He’s felt nothing like this before, not even when Krakatoa destroyed itself.

Salazar finds that same sensation of bright heat, still so easy to discern. He follows it as far as he can before he has to stop, rather occupied with sicking up over the side of the bed. He breaks out in a sweat that will not cease, an echo of that terrible burning. He’d claim it a fever, but it isn’t. Not his own, at least.

Elsa and Jack are the ones to find him slumped over the side, too weary to even Vanish the scant mess of foul liquid. Jack does most of the work of turning him back over while Elsa begins casting her healing charms, seeking the cause of his illness.

“What is wrong with you, Saul?” Elsa finally asks, confounded by results she has never been taught to read.

Jack helps him to take a drink first. “Give the man a moment, you daft woman.”

“Call me daft again, and I’ll tie your testicles into a knot,” Elsa retorts in German. Jack rolls his eyes, but he’d be wiser not to push his luck.

“I’m an Earth-Speaker,” Salazar finally tells them. “A form of elemental magician tied only to one aspect.”

“What the bloody hell is that?” Jack asks, but Elsa is nodding.

“Yes, that would explain your ease with Fahrend,” she says. “I have always wondered about that. What has been done to the earth?”

Salazar shakes his head. “I’ve no idea. None. She feels like she is on fire, and she feels ill. I can’t even tell you where. I cannot get close enough without…” He swallows when bile threatens to burn his throat. “Proximity. I’ve experienced nothing like it before.”

Elsa presses her lips together before nodding. “You need to stay where you are—I mean it, Saul. There are enough of us surrounding Grindelwald’s ridiculous castle that we will not perish without your wand.”

“Tell me what day it is, at least.”

“It’s the eighteenth, mate,” Jack answers him. “You missed a few days, there.”

Salazar gives him a blank stare. “Bloody hell.”

“Hopkirk died the same day your mystery illness felled you,” Henry tells him when he and Charles come to visit sometime the next day. Salazar can’t recall the last time a healing sleep felt like it did nothing at all. “Grindelwald has come out several times to participate in the defence of Nurmengard. We suspect he might’ve recognized Hopkirk, because Grindelwald sought him out.”

Charles’s expression is pinched. “And Grindelwald always wins. We’re still losing too many fighters to that blighter’s wand.”

The Elder Wand. Salazar closes his eyes, grieving the death of yet another good person in this stupid fucking war. “Anyone else?”

“Kaiser,” Henry says in regret. “Word came from Berlin just yesterday that she died while fighting with the Allies in Berlin.”

Charles sighs. “Richter, also. When Grindelwald started to take our assaults on Nuremberg seriously, we asked him to stay away from the magical fighting. He saved Lewis’s life, though.”

“Fuck.” Fuck, fuck, fuck! He’s glad that Lewis still lives, but they’ve already paid such a steep price.

“Succinctly put, yes,” Henry agrees. He and Charles both look tired. Salazar doesn’t want to spend the rest of 1945 in an Allied camp in Germany, especially not when he feels like this.

“You’ll need a trump card if you want to stop Grindelwald.”

“Someone Grindelwald won’t expect to fight, you mean,” Henry interprets, exchanging an odd glance with his brother.

“Yes.” Salazar wants to just tell them, but then Charles and Henry would wish to know how he could be so certain. They have to figure this out themselves.

Henry briefly grips his shoulder. “Rest. We’ll ask among the others. Someone here must know something about Grindelwald that we’ve not yet learned about.”

Salazar spends far more of the next week sleeping than he has ever preferred. Every time he attempts to rise, the act of placing his feet upon the ground brings that sick feeling to his magical core. It isn’t poisoning him; the mere awareness is simply enough to leave him gasping and trying not to retch. He suspects Elsa is also sneaking sleeping draughts into his scant meals, hoping it will speed the healing process. Salazar knows better, even if he can’t convince her. It isn’t his body that’s ailing. It’s the earth, and he might ail as long as she does.

Will Potter dies on 20th July. Gilbert Potter on the 21st. His father Victor on the 22nd. Henry’s shoulders look to be breaking under the weight of grief.

Jack Trader is killed by Grindelwald’s lieutenant, Inge, on the 25th. Inge is killed immediately afterwards by Rufus Scrimgeour.

Salazar wakes up on the 26th of July to find his bedside surrounded. Henry and Charles are with him, something they’ve done as often as possible as the fighting continues. Aurelius, Issam, Maxime, Lewis, and Elsa are present, as is Marie. She’s seated next to him, which is baffling when she is meant to be in London.

There is no one else left from their German enclave of spies but for Annette. Salazar hopes to the gods that Annette’s absence means only that she is busy with other matters. “What’s happened?”

“The war is over,” Aurelius announces. He then makes a choked sound before turning away to hide his grieving relief.

“That is…” Salazar struggles to sit up, glaring at Elsa when she tries to stop him, and manages to stay upright without incident. “That is not nearly enough detail.”

“It was your idea. Your trump card,” Charles rests his hand on Henry’s shoulder. “When we went asking about the possibility of an ally Grindelwald might be felled by, someone he used to know…”

“Aberforth Dumbledore knew exactly who we needed. I’m uncertain if I will ever like that man, but I can’t argue with his results,” Henry adds.

“There was a great deal of grand-standing involved. I don’t like him at all,” Maxime says flatly. “But I will tolerate him.”

Salazar glances at Lewis. “They’ve decided not to make sense. Who are they speaking of?”

Lewis grins. “I’ll like the man, even if they don’t. It was Albus Dumbledore, Aberforth’s older brother. Albus and Grindelwald knew each other when they were younger. I suspect romance, but the others won’t go for it. To be honest, I’m not concerned about the truth, not when Albus has defeated Grindelwald.”

“Grindelwald is dead?” Salazar asks in disbelief. He can certainly understand Aurelius’s reaction to that sort of outcome.

“No, but he may not live for long once our allied magical governments put him on trial,” Elsa says. “My people are angry that Hitler escaped justice. Grindelwald will not.”

They must have been waiting for him to wake, as none linger for long afterwards. Elsa has a responsibility to her other patients, but pats Salazar’s hand before departing. Aurelius has suddenly become one of the magical Allies’ primary witnesses and German interpreters, and claims to have a schedule so full that even God would look at it askance. Charles give Salazar a brief nod before he departs, but his skin is too pale, his eyes too grim.

Marie hugs him for only the second time in their acquaintance. She, Issam, and Maxime are off to join Annette to search the nearby liberated camps for their missing family members. That gives Salazar a moment of quiet relief; Annette is one he will not have to grieve for.

I should join them, Salazar thinks, and his entire being tries to seize up in immediate protest. The idea of seeing the camps again nearly leaves him heaving over the side of the bed again. There are limits as to what he can endure and remain sane, and it seems as if he surpassed them all months ago.

“What happened?” Salazar asks Henry when the latter seats himself in Marie’s vacated chair. Henry’s visage is far too sober for a man meant to be celebrating the end of a war.

“We most likely have a new Prime Minister of Britain, but I’m not certain yet,” Henry replies. “The war against the Japanese in the Pacific is proceeding at such a pace that there have been no fears in asking for Japan’s surrender. Leonard has announced that he’ll be retiring at the end of the year. I think the war has all but done him in. Someone else will have the joy of being Minister for Magic.”

“Henry.”

Henry grimaces and tilts his head up, his eyes focused on a small tear in the canvas that lets dim light enter the tent. “Do you recall my telling you of my cousin Joseph, who died during the Great War?”

Oh, that’s not an auspicious beginning. “I do.”

“Joseph’s widow has survived him by quite a bit. She’s seventy-five now. Kezia Longbottom Potter is her name; she is quite a woman. She was so pleased when her son Victor married Helena Black. She would be one of Phineas Black II’s daughters—not that Lycorus’s rotting branch would notice. They named their only son Gilbert, his grandfather’s second name.”

“Henry,” Salazar repeats gently.

Henry gives in. “The only relatives left to me are my brother, our great-aunt, baby Sam, four surviving cousins from the line of my great-great-uncle Randolph, and our in-laws. Everyone else died in this fucking war.”

Salazar flinches, even though this is not his fault, nor his choice. He wasn’t even aware of how many Potters were in Europe. “I am so very sorry.”

Henry doesn’t seem to have heard his words at all. “Charlotte has already invited Kezia and Helena to live with her in the London townhouse. I—” He chokes down a pitiful sound of grief. “Will didn’t even get to hear the news that Charlotte safely bore their child on the sixteenth. I only found out just this morning. She named him Samuel George. She doesn’t even know about Will yet.”

“Gods,” Salazar whispers. Will was a good man. He deserved to know of that happiness, no matter how brief.

“If not for a few days’ difference, I suspect her baby would be George William Junior.” Henry sighs and wipes his eyes with the back of his hand. “Cousins Walter and Gilbert were born sterile. Cousin Robert is uninterested in women. Cousin Olivia’s only child died young. Myself, Charles, Monty, and George are the only Potters remaining who are capable of carrying on the family name.”

Salazar stares at Henry in disbelief. “I know there were quite a number of magical Potter branches at the turn of the century—”

Henry shakes his head. “All gone. All of them, Saul. Truly all of them. If not from old age, then accidents happened, or they died in the Great War, or it was this war. We lost our cousins to the Nazis, their widows and children to the Blitz, to illness …it may sound a bit selfish, but I’m glad that my father and Uncle Walter died before things became so dire for the family. Their generation, and the ones before them—they were extensive, Saul. It would have been hard for them to see how decimated we are now.”

“Your generation was not exactly empty, Henry.”

“I suppose not, but my second cousin Carl wasn’t married. Neither was Alex—he turned eighteen and followed Carl to Europe. They died two weeks ago. Their father John, my father’s first cousin once removed, died on the very last day of the European Wizarding War. Just yesterday. One more day and he would have gone home. Monty and Samuel are the last remaining Potter children until they prove themselves capable of surviving long enough to marry and have children of their own.”

Salazar hesitates before giving voice to something that has been suspicion only. “You don’t believe Dorea will ever have children, do you?”

“No. Dorea suspects her father Cygnus cursed her before his unlamented death. If he didn’t, her dear uncle Sirius would certainly not have hesitated, nor Pollux or Cassiopeia. A curse is so much more socially acceptable than disowning their sister for marrying well,” Henry spits bitterly. “Worse, it is a curse that can’t be proven.”

Politics would keep Henry from demanding satisfaction from the Black family even if the curse could be proven. “Walburga would be more likely to be the guilty party when it comes to cursing family members. That one is as mad as her father-in-law.”

Henry smiles without humor. “You’re probably right. Dorea’s youngest sister is the most spiteful of them all, and given the rumors that fly about regarding Pollux and Cassiopeia Black, that is quite a feat.”

Salazar frowns. “You sound as if you and Elizabetha have given up on the idea of more children, as well.”

“Elizabetha and I knew after Monty was born that he would be the only child we would have. We considered adoption, but then the war began, and now…I think Europe has worn me down, Saul. I will cherish Monty and be grateful for what my wife and I were granted.”

Henry retrieves the handkerchief from his breast pocket and unashamedly dabs at his eyes. “When the European Wizarding War began, there were still thirty-two Potters in Wizarding Britain. Discounting our in-laws, now there are only nine.”

Salazar closes his eyes for a moment. Nine. No wonder his little brother had been so utterly alone in the world. “I’m—I am very sorry. It will not help your grief, but believe me when I say that I understand what you have lost.”

Henry gives him a brief look before nodding. “Your losses are far worse. It makes me feel selfish to speak of my own.”

“No. No man’s sorrow should be measured against another’s.” Salazar glances around the tent, which holds more camp beds than it did eight days ago. Too many have sheets that are pulled up to hide the faces of the dead.

“I want to go home.” Only after the words are spoken does Salazar realize they were his own.

Henry pats his hand, just as Elsa had. “So do I.”

 

*         *         *         *

 

Salazar’s last debrief with the SIS on third August before he formally—and rather forcefully—retires from their service is with both Minister for Magic Spencer-Moon and new Prime Minister Clement Attlee, who seems to have taken to the existence of magic quite well. Salazar supposes it helped that Wizarding Britain fought alongside the Allied forces to defeat Nazi Germany while also fighting a magical war of their own. Henry joins him as the most senior British magician present aside from Salazar’s apparent Muggle seniority; Charles declines the opportunity to yell at his Minister in person. The others are still in Europe…or in too many cases, being buried there.

He also discovers what felled him on 16th July.

“The Americans admitted to conducting a test of a nuclear weapon. An atomic bomb.”

Salazar stares at Leonard in disbelief. He’d heard of the experimental thoughts regarding fusion and fission as potential sources of powering electrical equipment and kinetic energy, respectively, but he seems to have missed the moment when someone took hold of the latter and ran with it towards nuclear bombs.

Henry is less well-read in the matters of non-magical science, but he listens and learns, and he is not a fool. “What sort of atoms were used in this bomb?”

“Plutonium, I believe,” Attlee answers, but then he grimaces. “There is a rumor that there will be more detonations. I’m not certain I agree with their intentions. I was taught that large doses of radiation is rather bad for you.”

“It is, yes,” Salazar replies. Later, he can’t remember the rest of the bloody meeting. He’s much too caught on the idea of the detonation of radioactive elements, deliberately so, on land. That science wishes to do so again smacks of madness.

He doesn’t listen to the next debrief, which is meant for everyone British and part of SIS, newly returned to British soil. They’re a depressingly small number, and a rather depressed lot. Some of them enjoyed their jobs too much; the rest sensibly enjoyed their jobs too little.

Aside from reciting things these men most likely already know, Salazar thinks Attlee to be a decent man, the right sort of Prime Minister for a Britain no longer at war. Churchill is also a good man, but Salazar greeted him yesterday and found someone who was mentally stumbling. Even though Churchill is the newly named Leader of the Opposition, he has not yet set his mind to peace. If anything, he seems prepared for more war, this time from the Soviets. Salazar could only share a drink and agree with Winston; Stalin already refuses to give back what Soviet Allies claimed during Nazi Germany’s invasion and defeat.

Salazar goes to the Willow House and receives a hug from Dorea, who thanks him for looking after the family. He protests at once, as he was a bit too busy being ill to do so during the final battles. She counters that he did a fine job before that time, so it still matters, and she is thanking him for it.

All Salazar can really tell her of the last battle is that Albus Dumbledore dueled Gellert Grindelwald, and Grindelwald lost. When Salazar asked about the wand Grindelwald held, none could quite remember what it looked like. It wasn’t found after Albus Dumbledore disarmed Grindelwald, and the witnesses were a bit more concerned with confining Grindelwald to care about a wand. Charles theorized that perhaps someone stepped on the wand and snapped it like a twig, and was rather taken aback when Salazar viciously expressed his hope that Charles was correct.

He is never that lucky. More than likely, the Hallow protected itself, and is now in some new fool’s unfortunate hand.

Alexis enters the house by way of the kitchen door for the back garden, spies him, and flings her armload of vegetables at the countertop so she can hug him. Salazar lets out a very faint sigh of relief that she not only recognized him, but willingly touched him without fear. Perhaps she will be well, and all his fears meaningless.

“I can go home now, yes?” Alexis asks after seeing for herself that Salazar is in one piece. “I wish very much to see my brother.” Then she hesitates. “And to see if there is any family left to us that did not choose Grindelwald or the Nazis.”

“That, I cannot answer, but yes, you can go home. We should do Dorea the kindness of taking her home first, though.”

“Oh, never you mind about that,” Dorea waves them off. “I’ll return by Floo. I’m wanting to see Charles right now, and I’m hopeful the feeling is still mutual. Oh, and it’s fully expected that you will keep in touch, Saul.”

“Of course,” Salazar answers, thinking that the Potters have now welcomed a busybody into their lives they might soon wish to be without. “There are funerals to see to, after all.”

Dorea gives him a grieved look after tossing powder into the Floo. “If Henry gets lost in the arrangements, I’ll make certain you know when they’re to be scheduled.”

“Thank you.”

After Dorea departs, Salazar takes Alexis by the hand, uses Desplazarse to bring them to the southernmost tip of England, and then crosses the Channel. He avoids Normandy. He still dreams of sandy shores soaked with spilled wine that he always realizes, too late, is not wine at all.

Aurelius is beyond grateful to see Alexis doing so well. Alexis immediately makes off her brother, wanting to hear more of the German efforts to restore some form of working magical government in their country that isn’t Grindelwald.

Elsa has moved on from their encampment in Nuremberg and is now touring with those who are tending to the survivors of the camps. The Western Allies are calling the results of the camps a holocaust, which is certainly accurate.

Marie, Annette, and others of their people call it the Sho’ah. Destruction.

Issam, Maxime, and Marie cross paths with Annette often, usually to hand over lists of survivors from other camps that Annette copies out by hand before passing them along. Elsa makes her own copies, and the lists posted in her handwriting help Salazar to discover that Marie has found her younger sister—in ill health, but alive. Annette has a surviving brother. Issam found his parents in a Soviet camp for POWs, which left him baffled and putting his nascent law skills to work at once, as neither of his parents were soldiers. Lewis returned home with an injury to his left leg that could not be fully healed, but won’t stop him from taking on his inheritance. The mixed Muggle-Wizarding battalions are returning to British soil, where they will be formally disbanded. The non-magical will not be Obliviated, but have vowed to say nothing of magic, wizards, or a magical war; their families will only know that they are coming home after their service in World War II.

There is nothing more to do. Salazar sits on a crumbling stone wall in the ruins of old Nuremberg, watching soldiers and civilians perform their tasks, and thinks on how many people should still be alive. He also thinks on visiting Rowena’s tomb, but isn’t certain he can cope with a small island of Bavarian peace in a sea of death.

“And what of you?” Aurelius asks when he finds Salazar sitting on the wall. “What are your plans, Saul Luiz?”

“Now that I’ve seen to everyone who remains to be seen, I’ll be returning home,” Salazar replies.

And if they’re to be detonating more nuclear bombs, I’ll be preparing for what may be a very lengthy illness.

Unfortunately, he isn’t wrong. He just doesn’t expect how terrible it will be.

Chapter Text

Salazar lurks in the back row of the church hosting the Potter family’s funerals, a stranger to almost everyone involved. He prefers it that way, and Leonard Spencer-Moon wanted a reason to hide in the back, anyway. The Potters are sensible enough not to blame the Minister for Magic for their wartime losses, but others have threatened retaliation, duels, poisonings, and any other sort of mischief they feel they might get away with.

“At least you’ve already announced your retirement,” Salazar murmurs as the service drones on. From the single glance he caught of Elizabetha’s face, he strongly suspects her to be meditating upright with her eyes open, ignoring the long-winded priest. “I imagine it would be worse if you hadn’t.”

“I don’t even want to think about what that might be like,” Leonard replies. They’re both relieved when the service moves on to the Potter crypt in Chiltern Hills, where they can again lurk on the edge of the mourning crowd and be largely ignored.

“It’s so easy to spot the ones who are anti-isolationist,” Leonard says, tilting his head at others. “Count the umbrellas.”

“The modern ones, at least,” Salazar agrees. He rather likes the one he purchased a decade ago, which has a perfectly serviceable sword lurking within the handle. Too many wars in too brief a time have made him justifiably paranoid, and there is another war that will begin…soon.

That is all he and Nizar know. Soon.

“Did that damned book not say?” Salazar asked his brother’s portrait not two days ago.

“No!” Nizar rolled his eyes. “Hogwarts: A History wasn’t useful for much of anything. Why would it be useful for that? I know from an entirely different book that the Ministry recognized the war in 1975, but Death Eaters were killing people for years before that!”

Salazar rather hopes another Half-blood will be in charge of the Ministry when that all comes to a head. Leonard’s presence helped keep things in balance in the Wizengamot, especially when too many of the Pure-blooded idiot families wanted to know why Britain wasn’t following Grindelwald’s excellent lead. Salazar wonders if they’d be so willing to follow Grindelwald into his new prison cell.

Charlotte wanders over after the service is concluded, using a charm to keep the rain and the damp off herself and the infant she carries. “I wanted to introduce you,” she says softly, blinking fresh tears out of her eyes. “Pardon me. It seems all I do of late is leak in inappropriate places.”

Salazar grins, though Leonard develops a sudden fit of coughing. “I’m not bothered in the least. This is young Samuel George Potter, then?”

Charlotte nods, pulling back the pink blanket to reveal more of the baby’s face. He has his father’s black hair, but Salazar rather suspects those infant blue eyes are going to turn grey to match those of his mother. “It was an easy birth, despite all my fears. He has the proper number of fingers and toes, and he can wail like a banshee.”

Salazar brushes the back of his knuckle along the baby’s red cheek, catching a divinatory flash of curly brown hair and violet eyes. “And excellent taste in women, eventually.”

Charlotte handles the random moment of divination with good grace. “Then I hope she’s as kind as she is pretty. Leonard, she had best not be one of your granddaughters!”

Leonard looks miffed. “It isn’t my job to arrange my children’s marriages, much less the weddings of my grandchildren. They can make a hash of that all on their own!”

“Saul, that’s Helena,” Charlotte says quietly, tilting her head at a black-haired woman. Most of her features are otherwise hidden beneath a very dark veil. “The poor dear. I knew there was a chance I might lose Will to the war, and I’m so grateful I have Sam, but…but she lost everything, Saul. Helena has been a good companion these past few weeks, and doesn’t complain when a baby’s wail wakes her in the night, but Helena’s heart is broken by the loss of her husband and son. I worry.”

“What of Madam Potter?” Leonard asks. “I imagine this has not been easy on Kezia, either, not after losing Joseph to the Great War.”

“She took ill last year.” Charlotte’s voice drops until it is all but inaudible. “Helena and I are tending her, and Henry is arranging for extra assistance, but—well, she was a Longbottom first. She’ll either succumb quickly, or outlive us all out of spite. Oh, hello, Monty!”

“Hi, Aunt Charlotte,” Monty replies, dubbing her an aunt in the way of young Pure-bloods addressing the older generation. Of late, the title of Cousin seems to be reserved for those who are several times removed.

Charlotte gives Monty a brief look of pursed lips. “Are you all right?”

Monty scuffs his shiny black shoes in the wet grass, a remaining sign of youthful mannerisms. “I’m all right. I hope you and the baby are doing well.”

“We are, thank you—oh, my apologies, but that would be Helena wishing to depart. I shouldn’t linger for long out in the damp with the baby, anyway.” Charlotte bids them farewell and hurries to catch up with her Black cousin; like Dorea, Helena properly acknowledges her kin, though Helena doesn’t seem to have lost any of a Black’s pretentious airs.

“Are you looking forward to your next year of Hogwarts, young man?” Leonard asks, settling on a safe topic that isn’t an excessive number of funerals.

Monty nods. “I suppose I am, Minister Spencer-Moon. It’ll be nice to not be worried about Dad and Uncle Charles so much, and…” He swallows. “Uncle Will told me in one of his last letters that I deserved what I’d got, agreeing to be a Prefect last year. I don’t really want to do it again this year, but I won’t have to worry about it for a fair bit, anyway.” Monty is then called away before Salazar can ask what that means.

Leonard shrugs when the question is directed at him. “Armando announced to the Ministry last week that he was thinking of delaying the opening of Hogwarts this term, what with so many of our people coming home from the war. Families needing time together, he said.”

“But you don’t think his reasons are the truth.”

“There was a bit of nasty business last year, in June. I don’t believe it was handled well at all, but as you’ll no doubt recall, I was a bit preoccupied at the time with affairs in Europe,” Leonard says testily. “Armando couldn’t justify closing the school during the previous term, not when it was safer for our children to be far away from any German targets. With the war ended, I imagine he’s now trying to smooth things over. No doubt he hopes the others will forget that a student died under his watch.”

Salazar glances at him. “I didn’t hear about that,” he says, but he remembers it. At the age of twenty-one, he saw her death reflected by the water in a silver bowl. He even knows who caused the student’s death, but it’s the when that has finally been answered.

“Oh, it was a terrible business. Armando pinned the student’s death on an Acromantula, of all things.” Leonard sighs. “And that, Saul, is the day I learned that most of my constituents and contemporaries are complete imbeciles. They believed him. It was necessary to intervene to get an innocent student out of Azkaban, and that was after the school’s board of governors had already judged him guilty without trial, snapped the poor child’s wand, and expelled him from Hogwarts! The one thing I couldn’t do was reinstate the boy at school. The governors hold sway in that matter, as does Armando Dippet, and neither were willing to change their minds. The poor lad’s an orphan with no family, but one of the staff at Hogwarts brought him back to the school grounds to help with upkeep. I imagine Rubeus will be given the job officially now that he’s properly of age.”

“What are you going to do about the murder, then, if the murderer still roams free?” Salazar asks, curious and more than a little concerned.

“Retire, as I told you,” Leonard says dryly. “If they’ll let me. Our bloody heroic Chief Warlock is already suggesting I should wait a year or two instead of abandoning my office right at the war’s end. My idiot constituents are listening to Albus, too, even though Albus couldn’t be bothered to concern himself with the war until it was no longer much of a concern at all.” Leonard huffs, wrinkling his nose and mustache. “I don’t think there is anything to do, not really. Whatever was causing the school’s difficulties stopped with that poor student’s death. Some say they themselves must then have been the culprit, but the poor girl most certainly didn’t commit suicide. I’d say the true culprit graduated that year, and is most likely off causing trouble elsewhere.”

Tom Marvolo Riddle didn’t graduate until this past June, Salazar thinks, but doesn’t say such a thing to Leonard. Right now, Tom Riddle is still marked with the shine of an accomplished recent graduate. The number of accolades he’s been buried under is quite frankly disconcerting. It does cause Salazar to wonder why Tom would cease terrorizing the school with only one victim claimed, especially as he had a full school term remaining afterwards.

Henry is the last to meet with them as the sun sets. The only family left in the Hills is Elizabetha, waiting with Monty; all of their guests and few remaining kin have gone home. “Thank you both for coming. And thank you for not using this as an opportunity for politics,” Henry adds.

Leonard shakes his head. “I never do, though by the Prophet’s accountings, you wouldn’t know it. My sympathies to your family, Henry.” He shakes Henry’s hand, then knocks the water from his umbrella before Disapparating.

Henry grips Salazar’s hand and refuses to let go after a simple shake. “Dorea wasn’t speaking idly. You saved my life, Charles’s life—even Will’s life, though we lost him later. You said it yourself, Saul. We’re family, you and I, and you’ll remember to treat us as such.”

Salazar smiles and nods, accepting defeat before an argument can be formulated. He’s not certain he wants to argue against Henry’s declaration, though he most likely should. “I will not. I need to spend time in my own home for a bit, breathing familiar air, but I’ll be about.”

“Good.” Henry releases his hand and steps back. “Teej is on the tenth of this month. My wife is rather fond of the day.”

“I don’t remember what that one is for,” Salazar admits.

“To be honest, I’ve been married for twenty-six years, and I’m still not certain I’ve absorbed all the nuances involved—and Elizabetha declares it simple.” Henry shakes his head. “Teej,” he repeats.

“Teej, yes, agreed, lest you drag me out of my own house!”

 

*         *         *         *

 

Salazar doesn’t sleep very often. He considers it an odd side effect of his age, one he experiences in growing frequency as the centuries pass. The Great War, now being referred to as World War I, did not help; World War II has made it so much harder to close his eyes in the darkness. He imagines the only thing keeping him from being destroyed by shellshock is Mind Magic, and even that’s been a bit of a struggle to balance. He does not have perfect recall, but there is still so much in his head, and his mind likes to ponder violence and grief more often than it likes to lounge in remembered moments of joy.

When men poisoned the earth with spreading, noxious fire in July, Salazar had been asleep, and his dreams granted him warning. This time, he does not have a warning but for the sudden, impending sense that something is about to occur. Given that he’s spent his entire afternoon attending funerals, it’s an alarming sensation that nearly makes him panic.

Salazar puts down the knives he was using to carve up garden vegetables for a late meal, noting the time as almost fifteen minutes past eleven o’clock. He goes to the sitting room, intending to turn on the radio to see if there is news of any incoming danger, and thinks it very odd that his house has suddenly become dark.

The next time Salazar blinks his eyes open, it’s to find bright morning sunlight illuminating the ceiling above him. He knows at once that something must have gone badly wrong, as blinking seems to be the extent of his ability to move. He feels like he is being pressed into a soft surface—a bed, he supposes—by gravity herself. He’s only ever experienced this weakness of the body after long periods of illness, or extended recovery from injury.

He also has no idea where he is. This is not a ceiling of the Willow House, nor is that one of his own windows.

“Where the hell am I?” he intends to say, but instead utters a horrific croak.

Salazar jerks his head back against a pillow when there is suddenly a narrow-chinned face peering down at him. His heart only begins to calm its panicked beating when he recognizes Monty. “Sssshit. Don’t…”

“Sorry,” Monty apologizes. “It’s just that you haven’t moved in a while. I’ll go fetch Mum!”

Monty bounces off, leaving Salazar more baffled than before. He is also panting for breath just from managing two entire words. Bloody hell, what happened?

Monty does not just return with his mother, but also with his father. Salazar feels an immediate sense of relief. Words are difficult, but Henry was a fast learner when it came to the signs and signals of the hands used by spies on the battleground. “Where am I?”

“You’re a spy like Aunt Dorea’s friend Madam Marie? That’s grand!” Monty declares. Salazar stares at him; Henry and Elizabetha must have decided upon English propriety. He then suffers the belated realization that he didn’t exactly give them permission to tell anyone of his profession.

“Saul is asking where he is,” Henry properly interprets, pulling out the only bedside chair for Elizabetha. Monty leans over the back of her chair, his pointed chin almost digging into her shoulder, but she tolerates it with fond warmth. “You’re in my ancestral home, Saul. This is Potter Manor. More specifically, you’ve been residing in one of our guest rooms for nearly a month.”

Salazar wheezes out his next breath in shock. What the bloody fuck happened?

Elizabetha properly interprets the expression on his face. “Harry told us that a mere testing of an atomic device made you very ill in July. The Americans made an official announcement not long after they detonated another device. The moment the BBC relayed the news to English listeners, my husband knew at once that he should see to your health. You never rescinded the Fidelius Charm’s permissions, or those of your wards.”

“I found you on the bloody floor. Literally,” Henry adds in an apologetic tone. “Aurelius spoke of how you reacted when the other atomic test occurred. This detonation seems to have done you a far worse turn.”

“Then they did it again,” Elizabetha hisses in sudden outrage. “Sixth August and then ninth August! We had barely calmed a raging fever, and then you suffered through—” She breaks off into a dialect of Punjabi that Salazar can’t remember how to speak. If she’d used Hindi, he might’ve stood a chance.

Salazar thinks on it and gestures at Henry. “Where?” He means the detonation sights, and Henry, bless him, understands at once.

“Japan. The Americans dropped nuclear devices on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki while still pummeling their islands with more conventional bombs. An estimated hundred thousand are dead. I don’t know if we’ll ever be told exactly how many were killed by these two atomic devices, but between the bombs and the Soviet campaign against Japan…the war is officially at an end, Saul. Emperor Hirohito announced Japan’s surrender on the fifteenth. An official treaty, one that does them no favors at all, was signed a few days ago on the second of September. Japan’s wizards are not happy with anyone in the international magical community, not after we so-called Allies allowed the Muggles to rain down so much poison and death.”

Salazar makes a face and combines it with a weak finger-signing. “No blame.”

“No. I don’t much blame them, either,” Henry agrees. “But that is not for you to concern yourself with, not right now. I’d prefer you to focus on regaining your health. At least we can be certain there will be no more of these foolish atomic bombings.”

Salazar thinks on his recent conversation with Attlee and tries not to grimace. He is not so certain of that.

 

*         *         *         *

 

Salazar’s time in the Potter household is not unpleasant. Quite the opposite, really, but it’s been a very long time since he has been a lingering guest in another’s home, and he’s become unused to all it involves.

It takes him another week after waking to manage getting out of bed without help. Then it is yet another few days before Salazar is capable of clothing himself and bathing on his own.

He also does quite a bit of fantasizing, thinking on killing everyone involved in the creation and detonation of atomic bombs. It isn’t they who are forced to deal with the side effects. Their families are not the ones who mourn. Those are not American towns that now bleed radiation into the air and the earth.

Salazar doesn’t set foot on the ground floor for a full month after he wakes. Each time he tries, his feet feel the distant echo of what burnt Japan. The earth will calm herself, but not until she is done sharing her agony with everyone capable of understanding her.

In the meantime, Salazar is beyond familiar with the guest room, so he spends the rest of September exploring the manor’s first storey. There is no second storey beyond different sections of attic storage; whoever built the home decided upon the sturdiness of a house spread across the ground rather than rising heights. The furniture and the woodwork are most often expensive oak, but not lavish in detail. Some rooms have bright hanging fabrics, the bold colors from the hindavi lands, while others are white sheets and walls with dark-stained wood in a simple, soothing contrast. The Potter family makes it clear with their décor that they live in a home, not a structure that could also present itself as a museum.

Monty always leaves his bedroom door open, unafraid of a stranger’s prying eyes. His room is still caught between a growing child’s tastes and a young man’s refinement. The scarf of Gryffindor colors and the Quidditch pennant on the wall are new and cherished, but the wall opposite them has something far, far older: a tapestry showing all four Houses of Hogwarts. Salazar finds his feet drawn back to it again and again, letting ancient familiarity soothe his churning thoughts.

Salazar is caught staring one morning, but Monty isn’t offended. “That one’s been in our family a really long time,” he explains proudly. “Dad says the tapestry’s hung in every bedroom for everyone that’s attended Hogwarts for as long as he can recall. Great-great uncle Simon told Dad that the family is descended from Godric Gryffindor himself, and the tapestry might’ve belonged to him.”

Salazar nods in acknowledgement, though the tale is not quite correct. Godric owned no such tapestry. He didn’t keep tapestries in his quarters, as they reminded him of things he preferred not to think about. Sedemai never minded the lack; that one had been a minimalist before there was a word for the concept. What is true is that this tapestry is old enough to remember that black dominated Hufflepuff’s colors just as much as gold. Helga’s black badger stands in front of a complex golden knot that her people learned from the Picts, with no other background needed. The symbol’s outer edges are marked by the border of a golden knotted cord instead of the heraldic nonsense that was added centuries later. Helga designed her own seal out of necessity, a princess politely exiled from her own kingdom, and she refused to apologize for it.

The tapestry still recalls Rowena’s preference for bronze to accompany her primary love of blue robes and silver jewelry; the bird displayed in a silhouette of outstretched flight is still her beloved raven, not that blasted eagle. The heraldic symbols that she would have been entitled to after their creation are missing from the modern emblem and the original both. This tapestry emblem is still Rowena’s family seal, with its blue background, bronze frame, and the silver Greek letters in Gaulish that dub it Raven’s Claw.

Gryffindor’s red emblem, Godric’s seal, is true scarlet, not the odd darker red-brown of the last few centuries. Moreover, the colors are properly reversed: a scarlet griffon guards a golden arched doorway with an entwined gold and scarlet rope as its border. Salazar easily understood how the griffon could come to be gold, what with so many idiots wandering about Europe with gold rearing lions on their heraldic crests, but not how the archway could be lost. It makes sense—annoyingly so—that the griffon became that same sort of rearing lion, but to place it on red and cream squares, to be rid of all the gold but for a few artistic flourishes on the added heraldic symbols that are truly overblown? A crown of the moon, a star, and a pyramid on a knight’s helm, with feathers and the bloody lion? They might as well have declared Godric a saint by adding all of the new nonsense. At the very least, Sedemai’s door could have become the common heraldic bridge.

The tapestry’s Slytherin green emblem is still brilliant emerald rather than the duller green in use now. Salazar wonders if anyone has ever questioned why this symbol shows a silver horned basilisk rearing up in front of a silver rowan tree on that emerald field, and why the field’s borders are just hinted silver threads. The modern emblem’s ivy vines are amusing, if unnecessary; the knight’s helm with yet another serpent on the top is sort of hilarious. The removal of the rowan tree has always irritated him, though. Salazar much prefers the original seal of his father’s House.

Henry told Salazar that they were in east Somerset, and Somerset is not far removed from Winchester. Galiena’s work was always unmistakable to his senses, imbued as it is with the sense of family. She was one of the few artists of their time who insisted upon using true metal for her silver, gold, and bronze embroidery thread. Given the slight changes in design, someone commissioned this tapestry from Galiena in her later years, but her hand was still steady and true.

“No matter who owned the tapestry, it is a gift that should always be treasured, as few remember the school’s first colors and symbols any longer,” Salazar says.

“I did think my tie was sort of…well…” Monty glances at the scarf he wore against the early morning chill, which is just as dully red-brown as the pennant. The gold isn’t gold at all, but a rather strident and insistent yellow with undertones of green. “It doesn’t really match, does it? The painting of old Godric in the Great Hall has aged a bit, so it’s hard to tell if he’s wearing dark red or bright scarlet, but his armor is certainly still gold enough to make a point.”

Salazar has a rather baffling moment of mental vertigo. He doesn’t recall Godric ever owning gold armor, but that doesn’t mean his memory is correct. “What do the others think of your opinions regarding the colors?”

Monty grins. “I had to take a photograph of the tapestry and show it off at school before people would believe me that the school colors had changed. Then I got accused of it being nonsense because it’s a griffon and a basilisk instead of a lion and a snake!”

“How horrid it must be to them that two guardian animals once stood for those Houses rather than a temperamental adder and a male lion who’d laze about, letting the rest of his pride do the work. Any other complaints?” Salazar asks, bemused. “You’ll hear no criticism from me for voicing them.”

Monty frowns. “Ravenclaw. There are quite a number of eagles lurking about Ravenclaw tower, and on Ravenclaw designs. It seems sort of… treacherous.”

Salazar eyes him. “Why do you think it treacherous?”

“Well, Dad insisted that I be educated beyond the bounds of Britain, magical and Muggle alike. The United States across the pond, they have an eagle for their national mascot, but that wasn’t what one of their country’s founders wanted. He said an eagle was daft—literally, mind you—and they should choose a more intelligent bird. Crows are certainly smarter, so…why change it?”

“Why, indeed?”

“And the lion on Gryffindor things—why change it from a griffon? Then with Slytherin…” Monty points at the emerald portion of the tapestry. “I’m terrible in Herbology, and even I know the significance of a rowan tree. They got rid of the tree, and now it’s just a plain silver snake sticking its tongue out on a green background with nonsense wrapped around it. It’s dull, is what it is.”

Salazar smiles, making certain the family ring he still wears on his left middle finger is turned inwards. “What of the badger? Any complaints there?”

Monty grins. “Absolutely not. Badgers are terrifying. Anyone who says otherwise hasn’t tried to chase an irritable one out of their garden.”

When Salazar finally steps onto the ground floor of the manor in October, he recognizes the age of the stone beneath his feet at once. “When was this built?” Salazar asks Henry, gazing up at the open gallery. He’d leaned against the oak railing often these last few weeks, and still he hadn’t quite grasped the design of the manor. The Potter home is only just large enough to be called a manor and not elicit laughter from snobbish Pure-bloods. The gallery, the wood, the styling—all of it is very English, but an open gallery in a home this size would be considered by many to waste valuable space that could otherwise be put to use by providing more rooms on the first storey. Instead, they’re granted an open ceiling overhead, though it lacks the arches of the south.

“Oh, I can never recall the exact date. The early sixteenth century, at the latest,” Henry replies. “Why?”

“Tudor architecture,” Salazar says. “They’d finally rediscovered the delight of a high ceiling, but an open gallery like this, one that goes all the way around this massive room …that was not the done thing. I’m used to seeing this more in southern lands, though they tend to also be areas heavily influenced by the old caliphates.”

Henry looks delighted. “You’re exactly right. I still own a cottage built during that era in the village nearby, which has stairs going up to a proper first storey. It’s one of the old homesteads before my ancestors built this manor. A many-times great-grandfather is supposed to have married a woman who wished to escape the politics of Morocco, either a revolt or a civil war or…a coup. I’m not certain I recall that, either.”

“If it was Morocco, that would have been during the Wattasid dynasty. It could have been all three.”

Henry seems amused by that. “My ancestor couldn’t concede the architecture entirely, though when I was a child, there was still a fountain with a seating area in the center of this room. My uncle, James, unfortunately took it into his head that we needed to be far more English in our habits. Rose and I begged him not to get rid of the fountain, but he wasn’t the sort of man who took the whims of children into account.”

Salazar glances down at the floor, which still has colorful tiles spreading outward in concentric rings from a center point that no longer exists. “And yet he left this behind.”

“My grandmother was a Prewett, Saul. Grandmother Harriet might not have stopped Uncle James from removing the fountain after my grandfather’s death, but she threatened him within an inch of his life if he dared attempt to do away with a perfectly serviceable floor.”

Salazar nods, but he’s a bit distracted by the mentioned names. Harriet. James. If he’d needed any further evidence that Henry’s son will be James Potter’s father, that certainly would have been hint enough.

By the time Salazar can stand outside on morning-damp grass in the front garden without feeling ill, it’s almost Hallowe’en. Salazar imagines that if he were closer to Japan, it would still be too soon to plant his feet on bare earth. He learned his lesson in July, though; he has not once sought out the source of that poison heat.

“Good morning, Monty,” he says before the boy can sneak up on him. Monty keeps trying, but he deals with a spy and an Earth Speaker both. “Should you not be attending to your lessons?”

“I finished the first part, so Mum let me off for a bit. I think she’s now beyond glad that Hogwarts is reopening after the winter holidays.”

Salazar nods, understanding Elizabetha’s frustration. Just overhearing the expected curriculum for a student in his sixth year made Salazar want to throttle the life out of a succession of Head Teachers, and all but one of them are currently too dead to receive the privilege. Elizabetha, meanwhile, is a magician of very Eastern thought and learning trying to cope with Hogwarts’ insistence upon solely Western ideals. Monty easily learns lessons from her regarding ancient hindavi and her family’s Punjabi magics, but she struggles to comprehend the reasoning behind certain Western spells. It puts her in a difficult position, but Henry stated quite plainly, without artifice, that he is a terrible teacher and would hate to ruin his son’s education by attempting to assist. Charles and Dorea are both employed within the Ministry, and thus unavailable. Charlotte has an infant, an ailing mother-in-law, and a grieving cousin to tend to. The other Potter relatives are either quite advanced in years, or they remained in Europe to assist with the repairs to the Continent’s magical infrastructure.

Salazar has thought to volunteer to help Elizabetha with Monty’s education, but keeps his silence. He’s taught adults to be spies, to use their magic to survive; he has taught those who were ready to be apprentices to certain specific branches of magic. He has not taught a child anything of magic since he was wed to Isis in the 1600s. They never had children of their own, so instead they looked after the children of Sherwood-on-the-Marsh, though very few of that lot were ever born with magic.

Monty wanders over to stand next to Salazar, hands in his trouser pockets. He surpassed Salazar’s height during Salazar’s convalescence, though it’s doubtful he will grow much taller. “I hate this. Not because Mum’s not good at teaching, nothing like that. If I were in her place, I think I’d have torn out my hair by now. It’s just…”

Salazar nudges Monty with his elbow. “Go on. I am very difficult to offend.”

“We’re not meant to speak ill of adults,” Monty says, and then scowls, “but I think Dippet was trying to cover his own arse by not having school for this part of term. The war is a great excuse, but this is going to make the rest of term at Hogwarts a mad rush. Not everyone has someone at home who can help them with lessons.”

Salazar feels a headache form at the very thought. Dippet must indeed be a fool if he forgets so easily how many of his students are of non-magical parentage. Salazar should place himself in the same category, as he didn’t give the school’s temporary closing a thought beyond his concern for Tom Riddle’s crimes. “Headmaster Dippet sounds like quite the character.”

“I think Headmaster Dippet is an idiot,” Monty says in a flat voice, sounding a fair bit like his father. “He wants to be a politician, like Dad, but he’s really bad at it. Then he wants to be Headmaster, but he’ll listen to the Minister or the board of governors first, instead of…you know. Then there’s what happened with Myrtle Warren in 1944. I think that’s why they really closed things down for this half of the year.”

Salazar knows what the Minister knows of the affair, but Monty was in the school when Tom Riddle murdered that girl. “What happened to this Myrtle you mention, Monty?”

“She died. Well, that’s not quite fair. She was murdered in the girls’ toilet by some creature that was supposed to have been called forth from the Chamber of Secrets.”

Salazar raises both eyebrows. “Chamber of Secrets?” Leonard hadn’t mentioned anything about a chamber.

Monty looks surprised. “You’ve never heard of it?”

“I am of Castile, Fleamont Potter.”

“Right, yeah. Sorry.” Monty wrinkles his nose. “The Chamber of Secrets is supposed to be a legend, but I suppose with someone claiming to open it, and someone else dying from it, then maybe it’s not such a legend after all. Salazar Slytherin is supposed to have put a Chamber of Secrets somewhere in the school that houses a creature that’s meant to come out and eat all of the Muggle-born students for their impure blood.”

Salazar tries not to gape at the lad. “That…sounds ridiculous.” His brother has always been circumspect about the beast in an underground chamber within the school that nearly killed him.

Nizar’s portrait owes him such an explanation.

“Well, it did kill a Muggle-born,” Monty points out. “They expelled a Hufflepuff student for doing it, but all he had was a stupid Acromantula. Myrtle Warren wasn’t killed by one of those, but the staff at Hogwarts and the Ministry won’t say a word about what did. I finally managed to overhear someone say that Myrtle had been Petrified, but I can name five creatures off the top of my head that can kill you that way. Was it a curse? Was it a Gaia’s Dragon? The black elves of the north? A basilisk? A cockatrice? A gorgon? A Norwegian troll with a grudge? The Fae?”

Salazar smiles. He doesn’t encounter many who remember Gaia’s dragons, much less the svartálfar. “That was more than five.”

Monty lets out an aggrieved sigh. “I think the end of the war was just an excuse. Warren is still about, you see. Myrtle decided to stay on as a ghost in revenge against Hornby for the other girl’s cruelty. The Ministry had to intervene so that Hornby could have a moment’s peace, and now Myrtle can’t leave Hogwarts at all. What I mean is that it’s hard to forget that someone was murdered at your school if you keep having conversations with their ghost.”

“You think Dippet hopes the students will simply forget about the murder if granted a suitable distraction.” Salazar glances at Monty. “You’ve quite the head on your shoulders. Your parents should be proud of you.”

Monty blushes, but keeps his chin up instead of ducking away. “I wasn’t saying it for praise. I could as easily say the opposite, and it’s still true. Headmaster Dippet is very nice. You can tell he likes kids. He was really upset about Myrtle dying—not just for the politics of the situation, but because she was just a fourth-year girl. But trying to just forget doesn’t make anything better.” He shakes his head. “If last year’s Head Boy hadn’t graduated in June, he’d be throwing a right fit about this. He was an orphan, and he wanted to stay in Hogwarts all the time. If they’d closed the school when he was still there…well, I wouldn’t want to get in that one’s way.”

Salazar feels his heart clench in alarm. He doesn’t want this family anywhere near Voldemort. They’ll have to deal with him in horrific fashion far too soon as it is. “Who was Head Boy last year, Monty?”

“A Slytherin named Tom Riddle. Arrogant sort, claimed he was one of Salazar Slytherin’s direct descendants. I think he might’ve hexed people who didn’t believe him because he couldn’t prove it, just claim it.”

“Were you one of those he hexed, Monty?”

“Me?” Monty shrugs. “I didn’t say anything about his heritage. It isn’t my business if it’s true, or if he just wanted something to hold onto because of the orphan bit. I wouldn’t blame him for that, anyway. Besides, I’m the Potter Heir. Slytherins tend not to alienate the Pure-blood Heirs of other Houses, even if they don’t like them.”

“This is your sixth year, yes?” Salazar is almost certain, but he was also unconscious for a month. He’d rather ask and be sure of the answer.

Monty gives him a brief glance before nodding. “Yeah.”

“What classes are you taking?”

“They’re all N.E.W.T. level, but I’m studying Occlumency. At least that one doesn’t drive Mum up a wall,” Monty comments. “They don’t teach Legilimency until next term, and they’re already discussing getting rid of the class as unnecessary. You have to be a Wizarding adult, anyway. Otherwise, I have Potions, Alchemy, Arithmancy, Astronomy, and Defence Against the Dark Arts.”

“Not Charms or Transfiguration?” Salazar asks, suspecting he knows why.

Monty grins. “Mum’s version of both of those is better. Easier, too. I might travel to India one day and take the tests to get accreditation in those subjects, but I’m in no hurry. Why do you want to know about my classes?”

“It’s very difficult to learn about someone if you don’t ask them questions,” Salazar replies. He might also be plotting, but he does that almost as often as breathing.

That very evening, 25th October, is the Somerset tradition of Punkie Night. The festival is so old now that Salazar can’t recall if it was celebrated in Godric’s time, or if the tradition emerged shortly afterwards. Monty asks for Salazar’s assistance in carving jack-o’lanterns, which are made from proper turnips and gourds, not the pumpkins that are growing in popularity—and size.

Henry lights each carved lantern at dusk. Monty promptly forgets that he is a young man of sixteen and runs off to the village of Godric’s Hollow to join the other children, chanting the old rhymes to ask for coins and sweets. Salazar watches until Monty is safely away before frowning. It’s been a very long time since he visited this area of England, but he once knew Godric’s lands quite well. “Where is Saint Andrew’s from here?” he asks Henry.

“That way,” Henry says, pointing north and slightly east. “It’s on the west bank of the Yeo. Why?”

“Curiosity. It’s always nice to know where I am.”

The Fosse Way is to the west. Henry’s home is north of the River Yeo, its rear gardens ending just before any potential floodwaters could do harm to the grounds. Godric’s Hollow is to the north of the manor; the village nestles itself almost exactly between St. Andrew’s and the southern bend of the river above Ilchester. Potter Manor is hidden from non-magical sight to the southern residents of Ilchester and the northern residents of Godric’s Hollow. Somewhere to the northwest in those woods, between village and manor, is a hidden Door.

These particular descendants of Godric do not merely live close to Godric’s Hollow. Their home is in the exact same place where Godric’s family keep once stood.

I know a sign when I’m presented with one, Salazar thinks, though he feels chilled, regardless. He had yet to deliberately seek out a magical Potter family, thinking it too soon when he had only a single name, yet Henry Potter was sent to Germany just to find Salazar. How much of what has happened in the past two years was always going to happen? How much of this is Salazar, all unknowing, doing exactly what he must in order to regain the brother he so desperately longs for?

A few friends and the remnants of the Potter family gather to celebrate Hallowe’en and Samhain both, which makes Salazar itch to read the water. He finally gives in and does so. Everyone who volunteers for the experience may each ask him one question, and one question only, a tradition he has never veered from. Some seem leery of the idea, while others participate in the Samhain custom with enthusiasm.

Charles shows no interest, but Dorea asks him what became of her brother Marius. Salazar is glad when the water shows her an image of a man with distinctive Black family features in Belgian military dress, directing what looks to be reconstruction efforts. Better a distant, unfamiliar soldier than a tombstone.

Charlotte wants to know if Will is happy. Salazar doesn’t even get the chance to tell her of the limitations before the water’s surface reflects grey mist. “Some things are beyond Sight, and the dead always are,” Salazar tells her gently, “lest you ask specifically to see a corpse. Please do not, by the way.”

She smiles a little at the joke, bouncing baby Samuel on her knee. The infant is already strong enough to sit upright, to hold up his head and look around with his grey eyes. “I suppose I’ve had my question, then.”

“Technically not, as you saw nothing.” Salazar gestures. “Try again. Only the once.”

“Will my Samuel have a good marriage?” Charlotte stresses. She was definitely raised to expect otherwise.

Salazar taps the bowl with his wand and lets the image form, again seeing brown curls and violet eyes before the water shifts to reveal a pair of clasped hands. “Whether or not they romance each other with every rising of the sun, they are, at least, good friends,” he tells her. Charlotte nods, pleased, and wanders off to entertain one of the distant Pure-blood cousins who don’t think the Potters are Blood Traitors. That is a new phrase, and Salazar doesn’t like it. He especially is not fond of the fact that he has no idea where it came from. He left England in 1939 and it did not exist; he returned in 1945 and now finds those words on far too many influential lips.

Monty asks, with the typical curiousness of young men, who he will marry. A succession of images, three differing women, ripple across the water so fast that their individual features cannot be seen. “It looks as if you’ll have a decision to make,” Salazar says. Monty wanders off with a slightly thwarted but thoughtful expression on his face.

Elizabetha is the one to ask not of herself, but to ask if Salazar will be happy in the future. Salazar is taken aback, but the image on the water shows himself, smiling at someone who—he wipes the image away before he can see it, explaining that some things should not be so pre-ordained. Besides, the water did answer her question. He knows his own face, his own eyes. His happiness was genuine.

Helena Black Potter coming to him is a surprise. She sits with the careful precision common to stilted English nobility and regards him with steady grey eyes. “Do you know who I am?”

“I know that you were born to Phineas Nigellas II, the only man to bear that name and have any sense at all,” Salazar answers.

Her lips edge up in a polite smile, but she doesn’t disagree. “Might I ask something of your water-scrying?”

“As long as you do not ask of the dead, then yes.”

Helena nods and then asks as to the health of her parents. It takes Salazar a few minutes to work out the meaning of what he is then shown, as it’s a rather complicated question. “Your father has a bit less than ten years left to him, though I believe he will be hale until the end. Your mother will outlive him by quite a bit. If anything in her home still requires a wand, it might be best to begin arrangements now for a wand to no longer be necessary for the magic to function.”

Helena narrows her eyes. “My mother’s blood status was not what I asked for.”

“I do not actually care as to your mother’s so-called blood status,” Salazar retorts. “What I care about is seeing to it that a woman can continue to dwell in her own home after her husband’s death.”

That earns him a curt nod before Helena rises and departs. Salazar considers upending the silver bowl’s contents over his own head to cool his frustration. Bloody Blacks, for gods’ sake.

While the others are distracted by some long-winded tale voiced by the ancient Potter matriarch, Henry’s unwed great-aunt Isobella, Henry asks Salazar his question in atypically blunt fashion. “Who am I to you?”

The image that appears on the water to answer Henry’s question is of Nizar and Godric—both still young, given that Godric is still insisting upon being beardless. They’re standing together in a way that is comfortable and familiar, just before Nizar nudges Godric’s arm with a smirk. Godric laughs in the silence of the water and wraps his arm around Nizar’s shoulders.

“Who is that?” Henry asks in bafflement, pointing to Godric.

“Are there no portraits within Hogwarts showing her first teachers any longer?”

“The Founders, yes, though—” Henry pauses. “Was that…was that Godric Gryffindor?

“It was indeed. Not a surprising thing to see, given that you are one of Godric Gryffindor’s direct descendants. Standing with him was his apprentice, the man who became Hogewáþ’s first named teacher of Defence.”

Henry stares at Salazar. “The man with Godric is the very same man I met in a portrait in your home. The man you named as Nizar, your brother.”

Nine centuries of existence has given Salazar the understanding of how to handle moments like these. He treats them as if they are normal. “Yes.”

“Hogewáþ.” Henry’s gaze turns shrewd. “If I were to ask you your real name, you would tell me, wouldn’t you?”

Salazar nods. “Only if you asked.”

“Then I won’t. I will not force such truths out into the open, strange as they are.” Henry settles back in his chair. “Elizabetha and I saw your ring during your convalescence. We managed to keep it from Monty’s eyes, as I thought you wore it backwards for a reason…especially given how much its crest matches a very old Slytherin emblem in a very old family tapestry.”

“The tapestry was never owned by Godric,” Salazar says. “It was constructed by my niece. When she was much younger, she made a similar one for her father. She must have recognized the ancestor who acquired it from her as part of our family, else Galiena wouldn’t have embedded so much of the family magic into the threads.”

“Nizar’s daughter?” Henry swallows visibly when Salazar nods again. “Well. I suppose that explains a family oddity, one that is kept a close secret. Only my wife knows. Monty is still too young to be let in on that secret, especially as he’s never shown any hint of that particular bit of magic.”

Salazar raises an eyebrow at the prevaricating. “Who was the Parselmouth?”

Henry snorts. “Yes, I suppose it is an easy thing to guess. That would have been my father, Richard. He was so confused as a lad. The family had no idea how such a magical language could have turned up in our lineage, what with our family descended from Godric Gryffindor. Father kept it a secret from all but my mother, myself, my sister Rose, and Charles, for what you certainly know are obvious reasons.”

“Unfortunately, I am indeed well aware of that.” Salazar debates upon asking before deciding he might have no other opportunity. “You’ve rarely spoken of your sister. What happened to her?”

“War.” Henry has a wistful expression on his face, all that remains of old grief. “Her name was Rose Lorraine. She was a year and some months older than myself. When I decided upon politics in Hogwarts after certain Wizengamot-related hints from my father, Rose decided upon healing. We were of age when the Great War began, so both of us volunteered to assist in that massive bloody mess. We all once thought that war to be the last such conflict any of us would ever see. How arrogant we were to believe such things!”

“I once thought it, too, and I have certainly seen enough to know better,” Salazar says.

“Rose died in July 1917, in France. The Kaiser’s men mistakenly attacked a camp dedicated to the newly commissioned Red Cross. Rose would have torn them all apart with her bare hands for endangering her patients, but it was an…an effective attack. I was glad enough to have a body to bring home, to see her properly entombed in the family crypt. There were others killed in that assault who had no such blessing.”

“I am sorry.” Salazar attempts a smile, though wonders if he succeeds. “I did not always get along with my own sister, Estefania, though that we loved each other was never in question. She lived a long and happy life, yet I still miss her very much.”

“My sympathies to you, also.” Henry’s eyes dart around to the others who are wandering about the back garden, many of them focused on feeding the Samhain fire. “Was there truly an argument between our ancient family members, Saul?”

Salazar watches sparks and ash rise up above the bonfire’s orange flame. “So much has become fanciful; so much of our magical history is corrupt legend rather than truth. It was not one argument, but six, and only because he did not wish for me to depart.”

 

*         *         *         *

 

Salazar is more than ready to return to his own home on 1st November. The Willow House might host only enchanted portraits, but they worry just the same. He is tempted to ask Elizabetha to allow him to test the Divination gift she claims not to have when, just before he announces his intentions, she asks him to stay for Diwali.

“The entire festival?”

Elizabetha laughs. “No. My family, we called it Little Diwali. We celebrate on Amavasya.”

At least that is a word Salazar still knows. “The new moon. Sunday evening, then?”

“And Monday morning until noon. The beginning of my New Year,” Elizabetha says.

Salazar gives her expression another, more thorough inspection. “They won’t allow Monty to come home for this, will they? This is his first Diwali with you since he began schooling at Hogwarts.”

Elizabetha makes a noise remarkably like an angry cat. “They will not. Hogwarts only grants their students two holidays. The winter holidays most often begin just before the Winter Solstice and end on the Christian Epiphany. They grant the students one week off for Christian Easter, Tuesday through Tuesday, so the students miss none of those holidays.”

“That’s it?” Good gods, no wonder his little brother had once been so baffled to have so much time free away from lessons and work. “Do they believe themselves to be a British boarding school, or a school for magic?”

“The first one is their primary concern, I believe,” Elizabetha responds in clear annoyance. “It was a surprise to discover how limited our opportunities with Monty were going to be. I was home-schooled, but Henry recalls his time at Hogwarts fondly. It’s Charles who told me that by the time of his attendance, there was no tolerance of other faiths to be had. Students who try to return home for things that are not approved holidays, or family funerals, are not highly favored by the staff.”

“I see.” Only Christian holidays recognized at Hogwarts, and a mere two of them, at that. Godric would be offended by the idea of his religion granting the faiths of others so little respect. Salazar is just frustrated; it is yet another thing in which he cannot meddle, much as he’d prefer otherwise.

Salazar asks permission to use the family Floo. If there is to be a festival celebrated, no matter how small the gathering, he is not prepared to gift things to an entire household.

There you are,” Nizar’s portrait greets him after Salazar emerges from the Floo. “Good gods, Sal, what the fuck happened? When Henry came to see to you, he was far more concerned with you than with answering my questions.”

“Oh, right. It was still early August when everything went tits up, wasn’t it?” Salazar sits down in his favorite chair and sinks into cushioning that is accustomed to every angle of his body. He briefly explains the detonation of two more nuclear devices, how long it took to recover from the sense of poisoned earth, and why he will only be in the house for a brief time, though he will return after Diwali.

“The Festival of Lights.” Nizar is quiet for a moment, leaving Salazar to consider what is in his house that could be gifted to a sixth-year Gryffindor, or perhaps what might be found in a magical shop. Not much, he’d wager. Wizarding Britain is participating in rationing alongside the British government, as both are affected by the overall lack of goods in Europe. Gods know how long that sort of cooperation will last, but at least it shows that someone in the Ministry aside from Leonard has a brain in their heads.

“That man, Henry. The one who decided to scoop your unconscious arse off the floor and make off with you.”

Salazar glances up at the portrait. “What of him?”

“You’ve not said, but he’s family, isn’t he?”

“He is not merely family. If I’m right—and I’m almost certain of it by now—Henry Simon Potter is your great-grandfather.” Salazar smiles at the portrait’s baffled look. “His father, Richard, was a Parselmouth. No one aside from close family was ever told such.”

“Bloody fucking hell.” Nizar sits down on the floor of his portrait. “And yet, Henry told you.”

“I told Henry in 1943 that we were distant family. On Samhain, I agreed to read the water using the old tradition of one single question. Henry asked how we were related. The answer that shone upon the water was yourself and Godric, little brother.”

“Oh. Yes, that would be a bit telling, wouldn’t it?” Nizar props up his arm and rests his chin on his hand. “He knows who you really are?”

“Henry hasn’t said my name, but I’m certain he knows,” Salazar replies. “I told him I would grant him my true name if he asked, but he declined to do so.”

“How did he take it?”

“Less surprised than I would have thought, but given how we met, I believe he is wise enough to understand that magicians do not meet by mere circumstance.” Salazar shakes his head. “I’d yet to do anything to find your family other than record the name and lineage of every Potter born from Iolanthe and Ignotus’s descendants, and yet I have the distinct impression that your family is trying its best to adopt me.”

Nizar smiles. “A batch of Gryffindors with Slytherin tendencies? The very idea, Sal.”

“Mm,” Salazar demurs in agreement, but his thoughts have drifted in another direction entirely.

“Come on, hermano. What’s the problem now?”

“Riddle,” Salazar replies. “Tom Marvolo Riddle.”

“We knew he would be about, Sal,” Nizar says. “He would have graduated from Hogwarts this past June.”

“Riddle has already made his first two Horcruxes, and I missed it. I was not here.”

“You were where you needed to be,” Nizar’s portrait reminds him. “Besides, what could you have done? If you’d stopped him, you would have changed history, and you know what happened the last time you tried that.”

Salazar grimaces. That had indeed been disastrous. The only reassurance he’d gained from the entire experiment was that his attempt at meddling had not changed her fate. Nizar had even posited that Salazar might’ve caused Jeanne’s fate to match history in the first place.

That had not been as reassuring as Nizar’s portrait meant for it to be.

“We’ll do as we’ve always done, Sal. We’ll wait. Watch. Listen. It isn’t as if we don’t know what his plans are for Wizarding Britain.”

Salazar stares at a bookshelf set against the far wall. Among its tomes is one book that the Ministry would imprison him for, hidden beneath a blend of spells meant to disguise it to all but himself. Secrets of the Darkest Art does not tell one how to make a Horcrux, but it provides every single bit of knowledge needed for one to figure it out for themselves. Monty knows that a copy existed in Hogwarts’ library due to his older friends among the Ravenclaws taking Defence, all of whom were rather offended when the book suddenly vanished from the Restricted Section.

“That’s the problem, little brother,” Salazar murmurs. “I do not think we know nearly as much as we should.”

Chapter Text

Salazar feels he has no sooner recovered from the exhaustion of coping with two different European wars occurring at the same time (not to mention three nuclear explosions) when technology changes yet again. The original wireless band is split into amplitude modulation and frequency modulation, and requires he upgrade the bloody wireless. After the pre-war wireless experimentation, television is being sold as a separate device that broadcasts programs in the promised monochromatic black and white.

Despite Nizar’s original advice, Salazar purchases one anyway. He can’t resist the urge to find out what Britain will do with it. Of course, then comes the task of convincing a television to work within the magical confines of the Willow House. The project is a nice distraction from trying to figure out if its possible to acquire a milking goat that doesn’t despise him.

It’s far more difficult than Salazar expected it to be. Magic does not seem to like a television’s necessary mechanical complexity. He purchases several more of the devices after the first one dies a pitiful death, brings them into the house, but doesn’t yet attempt to use them. Salazar instead takes one of the televisions apart, learning of its internal intricacies while studying the science behind the device’s creation.

Another of the televisions, Salazar takes to a landfill. He gives it a great heave into the pit, causing the cathode-ray tube’s vacuum seal to rather messily destroy itself. Salazar ponders the explosion, suspecting that magic may not be so fond of that artificial vacuum, either. It makes him wonder if it would be different, or more difficult, to cast spells in the natural vacuum of outer space.

He has all he needs to convince a television to work in the house. Then he realizes he’s too far distant from London to receive signal, and cheats a bit until he has a clear picture on the screen, black and white with true shades of grey. The television isn’t capable of displaying any color at all, though the play of light through the glass sometimes grants him the illusion of color.

Films that Salazar hasn’t seen since they were first played in the cinema decades ago are broadcast anew on the television, though The Adventures of Robin Hood, the last film he saw before the war began, is hard to watch when it lacks the color that helped make it such a marvel. The old films are joined by the new films slowly being produced, replacing the propaganda reels with fiction once more.

“Now this is something electricity is useful for,” Salazar tells his brother’s portrait. Nizar smirks and reminds Salazar that this is after he convinced a telly to work within the Willow House without exploding. Salazar rolls his eyes and decides that some comments are best ignored.

His brother’s portrait often spends time watching the television from one of the nearby frames, usually with a perplexed look on his face. Sometimes Isis joins Nizar in the same frame, but she isn’t fond of the flickering, moving images.

“What do you think, then?” Salazar asks Nizar’s portrait after they’ve finished watching the televised performance of a play. He thinks he’d much rather see that sort of show in person, but it was an intriguing experience.

“I think I’d managed to forget that people are weird,” Nizar replies, but he doesn’t stop keeping track of the television and its offerings. Salazar likes the idea of animated stories, but the televised news broadcasts leave him frowning. He was trained in Court to recognize such ploys from a very young age. Perhaps it isn’t intentional, but he doesn’t trust these news anchors and their gleaming smiles. Newspapers are bad enough when reporters fail to be impartial. A telly just amplifies that lack of impartiality, but in a way that humanizes it, makes one want to empathize with people who perhaps should not be empathized with at all.

“No, that’s not just you being paranoid. It gets so much worse than this,” Nizar says. Salazar sighs and despairs of humanity ever learning this particular lesson. Cricket might still be one of the most confusing sports in existence, but it’s more soothing to watch than a news broadcast.

The Potters are sometimes guests of the Willow House, though more and more often, Salazar seeks them out, instead. The Willow House is the home he made for himself when Burgos became intolerable, but standing on Godric’s lands again soothes some ancient part of him that has never stopped longing for the company of his friends.

Henry and Elizabetha never breathe a word of Salazar’s true origins. When they ask about that long-ago era, it’s always when Monty is otherwise occupied, or absent entirely. Salazar doesn’t mind their caution, and appreciates how rarely they ask questions, as he also finds his life to be…well…weird.

It’s for the best that none of the Potter family speaks Castellano. Nizar’s portrait goes ballistic when Monty informs him exactly what is being taught in Defence Against the Dark Arts N.E.W.T.-level classes in this decade. Then his brother switches back to English, orders Monty to pull up a chair, sit down, and start taking notes, because they are fixing this nonsense immediately.

“We are?” Monty asks in bafflement. “You’re just a…well, no offence, but you’re just a portrait.”

“I,” Nizar snarls back, “am at least a well-educated portrait. You, however, are not. Chair. Scroll. Quill. Notebook. Pencil. Biro. I do not care as long as you bloody well sit your arse in a chair and listen to me!”

Monty looks to Salazar, who grins. “You’d be wise to do as he suggests. He is quite the teacher. Besides, no magical portrait should be so blithely ignored, their advice so easily discarded. Many of them are most certainly older than you are.”

“Right. That’s…that’s a good point,” Monty admits, worrying at his lower lip and frowning as he finds a chair and the supplies to do as he’s been ordered. Nizar definitely wasn’t asking, though he would have told Monty it was his loss if the young man refused the granted opportunity.

Nizar’s portrait is very much a pristine record of his brother’s teaching habits. He is far more patient with the young ones than adults, and Monty’s seventeenth birthday was a mere two weeks previous. As far as Nizar is concerned, all bets are off.

“He must have been a fascinating teacher,” Henry says in a low voice, listening to Nizar’s portrait rip through years of education. It isn’t nearly as bad as the pathetic level of knowledge that Nizar had at age fifteen, gathered as a student at the Hogwarts that will exist fifty years from now, but there are still several gaps that Salazar finds alarming.

“Yes.” They’re teaching that basilisks are created by a toad hatching a chicken egg, which has Salazar contemplating killing a long line of DADA teachers. He already needs to find a necromancer just to deal with the long line of dead Head Teachers.

“And you? What did you teach? Or did you linger in your Chamber of Secrets instead?” Henry asks with a teasing smile.

“I still have no idea what the bloody hell a Chamber of Secrets is,” Salazar responds, his mood souring at once. Nizar’s portrait still refuses to discuss it, which means that whatever it is will not be pleasant.

“Somehow, I didn’t think so,” Henry admits, raising both eyebrows as Nizar discovers the legal adult clause regarding Legilimency and declares he will be fixing that lack. Monty is too fascinated with the idea of learning Legilimency before his seventh year begins to complain that he didn’t want to do schoolwork during his summer break. He isn’t a natural scholar, or one prone to long bouts of studying, but Monty is a curious man, and sometimes that’s all that is needed. “Well?”

“Potions. Astronomy. Weather Magic. Divination. Languages. Mind Magic—you now call it Legilimency and Occlumency. Earth-Speaking magics to those with the talent. Technically, that included Herbology, but Potions and Herbology were taught together at that time. Herbology was not a recognized magic to be mastered until the 1300s. As we gained instructors, I was able to focus on Potions and Divination. Other Earth-Speakers are rare, but if they turned up, I automatically had an apprentice.”

“When did you sleep?” Henry asks in surprise. “That’s quite the schedule!”

“We didn’t structure classes the same way as is done now. We also believed in the restorative nature of regular holidays.” Salazar shakes his head. “Rowena would be the one to ask that of, as I’m still not convinced she ever slept at all.”

Henry utters a quiet laugh. “I’ll keep that in mind if Monty has children who decide to make a mad dash for Ravenclaw.” He hesitates. “No thoughts about blood purity, then?”

Not like this, Salazar thinks, but the real explanation would be far too complicated. It would also dredge up memories that he isn’t fond of. “By modern standards, myself and my siblings are Half-bloods.”

“Fanciful tales, then,” Henry says, and Salazar can only nod. Fortunately, that is where that line of inquiry ends.

Salazar is glad of his forest-growth of a vegetable patch by the next summer, even if he has to create a bloody moat to ensure it doesn’t drown. The rain is unceasing, crops across England are lost, and bread joins the already meagre rationing list. He’s glad he was already used to slight meals. He could never stomach much food while in Grindelwald’s company, and the German rationing hit them harder in 1945 than current British rationing due to blatant government corruption. Then winter arrives and tries to freeze everyone off the blasted island. Salazar watches potatoes become a rare rationed good and wonders if the Irish who starved due to an artificially crafted famine are enjoying their belated revenge.

Monty graduates in June 1947 after serving in his seventh year as Head Boy alongside Agnes MacDougal. The now-graduated Head Girl was already dating Robert McGonagall, one of three Scottish magicians from the Highlands. McGonagall seems intent on the priesthood despite his magic; his sister Minerva is hell-bent for the M.L.E.; the youngest brother Malcolm is a firebrand, one who has not yet graduated from Hogwarts.

Nizar speaks fondly of Minerva McGonagall, the only one of the three he knew as a child—Transfiguration teacher, Deputy Headmistress, Head of Gryffindor House, and an Animagus who favored a tabby cat form. “I’d no idea she ever worked for the Ministry,” Nizar says, smiling. “But the M.L.E. does sound like the sort of thing she would do.”

“As a Hit Witch, no less,” Salazar replies. Four hundred years of heavily gendered English is about to drive him mad. They’d made such strides in the magical communities, and then modern English bloody well ruined it. At least Castilian has always been honest in that it is a heavily gendered bastard child of ancient and misogynistic Latin.

“I have absolutely no idea what a Hit Witch is,” Nizar says, “or what they do.”

Salazar sighs. It isn’t his little brother’s fault that his schooling was loathsome. “The ‘Hit’ magicians are the magical equivalent of officers like the Firearms Wing in London. Civil Defence.”

“Basically, you’re telling me that my Head of House was even more dangerous than I thought. Awesome.”

It takes genuine effort to catch a glimpse of young Madam McGonagall. She takes her training very seriously, and that makes her hard to track when her manner of travel and her direction always changes. Salazar approves of her sensible caution.

Finally, he is ten feet away, hiding behind a newspaper spelled to be transparent only from his side. McGonagall has stark black hair that she keeps braided and bound rather than paying attention to current non-magical trends. Her eyes are large, blue, and alert, brightened by an intellect that gleams with fierce intensity. She dresses for the wrong century, but the look suits her so well that when she combines her dress with a robe or a long coat, no one grants her outdated clothing a second glance unless it’s one of appreciation.

Perhaps he labeled the wrong McGonagall as the firebrand. Minerva might be planning to outstrip her younger brother for fiery performance. Biting smile, Scottish wit, and Gaelic brogue—that one will succeed at whatever she sets her mind to.

“You didn’t mention she was beautiful, little brother.”

Nizar’s portrait gives Salazar a blank stare. “Sal, she was a teacher. I didn’t ever look at any of my teachers for courting potential!”

“Anselmet,” Salazar sings in reminder.

“Anselmet doesn’t count! He wasn’t a teacher, pendejo!” Nizar scowls at him. “Don’t flirt with my Transfiguration teacher. Not because it isn’t weird—which it fucking well is, thanks—but I’m pretty sure her snogging an ancient Slytherin would definitely have left an impression on Hogwarts’ modern history.”

Salazar has to resist the urge to sulk in response. Gods, but Nizar’s portrait read him easily. He is utterly smitten already, and there is nothing that can be done about it. She’ll likely be happily wed with grandchildren by 1995.

It won’t be the first time he’s loved from afar. This time, however, he is all too aware that it will be the last time. There is no daunting pile of long centuries that will grant other chances. This century will no doubt be his final lifetime. He has already devoted too much of it to war, and there are two more wars awaiting him once Tom Marvolo Riddle stands up and declares himself as Lord Voldemort.

Perhaps Salazar has no need to wonder why he agreed to and then kept seeking out the company of the Potter family. He can’t stand the idea of passing the rest of this century in solitude.

“What are you going to do with yourself?” Salazar asks Monty when he returns home from Hogwarts. He couldn’t cope with the idea of going to the grounds of his school, not when he would be so tempted to walk through her doors. He can’t. He knows he can’t. There cannot even be rumor that Salazar Slytherin visited Hogwarts, even if everyone believes that rumor refers to a visiting ghost. Nizar knows of no such thing; thus, it did not and cannot happen.

“I’m not sure. Dad is still happy to stand for the family in the Wizengamot, and to be honest, I don’t really want to deal with that bunch of dunderheads if I don’t need to.” Monty’s brow furrows. “Uni, I suppose, though I admit I’ve no idea what I’d be attending for. I’m not referring to the Pure-blood laziness associated with wealth—I just don’t know where my interests really lie.”

“You are certainly not lazy. Besides, it isn’t as if you’ve a time limit. Try everything a university has to offer,” Salazar suggests. Monty thinks on it for a moment and then nods, the furrow easing. Monty has always been interested in little bits of every sort of subject. Even if he walks away from a university with no degree, he’ll find enjoyment in the experience.

Henry is more tolerant of non-magical technological advances, but none of the Potters are comfortable with the television. Thus, when the television’s small screen broadcasts the 1948 Olympic Games from London, Salazar watches in only in a portrait’s company. To see the games again, in this fashion, is an amazing, bewildering experience.

“I’m glad it survived the war,” Salazar says of the Games. Magical communities never ceased the Greek games at all, which means they’re now a conglomeration of madness that any absinthe-loving author would embrace. At least the non-magical Olympics are sort of sane in comparison. “They do pull their heads out of their arses about other peoples and genders, yes?”

“Uh, I dunno.” Nizar’s portrait has slipped into his native Surrey accent as they listen to the broadcast. “My aunt and uncle weren’t exactly known for their support of sports that weren’t boxing.”

“Stop making me wish to kill people whom I’ve yet to meet, pendejo.”

“I think it’s probably a bit late for that.” Nizar is silent for a moment. “You’re plotting. You’ve been plotting something for months. Spill it, Sal.”

“Spill—oh. Tell.” Bloody slang. “Monty was only a year below a certain Myrtle Warren, who died in June of 1944.”

“Oh. Moaning Myrtle.” When Salazar glances up at the portrait, Nizar looks as if he is desperately regretting the new topic of conversation. “What about her?”

“I’d planned on going to the Ministry to find out what, exactly, happened to the poor girl.” Leonard is finally getting his wish and retiring now that the Pure-bloods have become bored of the Minister’s status as a war hero, but he’ll know best how Salazar should go about seeking information.

“You don’t have to do that.” Nizar seems to be bracing himself. “I’ll tell you. I just don’t want to.”

After the tale is done, Salazar feels no need to try to shake the truth from a reticent Ministry. Instead, he wants revenge—and yet he cannot have that, either. Not without confronting Voldemort and causing a complete disaster in the process.

Jalaf is not yet dead, but he may as well be. All Salazar can do is grieve.

 

*         *         *         *

 

Salazar is almost certain another atomic device was detonated the same summer of the resumed Olympic Games, but this was different. The rumble of power was so faint, he at first thought he’d imagined it. No poison fire assaulted him afterwards.

“Water,” Salazar mutters, and returns to weeding his overgrown disaster of a vegetable garden. He should have thrown a canvas sheet over it before leaving in 1939, but didn’t think on it, and now he has a forest of vegetables. Dorea and Alexis did their best, and Salazar was able to harvest what he needed in the two previous years. This year he can’t get past the bloody thick vines pretending to be squash plants.

Madam Kezia Violet Longbottom Potter grants him the favor of not dying until both the Games and the faint side-effects from the most recent atomic blast have subsided. Rain is pouring down as she is entombed in the Potter crypt next to her husband Joseph, which matches the mournful air generated by the Potter and Longbottom families as they linger together. Madam Potter’s son Victor and her grandson, Gilbert, are entombed at her side. Salazar watches Helena during the final part of the service, noting that her eyes often settle on the gap waiting for her next to Victor Potter.

Please do not commit suicide, Salazar thinks in her direction. I don’t care if it used to be a Black tradition. This family has seen enough funerals this decade. Then three-year-old Samuel escapes his mother’s grasp and runs directly into Salazar’s leg, distracting him. By the time he has opportunity to look for Helena again, she has already departed.

Salazar is certain of the next detonation when it happens in 1949. Raging fire comes from the east and fells him for nearly a week, though he only loses consciousness for a short while on the first day. A man can get used to anything, it seems, but Salazar would rather they just knock off with it.

What is the point of such testing? Do these scientists really want to see if it’s possible to wipe out all life on earth with their nuclear bombs? Salazar could answer that question for them without any more explosions needed, but he doubts they’ll listen. Humanity’s curiosity is sometimes as much a blessing as it is a curse.

When Salazar visits Potter Manor the following spring for the village’s observation of Walpurgis Night, Henry has scarcely greeted him before he shoves a copy of the Daily Prophet into Salazar’s hands. Salazar grimaces in distaste; the Prophet is the only magical British newspaper to survive the war and the austerity measures, but it’s all too often nothing more than a bloody gossip rag.

“Read it later,” is Henry’s explanation. The next morning, before Salazar concerns himself with Beltane, he does so.

He has no idea why Hepzibah Smith’s murder only rates the second page instead of the first. Murder is usually the Prophet’s favorite thing to gush about, given that it automatically qualifies as a scandal. The elderly lady in question was poisoned, supposedly by her very aged and frail house-elf, who added the poison to her hot cocoa on accident.

Salazar frowns. “A house-elf?” he asks Henry after breakfast.

Henry nods. “It appeared that way, yes. The poor thing forgot what year it was at least four times in the middle of her interrogation. Most of us on the Wizengamot asked for clemency instead of imprisonment, and sent her off to live with Hepzibah’s surviving relatives.”

“This article mentions that her family is claiming thievery as the motive for the murder.”

“Which no one can prove, as the family refuses to admit what was stolen,” Henry replies sourly. “That most likely means they were not supposed to have those particular items in the first place. They didn’t even have a goblin’s insurance plan for items taken in circumstances exactly like these.”

Helga’s cup, Salazar thinks. He remembers seeing a watery vision of Tom Marvolo Riddle visiting an aging woman in a pink room, his covetous gaze resting on the golden cup she held out for his inspection. That would be one of the stolen items the family does not want to admit to.

These particular Smiths insist that they’re descended directly from Helga. If they tried to legally declare ownership of Helga’s property, it would be researched and discovered that Helga never adopted or bore children at all. They would lose the prestige of their claim, and that means more to them than the murder of their matriarch.

“You believe the theft occurred, but a house-elf wouldn’t steal something they had no need of. You don’t think the elf is guilty at all,” Salazar says.

“Of course not,” Henry scoffs. “Why on earth would a house-elf place poison on a serving tray? House-elf purchases are also monitored by the Ministry, and Hokey never purchased the poison that was used in Hepzibah’s murder. The elf was mentally unwell, but I wouldn’t judge her that far gone. Not unless she was given assistance.”

“Assistance of the sort used to convince others?”

Henry nods. “Hepzibah entertained guests often. The house-elf couldn’t recall who her last visitors were in the week before her death, but she knew that there had been several. However, house-elves cannot testify in trials…”

“So, even if she recalled these names, they would still be judged innocent.” Salazar rolls his eyes. “I hate your Ministry.”

“You live here, too, Saul,” Henry points out.

“And I’m still a citizen of bloody Spain!”

The final week of October and all of November are absolute hell. Salazar can barely eat or drink without sicking up, and loses weight that he couldn’t afford to be without in the first place. Six fucking atomic explosions. He feels as if his feet have burnt off.

When he visits the Potters on the Winter Solstice, Salazar is still limping. The family is distinctly unimpressed. “You should have sent for us,” Elizabetha chastises him after making him sit in the bright light of their sunroom. “A Patronus, a message by Floo. Either, Saul.”

“To be honest? I truly didn’t think of asking for assistance for something that needed only to be endured,” Salazar admits, which earns him a loud scolding in Punjabi. He doesn’t understand the words, but their meaning is clear: Elizabetha thinks him an idiot. Sadly, she is correct.

The customs of the Solstice are observed with the lighting of the candles at dusk. Monty is still young enough that his attention is riveted on the presents that Salazar places under the Potter’s Christmas tree, ready and waiting for Christmas Day. Dorea laughs and shoves her nephew away from the tree before he is tempted to lift his wand and take a look.

There is such a blend of holidays in this household, and yet they all fit together. Salazar is reminded so much of the eccentric blend of holidays observed in Hogewáþ that he nearly breaks down in tears he would have no idea how to explain.

“My apologies for missing Diwali,” Salazar tells Elizabetha, placing a lidded clay jar into her hands. “For Holi, next year, whether I’m available or not.”

Elizabetha removes the lid and lets out a girlish squeal of delight. “Green! Where did you find this?”

“It’s a natural mineral from Russia. Essentially, it’s soil, but I’m told it does amazing things when exposed to water.” Salazar also made certain it wasn’t harvested anywhere near rumored or known bloody nuclear testing sites.

In 1952, Salazar is starting to prepare next year’s vegetable garden to fill out the lack from ongoing rationing when another group of fools is suddenly at it again. Falling to the ground and feeling that fire from head to toe helps nothing at all. The burn of it doesn’t end until the second week of June.

Great fucking gods. There is scientific discovery, and there is stupidity!

Elizabetha visits by Floo the week afterwards. “I knew something must be amiss when we heard nothing of you for months,” she says, peering down at him in concern. “You were supposed to send for us if this happened again.”

Salazar groans and pulls a sofa pillow back over his head. Lifting a wand has been entirely beyond him, much less concentrating his strength upon a spell. But for his daily crawling trips to the toilet, he’s been sprawled out on his sofa since he dragged himself in from the garden in April, surviving off of Restoratives. “I’d just prefer that they stop,” he whines.

“How many of these stupid nuclear devices have they detonated since the end of the war?” Elizabetha asks. She pulls the pillow away from Salazar’s face and replaces it with a hot towel, which makes him attempt to melt into the sofa cushions.

“I’ve lost count.”

“All the gods wept. What do they mean to do, replace Sri Desi’s avatar of Kali?”

Salazar thinks he heard tell of one of the scientists present for that first test in 1945 quoting from the vedas, but that also could have been a hallucination. “I don’t know, but it certainly feels like it.”

Elizabetha uses her wand to capture Salazar and take him back to Potter Manor by Hovering Charm. “You’ll be finishing this convalescence with us, and you won’t argue about it.”

“Nnn,” Salazar manages, but he ran out of energy for words by his third sentence. At least by the time Monty gets home from the magical university he’s attending in Cardiff, Salazar is capable of walking again.

On first October, Henry is able to warn him that the British will be testing their own nuclear device. “They’re doing so over water,” he says to Salazar, who has already dropped his head onto the table in resignation. “That should negate the worst of it, should it not?”

“Usually,” Salazar agrees, but he has a bad feeling about this month.

Who is he trying to fool? Salazar has an ill feeling about this entire fucking decade.

Helena Lavinia Black Potter, she of her precise Pure-blood manners and genuine care for her remaining family, dies three days after Henry’s warning. She is only forty-eight, still young for a magician, but Salazar has seen many times how grief can consume the health and vitality of even the strongest of people. He is glad, at least, that she never gave in to the temptation of tradition. Her death is due to a weakened heart that failed her in the night.

“She tried so hard,” Charlotte murmurs at Salazar’s side, all of them watching as Helena is entombed next to her husband and son. “But we knew it might be soon. She started getting frail this last winter. When no illness accompanied it…she still tried, though. Samuel called her Aunt Helena. She knew he would miss her terribly.”

“She was a good woman,” Salazar replies, and means it. Helena was always polite to him, even if her mannerisms could be cold, but actions betray what words will not.

An unusual amount of Black family members attend Helena’s funeral. Most of them seem upset that Helena is being entombed in the Potter vault rather than the Black family crypt, but Helena would have risen from her own coffin and cursed any of them who dared try to move her from her husband’s side.

Frail Sirius Orion Black I is there, dependent on a rolling frame to walk. He accomplished his publicly declared goal of outliving his nephew Sirius Orion II, Heir to the Black Estate, who died only months ago. If he hoped to also accomplish being named Heir and head of the family in his nephew’s place, he seems to have been mistaken. Sirius II and his wife Hesper considered their own children, grandchild, and great-grandchildren unworthy of the Black inheritance, instead granting that dubious honor to Pollux Black. Pollux falls more closely in line with Sirius II’s insane political views rather than the man who should have inherited both titles, Arcturus Black II, Sirius II’s brother. Truly, it should have been Phineas II, but Phineas Black I was thorough when he legally and magically disowned his second son.

Arcturus II still looks to be mourning his lost wife Lysandra, and it has now been a decade since her death. Given Arcturus’s hollow-eyed appearance, Salazar doesn’t think he’s long for this world, and likely longing for it, too. In that, he is in good company with his nephew Arcturus III, who is also lost in the cloud of grief.

To Sirius Black’s intense displeasure, Arcturus II isn’t the only one of his brother’s remaining children to attend the funeral. Phineas Black II brings his wife, Mary, the very Muggle he was disowned and disinherited for marrying. It’s as if the elder Sirius fully expected that Phineas would leave Helena’s mother at home on the day of her daughter’s funeral.

Salazar has no idea why the old man is also angry at Belvina Black Burke and her spouse Herbert, unless it’s the fact that, like Phineas and Mary, they no longer have Heirs. Their son Herbert Burke II died fighting against Grindelwald after sneaking off to join the war effort while underage. Their daughter Marigold died young of undetermined causes in suspicious circumstances that point to a former suitor, though the British Aurors could never prove the other’s guilt.

Those situations highlight that it is only Arcturus and Lysandra’s three daughters who prosper. Callidora married Harfang Longbottom, and they have two Heirs, Robert and Algernon, who were allowed out of Hogwarts for the day to attend the funeral. The Longbottom twins turned seventeen this year, and look a great deal like their father: tall and a bit gangly, curly-haired and unassuming.

Callidora’s sister Cedrella married Septimus, seventh son of the current Weasley generation, veteran of the European Wizarding War, and one of the family’s three surviving children. They have three young sons together, one still an infant and the other just old enough to toddle after his older brother to play with the two Prewett children. The young ones have no reason to avoid Lucretia and Ignatius’s second child the way the adults blatantly do; Henry Prewett is already suspected of being a Squib. His parents don’t mind in the least, but too many other idiots treat the boy as if he’s contagious.

Upon spying Henry’s older brother Ignatius II, Salazar gets an ill feeling of undeterminable danger. It’s more of a potential than a certainty, but he reminds himself to send a polite warning of that potential to Ignatius’s parents after the service is done.

The youngest sister, Charis, married Caspar Crouch, though rumors are rampant that the marriage has led to nothing but squabbling despite the good health of their young Heir, Caspar Junior. Caspar’s younger and politically minded brother Bartemius married Anna Burke, future mother of one Barty Crouch Junior. For now, Anna serves as pseudo-mother to her orphaned younger siblings, Basil and Augusta. The results are mixed; Basil is now an adult and an avowed Pure-blood elitist, while fifteen-year-old Augusta is rather spectacularly Gryffindor in regards to publicly calling him an idiot. Alas that Basil has support in their eldest sister Miranda. She wed Allenford Selwyn, one of the loudest voices for Pure-blood supremacy in the Wizengamot. Their four children act every inch the worst of Britain’s spoiled, bigoted, and obnoxious Pure-blooded magicians. Salazar is very glad the Selwyns chose not to bring their unpleasant offspring to Helena’s funeral.

Of Sirius II and Hesper Black’s four children, only two attend the funeral, whereas Orion is now under the thumb of his sadistic bride Walburga. She refused to recognize Helena as a “proper Black.” Arcturus Black III still mourns his wife Melania and possibly remains unaware that a funeral is happening at all.

Lucretia Black Prewett was raised by her much saner uncles, and her family attends the funeral in their company. Sirius the elder all but hisses in rage when he sees Regulus and Lycoris Black, who both fought against Grindelwald and have no interest in fathering Heirs. Then Sirius Black possibly suffers a brainstorm when he notices that his estranged sister Iola is in attendance with her Muggle husband, Robert Hitchens, deceased John Morgan’s wife Ella, and their children, Robert and Anna. Ella’s brother Robert and his wife Amber brought their children, Elenora and Philippa, possibly just to spite their great-uncle Sirius. Salazar normally doesn’t approve of using children as spiteful leverage, but all four are old enough to agree to and understand exactly what sort of reaction their presence is causing.

Dorea is unsurprised, if saddened, by the absence of all of her siblings and their offspring. Pollux’s oldest son, Alphard, corresponds with his aunt frequently, but neither he, his brother, or his sister-in-law bestirred themselves from London. Alphard still lives with his parents, and likely didn’t dare their wrath, after they nearly disinherited and disowned him for fighting in the war against Grindelwald. Cygnus and his wife Druella have the thin excuse of Druella’s advanced pregnancy, but it’s far more likely that they’re gladly following their father’s example.

The funeral also reveals the depth of the divide in the Prewett family. Ignatius and Lucretia are the only ones who attend aside from their aging and unwed matriarch, Muriel. There is nothing wrong with the health of her siblings, William and Alfred, but their heads are full of nonsense. William and his wife Isabel want to remain politically neutral in the face of Muriel’s insistence against Pure-blood propaganda. Muriel holds the Wizengamot seat and thus the sway to keep her family on the rails…except that Alfred and his wife Frances are both firmly on the side of Pure-blood superiority, and are still angry that Grindelwald lost the war. William Henry and his wife Geneva are both adhering to his father William’s position of family neutrality, though they all seem to have confused the word neutral with avoid.

Salazar resists the urge to roll his eyes during a funeral service. Prewett family politics aren’t as complex and spiteful as Black family politics, but they’re still vastly annoying. He also decides that it’s Henry’s fault he knows far too bloody much about everyone’s sodding offspring.

He later discovers by way of Dorea that Druella gave birth to Dorea’s grandniece on 19th October, a girl named Andromeda Cassiopeia. Salazar thinks that a fine way to balance a family’s loss.

 

*         *         *         *

 

The next nuclear explosion occurs on Hallowe’en that year. Salazar goes into his bathroom, sicks up everything he ate that day, and goes to bed. Fuck this. Fuck all of this. Maybe he can swallow a phial of the Draught of Living Death and convince Henry, Elizabetha, Charles, Monty, Charlotte, or Dorea to wake him with the Wiggenweld Antidote after scientific idiots are done bombarding the world with radiation.

Another explosion occurs two weeks later. The idea of taking the Draught to escape this nonsense becomes more and more appealing.

Salazar has no idea what happens in March, April, and May of 1953. He blanked out after the second explosion and does his level best to avoid waking again until it’s over. He doesn’t truly regain conscious awareness until the third week of June, and finds himself in what has quickly become “his” room in the Potter Mansion. Again.

“You’re beginning to resemble a walking skeleton,” Monty says when he comes home from university for the final time on 1st July. He now has a diploma to hang on his wall, along with certifications in Alchemy and Defence Against the Dark Arts, but Monty dabbled in far more than that. “If I bring my girlfriend home, you’re going to terrify her.”

“I can easily be gone from here before that happens,” Salazar mumbles, all but drowning in his mug of coffee. Bless Elizabetha’s entire existence for deciding that coffee and chai should learn to be friends; the milk helps to keep his stomach from rejecting it. “What is her name?”

“Don’t be ridiculous. Just try not to die of ill health in the meantime,” Monty says, unimpressed by Salazar volunteering to depart. “Her name is Euphemia Grace Pryce. She’s five years older than I am—I remembered her from Hogwarts when I encountered her at the university in Cardiff. I’d have missed her entirely if she’d gone to uni right after Hogwarts was done, but she waited a while. Lucky me, yes?”

“Very fortunate. How did you find it to teach a class on your own?” Salazar asks. Monty volunteered to be the DADA post’s victim this past term, using the opportunity to fulfil the university’s requirement that Monty find employment in a subject he’s proficient in to earn his degree. The curse Nizar warned Salazar of has been in full swing in regards to fending off long-term Defence instructors since Salazar’s return to England in 1945. He strongly suspects it was Tom Riddle who cursed his school, but he must wait forty-two years before he can do something about it.

“It went well enough, but I don’t wish to do it for the rest of my life. I’ll probably not repeat the experience, though I did decide that I don’t like Albus Dumbledore.”

“Oh?” Salazar gives him a curious look. “Why is that?”

Monty seems to be searching for words, and doesn’t look settled until he finds the right ones. “Albus is ambitious, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just—it’s the way he sticks his nose into every pot he can find to see what’s what. He acts like an upstanding man, yet his sort of ambition doesn’t remind me of what Dad gets up to, Saul. Albus Dumbledore reminds me more of Patrician Lestrange.”

“Given what Patrician Lestrange is like, that is quite the damning opinion of Albus Dumbledore’s character,” Salazar says in a mild voice.

“And no one seems to notice,” Monty replies, understanding at once that Salazar is not disagreeing with him. “They see the defeater of Grindelwald, the master of Transfiguration, the skill, the political savvy…and that’s as far as they look. I don’t understand why he’s so venerated.”

“Leonard is still venerated, even after politics turned against him.” Salazar feels a bit more alert as the coffee works its simple magic. “People like to have heroes, Monty. Sometimes all it takes is one act of greatness, and the idea will follow you all of your days.” He thinks of Nizar and his little brother’s muted, angry frustration that a famous scar was Wizarding Britain’s first and only concern. “There are others who notice that Albus Dumbledore is not as benevolent as he seems, and not all of them are pricks.”

Monty laughs. “No, but it certainly seems as if most of them are. This newly emphasized political movement about blood purity—it worries me.”

“It worries me, also.”

During his convalescence, Salazar missed the funeral of Sirius Black I, who finally did his family the favor of dying at the age of ninety-eight. Dorea tells him that the wake and entombment felt more like a celebration, the Black family having a rare moment of unity in the wake of being rid of someone they mutually despised.

Salazar meets Euphemia during that summer of unceasing atomic bomb blasts. She visits the manor in the company of her younger sister, Eleanora Alice Pryce. Monty brings them to the sunroom where Salazar has taken to lurking, soaking up sunlight until his skin is once again the deep bronze of his youth. This summer has decided him; he’s adding a bloody sunroom to the Willow House.

The Pryce sisters have black hair and the blue-green eyes of the Norse-Gaeils, accompanied by rosy cheeks that make their pale skin appear permanently flushed. Euphemia is shorter; Eleanora is taller. Definitely Welsh, though the English and Welsh both look at Salazar askance when he says there is a visible difference between them. Salazar has started to tentatively blame his peculiar eyesight. It might literally be something only he can see, but when he returned to England in the 1600s, he always, always knew when the one he faced was Welsh or English without a word spoken, and the difference only became more pronounced as time passed.

For all that Cymru was one of the last Brittonic kingdoms of the isle, magical or otherwise, little sign of the black eyes and dark hair of the Brittonic tribes lingers in the Welsh bloodlines. To find the lacking darker browns and stark black eyes of the Britons, it’s best to head for the English Midlands and keep wandering north. Whenever someone with darker skin crops up in Wales, it most often reveals that the family had forgotten roots in in southern Iberia.

It’s the bloody Cornish that give him grief. The southern English, the Cornish, and the Bretons still blend together so well that he doesn’t bother to try to name them unless he hears them speak first. Even then, it’s dodgy, and they’re not even using the same fucking languages!

Eleanora is revealed to be the sister who is lacking in manners. The moment introductions are done and Monty departs to fetch tea, Eleanora baldly asks Salazar of his blood status. Euphemia looks horrified by her sister’s rudeness, but Salazar tells Eleanora anyway: hundreds of generations of magicians on his father’s side, and something quite similar on his mother’s side.

Salazar feels no need to inform Eleanora that his mother, her mother, and her grandmother would all have been considered Squibs, if not entirely non-magical. The family magic still passed along their bloodline as it should, else Estefania wouldn’t have been able to cup silver fire within her hands, but explaining such things to modern British magicians is a headache he does not want or need.

“A proper Pure-blood, then,” Eleanora says with a sniff. “You’ll do.”

“I’m so glad to have met with your exacting standards,” Salazar responds in a dismissive drawl. Eleanora’s cheeks gain further color as she recognizes the implied insult. She huffs and departs the sunroom, most likely to have a good sulk in a guestroom upstairs. She is only six years younger than her twenty-eight-year-old sister, but still has the attitude of a spoiled child.

“I am so very sorry,” Euphemia says, but Salazar waves off her apology.

“It was not you who demonstrated poor manners. She will eventually learn that blood only matters when you’re trying to keep a wound from spilling it everywhere.”

Euphemia grimaces. “You sound as if you expect another war.”

Salazar eyes her, reads her body language, and trusts in his instincts and magic. “Why not? You do.”

Euphemia bites her lip before she sits down in the chair next to Salazar. “Our mother was a Grace—Alice Eurydice.” Salazar nods; he recalls the woman’s name mentioned in passing, if not the lady herself. “That’s the reason why my second given name is Grace. Mother wanted to remember her roots, though given the manner in which those roots were rotting even before her death, she might’ve regretted the choice. The Grace family believes that Wizarding Britain is fit only for Pure-bloods, and my sister listened to them when they were spreading that nonsense in Hogwarts. The only reason my sister still speaks to me is because I’ve yet to say a word against her choices. I’ve only asked her to be cautious, though I daresay that wasn’t enough. Eleanora won’t hear a word against the Grace family and ceased speaking to Father because of it. She says in private that he isn’t fit to be a Pure-blooded wizard because he’s Welsh.”

“If she says a Welsh Pure-blooded wizard isn’t fit for Britain while being Welsh herself, then logic and observation are not her primary concerns.” It’s the height of hypocrisy, but Salazar heard such often during the war.

“Not really, no,” Euphemia admits, sighing. “But she’s my sister, so I have to try to help her. It’s just—she wed and moved to Dover the moment she graduated Hogwarts. She married our second cousin, Alfrid Chester Grace, just to be able to rejoin the family ‘properly.’ I have a niece who is already three years old, and I fear for her safety. I’ve heard Alfrid’s rants, not to mention those of his father, and…”

“It’s as if they’ve already forgotten that Wizarding Britain just fought a war against the very fascism they’re spouting,” Salazar finishes, and Euphemia nods in regret. “What is your niece’s name? Why is she not with you?”

“Oh, Eleanora wanted a bit of a holiday from motherhood,” Euphemia responds in obvious irritation. “I was tempted to tell her she deserved the frustration after marrying in a hurry and birthing Euphemia Silvestara at eighteen. She was meant to be using the money that Mother set aside for us to attend university.”

“Yet she still loved you enough to name a child after you,” Salazar observes quietly. Silvestara is an interesting choice for the girl's second name; it isn’t British or Latin, but he stumbled over it often when traveling in India. It makes him wonder if Eleanora had a moment of foresight, but didn’t realize it except to grant her daughter a name that ought to offend her current political sensitivities.

Euphemia bites her lip again. “Our mother was ill often when Eleanora was a child. I was often more of a mother to her than a sister. When Eleanora ran off to Dover, I followed. I’m glad I did, or Eleanora and I would already be at odds.”

“She would be the reason you attended university so late.” Salazar sees that Monty is returning, a tea tray floating sedately in his wake. “Yet you might have come out the better for it.”

Euphemia glances down and blushes. “I might’ve.”

“What did I miss?” Monty asks, gesturing with one finger so the tray settles onto the table. He’s getting better with wandless magic, though only for calm, simple charms. Nizar’s portrait sat through several years of frustration before deciding that he’d be satisfied with that level of wandless skill as long as Monty learned to recall his fallen wand to his hand. That did the trick, and impressed other magicians enough that Dippet was pleased to offer Monty a position at Hogwarts when Monty requested a term of assisting or teaching Alchemy or Defence. “Where is Eleanora?”

“She decided to retire for a bit,” Euphemia answers diplomatically, smiling at Monty. Salazar nods once in polite confirmation. He already likes Euphemia a great deal, and wonders if Monty remembers that her face was one of the three reflected by the water on Samhain years ago.

Euphemia seems to gravitate to Salazar in his apparent state of ill health, and shares tea with him at least once a day—to Eleanora’s utter displeasure. “I did meet Monty at Hogwarts first, though I graduated in 1943 while he was still a third-year, just after that terrible business with Myrtle Warren. I confess I didn’t think a single thing on Monty courting me, not then. We met again when I finally gave up on Eleanora’s fascination with Dover and returned to Cardiff to attend the local magical university. I recognized him at once, and he recalled my name. He was the only face I knew, and vice versa, so we fell to talking, and never really stopped.”

“You’re hoping they wed, aren’t you?” Salazar asks Henry while the grown children are outdoors seated on a blanket, watching the evening fireflies begin to emerge in time with the stars. They’re sharing a sweet dessert wine in the smaller enclosed terrace overlooking the back garden; Elizabetha retired early, but with a look of a magician about to set herself to a task rather than a woman intent upon sleep.

“I certainly am,” Henry replies. “Their bloodlines are fairly well removed from ours, so we don’t risk the inbreeding that is befalling certain other families in Britain.” He smiles. “I hope they’re more successful than Elizabetha and I were. Monty adores children, and I believe Euphemia does, also.”

“You join me so often,” Salazar says to Euphemia during their traditional tea the next day. “I’m not adverse to the company, but I don’t wish you to feel obligated to ignore your hosts.”

“You’re ill. It’s polite.” Euphemia sips at her tea. “And perhaps I’m doing so in solidarity.”

“You do not appear to be ill.”

“Appearances can be deceiving, I’m afraid,” Euphemia responds, rueful. “You recall what I studied at uni, yes?”

“Of course.” Euphemia graduated with certifications in healing and the official title of a Mediwitch, though she has yet to pursue any sort of employment.

“While Monty was teaching at Hogwarts to fulfill his accreditation requirements, I was doing the same at St. Mungo’s,” Euphemia says. “At first, everything went well. Then I realized that I was getting tired, more than I should have been. The residency is meant to keep at a brutal pace, to make certain we could handle any sort of emergency, but the others…they were tired, obviously, but they weren’t dragging along. They could still get by on a proper night’s sleep, whereas I began sleeping for longer and longer lengths of time just to get through the day. I made it through my residency to earn my certifications, but by the final month, my hair was falling out.”

“Good gods.” Salazar refills her tea when he realizes her hands are shaking too badly to manage it herself. “Does anyone know why?”

Euphemia shakes her head. “None. I’ve spent the whole of July regaining my strength, though I’m still sleeping too much during the night. My blood has been tested by magical and Muggle means, and those tests reveal nothing amiss. I wasn’t ill for any known reason, but given similar bouts of exhaustion I experienced in my final years at Hogwarts, I believe it’s something I’ll be living with for a long time yet.”

“I am sorry. You should be able to enjoy the career you spent so long preparing for,” Salazar says.

“I’ve made my peace with it.” Euphemia sniffs and wipes a tear from the corner of her eye before it can fall. “All right, I’ve mostly made my peace with it.”

Salazar regards her quietly, though she regains control of her emotions with the swiftness of one who has no desire to be castigated for having them. He’d best not discover Eleanora to be one of those doing the castigating. “I am a Potions Master in both Britain and Spain. I’ve seen some truly odd ailments in my day. Would you allow me to attempt to help?”

“I’m not certain there is any help to be had, though I suppose it couldn’t hurt,” Euphemia muses. “I just worry that I might cure my ailment and promptly lose the ability to bear children.”

“That, I can assure you, would not happen. Not because of me, at any rate,” Salazar replies. “At the very least, let me supply you with Restorative Potions that are far superior to that bloody swill they’re peddling at the apothecaries.”

Euphemia smiles, her good mood largely restored. “Thank you. That I would be glad of, Saul. Now it’s your turn to fess up in trade. What left you in such poor condition that you lounge around in the sunroom, allowing the servants to bring you tea? Monty said it wasn’t his place to say, which is just like an Englishman for you.”

“Mostly it is Elizabetha bringing the tea, though you’ve given her a break from that during your visit,” Salazar replies, smiling. “Do you know what an Elemental Magician is?”

“Absolutely. I’m Welsh, Saul,” Euphemia adds when he looks disbelieving. “We call Myrddin Wyllt one of our own, and we remember more than the Ministry would prefer of his origins and abilities. You’re an Elemental Magician, also?”

“No. Only one of the elements. I’m an Earth-Speaker, and normally, that is a source of strength. It is certainly a connection I derive comfort from. Unfortunately, Muggle scientists got it into their heads to start blasting the earth with atomic weapons, and every time they detonate one that is particularly large…”

“You feel it every time. Oh, I’m so sorry.” Euphemia’s scowl is exceptional in how polite it still seems. “Mister Potter—I mean Harry—did explain the concept to me, but I admit I don’t see the point. The first explosion certainly proved it was possible. What are they doing with the rest?”

“Most likely? They’re now trying to prove who has the biggest britches on the planet,” he says, and Euphemia laughs aloud.

Chapter Text

When Eleanora and Euphemia depart Potter Manor—one eagerly, and one with great regret—Salazar takes his leave, as well. He may as well have stayed, though, as another nuclear explosion occurs in August.

This one is so intense that Salazar has only an impression of danger originating from the east before he is knocked to the floor. He can feel power washing through the ground beneath him, seeking the means to expend itself. By some miracle, Salazar doesn’t lose consciousness, but he lies on the floor all night long, soothed by Nizar’s constant reassurances hissed in Parseltongue.

“Fuck,” he says at dawn. He can’t quite move yet, but at least he now remembers how to speak.

“You can say that again,” Nizar mutters.

“No.”

Punkie Night. Samhain. Diwali. Christmas. New Year’s Eve. Salazar spends all of these holidays in the Potter family’s company, and is surprised by how very normal it feels.

“Well, it’s been a full decade since we met,” Elizabetha reminds him. Salazar concedes the point while feeling a bit bewildered that he’s spent ten years in the company of family.

Dorea shrieks like a tea kettle in delight when a postal owl brings her a letter from Belgium on the second day of the new year. Her brother Marius Iolus Black received her attempts at correspondence, and his first letter to her is full of joy and kind words for the younger sister who refuses to forget him.

“How many people did you have to blackmail to find out where to direct an owl?” Salazar asks Charles.

Charles rolls his eyes. “So bloody many. Don’t tell Henry that I forgot to leave certain bad habits behind in Germany.”

“Absolutely not.”

Salazar has champagne with Dorea in London to celebrate when Druella bears another daughter on 1st February 1954. It seems that Druella Rosier Black is not as ridiculously intolerant of her aunt Dorea as Cygnus would prefer, and it’s Druella who rules that particular roost. “What have they named her?”

Dorea beams. “Bellatrix Capella. I think they might be carrying the old naming traditions a bit far, but it’s still a lovely name.”

Salazar has centuries of practice keeping his true thoughts from his face. “It is indeed that,” he agrees, but he knows the name Bellatrix. Given what her father and grandparents are like, Salazar suspects she may be the future Bellatrix Lestrange, destined to be locked away in Azkaban.

In March 1954, someone mucks it up badly enough that the public not only pays attention, they get angry. A nuclear test over the Bikini Atoll goes wrong in that it goes far too right; the radioactive fallout from the massive blast drifts around the globe. Salazar learns of it when the test’s secrecy unravels, in part due to the deaths the explosion caused. It’s a mixed blessing that the bomb was detonated over water. Thus, Salazar was aware of it, but it didn’t burn with the screaming pain of the earth. It’s the radioactive fallout that infuriates him.

It’s unreasonable to make such a big deal over the death of a fisherman,” Nizar’s portrait quotes when that particular bit of shit is broadcasted on the evening news. “Wow. What a dick.”

“That is too mild a term for the sort of man who would speak those words, hermanito.”

There are several more water detonations, but the results are quiet compared to what Salazar has recently endured. Monty and Euphemia announce their engagement in April and begin to make plans to wed on the Autumnal Solstice. Salazar manages to prepare his vegetable garden and his herb beds for the year without falling on his face.

Euphemia writes a separate letter to inform him that his Restorative Potions do seem to help, though she still tires if she is too active for too long during the day. She’s frustrated, though she doesn’t say it; she fears she is being judged as lazy. Salazar would like to solve her problem and make the Restorative Potions unnecessary, but he’s baffled by the nature of Euphemia’s illness. He’s not certain if even Helga would know what to do.

Early September of that year lands Salazar on the ground again, unexpectedly retching into the grass just outside Godric’s Hollow. More poisonous heat is flowing through the earth from the east, which means the bloody Soviets are at it again.

Salazar is helped to his feet by one of the villagers, who are now quite used to seeing his face. They guide him to a local pub to recover. Salazar thanks them afterwards, for the stout in particular, and nearly splinches himself into several pieces when he uses Desplazarse to return home.

“Are you pissed?” Nizar’s portrait asks as Salazar stumbles past.

Salazar makes an incoherent sound of protest. Fuck this. He drops into his own bed and sleeps through the next day.

After that, his luck seems to improve again, or someone in charge of all of these detonations grows a sodding brain. He is capable of standing with those attending Monty and Euphemia’s wedding on the Equinox and not attract attention, as he no longer resembles a man in the throes of a terrible illness. Saul Luiz is simply an old friend of Henry’s from The War. He’s a bit thin after too many bloody atomic bomb detonations stacked onto years of rationed meals, but otherwise possesses normal hazel eyes and very dark brown hair, though he stopped using dye to hide the silver shortly after returning to England.

Euphemia is resplendent in a white gown that must be family heirloom, as he saw brides wearing gowns of that style in the late 1800s. Her mother Alice died in 1948, but her father, grizzled Gwydion Pryce, travels from Cardiff in order to walk his daughter down the aisle to where the groom and his man are waiting. Onyx Rothschild is a former Ravenclaw classmate of Monty’s at Hogwarts and an interesting choice, but he swiftly proved that he’s nothing like his parents…or his siblings, for that matter. Onyx’s aunt, Amber Rothschild Hitchens, also approves of him, whereas her brother Obsidian she would prefer to Transfigure into rock and cast into the Channel.

Monty’s hair refuses to behave itself, but he looks tall and fine in his black robes, and thus the state of his hair is ignored as he accepts Euphemia’s hand. The service conducted by an ordained magician is blended Christian and Hindi. The marriage vows are spoken with honest love and thus sound like living poetry. The exchange of rings leave an amusing number of their attending guests in tears.

“How old were you when you decided to conveniently stop aging?” Henry asks him in an undertone as they applaud the bride and groom’s enthusiastic kiss.

“Seventy-three,” Salazar replies.

“You look to be several years younger than myself,” Henry murmurs. “You lucky bastard.”

“My knees stridently disagree with you.”

Henry chuckles. “They’re in good company, believe me.”

Charles all but charges forward to have the honor of offering his congratulations before anyone else, which pleases Euphemia’s Welsh upbringing. It also helps to offset the fact that Eleanora refused to attend her sister’s wedding.

Rationing has finally been ended on all foodstuffs, but market shelves and carts still tend to be barren. Salazar’s gift to the newly wedded couple is a cheat: he traveled vast distances by Desplazarse, collecting goods and supplies from countries that are recovering faster from World War II than Britain. The Potter family’s servants are thus able give Euphemia and Monty what would otherwise have been impossible: the tiered wedding cake that has become traditional, along with a small selection of hors d’oeuvres for their guests.

There is muttering among some of those in attendance that the Potters have reduced themselves to black market purchases, just like any other family of ill breeding. That is an opinion of which Salazar is happy to correct them. He is the one who provided this supposed excess, and if they wish to discuss it further, he has a wand and a great deal of time on his hands.

Salazar almost thinks Abraxus Malfoy is going to take him up on the offer of a duel before the man demurs and apologizes to Henry for what he implied about the family’s morals. Salazar is a bit disappointed. The new babe named Lucius cradled in Delphina Crabbe Malfoy’s arms could stand to have a father with more brains in his head. It’s unspoken but common knowledge that the Malfoy table, among others, has been stocked by black market foodstuffs since rationing began. Thus, not only is Abraxus Malfoy a hypocrite, he is also a fool who insulted his own family by not thinking more carefully upon the wording of his insult.

He misses Nizar fiercely in that moment. Saul Luiz’s persona outside of war and work was deliberately crafted to be a bit less like himself, but Nizar wouldn’t have passed on the opportunity to use Abraxus’s own words for a fierce and elegant verbal slaying.

The guests from the Wizengamot who were invited out of courtesy leave first, but not without sampling the richest food most of them have seen in years. Bloody Pure-blooded ideologically bigoted vultures. Salazar is not sorry to see them go, and won’t mourn overly much if Voldemort’s war sees them dead.

Those who are friends or family rather than mere Wizengamot acquaintances remain longer. Callidora made off with Dorea at some unknown point, while Harfang Longbottom kidnaps Henry for a potential scheme regarding the Wizengamot that Salazar would rather not know about. Their adult twins are glad to converse with anyone who holds still long enough; Robert Longbottom talks happily about how he is courting Augusta Burke, who could not attend due to her current term at Hogwarts, while Algernon talks happily about toads. Septimus and Cedrella’s boys are now all three capable of running about underfoot, though Bilius spends most of his time with Ignatius Prewett II and Sam Potter, as they’re of an age—much to the displeasure of younger Arthur and Ignatius Weasley.

Isobella Potter is now one hundred forty years old, still hale and mentally sound. Salazar is impressed, by her longevity, as most British magicians haven’t been capable of a magician’s proper lifespan in the last two centuries. Olivia Potter Sinistra toasts the health of the family matriarch and then insists that, widowed or not, Olivia is going to outlive her, which earns quite a bit of appreciative laughter.

Belvina and Herbert Burke wait until all of the marriage speeches and toasts are done before announcing that Belvina is pregnant, whereupon she is swarmed by Charlotte, Cedrella, Lucretia, Callidora, and Dorea to be embraced. Stately Iola Black Hitchens is the first to offer far more formal congratulations to her niece. The rest of her extended family calls for a blessing on the mother-to-be, which Salazar thinks a wise idea. Belvina is sixty-eight years of age. A pregnancy in those final years of magical possibility can either endanger or invigorate.

Monty and Euphemia don’t remain in Potter Manor after their marriage, but move into the cottage tucked into a little plot of land on Old Oak Row in Godric’s Hollow. “That’s the last of the old Potter homesteads, then?” Salazar asks, as he hadn’t yet seen it. It’s a sturdy two-storey dwelling, definitely mindful of the 1400s on the outside, but with a proper roof and new glass in the diamond-pane windows. The home is decked out with white ribbons tied onto the garden walls and along the first-floor windows, gifts from the villagers who welcomed the newlyweds.

“It is,” Henry answers. “We took the trouble to modernize it a bit before the wedding. There were some repairs that were long overdue. Charles and Dorea dwelled in it last before choosing to live in Dorea’s grudgingly granted inheritance from Elladora Black.” Salazar nods; he’s visited the townhouse in Kensington a few times. Dorea informed him on his first visit that her inherited home is almost the polar opposite of the home she grew up in. Salazar had gazed at his bright, airy, cheerful surroundings and wondered why Alphard couldn’t be arsed to move the fuck out of what must be an unimaginably foul house.

“Why move out of the manor at all?” Salazar asks. “Aside from the potential for sleepless nights due to a newly wedded couple’s shenanigans.”

“A tradition, one that is probably as old as the cottage,” Henry replies, smiling. “Myself and Elizabetha did the same when we were first married. The newest Potter couple of our direct line to be wed dwells in the cottage for a time, usually until our first children are born. It’s a way of letting a newly wedded couple figure out how to be themselves without the rest of the family trying to dictate how their marriage should work, but it also reminds the village that Potters dwell here, and have done so for at least seven centuries. It keeps the family from being forgotten by the village’s non-magical residents, at least.”

Salazar slowly nods. “I think that a fine tradition,” he says, because the roots of his family have been forgotten by all except himself and Nizar. Godric and Sedemai’s origins are lost but for the folklore regarding this village, and the knowledge that lurks in his own mind. Bavaria and Britain both forgot that Rowena was from a distant duchy named Raven’s Claw, and now think her to be Scottish. Helga’s origins are so historically warped that Wizarding Britain believes she was nothing more than a simple herbal healer from Wales, never mind that Wales did not yet exist during her lifetime.

From what he’s heard from recently graduated Hogwarts students like Monty, Euphemia, and the Longbottom twins, Salazar is himself now said to be from Ireland, which is hilarious. He can only think that the legend of the sainted Patrick driving the snakes from Ireland must be the cause, given Wizarding Britain's gleeful vilification of his character.

Not long after the wedding, Salazar feels the burning of poisoned earth, but it isn’t coming from east or west. This is from the south, possibly in Australia, which leaves him desiring to walk into 10 Downing and introduce several dozen policymakers into experiencing life without bollocks. They’re saved from his wrath, alas, as Salazar is too busy sicking up on a daily basis to wave his wand at anyone.

Then Lucretia and Ignatius Prewett’s eldest son, Ignatius II, dies. It’s so unexpected that even Salazar is stunned. His divinatory instincts had not hinted that an illness would fell the poor child, let alone the worst case of Dragon Pox seen on this isle in three centuries. 1954 has been a bad year for the sickness, but almost everyone recovered without difficulty. Ignatius’s parents took him to St. Mungo’s at the very first hint of the illness the evening of 18th November, and by morning they’d lost him.

“It’s not fair!” Lucretia spits in wretched, bitter grief, watching as her son’s coffin is entombed in the Prewett vault. She’s holding onto seven-year-old Henry so tightly that he begins squirming to get away. “It’s not fair.”

“No. It isn’t,” Salazar agrees quietly, gently pulling Henry free to help with his escape. Lucretia then grasps onto him and sobs into Salazar’s shoulder while Henry runs for his father, who looks to still be in shock. The whole of the family is utterly gutted by this loss, one of the few things to unite the Prewetts in years.

Lucretia’s uncles (except Orion) and her father attend the service, as do her aunts with their spouses and children. Once again, it’s Pollux, Cassiopeia, and Walburga who set the tone for that part of the family, and ignore Lucretia entirely despite her valid marriage to a “proper” Pure-blood. However, Alphard dares their anger by attending the service. It grants Salazar the first conversation he’s had with the man since the conclusion of the European Wizarding War.

Ignatius Senior’s parents, Alfred and Frances, also do not attend. Salazar sends them an anonymous and petty curse via Owl Post, the very least he’d like to offer to those odious twats for not attending their grandson’s funeral.

The funeral service is his last clear memory of 1954. The rest of the 1950s seem to pass in a blurry haze of pain, fire, and exhaustion. There are countless nuclear explosions: on the ground, over the ground, underground. Over water. In the air. Possibly even in bloody outer space; he fucking well wouldn’t put it past any of them at this point.

It isn’t a good decade to be an Elemental Magician of any sort. Not even a Fire Speaker would be able to keep up with this shit.

1957 is particularly foul. Everything feels poisoned unto death, and still the world acts as if nothing at all has changed. Before Salazar can even contemplate recovery, something goes wrong on 10th October on the northwest coast of England. He feels the Windscale radioactive fires as they burn, so much closer than any other bomb or test. It makes him want to drink himself into a stupor. With nothing much to stop him, Salazar does exactly that.

There is radioactive fallout across the UK, and he doesn’t need a sodding news broadcast to tell him so. Salazar has to magically cleanse the earth around the Willow House when that fallout settles into the soil, and he feels like utter hell while doing so.

Elizabetha, Monty, Euphemia, and Dorea have afternoon tea with him on a day and month he can’t name over a meal he can’t recall. At least he remembers their company, and the information they grant him—or at least what they remind him of, as he can’t recall reading of these things in the newspaper, nor does he know what his Owl Post contained. Someone could have poisoned him by mail and Salazar is all but certain he wouldn’t have noticed.

It seems 1955 was the year for babies. Both of John Morgan’s children have wed, as have his nieces. Elenora wed a woman named Samantha, and the two managed to have a daughter, Iola Amber, in record time—and have been granted the right to use Rothschild as the baby’s surname by Amber Rothschild Hitchens. John’s daughter Anna wed an Egyptian magician and now lives with him in Cairo.

Caspar Crouch Junior gained a brother named Charles in 1955. Elizabetha spent time in Caspar Junior’s company and declared she has never met a more arrogant toddler in all her years. Lucretia’s husband Ignatius now has fraternal twin siblings, Geoffrey and Monica Prewett. Dorea’s cousin Belvina gave birth to a healthy boy in 1955, just days after the passing of Phineas Black II. In honor of her brother, Belvina named the child Phineas Nigellus Burke.

The new parents then moved into the countryside Black estate now owned by Phineas II’s Muggle widow, Mary—much to the uproar of every annoying Black, which just so happens to include the loud one holding a Wizengamot seat. Pollux Black tried to convince the Wizengamot to pass a law that forbade Muggles from inheriting Wizarding property, no matter the legal documents or intent of the decedent, or the relationship of the one standing to inherit to the deceased. The law failed to pass, but by a disturbingly narrow vote.

Druella Black gave birth to a third child the same summer Phineas Burke was born, a daughter named Narcissa Theia. Salazar hasn’t the self-control he used in 1954 upon learning of Bellatrix Black. He plants his face on the table and tells the others that they’d best be fond of having young Lucius Malfoy as an in-law.

“Salazar, your Divination is so often useful, but in this case, I hope that you’re wrong,” Monty says. Salazar winces, because that wasn’t Divination. That is a fact that has yet to be, knowledge that his little brother’s portrait retrieved from a distant memory of a Quidditch World Cup game that will take place in August 1994.

At least the assumption of Divination saves him from any awkward explanations. Salazar wouldn’t have the thoughts for that sort of conversation, either. It’s difficult enough to keep track of all of these names, these marriages and births of those he considers family or ally or enemy, as every single one of them will soon find themselves living in the midst of a magical war.

The morning of 8th November, Salazar drops a kitchen knife from an unexpected nuclear tremor. He hisses out pained breaths and mixed swearing when the blade embeds itself in the top of his left foot.

Fuck 1957. The only thing he likes about this year is the rising popularity of denims and leather jackets as acceptable casual clothing.

He has vague memories of watching telly evolve through the latter half of the 1950s: variety shows, situational comedies, hosted shows, televised concerts, more storied programs, and more films. He can’t recall any of it afterwards. Nizar tells him that except for a few historically relevant bits, he didn’t miss much. Salazar translates that to mean “exceptionally dull,” though they both enjoy a program called “The Sky at Night.” What Salazar can remember of it, anyway.

Salazar does like the emerging music style of rock and roll, which is often a blend of many older types of music arranged in new and interesting ways. He hears the influence of the composers who are now considered “classical” as well as jazz and blues from the United States. There is folk song influence from both sides of the pond, making him wonder when it will occur to all these young faces that more instruments exist aside from guitar, bass, and drums.

He awakens one morning in June 1959 from old nightmares to realize that he no longer seems to be suffering from dull, hazy lethargy. The Earth has gone quiet in regards to radioactive poisoning…or perhaps he’s finally grown used to it. As much as he’d rather the world’s governments stop spreading radioactivity everywhere, he’ll take that adjustment and be glad of it. One country has no sooner stopped their detonations when another country begins it again. Gods take it, he has to be able to bloody function for the rest of this century!

Despite the continued quiet, Salazar remains paranoid for the rest of the year. He also continues to makes certain he carries all of his kitchen knives well away from his feet.

Arcturus Black II dies in October that year at the age of seventy-five. Salazar is amazed he managed to live as long as he did when his health was already visibly failing in 1954. Regulus Black dies only weeks later at age fifty-three. Salazar, Dorea, Lucretia, and everyone with a functional brain suspects murder, most likely plotted out by Walburga, Cygnus, or Cassiopeia after Pollux declared that only a son of the House of Black, one bearing the family name, will inherit the titles, the wealth, and the Wizengamot seat upon Pollux’s death. Walburga and Orion do not yet have children. Druella and Cygnus have only daughters. Phineas Burke is the child of parents who disdain Pollux’s beliefs, and isn’t of a mind to change his name. Alphard Black became ineligible to inherit the title of Head of the Family the moment he stood against Grindelwald. Unless more children are born, the only eligible male Blacks remaining are Arcturus Black III and Orion Black—and Orion has yet to prove he’s capable of fathering heirs. Lucretia’s uncle Lycoris was born female and is also disqualified in Pollux’s eyes, but not in the eyes of the Wizengamot. If Lycoris tries to make a claim for his family’s Seat, Pollux will have a fight on his hands.

As if the decade didn’t think it had done enough damage, Euphemia’s father dies on 1st December at the age of one hundred three. Salazar pulls the wreck of himself together, casts a glamor that fools everyone except Elizabetha, who always cheats. He goes to the funeral ready to hex someone to the gods’ own halls and back again if they so much as look at Euphemia incorrectly.

When they arrive in Old Wizarding Powys, it’s to discover a vastly underattended funeral. Eleanora and her family aren’t present, but Euphemia didn’t expect anything less from her estranged sister. There is only one other Grace in attendance, Euphemia’s aunt. Anna Grace Pryce is wed to old and frail Lleu Pryce, Gwydion’s first cousin.

“Where is everyone else?” Euphemia asks her aunt and uncle, who are the only guests not avoiding Euphemia in extremely polite fashion. It’s as if the lot of them expect Eleanora’s beliefs about blood purity to be bloody contagious.

“My granddaughter is getting married. Today. In Ireland,” Anna Pryce replies, her entire being touched by grieving regret. “The wedding, the guests, the venue—those aren’t easy things to change, and so many of those involved had already left for Ireland before Gwydion died. I don’t blame them for not wanting to cancel the whole of it, but I refused to let my husband stand at his cousin’s graveside alone. The bride understands why I can’t be there, but my daughter is in such a foul mood over the timing of it all.”

“Well, I’m glad you’re both here,” Euphemia says. Her two decent family members smile and welcome her home. Salazar will not be hexing those two, at least. As far as his opinion matters, the lack of Pryces and their magnificent ability to hold a grudge against anyone from the Grace side of the family is a blessing for Euphemia, who can now see through her father’s funeral without enduring foul behavior.

Monty rests his arm over Euphemia’s shoulders when the service is done. “Are you all right, love?”

“Oh—oh, yes, I’m fine. Sorry, I was distracted. The baby’s kicking,” she replies, smiling.

Salazar jerks his head around from his curious perusal of magical gravestones. “Baby?”

“Quiet!” Monty yelps. “You don’t tell people these things!”

“Rubbish,” Henry grumbles. “That’s fear talking, not a real tradition to concern yourselves with.”

“Excuse me; I’ll be as paranoid as I like, Dad.”

“Baby?” Salazar repeats, hoping for something a bit more coherent.

Elizabetha takes him by the arm. “Due in March,” she explains. “I will have a grandchild.”

“You most certainly will,” Salazar agrees, trying to ignore the churning in his gut. Euphemia is pregnant with James Potter, an event he almost missed entirely. He’s still so gods-fucking fatigued he didn’t even notice she was pregnant!

“It’s a boy,” Salazar says in a low voice, so the others won’t hear.

Elizabetha smiles. “I know.”

 

*         *         *         *

 

By January 1960, Salazar knows his lack of further illness must be some form of adjustment. He can still sense that someone is setting off atomic bombs, this time on the northern end of the African continent, but it’s heat beneath his feet, not fire.

That fire is coming from Algeria. What the bloody fuck did Algeria ever do to anyone?

“Not as bad?” Nizar’s portrait asks when he finds Salazar deep into a bottle of vodka that evening.

“Not yet, at least,” Salazar grumbles. “At least I’m well enough to be able to indulge.” Then he frowns at the telly. “What is this about sending men into space?”

“They’ve been discussing it since they first figured out how to send satellites into orbit a couple of years ago. You, er…were not doing so well at the time,” Nizar replies.

“Is this…this is real? They’re truly attempting to do this?”

“It’s real, they’re truly attempting to do this, and—you know what? We’ll discuss this again when you’re sober, else you’d remember the bit about the satellites in regards to a certain crafted map,” Nizar says.

“Right,” Salazar agrees, distracted by wondering what else he missed while trying to survive the latter half of the 1950s with his sanity intact. He wonders how many conversations he had that he doesn’t remember at all. Euphemia is pregnant and her father died before he could meet his grandchild; Salazar can genuinely claim to remember that. Otherwise, he has nothing but dream-like impressions of faces in his house. Fuck, he hopes he wrote down everything important.

The realization strikes him the next day, around five in the morning. “Satellites!” he yells. “Bloody overhead satellite photography to capture the whole of the Earth!”

“Yep!” the portrait agrees cheerfully from down the hall.

“THAT IS FUCKING AMAZING, LITTLE BROTHER!”

“You haven’t seen anything yet, hermano.”

Henry invites Salazar over for a celebratory glass of wine (or perhaps a dozen glasses) when Euphemia and Monty’s child is born on 27th March. “They had a devil of a time getting to this point, but that was a healthy child I held this morning,” Henry tells Salazar after the first toast, meant to celebrate the health of babe and mother before any other words are spoken. “Elizabetha says his birth star is Uttara Bhadrapada.”

Salazar has to think on that one for a few minutes to recall even the basics. “Overseen by Ahir Budhnya, the serpent guardian.”

Henry gives him a wry look. “Do I have another Parselmouth in the family, Saul?”

“Ask me again in six months,” Salazar says, because he has no idea what Nizar’s father will be capable of. “We always tend to hiss before words tumble out. What does Elizabetha think?”

“She believes my grandson will be a good man with a short temper, but that describes almost every Potter ever born.”

Salazar hides a smile. His brother fits that description very well. “What do you think they will name him?” he asks, curious as to how James Potter earned his name.

“They’ve decided already. The two cheeky buggers didn’t tell me until they were certain the baby would be a boy.” In that moment, Henry has the bright eyes and buoyant energy of a much younger man. “James Henry Potter. Monty and Euphemia wanted to name him after the uncle that neither of us got to meet, as my uncle James did before I was born, but as to his second name? A man never knows if he’s rated well enough to earn such an honor until after it happens.”

“To my eyes, you rated the honor in World War II,” Salazar says quietly. “You’ve most certainly earned it by now.” By 31st July 1980, he’ll have earned it twice over.

After James’s birth, it’s like a dam waiting to break finally bursts. Voldemort is suddenly a public figure in Wizarding Britain with supporters behind him. Salazar knew that Tom Riddle was back in England, like an itch on the back of his hand that couldn’t be soothed, but Voldemort kept his presence a secret until he’d already built up a decent following of idiots. None are publicly calling themselves Death Eaters yet, preferring to dub followers of their blood purity cause the Knights of Walpurgis. The choice causes Salazar to seethe for days. That they would corrupt that holiday is an insult to Rowena and her Bavarian roots, an insult to Godric and anyone of his faith. It also casts poison upon Beltane, which any magician with a working brain should find appalling. The holiday exists for a reason. It is a holy day for a bloody reason!

Voldemort already has “patrons” in the Lestranges, the Avery family, the Burkes, the Selwyns, the Rosiers, the Graces, the Carrows, and far too many of the Protestant Rothschilds. Salazar suspects the Malfoys, Crabbes, Goyles, Frobishers, Notts, Travers, Macnairs, and the Rowles, but those families are wisely not voicing their support in public spaces. It’s the first lot that is the most trouble, anyway. Much as Abraxus Malfoy and Augustine Travers would deny it, theirs are not the deepest coffers in Wizarding Britain. Voldemort’s public supporters are the ones who hold the wealth to speak of bigotry and genocide in public without fear of reprisal. The Ministry won’t touch them, fearing the loss of the substantial family donations that fuel the Ministry of Magic. Worse, they’ve broken no laws save that of having no human decency.

That same wealth gains Voldemort a voice beyond that of Hogsmeade or Diagon Alley. Voldemort’s speeches always make the Wizarding Wireless, and most of what Salazar hears turns his stomach. “He puts such a sweet spin on genocide. You would think British magicians would not so soon forget what Nazi Germany did to its own citizens.”

“Pfft. They haven’t forgotten. Voldemort is attracting the idiots who’ve always thought this way, Sal. They just didn’t have a reason to be public about it. Voldemort is giving them that reason.” Nizar’s portrait stalks out of his frame before Voldemort’s latest speech can end. Salazar realizes he should have turned off the radio and done the same, for he spends the rest of the night in a foul mood.

He had no idea Voldemort began his career so early, not to mention his collecting of sycophants. “Was this not in your history?” Salazar asks Nizar’s portrait.

Nizar shrugs. “Not in so many specific words, no. It’s definitely not mentioned in any book I recall reading. Voldemort’s rise to power wasn’t exactly a direct correlation to Hogwarts’ history, and that book was written well before anyone knew Tom Riddle would be a problem, anyway.” He hesitates for a moment. “What does he look like?”

“Voldemort is a well-dressed man of thirty-three, and is often commented upon as being quite handsome. None of his observers, whether they agree with him or scorn him, seem capable of seeing the rot of his soul through his blinding charisma. They also do not notice that the vitality a magician his age should have is lacking. Voldemort speaks as if he believes everything he says, and they in turn believe him.” Salazar ignores a prickling, cold chill of foreboding. He already knows exactly how bad things are going to become, else his brother wouldn’t have been an orphan. “He looks quite a bit like a Gaunt from the time before their inbreeding destroyed the family, though he also resembles his non-magical father. And…and he has Cadmus’s eyes.”

“Cadmus Peverell deserved to have better quality descendants than this.”

Watching Voldemort speak, watching the crowds around his Transfigured platform grow larger each time, is like watching Nazi Germany form all over again. Salazar makes a stockpile of anti-nausea potions, because some of the faces he sees in those crowds once fought against Grindelwald. Now they listen to the same sort of words from a worse sort of man.

James Potter is not a Parselmouth. All of the babble that falls from his lips as he grows is that of an infant learning the shapes and sounds of spoken human words. At six months of age, his birth-blue eyes are turning colors and will eventually be some variant of hazel, given the greens and golds Salazar is beginning to pick out. James’s hair is black, his skin a faint bronze with pink undertones that make him look like a pale-skinned child who’s spent a bit of time in the sun. It’s quite obvious he takes after his grandmother, which includes her hair’s untamable, unruly curls.

“And that will be where you get it from, little brother,” Salazar whispers over the infant’s crib. Not that Nizar had wanted to keep that uncontrollable black hair, but it’s a bit of a relief to finally see incontrovertible evidence of its origins. Great-grandmother, grandfather, father, son. A line that will remain unbroken until Voldemort has waged his war.

Salazar does not yet know what to do about the war to come. He has become attached to these distant members of his family, yet they are destined to die, just like so many others.

“My little brother once asked me to try to save his family, if it was possible,” Salazar says to James, who coos and claps his hands when Salazar picks up a stuffed hippogriff for the baby to hold in his tiny hands. “I have ideas, I’ll confess, but accomplishing them? That remains a mystery, little one.”

There is one place Salazar can start, but he cannot do so right now. He’ll not ruin this family’s happiness regarding the baby until infancy has been left far behind.

Time passes quickly. James has his first birthday, and mauls a tiny cake into oblivion with his chubby fists. His eyes are now green and brown, with spikes of gold and yellow; the only thing keeping them from being true to the hazel palette is the lack of blue. He has also shown his first signs of accidental magic, all of it humorous and harmless.

Before October, Elizabetha launches her attack to convince Salazar to spend the latter part of the year with the family. It doesn’t take long for him to give in; arguing with that woman is like arguing with a wall, but the wall might eventually be convinced to remove itself from his path. They didn’t see much of each other during the latter 1950s, and Salazar feels the need to make up for that, even if it wasn’t his fault.

James Potter took his first steps before his birthday, but after that, he is off with no intention of stopping. He gives his parents quite a bit of exercise when it comes to chasing him down. The boy is utterly fearless in a way that is painfully familiar, but the awe on his small face as the carved turnips and gourds are lit for Punkie Night makes Salazar feel short of breath.

Gods, no wonder Nizar was utterly sick of being compared to his father. Even the toddler’s expressions are astoundingly familiar.

Salazar doesn’t manage to ask the family about Tom Riddle until the day before Hallowe’en. England is enjoying one of its rare and suspicious days of being unseasonably warm and sunny, so they’re taking breakfast in the back garden.

“Do you know of that upstart, Voldemort?”

“Upstart is certainly a good word for him.” Henry covers a slice of toast with preserves made by their servants. Two are magical and the rest are Squibs, but all of them are so properly English in their unobtrusiveness that it took Salazar several days back in August of 1945 to realize they existed.

“Right, him.” Monty snorts. “I might’ve married another Pure-blood, but I wasn’t looking to make a Pure-blood match. I was just looking for someone I loved.” Euphemia smiles at him from across the table while bouncing a toddler on her knee; James is trying to cram both of his hands into a fortuitously empty glass treated to a nigh religious amount of Impervious charms.

“Why do you mention him?” Elizabetha asks Salazar. “His speeches are foul, and they attract those of similar foul thought.”

“He’s a bit of nonsense, anyway.” Monty stirs honey into a fresh cup of tea. He witnessed Salazar do the same once, years ago, and decided it was the perfect thing to emulate. “His rubbish will blow over soon enough.”

Salazar exchanges glances with Euphemia, noting her paling face, before slowly shakes his head. “No. No, it won’t. Voldemort is not your usual soapbox-standing wizard looking to gather crowds.”

Elizabetha gives him a searching look. “You speak of bloodshed.”

Salazar scratches the back of his neck when his skin tingles and checks his watch. Eight-thirty in the morning. It feels vital that he knows the time, but doesn’t take the act for the warning it is. “Not only that. I speak of—”

He has no idea if he completes the sentence. There is such an abrupt wave of raw power surging through the Earth that Salazar doesn’t realize it was accompanied by fire until much later, when he discovers that the soles of his feet are raw and burnt. Before, it had merely been sensation. This time, it becomes reality.

It’s the second time he’s felt a surge that seeks ways to expend itself. Seeks exits.

Salazar has not used himself as a direct conduit for the Earth in a very long time. It’s not even his choice that it happens now.

He might be screaming when that power bursts free. He sees a flash of emerald green fire. He is a second shockwave, mirroring the strength of the first.

He blinks his eyes open to find hands on his shoulders. A face is saying words he can’t hear. His vision is a blurred mess, but that appears to be Henry.

Where is he? What was he just doing?

Sound and clarity come back in a rush. “—breathe, damn you!”

Salazar tries to take a breath and can’t. He grips at Henry’s arms with desperate hands, riding the edge of panic. He manages a single, wheezing creak that burns his throat.

He loses consciousness again. He doesn’t think he’s ever been more grateful.

Chapter Text

There are many things about that particular morning that Salazar only discovers days later. It takes a while for consciousness, heartbeat, and breath to remember that they’re all meant to function at the same time. One of the three will often suffer a hiccup that drags him back down into blackness.

Elizabetha is with him when Salazar awakens without difficulty on the seventh of November. She declares it auspicious that he did so on Diwali. Given the sort of massive fireball that must’ve been lit off to leave him feeling this way, Salazar just thinks it terrible irony.

“Harry had to tell us all about your…curse,” is the second thing that Elizabetha says to him, which causes Salazar to stare at her in shock. That she and Henry are aware of his identity is one thing, but the others—

Elizabetha ignores his gaping stare, continuing on as if they’re discussing a normal event rather than a terrible secret. “He is sorry for doing so, but it was the only means available to my husband to keep the rest of us from sending for the healers. Of course, by the third time you awoke despite your body’s inability to function properly, it was rather obvious that Death was not coming for you.”

“Not for a while yet, at least,” Salazar whispers. His voice is a wreck, his throat raw. He tastes a hint of copper and wonders if he bit the inside of his mouth.

“Strange, though.” Elizabetha raises an eyebrow. “I already knew you were long-lived, but I do not sense that you are cursed. Different, certainly, but not cursed.”

“It was…” His throat dries up and refuses more words. Elizabetha chastises herself in angry blended English and Punjabi before helping him to sit up, to sip at honeyed rosewater until it feels less like he swallowed fire.

In a sense, Salazar did exactly that.

“It was the simplest explanation I had at the time. You do not think it a curse?”

Elizabetha smiles after she helps him to lie back down. “No. I don’t think Harry would be alive if you were not exactly as you are, and the gift of a saved life is never a curse.”

Salazar wiggles his fingers and is glad that they feel uninjured, if a bit numb. “It oft feels like one.”

“My good friend survived an event that would have killed another man. It is not a curse,” Elizabetha retorts crossly. “I must check your feet. They were burnt.”

“Irradiated?” Salazar gasps out in sudden concern. There is a young child in this house, not to mention others who do not need to live and breathe that poison.

“No. Merely burned. The intensity of the magic you channeled was too much for them.” Elizabetha lifts one of Salazar’s bare feet from the bed to peer at it with a critical eye. “This is ever so much better. The first day, the soles of your feet were burnt black. I wasn’t certain my healing balms were up to that sort of challenge, but Euphemia’s skills have not deteriorated since her time at university. She did excellent work, though most of her efforts were devoted to convincing your heart that not only was it meant to beat, it was to do so in a regular rhythm.”

Salazar tries to gather his scattering thoughts. Given how light-headed he is, there is more rest waiting in his immediate future. When you cannot die from deadly wounds, the only alternative is to sleep. “I’m glad to have missed witnessing my feet in such condition, then. What happened to cause this?”

“You do not recall?” Elizabetha asks, though she seems concerned rather than surprised.

Salazar gives a brief shake of his head. “I was a bit preoccupied.”

“I can only imagine,” Elizabetha comments without judgment, investigating the condition of his other foot. He can scarcely feel the touch of her hands on his skin, and wonders if the cause is damaged nerves or numbing salves. “The Soviets detonated a nuclear bomb, a very large one.[1] They are hiding the details, as usual, but the entire world knows what they did. Many leaders have condemned the act. The scientists on the Muggle wireless say that this particular Soviet bomb has to have been the largest device of its kind ever created.”

“It certainly felt like it,” Salazar mutters. He’s suddenly grateful for the multitude of previous detonations. If he had experienced that surge of power without warning of any sort, then—no. He can’t think on that. “How does everyone else know what was done?”

“Largest device of its kind,” Elizabetha repeats. “The windows of homes in Norway and Finland shattered due to the blast wave from Russia.”

Salazar feels his heart try to stall out again in shock. “That—”

Fucking bloody hell, that is ludicrous. He’d even go so far as to label it impossible, but he felt its strength. Too much of it.

There are other consequences that are far more important than windows. “What happened here? What did I do?”

Elizabetha gently lowers his foot and then returns to the chair at his bedside. She adjusts her sari before settling into place. “You stood up mid-word and flung yourself back from the breakfast table. Even though whatever was occurring pained you, you still ordered us to run for the house, to erect the wards that protect the manor against physical dangers. Your eyes were solid green with the shine of magic, trailing their own silver flame. It was quite beautiful,” she adds in a thoughtful tone, “but many beautiful things are deadly.”

Salazar thinks on a valley in Spain that still bears his name. “Yes.”

“I have a good eye for magic. Euphemia is better, especially after the birth of my grandson. Behind the protection of the wards, she could tell us that the magic of the earth was wrathful. A reverse lightning rod, she called you.” Elizabetha reaches out and pats Salazar’s shoulder, sensing his sudden fear. “You harmed no one, I promise. You had no choice but to release that magic. When you disappeared from our sight, a wave of green fire struck the house’s wards. We could all feel its impact. Harry suffered a brief moment of fearing the wards would not hold, but they did.”

“What damage was caused?” Please let him not have carved another valley by accident. This was once Godric’s land, and that man’s spirit would not hesitate to invade his dreams to castigate him, or possibly to laugh at him.

“Godric’s Hollow was mostly protected by the wards of the Manor, and by the grove that lies north of our home,” Elizabetha replies. “The windows of homes on the eastern and western edges of the village were damaged, but glass can be repaired.” Then she grins at him in pure mischief. “You temporarily emptied the River Yeo. The water did not quite dare to flow through its channel for several hours.”

“That…oh. Oh, gods. What does the back garden look like?” Salazar asks in weary resignation. There is likely no garden left at all.

“The oldest and strongest of our trees still stand. Otherwise…you have left the back garden a barren crater, which is just as well. I’ve wanted to change it for quite a while now.”

Salazar groans and lifts his trembling arms to plaster his hands over his face. A crater is, at least, not a valley.

“Not a blade of grass remains. No stone was left unturned unless they were protected by the wards. You also destroyed every single pane of glass in Ilchester,” Elizabetha adds. “The Muggles are convinced there was some sort of earthquake, and they’re not entirely wrong. Otherwise, but for a few collapsed garden sheds and blown-over fences, that is the worst but for the damage to yourself.”

“The breakfast dishes. Those were from your family,” Salazar remembers with sudden guilt. “I’m sorry. Are they—”

“Pulverized, I believe would be the most accurate term.” Elizabetha still sounds as if everything that occurred is funny. Salazar will never understand this woman. “I have other things that belonged to my family which are of much greater value than a few dishes and teacups, Saul. If they were to be destroyed, I would rather it be an accident than by someone’s intentional act of vandalism.”

“I can fix the garden, the shape of it,” Salazar offers after a minute of silence. “Or…however you would like it. You did say you wanted to change it.” Now he’s laughing, faint huffs of pained air that refuse to stop. He turned the family’s back garden into a crater. He is the absolute worst houseguest.

“I will draw my ideas while you rest,” Elizabetha tells him while Salazar tries not to hiccup his way through a half-hysterical giggle. “The next time you wake, you should eat.”

Salazar misses the part of the conversation that involved falling asleep. He wakes again much later, suspecting that Elizabetha added magic to her statement to make rest a certainty. A faint glow is coming from beneath the closed door. By the lack of light from the windows, Salazar assumes it’s the middle of the night. Early morning, perhaps?

He tries to light the candle on the bedside table with his magic.

He remembers, far too late, that this is a terrible idea.

The burning in his veins is like the aftermath of the very first skirmish he’d fought before the walls of Hogewáþ. The fire he meant to conjure for a mere candle burns through him, instead, lighting up the paths in which magic travels through the body until he has to grit his teeth against the urge to scream.

Salazar must have made some sound, or there are monitoring spells in his room. Euphemia is at his bedside moments later, wearing a dressing gown and bearing a half-asleep, drooling toddler over her left shoulder. “Saul?” She lights the candles with a flick of her finger until the room is bathed in orange-gold shades of light.

He grimaces at her in a miserable failure of a greeting. He hopes his clenched fists, nails biting into his palms, answers her implied question.

“Oh, my.” Euphemia tilts her head. “You’re lit up from within, just like the ley lines outside.”

That loosens his tongue. “The ley lines are still alight?” he gasps. Gods, that’s a terrifying thought, especially once he thinks of the grove that hides Griffon’s Door.

“They are,” Euphemia affirms, “though the glow is now much diminished. Your glow is fading, too.” She retrieves her wand and casts a wordless spell. Gentle blue light bathes him in a numbing wave that helps to soothe the fire.

Salazar slowly relaxes his hands. His veins still burn, but it’s no longer agony. “I’m sorry if I woke you.”

“Don’t be ridiculous.” Euphemia smiles. “I was up with James already. We were going to be joining you shortly. Can I do anything for you?”

Salazar would like to be able to say yes, but there is nothing to be done. “I’ll be fine as long as I don’t attempt to use magic again for…” He searches his memory and gives up when the answer won’t come to him. “A while.”

“Even an Elemental Magician isn’t meant to channel that much magic at once, are they?”

“We’re really not,” Salazar replies. “No one is.”

If he were mortal, that bomb might have killed him. Any Earth Speakers within five hundred miles of the explosion were most likely turned into piles of ash.

Please let there have been no other Earth Speakers close to the blast. May they all have been safely on the opposite side of the planet.

That, he reflects, is a pipe dream.

Salazar takes a deep breath and coughs as still-healing wounds in his lungs make their presence known. He may well have fried himself trying to give that power an outlet—not that the earth had given him much choice. The fact that he awoke a mere eight days after the blast does prove his theory about developing a tolerance for the intolerable.

Euphemia helps him to drink more of Elizabetha’s honeyed rosewater, which soothes the burn. She also offers him food, but his stomach abruptly turns over at the notion. Not yet, then. Euphemia eventually agrees with him, though she has a pinched expression that speaks of her unhappiness with that statement. It probably isn’t reassuring to say that he cannot die of starvation, but it’s still true.

Salazar lifts his head to peer down at the end of the bed. His feet are hidden beneath the quilt, and while he can wiggle his toes and know that they still obey him, he doesn’t think he could yet lift his legs. “I’d like to—can you help me to look? I’d see the damage for myself.”

“Of course.” Euphemia lays James down on the sofa near the window and covers him with a spare blanket. Baby James has so little interest in current events that he settles into a deep sleep at once.

Euphemia pulls back quilt and sheet, revealing that he is in his own age-softened nightgown. He should probably replace it, given how Western society has firmly shifted away from long shirts to instead revel in pyjamas. Salazar hadn’t expected it to stay that way after so many long centuries. Nizar’s portrait often points out that he did warn him that it would happen, but Salazar is stubborn. It’s a family trait.

Salazar grimaces when Euphemia lifts his right leg and helps him to bend it at the knee until he can catch a glimpse of the bottom of his foot. It’s blistered and red from being burnt. If he began with charred skin, then this is the much improved version. “I would have avoided it if I could. I haven’t done that deliberately since I was fourteen years old.”

“It’s been a long time, then,” Euphemia says with a gentle smile.

“Yes. That was…that was a very long time ago.”

Euphemia lowers his leg and covers him with the bedclothes again. “I would enjoy hearing about it.”

“Oh, that time was not as dramatic as this one,” Salazar tells her. His eyes are beginning to burn from wakefulness that has already gone on for too long. “It was the time before that, the first time.”

“I would still listen,” Euphemia says, “if you don’t mind speaking of it. Especially if this has only been the third time you’ve turned the ground into a crater.”

Salazar considers it and decides that, at this point, there is no harm. The damage is already done, the cat out of the bag, but at least it was not his blunder. He can most assuredly blame a nuclear detonation.

“In Navarra, south of the mountains, there was once a flat plain. In my father’s tongue, it was called Sarasaitzu, a word from salvus, and from sol. It meant safe. Well-kept. The mountains helped to keep the Franks from overtaking Euskaldunak lands. The plain gave us a place to stand and fight anyone who succeeded in crawling their way over the mountains.”

Euphemia appears fascinated. “The Franks. You mean Charlemagne.”

“He was only one of many, and well before my time.” Salazar briefly closes his eyes, feeling the unsteady vertigo of magical exhaustion. “When I was a young man, someone else chose Sarasaitzu as our field of battle, though we told him it was the wrong place to stand and fight. The Caliphate’s soldiers came at us from the south, and the plain was no longer our safe place. It wasn’t an advantage any longer. We were trapped against the mountains.

“I wanted us safely away. I bloody well wanted to go home to my wife.” Salazar turns his head to look at James, his tiny fingers twitching in his sleep. “Children are resilient. Children do not know there are limits if they are never told the limits exist. Thus, I turned most of the plain of Sarasaitzu into a valley. The soldiers of the Caliphate, they called it Salazar’s Valley. Now, everyone does. I don’t think I’ve yet lived that down.”

“Is there anyone left who still knows the valley is named for you?” Euphemia asks, wide-eyed.

“A few. Not who you might expect, and certainly not where,” Salazar replies, yawning. He’ll be asleep soon, whether he likes it or not.

“You know, when history says that Salazar Slytherin left Hogwarts, I don’t think this is what anyone had in mind.”

That nearly jolts him back to full awareness, but then his thumb brushes against the silver ring on his left middle finger. It isn’t turned inward, which means the symbol of his House, a match for the tapestry that hung in Monty’s bedroom as a child, is easy to see. “Of course not. They’re all set on believing fanciful nonsense.”

Euphemia bites her lip, holding back the question she wants to ask. “I won’t be offended, whatever it is,” Salazar tells her. “I’m a bit too tired for that.”

Euphemia’s smile is faint, but real. “Did you learn it? Not to hate those who aren’t Pure-bloods?”

“There were no such terms in those days,” Salazar says crossly. Henry could at least have done him the favor of sharing that information with the others already. It’s disaster enough that Euphemia and Monty now have awareness of the dangerous secret of Salazar’s continued existence. “One was a magician, or one was not. That’s it. If you want proper history, consider that the school was founded in 990 AD, that all of us agreed it should be hidden from non-magical eyes for our safety in 992, and that I did not leave my school until the year 1037.”

“Then why did you go?” Euphemia asks softly, a sad glint in her eyes. “If all of the tales of bigotry are false, why leave at all?”

“I mentioned that there are a few who still know the tale of the valley?” Salazar swallows down sudden, unwanted, unneeded grief. “I would not have chosen this long life if it was only for myself. I chose it for another.”

 

*         *         *         *

 

“Salazar Slytherin is a Half-blood. Those idiot Pure-bloods hanging onto Voldemort’s every word would never believe it,” Monty says.

Salazar rolls his eyes and keeps a tight grip on his teacup with both hands. It’s only been two days, and sometimes his fingers stop cooperating. Elizabetha has started threatening to bill him for her need to repair broken crockery. “Don’t use that name for me.” Even though it’s good to hear it again.

“Why not? It’s yours, our wards are some of the best in the country, and it isn’t as if the servants are listening in,” Monty counters.

The servants in question had, Salazar learned, been granted a fortnight off, with pay. They won’t be about to question the Potter family’s half-dead houseguest. “Because that is a dangerous name for a magician in Britain to use.”

Monty glares down at the empty honey pot and resentfully drops a sugar cube into his tea. “What, because of the historical baggage behind it? I’ve been out and about enough to know it’s still a common name in Spain.”

“Spain doesn’t give a damn about Hogwarts and her history, though. Their children go to Beauxbatons to dwell in safety, and so that Spain’s magical children learn about more types of government aside from Franco’s regime.” Salazar sips his tea and tries to ignore the taste of the Restorative Potion he added. He’d rather drink the potion outright, but at the moment doing so makes him nauseous for hours. “As your father is fond of pointing out, I live here, even if I remain a citizen of the kingdom of Spain.”

“Spain isn’t a kingdom anymore,” Monty says, brows furrowed.

Salazar sighs. “Try telling the kingdom’s magic that. There are still Heirs, and Spain’s last king abandoned the throne without dissolving the monarchy.” He’s gotten used to that insistent chiming, the call to install a new ruler on the Spanish throne. It’s background noise, white noise, that he only hears now if he focuses on that magic alone. “But that doesn’t matter. You know who Voldemort says he is descended from.”

“Of course. He says he’s a direct descendent of…well, you.” Monty frowns. “Is he lying?”

“I’d very much like him to be, but no, he isn’t. Voldemort is a Gaunt-descended magician who is truly my direct descendent, but I haven’t yet figured out how the Gaunts are connected to myself. I’ve not had anything to do with that family in a very long time.” He suspects the locket thief, the Lady Milescenta Fawcett, as she married a Gaunt magician named Utredus shortly after their ill-advised affair. He hadn’t yet realized she’d stolen Marion’s locket, or he would not have been so civil during their brief meeting after her wedding. He has no idea what their son was like in appearance or mannerisms, but hopes he wasn’t as foul as Milescenta and Utredus proved to be.

“You think that anyone who starts calling themselves Salazar might be seen as proclaiming that they agree with Voldemort.” Monty grimaces and shakes his head. “You know, if you did that, you’d certainly have an easy time of infiltrating his little group of fools. If you planned on doing that. Which I’m almost certain you are.”

Salazar smiles. “Henry thinks it likely, doesn’t he?”

“He’s certain. I won’t be convinced until you say it,” Monty admits. “Dealing with Grindelwald directly was hard on Dad, and I saw it after he came home from the war. Then there were the few stupid bastards who tried to accuse him of truly being for Grindelwald.”

Salazar nods in agreement. If he were more well-known, he might’ve suffered the same annoyance. Leonard had to release severely edited documentation regarding Henry’s service during the war so that those with loud mouths and no brains would silence themselves. “I’ve been spying on Voldemort already, Monty. I just refuse to use my own face to do so.”

Monty sits back in his chair. “Well…shit,” he finally says.

“It is indeed that.”

Monty sets down his teacup, no longer interested in it. “You think whatever Voldemort does is going to be that bad.”

“I’ve a mastery in Divination, Monty. Of course I do,” Salazar answers. “Euphemia believes it, too.”

“I was hoping it was fear speaking. Not to disrespect my wife’s opinion, but Voldemort is stirring up quite a bit of fear to go along with his hateful philosophies.” Monty rubs at his forehead. “I’m only thirty-two, and I already feel as if I’m too old for this.”

“There is another thing, one you’ll not like.” Salazar makes himself finish his tea, if only not to waste the potion. “But I’d prefer to wait until the family has gathered together, and I’m capable of joining you at the dinner table, before I speak of it.”

“All right. It isn’t as if you’re going anywhere in the meantime,” Monty says in a vain attempt at humor. “Should it only be the four of us—five, with James—or do I need to invite Aunt Dorea and Uncle Charles? Or Great-aunt Isobella and the cousins?”

“Isobella Potter is getting to be a bit frail. I would hate to damage her heath.” Salazar thinks about it. “Charles and Dorea, perhaps, though I would appreciate if none of you mention my age or true name to them. The fewer who know, the safer they are. As for your cousins?” Henry, Charlus, and Monty only have first cousins remaining in Charlotte and her son Samuel. The boy is far too young for any sort of talk of spying and war, and Salazar doesn’t wish to endanger his only remaining parent. They’ve no second cousins remaining; their third cousins are of older stock, though they’re not nearly as old as Isobella. Those four cousins are widows and widowers, and the only child produced by one of those marriages died young, felled by a non-magical illness that magicians on this isle too often believe they’re immune to. “I don’t mind if Walter, Gilbert, Olivia, and Robert are asked, but you should tell them of the severity of what they will hear.”

“You’re going to tell us exactly what we should expect, aren’t you?” Monty asks, eyes widening a bit in surprise.

“Yes.” Salazar feels his gut clench at the idea, but he will not let his family face this war with no warning. Telling them of the danger does not mean he is changing history; after this, their choices are their own. “The Potters haven’t yet been declared Blood Traitors by these so-called Knights of Walpurgis, but that could change at any time.”

“It could.” Monty shrugs over his unwanted tea and picks up a sugar cube, tossing it into his mouth and crunching it into dissolving bits. Salazar smiles at the sight, gladdened as he always is when he sees adults retain certain youthful, harmless habits and tastes. “Dad says that you’re family, and I believe him. You’ve always felt like you’re already familiar to me. Made it easier to like you, even though you’d already saved Dad. He doesn’t know how, though. Do you?”

Salazar shakes his head. “Much like Voldemort, I’m still searching for that connection. I know that it isn’t direct descent; that is easier to discern. I also know it isn’t through your ancestor Ignotus Peverell, as he didn’t hold Deslizarse blood. My real family name,” he adds, when Monty gives him a baffled look. “Casa de Deslizarse. It was rather mauled by the northern tongues.”

Monty snorts. “I’ll say. Mauling might be putting it kindly.”

“I told them the modern translation in Castilian—which has not changed since those days—was slither. Terrible mistake, that, but I didn’t know enough of the languages at the time to realize it. Old English had the word slidrian: to slide. The Britons had a similar term, influenced by Latin from the time of the Romans on the isle. Slither, slidrian…it was a bit too late to take it back when they turned my name into Slytherin.”

“What was the old meaning, then? I know enough Spanish to recognize that you probably aren’t meaning to say House of Slither.”

“That is far less complicated,” Salazar says. “Deslizarse comes from an ancient word that also meant to slide, but in those days, many people found it easier, or wiser, to describe a creature by its nature rather than specific names. If you walked a mile and found yourself in the midst of another group’s language, that description would translate faster than a special term. It’s similar to how adder was not originally the name for Britain’s only viper, but the Old English term used for any snake. My family kept that original word. If one says my family name in the old way, it is more properly translated as the Ancient House of Serpents.”

“Fascinating.” Monty gives him a wry smile. “You’re reminding me of why I’m not a linguist.”

“Not many are suited to it. My teacher was the nature of necessity,” Salazar replies. “Go ahead. Ask, Monty. You’ll drive yourself mad if you don’t.”

Monty gives it one more go of resisting before he gives up. “All right. You knew Ignotus Peverell?”

Salazar nods. “I did. Quite well, in fact.”

“He’s buried in the graveyard in the village proper,” Monty says. “It’s how the family is so certain of our descent from him, whereas the rest of Britain thinks the Peverell brothers are a nursery tale.”

“The rest of Britain can get stuffed,” Salazar retorts in a mild voice. “Of course they existed. I knew all three of them. Ignotus was my apprentice in northern France after he graduated from Hogewáþ. He was a brilliant lad who married a brilliant wife, and between the two of them they had an equally brilliant son.”

Monty blinks at him a few times. “Well, that was unexpected. It seems you were already in the habit of crossing paths with our family. We still have the tales and a few records that show Ignotus was a Master of Magical Invention. Do you know how he made the family cloak? It’s the only thing we have left of him aside from a grave and a story.”

Salazar takes a careful breath. “Ignotus did not make that Cloak.”

“What? Then how—”

“Some things are not mere tales, and that is all I should say on the matter,” Salazar interrupts, meeting Monty’s eyes. “Some questions should not be asked, some answers not confirmed. They tend to gain the sort of attention you might not want.”

“Oh.” Monty turns pale, but he is not cowed. He is a Potter, and will one day pass this steel down to his grandson. “The wand?”

“Grindelwald.”

“Good God.” Monty whistles and shakes his head. “Lost afterwards?” Salazar nods in confirmation. “Right. What of the stone?”

“Also lost, and has been for many centuries,” Salazar replies. “I hope to the gods that the wand has suffered the same fate.”

 

*         *         *         *

 

A week after his conversation with Monty regarding the varying fates of the Deathly Hallows, Salazar still feels like a complete disaster, but he can stand on his feet and walk without regret. This convalescence is the same but different from the first time he suffered through the feel of burning earth. The blast was worse, but he is accustomed to its feel, to the way the earth sings of her pain. He was weak the first time, slow to gain strength, but capable of any feat of magic save that of interacting with his element. This time he is faster to gain strength, but performing magic will be beyond him for weeks yet. His sense of balance has deserted him, and he requires a cane as he walks about—a lesson he stubbornly learned the hard way.

Standing on the ground floor of the manor is mindful of walking on volcanic rock that is just beginning to cool. Salazar imagines that standing directly on the soil outside will be intolerable. He can’t see the ley lines of the earth as Euphemia can, but he can feel how disturbed she is, how angry. If he stepped out the door and put his foot down, he’d likely land on his face from another bout of unconsciousness.

The heat doesn’t distract him from surveying the destruction that used to be Potter Manor’s back garden, his feet planted firmly on the last remaining stones that were once the path leading into the garden proper. “Good fucking gods.”

“My wife did tell you it was a crater.” Henry stands close by, his hands on his hips as he keeps an eye on Salazar. Given that Salazar almost fell down the stairs twice this morning, he isn’t protesting having a watchful shadow to accompany his borrowed cane.

“That she did.” Salazar thinks maybe Elizabetha should have been a bit more specific. “I won’t be able to fix this for weeks. Not until…” He pulls a face. Myrddin had given him such the disgusted look, saying that potions didn’t require magic to brew, so there was no reason not to start Salazar’s apprenticeship then and there. That disgusted look had only grown when Salazar, baffled, said he’d never brewed a potion in his entire life.

“We understand. The weather is getting to be a bit chill for nights in the back garden, anyway,” Henry says.

Salazar wrinkles his nose as a snowflake lands on it. It shouldn’t yet be snowing, not this far south, but he imagines the world’s largest nuclear explosion is interfering with the weather. “Don’t leave it cratered like this, or it’ll be even more of a mess to deal with come spring. I can change whatever Elizabetha decides upon, even if the soil has had the whole of winter to settle and freeze.”

Henry thinks about it before nodding. It takes long minutes, and several passes of his wand, for Henry to gather up enough far-flung earth and stone to fill the crater. “I found you in the bottom of that spectacular hole. Your shoes were gone. Vaporized, I imagine, along with your wristwatch. Your hands and feet were burnt, though your feet were ever so much worse. You were not breathing and your heart was not beating. Please do not put me through that sort of experience again.”

That is the difficulty, isn’t it? Salazar thinks, and resists the urge to sigh.

He was not quite honest with Monty. There are two conversations he needs to have with the family, but the first is for Henry, Elizabetha, Monty, and Euphemia…and James, though James will likely have no interest in it.

Salazar waits until afternoon tea is almost over before he says what the others won’t want to hear. “After tonight, I need to go home.”

Elizabetha and Monty have similar expressions when they’re unimpressed by someone’s words. “You’re not yet well enough to be on your own,” Elizabetha says.

“I’ve been on my own in far worse shape, but it isn’t solitude I’m seeking.” Salazar glances around the table, his gaze lingering longest on young James. He pulled apart his samosa to extract the peas, and is now mashing them with his spoon in quite the show of grim determination. “If the Soviets detonate another bomb like the one they used on the thirtieth, I could easily kill you all.”

Salazar holds up his hands to silence their protests. “Of course it would not be deliberate. But—I had no warning. I have no conscious recollection of telling you how to safeguard yourselves. I had no time to find a distant place where it would be safe to unleash that sort of power. What if that happens within the wards?”

“We could enclose you in a Shield Charm,” Monty suggests.

“Do you truly think that would work?” Salazar counters. “Because I do not.”

“I don’t, either. Not after what you nearly did to the wards from the outside.” Henry sighs. “We are all capable of choosing what sort of danger we place ourselves in. I’ll not turn out a friend, Saul. I do not believe any of us would do so.”

Salazar glares at Henry. “Yes. You four can choose.” He points at James, who is happily ignoring his peas now that they’re too crushed to be easily eaten. “He cannot. I will not endanger this child. Not until we know with some degree of certainty that nothing like this will ever happen again.”

“It could be a decade before we have that sort of certainty,” Monty protests. “Or longer!”

“Then it’s a decade, or it is longer, and I strongly suspect it will be longer. I’ve been thinking, and I’ve come to believe that James should not know my face. Not as a person he will have memories of meeting, at least.”

The others are silent. Henry is the first to understand, but he saw the badly named Great War, and then spied for Allies of both sorts in World War II. “This is what you were trying to speak of before the nuclear device was detonated. You believe Voldemort is going to start another magical war—this time on British soil.”

Salazar would truly prefer to say otherwise. “I don’t believe it, Henry. I know that he will.”

“Divination.” Henry closes his eyes and rubs them with his fingertips. Elizabetha looks not afraid, but vastly annoyed by the idea of another magical conflict. Monty and Euphemia both stare at James in the manner of parents who’ve just realized that there is far more in the world that can endanger their child than they’ve had time to contemplate. “Voldemort is the one you meant when we spoke of it in 1943. The one you saw reflected on the water.”

“Yes.”

“You’re going to spy on him, aren’t you?” Henry asks.

“I already am, but I intend to become more thorough about it, and I’ll be doing it soon. I don’t yet know how successful I will be,” Salazar admits. “Voldemort may use some of Grindelwald’s tools, but he is smarter than Grindelwald. I think it will require a great deal of cunning, and a vast amount of patience.”

Euphemia glances at him. “Didn’t Grindelwald require the same?”

“Grindelwald wanted to be adored,” Salazar replies. “For all his airs, for all his collecting of sycophants, I don’t think Voldemort cares about adoration. That makes him far more dangerous.”

“If you’re caught, if Voldemort sees your real face, you don’t want James to have any knowledge of what you look like. You’re already making contingency plans for losing this war,” Monty realizes, horrified.

“Yes and no,” Salazar hurries to reassure him, “but I’d rather all of you be safe. I want no rumors of your continued friendship with me to find its way to Voldemort’s followers. I’d stage a public argument if it weren’t simpler to simply vanish from society’s eye. If my name becomes known, I would give them as little reason as possible to knock upon your door. I’d also rather James not yet know that one of the family friends is getting into that sort of mischief. None of you would ever deliberately endanger me, but James is a child. Children often say things they believe to be harmless that are not so harmless at all.”

Henry looks bitter. “Grindelwald was bad enough. The Nazis were horrific. I’m far too old to fight in yet another war.”

“But I’m not.” Monty reaches out to take Euphemia’s hand when she offers it. “I will not see war break out on this island and do nothing about it.”

“You will not do so as a spy.” Salazar smiles when Monty looks offended. “You don’t have the heart for it, and I don’t mean that as an insult. I’m glad that you don’t. So is your father.” Monty looks to Henry, who nods. “Don’t get ensnared in that sort of web. Stay here and be a father to your son. You’ll know when it is time to fight, and that time is not now.” Not yet.

“Letters,” Henry says, glancing at Salazar. “There is no harm in that, not when some of us are already practiced at speaking of nothing of consequence.”

“I aim to give the impression that I am rather unavailable.” Salazar thinks on it. “It will be easy enough to imply that I’m a great distance away.” Figuratively, it will even be true, and the idea of letters is a relief. He didn’t want to be so distant from the family that he dwelled in utter solitude once more.

“Visit anyway,” Elizabetha suddenly orders, giving Salazar a firm glare. “You will not risk my grandson? Then we will not, but in ten years’ time, he will be going to Hogwarts. If Hogwarts is no longer a safe option, he will attend Beauxbatons. No matter which, James will not be here. We will see you again the moment James is away on the train on first September 1971, or I will hunt you down and learn the reason why.”

“You’ll see me at least once before that time,” Salazar reminds her, “though I’d ask you to have James away from here when I do so. I did say I would fix your garden.”

Elizabetha decides Salazar is accepting her terms, and smiles her approval. “You did say it would be done. The Spring Equinox is an auspicious time for magic.”

“Then the Spring Equinox is shall be.”

That night, Salazar joins them at the table again for supper, held early so James won’t fall asleep in his own food. Dorea and Charles are there, though Salazar finds he isn’t much surprised that Olivia Potter Sinistra, siblings Walter and Gilbert Potter, and aging Robert Potter decide not to attend. They all participated in World War II, and all except Robert are of an age with Henry. The last war has been over with for years, but they’re all still so bloody tired. Salazar can’t blame them for choosing rest over intrigue. Charlotte does attend, despite his suggestion against it. At sixty-seven years of age, she remains unbowed by time. Motherhood suited her, a counterbalance to grief. Sam isn’t present; it shocks Salazar to realize that the small boy he remembers is now sixteen, attending his sixth year at Hogwarts.

Salazar had already asked for what he wanted to speak of to wait until after supper, and he’s glad he made that decision. Talk flows easily, of light-hearted subjects. Charlotte reveals that Sam is dating a fifth-year girl named Joan Macmillan, daughter of the oft-annoying Amfractus, but also tied to the Black family as a niece of Melania Macmillan Black, Lucretia’s mother.

“Potters and Blacks do like to mingle, don’t they?” Salazar asks the entire table, teasing. Charlotte smiles; Dorea lets out a bright peal of laughter. “Charlotte, does the young lady in question have, say, violet eyes?”

Charlotte mock-glares at him. “He was an infant at the time, Saul!” Salazar understands that to be yes and merely grins back at her.

After the meal concludes, and Euphemia returns from bearing a table-napping toddler away to bed, Salazar begins speaking. He is honest: he tells the family that the Knights of Walpurgis is not the true name of Voldemort’s followers, that they’ll eventually cloak their faces and hide behind something worse. He speaks of their unswaying belief in blood superiority, an idea fueled by Voldemort despite the fact that Voldemort is himself a Half-blood.

There will be slaughters—he has seen it reflected on the water, and while sometimes the future flexes, what Salazar views during water-scrying has rarely been anything except foregone truth. Blood feuds will be declared. Blood Traitors will be named. Voldemort will stir up the bigots among the Pure-blooded families and bigoted Half-blooded wizards and witches to such a great extent that they won’t need Voldemort to lead them. They’ll begin the slaughter themselves, and Voldemort will take credit for the beginning of his great, cleansing crusade to rid Britain of all Muggles and Muggle-borns.

There is no one on this isle who will not be in danger. The war might even spread beyond the British Isles, though Salazar hopes it does not. Safety will lie within Hogwarts, and within the manors old enough to have wards and protections that are cemented in by the centuries. He doesn’t suggest anyone live in fear, but he does say that they should live with the recognition that when the war begins, fighting for their lives will not be chance, but most likely a reality.

Salazar leaves the table when the family falls to talking, discussing what they’ve been told. Some are more believing than others, but if Henry and Elizabetha’s steady confidence doesn’t sway them, nothing will. Besides, they may deny it for now all they like. The future will bring proof soon enough.

The Willow House is quiet after dwelling at Potter Manor. Salazar is no longer used to spending the holidays alone but for two portraits…not that he would be good company if he had stayed. He spends most of his time in bed, blankets pulled over his head, trying to shut out the world as he heals.

It takes the whole of winter to recover from the largest nuclear detonation the world has ever known. Salazar can speak to the earth again without feeling poison and pain. The Soviet and American reports say that the nuclear bomb didn’t land on the ground, that there was almost no radiation to be found at the explosion site. Salazar rolls his eyes at that. Where do they think the radiation went? Do they believe it simply vanished? The earth protected herself from a catastrophic event by spreading the strength of that blow, that radiation, across land and sea, else his feet wouldn’t have looked as if he’d tried to dash across flowing lava.

Salazar would entomb himself until the worst of the bombings were done, but the Potters won’t let him. His task won’t let him. Thus, before he presents himself before any other living being outside the boundaries of his own home and lands, he creates a Port Key that will always reside in his jacket pocket. He’ll know it’s there; if instinct drove him to safeguard the Potters even in the midst of the Soviet bomb’s detonation, instinct will drive him to grasp that key and depart the moment he feels such wrongness occur. He’ll find himself on an empty island between Britain and Ireland, where there is no one to harm if he has to channel that sort of elemental rage.

He hopes it doesn’t. He wants never to experience such a thing ever again.

Most of his correspondence with the Potters during that time is composed of notes sent back and forth by Floo rather than long pages, as Salazar hasn’t the concentration for much else. When Elizabetha mentions the name Frank Longbottom, he sends the morning’s first Floo-borne note. That is a name his little brother knows, and only one man could be his father. Gods know Algernon doesn’t seem inclined.

 

Elizabetha,

When the bloody hell did Robert and Augusta have a baby?

 

Saul,

Robert and Augusta Longbottom welcomed Franklin (Frank) into this world in 1958.

You were delirious at the time.

 

Elizabetha,

I don’t remember 1958. Has anyone else off and multiplied?

 

Saul,

Euphemia heard rumor that one of her Pryce cousins had a baby boy. Walburga and Orion announced the birth of the boy they hope will be the Black Family Heir, Sirius Orion Black III, in 1959. One of the Pettigrews had a son named Peter the same year James was born. Walburga and Orion just recently announced the birth of their second son, Regulus Arcturus Black II.

One of the Max family wives gave birth to a girl named Alice. Amber Hitchens has a new granddaughter. The Selwyns are breeding at a terrifying rate. Charis and Caspar Crouch had a daughter. Augusta’s brother Basil finally has an Heir to the Burke name. The Vances have new daughters. Tryphena would now be a great aunt to Xenophilius Lovegood, had she lived to see it. The Mulcibers, Rosiers, Carrows, Macnairs, Fawleys, Jugsons, Parkinsons, and the Bones clan have all “multiplied.”

I’ve probably missed a fair number of them. I hope you still have all of your copies of the newspaper for the past few years in order to trace lineages, as you seem so fascinated by them.

 

Elizabetha,

I’m fascinated by the sheer amount of stupidity to be found concentrated in so many British magical bloodlines.

 

*         *         *         *

 

In 1962, the Spring Equinox and Holi fall upon the same day. He moves dirt and stone like he is stirring water, using Elizabetha’s drawings to create a garden that is much different from the one he accidentally destroyed. The Eastern influence Elizabetha brought to the family is now much more obvious. Salazar finds it soothing, which is exactly the sensation she wished to evoke.

Elizabetha exits the manor to gaze in approval at the new arrangements. “Yes. This is better. Flowers and herbs will finish bringing life back to this place.” Then she holds out a yellow clay jar. “You will break this one, Saul. I want my friend to make the first mark upon the new stone.”

Salazar takes the jar from her with gentle hands. “I’ve never…” He hasn’t exactly been available for Holi thanks to a mad decade of nuclear testing. If he participated in the holiday centuries ago, he cannot now recall.

Elizabetha nods her understanding and places her hands over his. The cool metal of her rings and jeweled bracelets rests against his skin. “For life. For love. For the day we meet again.”

Salazar thinks that a fine blessing. He helps her fling the jar onto the stones, where it erupts into a red cloud of palash and sandalwood.

“Sandalwood.” Salazar turns to Elizabetha, who looks at the red dye on her fingertips, shrugs, and dabs the first mark of red between her eyebrows. “My brother—he always—”

She reaches out and smears another red line between his brows. “Then I chose well.”

Salazar reaches out and holds her in a tight embrace. “Thank you.”

Elizabetha grips him just as tightly. “I will accept no thanks from you until you return to your family. We will be waiting for you, Salazar.”

Salazar steps back, gazing at her in fond bemusement. “We’re out of doors. That is a dangerous name to be using beyond the safety of the manor’s wards.”

Elizabetha shrugs, regarding him with a playful smile that will live forever in his memories. “The gods whisper, and I listen. I speak of what needs to be heard. You bear a strong name, and I will acknowledge it, if only the once. 1971, cousin. Do not forget.”

“I won’t.”

 

[1] Tsar Bomba, the most massive nuclear weapon ever created, detonated at 08:32 GMT. That fucker was terrifying. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tsar_Bomba

Chapter Text

Through the rest of the 1960s, Salazar splits his time between Muggle London and Wizarding Britain as the spy game intensifies. He’s never been able to do much about his accent unless he is disguised as another by magic, but he can claim origin in another country, not to mention a great deal of travel, to allay potential suspicion. The face of Saul Luiz is in too many photographs from the war era, pictures that are easy to find. Salazar and Henry are in one of those photographs together, though neither of them realized they’d been photographed until the Daily Prophet re-used the image and the original translated French article in late August of 1945.

Voldemort will definitely want nothing to do with a man who might still be famous for helping to dethrone Grindelwald, and Salazar still fears what might happen if James Potter were to know his face. The dangers of Voldemort aside, it is eventually going to become obvious to anyone with eyes that he and the youngest Potter look far too much alike for it to be a mere coincidence.

Multa Facies Sucus will have to remain his answer. It’s easy enough to become someone else, to take on a new identity and discard it immediately afterwards unless it proves useful.

“Polyjuice, Sal!” Nizar’s portrait yells rather gleefully from the frame nearest to the cellar stairs.

“Fuck that stupid name!” Salazar retorts, powdering bicorn horn and wondering if he has enough for this particular batch of the potion. He would tolerate his potion’s changed name more easily if it were called Polyfaces, or perhaps a more proper Facies Poly, but some daft fool left out faces when they changed the name. Calling it Many Juice makes no bloody sense at all.

He is also desperately trying to get himself back into a physical condition that isn’t pathetic. Walking up the path from his own home to the road and the Muggle mailbox should not leave him leaning over the brick wall at the roadside, gasping for breath and weak in the knees. The rations and the nuclear detonations have done away with all the physical recovery he managed to attain in 1946, before the bloody idiots started blowing holes in the earth in supposed name of science. The first years of this decade are also dedicated to regaining his sodding health.

Salazar hates to resume the use of the term Muggle—he remembers it’s an insult, if not why—but the word is too common in Britain to ignore. For him to use other words would mark him as different, and those who are different are those who are suspect. The same goes for Desplazarse; it must firmly become Apparate and Disapparate in his head, though he dislikes those terms for magical travel. Magicians must become wizards and witches. Wizarding Britain does still recognize other genders, if grudgingly. That concession helps to keep witch and wizard from driving Salazar up the bloody wall.

In the Muggle world, he accustoms himself to the changes in fashion happening at breakneck pace. Suits are becoming less and less common, though pleated trousers are still lurking about. What replaces them are trousers without pleats. Denims that are meant for daily wear, not for harsh work. Shirts without collars that are soft, with no hint of starch to be found. T-shirts are suddenly acceptable as outer garments instead of undergarments, and it isn’t long before color and art begins to adorn them. Suit jackets are replaced by far more casual jackets; coats from the previous decade are still acceptable, but they’ve been joined by options that are just as different as those newly casual, single-layered garments.

Now there is an idea that is long overdue.

The first time Salazar wanders past Nizar’s portrait in denims and a white t-shirt, his brother stares at him in consternation. “All right. I have to admit, I never once considered the idea that you’d eventually be dressing down to my era of casual. Nice denims.”

Salazar slips his feet into a pair of black workmen’s boots before snagging a black leather jacket that still smells like it just left the tannery. “And?”

Nizar tilts his head. “Puns not intended, but the look suits you. It’s fitting.”

Salazar doesn’t call Nizar out on the awful puns, intended or not, because he agrees. It feels fitting, even if he still can’t go outside with his arms bared to the world. That’s asking a bit much. Shorts are entirely out of the question, and swimming costumes for men are now end above the knee, a change that still makes Salazar uncomfortable. It was better when swim costumes hung below the knee, like the old truis. That he could tolerate, though he still won’t go swimming in front of others without some sort of shirt on.

T-shirts and denims, though—the lack of restriction, the emphasis on comfort over appearance, soothes a part of him he’d never realized was already screaming that it’d had just about enough of this many-layered formalwear shit, thank you very much.

Robes, though, don’t bother him at all. They’ve changed too much and yet they’ve also changed too little. That is for the best, as he still needs to don them for trips to Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade.

He can’t attend the funeral, but it’s still disheartening to learn of Belvina Black Burke’s death in 1962. Her son, Phineas, is only seven years old. Herbert will see him raised well, and his aunt Mary will see him cared for, but Belvina had doted on her last surviving child. She deserved the chance to see him grow up; Phineas deserved to have a mother.

When he is not spying on those who he knows to be loyal to Voldemort, Salazar watches what is now formally referred to as The Space Race on the telly. He listens to certain broadcasts over the radio that are meant to be both out of range and secured against eavesdroppers such as himself, and wonders if they’re going to succeed at their endeavor. Satellites that can photograph the Earth from space are one thing, but his brother’s irritating portrait won’t tell him if this goal of landing on the moon will happen.

Music is beginning to remind him of the bards again, with their long tales meant to invigorate the mind and excite the heart. He could weep for the joy of it as humans once again lose their fear of pouring their passion into music, not just with orchestral strings and brass, but with words. The 1950s in terms of popular rock and roll was rather bland unless one knew which particular musicians to search for, but the 1960s? The fear is fading. It only gets better as the years pass, though Salazar is in the minority for being not so fond of The Beatles. He isn’t incapable of seeing what sort of benefit they are to music for the spreading of new sounds, but much like Elvis Presley from the States, they are about a decade behind the sounds to which they should pay the most attention. Give Salazar B.B. King any day, who truly understands what an electric guitar is capable of, of how to be part of a group or make himself stand alone. Aretha Franklin, who can make bloody near anything sound good just by applying her voice to the matter.

Worse, they treat music as if it’s an industry. Music is meant to be free for everyone, something anyone can participate in at any time they please. To give such elevated status to so very few is bloody offensive.

Salazar does purchase an album with the very strange name of Sing Along With the Chipmunks simply because of the interesting title. He ends up lying on the floor, laughing until he gasps for breath. It’s entirely ridiculous…which is probably why he sends it, unlabeled, to Monty and Euphemia. They’ve a young boy who’ll no doubt decide this is to be mimicked.

Monty retaliates by sending him a package through the Wizarding Post, a box with a letter and a lidded jar. Salazar temporarily ignores the letter to investigate the jar, which is a branded British Wizarding product called Sleekeazy’s Hair Potion.

Two drops tames even the most bothersome barnet,” Salazar reads, pulling a face. If Monty is commenting on Salazar’s own hair, he can fuck right off. He’s kept it clipped short this century, even as men are beginning to grow their hair to longer lengths again.

The balm in the jar smells completely neutral, which is its first positive aspect after its ridiculous labeling. Salazar dips a finger into the jar and knows it has petroleum jelly in it by texture alone, but the label of ingredients confirms it. Gomas Barbadensis is a very stubborn magical rubber tree found only in Barbados; Salazar suspects its plentiful, inedible berries were used to help make this ill-named creation. Asian dragon hair is vague and could mean any species, though several of those dragons have furry ruffs or fluff at the ends of their tails. That’s probably what is being used to neutralize the potion’s odor, especially as it also contains lanolin and castor oil. The rest of the ingredients are listed as part of a secret formula, though one of them is definitely an exceptionally fine clay. Salazar also identifies finely ground mica, possibly meant to increase the potion’s shine.

“Not to be used by gingers,” Salazar notes the warning at the end of the jar’s bottom label. “I wonder what they mean by unpleasant results.”

Salazar caps the jar, cleans the potion’s thick residue from his finger by washing his hands with a degreasing dish soap—washing this concoction out of one’s hair must be nightmarish—and opens Monty’s letter.

 

Dear Saul,

I imagine you’ve heard about the threats made against the family. It’s a fine bit of gossip, and Dad has made a show of blowing it off as nonsense during meetings of the Wizengamot.

It isn’t. You were right. I hate that you were right just as much as I’m grateful that you warned us in the first place. Euphemia, James, and I are living in the manor full-time again, safe behind the ancient family wards. James misses the cottage, but those wards don’t hold a candle to what guards the family home.

We’re practically under house arrest. Dad can’t even attend sessions of the Wizengamot without one of his friends among the Aurors escorting him. They do a good job of making it seem like the situation is merely that of friends conversing and arriving together by chance, British stiff upper lip and all that.

Well, more of making light of the situation so none of the other families who are against Voldemort bloody well panic. We’re not the only ancient House under threat. Dad would like your opinion on whether or not they should continue to hide the threat, or whether it would be more effective politically for everyone to know. Mum isn’t certain, he’s not certain—even Aunt Dorea and our Black cousins are at a loss. Personally, I think it would be like crying wolf, not when this Voldemort’s followers have yet to publicly do anything.

As to this hair tonic? Yes, I’m responsible, but to be fair, Mum is to blame. I got bored, and then I overheard her complain that her hair not only ejected her hair pins last year, but might also have eaten one.

That is why I don’t grow out my hair. I know better. James is just as cursed, and I keep my boy’s hair cut short.

Anyway, I was bored, and I was presented with a problem. I thought I might as well do something with my alchemy schooling, so here we are now with a jar of goop, but it works. It’s sort of terrifying in how well it works. Euphemia says I’m not allowed to get bored anymore, no matter that I’m suddenly running a brand new company devoted to bloody hair care products. I have no idea how this became my life, but I certainly can’t complain of things being overly dull anymore.

At least now, Mum can pin up her hair and it behaves itself. I even tried it on myself. Once. I included a photograph. You’ll see what I mean.

James took one look at the provided example and declared it Sleek Easy, so that’s why it has a ridiculous name. Considering the trends of naming conventions in Wizarding Britain, there were certainly worse choices.

(Chocolate Frogs. Hopping chocolate bloody frog sweets. By Merlin, what is this world coming to?)

I hope you’re well. We all miss you.

 

—Monty

 

PS – Gingers get purple hair, baldness, or fire if they use this stuff. I still haven’t figured out why, but if you ever need to take revenge against a ginger, here you are.

 

Salazar raises an eyebrow and retrieves a single photograph from the envelope. Monty’s hair, instead of being its usual lively mess of brown curls, is sleek and flattened to his head in a style reminiscent of men at the turn of the century.

“That’s bloody unnatural.” Salazar then shows the photograph to Nizar’s portrait.

Nizar looks horrified. “That’s actually worse than what my hair used to look like. It’s so much worse. He needs to never do that again!” he declares, and Salazar laughs.

To Henry, Salazar suggests that he and the other Houses continue the “stiff upper lip” policy. Monty is correct; it would be like crying wolf to claim attacks now, especially when there is so little evidence. No captured perpetrators, no injuries—for which Salazar is grateful—and no witnesses beyond one or two individuals. In a Wizengamot dominated by Pure-blood bigots, they would be shouted down and painted as fools.

 

Saul,

I’m already being painted the fool. Fortunately, the paint doesn’t wish to stick. Not yet, at least. I know these madmen are searching for something to discredit the ancient Houses who would prefer to avoid their fascism. They’re already after the Scamander family for, ironically, not joining their current Heir in the fight against Grindelwald after it became obvious that the latter was a threat to Wizarding Britain. That level of hypocrisy is astounding even for a governing body well known for it.

 

Henry,

I’ve heard tell that they’ll be attempting the same of the Longbottoms. Callidora will eat them alive while Harfang applauds.

 

Saul,

You’re a cruel man to give me false hope that such an event might come to pass.

 

The United States loses their popular president to assassination that November, on the 22nd. Salazar always easily remembers the date because he spends the next evening at home, hoping a new program on the telly will prove a good distraction from the politic-laden grief occurring across the pond. He and Nizar watch the whole of “Doctor Who,” beginning to end, before Salazar turns the telly off when the program has proven itself done.

“What the bloody hell did we just watch?”

“Time travel, aliens, culture shock, teachers with no sense of self preservation, and insanity,” Nizar’s portrait replies. “I think I like it.”

“I do as well, and one would think we’d both had enough of time travel in our lives to do without yet more of it, even if it’s fictional.”

“You read The Time Machine,” Nizar’s portrait points out.

“And resisted the urge to strangle Mister Wells for subjecting me to his idea of time travel for quite a while afterwards, also.”

Salazar relies on music more and more often, a crutch against the outpourings of hatred and vileness every time he has to witness one of Voldemort’s speeches. David Bowie and his group might have potential, though Salazar thinks at the moment that they’re too intent upon sounding like The Beatles thrown into a blender with Elvis. Salazar is quite fond of Fats Domino, especially when Domino’s visit to Britain proves that the man has taken up where deceased Glen Miller left off and turned Big Band into something Salazar doesn’t want to continuously stab to death. He doesn’t like it nearly as much when Miles Davis does the same, but he can’t explain why. Too much reliance on brass, perhaps, as Salazar has a self-admitted love of stringed instruments. The Kinks’ first album, aptly titled Kinks, sounds like what recording labels still prefer—music never progressing beyond the sounds of the late 1950s—but then they diverge, slipping in five other, faster tracks that are entirely their own sort of sound. Much like Bowie, they bear watching.

He receives a letter in December 1964 that leaves him swearing aloud. He folds up the evidence, written in trembling penmanship, and debates on what response it merits.

Damn it.

After searching his wardrobe for the right sort of suit, Salazar Disapparates to a Disillusioned spot in London. He walks the rest of the way to Hyde Park Gate, where he is stopped by suited security. “Your employer is expecting me,” Salazar explains, giving his name before handing over the identification he never ceased carrying. One never knows if being retired from the SIS will be useful, and today, it is.

It’s also infuriating. “I told you I wanted nothing more to do with you after your foolish campaign to ‘Keep England White!’ in 1955!”

A far older man than Salazar viewed ten years ago looks up at him from a desk that is still stacked high with books and paperwork. “That you did, yes.” Winston Churchill retreats backwards from his desk to reveal that he is now fully reliant on a wheeled chair. “I believe your words were, ‘Fuck you, and may every horse you’ve ever ridden fuck you back in retaliation.’ It made me rather regret the number of horses I rode in my youth.”

Winston gestures for his butler and personal guard to leave the room. Both do so, but with visible hesitation. “Oh, bugger off, you paranoid fools,” Winston spits. “I don’t have anything to fear from Luiz, or from anyone else!”

When the door closes, Salazar asks, “How many brainstorms have you suffered?”

Winston snorts. “Too many. I keep astounding my doctors by refusing to die, but many like yourself will soon get your wish regarding my demise.”

“I didn’t want you dead. I wanted you to cease being stupid,” Salazar counters angrily. “How easy it is for certain ‘great’ men to forget that they received their best assistance from those who are not lily-white Englishmen!”

“Yes. I. Know,” Winston grates out. “I did not ask you to come here to argue with you, Saul. I asked you here so that I may apologize.”

Salazar raises both eyebrows in surprise. He’d suspected such, but hadn’t expected Winston to so readily admit it. “Why now?”

“I’m not fool enough to overlook the fact that I’m dying.” Winston retrieves a cigar from a drawer in his desk. “My doctors wouldn’t approve, but at this stage, things are what they are. Would you like one?”

Salazar shakes his head. He’s never minded the scent, but has avoided smoking since experiencing the long spans of boredom in the trenches of Europe during World War I, where there was often naught else to do. “No, thank you. What sort of apology are you looking to give?”

Winston waits until the cigar is properly lit, though he has to focus his efforts on the only side of his mouth that will obey him. “You were with me when the European Convention on Human Rights gathered in the Hague. You know just as well as I what it contains, how it says we’re to treat our fellow man.”

“I recall.” It had been a pleasing step forward, even if man has been a bit slow to be true to their own ratified laws. Some things never change, even though they should. “It was not long afterwards that you were pretending to be rather ignorant of the rights you’d helped draft.”

Winston grimaces at him. “You wouldn’t grant me absolution if I asked it, would you?”

“Winston, you’ve yet to ask anything of me aside from my presence and the offering of a cigar.”

“Hah!” Winston’s laugh is a rough bark with very little humor in it. “True enough. Please sit down, if you like. God knows I will not be standing up to join you.”

Salazar nods and chooses an armchair that looks to be almost entirely untouched. If he uses a shielding charm variant to make certain that no fiber or hair from his person, no fingerprints are left behind? That is no one’s business but his own. “Ask. We’re both aware that sunset is not such a good time for someone in your frame of mind.”

Winston blows smoke from his nose. “Rumors,” he mutters, but Salazar is not so sure. “I was wrong, Saul. You were correct to remind me—loudly—that Britain has never been entirely white. That I shoved my head up my own arse in response is no one’s doing but my own. I’m sorry I let it ruin a friendship that ran the length of two world wars.”

Salazar looks at Winston in silence. Death makes a man say many things, and Winston will not be about for much longer. Less than a month, unless his Divination is failing him at last. However, Winston never really concerned himself with pretty words when he could simply blast his way through the opposition to attain his goals. Estefania and Nizar both would have despaired of the man’s methods of conducting politics.

What point is there in holding onto this grudge? Despite his later stupidity and foolishness, this man ultimately did more good than harm in the world. Winston may well be the last politician of his kind in Muggle Britain by now, the sort who understands that conservative and liberal thought can peacefully coexist—that Tories and Liberals were once people with only differences in opinions, not disparate enemies.

“I think I would be a hypocrite not to forgive you,” Salazar finally says. “Hatred is tiring, and I’ve so much else to be concerned with than words you were once foolish enough to believe. You have your absolution, Winston.”

“Thank you.” Winston smokes more of the cigar, both of them capable of sitting in silence and not feeling discomfited by it. The smoke pleasantly perfumes the room as long as one doesn’t stand up to linger in the cloud gathering beneath the ceiling. “Do you think Harry would grant me the same forgiveness?”

“Given the insult you once offered his wife?” Salazar shrugs. “You’d need to write to him and ask that yourself. Pour me a drink, you stingy bastard.”

Winston laughs again, the rattling humor of the old and infirm, before wheeling himself back to his desk. “My doctors won’t approve of this, either.”

“One hundred years ago, it was considered medicine. I’ll trust your sort of doctors when they’ve managed to decide the difference between a gopher hole, a mining shaft, and a cave without having to consult about it for a decade.”

Winston’s funeral marks the first time Salazar has seen Henry since November 1961. Henry hasn’t aged much, but there is a stoop to his shoulders that hints at potential growing infirmity. Salazar desperately hopes not; Henry is only seventy-one. British wizards are meant to live much longer lives.

Granted, it could also be the sign of a despairing mood. The bigoted Pure-bloods in the Wizengamot have been louder in how they fawn over Voldemort and his gods-cursed speeches.

“I wasn’t certain if you’d be here,” Salazar says when Henry joins him. They’re both lurking to the rear of St. Paul’s cathedral, but a microphone and speakers ensures that the crowd doesn’t miss a single word of Winston’s eulogy. “I didn’t know if the old bastard would live long enough to send word, or if he’d forget he needed to do so.”

“I saw him the first week of January. If I’d hesitated any longer, I’d have missed him entirely.” Henry lifts up onto his toes to see a bit higher over the crowd. “Is that Menzies delivering the eulogy?”

Salazar smiles. “That’s Sir Menzies, yes. Robert Menzies is here, as well.” It’s been entertaining in the evening to listen to the news, as it must be specified each time that one Menzies is the Prime Minister of Britain, and the other is the Prime Minister of Australia.

“He rose a bit in the world, then, if he left MI6 to become Britain’s Prime Minister,” Henry says of Sir Menzies. “I’ll be honest and say I’m surprised Her Majesty is present.”

Salazar nods. “The sign of a good monarch.” He’d like to have that himself again. One of the comforts that awaits him with Voldemort’s defeat is that the damned chiming magic of Spain’s empty throne won’t follow him into the afterlife.

Henry glances askance at Salazar. “You look tired.”

“Now that is a statement I expect I’ll be hearing more often as the years progress,” Salazar replies. “You do as well, Henry.”

“I feel as tired as I look,” Henry says wryly. “Have there been any other…incidents?”

“Have the fools detonated nuclear devices? Oh, most certainly.” Salazar hadn’t enjoyed the sensation of burning, poisoned earth beneath his feet, but none of the blasts have been strong enough to fell him. He’s angry that they continue to set off nuclear explosions; he’s angry that he must keep a Port Key in his pocket, just in case someone is fool enough to set off something like Tsar Bomba again. “It’s not been disabling, just disturbingly consistent.”

“Hmm.” Henry reaches into his jacket pocket and retrieves a photograph. When he passes it over, Salazar finds a colorful, moving magical picture of James Potter. The resemblance between himself and the boy are starting to become rather obvious. “Are you certain a distant blood relationship is all we share, Saul?”

Salazar grins and returns the photo. “Absolutely. Human bloodlines sometimes do very strange things. Besides, what did you expect of a child who was born under a serpent’s star?”

“I should’ve expected a bit more mischief, is what,” Henry says sourly. “He’s quite the handful.”

“No siblings?” Salazar asks, though he’s all but certain of the answer. There have been no more Potter birth announcements in the Prophet.

“They’ve tried. I imagine Monty and Euphemia will keep trying until it’s no longer physically possible.” Henry sighs. “I suspect that James will be an only child, just as his father was.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Unless this was your doing, don’t apologize,” Henry refutes at once. “But if you know of a potion for increased fertility that Wizarding Britain is not aware of…”

“I’ll look into it,” Salazar promises, but doubts he will find any such thing. Too many Pure-bloods on this isle suffer the difficulty of bearing only one child per generation, and it has naught to do with the parents’ physical health. This is a deeper problem, possibly in the literal sense. “But think on this: in the past century, if a Pure-blood’s marriage first produces a girl, what happens?”

“They have to contend with marriage contracts before the girl has left behind the need for nappies,” Henry responds at once, but then he frowns. “They have more children. Most often, they are all daughters, but the parents have more children.”

“And if they first bear a son?”

“There are no more. Charles and I are among a very short list of Pure-bloods who are brothers, but Rose was born first.” Henry stares at him in consternation. “Why is there such a difference?”

Salazar lifts his shoulders in a vague shrug. “I’ve no idea, but if you pay attention, the pattern is there.”

“Dorea’s youngest sister, Walburga. She has two children now, both of them sons,” Henry ventures after a time. Sir Menzies’s eulogy is done, but there are more eulogies or prayers to come.

“But we’ve only the word of a bunch of mad banshees that the eldest boy was their first child. Think also on Sirius and Hesper’s first three sons, as those two were exactly the sort I would believe to easily do away with their first child had they dared to be a girl.”

Henry sighs. “You’re right. Most Pure-bloods are so secretive about their pregnancies, fearful of losing a child or somehow cursing them to be a Squib, that you never hear a word about it until there is a birth announcement in the newspaper. We’d never know the truth unless someone were to confess it. You’re certain it has not always been this way?”

“Godric’s first child was a boy.” Both of them had been, the child born to his wife and the child he accidentally conceived with another—to Godric’s consternation and Sedemai’s vast amusement. “He and his wife then had three daughters and another son. Rowena’s first child was a boy; she then had two daughters. Her surviving daughter Alicia then gave birth to a bloody horde of mixed-gendered children. My first child with my second wife was a boy, followed by two daughters. My sister birthed a daughter and then a son; my brother’s daughter bore twin sons, then two daughters.”

“Yes, all right. You’ve made your point,” Henry concedes. “I imagine if Harfang and Callidora hadn’t had twins, they would have one son, not two. The mixed marriages never have this difficulty, do they?”

“Not that I’m aware of, no,” Salazar answers. They spend the rest of the funeral service in quiet conversation, something Salazar has desperately missed.

“You could just tell them to go fuck atop the Door,” Nizar’s portrait suggests that evening after Salazar relates the conversation. “That would make up for any magic that might be lacking beneath their house.”

Salazar nearly spews tea from his nose. “Damn your timing,” he mutters, cleaning up the mess. “Nizar, I don’t know how to find Griffon’s Door. I also will not tell them to do something that is potentially foolish, even if I knew how to find this kingdom’s other Doors. Besides, your father was an only child.”

“That we know of.”

Salazar rolls his eyes. “Any sibling of his would now be decidedly younger than your father, hermanito. They would be born next year at the earliest. Even if such a sibling were to be born next year, they would not be capable of fighting in the war. They would not even graduate Hogwarts until 1984, if not 1985.”

Nizar crosses his arms. “Do you really think Voldemort gives a fuck if he kills children?”

“No,” Salazar replies, feeling the heavy weight behind his words. Henry is right. He’s already tired, and the war is not yet begun. “But I still believe Henry to have the right of this matter.”

“Yeah,” Nizar’s portrait finally admits. “So do I.”

 

*         *         *         *

 

After Winston’s funeral, Salazar quickly learns to tell people that he met Churchill once, during the war. He is technically not lying, but to say anything more too often entraps him in conversations of politics he’d prefer to avoid. When former Minister for Magic Leonard Spencer-Moon dies a few months later, Salazar faces the same blasted difficulty. He considers himself lucky to have escaped the man’s funeral service.

Salazar tries to distract himself with planning for what is to come, but there is a limit to what plans he can make, especially when he doesn’t know when the sodding war begins. This decade? The next? 1980? He has too many questions and no answers, because Wizarding Britain is sodding fucking useless.

“I did warn you,” Nizar’s portrait says.

“I DID NOT EXPECT THERE TO BE MORE THOROUGH ACCOUNTINGS OF THE FUCKING MINISTRY’S FOUNDING THAN THERE IS OF MOTHERFUCKING GRINDELWALD!” It’s been two full decades and still there is almost nothing at all on Wizarding bookstore shelves regarding Grindelwald’s rise, prominence, and fall.

“And the Ministry accountings are…fifty percent falsehoods, you said?”

Salazar buries his face in his hands. “More like seventy-five.”

While gathering the occasional hair from nondescript Muggles who dwell far away from northern Scotland, Little Hangleton, or London, Salazar has also been working at another task. His little brother once asked him to attempt to look after others, perhaps even to save them. Aside from his parents and the newly included elder Potters, Nizar’s portrait gave him two lists of names.

The longer list, unfortunately, is full of those who’ve already promised their service to Voldemort, magicians who will become Death Eaters. Most of those on the list who are British were educated in Slytherin House. Salazar truly did not think one of the tenets of his school’s House was blind, willful stupidity, and yet he keeps stumbling over it.

After walking among them, talking to them, listening, and sometimes applying a touch of Mind Magic, Salazar gives up on most of these Slytherin-educated adults in disgust. Martinus Flint has potential, though at the moment he is mired in stupidity. Lucretia Lestrange, wife of Patrician, also bears watching, though she is terrified of her husband as well as her own sons, which never bodes well. Alberta Rookwood is always on her husband’s arm, but Voldemort’s speeches make her feel ill, and she maintains the appearance of one who’d much prefer to be elsewhere.

He doesn’t see evidence of the Dark Mark. There is a chance it doesn’t yet exist, but right now, why would it? Everyone still stands tall and honest in their beliefs, whether they follow an ethical path or a mad one.

When? Salazar wonders one day, staring at Voldemort in apparent worship while lounging against a Diagon Alley street lamp that still relies on oil and flame. When did Voldemort make those other Horcruxes? Only someone who has created four soul jars, and given so much of himself to each one, would have the appearance that Tom Marvolo Riddle bears now.

How in the bloody hell do others not notice?

Once upon a time, Tom Riddle was a handsome man, if a bit thin. Now he is thinner still, and would probably appear to be ill if one were to strip him of those tailored robes to view what was beneath. His black hair is lank, with all the reflectivity of coal dust. His eyes shine with jewel-bright, feverish intensity, which, set against his pale skin, still causes far too many to swoon. Salazar will readily admit that there are some aspects of humanity he has never understood; the desire to bed someone who would look upon you the entire time as if you were a worthless insect is still near the top of what has become, over the centuries, a rather short list.

Tom Marvolo Riddle no longer so strictly resembles his Muggle father but for the addition of ancient Cadmus Peverell’s eyes. As an adult of thirty-eight, Voldemort looks very much like a Gaunt as they’d appeared in their prime. Not that the family’s pinnacle during the early 1700s had made them individuals Salazar wished to associate with. That lot would have been most appreciative of their descendant’s vile behavior.

The death of your Muggle family, that was your first Horcrux. The second was Myrtle Warren’s murder, the creation of that damned diary. Salazar managed to track down Hepzibah’s aging house-elf, Hokey, and ask her questions that didn’t trigger bouts of confusion. In that manner, he learned that Tom Riddle used to be a frequent visitor of Hepzibah Smith before her poisoning, and only two objects were missing from her household: Helga’s beloved golden cup, and a gold locket. If it were not for the unmarred state of Hepzibah Smith’s body in the aftermath of that theft, Salazar would readily believe Voldemort arrogant enough to use her murder to have made one of those objects into a Horcrux—but not only did Voldemort not kill her, he wasn’t even present when Hepzibah Smith died. Salazar is convinced that those two stolen items are Horcruxes number three and number four, but there isn’t even a whisper of other murders within Wizarding Britain in that decade. Riddle sought his victims elsewhere.

Salazar idly wonders if Voldemort is aware that his physical appearance will continue to deteriorate, that he will lose the physical beauty that charms so many to his side. It will happen faster still when he makes that fifth Horcrux. Salazar recalls from his viewing of events in the water that Voldemort uses his rage at Albus Dumbledore to create his next Horcrux, but the when, and the what? Those questions remain unanswered.

Despite the lack of known victims, Voldemort must have made his third and fourth Horcruxes soon after stealing them from Hepzibah Smith. It takes time for the body to physically reflect the changes caused when one is magically shoving chunks of their own self into a magical jar. If Voldemort had used only slivers, perhaps he would have retained most of his vitality, but he seems to prefer grand gestures for sacrifice, even if the sacrifice is himself.

The other intriguing question is this: why? If immortality were all he sought, one Horcrux would be enough. Two, if one was paranoid; two well-hidden soul jars would ensure Voldemort never aged, never died, and he would not look to be suffering a wasting illness. Salazar already knows the bastard does not stop at four. Once Voldemort attacks his brother, there will be six, a soul split into seven pieces. That goes beyond a simple desire for survival. That speaks of terror.

Salazar finds hairs from the most unassuming, unmentionable Muggle he can find in a day’s search, purchases drab but well-pressed clothing in the correct size, and returns to Tom Marvolo Riddle’s former orphanage in the guise of a nondescript woman. Cindy Jones is from a fictional law firm and searching for her new client, Merope Gaunt, or any other potential descendants, regarding a small inheritance from a fictional Muggle bank.

Wool Orphanage has a new director, a Ms. Warrington. She treats Salazar as a fellow professional, dresses well, moves with swift economy—Warrington is business-focused, not children-focused. The former Mrs. Cole had not been children-focused, either. Does this blasted orphanage repel anyone who would work here and care for these children?

“I’m sorry to inform you that Merope Gaunt Riddle died in 1926, according to the records I found when you telephoned,” Ms. Warrington informs him after they seat themselves in her office. There is a wooden rod leaning casually in one corner that has a specific tint to the wood in the center, as if it’s struck the same surface repeatedly on numerous occasions.

Records you are not actually supposed to be telling me of, Salazar thinks, but privacy only seems to be a concern when it’s convenient. “That’s unfortunate. I couldn’t find records of any descendants, so it would mean the inheritance is returned to my bank.” Salazar feigns as much excitement as he can when he wants to curse the person he’s speaking to.

Warrington hits these children. She uses that cane upon them often.

“I’m afraid I’ll have to disappoint you, Cindy. I may call you Cindy, yes?” Warrington plows on without waiting for affirmation. “Mrs. Riddle died just after birthing a son. Tom Riddle spent his entire childhood in this orphanage, though like many of those who depart as adults, he didn’t exactly leave us with a means of contacting him afterwards.”

“Hmm. I wonder if there are any incidents I could use to further track him. It’s very important I find him. This account can’t be reclaimed by my employers if a living descendent is out there,” Salazar frets, but it’s easy to fret when it comes to Voldemort. “Was Tom Riddle ever injured as a child, something that would have required a doctor’s care?”

“Ah—no. He remained remarkably free of injuries during his stay here, according to his files.” Ms. Warrington pauses, and for the first time the professional mask slips. She looks disturbed. “A child died in his presence.”

Salazar feels his blood turn chill. “Oh, how awful. What happened?”

“The records weren’t very clear. Tom never told anyone what happened. He said he didn’t know, and there do not seem to have been any other witnesses. The director at the time believed the child had done no wrong. After all, what five-year-old could crush a nine-year-old’s ribs?”

Magic. Accidental or otherwise, Voldemort killed for the first time when he was five years old. Salazar would like to find the closest pub and immediately get very, very pissed. “That’s frightening. I suppose if there was an inquiry—”

“No, unfortunately not. It was 1932, the victim was a child without family…” Ms. Warrington shrugs, polite smile on her face. “It would have been considered a waste of resources. Most unfortunate.”

“Indeed,” Salazar agrees, and then casts the Deflection Charm upon her before she can recognize a wand is being pointed at her nose. “If anyone asks, you don’t know anything about Tom Marvolo Riddle, Merope Gaunt, or a child’s mysterious death. Cindy was mistaken and is searching for someone else.”

“Of course,” Ms. Warrington repeats in a daze, still affected by the memory-altering charm as it follows the instructions given. “I’m sorry I could not be of more assistance.”

“That’s all right. I’ll show myself out. Thank you for your time.”

Before he leaves, Salazar curses that fucking cane. Every time Warrington strikes another child, it won’t be the young one who feels the pain. It will rebound upon herself, the strength of it doubled with every strike she continues to make.

“So, Voldemort killed someone when he was five. That doesn’t actually surprise me, Sal,” Nizar’s portrait says that evening.

“No, though it would be interesting to discover if it was deliberate.”

“Why?” Nizar asks.

“Because it would have been Voldemort’s first conscious memory of experiencing another’s death. It might be helpful to discover if that incident helped craft his fear of dying.”

Nizar snorts. “Or it might be bloody useless. Knowing your enemy is sound tactical advice, but sometimes there is no why, Sal. Sometimes people are just fucking terrifying all on their own.”

On 18th March, Salazar is distracted from Voldemort’s irritating existence when the Soviets win another part of the Space Race as the first human cosmonaut “walks” in outer space for the very first time. The broadcast is a captured Russian signal, which reminds Salazar that he’s forgotten how to speak yet another language, but one doesn’t need language to understand the import of what’s happening.

Mis dioses,” Salazar whispers.

“Okay, yeah. That is definitely amazing,” Nizar agrees. “The United States is probably losing their collective shit because the Soviets did it first.”

“Please tell me that the Americans and the Soviets eventually stop believing that everything is a competition to the death between them.”

Nizar makes a disbelieving noise. “What, we’re back to trying to rely on my shoddy history education? That would not be helpful. Besides, I have no idea.”

“Your recollections are not entirely useless,” Salazar reminds the portrait. Nizar just rolls his eyes in response.

The cosmonaut’s name, Salazar discovers from the later press announcements out of the USSR, is Alexei Leonov. He spent at least twelve minutes in outer space. Salazar heard the event through a static-filled radio signal, but the press announcement somehow makes it real. He gets very sloshed to celebrate this human success. It’s a bit of good news, human progress for the right reasons, and he desperately needs that right now.

Dorea and Charles visit by Floo after Beltane. Dorea is in tears, and even Charles looks upset. “What’s wrong?”

“We’ve just been to Lycoris Black’s funeral,” Charles explains while Dorea cries against her husband’s shoulder. “It was a bloody nightmare.”

Salazar gives them both a good bit of wine to sip on, poor comfort when they’re mourning the loss of yet another Black with a sense of decency. Lycoris was only sixty-one, and yet natural causes—age!—were determined to cause his death. Worse, Orion and Walburga argued during the funeral that Lycoris should be “properly” listed on his tombstone as female, as he’d been a girl before using magical means to switch genders as a teenager. Arcturus Black III heard that absolute nonsense, turned around, and punched Orion Black in the face. Nothing more was said of gender.

“Oh, now that’s a moment I would love to have witnessed,” Salazar says of the blow. “Walburga must have been quite the sight.”

“Walburga was occupied,” Charles replies, grinning as he glances at Dorea.

Dorea blushes pink-violet even as she dabs at her eyes with a handkerchief. “I slapped my sister and told her I raised her better than to behave like that,” she mutters under her breath. Salazar can’t help it; he laughs. They spend the rest of the evening toasting Lycoris’s memory until the bottle is gone.

 

*         *         *         *

 

Nizar’s second list, the shorter one, is much easier on Salazar, as it involves very few idiotic Slytherins. It’s also a bit odd to contemplate, as Salazar remembers his brother’s Recordari scrolls. Those were captured images of grown adults, but right now, the people Nizar thinks of as family are all still children.

Remus John Lupin, born 10th March 1960, is easy to find. His is the only magical family with that name in Britain unless one faffs off directly to Ireland. The boy’s father, Lyall Lupin, married a Welsh woman who often calls herself a Muggle to avoid the more denigrated label of Squib.

Salazar spends about an hour watching a flush-cheeked, blond-haired lad run around the back garden belonging to a woman who is quite obviously his grandmother, given their shared green eyes and that particular nose. The fresh scars marring the five-year-old boy’s face stand out in stark relief. They’ll fade over time, but right now, it’s obvious the damage was caused not by a clawed paw, not by a hand, but something in-between. His grandmother, who has a bit of magic of her own, does not shun him, nor does his non-magical grandfather.

The acceptance the boy receives from his grandparents and parents is miraculous; werewolves in Britain are most often cast out of their families and left to fend for themselves, no matter their age. Instead, Remus Lupin looks set to have a pleasant childhood…or as pleasant as it can be when one is cursed to become a werewolf with every full moon. Salazar has no idea what became of his brother’s crafted potion that made life easier on Galiena, but in Britain, the U.S., and in most of Europe, there currently exists nothing at all to ease a werewolf’s life. Salazar can’t remember the formula, either. He only recalls that it involves violets.

“I’ll be buggered in a most unfortunate manner,” Salazar says to himself as he puts together Remus’s Welsh lineage. Hope Pryce, only daughter of Eglantine Pryce, granddaughter of Anna Grace Pryce, who happens to be Euphemia’s aunt.

“Wait. Remus and my father are related?” Nizar asks in disbelief. “No one ever mentioned that!”

“And gods know why, because it should never have been so easily overlooked!” Salazar paces back and forth in his sitting room, down the hall, and back again. He should possibly consider enlarging the Willow House, if only so he has more room to pace while in a temper. “They are not only second cousins by a marriage, they’re second cousins by their great-grandparents! Euphemia is first cousin to Remus’s grandmother, a woman named Eglantine Pryce, married to Edmund, who was intelligent enough to allow his wife to retain the family’s magical name instead of his Muggle name. They have a single daughter named Hope, born the month and year that World War II began. She is Remus’s mother.”

He should have pressed for more information during Gwydion Pryce’s funeral—the name of the daughter, the granddaughter, feign curiosity about the wedding that took precedence over the funeral, anything! It’s now too late to ask Lleu and Anna Pryce. He died in November 1961, when Salazar was too much of a wreck to attend a funeral, and she died in 1962, an event he didn’t witness. Euphemia was not told nor invited; by the time she found out her aunt was dead, it was too late to do anything but visit a grave marker.

“Second cousins, and easy to find, at that.”  Nizar finally shrugs. “Well, I wanted to know if Dumbledore did it on purpose—putting me with the Dursleys, I mean. That certainly answers that question.”

“And raises several others,” Salazar mutters. Nizar said that no one knew Remus Lupin was a werewolf aside from the future Marauders, most likely Lily Potter, Dumbledore, and perhaps the school’s matron. Even if Dumbledore truly believed that the sacrificial blood magic protecting Harry Potter from Voldemort had to be reinforced by acceptance from a blood relative of Lily, there is no reason that the child could not have spent part of his year with Remus Lupin…unless Dumbledore’s claimed two weeks per year was not belief, but deliberate falsehood.

Euphemia had politely couched her words, but she strongly implied that Professor Dumbledore always made her feel vaguely uncomfortable—of course, she was a Ravenclaw at school, and Nizar is bitterly certain that Albus Dumbledore favors Gryffindors above everyone else. Elizabetha is ambivalent, but she’s never had to cope with the man beyond a few polite social gatherings. “Euphemia, Henry, Charles, and Dorea already dislike Albus Dumbledore. Monty was a Gryffindor, and yet he doesn’t trust Dumbledore, either. This is not helping anything,” Salazar growls, and goes to find the next person on his list.

Peter Pettigrew is a bit shocking in how normal he looks and acts. He has ashy brown hair with sun-bleached tips, pale brown eyes blended with yellows and reds, pale skin, and most often runs around with a wide, happy smile on his face.

Why should he look any different? Salazar chides himself. The lad is barely five years old.

In the case of his family, two Wilkes sisters distantly related to the main branch of the Pettigrew family married its two sons, older Clarence and younger Leigh. Peter’s mother is Edith Pettigrew, wife of Clarence and older sister of Enid Pettigrew. Enid and Leigh have a daughter named Marguerite…who just graduated Hogwarts, turned eighteen, and looks to be on the verge of accepting a marriage proposal from Felix Davis. At age twenty, Davis is already a pledged Knight of Walpurgis. That, it seems, is to be his first clue, and makes Salazar look more closely at Peter’s household.

A cousin of Edith and Enid, William Wilkes, turns up often to visit, but it isn’t his cousins he comes to see. He spends most of his time with their husbands in outdated Wizarding drinking houses, the sort that refuse to admit females of any sort. When it isn’t the “gentlemen’s” clubs, it’s the three of them standing within listening distance of the crowd of idiots in Diagon Alley, who Voldemort draws in much the same way flies are drawn to rotten meat.

Peter Pettigrew has a mother and an aunt who are not Death Eaters. His father, his uncle, and his closest known adult cousin are charmed by Voldemort already. After a few more days of observing them, Salazar becomes certain that Enid and Edith have no idea what sort of foolishness their husbands are about to become involved in. He suspects Enid Wilkes Pettigrew would hand them their arses if she learned of it.

Or perhaps Peter’s male relatives never attempt to convert him, and Peter Pettigrew’s later treachery is all of his own making. For now, though, he’s a little boy who doesn’t appear to have a malicious bone in his body. His betrayal of the Potter family will also be a mystery until it happens, and its timing may not work in Salazar’s favor.

Attempting to view Sirius Black at this point is a laughable concept. His family won’t even let their Heir out of doors until they’re certain he’s capable of behaving himself to their standards, which means Salazar might not even see the boy until he’s boarding the Hogwarts Express in 1971. Sirius will be six in November; Regulus will be four, and thus two years below his brother at Hogwarts.

There is nothing in the Ministry records regarding a pregnancy that would predate Sirius Black III’s birth, and after some very careful digging and bribery, finds that there are no medical records, either. Either Walburga tapped into the vast Black wealth to make certain any healer’s visits were left undocumented, or she, like Cedrella and Septimus, became one of the lucky exceptions.

“I’d go with bribery, personally,” Nizar’s portrait says, and hesitates. “Sirius never mentioned having a brother.” He appears saddened by that.

“Death Eater, do you think?” Sirius asks.

Nizar shakes his head. “I don’t know. Given that part of the family, it’s possible…but it’s equally possible that Azkaban fucked with Sirius’s head so badly that he forgot he ever had a brother at all.”

“Stop trying to incite me to tear down that horrific pile of stone on that fucking island, little brother. I don’t need that much history exploding in my face, especially when it involves those gods-forsaken Dementors.”

When Salazar returned to England in the 1600s, that had been the most unpleasant discovery of several centuries. Not only did the magicians of Britain have a new prison that was more of a tribute to depravity than the non-magical were capable of, but it was guarded by the mysterious creatures Nizar had always been able to vividly describe, but never find. Salazar still doesn’t know what the hell they are aside from terrifying.

Severus Snape is almost as difficult to catch sight of as Sirius Black, but it isn’t because his family is hard to locate. In an England full of Snape families, the Latin nature of his name and magical nature of his mother’s family leads Salazar right to the village of Cokeworth.

Not that his mother can be said to have a family any longer aside from her husband, her husband’s family, and her son. Severus Prince Snape’s grandparents publicly disowned Eileen Ruth Prince and disinherited her for the crime of marrying a Muggle man named Tobias Joseph Snape. With that act, those idiots ended the line of magical Jewish Princes in Britain. There won’t be any imports from Europe, either; the French branches of the magical lines were entirely wiped out by the Nazis and Grindelwald.

The elusive nature of this small family frustrates him. Tobias’s schedule is erratic; Eileen rarely leaves the house; young Severus most often prefers to flit along like a shadow, unseen and unnoticed, as much as possible. After he compensates his spying to accommodate people who are antisocial and uninterested in being out-of-doors no matter their location, it’s easier to discover just what sort of household the future Head of Slytherin House comes from.

Eileen Prince and Tobias Snape look to be well-matched, but not in a way that is the least bit healthy. She appears to hate everything and everyone around her, husband and son included. He is too often pissed to notice her hatred. Salazar wonders for a brief time if Tobias drinks so much, so often, as an escape from her perpetual hatred, but when he is sober, Tobias reveals that he hates her with a shared fierce intensity.

Tobias also strikes his son, whether or not drink is involved. Salazar has to turn away before he murders someone for doing such to a five-year-old. His sense of precognition is murmuring at him that he cannot intervene, and he has to listen, lest he fuck things up entirely.

With his justifiably reclusive nature, Severus Snape thus earns several days of Salazar’s time. He wants to see more of what the boy is like before life as a spy against Voldemort hardens his heart.

Severus reminds Salazar of the old Britons with his pale skin, black hair, and black eyes that often pick up the sheen of the full spectrum of light. The boy likes plants, Salazar notes, but that is because Severus already knows what plants can do for him when a cauldron is involved. “Oh, you start young, don’t you?” Salazar murmurs, delighted by the sight of natural magical talent on display. Any neighbor peering over a fence would see a small boy in unfortunate clothing playing with plants, water, a pot, and a stick, but that is a potion forming, and the child isn’t using a recipe of any sort that Salazar knows. Whatever it is, Severus also chose the right sort of stick. If one is going to put anything that is not glass or metal into a cauldron, bark-stripped oak is an excellent choice.

Severus scoops up the completed potion in a little phial of capped glass and stares at, a real smile on his tiny pale face. Salazar still doesn’t recognize the potion, but he and the boy both know that whatever it is, it’s right.

The boy pockets the capped sample of the potion, then looks down at the cauldron. He’s fully aware that he cannot just dump a working potion onto the ground. Severus seems to think about it before he glances back over his shoulder, sees no movement from his shabby house, then picks up his simple cauldron by its handle and runs from the back garden.

Salazar follows, all but led by his nose by his own curiosity. At first, he worries that Severus will dump a potion into the river, but that polluted water might find the potion to be an improvement. It’s a children’s play park that Severus goes to, one quite close to his house. There are no children present, given that the chains of every swing are solid lines of rust.

Severus regards the swings from several angles before he stands to one side of the four swings hanging from the bar. With a mighty heave from a five-year-old, he flings the contents of the cauldron at the rusted chains.

“Oh, that is—fuck me sideways, how the hell did you do that?” Salazar whispers in angry disbelief as the rust begins to flake off the chains. The boy isn’t dissolving useless swings. He’s stripping their chains of corrosion, revealing the dull shine of new steel that hid beneath layers of rust.

Severus Snape is grinning, his black eyes bright, everything wrong with his home and family forgotten. Salazar truly wishes there was someone else present in that moment, someone who was free to tell that child that he’d just done something amazing.

“Wow,” Nizar’s portrait says later.

“I still have no idea what he put in that potion!”

“No, not that.” Nizar frowns. “Okay, that also, but I meant—except for the fact that it’s his parents who treat him so badly, I’m a bit concerned about mirrored childhoods, here.”

Hermanito, Severus Snape is not a child in a position of forced servitude, imprisonment, and deliberate starvation.”

The portrait glares at him and stalks off, disappearing from the frame. Over one thousand years, and still even his little brother’s portrait can sometimes be tetchy about certain truths—usually if he’s discovered another child suffering through similar circumstances.

Minerva McGonagall, future Head of Gryffindor, is still involved in the M.L.E. He tends to now avoid that lot, as they always want to know his name, his business, and his origins, and Salazar is of the mood to give them nothing. He has no idea why McGonagall turns from the Ministry and sets her sights on Hogwarts, but it must be soon. When Dumbledore takes over from aging Armando Dippet, the school will likely need a new Transfiguration teacher. She also doesn’t seem to be interested in dating. Salazar has to inform his ridiculous heart that there will be no pining after McGonagall unless she is both interested in such things and single after Hallowe’en 1995.

Lucius Malfoy, future father of a blond-haired lad named Draco, is already familiar thanks to Abraxus and Delphina’s irregular social dealings with Henry. The boy is now eleven, but was born too late to attend Hogwarts this year. Lucius is already so obnoxious that he makes Abraxus Malfoy appear civilized. He isn’t parroting his parents’ opinions on blood purity; Lucius Malfoy believes it utterly.

Good gods. Salazar is starting to feel sympathy for ten-year-old Narcissa Black, who will one day be marrying that arrogant and genocidal piece of work. It’s bad enough that she and her older sister Andromeda must deal with Bellatrix Black. The child is only eleven, yet already appears to be insane. Nizar knew nothing about Draco’s aunts aside from a vague mention of Bellatrix once upon a time, so they know what Bellatrix’s fate will be—her insanity certainly fits the profile of Bellatrix Lestrange—but Andromeda is a mystery they would both like to solve.

Arthur Allectus Weasley requires no searching whatsoever. Salazar has been familiar with the ginger middle child of Septimus and Cedrella for many years now. Unless they also had a secret girl before giving birth to Arthur’s older brother, the three boys are one of the very few exceptions to the Pure-blood “curse” of having too few children. In every encounter Salazar has had with Arthur in the past, he’s had the keen gaze of an intelligent lad with a good heart.

Molly Weasley could have been a difficulty, as there are several women in Britain bearing the name. Granted, Arthur is only sixteen and certainly not yet wed; finding an unwed ginger witch named Molly of age to attend Hogwarts is much easier. Molly is currently a ginger Prewett of the same school year as Arthur, and both are Gryffindors. Rumor from the Prewetts is that the two are already dating, something that riles half the family and soothes the other. Nizar’s portrait mutters that her family name explains a lot about how much the Weasley children of his acquaintance had hated Mafalda Prewett in Slytherin, a feeling that had apparently been mutual.

“I didn’t know Mister Weasley and Sirius were that closely related,” Nizar muses. “I mean, I realize it now, but it wasn’t even mentioned when I was a kid.”

“I believe they’re second cousins, but the Black Family tree is such a shambles that even the Ministry seems to have given up in despair,” Salazar replies. “Whereas Walburga Black and Orion Black, the parents of your godfather, are fucking first cousins. Literally.” Salazar does his best not to think on that but to hope Sirius and Regulus Black have the proper number of fingers and toes.

Nizar rolls his eyes. “People are absolutely grand, aren’t they?”

“Sometimes.” Salazar holds up the little pocket-sized notebook he uses for copying relevant details and discoveries, which is waiting for future spouses and children to be filled in for this batch of names. “I didn’t tell you before. Arthur Weasley has an older brother named Bilius, and a younger brother named Ignatius.”

Nizar raises his eyebrows in clear concern. “I didn’t know that. I’ve never seen a picture of anyone in that house aside from Arthur, Molly, the children…” He pauses and starts digging through recorded memories again. “No, hold on. There is a portrait in the Burrow that is most likely Septimus and Cedrella, though I think only Cedrella was still alive at the time. Ron mentioned his grandmother, and not in the past tense, but I don’t think he meant Molly’s parents.”

Salazar makes a rude gesture in regards to the mention of William and Geneva Crouch Prewett. If the fools weren’t still confusing neutral with avoid, he’d have known of Molly and her family already.

“One more photograph—twins that weren’t George and Fred. They looked alike, but not quite. Either the one got into a magnificent brawl and never saw a healer afterwards, or they’re not identical twins, merely fraternal.”

“Molly has older twin brothers,” Salazar tells him. “You’re right; they look a great deal alike, but they’re not identical. Their names are—”

“Gideon and Fabian,” Nizar’s portrait bursts out, wide-eyed. “Oh, shit. George and Fred have their names. Ron has Bilius as his second name. Percy’s second name is Ignatius. William has Arthur…Charlie has…” The portrait squeezes his eyes shut. “Oh, that’s…bugger. I don’t recall. At least Ginny just had Molly as her second name. I’ve never met these people, Sal. They weren’t even mentioned in front of me.”

“War dead.” Salazar breathes out a sigh. “We’re uncovering deaths that have yet to happen. I hate it, little brother.”

“Me, too.”

The Americans finally manage their own spacewalk on 3rd June. A man named Ed White spends twenty-one minutes tethered to a Gemini spacecraft. Errors and malfunctions nearly kill both pilots of that mission, but they succeed. Salazar again drinks to their success, as something should go right this year for someone who is not fucking Voldemort.

Bartemius Crouch Senior is now a highly ranked official within the M.L.E. with the obvious goal of becoming Minister for Magic. His son, however, is most often in the company of his mother, Anna, who has turned meek and frail in the years since Salazar last saw her. He worries about her health, and wonders how Bartemius Crouch treats his wife in the privacy of their home.

Toddler Barty Junior is three years old. He has a sleek curtain of fine brown hair; as he runs, it flies back to reveal reddened cheeks still rounded by infancy. It’s hard for Salazar to find anger in his heart towards one who is still so innocent, no matter what they will one day do to his brother.

He has a different problem when it comes to those such as Hermione Granger. Until she’s born and named in September 1979, he will not be locating her. There are many Muggle Granger families in England, and a rather baffling number of them are dentists. Neville Longbottom is another of his brother’s concerns, but Salazar is almost certain that young Frank Longbottom will be the boy’s father. Algernon either prefers men, prefers no one at all, or is too preoccupied by amphibians to court and wed anyone. The oldest of the Weasley children, Bill, won’t be born for several years yet.

You trusted so few, Salazar thinks, grieved. Even accounting for the seven children Arthur and Molly will eventually have, Nizar’s list of family he’d claimed as a child is so very short.

The one driving him mental, the one he can’t find, is the girl who will one day become Lily Potter. Salazar doesn’t know if they’re too young, or if he’s searching in the wrong place, but seeking out two Muggle-born sisters named Petunia and Lily should not be this fucking difficult.

Giving up on the sisters for now, Salazar concentrates on finding Vernon Dursley. Vernon and his family may or may not provide clues for locating Lily and Petunia, but it will certainly tell Salazar what Nizar’s uncle was like as a young man.

The Dursley family still resides in Surrey, though considering Little Whinging’s population and housing, Chaldon is rather empty in comparison. Perhaps that is what made Little Whinging so appealing to a man like Vernon Dursley, or perhaps it will be his future wife who chooses their home.

After poking about in their village, he’s now certain that Vernon Dursley and Petunia are not yet acquainted. Petunia’s future husband lives with his older sister Marjorie and their father, but not their mother, of which there is no sign. Vernon Dursley is thirteen to Marjorie’s fifteen; both children are very tall, broad-shouldered, black-haired and watery-eyed; their skin is flushed the same sorts of red shades as a lifelong alcoholic. Vernon and Marjorie strongly resemble their father, though Howard has blond hair instead of black. Howard Dursley is a massive beast of a man, one who seems to enjoy having an angry, witless intelligence to match.

Salazar can’t find anyone in Chaldon who is willing to discuss the missing wife of Howard Dursley. It isn’t information he necessarily needs, but this flat refusal is irritating. Salazar despises mysteries, especially when it involves someone who will eventually be charged with the guardianship of his little brother. He wants to know if there is something in Vernon Dursley’s past that will make him act the way he does.

That, however, is an astounding negative. “Vernon? Marge?” Chaldon villager and schoolteacher Marcus shakes his head. “Those two have been sturdy little bullies since they entered primary school, Mister Luiz. I’ve heard it’s not gotten any better now that they’re off attending Smeltings and St. Mary’s, respectively. There wasn’t much hope for them even before Mrs. Dursley…well.” Marcus frowns. “Why is it you’re wanting to know so much about the family? There is no diamond in that lot, and that’s a certainty.”

“They’re related to an adopted member of my family,” Salazar replies. “I’ve been trying to help him uncover more about them, even if all I can grant him afterwards is disappointment.”

“Well…I suppose it can’t hurt, then,” Marcus decides. “Her leaving is treated as a bigger scandal than it is, really.”

“Oh?”

“The biggest shock about it all was that no one expected it. No one in Chaldon, and definitely not Howard. He was dazed for days afterward, hardly spoke a word. When we asked Howard what happened between him and Mary, he says they argued, and…” Marcus grimaces. “He never admitted to it, but I saw the kids, and how they flinched those first few weeks if Howard so much as raised his arms. He hit her, Mister Luiz, or he had been doing so for quite a while. Mary decided she’d finally had enough of it, packed up, called for a car, and left.”

“She didn’t take the children?” Salazar asks, genuinely concerned.

Marcus shakes his head. “Not then. I think she knew Howard wouldn’t let them leave. The rub of it all is that I think she should’ve tried. If she had, she might still be alive.”

Salazar’s eyes widen with no artifice needed. “What happened to her?”

“Mary had been traveling back and forth between here and Woking. She’d gotten herself a new place, new job, steady pay, and the car to go with it all, but the court that sees to child custody cases for Chaldon is over in Oxted. She had to work that last morning, so she was heading through the Scilly Isles going south to Oxted. Rumor was that she was going to be awarded custody that very day. Instead, someone who wasn’t local lost control of a lorry, and…”

“A bloody car crash.” Salazar briefly closes his eyes. “And I apologize for the pun; it wasn’t intentional.”

“I believe you, and besides, it’s true. It was a bloody crash, and not just her, either. Shut down the Isles and part of the Bypass for half the day while they cleaned things up.”

“I recall that now,” Salazar realizes. “It made the news. 1962, around about November?”

Marcus nods. “That’s exactly right. Three dead, a mess of injured motorists, and two orphaned kids in a village that didn’t rate a mention in the news. That’s the whole sordid mess of it, and it’s not even sordid. It’s just sad.”

“Do you think Marjorie and young Vernon would be less the bullying sort if she’d lived?”

Marcus takes a few minutes to think about it, most likely dwelling on a number of primary school years in which he witnessed their behavior. “Maybe if she’d stayed, or if Mary hadn’t died in that accident and moved both the kids with her to Woking,” he says. “But even if she’d stayed, Howard is a complete bastard and a brute, Mister Luiz. To be honest, I don’t know how he could lay off the violence and the drinking long enough to convince someone like Mary to be his wife. Those two kids have the example of Howard’s fists to emulate, and…well, some kids outgrow it and learn better. Some never do. The only thing that’ll tell us what those two will be like is time.”

Salazar nods, thanks him, and praises Marcus’s flowers—which makes the teacher beam with pride—before he walks away. Chaldon is a peaceful bit of land, mindful of the Surrey he knew when he and Nizar were both young. It’s the sort of peace he could use right now.

Time won’t make Vernon Dursley a better person. If anything, it makes him worse. Marjorie, as well, given some of the stories Nizar’s portrait has told him.

Salazar wonders what Petunia is like right now. Is she an innocent? A slender twig of a child already learning to hate? Does Lily love her sister as much as she will one day love her child?

Gods, but he has too many fucking questions. He almost wishes Voldemort would start his war right now, if only so Salazar has the distraction of trying to figure out how to save a vast number of fools from their own idiocy. He has ideas, but until the opportunity is before him, he won’t know if the method will work unless it succeeds or fails.

With that done, and no more names to concern himself with, Salazar focuses his attention on finding the history of a man he’s been curious about for centuries. That doesn’t go well, either. All of Salazar’s attempts to uncover the whole of Albus Dumbledore’s past grants him a brick wall.

The records in the Ministry are sealed. Not even Salazar’s past association with Leonard grants him any sort of access. What little he finds tells him that Albus and Aberforth Dumbledore had parents who moved the family from northern Scotland all the way down to Godric’s Hollow when their younger sister took ill. Salazar can’t find her name, or the name of her mother, or even their blasted father, who is noted only to have had a trial before the Wizengamot for unknown reasons. No one seems to know the results of this trial, or if they recall, they’re not willing to speak of it.

It takes a great deal of frustrating work to discover that these mysterious parents and the ailing sister all died before Albus graduated from Hogwarts. Aberforth didn’t return after Easter break to finish his fifth year, and never bothered to sit his O.W.L.s or N.E.W.T.s at the Ministry. Such was common in those days, so it was never looked at askance. Aberforth still did well enough in life to run that successful pit of an inn in Hogsmeade, and that was with an unfortunate rumor following him around regarding goats.

Salazar is still otherwise staring down an unyielding brick wall. No names, no burial listings—he can’t even find any newspaper clippings regarding the Dumbledore family before Albus Dumbledore’s graduation from Hogwarts. Whatever “sad tale” it was that Henry mentioned, someone meant for that tale to be forgotten.

“You found nothing of them? At all?” Henry is surprised to hear that when he meets with Salazar in London. If he has other concerns regarding Salazar’s search regarding the Dumbledore family’s origins, he doesn’t say. “That’s so very odd. I only remember that Mister Dumbledore, their father, never came back to Godric’s Hollow after leaving one day, and my parents wouldn’t discuss why he departed.”

Salazar finds that intriguing, if unsettling. “Would you now tell me something of their sad tale? I promise I’ll not be airing anyone’s befouled laundry.”

“There isn’t much I could say and be certain of the details, but a few things…” Henry presses his lips together. “Gellert Grindelwald already knew who I was when you introduced us in Nurmengard.”

Salazar raises both eyebrows. “I’d wondered at his lack of curiosity, but assumed he’d been keeping his eyes on the British press.”

“Oh, most likely that, too.” Henry puts his hands into his trouser pockets and looks at the water flowing through St. James Park, which reflects myriad colors in the afternoon sunlight. “In June, when I was five years old, Professor Bathilda Bagshot’s great-nephew came to live with her in Godric’s Hollow. I didn’t know why at the time. I later assumed, given his foreign name and accent, that he might have been trying to become a British citizen.”

“A reasonable assumption,” Salazar says, though Grindelwald never sought citizenship anywhere aside from his birthplace.

“Madam Bagshot hosted a bit of a party for the wizarding families in the area to introduce her great-nephew to the village. When my parents decided to attend, they allowed myself and Rose to accompany them, thinking it the sort of welcoming party meant for children. They were wrong; Gellert Grindelwald was already seventeen, and certainly no child.”

“He terrified you.” It isn’t a guess.

Henry nods. “Very much so, but I was polite. I shook Grindelwald’s hand after greeting Professor Bagshot, who taught history at Hogwarts before retiring to allow Professor Binns to take on the role. The moment I could do so without causing offence, I dashed off to the toilet and scrubbed my hand until it was red and raw, Saul. Seventeen, and Grindelwald was already foul—and as of that party, friends with Albus Dumbledore.”

“That’s how you knew,” Salazar realizes. “That’s why you knew Albus Dumbledore would be the ringer we needed to defeat Grindelwald.”

“At the time, I scarcely recalled it,” Henry says, shooing away an enterprising duck that comes too close, seeking a free meal. “I remembered that Mrs. Dumbledore and the younger sister both died the next year, though I don’t know the cause of their deaths, nor do I remember their funeral services. Perhaps their mother exhausted herself while caring for a young witch who was ill, and then the young girl succumbed to what ailed her. What I did recall in 1945 is that Aberforth was present at that same party, and he didn’t like Gellert Grindelwald. When I asked him, Aberforth was the one to remind me that Albus and Grindelwald had once been friends. Professor Bagshot had been adamant that Grindelwald was in England to turn over a new leaf, that her nephew was a ‘good lad’ who’d prove himself.” Henry sighs. “Grindelwald certainly proved himself, but I doubt she’s proud of him. Anyway, those deaths, and Aberforth not finishing school—that would be the sad tale, and still I feel as if I should be apologizing to their spirits for speaking of it.”

“I don’t think you’ve said anything that would offend a spirit, Henry.” Salazar recalls the name Bagshot. She wrote Hogwarts: A History before the war began, the book that Nizar’s portrait is still advising him not to read. “Albus Dumbledore was certainly not friends with Gellert Grindelwald when he began his campaign.”

“No. Their friendship ended the same month it began, one year later,” Henry says. “Aberforth would not grant me details, and I wouldn’t ask for them, were I you. He made it clear the subject was forbidden. He did say that Grindelwald and Albus’s friendship fell apart because Grindelwald showed no concern or care that their sister had just died. Grindelwald left, but I believe it was their sister’s death that drove the two brothers apart. Aberforth was willing to go to Hogwarts to convince Albus he needed to duel and defeat Grindelwald so we could end the war, but otherwise he wouldn’t speak to his brother. Albus made far too many ‘jokes’ about Aberforth not knowing how to read, and several off-color remarks about goats. It didn’t make me think highly of Albus, though he does well enough as a teacher at Hogwarts. I do respect Albus for his ability to lead the Wizengamot as Chief Warlock, even if I still don’t care for his company.”

Salazar doesn’t think highly of Albus Dumbledore at all, but that isn’t what he needs to say right now. “Thank you for telling me.”

“I trust you, Saul. I know if you’re asking about the Dumbledore family, there must be a reason for it,” Henry replies.

Salazar has to swallow down a lump composed of far too many conflicting emotions. He must say something of honesty; he doesn’t want to lose that trust for foolish reasons. “You and I both know that when Armando Dippet retires or departs from this world, Albus Dumbledore will replace him as Headmaster of Hogwarts.”

Henry pulls a face. “To be quite honest, I try not to think about that if it can be helped.”

Salazar nods in understanding. He’d like to say the same. Instead, he thinks on it far too much.

Just before midnight on Hallowe’en, Salazar Apparates to the top of the Heights of Brae. Then, carefully examining the edge of the mountain sheltering the valley, he Apparates to a bit of flat rock…and then he is looking down at the forest, and at Hogwarts herself. Even at this hour, lights are still burning in the castle’s windows, casting glimmering reflections across the Black Loch.

In a few minutes, it will be 1st November 1965. 1995 is not so distant anymore.

Thirty years, little brother. We’re almost there. Thirty more years.

He Disapparates before he can be tempted to take one step closer. He can’t risk it. Salazar knows his limits, and in this, with Hallowe’en of 1995 now truly in reach…he would enter that castle, and he would not leave.

Salazar can bear another thirty years. He has to and he will, and then he’ll know for certain that every single step has been worth the cost.

Chapter Text

Based on the way Salazar feels when he wakes one morning in January 1968, the year if either going to be very good, or very, very bad. This time, it is only an earthquake that disturbed the earth beneath his feet, but he judges that Sicily is certainly the worse off for it than he is. He pays more attention to the Vietnam War when a battle breaks out in the Khe Sahn region of the Quảng Trị Province, but it seems to forget that battles are meant to end.

Another spill of radiation occurs somewhere to his southeast, making him feel vaguely ill for days. By way of news broadcasts from France, Salazar learns that it was not a localized detonation of a bomb. Instead, a nuclear power plant in Switzerland suffered a critical partial meltdown of its core. For those above the cavern, which is being sealed, the damage is minimal. Beneath Salazar’s feet, the earth feels hot and angry, though not disastrously so.

In the meantime, two submarines sink in the Mediterranean within days of each other, but no country claims credit for the attacks. A second unending battle begins in Vietnam while the other is still raging. British Minister for Magic Norbert “Nobby” Leach suddenly falls ill.

Given the sudden upswing in anger and near-outbreaks of violence in Wizarding Britain against Muggle-born wizards and witches, Salazar doesn’t think it to be a coincidence. Leach is the first Muggle-born minister, and that makes him a target.

“I’ve got to stop watching or reading or listening to the news, or I’ll end up utterly pissed and stay that way for the rest of this year,” Salazar says to Nizar’s portrait. “This is getting to be a bit much.”

“It seems like everything is happening at once, doesn’t it?”

“It does.” Between the protests and police actions, the (justified) rioting, the nuclear events, and the wars, Salazar would very much prefer that everyone please calm the fuck down.

Salazar pays Rufus Scrimgeour a visit at his home. Rufus is a safe name, one his brother never heard. Many others are just beginning their careers in the Ministry, and thus should be avoided as much as possible. While under Polyjuice, Salazar had the opportunity to cross paths with Cornelius Fudge, future Minister for Magic, and was not impressed.

Rufus is a decent host, possibly because his sister Aubrey, her husband Deacon, and their two children live with him in the Scrimgeour House, and thus keep the man civilized. Gods know Rufus wouldn’t be capable of managing it on his own.

Aubrey greets Salazar properly after Rufus manages a grunt of acknowledgement, taking his outer robe when Salazar agrees that it’s a bit too warm to keep it on while indoors. She is just as golden-haired as her brother, but her expression is kinder, with fewer lines painting her skin despite the fact that she’s Rufus’s elder by several years. She also lacks the lionesque appearance that speaks of her brother suffering a bad Transfiguration accident.

“Thank you for your hospitality, Aubrey. How is your family?”

“Oh, it’s no trouble at all, Saul,” Aubrey replies, smiling at him. “As to the family, Deacon is out at the moment, and of course the children are off at Hogwarts. I’ll remember you to them when Deacon comes home and the next letters from Scotland arrive.”

“And my regards to them, as well, then. How is your leg these days, Rufus?”

“Tolerable,” Rufus says. True to his word, the grip on his cane is light, the need for it more a safety measure than true pain today. Salazar didn’t get to witness the injury, only learning afterwards that one of Grindelwald’s followers tried to slice off Rufus’s leg during a skirmish. They were quite surprised when Rufus rolled over and cast a hex so strong he vaporized both legs of his attacker. Salazar has always held an appreciation for that sort of vicious retaliation.

“Today, at least,” Aubrey chimes in, looking fond and frustrated at the same time.

Rufus manages a decent go at manners over the tea that Aubrey provides. “What is it you want, Saul?”

Aubrey huffs out a sigh. “I give up,” she mutters, and leaves the parlor. Rufus gives her an angry, baffled look while Salazar tries not to laugh. It requires a certain temperament to endure Rufus’s company for very long, and Aubrey most often doesn’t have it.

“I’d say that I want you not to drive your sister to madness, but as that is a failing endeavor…” Salazar waits until Rufus turns back to him. “I want to know who you think is poisoning the Minister for Magic.”

Rufus sniffs once and frowns. The lines now marking his face only enhance his resemblance to a lion. “Why do you think the Minister is being poisoned?”

“Because there isn’t a single person in the Ministry in any great hurry to run off to the Prophet to inform them as to what scandalous ailment is felling Minister Leach,” Salazar replies. “You know I’m not stupid. Others aren’t, either. They’re going to realize it soon enough, and then the finger-pointing begins.”

“It’s already begun, just quietly.” Rufus sips at his tea and puts the cup down, disappointed. “I still can’t convince Aubrey that a good coffee service is just as mannerly as tea. Yes, it’s most likely a poison. We don’t know what, and worse, we don’t know how it’s being given to him. His food, drink, and correspondence are secure, and still the poor bastard receives a fresh dose of poison at least once a week. Alastor Moody is Head Auror, and it’s driving the man to raving that our forensics lot is so baffled. Moody is about to suggest to M.L.E. Head Crouch Senior that he should encourage Minister Leach to resign from his post.”

Salazar tries not to pull a face in response. “That will not go over well with Wizarding Britain right now.”

“That bad out on the streets, is it? I hear the reports from the Aurors who go out and listen to that blighter speak, but it seems like the young ones don’t know how to read a crowd anymore,” Rufus says.

“I’ve listened to him often. I recognize fascism when I hear it, Rufus.”

“Aye, I recall.” Rufus barks for a house-elf and tells the elf to replace the tea swill with some decent coffee. He asks Salazar if he wants the same.

Salazar looks at the house-elf, who is clean, dressed well, and unafraid of Rufus’s gruff mannerisms. This is not the way it is meant to be, but better this than what others are capable of doing to Britain’s elves. “Coffee would be fine, and thank you.”

“The Master’s guest is welcome,” the elf replies, Disapparating with a quiet pop of air.

“Never heard him say that before,” Rufus mutters. “Well?” he turns back to Salazar, who is still a bit bemused by the elf’s sense of discretion. “What’s your take on this Lord Voldemort twat?”

“That he’s dangerous. We’re going to see violence soon, if it hasn’t happened already,” Salazar warns him. “If they’re already daring to poison a Muggle-born Minister for Magic, what is stopping them from attacking Muggles? Unless they use specific types of magic, we won’t even know of it.”

“Bloody hell,” Rufus growls. “My work is cut out for me, then.”

By next week, the Ministry decides they’ve had quite enough. Voldemort is banned from giving public speeches in Wizarding Britain. The M.L.E. begins a smart campaign about the decision, calling Voldemort’s fear-mongering another form of Wizarding Nazi fascism that the Ministry won’t stand to see repeated.

Then Minister Leach faints while in the midst of giving a speech to reiterate the Ministry’s decision. The Prophet spins the ban as the desperate call from a feeble man who fears losing his power.

“You. Sodding. Idiots,” Salazar growls when he reads the paper. He crumples it up and tosses it into the fireplace, utterly furious. Amfractus Macmillan took on ownership of the Prophet after his mother’s death last year, and looks to be continuing her habit of printing opinionated drivel and calling it fact. In doing so, he plays directly into Voldemort’s hands.

Minister Leach retires from office with so little fuss it rates scarcely two sentences in the newspaper. A politician in the Wizengamot from a minor family, one the Pure-bloods consider neutral, is elected the new Minister for Magic by overwhelming majority. Eugenia Jenkins reminds Salazar quite a bit of a United States First Lady: dressed to impress with a perfect smile, ready to be the backdrop or proper escort at any occasion for any reason.

When Squibs Rights groups manifest in a mirror to the Civil Rights marches occurring in the Muggle world, Minister Jenkins proves her smile can be stern. Pure-bloods loyal to Voldemort protest her apparent favoritism of allowing one group to speak in public while banning another. Jenkins tells all of Wizarding Britain that a group who is not preaching intolerance still has a right to be heard.

The Pure-bloods backing Voldemort, and others who have hidden their allegiance until now, intercept the Squibs during their third march in Diagon Alley. All it takes is one cast spell, and suddenly the entirety of the Alley is rioting. Pure-bloods are trying to hex the Squibs, the Squibs have clubs and improvised gunpowder bombs, and the shopkeepers and clerks just want everyone to get the hell away from their shops.

Minister Jenkins doesn’t hesitate to send in the whole of the M.L.E.’s assortment of Hit Wizards, Hit Witches, and the Aurors to restore order in Diagon Alley. Salazar decides to Disapparate away from the chaos before he gets hit with a spell or an explosive device.

“Bloody hell,” Salazar gasps out, yanking the Invisibility Cloak from his head and slumping over his own chair. He’s never liked a riot. A battle is at least predictable in its madness. “He instigated the entire thing. The Squib Rights movement, the march. All of it.”

“Which part? I’ve never even heard of a Squib Rights March!” Nizar’s portrait complains.

“Voldemort. He went among the Squibs and encouraged them to march against Wizarding Britain because of the opportunity it would create. Pure-bloods lifted wands against those they consider lesser, even though many of the Squibs are Pure-bloods themselves. Voldemort is encouraging his lot to learn how to go to war.”

“He’s teaching them how to fight their own people.” Nizar’s portrait sounds thoughtful. “I wonder if there was a real Squib Rights movement, and he co-opted it.”

“I’ve no idea. Everything happened so quickly this month, little brother. There wasn’t a publicly known movement, and then there was. There were no marches, and now there are.”

The arrest lists in the Prophet the next day are impressive, though a disproportionate number of Squibs are listed—grouped separately to distinguish them from “proper” wizards and witches. The list of arrested Pure-bloods is rather short. Minister for Magic Jenkins dresses down the Pure-bloods for starting the riot, using scathing terminology that leaves no doubt that she considers their actions to be the equivalent of misbehaving children.

The rebuttal quote from Voldemort is chilling. Where Jenkins chastises, Voldemort sounds conciliatory, as if violence against the rest of Wizarding Britain is the last thing he wants. Salazar reads it aloud so that Nizar can hear it. “Squibs are wizards and witches denied magic, but many of the Squibs who marched in Diagon Alley are Pure-bloods. Pure-blooded Squibs can produce fully magical wizards and witches, yet the foolish would attack them and be rid of them. This is not the aim of the Knights of Walpurgis, and I will be discussing it with those who gather under that banner.

“Well. That’s fucking terrifying,” Nizar’s portrait offers. “Voldemort spent eight years setting up his lines of strings, and now he’s starting to pull on them. It was too late when no one had stopped him by 1964, let alone now.”

Salazar nods and finishes reading the relevant quotes. “Reporter Teleford asked the Lord Voldemort what the goals of the Knights of Walpurgis really are. Voldemort is quoted as saying that their goals are the peaceful reestablishment of proper order within Wizarding Britain, with full recognition given to the Pure-blooded families whose support maintains the vital function and societal protections provided by the Ministry of Magic.

 

*          *          *          *

 

Salazar deliberately avoids Wizarding Britain for the rest of that winter and the whole of spring unless it’s a delivery of the Daily Prophet or the newly begun Witch Weekly. The latter is often just as worthless as the first, but sometimes mixed in with all the nonsense is useful information. The only other bit of Wizarding Britain he wants to know about is Henry and the family, but an innocuous letter sent by Owl Post, written in Euphemia’s graceful hand, reassures him that all is well.

Voldemort and his followers have fallen quiet again. It’s a quiet that Salazar doesn’t trust, but with the public gatherings ended, he doesn’t yet have the means to infiltrate Voldemort’s meetings. He’ll find a way, but he knows it will not be this year, nor the next. The water reflects images of fighting wizards and witches, but he can see by the clothing worn by a few glimpsed Muggles that there will be another significant change in fashion before the violence begins.

At a Muggle record shop, he listens to what the clerk is playing on the turntable and ends up purchasing an album by a band called Pink Floyd. He’s heard of them before, but wasn’t impressed. This one is called Saucerful of Secrets, and it’s no longer devoted to the very specific sound that bands seemed to be required to uphold for the last decade.

Curious, Salazar finds the newest releases from groups he’s sampled in earlier years. The Rolling Stones have Beggar’s Banquet, and the very first track is proof that other bands are breaking away from a mold that had become so very irritating. It’s a trend that continues among older bands and new ones. The music for the year, at least, looks to be promising.

When color broadcasts began last year, Salazar exchanged the black-and-white television for a color version of the device. Watching programs in color is…odd. It seems too real, like images divined through warped quartz.

It makes trying to watch any sort of news broadcast even worse than before. Bloody. Hell.

If he spends a lot of 1968 getting pissed on a nightly basis because he made the mistake of watching the evening news, that’s nobody’s business but his own. He won’t have the luxury of drinking once Voldemort’s war begins, and he can’t help everyone. He can’t focus on everything, everywhere, or he’ll end up on the wrong end of some future Death Eater’s wand. Just because he can’t die of it doesn’t mean he wishes to experience torture, or the pain of the Killing Curse.

One morning of perusing the announcements in the Prophet causes his jaw to fall open. “Algernon Longbottom wed?

Nizar’s portrait shakes off his interest in the current bit of nonsense on the telly. “Willingly?”

“Perhaps. Or perhaps Harfang and Callidora issued an ultimatum on the matter.” Salazar truly cannot see Algie Longbottom willingly fathering children. “Wed to Enid Audrey Fenwick. I’ve no idea who that is, though the announcement states that she is a sister of Benjamin Fenwick, whose son just began his first year at Hogwarts. Remind me to have it out with the whole of Wizarding Britain at some point regarding their collective inability to name children. This young one is named Benjy.” It isn’t even short for Benjamin. That is the boy’s full name. Benjy Fenwick. Salazar almost despairs of this island.

Nizar shrugs. “There are worse things to be called. You know, like Freak.”

Salazar scowls. “Fair point.”

In December, the United States jumps ahead of the space race by developing a Saturn V rocket. That massive thing grants them the ability to send a craft into orbit with such strength that the Apollo 8 mission crosses the void of space to orbit the moon ten times.

One of the results of the journey is a photo of what they dub an “Earth-rise.” The picture is amazing, magnificent enough to steal his breath. “Imagine what Wizarding Britain could do if they would pull their heads out of their arses long enough to consider how much is truly possible,” Salazar murmurs.

“Maybe when the majority of Wizarding Britain stops thinking that Muggles are quaint,” Nizar’s portrait drawls.

“Don’t try to depress me. I’ve enough reasons of my own.” Salazar regards the reflective glass of the telly, able to see part of Nizar’s portrait and frame against the blank screen. “They’re going to succeed, aren’t they?”

“I think so, but I’m not actually certain. I didn’t get to read that far into the book before my last year of primary school ended, and after that?” Nizar sighs. “It’ll be nice to finally find out what happens.”

That goal, the idea of witnessing a human land on another astronomical body, gives Salazar a reason to grit his teeth and endure the fact that Voldemort’s war is preceded by the world deciding to go entirely mad. The year 1969 is not much better than 1968.

There are good things, of course. An artificial heart is implanted in a patient that keeps the patient alive for nearly five days. No one assassinates or poisons Minister for Magic Jenkins, whose career has settled into mediocracy after the conclusion of the now-dubbed Squib Riots, which makes it sound as if the Squibs were at fault from the start. Salazar lost his tolerance for Jenkins after she began referring to the riots in the same manner. Voldemort is still utterly, eerily silent, even if his Pure-blooded followers remain very public in their newspaper-printed opinions.

Salazar hears the news first from Elizabetha, who visits him briefly. He reads of it in the newspaper the next day when the obituary and death notice is printed by the family. Muriel Prewett’s annoyingly neutral sister-in-law, Isabel Rose Grace (yet another cousin to that lot from Dover) died of unspecified health complications at the age of seventy-eight. The funeral was almost a skirmish between two different factions of the same family. Muriel’s youngest brother, Alfred, is firmly in Voldemort’s court, as is his wife Frances and her Carrow relatives. Ignatius, Lucretia, and her son Henry were officially disowned that same day by Ignatius’s parents for choosing to stand with Muriel, his newly widowed uncle William, older cousin William Henry and his wife Geneva, the Prewett twins Gideon and Fabian, and newlyweds Molly and Arthur Weasley. The rest of the Prewetts, even Alfred’s young twins, are already waiting in line to become Voldemort’s future Death Eaters.

“I’m surprised they’d not done so already,” Salazar says of disinherited Squib Henry. The young man is now twenty-two and entering into a career as some sort of accountant. There are too many titles within titles involved for Salazar to want to make sense of that particular company’s infrastructure, but the salary is excellent and Henry Prewett loves the work, which is all Lucretia and Ignatius ever wanted for their son—his happiness. The fact that he is now dating the witch Joy Dunbar, who doesn’t care a whit that Henry is a Squib, is merely a pleasant bonus in Lucretia’s eyes.

The successful flights of Apollo 9 and Apollo 10 occur, meant to test the readiness of Apollo 11 for a true landing mission, which launches on 16th July. Any sort of landing is stated as to not occur until the 20th—as long as nothing goes wrong.

“Will you please, please, please stop pacing?” Nizar’s portrait demands in annoyance after the third day of ceaseless televised reporting of the flight. “For fuck’s sake, go to sleep!”

“I’ve been capable of feeling it every time humanity has tried to destroy themselves with nuclear radiation and explosions since 1945. I’ll not stop thinking on this landing anytime soon. You go to sleep, if you think yourself capable!”

“Oh, for gods’ sake—Isis!” Nizar yells. “You talk to him!”

“Men are going to land on the moon.” Isis glares at Nizar. “I’m not sleeping, either!”

Salazar grimaces and decides to spend the rest of the night perched upon his own roof. Ninety percent of the time, Isis and Nizar’s portraits get along fine, just as they had when Isis was alive. The other ten percent of the time, it’s wiser to let them have at it.

It’s a clear and cool summer night. Salazar stares up at the stars overheard, and wonders if he’ll live long enough to ever experience what it’s like to hover above the boundaries of Earth’s gravity.

The next day, nearing four o’clock in the morning, Salazar watches a man exit a metal pod on another world and realizes he never once thought he’d ever see anything like this. “It’s like viewing science fiction, isn’t it?”

“A bit,” Nizar’s portrait agrees, but he’s gone very quiet. Isis, despite her dislike of the telly, has done nothing but watch everything happen in intense silence. “Salazar?”

“I needed this,” Salazar whispers. “I needed it so very much.” He needed to see that outside of Britain, outside of all the violence and death happening around the world, something good has come of it all. Muggles will recover from their temporary stumble, keep going, keep inventing. People from all over the world are doing exactly as he is, watching or listening to this moment, this live broadcast from the distant body of the moon. A singular event connects them all. He can feel it, so strongly, how many will desire to connect again for reasons much like this.

It’s a reminder that Voldemort does not win the war he is about to start. Then—then. Twenty-five years, eleven months, and ten days from now, he’ll visit a home in Little Whinging, finally performing the first step that will ensure Voldemort’s defeat.

Just days after the moon landing, news from Spain gives Salazar some measure of hope for his country. Francisco Franco must be feeling his age as well as the necessity of presenting the appearance of restoring the monarchy. He names Juan Carlos, Infante Juan’s eldest son, as his Heir. Juan Carlos is dubbed Prince of Spain rather than Prince of Asturias, but for the first time in decades, that chiming demand from the throne is lessened.

It’s annoying to discover that there are no copies and no intention to release the Pink Floyd track that was played during those days of the Apollo 11 broadcast. The band releases two other albums that year, but both lack the song. At least by November, David Bowie has released “Space Oddity” on a full album. “Knew you bloody well had potential,” Salazar murmurs after listening to the rest of the record’s offerings, which are excellent.

Listening to musicians discover their own distinct sounds has served so often as a welcome distraction during the past two years. There are also a number of new groups and musicians: Fleetwood Mac, Led Zeppelin, Jimmy Hendrix, and the Doors. Blind Faith manages one entire album before falling apart. Judas Priest gains his attention for being local to the Midlands, but break up in 1970 before they even manage a recording.[1] Black Sabbath is…different, but Salazar isn’t opposed to different. He just thinks their lean towards “evil” theatrics is a bit ridiculous. They’re young; they have no idea what true evil is really like.

Mentioning that he doesn’t care for Deep Purple in the wrong place chances him being tarred and feathered. He can’t even explain why he doesn’t like them, but they simply never appeal. A group who plays in London named Queen is keeping his attention, though. Like David Bowie early in the 1960s, Salazar feels like they have potential.

The Apollo 13 mission almost ends in disaster. Listening to the broadcasts of the American space agency figuring out how to get three men home without anyone dying in space is almost enough to give Salazar a fucking nervous breakdown.

They succeed. It’s celebrated. Then events return to violence as usual.

Salazar buries his nose in music and published books of Muggle fiction just to cope. He cannot be everywhere, he cannot stick his nose into every literal bloody blunder made, especially when he’s already sticking his nose into a magical blunder. Waiting for that magical blunder to begin might drive him ’round the bend, but at least that is a goal he can attain.

He spends June and July of that year nauseated to the point of being unable to eat. Someone is detonating nuclear devices again—in the air, based on his lack of burning feet—but the radioactive buildup in the earth happens, regardless. “Stop making me hate you,” Salazar mutters in the direction of the Channel, wishing France would cease trying to learn how to vaporize things more efficiently.

An absolutely massive festival is held on the Isle of Wight in August. As he often doesn’t sleep, Salazar can listen to every single moment unless the bloody acoustics fail—and unfortunately, that happens often enough to incite the crowd to anger. He missed the previous two festivals on the isle, and would like to be able to listen to this one, please bloody well shut up.

“You’re in a mood,” Nizar’s portrait observes when Salazar is trying to cope with yet another frustration.

“I’ve been in a mood for nine centuries. I’m not certain how you failed to notice!” Martial law has been declared in Gipuzkoa while others of his father’s people are on trial for terrorism. Salazar wants to kill something, but he can’t off and kill the man responsible for fucking with his home. History and Divination both scream the warning at him, and for a brief time, Salazar hates his own talents. What fucking good are they?

Two Muggle bodies are found in the village square of Little Hangleton early the next year. The radio news proclaims it the work of an unknown killer, possibly a serial killer like the infamous Zodiac Killer in America. They’re baffled by the lacking cause of death, though they report both victims had numerous fractures throughout their bodies.

Cruciatu, Salazar thinks, feeling intense pity for the victims even as he mentally shifts gears away from the avoidance he’s preferred when it comes to Wizarding Britain’s nonsense. The Wizarding Wireless never reports on the murders, nor does the Daily Prophet. None of them yet recognize the significance of those murders, except perhaps Albus Dumbledore. The Chief Warlock is sanctioned by the rest of the Wizengamot for trying to bring the murders to Wizarding attention during a session, though no member of the Wizengamot seems willing to vote Dumbledore out of the Chief Warlock’s chair.

“Why does no one else remember that Voldemort and Tom Marvolo Riddle are the same fucking person?”

Nizar’s portrait shrugs. “He wanted everyone to forget, so they did.”

Salazar lowers that day’s newspaper and stares at Nizar. “An enchantment.”

“Or a curse,” Nizar suggests.

“No. Not a curse. That would be noticed more easily. Curses have consequences. An enchantment, though, especially against the memory of a name—this island would like that. It would remind the land of when the Green Folk dominated her affairs.” Not that Salazar can find evidence of either, but it remains the most sound theory they have.

The number of strange and inexplicable deaths rises. Muggle Britain decides it’s the work of terrorists from Northern Ireland. They’re correct in that the deaths are caused by terrorists, but Northern Ireland has its own difficulties at the moment which are being exacerbated by their accusers. In the specific instances of those tortured to death by Cruciatu, the English are most certainly blaming the wrong people.

Many more die in Northern Ireland and other places because of that mistake, and because of Wizarding Britain’s refusal to tell Muggle Britain the truth about the murders. The Wizengamot eventually admits that someone is murdering Muggles after first torturing them with Cruciatu, but insists it is the work of a lone witch or wizard with a grudge, not the Pure-blooded political faction that is again demanding its right to dominate all aspects of Wizarding life in Britain. This time, Minister Jenkins is not able to render them silent. Discord in the Wizengamot grows between that faction and the few intelligent Pure-bloods among them. Potter, McKinnon, Abbott, Bones, Bagnold, Doge, Ollivander, Sinistra, Prewett, Shafiq, Marchbanks, Longbottom, Scrimgeour, Fortescue, Goldstein, Moody, Weasley, Crouch, Fudge, Pryce, Ross, and Dumbledore are only twenty-two voices. Greengrass, Bainbridge, Macmillan, Cooper, Bluebell, Scamander, Jugson, Max, Slughorn, Pettigrew, Westenberg, Zabini, Shacklebolt, Blishwick, Ogden, Fleet, Dunbar, Smith, Fenwick, and Eastchurch are maintaining neutrality, but Salazar knows that Fleet, Dunbar, Pettigrew, Eastchurch, Smith, Blishwick, and Greengrass aren’t neutral at all, merely biding their time.

Even if the neutral families who aren’t fools spoke up against the Pure-blood faction, they’re outnumbered: Yaxley, Derrick, Travers, Fawley, Rookwood, Mulciber, Talbot, Bulstrode, Frobisher, Montague, Carrow, Flint, Gibbon, Rosier, Hobart, Macnair, Pucey, Burke, Wilkes, Nott, Parkinson, Rowle, Malfoy, Grace, Crabbe, Selwyn, Davis, Bole, Black, Peebles, Goyle, Turpin, Runcorn, Lestrange, Warrington, Bletchley, Rothschild, and Avery have made it clear that they’re in favor of Pure-blood domination, even if they will never publicly or specifically say so. That does not yet take into account how many Pure-blooded families lacking Wizengamot seats also support Voldemort’s ideals. That group also vastly outnumbers the families lacking seats who would rather see Voldemort set ablaze.

“Wow. The Wizengamot used to be crowded,” Nizar’s portrait observes.

Salazar sighs and tosses his crumpled-up newspaper over his shoulder. “Thank you for the warning. How empty is it after the war?”

“I never saw a Wizengamot meeting, but I always had the impression from the Prophet that there aren’t that many people at all.”

“Fabulous.”

Henry brings Salazar his memory of Iola Mae Black Hitchens’s funeral after her death in July of 1971. It includes a memory of speaking to Iola a few days before her death, on her birthday. Iola was happily cackling over the fact that she’d accomplished her goal of outliving her bastard brother Sirius Black I, and by a goodly number of years, at that. She died peacefully in her sleep at the age of one hundred nine. Her funeral was attended by her two surviving children, daughter-in-law, four grandchildren and their spouses, and seven great-grandchildren.

Arcturus Black III attended the funeral with far more alertness in his gaze than Salazar had previously witnessed, surrounded by the family provided to him by Lucretia and Ignatius Prewett. Joy Dunbar and Henry Prewett are bloody married already. Dorea was finally reunited with her older brother Marius Black, who visited from Belgium for the occasion of his aunt’s death. He is in the company of his Belgian wife, Amandine Maes, and two children named Jacinthe Maes Black and Gabin Marius Black. Salazar recognizes Marius at once for having typical Black features, but otherwise being entirely unfamiliar.

Even Druella Rosier Black comes to the funeral, though she attends alone with set, angry lines on her face. Her father-in-law made the news the previous month by publicly disowning and disinheriting Andromeda Black, Druella’s eldest daughter, for the crime of marrying a Muggle-born named Edward Tonks. Salazar was immediately fascinated when he first heard the news last year, as Andromeda’s new spouse is a Black half-English, half-Andalusian wizard whose Muggle parents raised Edward Tonks in the Midlands. It’s obvious that Druella was still not pleased, but her husband Cygnus will always fall in line with his father’s decrees.

Andromeda wasn’t the only Black to suffer such a fate. Pollux Black finally decided Septimus Weasley was too much of a Blood Traitor to bear, and disowned Cedrella as well. Her sister Callidora has been publicly daring Pollux to do the same to her, wanting to know if he is willing to risk the wrath of the Noble House of Longbottom. In response, Charis Black Crouch publicly disowned both of her own sisters for their “improper” marriages, standing on Pollux’s side of the family line. That must’ve come as a shock to her husband Caspar, who sits in the Crouch Wizengamot seat and espouses tolerance instead of bigotry.

Sixteen-year-old Phineas Burke stayed with Algernon, Augusta, and Robert Longbottom during the funeral service. They quietly laughed themselves breathless as Alphard Black, who finally and sensibly moved out of his parents’ townhouse in Islington, informed them that Pollux Black tried to self-immolate from sheer rage at the idea of so many disowned Black-blooded Half-bloods, Blood Traitors, and Muggle-borns clustered in the same place for Iola’s funeral. Thirteen-year-old Frank Longbottom tried to sink into the earth out of embarrassment at his parents’ behavior. It’s a good memory to receive, a balm against what is to come.

Voldemort’s people continue to attack only Muggles. A murder or three here, a burnt house or strangely damaged village there. No rhyme or reason, no pattern. No one in Wizarding Britain has yet said anything of Death Eaters or Dark Marks, and no glowing symbol has been cast over any of their work. Salazar only manages to intercept one group by way of Divination, which spares only a single village from a night’s torture. None confront him; before he can even take note of their faces, they Disapparate.

“He doesn’t want them to be caught or seen. Not yet,” Salazar murmurs over a glass of wine that evening. It’s the only alcohol he’ll now allow himself. Perhaps later it will be safer to imbibe, but not right now.

“Voldemort likes attention,” Nizar’s portrait says.

Salazar nods. “He’ll want it public. He’ll want a spectacle.”

“He wants bodies on the ground, you mean.”

“Yes, little brother. I’m aware.”

 

*          *          *          *

 

1st September 1971 is a day that Salazar has been looking forward to for a multitude of reasons. He arrives at King’s Cross Station, crosses the invisible barrier for Platform 9 ¾, and hides under his brother’s Invisibility Cloak while waiting for everyone else to appear. Hogwarts announced by way of the Prophet and Witch Weekly that Hogwarts would see a record-breaking 305 students this year, so there is bound to be a crowd.

Salazar stews over that number while families and students cross over the barrier, enter the station by Floo, or Apparate directly onto the platform. That many students is a low number, not record-breaking, and he’d like to break a blackboard over someone’s head for whatever caused Hogewáþ’s student attendance to drop so fucking much. He can’t blame the war, not when Wizarding Britain won’t even acknowledge that it’s already begun. This must be something else, but that is information he cannot find by speaking to parents or students or Ministry officials. That will require setting foot in the castle herself. As Salazar cannot yet do such a thing, he sulks. It’s an effective use of his time as any.

His attention is caught by pale skin, black eyes, and stark black hair. Severus Snape is still quite easy to recognize, but he isn’t followed onto the platform by either of his foul parents. Instead, a ginger-haired girl follows after Severus Snape, her eyes wide, her smile delighted…and her eyes are a brilliant, shining emerald green.

“Wow, Sev!” the girl exclaims, grabbing hold of the boy’s hand without a moment’s hesitation. “It’s just like you said!”

“I’d never lie to you, Lily,” the boy says in response. He looks a bit smug, but there is genuine, easy affection between them.

Salazar isn’t ashamed of the fact that he gapes at the pair for a moment. The ginger girl is followed onto the platform by two aging individuals who he assumes are either parents or grandparents, as well as a sour-faced twig of a girl, perhaps two years older than Lily. She has dark blonde hair and blue-grey-lavender eyes filled with resentment.

Lily of the unknown surname and Severus Snape live in the same fucking village. Salazar resists the urge to bash his head against the nearest brick wall.

Please let that family have moved to Cokeworth after Lily turned five years of age, Salazar thinks in near despair, watching eleven-year-old Severus do a fine job of helping to guide the baffled Muggle family across the platform until they have a very good place to observe the train, as well as to watch those arriving after them. For gods’ sake, Salazar cannot possibly be that bad at spying.

He uses the Cloak to slip closer, deftly avoiding stampeding children and one escaped Kneazle, who is being chased by a harried-looking mother and her very small son. “I’m glad our daughters met you a few years back, Severus,” the old man is saying. That would be Lily and Petunia’s father, then, and the woman is likely to be their mother. “If we hadn’t moved house back to Cokeworth after my retirement from Daw Mill, I have no idea what we would’ve done to find this place.”

“It’s nothing, Mister Evans,” Severus says, dropping his head so that his hair hides his face. “Besides, you’re all smart. It wouldn’t have been that hard.”

Evans. Their name is bloody Evans!

Salazar gnashes his teeth in frustration. That common name certainly did its job of thwarting his efforts to locate Nizar’s biological mother.

“It isn’t nothing, young man,” the woman corrects gently. “Thank you very much.”

“Yeah. Mum’s right, and so is Dad,” Lily says. Severus nods, ducking his head even further to hide his face. That isn’t a trait of shyness; that is a trait of hiding, of avoidance. Children who are praised tend to smile, to show pleasure. Severus Snape looks as if he would rather be eaten by a dragon. Salazar’s opinion of Eileen and Tobias Snape, already lurking on the ground, goes off to drown itself in the Mariana Trench.

Salazar judges the ages of Lily’s parents based on their appearance, as well as the latest a Muggle mother can safely bear a child if her monthlies have not already ceased. If Lily, the younger sister, was born last, then the latest age Salazar would dare name is forty-five—and that is truly dangerous, not unless the Muggle giving birth is fortunate enough to have a magical healer nearby. Lily is now eleven of a certainty to be standing on this platform, ready for her first year of Hogwarts; Mrs. Evans would be, at most, fifty-six years old. Meanwhile, if her age is comparative to her husband, then that is the look of a man who has lived and worked a hard life. His expression, though, is very kind. If it is toil that has aged him rather than illness, then Salazar would wager that Mr. Evans did so for the sake of his family.

“Freak,” Petunia hisses at Severus. It’s obvious that the man and his wife don’t hear her, but Lily and Severus do. Severus flips off Petunia with two fingers in a way that is visible to no one but Petunia Evans, which only makes her sour-faced resentment blossom in full.

Unfortunately, the lad doesn’t get to stand with the Evans family for long. “There you are!” Eileen Snape hisses, grasping hold of Severus’s thin shoulder and marching him away from the Evans until they’re standing in their own clear space on the platform. Many of the Pure-bloods are pretending the woman doesn’t exist, while Eileen’s pinched, angry glare keeps anyone else from wanting to approach at all. “I told you to wait for me, you little brat.”

“They needed help,” Severus mumbles. Then, like it’s being dragged out of him, “Sorry, Mother.”

“The Muggles do not need your help, or anyone else’s help. They don’t belong here, anyway,” Eileen snaps. “You should take your father as a prime example of why they’re not to be trusted. I’ve asked you not to associate with that filth. Have I not?”

“No.” Severus is biting at his lip, but defiance colors his voice. “You’ve never asked. You’ve just told. But you also tell me I’m capable of making up my own mind, so I did and I have. Lay off, Mother.”

“Well—I absolutely never,” Eileen gasps in fury. She proceeds to completely ignore her son…to her son’s apparent relief. He returns his attention to the Evans family, so Salazar does, also.

“It’s certainly…well, old-fashioned,” Mrs. Evans is saying of the train. “Perhaps a bit twee.”

Lily tilts her head at the train engine they’re both regarding. “As long as it pulls the train, it doesn’t matter very much, does it Mum?”

“I suppose not,” Mrs. Evans agrees. “Malcolm?”

“Some of the old steam engines are rolling along just fine, still. No harm in it, Jane. I think it’s quaint, like those quills and inkpots and scrolls Hogwarts is so insistent on,” Malcolm Evans replies.

Lily, meanwhile, takes another glance at her sister and pulls her off to one side, leaving their parents to admire the train. “I’m sorry, Tuney, I’m sorry! Listen—” Lily catches her sister’s hand and holds on tight, though Petunia Evans is doing a valiant job of trying to get away. Despite being taller and older, Petunia is thin and possibly weighs about as much as a damp rag, so Lily has no trouble keeping hold. “Maybe once I’m there—no, listen, Tuney! Maybe once I’m there, I’ll be able to go to Professor Dumbledore and persuade him to change his mind!”

“I don’t—want—to—go!” Petunia declares, which is one of the greatest lies that Salazar has ever heard voiced. When Petunia’s face wasn’t set in sour displeasure, she was gazing at the train with an expression of pure longing.

Petunia finally succeeds in freeing her hand. “You think I want to go to some stupid castle, and learn to be a—a—” Her gaze whips around the platform. “—you think I want to be a—a freak?”

Salazar finds himself staring again. Petunia Evans Dursley starts her vitriol while young, then. That isn’t the slightest bit reassuring, especially when her younger sister’s emerald eyes well up with tears. “I’m not a freak,” Lily says. “That’s a horrible thing to say.”

“That’s where you’re going.” Petunia seems to be warming to her new narrative. “A special school for freaks! You and that Snape boy. Weirdos, that’s what you two are. It’s good you’re being separated from normal people. It’s for our safety,” she sniffs.

I hate you already, Salazar decides. He isn’t fond of hating children, but Petunia is thirteen years old, not three, or seven, or even eleven. Petunia Evans is capable of understanding exactly what sort of hurt she’s causing, and she’s enjoying every moment.

Lily glances back at their parents, who have taken up conversation with a Welsh couple next to them—bloody Lyall Lupin, Salazar realizes. Malcolm Evans has no idea he’s speaking to a wizard, not when Lupin took the trouble to dress properly for London, as did his wife, Hope. Their son Remus is tall for his age, but his height only emphasizes that the poor lad is gaunt and appears to be exhausted. Despite the sun that tanned his skin and brightened his blond hair, Remus Lupin looks as if a stiff breeze could send him tumbling arse over teakettle. Salazar feels badly for the lad, as the full moon is only four more days away.

It also frustrates him anew that he can’t find record of the old lycanthropy potion, and that includes the resource of his brother’s portrait. Galiena had taken over her own brewing of the potion at least a decade before the 1017 portrait was created; Nizar’s portrait-based memory was only updated once after its creation, and that was also in 1017. No matter what they’ve tried, the old formula is not succeeding. Until Nizar is free of that fucking canvas, there is nothing Salazar can do for any werewolf.

Lily, it seems, is not above firing back. When she gathers herself and speaks again, Salazar turns to find her glaring at Petunia. “You didn’t think it was such a freak’s school when you wrote to the headmaster and begged him to take you.”

Petunia turns bright red. “Beg? I didn’t beg!”

Nor do you deny it. It’s the lack of denial that intrigues Salazar, given the vitriol she just spewed.

“I saw his reply,” Lily says, the fire already calming itself. “It was very kind.”

Then Salazar’s attention is caught by the arrival of the Potter family, and he misses the rest of their hissed conversation. Henry, Elizabetha, Monty, and Euphemia all decided to come to the station with James for his first trip to Hogwarts. He’s surprised Charles and Dorea didn’t join them, but as they remain childless, perhaps it was not a trip the two could bear.

Monty’s hair is not quite as wild as it used to be, though he’s collected a few strands of silver at the temples. He is also not using that ridiculous hair potion, thank the gods. Monty has spent time in the sun at some point recently, and picked up a stronger bronze cast to his skin that highlights his parentage. His robes are a mirror to his father’s, long and black, with tan jacket, trousers, and a dark green shirt beneath—or possibly that is a black shirt made from an interesting batch of dye, given the purple and blue that Salazar is seeing in the threads. Without saying a word, Monty is telling everyone present that he is his father’s Heir in name as well as beliefs.

Euphemia’s hair is still solid black, braided and coiled around her head in near-Grecian elegance. She has a few lines at the edges of her eyes, but is still in excellent health—Salazar refused to stop sending Restorative Potions to her, even if they had to become anonymous sendings. Her sea-green silk robes, intermixed with yellow and pink-violet threads, are a close match to her eyes.

Elizabetha walks like a queen, and dresses like one, also. She’s wearing a sari over a bejeweled Edwardian-styled tea dress that was common in India at the turn of the century, a creation of two cultures that were trying to mesh and clash at the same time. She is definitely using Monty’s hair tonic, given that her hair lies in sleek perfection. Even though her unpinned hair is liberally striped with grey, and she wears only flat woven sandals upon her feet, Elizabetha still makes almost everyone around her appear drab.

Henry is seventy-eight years old, and in Muggle terms, he almost looks it. Over the past five years, his hair has gone entirely grey with no variations left within the strands; its only other color comes from reflected light. His skin is wreathed by lines of laughter and age; he’s now relying on golden-rimmed spectacles at all times instead of just the occasional need of them for reading. Monty has a pair of round, silver-wrapped spectacles, but still rubs at them in the manner of someone who isn’t used to them. James’s glasses are just like his father’s—or perhaps it’s the opposite that’s true.

Aside from his glasses, James Potter’s resemblance to his father and grandmother is evident in his hair, a wild and curling black disaster that seems to get wilder as they come further out onto the platform. James walks with his chin up, his shoulders back, proud of who he is, where he came from, and where he is going. He immediately reminds Salazar of a smug, arrogant upstart, and that is not the best sort of beginning. Euphemia and Monty would refuse to raise someone like Lucius Malfoy, but Salazar also knows that James Potter has been sheltered for almost the whole of his life due to constant, dire threats made against the family. Sheltered can often mean spoiled, even if it’s unintentional.

Please do not go to school and act like a complete prick, Salazar silently begs the boy. Nizar’s portrait is already going to attempt imploding after he hears about the friendship between Severus Snape and Lily Evans.

Before Salazar can get any closer, the train whistle’s first warning echoes through the station. Salazar winces and rubs at his ear, thinking on how much he didn’t miss that sound as this sort of steam engine has been slowly retired from general service. The Potter family was riding the edge of being fashionably late; they’re one of the last families to arrive at the station. Salazar steps back again, finding a brick column to lean against that will help people to flow around him rather than run him down.

Peter Pettigrew boards the train. One of the young McKinnon girls. A Ratier boy and a Gibbons girl. James Potter charges forward after giving his family a proper farewell, possibly warned by his parents that it’s best to find yourself a compartment early if you want a good seat for the ride. The Black family appears and disappears so quickly it’s hard to imagine they were there at all, but a black-haired, pale-skinned youth with the Black family grey eyes is leaping to board the train. That would be Sirius Black III, then. He resembles Dorea more than he resembles his parents, which is a kindness for the boy. Severus Snape and Lily Evans board together. Neither Salazar nor Mr. and Mrs. Evans miss it when Severus and Lily return to hand-holding, with Severus in the lead; Petunia, her back deliberately turned on the train, doesn’t notice, nor does she see her parents’ approval of the act. Eileen Snape must have left the moment it was time to board the train, given she’s nowhere to be seen.

A flock of ginger-haired Prewetts of various ages fly by. A near-adult female Bones student and a very small brother Bones, likely a first-year, board the train, followed shortly afterwards by another Bones girl—that one is definitely a cousin, not a sibling. One of the Jugson twins trots along, muttering under his breath.

Bellatrix Black saunters by, trailed by a lovesick Ingrid Nott, Martinus Flint, the other Jugson twin, and Quintin Carrow. Fortunately for everyone else’s sanity, this is her last year of Hogwarts attendance, else Salazar would have considered doing something to sabotage it. Lucius Malfoy and Narcissa Black approach and board the train together, apparently intent on making the most of the marriage already arranged between them.

Monty had not appreciated Salazar’s letter regarding the public announcement, which was a long effort devoted to the concept of I told you so. Dorea wrote to Salazar on the family’s behalf, saying it wasn’t polite to mock her great-niece’s unfortunate position. Salazar is unrepentant; it is not his fault that Narcissa Black insists on acting like her grandparents.

A Derrick boy keeps his head ducked, shoulders hunched, as he runs for the train. Then it’s the Lestrange twins, who radiate danger and foulness. A Runcorn, an Avery, a Mulciber, yet another Jugson, another Rosier, another Avery, a Montague. Hopkirk, McLaggen, Fenwick, Parkinson, Vanity, Fawley, Lovegood, MacDonald, a Max girl, Macnair, another Fawley, two more bloody Carrows, another sodding Rosier, a McLaggen, a frantic Ollivander, a Burke, a Crouch—Salazar quickly loses track of students as they swarm the train. Frank Longbottom darts by, still looking a great deal like his father and uncle. Remus Lupin waits until the swarm is past before he boards the train, but at a much more sedate pace. He would look calm to anyone who didn’t know his gait was caused by pain.

The moment the train is away from the station, with the last echoes of departing students fading away, Salazar’s instincts sit up and take immediate notice. It’s far too silent. He leaves the safety of the column and glances around. There are plenty of Muggle families about, Half-blood parents, and Blood Traitor-dubbed Pure-bloods, but everyone who supports Voldemort is gone. Every single one of them.

Shit.

Salazar doesn’t wait for confirmation, or try to weigh the pros and cons of who should and should not be saved. His priority has always and unashamedly been to concern himself with family first unless his family is perfectly capable of handling things on their own—but Henry and Elizabetha are getting older. Euphemia hates fighting. Monty is the only one of the four that is still likely to be good with a wand in battle, but he shouldn’t do it alone.

Then the first black-cloaked, silver-masked figure Apparates onto the platform, wand already raised. They’re followed quickly by six more. No one shouts in alarm. None realize they’re no longer safe.

Salazar quietly steps into place beside the Potters as a Death Eater casts the first spell. The Killing Curse.

Meant for Henry.

He has only to take one more step, and then his back lights up. Pain spreads from his spine outwards.

Salazar lets out a strangled scream. It’s been a long, long time since he’s done this. He’s forgotten how much it fucking hurts!

He drops to his knees just in time to see Monty fire off a returning hex at the Death Eater, moving to stand in front of them. Salazar would like to join him, but first he has to remember how to make his limbs work.

“Who did that?” Henry asks, crouched on the ground with Euphemia and Elizabetha pulled down with him. The shielding charm variant he learned from Salazar during the last war is already active, though it won’t stop another Killing Curse.

Salazar manages to flop his arm around enough so the sleeve of the Cloak falls back. He reaches out, revealing his left hand and the silver ring he always wears, accompanied by the wristwatch he found to replace the one lost to Tsar Bomba in 1961. It’s not quite an exact duplicate, but that loss taught him to always imbue his Muggle-made belongings with strong protective charms.

“Saul?” Henry whispers in shock.

“Ow,” Salazar gasps in response. “Forgot how much that hurt. Tell me you’re still carrying a Port Key.”

“As of late?” Henry chuckles without humor while Elizabetha swears in Punjabi under her breath. “Of course we are. MONTY!”

“I CAN’T!” Monty has become part of the line of defence for Muggles who can’t get to the platform barrier, a return to London and safety. There are bodies on the ground who aren’t moving.

“We’ll keep the lad safe!” Rufus Scrimgeour yells. “Get out of here, Harry!”

“I’m holding you to that, Rufus,” Henry mutters, grasping Salazar’s wrist. Elizabetha clasps Euphemia’s hand before latching onto Henry’s robes. Their Port Key is an innocuous little crystal phial. “Portus!

 

[1] The band reforms not long afterwards, but Judas Priest v.1.0 doesn’t last very long.

Chapter Text

They land in the back garden. Salazar can smell saffron crocus. Elizabetha is probably one of the only witches in England who can successfully cultivate that flower on this miserable, stupid island.

Right, he’d forgotten that, too. Being hit with a curse meant to murder him puts Salazar in a foul mood.

Henry hasn’t let go of his hand, and uses it to find the rest of Salazar and roll him over. “Saul. Hood, please.”

“Grrn.” Salazar lifts his right arm so it falls over his face, dragging the hood back with it. “Hello.”

“When in the blue blazes did you steal my cloak?” Henry asks, helping Salazar to sit up—to his intense dismay. Salazar would have preferred to lie on the ground for a bit longer. Hours. Perhaps days.

“Didn’t.” That’s a discussion he never wanted to have. “Long story. Ow. Fuck.”

“That was the Killing Curse. Wasn’t it?” Euphemia has her wand out, casting one of the modern diagnostic charms on Salazar before he can protest. It isn’t as if it will do her any good at all. Or him, for that matter. His magic hums as though it’s been electrified, a horrific accompaniment to the pain.

“I feel like death,” Salazar rasps. He hopes she understands that to mean yes.

“Goodness” Euphemia blurts in surprise. The ghostly image of a human form is brightly lit with all the varying angry red-violets of a body that is badly injured from head to toe. That is the sort of colorful damage a healer usually sees just before their patient dies. “Saul, what does this mean?”

“It means the Killing Curse really, really sodding hurts if you survive long enough to find that out,” Salazar snaps, and then grimaces in apology. “Sorry. I’m not…not at my best right now.”

Elizabetha joins Henry in assisting Salazar. “None of us are, not after that. Let’s get you off the ground.”

“Let’s not,” Salazar complains, but none of them listen. Fuck his luck, can’t a man flop around on the ground like a dying fish in peace?

“When I said that you would see us the moment the train departed on first September of this year, this isn’t what I had in mind,” Elizabetha says after they enter the manor. “But I thank you for saving Harry’s life.”

“Not the first time, and vice versa,” Salazar replies in a vague grumble. “Ground floor, sunlight, far too much tea in my future?”

Euphemia lets out a giggle that has a hint of hysteria in it. “You talk as if it’s such a hardship.”

After Henry helps him to sit, Salazar uses his shoe edge to remove his left trainer, then to pull off his sock, before repeating the same procedure with his left toes to remove right trainer and sock. Placing his feet down on bare tile, with no barrier between himself and the earth save a single layer of stone, helps soothe the full body ache. He manages to shed the Cloak, but afterwards he slumps in the chair, head tilted back, and stares wearily up at the solarium’s glass ceiling.

If Salazar had known anything—anything—of an impending attack at King’s Cross, he wouldn’t have used the Cloak. Multa Facies Sucus. A glamour. Makeup and dye. Any other option except the bloody Cloak!

Henry doesn’t press on the matter of the Invisibility Cloak. Not yet. “Was that an assassination attempt and a crime of opportunity regarding the Muggles, or was it an attack meant only for the Muggle families who hadn’t yet left the station?”

Salazar takes a moment to gather his wits and find his voice. “That lot was prepared, Henry. It was a planned attack. I’m not sure if the assassination attempt was part of it, but why wouldn’t Voldemort’s lot take advantage if the opportunity presented itself?”

“It wouldn’t have been an attempt if not for you,” Henry says after a moment. “It would have succeeded.”

Salazar glares at the ceiling. “I refuse to dwell on that. I have enough things to worry about as it is.”

“You’re certainly not worried about your wardrobe,” Euphemia says as Elizabetha returns with tea; Salazar can hear the tray clattering. “The last time I saw you, you were wearing a proper suit and shoes. Now you’ve gone to denims, Muggle t-shirts, a leather jacket, and trainers!”

“It’s fashionable. Besides, d’you have any idea how many centuries I was required to wear layers upon layers of clothing just to exit my own sleeping chamber of a morning?” Salazar turns his wrist a few times until he feels that his wand is still strapped in place. This would be the absolute worst time to lose it. He might lose his bloody mind with it. “Most of them, that’s how many. You get bloody sick of it after…after a very long while.” He isn’t doing math to figure out his age right now. Of late, he avoids thinking about it as often as possible.

“How long does this pain last?” Elizabetha wants to know as she sets the tray on the table.

“No idea.” Salazar tries swallowing and thinks tea to be an excellent idea. “It depends on the strength of the casted curse. It still would have most certainly killed whoever it struck.”

“Then may my failed assassin have been a terrible wizard,” Henry says in a strained voice. Even with all of the threats and perpetrated violence, no one had yet to attempt to use the Killing Curse against the family.

“Who is Pink Floyd?” Euphemia asks.

Salazar finally lifts his head, proving that yes, his head aches. It isn’t as bad as it could have been, though. The magic behind it was relatively weak, which speaks of an enthusiastic incompetent. “Pink Floyd is a Muggle musical group. Have the lot of you stopped listening to Muggle radio stations?”

“Not intentionally.” Euphemia looks a bit sheepish. “James was three years old when he accidentally broke the old family wireless by tripping over a rug. It’s how we learned that his eyesight isn’t the best, but the Oculus Potion doesn’t seem to like Potters.”

“No, it really doesn’t,” Henry says in genuine amusement for his grandson’s antics. “James is taking after my father for needing spectacles so early. As for the wireless? When we bought a replacement in Diagon Alley, we didn’t realize that they’d changed the device so that it’s now only capable of receiving Wizarding signals. I should have immediately gone out to London and rectified the oversight, but I never quite got around to it. There has always been something else to do that seemed more important, and now we’re a decade behind on Muggle doings.”

“It wasn’t an oversight. It was deliberate, and you know it,” Salazar retorts. “Who produces those radios, Henry?”

Henry sighs and pinches the bridge of his nose. “Hobart. Warrington and Hobart, to be specific as to the company name. I'm ashamed to admit I didn’t even think on it.”

“And both families pledged themselves to Voldemort before the Ministry ordered him to be silent in public.” Elizabetha shakes her head. “They didn’t want anyone to be paying attention to Muggle doings. That might work against the spread of their cause.”

The front door suddenly slams open, jarring Salazar awake from an unexpected bit of upright napping. “Bloody fucking HELL! One of them was a sodding Montague!”

“Such a shocking surprise,” Salazar growls sarcastically. Elizabetha glares at him and threatens to put sugar cubes in his tea instead of honey. “What? It’s the truth.” She holds the threat for a moment longer before deciding to be kind to the man who is still in pain. Salazar accepts the cup long enough to take a sip that soothes his throat before placing it back on the table with a clatter. He needs a Restorative Potion first, or he’ll drop the bloody cup.

Euphemia stands up and goes to meet Monty in the foyer. “You’re all right, dear?”

“Oh, I’m fine. Maybe a bit singed, but fine.” There is a pause, which is either Monty taking off what was singed, or Euphemia fixing it. “Those blighters departed in a hurry after everyone who was capable used a Port Key to leave, made it through the barrier, or Disapparated. Two wizards are dead, but many others, Muggles included, are injured. I gave the M.L.E. a brief statement when they arrived to take Rufus’s place, but said quite firmly that I was going home, and they know where to bloody well find me if they need me.”

“Burnt, not singed,” Euphemia says a moment later, proving Salazar’s guess correct. “How is Rufus?”

“He’ll be fine. In the meantime, the Obliviation Squad has their work cut out for them,” Monty says as he enters the room. His shirt is intact, but the robes and jacket he wore earlier are gone. “One of those masked bastards cast a massive green symbol onto the floor. A skull with a serpent emerging from its open mouth. That’s when the lot of them Disapparated.”

“Did they say anything?” Henry asks while Elizabetha frowns. A serpent to her, and to Salazar, is meant to be a sign of protection, not a curse. “The attackers, I mean.”

“Not a word.” Monty sits down when Euphemia gives him a firm nudge. “They nailed Rufus in his bad leg, so I imagine he’s still at St. Mungo’s, probably making them all wish he was somewhere else. The rest of us who fought back are all right. I left when the Minister arrived and started talking about medals. I don’t want a medal—I want the Montagues investigated!”

“That won’t happen. Barty Crouch will want it, too, but he’ll be shouted down. That pack of idiots in the Wizengamot I have to work with will threaten to defund the Department of Magical Law Enforcement if Barty pushes too hard.” Henry shakes his head. “You said two wizards. Who?”

“Oh.” Monty suddenly bites his lip. “I didn’t recognize one of them. Possibly an older Half-blood or a Muggle-born, but the other…they killed Robert.”

Salazar feels his heart drop somewhere far below its usual resting place. “Robert Longbottom?”

Monty swipes at his face while nodding. “Yeah. They knocked him back, and he was never the best duelist. That’s always been Harfang, and I hear Frank’s no slouch, but…” He sighs. “One of them knocked him back and the other hit Robert with the Killing Curse. Auror Moody’s gone to tell Augusta so that she can travel to Hogwarts, meet the train, and…and nobody wants Frank to find out that his father’s dead from anyone but family.”

Elizabetha sounds like she might be ready to chew upon steel. “That would explain your ire towards the Montagues. Who, Monty?”

“Octavius, I think. That bunch tends to all look alike, what with that nose, the lack of chin, and that scowl,” Monty answers. “We’ll find out in the paper tomorrow, or Macmillan will bow to the Wizengamot’s bigoted majority and not mention a word. Neither would surprise me.”

“Stop being so cynical. That’s my bloody job,” Salazar says.

“Right now it’s my turn, Saul,” Monty retorts. “Are you all right?”

Better than Robert, Salazar thinks in regret. “Yes. Frank is only thirteen, isn’t he?”

“He’ll be missing his first few weeks of classes, I suspect,” Henry says softly. “Augusta will want him at home, especially…Merlin, this is a terrible day.”

“It might still get worse,” Salazar has to point out. “We don’t know if that will be the only attack.”

“We also have to figure out how to explain why Dad survived the Killing Curse,” Monty says. “A number of witnesses saw it nearly strike him before it was intercepted.” His eyes drop to Salazar’s lap, where part of the bunched-up Cloak is resting. “You used that?”

“Yes. I was on the platform for most of the morning.”

Monty nods, but he’s staring at the Cloak. “That’s Dad’s cloak. Except it can’t be.”

“Monty?” Henry begins to ask, but halts his words when Monty reaches into his back pocket and pulls forth the densely packed, gossamer fabric of the family’s Invisibility Cloak. “Oh.”

Monty flips out the fabric so that it unrolls until the ends brush the floor. “Saul, tell me that’s not the same cloak.”

“I can’t,” Salazar says in regret, “because it is.”

Henry reaches out, and when Salazar doesn’t protest, takes the Cloak from Salazar. He slides the fabric between his fingers, a bewildered expression on his face. “Even the pattern, the feel of it, is the same. How?”

Salazar fumbles around in his coat until he finds potion phials. He pulls out all three, putting back the gold and the violet but keeping the green Restorative. Drinking the potion doesn’t rid him of the pain from the curse, but it grants him the energy and clarity of thought to ignore most of it. “What do you know of time travel?”

“I know about the Department of Mysteries and their Time-Turners, along with a great deal of what must by now be very old Muggle science-fiction stories,” Henry says.

“Time-Turners have a five-hour limit.” Monty is still frowning at the second Cloak held by his father. “Are you borrowing that from me in a few hours, then?”

“No.” Salazar accepts the Cloak from Henry when he offers it back—rather unexpectedly, Salazar considers, given that it could easily be claimed by a Potter of this particular bloodline.

“Then what?” Elizabetha is looking at him, as is Henry, but in…in concern, which Salazar thinks to be rather miraculous. Monty’s frown is still directed at the twin Cloaks; Euphemia merely gazes at him, expectant yet patient, willing to wait as long as necessary for a satisfactory answer.

He is suddenly so strongly reminded of being seated at a table with Sedemai, Godric, and their children that he nearly chokes. It takes a bit more tea to wash that choked sensation away, for him to will his hands to stop shaking.

Salazar has spent so long trying to figure out how to explain the inexplicable. He never thought he would be faced with earlier generations of his little brother’s family. Parents, certainly; perhaps grandparents, if they had not by then died of natural means. Lily’s parents are two he now worries about; he’s certain they’re younger than Henry and Elizabetha, yet they appear to be much older.

Salazar looks down at the Cloak he’s clenching in his hands. It is not of this world. It will never rip or tear, never rot nor wither. Once, so very long ago, he hadn’t been certain that what he was attempting would be possible until the very being he sought was standing before him, offering Salazar a choice.

“Do you have a Pensieve?” Salazar takes a breath that doesn’t serve to calm him at all. “I think it’s best if I show you.”

Show them what, though? What moment would best detail all of the things he has no idea how to say?

Why must it be one moment only?

By the time Monty returns with a Pensieve carved from old bluestone, Salazar has decided upon what memories will serve. The silver mist of Salazar’s first gathered memory settles into the bowl in a way that modern Pensieves cannot replicate. “This must be old. Very few in Britain know how to make a Pensieve behave itself any longer.”

Henry nods. “I believe it’s been in the family for as long as that particular tapestry of Hogwarts’ four Houses.”

Salazar nearly drops his bloody wand. He’s glad he wasn’t yet retrieving another memory, because he would have lost it and given himself a migraine in the process. “Oh.” He takes a moment to run his finger along the edge of the bowl that sits on the solarium table. He can’t remember what Godric’s Pensife looked like any longer, but this is Somerset. This is Griffon’s Door. This manor stands atop the land that was once Godric’s ancestral home.

There are no coincidences. Absolutely none.

Salazar returns his wand to his temple and retrieves the rest of what he wishes to share. “There. I…I know you’ll have questions about what you see. Wait until it is done, please. I cannot—I can’t—”

Please do not make me view what I’ve just granted you. For the Potters, this will be curiosity, questions answered. For Salazar, it will be pain he would prefer only to endure once, and that time is at least seven years hence. He saw battles as a child and knows what it does to the soul; he won’t bring James Potter into this war until James is an adult capable of choosing such for himself.

“We understand,” Elizabetha says, gripping his hand. Her skin is silky with herbal tinctures and the gentle softening that comes with age, but her fingers are as warm as ever. “Will you still be waiting for us when it’s done?”

Salazar swallows, beyond relieved and uncertain how to voice it. “I might wander off, if my legs can manage it, but I won’t leave the manor.”

“Good enough,” Henry decides, though he does watch with a faint air of curiosity as Salazar shoves his version of the Invisibility Cloak into his inner jacket pocket. “What should we expect to see?”

“Unlike myself and my sister, our little brother was not born of my parents. Nizar was properly magically adopted, though he was related by blood to my father’s line already.” Salazar swallows again. “This will tell you why, and how…and…and possibly far more than you ever dared to think upon.”

“I’ve thought upon it plenty,” Euphemia declares rebelliously, and dunks herself into the Pensieve without waiting for any sort of answer. Monty shrugs, wipes his eyes dry again, and joins her. He’s followed by Elizabetha. Henry reaches out to squeeze Salazar’s shoulder before he enters the Pensieve.

Salazar watches for only moments before realizing that he can’t do so any longer. He struggles to his feet, nearly Conjuring up a bloody cane before his traitorous, whinging knees finally cooperate. He does roam the manor a bit, as promised, feeling the pain ebb as he walks.

He needs a distraction, and immediately goes to seek one out. A new thought is teasing him, the taunting realization that he missed something. Something he should already be aware of. Something important.

Monty. It has something to do with Monty. Salazar allows his Divination to do as it wills without his direct intervention. The future is easier, but the past is a part of time, and even that will present itself in the water if the need is true.

That one’s been in our family a really long time, Monty had once said of the tapestry hanging in his bedroom. Dad says it’s hung in every bedroom for everyone that’s attended Hogwarts for as long as he can recall. He says his grandfather told him that the family was descended from Godric Gryffindor himself, and the tapestry might’ve belonged to him.

The tapestry of his school’s four House emblems didn’t belong to Godric, but perhaps this long lineage of the Potter family did not understand how to seek out who owned it in truth.

Salazar manages the stairs, swearing under his breath all the while. Walking is becoming easy, but climbing should, perhaps, have waited a bit.

He couldn’t, though. Now that the thought has come to him, he has to see if the tapestry still hangs in this house.

James has Monty’s old bedroom, as Salazar suspected. For a moment, he does nothing more than lean against the door frame, his eyes flicking about to take in detail. James kept Monty’s childhood Gryffindor décor, already convinced he would be in the House that hosted his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. Possibly it’s hosted every Potter since Ignotus, but Salazar didn’t seek out Potters to know what House of Hogwarts they were part of. He just wanted to track their bloodlines.

There is a disappointing lack of modern Muggle fiction on James’s book shelves, probably copies Henry himself grew up reading. There are only Wizarding toys here and there, placed with a boy’s haphazard understanding of cleanliness, though that bed is too pristinely made to be anything but the work of the family servants.

The tapestry has not moved. Salazar approaches it, holds his breath, and then carefully lifts it from the slight hooks that keep it mounted to the wall. No Sticking Charms, not for something so old as this.

He places the tapestry upside-down on the gentlest surface in the room, the aging quilt atop James’s bed. The edges of the cloth remain properly tucked around the edges, but the rest of the tapestry’s wooden frame is now revealed. Galiena always signed her work, and if she thought it wise, added a bit of magical ownership for those meant to receive it.

The runes weren’t burnt in by magic, but carved by hand. These aren’t the symbols of the Norse or the Anglo-Saxon, but the Pictish Galiena’s father had such fondness for. Salazar puts his hand upon the markings and is surprised when their shape changes. He feels warmth beneath his fingers as the wood responds to ancient spellwork—Galiena’s magic recognizing the touch of family.

Nizar is a direct descendant of Godric and Sedemai. Galiena knew those for whom this tapestry was made. His niece was so very clever, and possessed her own small gift of Sight. Perhaps this was a secret she knew should be kept until just the right moment, as Pictish glyphs shift and change into a Latinized alphabet.

To my cousin Eneko of House Heredia, once apprenticed to House Grypusdor, and to Eadgyth Grypusdor, once apprenticed to my own father for House Deslizarse. I gift this reminder of our home and unified Houses on this first day of Maius 1026 Anno Domini. May it ever bless your family.”

Salazar grips the bed’s sturdy post before he slides down to the floor. He’d forgotten. He’d entirely forgotten that his cousin had wed Godric’s second daughter the moment she finished her apprenticeships. Eadgyth had been eighteen. Eneko had been older, perhaps forty-five, and Godric had once fretted endlessly about the age difference between them, not wanting to see his daughter become a young widow…but Eneko had returned to visit Hogewáþ, saw Eadgyth for the first time since her infancy, and had promptly begun worshiping the ground she walked upon. Salazar had bloody well stood for his cousin at their wedding, and he forgot all of it.

Fucking gods, what else has he lost? He wrote down so much in those early days, and still he missed this.

“I am a gods-cursed fool,” Salazar announces to the empty room. Then he starts laughing like a madman.

When Henry finds Salazar, he is still sitting on the floor, occasionally letting out a hiccup of an exhausted giggle. “Saul?” Henry’s face is dry, but his eyes are red-rimmed and angrily swollen. “Are you all right?”

“My first cousin twice removed married Godric’s daughter,” Salazar gasps out, and erupts in a fresh fit of hysterical giggling. All of that worry, all of that research, and in 1945 the answer had literally been staring him in the face. His own instincts brought him to view this tapestry, again and again and again, and still he hadn’t understood.

Henry sits down beside him with slow grace rather than insist they get up, as if he, too, currently prefers the comfort of a solid, unmoving floor beneath him. “How did you come to realize this?”

“My niece made that.” Salazar gestures up and backwards at the tapestry still lying on James’s bed. “Galiena carved the blessing for their wedding onto the frame. In Pictish. The old glyphs responded to me and translated what I’ve never been able to read. None but those who held our family magic would be able to read what it said, and I doubt it has occurred to many to try.”

“I see.” Henry sounds weary. “Why is that funny?”

“Because—because I attended their wedding,” Salazar replies, hiccupping again as if he’s had far too much to drink. He blames the fucking Killing Curse. “I stood for my cousin when they were wed in 1026, and I’d entirely forgotten it. I’m a fool, and it’s hilarious.”

“You’re not a fool. I can’t remember every detail of what I did as a teenager, and you’ve quite a bit more years than that to contend with.”

“Perhaps,” Salazar allows, still trying to get this ridiculous laughter under control. Stress, he supposes. A long-delayed reaction to a curse that would have killed a beloved friend. A reaction to the last two sodding decades. “There has always been a gap in my research, one I could never fill.” He thinks on scrolls of Preserved written charts, genealogies for branches of families that are long dead, the records he sifted through in churches and monasteries in a hunt to trace every conceivable Potter bloodline once the name became prevalent. “I’d been away from Britain for a time. I came back and married, and researched Potter bloodlines…but London burned, in 1666. I wasn’t yet done connecting the gaps in the lineages. The fire took away the records that would have connected the Potters who existed before to those who existed at that time. I had no idea where to look for the connection between our families. I had to wait until…”

“Until you met us. Until you met James.”

Salazar shakes his head. “It’s that sodding hair, Henry. I knew it was you the moment I met Elizabetha and Monty.” He lets his head rest against the edge of the bed. “With your lineage on one side and the records I already have, I think I can find where Ignotus’s bloodline combined with mine to create your family. I’ll be able to show you the whole of both our families in written form.”

“The whole of your father’s family descendants. The whole of Godric’s descendants. That would be—” Henry breaks off, wide-eyed. “I can’t imagine how complex that must be.”

“It would have been worse if I’d included Godric’s accidental by-blows, but we always knew that Nizar was descended from Godric and Sedemai both, not Godric alone. Of course, even with that in mind, Godric and Sedemai still have many descendants on this fucking island.”

“The Weasleys and the Prewetts immediately spring to mind,” Henry says with a smile. Then the smile fades, his brow furrowing. All of the lines of his face present themselves under unforgiving sunlight. Henry should still be young, and yet it feels ever more often as if time will steal him away long before his body should want to fail. “Harry.”

Salazar swallows, all humor gone from him with a single word. “Hari.”

Henry gives him a brief, sharp look that melts into remembrance. “You called me that when we met. I told you my name, but your pronunciation was just like that. You’ve never called me Harry.”

“I did try,” Salazar points out. “I’ve never succeeded. Some habits are not so fond of change.” Except one time. Just once, Salazar knows he will get it right. That time has not yet come to pass, but it’s the only moment that matters.

“Harry James Potter,” Henry whispers. “That’s my great-grandson’s name.”

Salazar’s attempted smile is probably horrific to witness. “One day, he will be.”

 

*          *          *          *

 

There is eerie silence when Salazar retrieves his memories from the bluestone Pensieve. He feels both better and worse to have them restored. Monty, Euphemia, and Elizabetha all look as if they’ve been weeping, and Salazar would very much like to join them in doing so.

Euphemia finally draws in a sharp breath that another might mistake for accusatory. “You told me once that you chose this long life for another. You’re still alive for him.”

Salazar can only nod. “Yes.”

Henry is struggling for equanimity, and maintains enough of it to speak in a steady voice. “When we first met, you said you’d been looking for me. After we spoke once the war ended, I thought it was only because you were seeking out the last members of your family.”

Salazar thinks he smiles, though it is brief. “You were not exactly wrong.”

“You were doing so because—because my grandson—” Monty makes a choked sound before plastering his hand over his mouth.

“Because my grandson asked it of you,” Elizabetha finishes when Monty cannot.

“Why?” Euphemia asks, keeping a firm grip on Monty’s hand. “Why adopt him?” Salazar can all but hear the unspoken plea beneath: Why did you not just send him home?

“He had no one else. I loved him. Why would I not?” Salazar asks in hollow honesty.

“No one else,” Monty repeats. “That child—that man—is named after my dad. I already named James for Dad. It’s…why? Why twice over?”

“Perhaps James sensibly didn’t wish to name his son Fleamont,” Elizabetha says dryly.

Monty lets out a hysterical bit of laughter while Henry looks miffed. “Yes, fair point. You sought us out to protect us.”

“Because we’re all meant to die.” Elizabetha’s eyes have new sparks of color, the silvery saffron gold of the Lohat family’s magic. Salazar doesn’t need to see further evidence of it to know that it isn’t the same color of golden magic that had once blended with Nizar’s Deslizarse-green flames. “Worse, it sounds as if all of us die before our great-grandson can be born.”

“Even Charles and Dorea? Charlotte? Sam and his wife Joan?” Henry asks, staring at the empty Pensieve.

“When the bloody hell did Sam get married?” Salazar asks, startled. “Was that child not just knee-high?”

“Don’t you read wedding announcements in the paper?” Monty asks, further hint of that desperate humor on his face. “Sam decided to fall head-over-heels in love with Joan Macmillan, Amfractus Macmillan’s daughter by his previous wife. Joan and Sam married in 1965 and had their son, William, the next year. He’s six years old now.”

Salazar nearly opens his mouth to wonder how Amfractus could possibly have a daughter old enough to be of marrying age before he reminds himself, once again, that he oft considers everyone to be young. Amfractus was young when he took over the Daily Prophet from his mother upon her death, yes, but already wed, and certainly with at least one child in the household, if not a multitude. “Is there anyone else I should concern myself with?”

Euphemia shakes her head. “Great-aunt Isobel has held on for a very long time now, but I don’t think she’ll make it through next year.”

“She’s sworn that she refuses to die until she’s seen her one hundred fifty-eighth birthday,” Henry murmurs. “I believe her. Saul…does James lose all of us before his son is born, as my wife believes? Even my distant cousins who still bear the family name?”

“We don’t know.” Salazar grimaces at four expressions of disbelief. “Nizar was literally told so little of his family that we did not even know any of your names. He wasn’t even told what his mother’s name had been before her marriage. It was not until today that I discovered her identity. If you truly want to know how angry my brother is about this lacking information, allow his portrait in the Willow House to inform you. He will do so, at great length, and with a great deal of profanity.”

“You could have continued on with your plan of protection without sharing those memories, or the full reason for your intent,” Henry says.

Salazar pulls a face. “You say that as if I’ve never gained a reason to want to do so beyond a granted task. Good gods, Henry.”

Henry inclines his head. “My apologies. That was—that was uncalled for, but I think you can imagine how much you’ve upended our lives.”

“You upended mine first,” Salazar responds, smiling.

Henry dips his head again. “That’s true. What is it you now intend, as the cat is most assuredly out of the bag?”

Salazar runs his thumb along the edge of the Pensieve again. It isn’t Godric’s, but he’s starting to think it might have once belonged to Sedemai. It would have been a proper item for a mother to gift to a magical daughter upon her marriage. “I told you of my brother because he asked me to, though I admit I didn’t know it would be when James was still a child. I will say that I do not believe in coincidences. I didn’t need to search for any of you; Henry, you found me. I suspect that perhaps I was meant to tell you this, and what little we know of your fates, so that you will understand that the family’s endangerment goes beyond that of a mere Wizarding war on British soil.”

Elizabetha’s expression is hardened steel. “You just showed us memories that told us our family is wiped out but for a single child. I believe we’re already aware.”

Henry’s quiet, grieving weariness suddenly becomes narrow-eyed intensity. “You said there might be another attack today. You don’t know for certain, but it speaks well enough of what you expect. That was not a random act of violence on the train platform today. Those were organized, uniformed wizards performing a coordinated assault.”

“No, it was not random.” Salazar takes a breath. This is information that was not in the memories he gave to them, but that’s because it is easier to discuss. “Those you saw today are no longer the Knights of Walpurgis. That name was always a falsehood, a means of misdirection. Now that they’ve donned those cloaks and skeletal masks, Voldemort’s followers call themselves Death Eaters.”

“Goddammit!” Monty snarls. “Fucking Octavian Montague and his thrice-damned father! All of them, those bigoted bastards who sit in the Wizengamot and condescendingly talk of peaceful Pure-bloods guiding our society—they’re the ones who are wearing those damned cloaks and masks!”

“That they are,” Salazar confirms, watching as Monty gently untangles himself from his wife so he can pace out his temper.

“Forgive me; I know this has already all but become a discussion of war, but I’m still stuck on the idea of a portrait being the means of what is, essentially, time travel.” Euphemia’s eyes are a bit too large, her cheeks lacking their usual glow.

“My brother would say that we’re always traveling through time, as time is always progressing forward,” Salazar replies. “And as much as I love the telly program ‘Doctor Who,’ it doesn’t understand that traversing time in any other fashion than living it is not a simple endeavor. You cannot send someone forward in time if you don’t know the whole of the path, else you could end up in another’s future instead of your own. No, I don’t understand it much more than that. Rowena was the one to consult when it came to those sorts of scientific puzzles.”

“That does rather fit with the theme of my House, yes,” Euphemia admits. “How on Earth did that mental idea of Preserving a living person succeed?”

“Necessity. Will. Power. The firm belief that it had to succeed. We’d seen too much of the future not to be certain of our success. Nizar knew…” Salazar suddenly feels like he might choke again. He didn’t view his own memory of that last night beneath the Black Lake, but still those emotions would attempt to break him.

“Nizar did not know the wizard who once placed the tip of a wand to his forehead and sent him back in time by one thousand five years and five months, but as we grew older—by the year 1017, he looked at my face, and he knew.”

“For you, time is a circle.” Elizabetha gazes at Salazar in surprise. “My great-grandson knew already that the two of you must live, because it will be you who sends him to become who he must be.”

Salazar bows his head. That is as close as he can come to admitting fault for something he has yet to do.

Monty throws his arms into the air while still pacing. “A sodding portrait!

 Salazar sighs. “To my knowledge, nothing like it has ever been attempted since. That such a portrait is not a mere portrait is known only to myself…and now, it is known to all of you.”

Henry shakes his head. “I don’t want my grandson to bear the grief of losing us, Saul.”

“James may have to, regardless of what you now know,” Salazar admits quietly. “Changing history is—without contingencies in place, it doesn’t work. For me, Nizar’s history became my history the moment we met. Time literally won’t allow me to change our past, as it may break our future.”

“A mother’s sacrifice,” Elizabetha says in understanding. “If you were to save James’s future wife, another would have to take her place. Another would have to love that child just as much as his own mother does, because my great-grandson, and the world he lived in, must believe that history to be true. It could be easily be myself. Euphemia. Dorea. Any of us would be so willing.”

Salazar tries not to let on how much the very idea fills him with dread. Someone has to die in his little brother’s bedroom the night of Hallowe’en in 1981. He can’t volunteer for it to be himself, and can’t bear the idea of asking it of someone else. “Let’s not speak of it for now,” he says, to Henry and Monty’s immediate relief. “Nizar was right to say that I would need to know the shine of his mother’s magic to know if it is herself or another who dies that night. I prefer to avoid needless sacrifice whenever possible. Besides, I know already that it isn’t you, Elizabetha. The golden shine of your magic is not the same as the one my little brother bore.”

“And mine is sort of a blue-riddled bronze,” Euphemia murmurs. “I’ve only managed to conjure it to such an extent the once, but it isn’t the sort of sight you forget.”

“Green,” Henry says. “Mine is green, but not emerald. A bout of accidental magic as a child revealed it to me. I’m uncertain about Monty, Charles, or James, but Dorea claims that when a Black manifests their magic, it tends to be varying shades of ruby.”

Monty grimaces. “Mine is also green, like pine needles. Please don’t ask how I’m aware of this, as it is truly embarrassing.”

“Most likely it isn’t one of us, then,” Elizabetha concedes.

“If the idea can even succeed—” Salazar starts to say, and then loses his balance and lands on the nearest chair. “Or perhaps maybe I’ll sit down instead of trying to explain what many consider to be impossible.”

“The Killing Curse.” Euphemia looks sheepish. “After those memories, I have to admit, I’d forgotten you were in pain.”

“More as if I need a bloody kip,” Salazar says. “This is not my first time suffering these effects. They will pass.”

“We have time,” Henry adds. His voice holds the same confident resolve that had seen them through the worst of World War II and the European Wizarding War. “We have until the end of July in 1980 to figure out what must be done.”

“No,” Salazar corrects him, though he hates to do so. “We literally do not know if any of you live that long. We have only as long as we have.”

 

*          *          *          *

 

They don’t discuss Nizar, the attack, or Voldemort again until after supper. Salazar is glad of the reprieve just as much as he’s grateful for the opportunity to nap beforehand. At least when he wakes, he no longer feels as if he was beaten from head to toe with a blacksmith’s hammer. He’s fought battles in that condition and will not falter, but he’d much prefer to avoid doing so.

He wonders if Augusta Longbottom has already met the Hogwarts Express in Hogsmeade. If Frank has seen her face.

“The attack at the train platform.” Euphemia presses her lips together. “It isn’t just about politics, is it? That was simply part of the misdirection, as you called it.”

Salazar glances at each of them: Henry with his hazel eyes that are exactly like Salazar’s; Monty and Elizabetha with their identical brown eyes and the wild hair passed from mother to son; Euphemia with her Welsh complexion and sea-green eyes. “For the Death Eaters, they believe it is politics that drive them. For Voldemort, politics were only a means to an end. I don’t yet know if the Ministry will be willing to admit to the trail of magical deaths I’ve uncovered, but Voldemort began his war against Britain early last year. Today, his Death Eaters made certain that Wizarding Britain knows it is in peril, and it is a peril that will worsen until it is ended on the eve of thirty-first October in 1981.”

“But even then, it isn’t over. They’ll just think it so,” Elizabetha says.

“Foolishly so. My brother was once told by Albus Dumbledore that one of the other students in his year lost his parents to Death Eaters after Voldemort was supposedly destroyed. I suspect they were not the only ones to suffer such a fate.”

There are several different conversations held that evening. All are of consequence, but the one most pertinent to Salazar’s immediate future occurs when he, Henry, and Elizabetha sit down alone in the locked and warded parlor. Euphemia will help to heal those who need it, and Monty will fight, but Salazar is seated across from two people who are quite aware that they no longer have the reflexes to fight and survive another war. However, that does not mean that Elizabetha and Henry will stand by and do nothing.

Monty was briefly miffed by the idea of being excluded from any meetings that have to do with spying, but Henry explained the matter quite well: “It isn’t about exclusion, son. It’s about containing intelligence. Secrets should be known by as few as possible, so there are less avenues for another to discover what those secrets are.” Monty had been willing to accept that, appeased, and thus they are alone.

“You’ve never said, and I’ve never asked, satisfied as I was that you used no foul magic to do so…” Henry hesitates instead of speaking further.

“How is it I am still alive?” Salazar asks, the corner of his mouth turning up in bemused humor.

Elizabetha nods when Henry looks sheepish. “In the final memory of life at Hogwarts that you showed us, you appear to be the same age that you are now. Perhaps a year or two older?”

“Three years older. I conveniently stopped aging in the year 1043. As to how?” Salazar lets the bemusement become a true, brief smile. “One day I will tell you of exactly how well I knew three brothers named Peverell, but not tonight. I’m bloody exhausted.”

Henry nods in acceptance, though they are all aware that such a date may never come to pass. “I’ll be blunt, then. What do you need?”

“A way in. I never managed to cultivate a place among those idiots before Voldemort was banned from speaking in public,” Salazar says. “Once the ban was in place…”

“Spying on Death Eaters foolish enough to linger in public would not be enough, no.” Henry leans back in his seat and glances at his wife. “I have a few suspicions as to who might be willing to gain you that place, but I need time to confirm it.”

“Especially as I may have to begin the process,” Elizabetha says in a thoughtful voice. “There are several wives among those we associate with who are not comfortable with certain spousal decisions of late.”

“If it takes time, then so be it. I’d rather wait and gain the best results rather than the fastest, though I still would hope for it to be sooner rather than later.” Salazar regards them for a moment as the three of them sit in companionable silence. “I’d be wasting my breath if I asked you to remain within the wards protecting these lands, wouldn’t I?”

Henry shakes his head. “You know the answer to that already. I may not stand on a field of battle, but I will not hide. None of us will.”

“Take more precautions then, at the least. After someone blatantly tried to assassinate you, no one will complain if your every visit to the Ministry occurs amidst armed Aurors.”

“I would have insisted upon that, regardless,” Elizabetha responds dryly, glancing at her husband. “It’s been decades since the last war, my love. It is time for subtlety to hide beneath the appearance of weakness.”

“What about James?” Henry asks. “Is he safe at Hogwarts? It’s long been considered Wizarding Britain’s best sanctuary, but I’d rather hear those words from you.”

“For now? Absolutely yes, though I imagine Hogsmeade will see quite an increase in visiting Aurors and Hit Wizards during Hogsmeade Weekends.” Salazar hesitates. “I would pay more mind to James and his behavior, especially as his good manners may be something he chooses to leave at home for a time.”

“We’ve all four of us raised him!” Henry protests at once. “He’s a Potter, and—”

Salazar raises an eyebrow. “Were you not the one who told me that all Potters are good men with short tempers?”

Henry flushes in acknowledgement of the fact that he was just in the midst of proving Salazar’s point. “I suppose we’ll have to find out who he befriends and see if that affects his behavior, then.”

Elizabetha is the first to notice the expression on Salazar’s face. “Oh. That doesn’t bode well, does it? Who?”

“Peter Pettigrew, Remus Lupin…and Sirius Black.”

“Remus is Lyall Lupin’s son. I’ve heard he’s a bright lad,” Henry muses. “I haven’t had dealings with the Pettigrews outside the Wizengamot, though. Sirius is an utter mystery, but there are more white sheep among that lot than it often seems.”

“The kindest term Clarence Pettigrew has for his son is most often middling when asked of his intelligence or magical talents,” Elizabetha says in displeasure. “However, Clarence does say Peter has potential, but despairs over the fact that Peter has not yet recognized or used it.”

Oh, he certainly has potential, Salazar thinks. Alas, it’s aimed in the wrong direction. “It’s merely something to keep in mind.”

“Of course,” Elizabetha agrees, though Henry pulls a disgruntled face. “I recently heard James malign Slytherins and immediately asked my grandson where he heard such things. He told me it was from Hogwarts: A History. I read the passages regarding Gryffindor and Slytherin within that book, and found a very clear prejudice.”

“My brother’s portrait does keep telling me not to read that book.” Salazar isn’t surprised that a book written in modern Wizarding Britain would malign him, but that it would also malign an entire group of children? That, he does not care for at all.

“You should continue not to do so,” Elizabeth says. “I told James he should pay no mind to such things, but he is an eleven-year-old boy. They often have their own firm opinions in these matters until life teaches them otherwise. I then mentioned my concerns to Euphemia and Monty, but they think it mere childishness that James will outgrow as soon as he is among other children. I hope they’re correct.”

“So do I,” Salazar replies, because truly, he does. What concerns him is that his brother’s portrait mentioned that even as a thirty-five-year-old adult, Sirius Black could not stop referring to Severus Snape as Snivellus. Perhaps it was only the damage of Azkaban speaking, but Salazar cannot stop suspecting otherwise.

“What of James’s future wife?” Henry asks. “If you recognized her today, you can tell us her name.”

Salazar slumps back in his chair, grinning. “Henry: to tell you of the friends your son began to make today are one thing. To tell you of the girl who would be his wife is to invite meddling, however unintentional it may be. I will be avoiding both children as much as possible to resist indulging in such meddling, myself.”

Elizabetha smiles at Henry’s look of disgruntlement and pats his knee. “These things will work themselves out just fine without our interference. Consider it something to look forward to, my love.”

“If we live that long,” Henry mutters in resentment.

Salazar feels his heart clench. “I wish I could offer you certainties, but I do not have them. This part of the future is a mystery to us both. I’ve no idea if James will be able to introduce his future wife to our family.”

Henry clenches his jaw and then lifts his chin. “No, never you mind. It isn’t our survival I want you to concentrate on. James and his wife. Their child. If there is a way to return to your brother and to yourself a part of the family believed to be lost, then that is what I would ask of you.”

Chapter Text

An Auror comes to visit the Potters the next morning. Salazar couldn’t have asked for a clearer sign that they are walking the correct path had he bothered to pray for one.

“Good morning, cousin,” Monty greets her at the door, kissing the visiting Auror’s cheeks before escorting her into the manor. “All is well this morning?”

“With myself? Yes, and thank you for asking. With the rest of Wizarding Britain? Merlin, no,” Lucretia Black Prewett replies. That she remains a low-ranking Auror after nearly thirty years of service is a sign of the prejudice and bigotry rampant within the Ministry. Many are frightened of her family of birth, while others scorn the family she married into. The rest are offended that her magical child died while her disdained Squib son leads a successful life. Lucretia should be Head Auror instead of Rufus Scrimgeour, and even Rufus believes so, but it was Barty Crouch Senior who made that decision.

Lucretia spies Salazar, and her displeased expression lights up in genuine, fierce pleasure. “Saul Luiz!” She strides forward, her hand thrust out; Salazar clasps her hand in the ladies’ grip that she has always preferred. “I haven’t seen you about in a very long time now.”

“Nor I you,” Salazar replies, which is partly true. He saw Lucretia many times while in the guise of others as Aurors worked in Diagon Alley or Hogsmeade, but as it wasn’t his face, it doesn’t count. “How is Ignatius? And Henry?”

Lucretia smiles at mention of her surviving son. Salazar knows she is rarely asked about him, as Wizarding Britain politely pretends he does not exist unless they are using his existence as a weapon against her. “Ignatius is quite angry about yesterday’s attack, and Henry is doing well. I admit I wasn’t certain about my son marrying a Dunbar, but Joy is a witch who loves a Squib without shame. I would tolerate her for that alone, but Joy is also intelligent enough to assist Henry with his business affairs. If I’d known Muggle accounting to be such an enriching prospect, I might’ve tried it myself instead of joining the M.L.E.”

“I’m glad to hear of his success, and of his marriage,” Salazar replies. Henry Prewett deserves happiness just as much as anyone, but even the more enlightened Prewetts among that clan are guilty of prejudice. They don’t treat Henry ill in any direct fashion, but they avoid him, and mention him only in the vaguest of terms. Salazar would like to shake the lot of them and tell them that Squibs are not without magic, else they wouldn’t be able to see Hogwarts, Diagon Alley, or the sodding Ministry, but few will ever listen.

“What brings you here?” Monty asks, politely moving the conversation along.

“Your father’s miraculous survival,” Lucretia says dryly. “Though if Harry is still friends with you, Saul…”

Salazar grins. “Henry’s survival is not so miraculous, no. Just because the means of saving him wasn’t visible doesn’t mean it did not exist.”

“Of course.” Lucretia is already giving him a suspicious look, which is quite similar to the one her cousin Dorea mastered decades ago. “You want something from me, don’t you?”

“How would you like to help an old and respected war hero to fake his own noble death?”

Lucretia merely raises an eyebrow. “Will we be un-faking it at any point afterwards?”

“I hope so,” Salazar replies in complete honesty. He’s fond of this identity; there are still quite a number of years remaining until his appearance and his supposed age are too much in conflict for him to continue the ruse any longer.

He doesn’t think he’ll need worry about replacing the official records of Saul Luiz with another, not this time. Voldemort will die well before Salazar legally becomes too old for this name and role.

“All right,” Lucretia says. “Let’s sit down, then. I still need everyone’s statements regarding yesterday’s events done properly this time, which is why I’m here.”

“Before that…” Monty hesitates before sighing. “Have you heard anything about Frank and the other Longbottoms?”

Lucretia bites her lip. “Augusta pulled Frank from Hogwarts when the train arrived yesterday evening and took him home. Other than that, I know nothing. We’ve not even released—the forensic officers of the M.L.E. are still evaluating Robert’s body. I don’t know what the hell they think they’re going to find. Too many witnesses saw exactly what it was that killed Robert. It’s hard to miss that flash of bright green bloody light.”

Salazar nods. “There is thoroughness, and then there is stupidity.” Some things never seem to change.

“Exactly.” Lucretia sniffs once and then shakes out her hair. “All right; tell me what I’m about to participate in. Oh, and ply me with some proper tea for bribery. Have you lot forgotten how to be civilized?”

Monty smiles at Salazar, though grief for Robert still darkens his eyes. “This is why Aunt Dorea says that Sane Blacks are the best Blacks.”

Lucretia finishes off two cups of masala chai, though Salazar still prefers what Elizabetha does to mix the seasoning blend with coffee instead of drinking the spiced tea. “You want everyone to think you’re dead, but no one saw it happen. Do you think it’s a plan that can succeed?”

“The Daily Prophet is fueled by bribery, and it doesn’t matter that I wasn’t seen,” Salazar replies. “What matters is how many people witnessed a Killing Curse being cast at Henry, and that Henry Potter is not dead of it.”

“Good point.” Lucretia grins. “All right, then. Let’s get on with killing you.”

 

*          *          *          *

 

This is not the first time Salazar has faked his death. It’s certainly far more annoying since he last did so in the early 1600s, which merely involved leaving the country he’d resided in at the time and never going back. After he built the Willow House in Sherwood-on-the-Marsh, the village has simply adjusted itself to the fact that there is an Elizabethan-era home outside the village proper, and a man named Saul lives there. Salazar didn’t even need to use magic to create the villagers’ lax attitude towards his presence; as Salazar hurts no one, and helps when it’s needed, they simply can’t be arsed to give a fuck.

Faking his own death in modern Wizarding Britain would be far easier if he claimed to be returning to Spain, and then had another send word of his “death.” That isn’t an option, though, as he is first and foremost providing an easy explanation for Henry’s survival of an assassin’s cast Killing Curse. He is also ridding Voldemort of the notion that a retired magical spy named Saul Luiz might be interested in poking about in his affairs.

Faking his death in a manner that will allow Wizarding Britain to easily recognize him as alive again after the first war’s conclusion, however, means that the entire affair becomes extremely annoying.

Rufus and Henry have to talk Minister Jenkins out of giving Saul Luiz the wizarding equivalent of a funeral of state. Salazar thanks Henry for making certain she didn’t do anything that memorable, and then mocks him, because Henry can certainly expect to receive the same treatment one day.

“She shouldn’t be suggesting it for either of us,” Henry retorts crossly. “None of our other British magical spies were granted that honor when they passed, and not our soldiers, either. The Minister is attempting to play favorites, and I’m not pleased by her blatant and bad politicking.”

Dealing with the press is as easy as Salazar told Lucretia it would be. Amfractus Macmillan’s entire business structure for the Daily Prophet revolves around bribery and blackmail. The newspaper is instead encouraged to print a simple death notice buried among other such notices, where it can be found by the aging gossips who like to discuss such things. They’ll be speaking of falsified information regarding a funeral that was small and private, followed by cremation, which should keep any busybodies or Death Eaters from trying to seek out a gravesite.

If Wizarding Britain continues on with their current habits, the death notice will be otherwise ignored. Witch Weekly certainly will not print an obituary or a death notice, as that special bit of fluff won’t publish anything which doesn’t involve encouraging witches to be model housewives.

“Wizarding Britain still understands the notion of feminism, does it not?” Salazar asks, feeling a bit baffled by how bloody odd things have become in that regard of late. The Muggles are moving forward with expanding women’s rights. Wizarding Britain is not exactly ignoring the idea, or taking witches’ rights away, but they are certainly encouraging a rather specific ideal of feminine behavior. It won’t be the wealthy Pure-bloods who follow along those patterned lines, but those who are so used to being downtrodden already that they won’t notice yet one more way in which very few are controlling a vast many.

Lucretia growls under her breath. “Talk to Barty Crouch about that lack of gender equality within the M.L.E. No; punch him for me. You’re legally dead. You can’t be prosecuted for assault in Wizarding Britain if you’re dead.”

“I’ll be certain to bear that in mind,” Salazar promises, wondering how much of his father’s unbending ways might be influencing Barty Crouch Junior’s future behavior.

Unlike a forgotten spy’s death, the assassination attempt on Henry Potter can’t be ignored by the Daily Prophet. He is a Pure-blood of an ancient and noble House, a war hero who is respected even by members of the Wizengamot who are ravenously pro-Voldemort. Aside from a description of the event, dramatized within an inch of its printed life, only a single sentence explains how Saul Luiz’s sacrifice saved Henry Potter from certain death. Nothing else is said of who Saul Luiz was, or why he would do such a thing. Someone like Voldemort, with his cold eye for detail, will most certainly notice that a potential source of trouble is deceased, which is all that Salazar requires.

Granted, Salazar will one day have words with Amfractus Macmillan regarding that article. The two wizards killed by Death Eaters that day are mentioned: Robert Longbottom has a fine paragraph to himself; the Muggle-born wizard has a single line that grants him a name, an age, and the notation that he was seeing a young daughter off for her second year of Hogwarts. The Muggles who were present and injured, some of them quite badly, are not spoken of at all.

Rufus folds up the newspaper with that day’s dramatic retelling of the “battle” on the train platform, tucking it under his arm. “We’ve managed to keep Barty out of this little scheme, but he’s a suspicious bastard. Almost as bad as young Alastor for that, but at least Alastor will trust me when I say I’m helping someone to work against Voldemort and our new band of wizarding vigilantes.”

“Terrorists,” Salazar says flatly. At least vigilantes are sometimes in the right to act as they do.

 Rufus tilts his head a bit in acknowledgement before moving on. “I might’ve Obliviated the Minister of her recollection that you’re famous. Whatever you’re meaning to do, the way is as clear as we can legally make it.”

It is a sad thing when Obliviating others without their consent is considered legal, but Salazar can’t afford to fight that battle when so many others already await him. Aside from certain members of the Potter family, only Rufus and Lucretia are now aware of his continued survival. “Thank you, Rufus.”

Rufus nods in brisk fashion. “There’s a plan, then?”

“I’ll be cultivating trustworthy double agents among Voldemort’s lot, and you know I’ll make certain of the trustworthy part. I won’t be informing anyone of their names, but I’ll be teaching them two different code phrases. I’ll send those phrases to you and Lucretia by secure means within a week. The first will be a means of acquiring safety; if any of mine are captured by the M.L.E., they’ll ask for and tell that phrase to the pair of you. You’ll then be certain of whose side they’re truly on, and can make certain excuses and release them from custody—or engineer an escape blamed on the prisoner; I don’t much care which option you choose. If anyone ventures into the M.L.E., asking for the two of you while using the second code, it will be one of mine coming here bearing information that the M.L.E. should heed, especially as I foresee these attacks will become significantly worse.”

Salazar doesn’t mention that there will be times when they can’t say anything at all, and others may die for it. Rufus fought in Grindelwald’s war. He already knows.

Rufus sighs a bit and leans on his cane. “I want to wish you luck, but I also think you’re mad to be attempting this sort of subterfuge at your age.”

“I’m Henry’s age,” Salazar counters. It’s almost true, though he remains physically seventy-three to Henry’s seventy-eight.

“That’s exactly my point.” Rufus holds out his hand; Salazar clasps it. “The code phrases are a good idea, but I’d advise that your people not get caught by our side at all. I don’t have the best feeling about the Ministry and its ability to do the just and proper thing right now. Much like the attacks, I suspect that will only get worse.”

“Continue to think that, Rufus, because you’re most likely correct.”

 

*          *          *          *

 

When Salazar asks Monty, Euphemia, Elizabetha, and Henry to come by Floo to the Willow House, it’s to introduce them to the heart of the house. The cellar is not much changed from when the house was first built, made from magically shaped stone. He’d then given the cellar a great stretch of magical space, so that it now resembles the vast stone cathedral more than it does a simple underground chamber for storing food.

“War planning?” is the first thing Henry asks after the expected remarks about the expanded cellar.

Salazar nods. “War planning,” he repeats, even if it makes it feel like his heart has taken on a great weight. “After the last war, that lot across the pond created a system of announcing military readiness in regards to combat. They call it defence readiness condition, or DEFCON for short. A level of five means all is well, even if the army trains and soldiers remained stationed at their posts and in their bases. Four is a condition of heightened readiness, the recognition that there is a potential for violence. Three means that combat is expected, even though it may still not occur, and soldiers should prepare accordingly. Two is the sort you don’t want to hear, as it means an attack has already occurred and defences must be mobilized post-haste. DEFCON One would be the worst. Nuclear war has already commenced.”

“Given the rumors of how well the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. are getting on right now, I imagine they’ve seen that DEFCON Three a number of times,” Monty says.

“They aren’t rumors, and yes, they have. We’ve already been close to DEFCON One at least twice with purpose, and at least once by accident.” Salazar smiles ruefully when those words are met by horrified stares. “That was an Earth-Speaker panicking a bit, and wondering if it was possible to call up the Earth to hide an entire island. Truthfully, I don’t think I’d be capable of managing it.”

“If the papers are any indication, Wizarding Britain would believe us to be at the—DEFCON Four, you said?” Elizabetha asks.

“They would, sadly. They would be wiser to think in terms of three, but for me? This is DEFCON Two.” Salazar pauses for a moment, taking in the soothing aura of the earth and her magic that currently surround him. “You’ve already seen basic warding and a Loyalty Charm at work to disguise this house during the European wars. For this war, that is not enough. Unless I tie you by magic to the keystone of my home, you would not be able to enter without my assistance even if you were given the phrase for the Loyalty Charm. The magic would not just repel you; it would possibly obliterate you.”

“Because you won’t lose your home to Voldemort’s war.” Elizabetha nods her understanding. “Where is this stone, and how do we do so?”

Once that is done, Salazar is the first up the cellar stairs. The earth practically sang in the room with the performance of magic within the bounds of the earth, especially earth that knows him so well. It was a bit overwhelming, but if he suffered any lingering fugue from the Killing Curse, it is most certainly gone now.

Elizabetha does him the courtesy of not taking over Salazar’s kitchen in order to put together afternoon tea, but assists him instead. She smiles in pleasure over the wide range of dried spices and fresh herbs available, particularly those from the East. Euphemia holds up her hands and shakes her head. Salazar is well aware of her lacking skill in the kitchen, as Monty was their cook while they resided in the village rather than the manor. The first time Monty heard the term housewife, he found himself an apron bearing such a title and magically altered it to read househusband. The servants in the manor find the apron to be hilarious.

Henry is not allowed to cook by servant’s decree, Elizabetha’s ruling, and Salazar’s aggrieved insistence. Salazar and many others learned in Europe, to their intense regret, that Henry Potter cannot be trusted with anything in the kitchen unless the desired result is painful inedibility.

“We’re thinking on what to tell Dorea and Charles,” Henry says after the meal is done. Monty is already away from the table, and it seems he and Nizar’s portrait are having a staring contest, if the silence and unblinking eyes are to be properly judged.

Salazar finishes sending plates and glassware back to the kitchen countertops. He hasn’t had so many guests in the house for quite a while. He’d forgotten exactly how many things need to be washed afterwards. “Regarding myself, I’m assuming.”

“You would assume correctly.” Elizabetha purses her lips over the tea she is blending before passing it over to Euphemia. “That should help with the pain in your fingers, pi’ara.”

Salazar rolls his eyes and then glares at Euphemia. “You’d not once mentioned that to me.”

“It’s recent, and Elizabetha has been a wonder when my own charms proved useless. You already have a Restorative you’ve not stopped brewing even while worrying about spying on that—that man.” Euphemia shakes her head. “Don’t you mind my aching knuckles. It’s most likely a side effect of whatever it is that has always ailed me, combined with the lovely inevitability of aging.”

Salazar gives her a stern look, as he will not be forgetting that, and she should know better than to think so. He already knows of three ways to alter the Restorative that won’t interact badly with Elizabetha’s enhanced tea. “Do you think Dorea and Charles would do all right with the truth, then?”

Henry raises both eyebrows. “My sister-in-law is a Black.”

“There is that.” Salazar mulls it over as Euphemia wanders over to join Monty. Dorea and Charles were already warned of the war’s certainty, and how violent it will be. They’d taken the warning to heart, even if two of the distant cousins had not. “I’d prefer if they didn’t know about myself in particular. That is dangerous, and Charles doesn’t receive the same sort of attention as you, Henry. Their best protection begins and ends with the wards on the home in Kensington. However, if you wish to warn them as to how specific the danger is to a Potter in particular?”

“You worry Charles won’t believe me,” Henry says in a wry voice.

“The man who refused to stop using the term Elemental Wizard, no matter how many times I corrected him and said Elemental Magician?” Salazar mock-scoffs. “Of course Charles will believe you. I foresee no difficulty at all.”

“Fortunately, Dorea is already prepared for war to come to her doorstep, especially after what happened on Wednesday.” Elizabetha frowns. “Will you be at Robert’s funeral?”

Salazar nods. “I imagine I won’t be the only busybody in Wizarding Britain to attend, either.”

“No,” Henry agrees, looking as if he dreads the experience. “Most likely not. Monty, stop staring at Nizar’s portrait. It’s rude, even if you’re staring at a magical impression captured in paint.”

“I’m not,” Monty protests. “I’ve just been thinking.”

Even Nizar’s portrait must have thought himself and Monty to be engaged in a staring contest, as he says, “You realize that portraits don’t need to blink, right?”

Monty rears back a step. “You sound like you’re from bloody Surrey right now!”

“Isn’t that what you called it the first time?” Salazar asks the portrait while Euphemia stifles a laugh. Salazar notices that Henry and Elizabetha are resting their laced hands on the table as they watch their son interact with the painting, and the weight in his heart becomes heavier still.

“Bloody Surrey? Oh, yes.” Nizar tilts his head. “Would you prefer I sound like this, then?” He switches back to the flow and pattern of speech the portrait has developed in the years since its last update in 1017.

“I’m not certain if that’s better or worse, to be honest. I’m also having a bit of a boggling moment of realizing that I had my best lessons in defence from my own grandson,” Monty says bluntly.

Nizar grins. “My advice? Don’t think on it too hard. It only grants you a headache, and not much else of use at all.”

“I’m afraid I’m going to be thinking on it rather a lot. I want to meet my grandson, and I have the feeling I never will,” Euphemia says softly.

Nizar’s grin fades back into a smile that is rich with understanding. “You don’t know that, and neither do I. Accepting defeat before you’ve even fought a battle means that you’re pretty much fucked, and I strongly advise against it.” The portrait waits until Euphemia’s startled giggle fades, and Monty is no longer biting his lip. “Besides, as long as nothing happens to this portrait—if the worst comes to be, anything you speak of with me, I can eventually tell to Myself.”

“That is so, isn’t it?” Elizabetha murmurs, smiling. “It may not be what we wish for most, but I’m grateful to be granted such an opportunity. I also do not believe in never, Nizar. By my faith and by my experience, I know there is more to the path of the soul than this world. Even if here, my great-grandson only learns of my words, I know that one day we will meet.”

Nizar considers her for a moment. “If you really do cross the veil before my idiot brother, look for my children. They’re all three utter busybodies with a vested interest in history and Voldemort’s wars. I highly doubt they’ve gone far.”

“Busybodies.” Henry glances at Salazar. “They take after their Uncle Saul, I see.”

For the first time in their long association, the name jars him. Salazar thinks on those many years; he thinks on how he won’t be seen in public with the Potter family again until this war is over, and possibly not even then. Death may yet still win this round.

“Sal,” he says, and swallows hard when Henry’s eyes widen in surprise. “My name is Sal.”

 

*          *          *          *

 

The day before Robert’s funeral, Salazar receives an owl-sent missive from Henry. The message isn’t odd, but the fact that the owl found the Willow House at all is alarming. Between the renewed Loyalty Charm and the blood wards, neither man nor bird should be capable of finding his home. If he wants the newspaper, or his now scant mail, Salazar has to off and fetch it.

Salazar waits for the owl to hop from the windowsill onto his arm before taking her into the kitchen. He quickly discovers that the long-eared owl prefers patting and scratching in lieu of treats. She seems to be quite a loyal bird—

“Oh. I’ve not seen a true bonded familiar in a while. I imagine it was a complete accident, too,” Salazar says to the owl, who only leans into Salazar’s fingernails in an effort to happily groom herself. She might have flown a message to Salazar for Henry, but the bird feels strongly attached to Euphemia.

“And that would be why I’m being visited by an owl at all,” Salazar continues, speaking to a bird who likely wouldn’t care if he was spouting utter nonsense. The blood magic that allows Euphemia access to the house would recognize the owl as hers and consider it acceptable. It’s fortuitous timing, and makes Salazar hope that maybe fate is not stacked against them.

The name on the folded piece of paper is no longer that of his legally deceased identity. That would now be considered a marked oddity if Euphemia’s owl was intercepted by the large number of fools roaming about Britain.

Euphemia’s owl gets quite the workout that day, but she never seems to mind. If anything, she loves it.

“Hedwig did, too,” Nizar comments sadly. His little brother never stopped missing his snowy owl, but it’s always hard to lose a bonded familiar. Salazar avoids doing so as much as possible, but some creatures do not like being denied.

Gods, but he still misses Jalaf so much.

 

Sal,

Well, they did try. Harfang Longbottom called for a point of order during this week’s Wizengamot meeting and demanded accountability for the fact that Octavian Montague was witnessed, unmasked, as one of the attackers during the “random assault” at Platform 9¾. William Montague handled it well, I will admit, pointing out that Octavian is an adult, not a child, and therefore not answerable to the whims of his father for whatever he may or may not have done. The slick bastard even agreed that the M.L.E. should be on alert and ready to apprehend Octavian “for questioning.”

Which, of course, will give Octavian plenty of opportunity to hide himself while the M.L.E. searches the Montague Estate, whereupon Octavian will return to his place of assured safety once that search is concluded. As to further investigations? “No resources should be wasted for a rogue element.” I truly hate how good Wizarding families in Britain have become outnumbered by loud, arrogant bastards!

 

Henry,

This is a prime example of why the continuing lack of representation for other magical families and magical beings is a stupid idea.

William Montague is smarter than I gave him credit for. Perhaps it is only Octavian who is stupid, a trait surely inherited from his mother.

 

Sal,

I’m all but certain Octavian and his brother Oliver are both fools, just as Deborah Carrow Montague was an utter fool before her untimely (fortunate) death. It’s their sister Helen, who just graduated from Hogwarts this past June, who may be the only sensible Montague born in five generations.

No, never mind that last part. Elizabetha just informed me that Helen Montague is engaged to wed Theodore Nott Junior next summer.

 

Henry,

It would be quite the blunder to assume all those who prefer Voldemort’s ways are fools, and yet they keep doing their best to prove otherwise. Alas that wars are built upon stupidity.

 

Sal,

But one fights an oppressor with hope and determination.

 

Henry,

Stop quoting Winston at me.

 

*          *          *          *

 

A dead man can’t publicly attend Robert Longbottom’s funeral, but Salazar has known Robert since he was a lad still attending school. He will not miss this memorial, and attends wearing the Invisibility Cloak with the resolve to use other means of defending against the Killing Curse if the service is invaded by Death Eaters. If he is going to be mocked further by his little brother for stupidity, he’d much prefer the words to be spoken by the man instead of the portrait.

Salazar has been to countless funerals, wakes, burials, cremations, memorial services, the spreading of ashes, pyres—all the forms of grief and the dispersal of human remains one man can encounter over the course of a thousand years. For some reason, Robert’s death hits him harder than any service he’s attended since the death of Isis. He isn’t certain he would ever be able to articulate why, though if asked, he might point to the grief on the face of a thirteen-year-old boy. Frank Longbottom never expected to board a train, wave goodbye to his father, and then have no knowledge for hours afterward that his father died just moments later. Augusta stands next to him with her hand resting gently on Frank’s shoulder, her face masked by a Burke’s typical unwillingness to grieve in public. By contrast, Algernon is weeping like a sieve while his wife Enid pats him on the shoulder, her lips pressed into a thin line of misery. Harfang weeps in silence, red in the face from the anger accompanying his grief. Callidora’s expression is cold, tight-lipped silence even when tears sometimes slip from her eyes.

The church the Longbottoms attend in Yorkshire is non-magical, which leaves the family’s neighbors to also cope with many a British wizard’s complete inability to properly dress themselves. Salazar takes a moment to roll his eyes in despair. It is not that bloody difficult to dress Muggle, and yet so many in this lot can’t manage the simple idea of trousers and shirt.

Wizarding Britain pays a great deal of attention to Robert Longbottom’s funeral. The entirety of the Longbottom family attends, as well as his close cousins among the Weasleys, the Potters, the Prewetts, The Sane Blacks, and the newest occupant of the Fenwick Wizengamot seat, young Benjamin Fenwick. Salazar recalls hearing news of the young man’s engagement, but there is no fiancé in attendance.

A few of the aging Yaxleys who still dwell in Cornwall, older siblings of Lysandra Yaxley Black, come to say farewell to her grandson. Salazar thinks it too bad that none of that lot hold the Yaxley seat, as whoever chose Cornelius Yaxley to sit in the Wizengamot was a demented fool. That one is a Death Eater through and through.

Phineas Nigellus Burke is the only other Burke in attendance aside from his cousin Augusta, which surprises Salazar not at all. His father Herbert is now in poor health, and doesn’t travel beyond the bounds of his own bed. Worse, Basil Burke, Augusta’s older brother, visited his ailing uncle and convinced Herbert that the Burke seat in the Wizengamot should go to Basil upon Herbert’s passing instead of Phineas, the seat’s rightful inheritor. By the time the deception was caught, the paperwork had already been filed. For now, the Burke family officially stands against Voldemort, but that will only last until Herbert Burke dies.

The extra attention—and the press—might have mortified Robert in life. All of the families who are known to be publicly against Voldemort and his Pure-blood domination ideology send representatives, and all are those who knew Robert best. Edgar Bones and his wife Alicia for the Ancient House of Bones. A restrained set of six representatives from the massive Clan McKinnon. The Abbotts and the Sinistras. Aubrey and Rufus attend for Scrimgeour House, without a hint of arguing heard between them. The Marchbanks matriarch, Griselda, and her spouse William. Dexter Fortescue has always been firmly against Voldemort, but possibly he is attending in order to remind the others that they’re not required to die off before reaching their seventh decade. Rufus’s favorite Auror, Alastor Moody, trails behind his parents, Ailbhe and spouse Ciara. Young Moody gives everyone a look of angry paranoia that others seem used to receiving. The Bagnolds wear scarves and kippot, a gesture of respect emulated by the Goldsteins. Both Crouch brothers attend; Barty has his wife Anna for company, but Caspar is lacking Charis.

Shafiq, Doge and Ollivander. Lovegood, Fudge, and Pryce. Bluebell and Max—even Albus and Aberforth Dumbledore, who keep to opposite sides of the building. Of those who were already anti-idiocy, only the Black-Hitchens clan is missing, but at least they have reason not to be here; travel delays ensured they couldn’t make it back from Mesoamerica in time for the funeral.

The new additions, the ones who have left neutrality behind, are pleasing to see: Applebee, Stivers, Brocklehurst, Brown, Thorn, Proudfoot, Kahlbridge, Diggory, and MacDougal. Not all of them have Wizengamot seats, but it’s a visible shift in allegiances.

Lines in the sand, Salazar thinks. Families that were neutral before Robert’s death are stating with their presence that they will be neutral no longer. For standing with the Longbottoms, they’ll find themselves standing against the Death Eaters—and against Voldemort. They’re all still outnumbered by fools, but Wizarding Britain has only been treated to the first volley of war. More families, Half-bloods, and the Muggle-borns who’ve adapted to Wizarding Britain will follow the example shown today. Others will turn away.

Leigh and Clarence Pettigrew, the Fleets, the Eastchurch family, the Smiths, the Blishwicks, and the House of Greengrass, those who still want to appear neutral, will most likely present their condolences and their excuses for not attending Robert’s funeral in public. Voldemort will then praise them for maintaining their “good status” in the Wizengamot, well capable of recognizing them as another means of gaining information from the Ministry.

The funeral also provides him with the first up-close look at Albus Dumbledore that Salazar has yet had outside of his little brother’s memories. Albus Dumbledore isn’t wearing full-length frocks of glitter and nonsense, as Nizar’s portrait often describes, though the man seems to be a firm believer in bright violet velvet trousers with a matching jacket, dyed in such a way that there are neon pink and metallic blue undertones in the fabric that make Salazar’s eyes hurt. He thinks, perhaps, that he would prefer the frocks of glitter.

Albus Dumbledore’s hair is almost entirely white, including a beard that is now of impressive length, though the surviving hints of ginger are fading into iron grey. Salazar dislikes that type of white hair, which tends to not want to reflect any of the color it is surrounded by. Aberforth was also a ginger, but his hair has gone entirely iron grey with interesting blue undertones rather than dull white. The younger Dumbledore appears gruff and irritable compared to his brother, but it does not take long for Salazar to decide that it’s a more honest expression than Albus Dumbledore’s polite air of sympathy.

The service has just concluded when Salazar’s head whips around as he hears the words, “How do you find being Headmaster of Hogwarts, Albus?” falling from the lips of Dexter Fortescue. “I still miss it a bit, myself.”

When did this happen? Why wasn’t it in the newspaper? How did I miss this? Salazar wonders frantically.

Albus Dumbledore takes his time in answering former Headmaster Fortescue, which doesn’t help Salazar’s state of mind in the slightest. “It was a bit of a surprise, of course. None of us expected to wake on first August to find that Armando Dippet had abruptly decided the time had come to take to his deathbed,” Albus Dumbledore says. His eyes have an irritating twinkle to them, one that is inappropriate given the subject they speak of. “Of course, you know that Armando made me Deputy Headmaster a few years ago, just after Professor Wormwood’s retirement. We both thought it would be at least a decade before I might take up the post, but instead, I became acting headmaster on second August, though Armando only passed last night. The morning paper made the official announcement of both, I take it?”

Dexter Fortescue nods. “It did, at that. They wrote up a nice article in remembrance of Armando.”

That would explain why Salazar missed the news, as it is brand new. He’d put off viewing the morning paper in favor of arriving early for the funeral.

“I’m glad they were so considerate of Armando,” Albus Dumbledore says in a way that makes Salazar’s hackles rise. It’s a compliment Dumbledore has bestowed, and yet it is also implication of some sort of wrongdoing on the part of Armando Dippet. “He had no family left but his daughter, who wed into the McKinnon clan. I believe they’re taking charge of the funeral arrangements, so we should hear about it shortly.”

“Through the Wizengamot, no doubt,” Dexter Fortescue agrees. “You’ve been headmaster for nearly a month, then. How does it find you, Albus?”

“Oh, it suits well enough. It’s such a drastic change from teaching Transfiguration or the Deputy’s duties, but after dealing with the Wizengamot for so long, it also feels as if I’m not changing anything at all. It’s good to have Minerva McGonagall back at Hogwarts, too. She was one of the best Transfiguration students I ever had.”

“That one has a good head on her shoulders. She’ll be an excellent teacher of Transfiguration, I’ve no doubt. Head of House, I suppose?” Dexter Fortescue asks.

“Of course. I could think of no one better suited to the role. Minerva’s time in the M.L.E. certainly won’t hinder her ability to keep an eye on the troublemakers among my—er, our Gryffindors!”

If Rufus hadn’t been ranting about losing one of his best Hit Witches to Hogwarts, that would be a surprise, also. What Salazar doesn’t know is what Dumbledore might’ve offered Minerva McGonagall to make her choose such an abrupt change of careers.

Then again, the Ministry is quickly proving itself to be a corrupt shambles. Perhaps Albus Dumbledore had to offer her nothing more than the means of her departure.

Dexter Fortescue gives Dumbledore a shrewd look. “And the hunt for a new DADA teacher? That was old Wormwood’s position when the previous teacher resigned, and then Madam Goldstein did the same this past June. She does have a lively infant to show for it, though, and doesn’t seem to miss teaching at all. A shame, really, given how difficult it’s been to fill that post this term.”

Albus Dumbledore hesitates for a beat. Salazar can’t decide if it’s intended to be a bit of dramatics, or if the pause is genuine. “During the final week of August, Lord Voldemort came to Hogwarts as one of the applicants to the position.”

“Tom Riddle?” Dexter Fortescue sounds surprised. Salazar quietly notes that whatever means Voldemort is employing to make others forget his original name, not everyone is affected by it. “You’d think that one would know better, given the current political atmosphere in Wizarding Britain.”

“I believe he was still expecting to greet Armando,” Albus Dumbledore says. “Armando remembered Riddle with fondness, after all. Alas for Tom, he greeted me, instead. I had no intention of hiring someone whose list of qualifications is based so strongly on performing Dark Arts rather than defending against them.”

“I imagine he wasn’t pleased.”

Albus Dumbledore shakes his head. “Not in the least. He swore I would come to regret my decision.” The man glances in the direction of Robert Longbottom’s casket. “Instead, I’m more certain than ever that I made exactly the right decision.”

The fifth Horcrux, Salazar realizes, tasting sour bile at the back of his throat. That is the rage against Albus Dumbledore that he has always seen, the fuel that drives Voldemort to create the final Horcrux he will make until fear drives him to do the same to an infant.

Dexter Fortescue is aged and wily enough to take Dumbledore’s meaning. “Who did you hire, then?”

“Oh, a bright young lady from the Applebee family. I have complete confidence in her. I’d thought it would be Calvin Kahlbridge, but he never turned up for his interview.”

Fucking hell, Salazar thinks darkly. He already knew that the fifth Horcrux was made within Hogwarts, but now he knows how Voldemort could have done so and have the act gone unnoticed. That Albus Dumbledore can be Hogwarts’ Headmaster and not know of a murder occurring within her halls is alarming, but if his position was not made official until the first of the month…perhaps that is why.

The four Heads of House should have known. Salazar frowns; even if they were not within Hogwarts at the time of the murder, that shouldn’t have stopped them from—

No. It cannot be that they are not tied to the castle’s magic and her four Seats. Hogwarts would be foundering badly were that to occur. It is more likely a matter of being unused to what Hogwarts speaks of, or the Heads of House are bonded to Hogwarts improperly. At the very least, Minerva McGonagall would certainly not yet be in a position of noticing a murder, not when her ties to Hogwarts are so new.

Charlotte will need to be informed that her family should be concerned about the whereabouts of her cousin. Calvin Kahlbridge has most certainly not developed a sudden case of wanderlust.

Salazar slips out of the church, scowling. Minerva McGonagall is back at Hogwarts, teaching Transfiguration and acting as Gryffindor’s Head of House. Armando Dippet is dead, and chose his successor well before the event, possibly with prodding from Albus Dumbledore. Hogwarts’ guardians might not have the means to act as they should to protect her. Voldemort has created his fifth Horcrux, one that might very well have been the impetus for him to begin his war. Wizarding Britain’s first recognized losses have occurred.

Gods take it, why does everything of import wish to happen all at once?

Chapter Text

The same day Monty finally decides to take Salazar up on his offer of using the cellar in the Willow House for dueling practice, there is another “random” attack on Wizarding Britain. There are no deaths, but one of the McKinnon properties is burnt to the ground. It isn’t just a building that is lost, but all of the ancient treasures within, including paintings which doubled as records of the family history.

“God dammit,” Monty mutters at the Evening Prophet, which is again bleating about lone wizards or witches acting against good and proper Pure-blood families. The idiots continue to ignore the fact that the primary targets on the train platform on 1st September were not Pure-bloods, but Muggles. This attack is only fueling that incorrect belief, which is possibly just what Voldemort intended.

Monty wanders over to speak to Nizar’s portrait while Salazar contemplates shoving the newspaper into his fireplace, which is where proper kindling bloody well belongs. It’s become a habit of any visiting Potter to speak to the portrait, sometimes for hours. Charles and Dorea had also done so, out of polite fondness rather than familial recognition, but now they both believe Salazar to be deceased. Poor Henry had to bear the brunt of his younger brother’s anger that they were excluded from attending the funeral, at least until Henry was able to tell them, in all honesty, that he was not able to attend it, either.

Salazar would prefer that Charles and Dorea know their anger is for naught, but it isn’t safe. He still endlessly worries about how their knowledge of his existence might endanger Elizabetha, Henry, Monty, and Euphemia.

“So, you’re telling me that our bloodline is a rubbish fire,” Nizar’s portrait says, which causes Salazar to lift his eyes from his angry perusal of the newspaper. “That makes sense.”

“A rubbish—no!” Monty scowls. “That’s utter nonsense.”

“The people who raised me wouldn’t think so,” Nizar responds dryly. “Which, I’m fine with, by the way. It would be an utter delight to inform them that I’m one-eighth Jat Hindu, one-sixteenth Jewish, and a great bloody chunk of, ‘We don’t actually know, but probably Iberia once or thrice’—and that’s aside from my cousin Eneko’s Euskaran contribution to the family genetics.”

“Please don’t tell me who you spend your childhood with. If I survive this war, it might be far too easy to persuade me to kill them.”

“Oh, they’re just your typical modern day, lily-white English racists,” Nizar says blithely. “What the hell are holidays like in your household, Monty? How do you even practice Hinduism and Judaism at the same time?”

Monty’s expression gradually loses the scowl. “We don’t. Practice both, I mean. Not really. Granddad was still a firm follower of the ancient Brittonic holidays, even though he attended church and observed the major Protestant holidays, too. Grandmother remained devout and attended synagogue throughout her life, but she never wanted Dad, Uncle Charles, or my Aunt Lorraine to be forced to choose one religion or the other. Dad and Uncle Charles would both say they’re Protestant, but we celebrate the Equinoxes, the Solstices, and Beltane right along with the other church holidays, acknowledge Rosh Hashana, skip leavened bread during Passover, and you still won’t find dairy and meat on our dinner table at the same time unless it’s for one of Mum’s Jat holidays. She still celebrates all of those that the family adhered to, and never forces anyone to join her, but we do it anyway. I told James before he left for Hogwarts that with his upbringing, he’ll have plenty of ways to begin a conversation. James said that of course he would, as he’d be able to open every conversation with the fact that his background is cultural soup.”

“Cultural soup,” Nizar repeats, bemused.

“I think it’s fitting, that mix,” Salazar says. “Your mother’s best friend is a child from a Jewish wizarding family.”

Salazar immediately has both the portrait and Monty’s undivided attention. “You found my mother?” Nizar asks. “You hadn’t said.”

“It’s been quite a month, little brother. I finally saw her on first September, off to Hogwarts.” Salazar pauses. “And your aunt.”

“Less talking about my aunt, more talking about my mother and this mysterious best friend,” Nizar retorts. “You think it’s funny, else you wouldn’t be looking so bloody smug right now.”

“He would be a certain young boy from Cokeworth. Your mother’s parents were born in the village, but went away elsewhere for work, and retired to live in their home village again three years after my last visit.”

Nizar stares at him. “You’re talking about Severus Snape. My mother’s best friend is Severus Snape.”

“Most assuredly so.”

“I don’t know of a Snape family in Wizarding Britain,” Monty says.

“The lad is a Half-blood. Eileen Prince is his mother,” Salazar explains.

Monty’s eyes widen. “Oh, that poor kid.”

“Why is that?” Nizar’s portrait isn’t reacting at all in the way Salazar thought he might. He expected horrified bafflement, or perhaps laughter to accompany confusion. Not this flat-eyed, jaw-clenching stare.

“Technically, there are no more Princes in Wizarding Britain. Eileen’s parents, Silvanus and Eden Prince, publicly disowned and disinherited their daughter for marrying a Muggle,” Monty tells the portrait. “The decision earned them quite a bit of backlash, even among the Pure-blooded idiots who now ally themselves with Voldemort. The Princes had no other children. By officially ridding themselves of Eileen, they effectively ended their own magical bloodline.”

“They’re utterly splendid people who raised an utterly splendid daughter,” Salazar drawls with as much sarcasm as he can muster. “The Bagnolds are on public record regarding the Prince family decision as saying that the Nazis did enough damage to their people, and they certainly didn’t need any further assistance in eliminating Jewish families.”

“Exactly,” Monty says. “I knew Eileen in school. She was utterly sour, but she didn’t deserve to be disinherited and disowned for her demeanor, or for her marriage. The worst thing is that her parents would be following right along behind Voldemort if they were still alive. Before he left the Wizengamot, Silvanus was one of the idiots pushing for Wizarding Britain to adopt Grindelwald’s ideals. As far as I’m aware, he shut up about that once it was discovered that Grindelwald supported the Nazis and their genocide, but Silvanus never apologized for what he’d previously said.”

“I don’t think ‘left the Wizengamot’ is quite the proper term. It’s more as if every other magical Jewish family in Britain considered them to be traitors. Fortunately for us all, Silvanus Prince is quite deceased.” Salazar looks at Nizar; flat-eyed anger has become expressionless silence. “Nizar?”

Nizar’s expression twists a bit, a sign that has so often been warning of an incoming thunderstorm. “He lied.”

“Who lied?” Monty asks, puzzled.

“Who?” Nizar bares his teeth just before the anger erupts. “Who the fuck do you think? ALBUS BRIAN PERCIVAL WULFRIC FUCKING DUMBLEDORE!”

Salazar raises an eyebrow, striving for calm. He doesn’t think he’ll much like this, either. “I’m all but certain those names were out of order, hermanito.

“WHO FUCKING CARES?” Nizar’s portrait shouts. “HE. FUCKING. LIED. TO. ME. AGAIN!”

“I have to keep pretending to like Dumbledore, you know,” Monty says in a mild voice, though his eyes are bright with anger. There is even a hint of the shine of his magic there, and it’s just as he said: the deep, blue-touched green of pine needles.

Dumbledore is responsible for—”

“Nizar, stop! You can’t say anything else!” Salazar rests his hand on his chest, feeling as if he’s just been kicked. He hates that sensation. That is magic and Divination both warning him that they are about to stumble into a hornet’s nest of possibilities that cannot be altered. Nizar’s portrait halts, looks at Salazar, and then stalks out of his own frame.

Monty rounds on Salazar. “What the hell is going on—are you all right?”

Salazar nods, the feeling already drying up to drift away. “If you’d known any further details, it might disrupt things that must be. Getting that sort of warning is always a bit of a shock.”

“Details.” Monty looks at Nizar’s empty portrait frame. “I already know the boy’s name, Sal. What am I to do if James mentions Severus Snape?”

“Trust your instincts,” Salazar replies. “You’ll know if what James says is something to be treated with casual acknowledgement, or a parent’s stern regard.”

Monty resumes glaring at him. “That was hint enough, Sal.”

“An unintended one. My apologies.” Salazar is just grateful he didn’t get kicked in the chest again by magic. “Do you know the saying, Boys will be boys?”

Monty looks surprised. “Yes, I know it. Why?”

“Because I bloody well hate it.”

Salazar can’t ask Nizar what he meant by Albus Dumbledore’s lie until Monty returns home to Somerset. “Nizar, hermanito?

“Here, Sal.”

He finds Nizar in Isis’s portrait. Both of them are sitting on a sofa that must have been swiped from another portrait, one that Salazar doesn’t even own. He’s given up on asking magical portraits how they manage to do such things. Isis has her arm resting across Nizar’s shoulders in a gesture of comfort, just as she would have done for any of the village children who were in and out of the Willow House during their marriage.

“What did Albus Dumbledore lie about this time, little brother?”

Nizar doesn’t lift his head from whatever he is gazing at within the bounds of Isis’s portrait. “Dumbledore once told me that Snape kept an eye on me because he owed my father a debt. That was never true. Snape did it because of my mother.” Nizar abruptly jerks his head up to look at Salazar. “Just friendship, right? Not…relationship-friendship?”

“They’re merely eleven,” Salazar responds, but he does think on it. “No,” he says, and is even more certain after he voices the denial aloud and hears no dissent from his magic. “No, it is only friendship they share.”

“Good. I really don’t think I could cope with the idea that my mother once dated my bloody Potions professor,” Nizar says, and then changes the subject. “If my mum was there, what about my grandparents? Her parents?”

“They were there,” Salazar acknowledges. At least speaking of such things to his little brother’s portrait does not cause those vicious magical kicks. “Your grandfather’s health is not good. In fact, both of her parents appear far older than they should. Their names are Malcolm and Jane Evans. I’ll be looking into that part of your family over the winter. Would you like to place a wager on whether or not Albus Dumbledore lied to you regarding any surviving members of your mother’s family aside from Petunia Dursley?”

Hermano, I do not take stupid wagers.”

 

*          *          *          *

 

Salazar spends the whole of winter 1972 attempting to keep track of Death Eater assaults. He has dealt with tactics and military actions for most of his life, and easily recognizes that whoever it is coordinating these skirmishes knows exactly what they’re about. There are no patterns, only consistent facts. Death Eaters attack Muggle villages with small populations, villages in which it is not commonly known that the population is a mix of wizard and Muggle. They burn remote homes of adult Muggle-born wizards and their families; there are daytime attack-and-run assaults against Pure-blood families who refuse to allow the bigoted Wizengamot majority to have their way.

Everything Salazar learns, he sends as anonymous messages to Rufus and Lucretia. Even if the Ministry will do nothing, those two are plotting to collect vital allies among other members of the M.L.E. A disproportionate number of Aurors and Hit Wizards are Muggle-born or Half-bloods, the ones not afraid to get their hands dirty to protect a bunch of prig-headed Pure-bloods. Others among them are driven by desperation, the poor wizards from all classes of Wizarding Britain. That lot often have families to feed, a concern that outweighs any fear of dying while in the Ministry’s employ.

There are almost no fatalities to speak of, not yet. These skirmishes, these daytime hexes, are mere warnings. Voldemort is teaching Wizarding Britain how to fear, and that anyone who does not follow him is a target.

The Ministry of Magic refuses to admit that the Death Eaters exist, despite abundant rumor and the new witnesses who’ve heard Voldemort’s followers announce their names. Minister Jenkins stubbornly refers to the attacks as the work of insurgents, or as misguided and mislabeled political spillover from the Muggle conflict occurring between England and Northern Ireland.

“This isn’t like sodding Ballymurphy at all, you great twat!” Salazar seethes, crumpling up yet another newspaper for kindling. There are some in Wizarding Britain, particularly among those who Henry and Elizabetha call friends as well as allies, who refuse to believe the rubbish printed in the Daily Prophet. Too many others take Minister Jenkins and the Ministry at their word: there is nothing to fear as long as they avoid Muggle politics.

Salazar rolls his eyes when those words are spoken. It is no longer a matter of mere politics when blood is being shed in Northern Ireland, especially when most of that spilled blood is not English. He briefly considers working to unseat Minister Jenkins, but the timing is wrong. One of Voldemort’s followers could easily be elected Minister for Magic in her place.

“You know, this would all be so much easier to cope with if Wizarding Britain was not already a fascist government,” Salazar says with an irritated sigh. “Voldemort’s brand of fascism does not yet look so very different from what the Ministry has to offer.”

Henry presses his lips firmly together before he lifts his glass, sipping at the cognac he brought to the Willow House to share with Salazar. James is home for the winter holidays, keeping Salazar away from the manor in Somerset. Elizabetha and Salazar did agree that perhaps Salazar’s tradition of granting a single gift to James should continue, though they will now be anonymous sendings for James to puzzle over. Salazar put careful thought into this year’s gift, followed his instincts, and sent a simple box with a plain but excellently crafted blade meant for sharpening a quill. Accompanying it is a note in a magically crafted script, which Nizar’s portrait found most amusing: Sometimes another needs what you’ve already been granted. It will be interesting to find out what James Potter does with such a thing.

“I thought so, too, in my youth.”

“Did you?” Salazar asks Henry. “Specifically, you recognized the nature of Wizarding Britain’s fascist government, or…?”

“I recognized it, but did not call it fascism. Not then. I’m not certain I knew the meaning of the word in those days,” Henry admits. “But I knew that the way our government was arranged was meant to benefit very few while ignoring the plight of the whole. It was one of the reasons I agreed to take the family seat on the Wizengamot once my father decided to retire from politics. I was young and idealistic, and quite foolish. I firmly believed that if I spoke out, others would recognize that same truth, and together we could change things.”

“I don’t think that a foolish endeavor,” Salazar says quietly.

Henry smiles, a faint and tired expression. “I had no plan other than to attempt to change over three hundred years of tradition, Sal. You and I both know that such a thing is not easily done. I should have made alliances before opening my fool mouth. Tested the waters, as they say. Instead, I spoke. I will admit it to be an elegant speech, even now, one that Elizabetha helped me to write. The best parts are hers, though she’ll deny it. While that speech earned my House allies, friendships we’ve maintained through all these years…nothing changed. Not even Grindelwald’s war changed anything in Wizarding Britain. If anything, Grindelwald left us even more vulnerable to men like Voldemort.”

Salazar finds one Death Eater’s body after a raid fails. The man, a Pure-blood from the Blishwick family, is riddled with bullet holes. That possibly makes Salazar rather more gleeful than he should be, but this is the sign of a Muggle who successfully fought back. He needs evidence of such resistance, to see it and be glad of it. With each attack that results in injury, Salazar is left wondering if Wizarding Britain has forgotten the concept of self-defence entirely.

“For gods’ sake, these people have wands!” Salazar rants to his brother’s portrait. “They’re not defenceless!”

Nizar raises an eyebrow. “Salazar, do I again need to recite for you what my magical education was like before we met?”

Salazar lets out a growl of frustration and shoves another newspaper into his fireplace.

Euphemia sends him messages by owl, the first of which finally identifies her new familiar as Nerys. At least Salazar can now call the long-eared owl by her name.

 

Sal,

Dorea would want you to know, if she didn’t currently think you dead: her grandniece Andromeda is pregnant with her first child, due in April. Well, Andromeda hopes it will be her first child of many, but my trained healer’s ears have listened to Dorea speak, and they are suspicious. Andromeda Tonks has been to St. Mungo’s more times than is typical for a wizarding pregnancy. They all claim the baby to be healthy, but that doesn’t settle my fears for Andromeda.

They do know it will be a girl. Ted is apparently over the moon at the idea of having a daughter. Andromeda wants to name her Nymphadora, per the Black family tradition, though I suspect it’s also a means of spiting the family who disowned her. I don’t find as I blame her very much, and Nymphadora is a pretty name. Ted wants to name their daughter after his mother, but I know the Blacks. If Aitana is attached to this child, it will be her second name, not her first.

 

Euphemia,

Congratulations to Andromeda and Ted, then. I especially like Ted’s refusal to put his Andalusian heritage aside. Who else has been breeding while my back is turned?

 

Sal,

Arthur and Molly Weasley have two boys now, born in 1970 and 1971. Their names are William and Charles, though Bill and Charlie have quickly become more commonplace. They’re adorable gingers, just like their parents. Bill takes after the English Weasley side of the family, while Charlie is most assuredly an Irish-descended Prewett.

 

Euphemia,

TWO SONS IN A ROW?

 

Sal,

I know! But Cedrella certainly isn’t the sort to be hiding any secret pregnancies, especially not when the Weasley clan will let a successor of any gender inherit land, vault, and the Wizengamot seat. They had three sons, and now Arthur and Molly look to be repeating the pattern. One has to wonder what they’re doing so differently from other Pure-bloods in Wizarding Britain. If there is a method, some of us are wanting to have more children!

 

Euphemia,

Or someone cursed them to have only sons. I do know that Cedrella was rather fond of the idea of having a daughter.

 

Sal,

Oh, bother. Dorea heard me say that and immediately thinks it’s exactly that. It does make me wonder if you can you curse someone with excessive fertility.

 

Euphemia,

That one usually comes with unwanted side effects, such as never being able to stop bearing children. I don’t recommend it. Is anyone else expecting or carting about new offspring? I’m afraid I’ve been a bit too distracted of late by fools in masks to devote time to the Prophet’s back-page announcements.

 

Sal,

Henry and Joy Prewett are still trying for children, but with no success. I’m sure you recall that John Morgan’s son Robert wed Alice Bainbridge in 1956, but only now are they going to greet a child. Sometime this spring, I believe. We’ve also finally heard that John’s daughter Anna, the one who married that nice chap from Cairo in 1957, had a daughter in 1970. I’ve not yet seen a photograph, but now that I’ve asked her, Madam Morgan won’t stop talking about how her first grandchild is the most beautiful baby to ever exist.

 

Euphemia,

I sense jealousy.

 

Sal,

Mostly I just want to slap Madam Morgan for being so insensitive. You’d think a war widow would know better than to crow about babies in front of those who’ve been cursed by a lack.

 

To her credit, little though she deserves it, Minister Jenkins stops blaming the violence in Wizarding Britain on the conflict between Northern Ireland and England after the Bogside Massacre at the end of January. She still will not call the Death Eaters by their name, or refer to them as anything other than rogue elements of wizarding society, but at least she’s no longer blaming the Irish.

To distract himself from wanting to strangle a multitude of magical politicians, Salazar concentrates on the Evans family. Now that Lily Evans is safely back in Hogwarts, he can do so without fear of running into her, or with encountering Petunia, who is attending a distant boarding school at her own request. Petunia Evans might be a hateful young woman, but her grades are enough to see that her schooling is paid for by scholarship. Salazar is glad of that, at least, as it quickly becomes obvious that her parents would not have the financial means to send both of their children to a private school. Hogwarts has a number of scholarships for magical students from struggling families, but the determination is made by that ridiculous governing board. As that board is currently staffed with enough Death Eaters to constitute a majority, it will be specific sorts of student who will receive those scholarships, and it will not be Muggle-borns like Lily Evans.

It’s the school itself that momentarily distracts Salazar from his purpose; Petunia Evans is attending St. Mary’s in Surrey. He often says that there are no coincidences, and here is yet more evidence that he has long been correct. Petunia’s choice of school explains how she will meet Vernon Dursley, or has likely met him already. Vernon Dursley’s sister, Marjorie, was in her final year of schooling and serving as Head Girl when Petunia was a first-year. He wonders what it is about Marjorie and Vernon Dursley that would have been so appealing to Petunia Holly Evans that she would remain in contact with either.

According to the birth certificate copy that Salazar attains by means that are not even remotely legal, Jane Evans was born Margaret Jane Riley in April 1913, but in Lancashire, not Cokeworth. Salazar is puzzled by that until he finds an old news article in a tiny Lancashire newspaper archive. A shipping yard incident in Glasson Dock took the life of Irish immigrant Sean Riley, aged thirty-two. Brief mention is made of newly widowed Irishwoman Líle Callan, aged twenty-nine, and English-born daughter Jane, aged three. The two are said to be moving to a village far to the south, where the young widow has found work to support her child—no. Children. Líle Callan Riley was pregnant when her husband died.

Líle is the Irish spelling of Lily. Nizar’s mother is named for her grandmother.

Salazar sits back from the microfilm machine, rubs his eyes, and thinks idly about cursing Cokeworth’s library. If he wants to find any potential news articles regarding births or deaths in that village, he has to search through actual stacks of aging newspapers that have never been transferred to microfilm. Not only that, he has to enter the library after closing, lurk in the dark like a burglar, and sift through newspapers by wandlight. Those who run that particular library are tyrants who trust no one, especially a man who isn’t a born-and-bred local.

He shakes his head and makes certain he performs the rest of his research regarding Lily’s father. Then Salazar can go haring off in search of this new mystery child.

Malcolm Edward Evans was indeed born in Cokeworth, in October of 1914. His father was a factory worker and former miner from the Yorkshire Dales named Edward Evans. Just like his father had been, Malcolm Evans was a miner for most of his working years. It’s the sort of hard labor that would certainly cause his current physical difficulties and poor health. Edward Evans’s wife, Lily’s paternal grandmother, was named Rose Ravensloft, late of Skipton before the new family moved south to Cokeworth.

“Was it that soon, then?” Salazar wonders aloud, resisting the urge to trace the microfilm’s magnification screen with his fingertips. Ravensloft is similar to the much older Ravenscroft, though he doesn’t recall when Phoebe chose the name. Rowena’s rather unexpected addition to her family wanted to acknowledge the man who’d been her grandfather, as well as her great aunt, while still choosing to stand on her own.

Salazar smiles. Helena had absolutely loathed Phoebe. Not because Rowena’s grandniece was an awful lass, but because Phoebe had intelligence enough to nearly outshine both Helena and Rowena. He’s not certain Phoebe ever understood why Helena thought they were such rivals, especially as Phoebe preferred to make jewelry rather than expound upon the words of ancient scholars. It had not even mattered that Salazar and others reassured Helena, so many times, that if it was beauty and wisdom she wished for, she already had the utmost of both.

Phoebe had been the one to make Rowena’s diadem, a laughing raven’s outspread wings etched with Rowena’s favorite witticism. It had been both gift and gratitude for the woman who’d accepted Phoebe despite her origins. Rowena had held only one familial regret before Helena’s departure and subsequent murder; she did not get to meet the half-sister that her then-unwed father accidentally sired while on military campaign for East Francia’s king.

Helena had stolen the diadem before leaving Hogewáþ not only out of a desire to outshine all with her brilliance, but also as an act of petty revenge. Salazar tried to find the diadem while he lived in Greece with Ismene centuries later, but “west of Greece, in the bore of an eastward-leaning tree” did not exactly narrow down potential locations for a stolen and lost bit of jewelry. He still suspects that Helena’s spirit was vague on purpose, that she wanted no one to find the reason for her shame.

“Ravensloft,” Nizar’s portrait repeats when Salazar brings him the news. “I wonder if that’s why Mum’s parents were so excited about her being a witch.”

“Excited?”

Nizar nods. “Yeah. Aunt Petunia told me. She was exceptionally fucking bitter when she did so, but it’s probably the most honest thing she ever said to me. Her parents—my grandparents—were thrilled to have a witch in the family.”

“Possibly because they already knew what it was like.” Salazar had a similar thought. Rose Ravensloft is now deceased, but she and her husband lived long enough to witness her son’s marriage to Jane Riley in Cokeworth before he pursued a career with Daw Mill. If Rose Ravensloft was a witch, both son and bride were old enough to be well-versed in what such was like. “I’m not so concerned right now about Rose Ravensloft’s potential magic. What matters is that your mother had an aunt, one who no longer dwells in Cokeworth.”

“My mother had an aunt who could have died at birth, have died since then, or could be practically anywhere else on the planet,” Nizar counters. “You might wish to start with finding her name, Sal.”

Salazar finally locates a birth certificate for Naomi Shawna Riley. The girl was born in Cokeworth in January 1917 in a home that has since been torn down and replaced by terraced housing. “Named for your father, but the pair of you have Anglicized names.” Wise of their mother, if depressing. Fifty-five years later, and still England is not a safe place to be Irish.

What Salazar does not find is any date of death. Not in Cokeworth, at least. He goes back to marriage records and commits more acts of privacy violation and thievery. Naomi Riley wed in 1941 at age twenty-four, shortly after the Blitz stopped hammering London. The groom’s name was Matthew Godwin from Kingston upon Hull, also twenty-four.

“Bloody Hull? It’s like you lot are trying to make my job harder,” Salazar complains, but off he goes to the riverside port in East Yorkshire.

Hull gives him a number of answers, and does an excellent job of renewing his rage against Albus Dumbledore. “As of right now, you’ve a still-surviving great-aunt named Naomi and three first-cousins-once-removed, all who have spouses. One of those spouses is already expecting a baby to grant you another cousin.”

“So, either they’re somehow all dead by 1981, or…”

“Or Albus Dumbledore is going to be turned inside out by my wand and stretched across the Channel to act as a bloody windsock!” Salazar growls. “Nizar: I can’t tell anyone.”

Nizar’s portrait is running his thumbs along the knuckles of his clenched fists. “I know. It wouldn’t be safe, not for anyone involved, and that’s not even considering how we might be bloody well interfering again.” He unclenches his fists and stretches his fingers. “You’re the Seer, Sal. How likely is it that they’re dead in 1981?”

“I really didn’t want you to ask me that question.” Salazar runs his hands through his hair and realizes he needs to trim it again. “Your great aunt, perhaps, but the rest?” He shakes his head. “It’s not necessarily set in stone, but in regards to what I sense right now, they’ll still be alive.”

“Then we’re still at, ‘Fuck Albus Dumbledore,’” Nizar says.

Hermanito, I would much rather we just kill him.”

Nizar smiles. “Here’s hoping Myself agrees with you, then. Is there anything to be done about Mum’s parents?”

If Salazar had hoped there would be no questions regarding the rest of the Riley clan’s fate in 1981, he’d desperately wanted not to be asked this. “Another magical kick to the chest, little brother. For Malcolm and Jane Evans, there is nothing I can do.”

Salazar has not yet received any such warning regarding the Potters. He dreads the day when such might finally happen.

 

*          *          *          *

 

On a beautiful day in April, Euphemia’s owl brings Salazar a brief letter from Elizabetha. Salazar gives Nerys her usual demanded scratching while he unfolds the message.

 

Sal,

You have a meeting in London. Leicester Square, 1:00 p.m. tomorrow. Appearances matter.

 

“And you are not referring to my wardrobe, either.” Salazar sends Nerys home, and then stores the message with the others he has secreted away in the cellar in a place no one can see but himself. He spends his evening wondering who among Elizabetha’s Pure-blood acquaintances is ready to be rid of Voldemort.

Salazar isn’t fool enough to wander into Leicester Square directly. He arrives at 12:30, finds a café that will grant him a good view of the square, casts an excellent glamor, and enchants a mirror to warn him of anyone entering the square who carries a wand.

The mirror flashes for his attention at 12:55. Salazar sips at his coffee, using the gesture to hide the way his eyes flicker among those wandering the square. He finds her sitting down on a bench across from the fountain, a witch whose appears fits in well with both Muggle London and Wizarding Britain. She wouldn’t be remarked upon in Wizarding Britain at all, though the Muggles might think her either overdressed or wealthy.

They would be correct on the latter assumption. Desdemona Bulstrode Dunbar is the recent widow of Michael Dunbar, who was quite well-off even by wizarding standards. Madam Dunbar also possesses her own vault, an inheritance from her mother that no Dunbar may touch unless she decides to will it to one of them rather than assigning it to the next Bulstrode matriarch.

Desdemona Dunbar dressed well for this meeting: a black jacket and matching skirt with green-yellow penciled lines; a white blouse with just enough lace flounce at the collar to be fashionable instead of outdated; a silver broach with a stone that leaves no doubt that she wears a real ruby, not a glass imitation. She has no hat, something that would be commented on by Muggles in this sort of weather, but is wearing gloves that are gripping a solid black cane with a smaller top, no doubt the location of her wand. Her gloves are the same shade of green as the stripes in her clothing, making them a tasteful match rather than an eyesore. Her bronzed-brown hair is bound, still mostly dark with only a hint of silvering; her eyes are dark Mediterranean blue, but Salazar has seen her up close before, and knows that flecks of grey and copper lurk in that particular ocean. Her skin likewise has the olive cast common to the Mediterranean, though it is pale from a life spent mostly indoors in a country whose sunshine is sporadic and unpredictable.

Desdemona Dunbar looks to be fifty-four rather than the sixty-eight years of age she can rightfully claim. Salazar decides upon a test of patience, curious to see how Desdemona Dunbar copes with those who choose to be fashionably late.

At 1:05, Desdemona Dunbar’s lip twitches on one side and turns downward, but otherwise, she does not react. She seems quite content to watch the Muggles around her, but her posture remains firmly upright, her chin lifted. Her gloved fingers never stray too far from her wand.

“I like you already,” Salazar murmurs, and leaves a few notes on the table to cover his meager tab. He stands up, rids himself of the glamour, and wanders over to the square while keeping the fountain between them. That slight downturn of her lip remains her only show of impatience, despite the time now being 1:15.

Salazar settles down on the edge of the fountain, now facing her. With his wand at the ready, hidden in his jacket’s right sleeve, he waits.

Desdemona Dunbar’s eyes find him not long after. They widen just slightly in surprise, but otherwise her expression doesn’t change a whit, nor does she move. Salazar approves. He wanders over to the bench she is seated upon, dropping down onto the other side in an apparent, uncaring slouch, as if intent on ignoring his seatmate.

“Desdemona Bulstrode Dunbar. This is quite the surprise.”

She glances at him from the corner of her eye. “Saul Luiz. You would be the man who is organizing hidden resistance against a certain ridiculously named individual.”

“That I am.”

Desdemona Bulstrode returns her gaze to the fountain. “Hmm. The news of your death seems to be a bit exaggerated, then.”

“It’s quite easy to fake your death in Wizarding Britain, especially when the entire system is fueled by bribery.”

Her lip twitches upwards, though her expression is otherwise impassive. “Perhaps. I have to admit, I had my doubts about today, but to find Saul Luiz? Hero of the European Wizarding War, the man who assisted, from beginning to end, in defeating the threat of Grindelwald?” Her dark blue eyes gleam with amusement. “Elizabetha was correct. This really will be a worthy way to spend my time.”

“I hope it will be,” Salazar replies honestly. “Please let us not mention names in such a public manner again. I am certainly proof enough that there are spies to be found everywhere.”

“Then I’ll say it is a pleasure to meet you, man whose name I shall no longer mention in public.”

Salazar laughs. “Oh, I definitely like you. Have you dined yet this afternoon, madam?”

“Not yet. I admit that my appetite is lacking when I’m on my way to clandestine meetings in Muggle London that could potentially see me murdered,” Desdemona Dunbar says dryly.

“Then we’ll start with that,” Salazar says, standing and offering her his hand.

Desdemona Dunbar accepts his assistance, though she retreats back to the cane once she is on her feet. Salazar walks with her to a lovely restaurant of much higher quality than he usually frequents, one that serves delicate biryani rather than a sturdier, spicier curry.

“I take it you aren’t dead in Britain at large,” Desdemona says after insisting, quite firmly, that he is to call her by her first name alone unless formalities require otherwise.

Salazar first responds by casting a strong privacy charm that Desdemona appears to appreciate. “Not at all. That is much more difficult, and would be inconvenient, besides. Gaining new Muggle legal identification under a new name is pointless anyway, given that the enemy wants nothing to do with Muggles unless it’s to be rid of them,” he replies. “You may call me Saul, or Sal, as long as you do not pair the first choice publicly with the surname of a man meant to be dead in Wizarding Britain.”

“Sal, then.” Desdemona neatly unrolls her tableware to place on either side of the empty plate waiting to be filled. “You’re right in that the enemy isn’t interested in learning anything of Muggle doings. I actually rather enjoy it here, though it’s a secret I’ve had to keep from my family since I became old enough to venture into London by myself. My parents would not have approved. My spouse would have been of similar thought.”

“You do seem to be the only member of your family who is not a Death Eater.”

Desdemona nods. She is unsurprised by the term Death Eater, most likely because all of her siblings proudly bear the title. “At least I still have two young nieces who can still say otherwise.”

“I am also sorry for your recent loss.”

“You mean Michael?” Desdemona takes a sip of her tea. “We got on quite well at first, but towards the end, he decided his admiration for Voldemort was all he cared for. I find I do not miss my husband very much. What I regret is the influence he held over our children. They are adults, and thus they make their own decisions. I’d just hoped to have raised children who were not so insistent upon making stupid choices.”

“I also would not appreciate being surrounded by familial idiocy,” Salazar comments.

Desdemona gives him the shrewd look of a true Slytherin. “What do you know of me, Saul Luiz? It seems fair, given I know quite a bit about you due to the European wars.”

“Less than you’d think,” Salazar says, which seems to please her. “You are the eldest of four siblings and thus the presiding Bulstrode matriarch, even if it is your brother sitting in the Bulstrode Wizengamot seat. You had three children of your own with the unlamentedly deceased Michael Dunbar. Your youngest son is Bradford, engaged to wed Cicily Greyback next year, but they’re still undecided on the date. Bradford dithered on his engagement because of Cicily’s much older brother, Fenrir, a werewolf infamous for attacking children. That one gives werewolves who mean no harm to anyone a foul reputation, especially now.”

When Desdemona does not react to his defence of other werewolves, Salazar continues. “Your next-eldest child, Odette, married Albert Davies. They do not yet have children, but given Albert’s often lacking hygiene, I have to wonder at Odette’s taste. Your eldest child, Alexandra, was born quite soon after your marriage to Michael, enough so that it was commented on. The gossips ceased to care once Michael declared that only a son would inherit the majority share of the Dunbar fortune, and thus it will be Bradford who sits in the Dunbar seat you currently occupy on your deceased husband’s behalf.”

“Would that I could hold it longer,” Desdemona says. “I instead hope that my son will be as slow to sire children as he is in making up his mind about his wedding date. Bradford can’t take the seat until he has a male heir.”

"Alexandra wed Dorcus Carrow almost before she’d shed her Hogwarts robes upon graduation. She then gave birth to a baby girl with an unrecorded fate.”

Desdemona looks surprised. “Very few know of that.”

“It was actually a supposition based on birthing trends in Wizarding Britain.”

“Ah, yes. The infamous Pure-blood curse.” Desdemona gently stirs a bit more sugar into her tea before placing the spoon aside. “If a girl is born first, one has more children; if a boy is first, the well runs dry. I know of far too many Pure-blooded families who refuse to let anyone other than a son inherit their lands and vaults, and the Carrows are one of the worst offenders. It’s an utter mockery of the equality Wizarding Britain purports to maintain. The child who would have been my eldest niece deserved better.”

“It is a mockery, and yes, she did,” Salazar agrees. “After that lost daughter’s birth came Quintin Carrow, who is now seventeen. The twins Amycus and Alecto are fifteen. Those three are schooling in Hogwarts right now, Sorted to Slytherin, while nine-year-old Blanchette must wait to join her siblings. In the meantime, your sister Eleanor remains unwed, and that seems unlikely to change given her attitude towards marital bliss. Your other sister, younger Lauranna, is being courted by Dagger Fleet and Marcus Hobart, but has yet to make up her mind as to which of the two idiots she finds preferable. The youngest of the four children raised by deceased Harold Bulstrode and Mildred Fawcett is your brother Alfridus, who wed Majora Runcorn after a failed courtship with Heliotrope Rothschild. I’ve no idea why he chose as he did; your brother wants heirs, and Majora Runcorn is against the idea of children. I suspect she will probably bear one anyway, if only so her husband will be silent about it afterwards. He’ll certainly not be claiming Esmerelda, if only to spite a mother that cares nothing for her at all.”

“I believe it will be a cold day in Hell before my foolish brother recognizes an illegitimate child,” Desdemona says. “Spite is secondary.”

“For the child’s sake, I’m glad your brother is such a fool.” Alfridus Bulstrode has always struck Salazar as foolish, yes, but a slippery one, a man who always bears in mind the dangers involved in being caught. “That being said: did I miss anyone?”

Desdemona shakes her head. “That was as precise as if you read it from a genealogy tome. I was right; you’ve been watching the Death Eaters since they introduced themselves to Wizarding Britain last September.”

With that, Salazar is finally able to say something that rattles Desdemona’s composure. “No. I’ve been watching Voldemort, and keeping an eye on who gathered to listen to his speeches, since Tom Marvolo Riddle returned to Britain in 1961.”

Desdemona waits, barely breathing, as their waiter returns. After sitting the serving dish on the table between them, the lid is removed. Steaming lamb biryani is delivered to their plates before the waiter replaces the lid and makes a swift, professional retreat. “You remember who Voldemort used to be.”

“I do.”

She takes a moment to appreciate the quality of the biryani. Salazar has to admit that the lamb is excellent, though he’d prefer the figurative hole in the wall’s biryani, as they aren’t afraid to offend the English palete with stronger flavors and spices. “Very few recall the name Tom Marvolo Riddle. The sole man I’ve encountered who remembered Lord Voldemort’s true name seems terrified to speak of Voldemort that way, as if worried that his beloved Dark Lord will discover his inconvenient recollection of Voldemort’s origins.”

“I have never forgotten, and I never will.” Salazar still hasn’t discovered if it is enchantment, fear, or willful disbelief that keeps others from recalling Voldemort’s past. If it’s an enchantment, it is an excellent one that is well-hidden; if it is willful disbelief, that is a battle that will not be easily won. “I also have not forgotten what fascism sounds like.”

“No. I suspected that you had not,” Desdemona replies. “You were young during the war, and I’d read nothing that would hint at your death until the day after the attack at Platform Nine and Three-Quarters. Imagine my surprise when the contact Elizabetha arranged for me to meet today turns out to be the very man whose loss I’d mourned, hoping as I was that his abilities could be used against the Pure-blooded fascism we speak of now.”

Desdemona puts down her tableware and regards Salazar intently. “I am in a prime position to be a master spy’s excellent tool, yet I have no one trustworthy to serve.”

“Because your entire family believes you to be loyal to Voldemort’s cause, as you’ve given them no reason to believe otherwise.” Salazar leans back in his chair, a relaxed posture that often makes Pure-bloods despair of his upbringing. “I’ve been looking for a way to get back into Voldemort’s secret meetings since he was banned from holding them in public places.”

Desdemona smiles. “How convenient it is, then, that I am welcome at every gathering the Dark Lord holds.”

Salazar holds up his glass of water, tilted forward. “It’s no bit of bubbly, but…”

Desdemona merely accepts the toast for what it is. “To ridding this island of another unwanted plague.”

“May the plague end swiftly,” Salazar replies, trying to ignore the guilt caused by a statement that he knows to be a lie.

 

*          *          *          *

 

Salazar’s first meeting with Death Eaters occurs at the end of the month, inside the Carrow Estate. The home doesn’t gleam with the extravagance of others Pure-blood manors he has seen, but it is very large. That, it seems, was a major factor in why it was chosen, as the estate’s halls and parlors are crowded with fools.

“Good gods.” In the years since the public speaking ban, Voldemort’s ranks have swelled like a bloating corpse. No wonder Wizarding Britain will live in fear for a decade, at least until Voldemort is temporarily felled by an infant.

Desdemona does not recognize him, as Salazar is using Multa Facies Sucus to wear the visage of the conveniently unavailable William Montague. It did not take much to encourage the Montague patriarch to overindulge, and he’ll sleep heavily until morning. Salazar walks by her in William’s typical shuffle, granting him plenty of time to press a slip of paper into her hand. She sensibly tucks it away instead of attempting to read it while surrounded by the teeming crowds. Desdemona then acts as if she has just spied William Montague for the first time and excuses herself from Abraxus Malfoy’s company, citing the need to escort William to a comfortable chair.

“You need to meet someone else here,” Desdemona says, her tone that of a Pure-blood ready to gush on the power of a new political connection.

“Lead on, then,” Salazar replies, though with William’s gait to mimic, it’s not as swift a trip as he would prefer. It isn’t age that slows William Montague, but magical damage to his knees from an amazingly chaotic midair Quidditch collision during the man’s rudely interrupted professional Quidditch career.

Desdemona finds an isolated part of the estate’s garden, where a man already waits for them, hunched over while seated on a bench, his hands clasped together. “The wards are set?”

The man nods. “Set more, if you like.”

Desdemona is sensible enough to take him at his word. Salazar rests his fingers on his wand and then adds another layer.

She then introduces him to Martinus Flint, a terrified man who thought he’d understood what a war would mean until he was ordered to fight in it. Salazar congratulates himself on reading Martinus Flint so well several years ago, and that the man is so very cautious. It isn’t until Salazar’s disguise wears off that Martinus believes he is not William Montague attempting to ensnare him.

“Paranoia is useful,” Salazar says as Martinus looks upon him in disbelief. “It keeps you alive when little else will. You were on the train platform, weren’t you?”

Martinus nods, looking ill. “I think—I didn’t mean to. But I think—I think I killed Robert Longbottom. Oh, God. I’m not sure, but I wasn’t…” He bends over again and rests his head in his hands.

“Wouldn’t you have been praised for killing an enemy to your Dark Lord’s cause?” Salazar asks, placing his anger aside. It has no place here, not when he faces someone who already regrets his actions to the point of illness. Martinus Flint has lost a drastic amount of weight over the past winter.

“That’s just it. That isn’t supposed to be our cause. We’re to be preserving Pure-bloods, not killing them!” Martinus makes a desperate noise, accompanied by a flailing gesture of distress. “Instead, it was—nobody cared! Robert was a good man, and no one cared that another Pure-blood was dead. We even attack other Pure-bloods! Blood Traitors, they’re labeled, but even Blood Traitors can have Pure-blooded children!”

“If you’re to work for me, there are certain ideas you’ll need to leave behind, especially as they are false,” Salazar says quietly. Martinus stares at him in blank incomprehension. “But we’ll discuss that later.”

“It was different when we were the Knights of Walpurgis,” Martinus mumbles. “It was, wasn’t it?”

“Not if you think on it and realize that the title of Knight was always meant to mislead those with no wish to murder another for foolish causes.”

Martinus stares at Salazar again, but this time, he nods. “Then I will not be misled again.”

In a single month, Salazar has gone from the frustration of standing alone to the reassurance of allies at his back. He isn’t certain that Martinus will ever overcome certain prejudices, but the man is clever and loyal, utterly dedicated to stopping Voldemort and his Death Eaters. Desdemona uses a Pure-blood woman’s demure mannerisms to hide sharp intelligence and canny manipulation.

Salazar, Desdemona, and Martinus are not an army, but they are spies, not soldiers. They need only be quick, sly, and secret. An army is not what this war calls for. Not yet.

 

*          *          *          *

 

Isobella Wystera Potter dies on 5th May 1972 at the age of one hundred fifty-eight. Salazar refuses to miss her funeral, though he is not a visible presence.

He warns Henry of his attendance in advance. Henry sends back a note full of blatant gratitude that Salazar will join him to say farewell to the Potter matriarch, the longest-lived Potter in many generations.

After the service’s conclusion, Salazar gets his first good look at Isobella Potter’s memorial stone. “I’d no idea she’d served on the Wizengamot,” he says from beneath the shelter of the Invisibility Cloak. Almost everyone else has left Chiltern Hills. The few remaining Potters will not be surprised if Henry chooses to speak quietly to his great-aunt, entombed properly in the Potter vault next to her two siblings and their spouses.

“When my great-grandfather Nicholas died unexpectedly, he was still a young man. His children were only thirteen, nine, and four years of age. My great-grandmother had no interest in politics, but my Great-Great-Aunt Adelaide and Great-Great-Uncle Nicholas both felt the Potter Wizengamot seat should maintain the established tradition of a direct line of succession. Great-Grandmother Avice had no choice but to sit in the seat until Great-Aunt Isobella came of age. She enjoyed her time on the Wizengamot, but didn’t want it to be her entire life. Grandfather Alastair was given the seat in 1848, after my father and his siblings had reached what Great-Aunt Isobella felt was a good age for their father to be away from home more often. Grandmother Harriet could have taken the seat when he died in 1878, but she was not only mourning my grandfather, but also my uncle James. Great-Uncle Simon had no interest in the Wizengamot, and neither did Cousin Charlus, his son, who was rather occupied with being enamored of his husband.”

Salazar’s eyes flicker over the names. “The Pure-blood curse seems to have struck your family later than most. Your grandparents had three sons.”

“Like the three Weasley boys.” Henry grants the wall of carved stones a faint smile. “Uncle Walter could have held the seat well enough, but he didn’t want it. My father married my mother and accepted the family Wizengamot seat that same year, grieved by the fact that his father and his eldest brother were absent from the wedding ceremony. When Father retired from politics in 1920, I’m the fool who wanted to sit in his place.”

“You still are not a fool for wanting better for Wizarding Britain, Henry.”

Henry sighs. “I remember that notion some days better than others.”

Alberta Peebles Rookwood, who had already tired of Voldemort’s speeches when they were new, joins their spying enclave in October. Her husband, Augustus Rookwood, is fanatically loyal to his Dark Lord. He has all but forgotten his wife and children exist unless they participate in Death Eater doings. Gerald and Geminia, Alberta’s younger son and elder daughter, are just as enthused in Death Eater ideals as their father. Alberta wants to work against Voldemort in the hopes that stopping him will stop them, that her family will return to what it had been before a handsome young Dark Lord stood up in Diagon Alley and spoke his honeyed, treacherous words.

Salazar knows even as she vows to protect the secrecy of their little enclave that Alberta will not last through the entirety of this war as a spy. She isn’t the type to slip and be caught, but he was a good judge of spies long before Europe decided it needed to fight two world wars. Alberta will tire as she realizes that her family will never again be what she longs for. Salazar judges that her participation will last until 1975 before the pain of watching her children become monsters is too much to bear. Either way, he should look to supplementing their ranks now, not later. The only difficulty lies in finding the very few silent dissenters among vast hordes of loud supporters.

He spends more and more time under the cover of Multa Facies Sucus as he finds the Death Eaters among Voldemort’s followers who are the most susceptible to Mind Magic, and to the lure of excess. Salazar avoids those who have resorted to potions, drugs, and poisons to attain their altered states of consciousness, but many Pure-bloods among the Death Eaters regularly overindulge in alcohol.

Taking the hair of one who has become inebriated to unconsciousness, portraying them for an evening, and dropping a memory into their heads afterwards of an evening spent among Death Eaters, is an easy task. Harder is the company Salazar is forced to endure, the sights he witnesses, and the words he utters in his role as a spy. Voldemort is not yet terrifying his followers, but Salazar has seen the first moments of it in the way Voldemort’s voice will turn chill, the twist of certain phrases, and the hints of dark promise. Britain’s Dark Lord has collected his followers, and soon he will begin the task of making certain they know that they will always belong to him.

In January 1973, Salazar has a moment of solitary panic at how close he came to being Marked by Voldemort. The Pure-blood he’d originally chosen to impersonate that night was in the first group of wizards Voldemort selected to receive his new Death Eater’s Mark. If Desdemona and Martinus hadn’t insisted upon being their eyes and ears at that evening’s gathering in Malfoy Manor, Salazar might not have been able to avoid it—and he has to. Salazar has no idea what sort of magic goes into the creation of what will soon come to be known as the Dark Mark. That would be a pathetic way to be caught out, and he doesn’t want to think about what Voldemort might attempt to do to a man who cannot die.

Desdemona avoids receiving the Dark Mark with deft reasoning. She attends the Wizengamot by way of the Dunbar Family Seat, casting votes in her dead husband’s place on behalf of the entire Dunbar family. A lady of her standing who bears such a grim tattoo on her arm would be seen as suspicious at most, and uncouth at the least. Those considered uncouth are not often sought out for social niceties, no matter how wealthy they might be.

Voldemort praises Desdemona’s consideration and wit. He then invites anyone who else who sits upon the Wizengamot to consider similar ways in which they will maintain their secret hold upon that august body. Desdemona informs Salazar with evident disgust that almost none among that first group of chosen Pure-bloods turned down the opportunity to bear Voldemort’s Mark. Geronimus Greengrass, at least, was not foolish enough to accept an obvious sign of loyalty to someone who is waging war against Wizarding Britain.

That only two out of a chosen thirty would turn down the Mark is disquieting news. Voldemort’s Mark is an easy way for their treachery to be revealed, yet these Death Eaters are so certain of themselves, and of victory, that they accept the risk with joy.

Martinus also chooses to receive Voldemort’s Mark. Salazar asks him why.

“It would look odd if I hadn’t, not with all of my foolish male brethren on the Wizengamot choosing to receive it. Geronimus wouldn’t have dared turn down the opportunity if he occupied the Greengrass seat right now instead of his father.” Martinus touches the edge of the skull, avoiding the serpent. For once, Salazar can’t blame anyone for an aversion to snakes; the serpent residing in that tattooed skull feels dangerous. “I know enough Dark Magic to understand what this is. It’s a leash, Saul, but I don’t mind. When Voldemort dies, the leash dies with him. In the meantime, we’ll find out how useful the leash can be.”

They discover quickly that Martinus was wise to accept the Mark. As more of Voldemort’s followers accept the Dark Mark, it becomes the primary means of informing certain Death Eaters where it is they’re meant to meet, and sometimes what they’re meant to do once they arrive. Without the Dark Mark, they would once again be on the outside, and this time there would be no easy way back in.

For one of the few times in his life, Salazar judged another’s talents and tenacity wrong. Alberta Rookwood leaves them with the turning of the year.

“I just—I can’t,” Alberta whispers. “I watched my daughter torture someone for the Christmas holiday and laugh about it, Saul. Laugh. She laughed in a way I haven’t heard since she was a little girl. She never once tortured an insect as a child, even out of curiosity, and now she’ll torture another man and laugh as he screams. I can’t. I’m so sorry.”

Martinus is the first to embrace Alberta. “There is no need to apologize. My wife and I do not yet have children, but I know I wouldn’t be able to bear it, either. Get off this island, Alberta.”

“Feel no guilt, for I blame you not at all,” Salazar says to Alberta. “Martinus is right. Leave this island and its war. Don’t look back.”

Desdemona’s voice drops into the silence that hangs over them after Alberta is gone. “It’s just the three of us once more, then.”

“Not for long,” Salazar says. “It will be four again soon.”

Martinus glances at him. “When?”

Salazar frowns before shaking his head. “I don’t know. Divination is not necessarily precise. I just know it will be four, and soon.”

“As long as ‘soon’ is not five years from now,” Desdemona says. “With Voldemort’s gatherings now happening at the same time in different locations, we’ll be exhausted in short order.”

 

*          *          *          *

 

In the last week of June, Desdemona sends him a Patronus that chills Salazar’s blood, and for more than one reason. Her elegant greyhound takes several precise steps forward before speaking in her voice: “Richard Jugson has been asked to prove himself before the Dark Lord will Mark him as one of us. He’s chosen to attack the Bones Manor. Revenge for his brother marrying in with Blood Traitors, he said. They are expecting your participation, Augustine.”

It takes genuine effort for Salazar to cheer with the others, to wait until the discussions begun as to how Richard Jugson plans to succeed. Then he toddles off in his guise as overly inebriated Augustine Travers, stating that he’s going to have another drink before he joins the affair in Oxfordshire. Few pay attention to him after Desdemona’s Patronus fades, but when they do, it’s to glare at him with envy for being called upon to participate in a raid against Blood Traitors.

Salazar Floos back to the Travers home the moment he reaches the closest fireplace. His hand is shaking as he lowers his wand to a snoring man’s temple, granting Augustine Travers the memory of spending the evening at the Bulstrode home. The crafted memory blurs around the time of the Patronus’s arrival; Salazar was portraying Augustine Travers as so drunk that no one will question it if Travers can’t remember the raid itself. What matters is that he will believe he participated.

He uses magic to speed things along, dressing in a Death Eater’s now-feared black cloak and mask before Apparating to Oxfordshire. There is no means by which bloody Richard Jugson should be able to breach the wards on the ancient Bones Estate. Their manor house still resembles a castle more than it does a residence. Jugson is cruel, an excellent duelist, and bad at politics, but the idiot isn’t powerful. Salazar will be attending a raid meant to instill fear, nothing more—

For a moment, Salazar can only stare in shock. The manor house is burning. The ancient wards are destroyed, nothing remaining of them but for jangled bits of broken magic. Even the earth beneath his feet is displeased, disturbed as it is by…

“Gods,” Salazar gasps, and then gags when the stench hits. Someone needed power to break through ancient wards, and they gained it by murdering another. There isn’t enough left of the body to determine a physical gender, let alone an identity.

That is Blood Magic, but it’s too crude to be done by a trained wizard. This smacks of being copied from a book, but murder fueling belief is often all that such a spell requires. Fuck.

Fuck, fuck, fuck!

Where the absolute sodding bloody hell are the other Death Eaters? Have they already killed everyone and returned home to celebrate?

The Apparition is instinctive. It’s only after Salazar arrives that he realizes he was responding to a woman’s scream. Three Death Eaters are standing around a body—no, a living victim.

Salazar Confounds the Death Eaters with his next breath, glancing down at the woman lying on the grass. She is struggling to breathe, her injuries severe and horrendous in their nature. Salazar thinks it must be pure stubbornness that is keeping her alive, but if he doesn’t act quickly, she won’t survive to spoil part of Richard Jugson’s terrible success.

He is going to fucking well kill Richard Jugson at the first granted opportunity.

“I’m sorry,” he says to her, noting that her eyes are a true and perfect hazel blend of the human eye’s palette of color. Then he grabs a hair from her head that hasn’t been touched by blood and yanks it free. He casts Tempero on the closest Death Eater and orders them to remove their mask, revealing the slackened face of George Chambers. The woman on the ground gasps, the shock of recognition.

Bloody hell. The Chambers are meant to be allies to the Bones family, not their enemies!

“It appears as if your son will be inheriting the family Wizengamot seat sooner rather than later.” Salazar pulls a phial of Multa Facies Sucus from his pocket and pops the cork free in order to drop the woman’s hair into the potion. “Bottoms up, George Chambers.”

Chambers obediently drinks the potion and becomes a mimicry of the woman lying on the ground. Without the wounds, she is recognizable as Teresa Bones Jugson, the younger sister of Amelia and Edgar Bones. A birth announcement in the paper proclaimed that Teresa and Ivan Jugson had recently been blessed with twins.

Edgar Bones is a member of Albus Dumbledore’s very quiet, unofficial group. None have confirmed it, but rumor speaks of the members calling themselves the Order of the Phoenix.

Salazar glances back at the burning manor. No; he is all but certain that Edgar Bones was now a former member of Dumbledore’s quiet act of rebellion against a Wizengamot stacked with Death Eaters. He doubts that Teresa has a spouse any longer, nor her children.

Rage had never left Salazar senseless; it grants him a clarity of thought and purpose. It’s the fire he needs to lift his wand and do what must be done to rescue Teresa Bones Jugson. After his clothes are Transfigured to be a match for the dying woman at his feet, Chambers dies a swift, merciless death. The Death Eaters accompanying him are sent on their merry way, convinced by Tempero, their confused state, and Mind Magic that they lost Chambers to the burning of the Bones Estate, but still had the “joy” of torturing the last survivor to death.

Only then does Salazar bend down and gently pick up their intended victim. “I’m not who you think me to be, and I am so very sorry for what has happened this evening,” he murmurs. Teresa Jugson only stares at him, not a hint of belief in her gaze. If he were in her place, he wouldn’t be inclined to believe those words, either.

Salazar takes a breath that is rich with smoke and blood before he Apparates.

Desdemona hasn’t been able to yet escape Malfoy Manor, but Martinus is waiting in the Willow House when Salazar returns with a dying woman in his arms. “Good God, what the hell happened?” Martinus asks, reaching beneath the kitchen sink to retrieve the store of potions and medical supplies. There are several such stashes in his house, as Salazar is well aware of how easy it is to be too injured to retrieve supplies stored out of reach.

“Richard Jugson happened, and I hope he died in that fucking fire,” Salazar spits, lowering Teresa Jugson to the sofa before he strips off cloak and mask. The Multa Facies Sucus has long since worn off, thank the gods. His new patient still has her wits; her eyes widen at the sight of his face. “I did tell you I was not who you suspected me to be.” With that, he lifts his wand. “I’m not a master of healing, but I’ve certainly done enough of it over the years. Martinus, I need an assistant, and you’re the only other being in this house with hands.”

“Of course.” Martinus comes closer and looks at Teresa Jugson, who flinches back. “I’m not with them, Teresa. They merely believe I am.”

Salazar is heartened when Teresa Jugson glares at Martinus. She needs someone with Helga’s talents, but she has spite and spirit. Maybe his skills will be enough for her survive this night.

Chapter Text

No one is punished for the loss of George Chambers. Bradley Chambers is just as much a Death Eater as his father had been, and takes the Chambers seat with the intent of furthering his Dark Lord’s agenda. Richard Jugson is praised by many for his successful slaughter of Blood Traitors, and for now bearing Voldemort’s Mark. Nothing is mentioned of who it is that knows how to break through ancient wards like they’re made of glass. As long as that person exists, they endanger every single magical family in Britain.

Teresa Bones Jugson recovers slowly. Even after she begins speaking again, she doesn’t thank Salazar for rescuing her. Salazar isn’t offended. She is not yet a nineteen-year-old woman, newly widowed by violence, her family decimated, her twin infant girls killed by gods-cursed Death Eaters. Her only surviving family members are her youngest and oldest siblings. Lysander Bones is a student of Hogwarts who hadn’t been due to come home until the day after the slaughter. Amelia Bones is pursuing some sort of career within the M.L.E. and currently lives in London.

Desdemona visits the Willow House more often than Martinus. They all three recognize that while there isn’t yet trust, a woman’s presence is more comforting to Teresa Jugson than a man. What concerns Salazar the most is that for the first few weeks of July, it seems as if his unexpected houseguest might actually succeed in willing herself to die.

Damn Richard Jugson, anyway. He brags of what he did to his own brother, and to the whole of the extended Bones family, to anyone who will listen. Gamelinus Rowle boasts of what he believes he and William Wilkes did to Teresa Jugson, as if it’s some great victory to torture someone to death when they are already dying. Lucretia Prewett is furious and has already vowed revenge. When she succeeds, Salazar will not mourn those losses.

Desdemona sits with Teresa Jugson one evening while Salazar is brewing more potions, trying to finish healing what can still be mended in a body that was so badly broken. While he is occupied, Desdemona speaks with Teresa Jugson of the only thing that might motivate a grieving young woman who believes she has lost everything: revenge.

“If I thought that to be the best choice, I would have suggested it already,” Salazar says to Desdemona, but not in a tone that speaks of disapproval. He sees the sparks of a renewed interest in life in Teresa’s eyes and decides that perhaps she needs one more bit of motivation to trust that “Saul,” Desdemona Bulstrode Dunbar, and Martinus Flint’s intentions are true.

Monty Potter arrives by knocking on the front door on 24th July. “Hi, Sal.”

“You look tired,” is Salazar’s response, waving him inside. Monty has shadows beneath his eyes and a wan cast to his features that tells Salazar he needs to be sending quite a bit more Restorative Potions to the Potter manor.

Monty’s smile is a brief thing, as tired as he is. “It’s getting worse out there. Rufus and Lucretia are doing what they can through the M.L.E., and they have their supporters who aren’t stupid, but there is only so much they can do when the Ministry is staffed by stupid fucking bastards.”

“True enough.” Salazar guides Monty over to the sofa, whereupon Monty sucks in a startled breath. “One survivor only, Monty. Just the one.”

“Fleamont Potter?” Teresa Jugson asks in disbelief. “Why would you be here?”

“Sal invited me,” Monty replies. “I’ve known him since I was fourteen, Madam Jugson. And please, call me Monty.”

Teresa Jugson bites her lip. “Bones,” she whispers. “It’s just…it’s just Bones again.”

Monty drops to one knee beside the sofa, offering his hand to Teresa Bones. “I am so very sorry. If it helps at all, Lucretia says that your sister Amelia may well take over the whole of the M.L.E. just to bring everyone involved to justice.”

“I’d rather see them all dead,” Teresa Bones mutters darkly. “Why are you here?”

“As I said, I was invited,” Monty says. “I’m also aware of what Sal is up to, with his mad spying on Voldemort. I don’t know who else is involved, but if Sal trusts them, then it’s for good reason.”

Teresa Bones’s eyes narrow as she gives Salazar a suspicious glance. “Sal? That isn’t the name I was told.”

Monty shrugs. “Sal, Saul—there isn’t much difference, is there? Besides, Saul Luiz is supposed to be dead.”

“I’m very bad at staying that way, Teresa Bones,” Salazar says when she glances at him again.

“Are you going to be helping my dad’s best friend with his mad scheme, or…?” Monty pulls a face. “Or maybe you shouldn’t tell me that. I’m on the front lines facing off against these idiots, and I still don’t know which of us has the harder job.”

“I won’t exactly be capable of fighting directly, will I?” Teresa Bones asks in a bitter voice.

Monty raises an eyebrow. “One of my defence teachers would definitely be asking this, so I will, too. What’s stopping you from lifting your wand right now?”

“Not having one!” Teresa Bones snaps back.

“Okay, that’s a good reason.”

“One I can fix,” Salazar adds. “If you wish.”

Teresa Bones glares at Monty. “Are you here to trick me into trusting him?”

“If I hadn’t met your sister, I’d be offended by that,” Monty says dryly, and Teresa Bones flushes violet-edged pink. “That’s entirely up to you. Everyone already thinks you’re dead, Teresa. If Sal really wanted you to be dead in truth, I imagine we wouldn’t be conversing right now. It’s for your own bloody safety until you’re capable of pointing a wand at some prick of a Death Eater and handing them their arse. After that? I can give you one way of fighting back. Sal can give you another. As far as I’m aware, you could probably do both, if you wanted.”

Teresa Bones bites her lip. “You’re with the group Edgar was with. The one Albus Dumbledore started. Aren’t you?”

“I am, but not because of Albus Dumbledore,” Monty answers. “I’m not actually very fond of him, but my son is, so I’d rather be where I know James will want to go if this war is still being fought when he graduates from Hogwarts.”

“Or until James tries to leave school early just to have a go at being a target,” Salazar says.

Monty rolls his eyes. “Over my dead body, he will. I already warned James that if he didn’t graduate Hogwarts properly, I’d disown him, his mother would back me up on it, and his grandparents would make certain it happened. James asked me right then, ‘Since when are we like the Black family?’ and I’m fairly certain that Aunt Dorea hasn’t stopped laughing since.”

Salazar grins. “That one needs to be paying a bit more attention to the family tree.”

“He truly does, especially as he’s getting to that age of looking around to see who’s attractive and who isn’t. So far, though, the most James concerns himself with regarding the family history is our bloody Invisibility Cloak. I sent James to school with it—for protection, I told him, just in case. I don’t think Minerva is ever going to forgive me for that, especially as Dumbledore is too fond of waving off the consequences every time James uses the family Cloak for mischief.”

Salazar is not surprised that Albus Dumbledore would do such a thing. “What sort of mischief?”

Monty sighs. “From what I can gather, James and his friends are at war with Slytherin House.”

“Good gods, why?

“The divisions. The rivalry between Gryffindor and Slytherin, in particular. It’s so much worse than that it ever was, Sal.”

“It is.” Teresa Bones flinches a bit when they both look at her, but doesn’t shrink back. “The rivalries, I mean. Hufflepuff is largely left out of it, but it isn’t as if we’re unobservant. It doesn’t help that Slytherin House hosts the most families who support him. I—I met James, though. He was a second-year when I graduated. James acted a proper gentleman to me, but I don’t think it’s a habit he keeps to all the time.”

“No thirteen-year-old does,” Monty says, smiling. “I went through my own phase of being a bit of a prick, but you grow out of it.”

“I was a horrid fourteen-year-old,” Teresa Bones agrees, her hazel eyes brightening a bit with true humor as she smiles back at Monty. “But I don’t like Dumbledore, either. If you’re promising me that Saul is truly against Voldemort—”

“I’ll pledge it on my magic, if you like,” Monty offers, but she only seems horrified by that.

“That really isn’t necessary! I—maybe later, I might fight with you on my own two feet,” Teresa Bones says. “For now, I’ve a great deal of healing to do.” Her eyes narrow again. “I said I didn’t like Dumbledore, and you didn’t judge my opinion. Why?”

Monty sits back on his haunches. “I told Sal when I was much younger that Dumbledore’s way of doing things reminded me of Patrician Lestrange. My opinion hasn’t changed, but I’d now add the caveat that Dumbledore is good at putting a fine polish on what he says and does.

“Don’t mistake my words; I believe Dumbledore is right to form this quiet little resistance group of ours, especially given the Ministry’s policies and their bloody insistence that there is no war. Their lack of addressing what happened to your entire family, and what’s been happening to so many other families, is granting Voldemort yet another advantage when his followers already outnumber us and the whole of the bloody M.L.E. combined. Some of the Aurors are siding with our group as the M.L.E. is hindered, including Rufus Scrimgeour’s ambitious protégé, Alastor Moody. Recognizing the need to fight back against Voldemort isn’t a grand gesture of goodwill, Teresa. It’s bloody common sense.”

That evening is the easiest time Salazar has yet had of convincing Teresa Bones to accept the potions that are helping her body to mend. He thanks Monty for being the provider of such ease.

“Right, yeah.” Monty gives the sleeping woman on the couch a sympathetic stare. “You’re welcome.”

“What’s wrong?”

“I’m worried about Dad,” Monty says bluntly. “He’s not fighting in the war, but given the chaos in the Wizengamot, fighting might be easier on him. It’s getting thick in there, Sal, and it’s not helping that Herbert Burke died last week.”

“I know. It was in the Prophet.” Salazar had sworn viciously over the man’s death notice. His language worsened when he saw that Herbert’s obituary was immediately followed by the announcement of Basil Burke taking on the family Wizengamot seat instead of his “lesser skilled” cousin. Salazar would very much like for Phineas Burke to stand before the Wizengamot and sue Basil for defamation of character, but Phineas is unfortunately rather used to the derision of his cousins, and pays it no heed.

Salazar still visits the Potters when he can, and knows his opportunities to do so will become less as the war’s pace increases. They are not always pleasant visits, though Salazar does his best to improve a poor mood when he finds one lurking about. He doesn’t know if he’ll be able to improve this one. “What of Euphemia’s lacking presence this evening, Monty? I did invite you both.”

“Euphemia worries that her Occlumency wouldn’t stand up to another’s Legilimency if anyone…” Monty grimaces. “I don’t have to lay it out for you. You know exactly what I mean, and as neither of us knew what you intended tonight…”

“I understand. What of yourself, though?” Salazar asks. “I know your Mind Magic would withstand anything you wished for it to endure.”

“It isn’t about that. Meeting Teresa is one thing, as—” Monty glances at Teresa again, reassuring himself that she still sleeps. “There is little chance I’ll see her on a battlefield, Sal. The others, though. I worry that I would recognize someone and hesitate in a way that another would notice. You were right to say that I’m no spy. I’m not even a good politician, not like Dad.”

“You’re better than you think,” Salazar refutes. “Besides, being a good politician right now is a simple matter of not wanting to be ruled by Voldemort.”

“His followers still outnumber us, though,” Monty says. “Basil Burke is just one more voice lent to a bigoted majority of idiotic Pure-bloods who’ve all but made Voldemort their king.”

“They won’t win, Monty.”

“They don’t exactly lose, either,” Monty retorts. “Do they?”

Salazar hesitates before deciding he isn’t mentioning something that is not already known. “Given the fact that I cannot die until Voldemort is dead, you at least hold the assurance that I will not stop trying to unseat him until that event comes to pass.”

Monty gives him another dry look. “What if you decide you’d rather be immortal?”

Salazar shudders. “Don’t say such things. I’d rather not have that occur in truth, Monty Potter! I’m one thousand three years of age as it is!”

Monty laughs at him, which does away with some of his foul mood. “You have a fair number of them to go, too. In the meantime, I’m just forty-four years old, and already I’m bloody wandering about with spectacles all the time!”

Salazar hears his brother’s portrait give a not-so-discreet cough. “I might be able to fix that now, if you want. You’d still need the subterfuge of glass lenses, but…”

Monty turns to face Nizar’s now-occupied portrait frame. “What do you mean? Oculus doesn’t work on Potters. At least, it certainly hasn’t in quite a long time.”

“That’s because Oculus is bullshit,” Nizar replies. “It took so much digging to remember the recipe for Sana Visio. There was nearly one thousand years in the way, and…” Nizar breaks off. “Anyway, take notes. I’ve a potion for you that’ll make enough for you, Euphemia, Henry, and Elizabetha.”

“You could call us by our familial titles, you know,” Monty says, but he’s already pulling a bound journal and a quill from his robe pockets.

“I could, yeah, but it’s bloody sodding weird!

Salazar writes down his own copy of the potion—bloody hell, he’s been getting the turmeric wrong, as it isn’t supposed to be there in the first place!—and sends a distracted Master of Alchemy on his way. Then he checks on Teresa Bones, who is still deeply asleep, before turning back to Nizar’s portrait. “You were going to say something else. What is it?”

“You know I’d been digging about for the Taming Potion’s formula, yeah?”

“Of course. If anyone had reason to memorize it beyond all doubt, that would be you, little brother.” Salazar had it memorized once, long ago, but hadn’t lived with the same sort of necessity. He wrote it down, but the journal the recipe was written in was lost to a flood, just like so many other early creations he cannot now recall. More fool he for not asking to remember his life in vivid detail when he asked not to die, but he’s long since made peace with that bit of stupidity. “Why?”

“I can’t find it. It’s not here, and it’s not because Myself didn’t put it here.” Nizar glances aside once, one of his tells for when he doesn’t wish to speak of something. “That isn’t the only thing missing. I think the portrait’s magic is starting to break down.”

Salazar nearly drops onto his arse. He feels sick and ice-cold, like he’s wandered upon one of those fucking Dementors by accident. “It can’t.”

“It certainly can. This painting was designed to live in Hogwarts, Sal, and it’s not as if I’ve dwelled there recently,” Nizar says. “And…I was trying to talk to Isis today.”

Oh, gods. “What went wrong?”

“She couldn’t understand me.” Nizar looks nervous. “It was all in Parseltongue. I couldn’t even manage Arabic for her.”

“Fuck me sideways,” Salazar whispers. “If you can’t speak to anyone but myself—”

“What good am I?” Nizar grants him a grim smile. “Yeah.”

Salazar shoves his hands into his hair and considers screaming, but Teresa Bones would not much appreciate that sort of waking. “We’ll find another solution.”

“Of course we will. Hogwarts, 1995, after Hallowe’en.”

Salazar nods, but he isn’t that patient. He’ll find a way to solve this problem, one that won’t leave Nizar again dependent on a permanent Parseltongue translator.

 

*          *          *          *

 

Teresa Bones finally begins to improve, sitting up to take meals that she eats without assistance. One of her very first acts the day after Monty’s visit is to tell Salazar off for being formal, that she has a name, and he’d better use it before she masters wandless magic just to beat him to death with a sofa cushion.

Salazar grins. “Teresa it is, then. A beating by sofa cushion would be a long and annoying way to expire.”

“What do I call you, then? Sal, or Saul?” Teresa asks.

“Saul in front of Martinus or Desdemona, please. Martinus only knows me by my not-so-deceased identity. Desdemona knows both, but that is because she’s meant to become my replacement if something happens to me.”

Teresa frowns. “There are only three of you right now, aren’t there?”

“There were four, but she was watching her grown children do terrible things to others, and the pain of it…it was too much. She’s left the island entirely now,” Salazar tells her. “Wait a moment, please.”

When he returns, he drops his armload of folders and files onto the table placed in front of Teresa’s favored spot on the sofa. “What is this?” she asks, opening the top file to the first page. Fortunately for her, they were not only properly Preserved, but dust does not dare linger for long in the Willow House.

“These are from my time working as a spy for both the British government and Wizarding Britain.” Salazar is not supposed to have them any longer, but MI6 hadn’t been very specific in the manner in which it had asked for the return of its property. “I reported on World War II and the European Wizarding War in fairly equal measure. Reading these files will help you to decide what it is you wish to do, how you wish to fight, or if you choose not to fight at all.”

“I’m glad Teresa has recalled that there is more to life than loss,” Desdemona says quietly, watching as Teresa plows through years of documents that cover everything from casual gossip to reporting on the atrocities of war, no matter whose side committed the act. “The Ancient House of Bones is decimated, but it is not broken.”

“She lost two beloved children before she could truly know them, Desdemona. I would wish that pain on no one, and she will carry it for the rest of her life.”

Desdemona gives him a brief, searching look. “Sometimes I am too pragmatic. Thank you for reminding me otherwise.”

Each day, Teresa waits and watches as Salazar casts the spells that are meant to reinforce the bones in her legs, pelvis, and lower back. The work must pain her, but she never complains of it. “Do you think I’ll ever be able to walk again?”

Salazar lowers his wand. “As you did before? That is unlikely, Teresa. I suspect you may be able to walk again with assistance, but it will not be easy.”

“I think I’ve come to believe that nothing is easy except childhood,” Teresa murmurs. “Even after I had my children, I still felt like a child. I don’t any longer.”

Salazar swallows. Another’s grief for lost children often stirs his own. “I am so very sorry.”

Teresa shakes her head. “You saved me. You would have saved the others if you could. To me, that doesn’t warrant an apology.”

“Then I will rephrase my words, and say that I grieve with you for your loss.”

Teresa looks up at him from her claimed corner of his sofa. She chooses to sleep there, as well. Salazar suspects she doesn’t want to feel isolated, and won’t begrudge her the use of his furniture. “You do, don’t you?” She tilts her head, not expecting an answer. “They really do believe me to be dead, don’t they?”

“An unfortunate consequence of needing to convince your murderers that you were exactly that,” Salazar replies. “You can go to your siblings and change that belief, if you wish.”

“Could I?” Again, Teresa doesn’t seem to be expecting an answer. “I’m not so certain I could. My husband was murdered by his own brother, Saul.”

“If you don’t claim him for yourself, I’ll kill Richard Jugson for you, if you like.”

Teresa’s smile is faint and humorous, but it has a sharp edge that Salazar doubts was present before her family was murdered before her eyes. “I’m undecided on that. You have the accoutrements of a Death Eater. When Monty Potter said that you spy, he means that you aren’t doing so from a distance. You’re right there among them.”

“I am. The company of Death Eaters leaves much to be desired.”

“Then I hope you’re all right with having another spy in your household, because I am in no mood to laze about,” Teresa declares. “Voldemort and his Death Eaters must be stopped.”

“Revenge worked nicely, didn’t it?” Desdemona asks, smug and pleased when she next returns to find that their enclave of spies numbers four again.

“It often does,” Salazar admits, though he prefers to work with spies who are not motivated solely by the need for vengeance. “We needed someone like her. She’s an excellent coordinator when it comes to the information a spy gathers. She took apart my old briefings with ease, and she isn’t even trained for that sort of translation.”

“Excellent.” Desdemona glances at Salazar. “She is also another point of contact. If we gain more members, we should not all know of each other.”

“No, we shouldn’t.” Salazar rubs the bridge of his nose. How quickly one forgets that secrets within secrets are a swift recipe for a massive bloody headache. “Thank you, Desdemona.”

“You’re welcome, Salazar.”

Salazar glances at her from the corner of his eye. “Do be silent.”

Desdemona’s smile widens. “Only when I must.”

 

*          *          *          *

 

The next time Salazar goes into Muggle London, he returns home feeling quite baffled. “What the bloody hell is SI?”

It’s fortunate that Teresa has already been introduced to Nizar’s portrait, and to Isis, and doesn’t react when Nizar suddenly answers him. “That would be the metric system, Sal.”

Salazar frowns. He remembers something about mandatory government conversions to a new measuring system, but Voldemort’s war did an excellent job of obliterating his concern for such mundane things when he now has to concern himself with keeping others alive. At least the decimal system being introduced to Muggle money had seemed logical. “Metric system.”

It’s a base-ten system of measurement,” Nizar hisses in Parseltongue, and then looks annoyed. “Fuck!

“Oh. I remember that now. You asked how anyone could ever get anything done,” Salazar murmurs. He has to find that alternate method of communication, and he must do it soon. The incidents of unexpected Parseltongue are quickly getting more frequent. Teresa has become accustomed to sudden bouts of hissing, though at first she had so many questions regarding the nature of Parseltongue that Salazar wasn’t certain he would ever be able to answer them all. She gets on well with both portraits, though she sometimes seems bemused by the fact that Nizar and Isis are communicative, inquisitive busybodies made of paint and magic.

“Our portraits at home—” She pauses for a moment and then continues. “Our portraits at home weren’t nearly so personable.”

Salazar politely ignores the slip, which Teresa prefers. “I’ve often found that magical portraits are far more lively when people regularly interact with them.”

“That does seem to be the case here.” Teresa watches as Salazar removes a new pressing from its cover and places the album on his open turntable. “What is that—more accurately, who is that? And why not use a gramophone? I know that you have one.”

“Muggle records aren’t made from shellac. An unaltered gramophone would destroy the album, and I don’t wish to alter my gramophone, as I still have older records. Sometimes the charm necessary to make a gramophone capable of playing both types interferes with the sound quality of the shellac pressings.” Salazar glances at her. “If you can’t yet tell the difference between shellac and vinyl, please do not use the gramophone.”

Teresa smiles. “Duly noted.” She waits until the first track, one of the odder preludes Salazar has ever heard, has concluded, and the first real song begins. “I did ask who this is. I’m not certain I like it, though it’s certainly mellow.”

“Pink Floyd. They had a new release this past March, and I didn’t even know of it.”

“Oh, yes. You tend to wear their teed-shirts often.”

“T-shirts,” Salazar corrects, amused. “I do like them.” So far, he likes this, too. “Breathe” is soothing to nerves that have been jangling since Alberta Peebles Rookwood divorced her husband and wisely fled Britain. “I didn’t even realize I was picking up a Pink Floyd album at first. It was the representation of the visible light spectrum on the album’s cover that caught my eye.”

“It is pretty,” Teresa admits. Then the third track starts with the sudden clanging of alarm clocks and bells, sending Salazar out of his own chair as he tries to find a threat that doesn’t exist.

“Good fucking gods, I need that last nerve,” Salazar gasps from the floor. “What the hell is that meant to be?”

“Funny,” Teresa says. She has her wand in her hand, but at least she didn’t fling herself to the ground.

Salazar attempts to glare at her before they both burst into half-hysterical, relieved laughter. He resolves that he’s going to charm that track so that the needle skips over those damned ringing bells, at least until the war is done.

In August, John Morgan’s widow dies. Ella Hitchens Morgan never did learn not to drone on and on about her perfect grandchild when others were lacking, but she was a good woman who never once stopped being proud of her husband for his service during the European wars. Salazar doesn’t have the opportunity to attend the service, but Elizabetha informs him it was pleasant, insofar as funerals can be found to be such.

He makes time for a brief visit to Potter Manor afterwards, because by the gods, Voldemort is not going to take this connection away from him before death makes it a certainty. Henry is attending an emergency session of the Wizengamot for reasons not yet known; Elizabetha is with other Pure-blood spouses, participating in a group which call themselves Spouses Against Idiot Ministers. (Salazar approves of the pun, even if it is unintended.) Monty is also away, in the midst of brokering the deal that will sell Sleekeazy’s Potions & Balms.

“Did Monty tire of hair care production already?”

“You and I both know that Monty had no intention to form a company. It was one of those boulder-rolling-downhill situations,” Euphemia says. “He’ll be glad to be rid of it.”

“At least he won’t find selling the company to be a Sisyphean task.”

“Stop it,” Euphemia orders, but she can’t hold onto her stern expression. “How have you been, Sal?”

“A ringing alarm clock on a bloody vinyl record had me flinging myself to the ground. Not even the European wars managed to do that to me,” Salazar confesses. Granted, this war might simply have decided to draw forth every fear about his time in Europe that he forgot to indulge in. He was a bit too busy dealing with numerous nuclear explosions.

Euphemia’s smile fades. “Was the Bones Massacre—was it really bad?”

Salazar will spare her the details, but he will not lie. “It was, yes. I didn’t see the slaughter when it began, but I found the means by which they gained entry. Murder fueled a ward-breaking spell, and they didn’t clean up after themselves. It was not a kind way for someone to die, and I’ve yet to hear a word from the Ministry that they’re investigating that unknown person’s death.” He nearly mentions Teresa before remembering not to do so. Euphemia would be glad to hear of her survival, but then would worry endlessly that she might endanger Teresa’s continued existence. Euphemia is an amazing woman and a brilliant healer, but he’ll not force her into a warrior’s role that she does not want.

“As far as I’m aware, that leaves the M.L.E. with only two bodies that didn’t burn in the fire,” Salazar says. “You’d think the Ministry would be a bit more concerned with identifying the other victim.”

Euphemia shakes her head and hugs him. “I’ll mention it to Harry. God knows I couldn’t help with that, though my rusty healing skills are being challenged when it comes to helping those who survive these attacks.”

“Don’t overdo it.” Salazar tries not to slump into her embrace. He needed the contact, this demonstration of caring, and it’s only sodding 1973. At this rate, he’ll be a screaming wreck by 1981. “Your health is just as important.”

“Now you sound like Monty,” Euphemia says wryly. “It’s all right. I’ve plenty of students who want to learn the basics, and others who want to learn more complex things. Soon enough I’ll have so many assistants that I’ll never be in danger of tiring myself out again.”

After Ella Morgan’s funeral, Teresa begins dreaming of the attack on the Bones Estate, and of the fire. Salazar is surprised the nightmares didn’t begin sooner, and rather glad of it. Teresa is physically recovered enough that a portrait is a suitable guardian for her rest, as someone should be nearby while she sleeps, but Voldemort always becomes more active during the school months. Salazar often wonders if it’s some odd habit carried over from childhood, a subconscious recognition that ten months out of the year, Tom Marvolo Riddle was away from the orphanage he hated. He might even, if Albus Dumbledore is to be believed, have considered himself to be dwelling in a place that he loved.

Regardless of the cause, it means that he, Martinus, and Desdemona are constantly on the move. They barely ever see their own homes that winter as they send messages and Patroni off to Teresa, who is now in charge of collating the information they gather and sending off the summarized, relevant parts to those in the best position to act. Salazar is grateful that it is most often Lucretia or Rufus who receives their intelligence, as Dumbledore’s lot most often do not bloody well listen.

After several Death Eater-provided horrors, the Provisional IRA chooses the worst possible time to be active again. They decide to attack Britain in earnest, restarting the cycle of retaliation. It also gives the Ministry someone to blame who is not Voldemort.

Minister Jenkins now looks as if she was unjustly treated as a pariah, and is upheld for her wise vision as to what was truly occurring in Britain. Henry looks both worn and frustrated, saying it’s now more difficult than ever to convince the Ministry that Voldemort’s Death Eaters pose a true threat. The Wizengamot won’t change their minds even after the IRA lays off again for the winter, but the attacks on Wizarding Britain still continue.

Teresa is left growling after hearing the Wizarding Wireless report on the Minister’s latest speech, in which Jenkins states that the Bones Estate will be re-investigated in light of New Muggle Activity to ascertain the “truth” about the Bones family’s unfortunate losses. “Can I kill her?” she asks, snapping off the Wizarding Wireless with a literal snap of her fingers.

Salazar silently repairs the cracked knob on the front of the wireless. Teresa is developing a strong talent for wandless magic, but there is still quite a bit of kick on the back end. “At this rate, the IRA might get to Eugenia Jenkins before we do.”

Then comes a months-long spate in which Salazar feels as if it’s been years since he was able to stick his head up above the whitewater chaos of an unfolding war. By April 1974, Teresa says it feels as if she’s taken up residence underground after not going outside for so long. She means it in jest, yet somehow, the term lingers. Then Desdemona introduces Martinus to the real Underground beneath London, and there is no stopping it. When they finally gain their next member, over a year after Teresa’s rescue, he isn’t welcomed into a mere spy’s enclave, but an Underground.

Blythe Allen Petersen is a seventeen-year-old Ravenclaw, and just as intelligent as Rowena would have preferred. He seems the nondescript sort, with brown hair that only has hints of yellow undertones and skin the color of teak with ruddy highlights. It’s his brown eyes, highlighted by bronze, gold, and copper, that set him apart, his fierce intellect causing them to appear as if they’re lit from within. Blythe is due to put in his final year at Hogwarts in a month’s time, which will grant them a pair of eyes inside the school. That will gain the Underground a better idea of who will turn up next July as newly minted Death Eaters. Even a year’s warning is better than none at all.

Blythe admits that he foolishly chose to be a Death Eater in July without much prompting or manipulation from others, but it was revenge that motivated him, not Blood Purity nonsense. Of course, it was not until after he acquired Voldemort’s Mark that he realized gaining revenge would incite the deadly wrath of three other Death Eaters.

“You’ve a powerful Pure-blood for a father. When confronted by your mother and his illegitimate child, he placed you both under a geas so you could tell no one of your parentage, an instruction that will not end until his death.”

“That’s about the size of it, yeah,” Blythe says. “Mum wasn’t even angry about him being married, not until he was daft enough to smack us both with magic that meant we couldn’t tell anyone about what he’d done. Marriage wasn’t the issue. It’s that my father didn’t bloody well tell Mum that he was married before getting her pregnant that made her so angry, but then the geas—he had no fucking right to do that to us.”

Salazar wonders if slapping himself in the face would help. “Is there any Pure-blooded male in Wizarding Britain who is willing to take responsibility for their accidental offspring?”

“It doesn’t seem like it, does it?” Desdemona smiles. “My younger brother Alfridus is guilty of the same,” she explains for Blythe’s benefit. “I have an illegitimate niece named Esmerelda Rothschild. Her mother isn’t one for parental instincts, so Esmerelda spends a great deal of her time with her uncle Onyx and his wife, Elizabeth. Heliotrope refused to wed Alfridus when she became pregnant, which is why he married Majora Runcorn. It turns out that not only did Heliotrope Rothschild hold little interest in parenting, she had absolutely no interest at all in marriage.”

Blythe raises both eyebrows. “That would explain the muttered-about Rothschild family rift, I suppose. I was curious as to why Onyx Rothschild wasn’t among the other Death Eaters.”

“They don’t play nicely together,” Salazar drawls. “Aside from Esmerelda’s safety, his refusal to obey his father may mean that there will be a magical Rothschild family left on this isle when the war is done.”

“I wish I’d been that sensible.” The young man sighs, sounding as if he’s been running himself into the ground in the short time he’s dealt with Voldemort. “To be honest, I’m still not certain why Voldemort accepted me into the ranks in the first place, let alone grant me a Mark I’m already aware that not everyone is given. I’m a Half-blood. I don’t have a Wizarding name. My father is one of Voldemort’s enemies—and still his wife and my half-siblings would probably kill me if I killed him! Pure-bloods make no fucking sense at all.”

Salazar grins while Desdemona all but cackles. “It’s a point of honor, Blythe. Your father and his wife may be separated by politics, but among Pure-bloods, spouses tend to want the honor of killing each other themselves. In fact…”

“There are not many married Pure-blood couples who are split among that ideological line, no,” Desdemona says, intuiting at once what Salazar is thinking. “You can’t tell us who your father is, but you can tell us who your father is not, yes?”

Blythe thinks about it before nodding. “No one’s ever really been that interested, but yeah, I think I can manage that.”

“How many children does your father have that he legally recognizes?” Salazar asks.

“Three. Two have graduated school already. I’m attending Hogwarts with the youngest one, a—” Blythe squeezes his eyes shut and grimaces. “Nothing about gender specifics. All right. They’re a fellow Ravenclaw, three years below me.”

“Sodding—” Salazar pinches the bridge of his nose, thinking he should be brewing up enough pain-relieving potions to fill the Channel. “Your father is Caspar Crouch Senior.”

Blythe’s mouth works and his head twitches. That is a confirmation, else the geas would allow him to deny it. “That was fast,” he finally says.

Salazar wills his headache away. “Not only did Caspar cheat on his wife, he did so with a Muggle.”

Desdemona looks at Salazar. “I find I can’t really fault Caspar for his choice to look for another partner to spend his time with. Charis has been unpleasant almost from the moment they signed their names to their marriage contract.”

“How?” Blythe asks. “I mean, how did you figure it out so quickly?”

“We’re well-versed in the who-is-who of Pure-blooded Wizarding Britain, as many of them follow Voldemort,” Desdemona tells him. “It is also good practice in general, as one never wishes to marry someone too close to their own bloodline.”

Blythe frowns. “You sound like you believe that Pure-blood ideology crap.”

“No,” Desdemona says. “Or at least, not in the way that others do. Sometimes one cannot help who they fall in love with. I loved my husband, but making certain our children would not be born with deformities becomes an immediate and important factor to consider when one British Pure-blood falls in love with another. Once upon a time, I was grateful our families had not closely aligned in that manner for some time, as it meant we could safely marry. Then Michael set his course upon following Voldemort. From that moment until the day he died, I didn’t really have a husband anymore.”

Blythe gives Desdemona a sympathetic look that shines with an utter lack of artifice. Salazar knows the young man is capable of artifice, else he would have been caught out before Desdemona noticed Blythe’s plight. With Blythe capable of so utterly putting such masks aside, Salazar is now doubly impressed by Blythe’s survival.

“I’m very sorry for that,” Blythe says. “I admit, after meeting my father’s wife, I was still angry with him…but I started feeling badly for him, too. That woman is…”

“She is a Black, and not one of the Sane Blacks, as a good friend puts it,” Salazar says. “Charis Crouch despises her husband, but she is a true Black in the sense that if anyone is going to kill Caspar, then Charis will be doing the deed herself. Her children might have differing political views, but as far as I know, their differing political views are just that; Caspar Junior, Charles, and Selene Crouch still love their father.”

Blythe pulls a face. “Sodding Pure-bloods. I suppose I’ll have to learn to act more like them, and understand them, and…fuck, mate, I’m an idiot. I had no idea what I was getting into, and now I have a cursed tattoo on my arm to show for it.”

“I would say it gets better, but I would be lying,” Desdemona says dryly. “Granted, working against Voldemort takes a firm heart and a spine of steel, whereas groveling at Voldemort’s feet takes no effort at all.”

“Maybe so,” Blythe replies, a sly hint to his smile, “but I’m not the groveling type.”

After Blythe is sent off for a wash and a decent night’s sleep in the safety of Desdemona’s guest room, she whirls on Salazar. “Voldemort took a Half-blood of no name and gave him the Mark within days of meeting the boy for the first time,” she hisses. “Why? Why would Voldemort do such a thing? He couldn’t even say it was Blythe’s N.E.W.T. scores that he found so impressive, as the boy hasn’t even sat them yet!”

“I don’t know.” This bothers Salazar, as well. So far, only those with wealth and influence in Wizarding Britain have been given Voldemort’s Mark. This is a disturbing and blatant deviation from that pattern. “Perhaps Voldemort felt kinship with another Half-blood who was abandoned by his father.”

Desdemona’s brow furrows in distaste. “I doubt Voldemort has ever felt kinship with anything but a mirror, and some days I doubt even that.”

Blythe doesn’t have long to train with Desdemona and Salazar to learn the ways of dwelling among those who only associate Pure-blooded wizards and witches. He quickly reminds Salazar of Aidan Lewis, the Gaelic spy he worked with during the European wars. They’re both excellent mimics of accents and mannerisms. Blythe learns Pure-blood culture and etiquette at a swift rate, and is ready to spy on other Pure-blooded Hogwarts students by the end of August. He’ll check in with them during the winter holidays, but otherwise, Blythe will be on his own until his graduation. It’s the safest initiation a spy could ever hope to receive.

“I’m surprised he learned it all so fast. Except for Hogwarts, he didn’t grow up knowing anything of Pure-blood customs at all,” Desdemona comments.

Salazar smiles. “That would be why this one was a Ravenclaw.” With his retrained mannerisms and precise knowledge, Blythe Petersen is going to make every Pure-blood around him forget that they ever considered him to be anything lesser to themselves: a Muggle-raised Half-blood. Even if Blythe hadn’t decided that spying to assist in Voldemort’s downfall was the wiser option, he would still need lessons such as these to survive among Death Eaters.

“Three Slytherins, a Hufflepuff, and a Ravenclaw.” Desdemona looks thoughtful. “I suppose we’ll eventually need a Gryffindor to round out the set, won’t we?”

Salazar thinks his headache might be returning with reinforcements. “It feels a great deal as if you’ve just cursed us.”

Desdemona might have uttered a curse, but it did not strike the Underground. On Hallowe’en, Voldemort leads a team of Death Eaters to personally decimate the Crouch Estate in Oxford. Martinus is the only one of them to learn of it before it happens, and he cannot send warning without being caught. Instead, he attempts to convince Charis’s sons, Caspar Junior and Charles, not to participate. Even if their politics differ, those who live in Oxford are family to them, and one does not slaughter family unless they have truly earned it.

The idiots argue with Martinus, claiming that the rest of the Crouches are Blood Traitors, just like their father and uncle Barty. Martinus counters their stupidity by stunning the pair of them. He leaves them snoring in a parlor to sleep it off, but not before using a charm to saturate them with brandy fumes so strong that the pair still reek of alcohol for days afterward.

No one believes Caspar Junior and Charles when they wake and claim they drank nothing, that they weren’t toasting the demise of their family. The belief in their drunkenness keeps them safe from their mother’s potential wrath, and the far more dangerous wrath of Voldemort. The Dark Lord only forgives their lacking participation in the Crouch Raid after he discovers how thoroughly they celebrated it.

“Gods curse it,” Salazar mutters when he views the devastation later. It’s like a repeat of the Bones Massacre: the wards destroyed, evidence still remaining of the victim murdered to fuel the spell, all of the buildings burnt to the ground, and no known survivors. The estate had housed Caspar and Barty’s frail grandparents, their retired parents, their only sister, her spouse, and their three children, all of them younger than age eleven. Too young to be safely away at Hogwarts. Were it not for the fact that Caspar and Barty Crouch live on two different properties owned by the family, they would be dead, also, as would Anna and Barty Junior.

There is a single benefit to the slaughter, if one could claim a benefit at all. Bartemius Crouch finally removes his head from his arse and begins hammering at the Wizengamot to acknowledge that Wizarding Britain is at war.

“Just last week you claimed everything to be fine. Sodding hypocrite,” Teresa says of Crouch. “At least your brother isn’t as stupid as you are, Barty.”

“Adulterous, yes. Stupid, no,” Salazar agrees, but something about the slaughter leaves him with an ill feeling, even after the shock of it wears off. His little brother will be attacked on Hallowe’en in 1981, a mere seven years from now. He desperately hopes that Voldemort has not decided upon a new tradition.

Chapter Text

In January 1975, everything goes to hell in a fucking handbasket. There is no more subtlety from Voldemort, who seems to have lost patience with the idea of a slow takeover of the Ministry using a Death Eater majority. Perhaps he realized there is more to the Ministry of Magic than a Wizengamot of a mere one hundred members, and many of those Ministry employees are not interested in bowing to a self-declared Dark Lord. Perhaps it’s the mild winter, in which no snow bothers to fall in England or Wales, and even Scotland is wondering at the lack of proper weather. Regardless of cause, the result is the same: unending attacks, burnings, raids, and battles.

Salazar returns to the Willow House and collapses facedown onto his own sofa. At least he now has the ability to do so without landing atop someone else.

“Is it that bad out there?”

Salazar manages to lift his head. Teresa is regarding him from her wheelchair, lips pressed together in concern. They’d nearly fought a war over that bloody chair. She’d expected him to bring her one of Wizarding Britain’s wheeled chairs, designed by people who don’t understand that it’s not the 1700s any longer. That part of the war ended when she saw the Muggle version, though Salazar had to charm it to be lightweight, decrease the friction on the wheels and make them impervious to damage, then increase friction to the hand grips so that Teresa would have finer control. Transfiguring it required the pair of them, with Teresa seated in the chair, to be certain it was a good fit for someone of Teresa’s petite size. There were then prompt complaints about how the chair was entirely uncomfortable.

“Unfortunately, they tend not to make these chairs with a user’s comfort in mind,” Salazar muttered, helping Teresa to adjust new cushioning to the seat, adjustable armrests, and the backrest. She had her own wand again, chosen from among the many Salazar collected over the years, though it took her three frustrating days to decide that one of blackthorn suited best.

“Why not?” Teresa had asked, scowling. “Even those clunky wooden monstrosities built by Wizarding Britain are made for comfort!”

“Because…fuck.” Salazar rested his head on his arm. “Because too many fools still believe that someone in a wheelchair doesn’t have enough sense in their heads to notice a lack of comfort.”

“That is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard,” Teresa had replied. Then she’d nearly been caught out by the Ministry after going out into Muggle London for the first time in her new chair and hexing the blazes out of the first person to mock her for needing it, complete with insults regarding her intelligence.

“Is it that bad?” Salazar blinks a few times, realizing Teresa has now repeated the question. “Probably.”

“You’ve been gone three days, is all,” Teresa says. “You might want to shower off the blood.”

“Fuck that.” Salazar drops his face back down onto the sofa cushions. It isn’t as if the blood is going anywhere. “Have you heard from the others?”

“Bastian reports that the seventh-years at Hogwarts are flinging curses at each other every single time the staff’s back is turned. Desdemona killed another Death Eater in a duel to score political points, but also, she says, because he was a cowardly waste of skin and she didn’t like him. Martinus won money on the duel’s outcome. I think Desdemona instigated it just to distract herself from how many Death Eater raids occurred in the span of a single bloody week.”

“Bloody is definitely the word for it,” Salazar slurs into the cushions. “I’ll shower after I’ve lost consciousness for a bit. Have you found a flat you prefer?”

“Have I found one I prefer? Of course. Have I found one on the ground floor that isn’t already occupied? Of course not. I thought Wizarding Britain was bad for not being prepared for those who don’t have two properly working legs!”

“How many landlords have you cursed for treating you like an imbecile when you’ve turned up at the inquiry appointments for available flats?” Salazar asks.

Teresa sounds frustrated. “I stopped counting. Thank goodness I know French, and that I’ve been using Polyjuice to go out and about. The Ministry caught up to me and attempted to chew me a new one for cursing the latest fool, and likely would have figured out who I really am if I hadn’t quickly explained why I’d cursed them. One of the investigating pair was an Auror who lost an arm during the first major Death Eater skirmish in 1972. I think he wanted to go back and curse the bastard again for good measure.”

Salazar pushes himself back upright. “That can’t happen again. You need a new identity.”

Teresa huffs out a sigh. “I know. I just don’t—I don’t want one!”

“It’s temporary,” Salazar replies, even though he doesn’t yet know how temporary it may be. 1981 is a given, but what she chooses to do upon learning that Voldemort isn’t as dead as Wizarding Britain believes will be a mystery until it happens. “Saul Luiz isn’t even my real name.”

That distracts her. “It’s not? What is it, then?”

Salazar grins.

Teresa scowls at him. “You’re a prick,” she says, and wheels herself away from the sofa, heading for the hallway.

Salazar grabs a cushion and pulls it over his head to block out most of the light in the room. At least now he’ll have at least an hour of peaceful sleep before Teresa decides she needs to yell at him again.

Nerys visits in February, looking put out by how unseasonably warm it is. Granted, Salazar hasn’t been home in several days, and Teresa has oft been in London for another round of flat-hunting. Nerys might be upset about waiting by a window for a day or three. Salazar apologizes and retrieves a letter from Monty from her leg. The owl immediately departs rather than linger for feather-scratching. It was definitely a long wait, then.

 

Sal,

I finally did it. I sold the sticky burr that was my old company! The results would make a poor individual wealthy for life, but that was never the point. I just didn’t want to be responsible for it any longer. I’m too busy running my fool head off, trying to keep up with those younger than myself while also trying to stay alive.

Good God, what the hell happened with the New Year, Sal? Why is it suddenly like this? I admit that Barty Senior finally having the whole of the M.L.E. up in arms regarding the war is a good thing, but truly, what the fuck?

Anyway, the proceeds from the sale of my ludicrously named company (They aren’t changing the name!) have found their way into a new vault. I’ve already written a contract with the goblins, as well as filed the appropriate updates to my will. The vault will be granted to James upon his eventual marriage. The spouse will automatically be added by goblin contract to name them a mutual, equal owner of the vault’s contents. I want no one questioning whether or not the family thinks the spouse is lesser for their status.

 

Salazar frowns and looks in the direction of his brother’s portrait. “Nizar, did you ever mention to Monty that you’re a Half-blood?”

Nizar tilts his head and thinks about it for a moment. “Oh. Yes, I did. To be fair, he was seventeen years old at the time, and I never thought it would be something to concern ourselves about. He guessed that James will marry someone Muggle-born, I take it?”

“If the wording of this letter is anything to go by, Monty not only discerned such, but is making contingency plans to protect them in a Pure-blood dominated society that’s gone bloody mad. Monty has arranged for a gift of a marriage vault, and I suspect that even if there was a divorce that split the contents, your mother would still be set for life.”

“And that would be yet another thing I knew nothing about,” Nizar says. “I wonder what happens to it.”

I hope it will still belong to two living, breathing parents, Salazar thinks, but he doesn’t speak of such things aloud anymore. They’re both aware of the ticking clock that is always counting down the remaining seconds until 31st October 1981.

 

*          *          *          *

 

In April, there is a brief reprieve. Salazar highly doubts that Voldemort suddenly gained concern for his followers’ health and decided they needed to rest, but for several glorious weeks, excepting a few meetings, rest is what they receive.

Salazar watches “Edward the Seventh” on the telly with Nizar’s portrait, the first program they’ve viewed together in what now feels like decades. He refuses to ask Nizar where he found popcorn, as he’s certain that none of the few portraits in this house have it, nor do they even have corn plants. Like the mysterious appearance of the painted sofa, some questions are best left unasked.

The short-lived television program is entertaining for being accurate while still wildly dramatized. Salazar isn’t certain he needed to be reminded so well of the politics that began the first World War.

Nizar didn’t need to remind him of the grenade incident during the second war, either. Salazar flings a teacup at the portrait when Nizar is unrepentant.

“You injure yourself in glorious fashion at least twice a century, and that grenade incident was the second!” Nizar taunts him from down the hall, laughing.

“NOT INTENTIONALLY!” Salazar yells back, incensed. Some days Nizar is so much a person to him that he forgets that throwing a teacup at a portrait is not effective in the slightest. It only means he has a teacup to repair and a mess to clean.

Salazar has literally lost the plot of “Doctor Who” but he doesn’t really mind. It’s rather easy to get ensnared by the program again, though the Daleks suddenly have a leader named Davros who is…well…

“Yeah, he ranks up there with rebodied Voldemort for creepiness.” Nizar’s portrait sounds disturbed. “I wouldn’t want to run into that three-eyed bastard in a graveyard. Or anywhere else.”

April also brings about the end of the Vietnam War, such as it is. The U.S. and her few remaining allies evacuate, and South Vietnam is snatched up by North Vietnam, ending the division that caused a war in the first place. “Then what was the fucking point?” Salazar grumbles at the telly as the news is broadcast. He knows there were riots and protests in the States regarding the war, but abandoning the helpless to those who would slaughter them is not a just solution.

How many times has he borne witness to such things? How many more of these moments will he witness before Voldemort finds his end?

The second day of June brings the sleet and snow that failed to arrive during the past winter. Salazar stares out at his frozen lawn and equally suffering garden, baffled and infuriated. “When was the last fucking time in snowed in June?” He knows it has happened before, but usually some major event within the earth warns him of the possibility. This year, there was no such warning.

“1791!” Nizar’s portrait yells from the living room.

“Thank you.” Salazar looks again at his devastated herbs and vegetables. “Bloody hell.” He’s not a picky eater, but he still prefers fresh vegetables over frozen, and many of those herbs were destined for potions. He suspects he’ll be doing quite a bit of the shopping in London this summer, Muggle and magical both.

Only a day or so later, temperatures are baking hot. No one in England is the least bit impressed.

“I missed two earthquakes!” Salazar exclaims as he returns home after a day spent pouring through newspaper archives in a London library. “One in India in January, and one in sodding China in February!”

“Enough to muck about with the weather, then?” Teresa asks, fascinated. She had no idea that violent acts of the earth could affect the weather, including a lack of knowledge regarding a volcano’s intimate and swift means of changing the global climate. Salazar has found himself purchasing more textbooks of Muggle science to satisfy her rabid curiosity, though he notices almost at once that she leans heavily towards botany, biology, and eventually, chemistry. Teresa learns enough about spatial sciences, satellites, and the moon landings to be in awe of the events, but otherwise has no interest; geology she studies only long enough to be conversant in its basic ideas, as well as the fascinating aspect of carbon dating.

If someone had told Salazar at age twenty-one that the world he lived upon was over four billion years old, he would never have believed them. Those of Hogewáþ were enlightened scholars for their time, but four billion was a vast, incomprehensible number. The term billion did not even properly exist until sometime around the 1500s, and the idea of one thousand million was not much older. Perhaps the astronomers in India had already considered such things in their quest to measure the sky, but Salazar did not encounter the idea in common academic thought until many years later.

“Two such powerful earthquakes would definitely affect the weather, yes.” Salazar is still irritated with himself for missing the earthquakes. He suddenly wonders how many nuclear detonations he’s not felt due to his preoccupation with Voldemort’s war.

He should have taken the odd weather as a warning. More fool him that he did not.

Voldemort doesn’t wait until the end of term to grant them their next reprieve from spying. It begins with the snow, as if Voldemort finds the cold to be distasteful. The Underground has Martinus and his Dark Mark to alert them if anything changes, but otherwise, it seems as if this year will grant them three months of quiet rather than two. What gatherings there are of Voldemort’s new court are few but for the one in June that curls around the wedding nuptials of Lucius Abraxus Malfoy and Narcissa Theia Black. Their marriage means that it is no longer safe for any Polyjuiced or glamoured spy to dare Malfoy Manor. It will now be Narcissa Malfoy who arranges most of the Manor’s social affairs, and she is a Black. The house-elves working the manor will be under strict orders to announce each of the Manor’s visitors by their true names and titles.

“I’m so sorry,” Salazar says to Martinus.

Martinus shrugs. “The food is good.”

“I was apologizing for your need to endure the company of Lucius, Abraxus, and Delphina Malfoy on a regular basis.”

“Not the new Madam Malfoy?” Martinus asks, curious.

“Better it be her than Bellatrix,” is Salazar’s response. Narcissa Black Malfoy is at least a good conversationalist, though she is often as bloodthirsty as her sister. Andromeda and her husband Ted Tonks are now an active part of Dumbledore’s unofficial group, which will almost certainly mean that she will one day battle against her Death Eater sisters.

“FINALLY!” Teresa suddenly shrieks, sending Salazar scrambling for his wand and Martinus wisely diving for cover. “IT’S ABOUT TIME, YOU SODDING BASTARDS!”

Martinus peers out from behind one of Salazar’s armchairs. “That wheeled chair has taught her too many foul words.”

“It wasn’t the bloody chair.” Salazar lowers his wand and reminds himself to breathe. There was a jangle before the shout; Teresa had just rang off. “I hate you. I take it you are now the proud owner of a flat?”

“To hell with that,” Teresa retorts. “I gave up on flats when you put the idea of a house into my head. I’ll be letting one of those, and it was last lived in by an old Muggle woman for thirty years. The landlord was just about to take down the ramps and whatnot he installed so his tenant could keep living there when I phoned him. He asked if I wanted the ramps. I said if he took the ramps away, I might commit murder. The poor man thought I was joking. I’ll be signing on for a house tomorrow!”

“Congratulations, Trinity,” Salazar says.

Teresa turns her chair, already pulling a face. “That sounds so odd. I’d best get used to it though, shouldn’t I? It’ll be that name I use tomorrow. Trinity Jayne Sutherland.”

“It has a nicer ring to it than Martin Williams,” Martinus points out. “Though perhaps mine is easier to recall.”

“Muggle names, Muggle addresses, Muggle identification, Muggle transport…” Teresa blows out a long sigh. “Is now a bad time to admit that I’m afraid to live alone?”

Salazar shakes his head. “There is no shame in that. Ask Desdemona to stay with you for a few days after you move house. She enjoys Muggle London, and wouldn’t want to pass up the opportunity to visit a Muggle home.”

“That is a nice thought,” Teresa says thoughtfully. Then she looks at Salazar. “Why are you volunteering Desdemona? You could do the same. It isn’t as if we’re not used to sharing the same space.”

“Because you are still a young woman, and I’d hate to see you accused of improper behavior by foolish neighbors,” Salazar replies. “I’d also like to not be accused of being your father.”

Teresa rolls her eyes. “Muggle views on proper behavior are worse than Pure-blood courting, then. Lovely.”

“But their dating customs are far more relaxed,” Martinus says. “I would have had a much easier time of convincing my wife to marry me if that had been our standard.”

“You’re sending me out to live in backwards land,” Teresa complains.

Salazar snorts. “This house is in a village that is most decidedly not magical. You already live in backwards land, Trinity Sutherland. Just remember that backwards land has benefits, such as takeaway Chinese food.”

Teresa’s expression brightens. “Oh, yes. That’s right, isn’t it?”

Martinus, having been introduced to the fried joy of Muggle takeaway on several occasions, also seems pleased. “It sounds as if you’ve found an ideal house in which to dwell.”

“I think so, yes,” Teresa agrees, beaming. “Oh, and I heard from Bastion—”

“Who is Bastion?” Martinus asks. “Is that our newest member, B—”

Salazar treats Martinus to a flat stare when Martinus gives him a wounded look for stomping on his foot. “Separation, Martin.”

“Oh. Yes.” Martinus sighs. “My apologies, Teresa. What did Bastion have to say?”

Teresa treats Salazar to her favorite suspicious glare before speaking. “There is rumor coming from those standing in the Dark Lord’s newly established Inner Circles. He’s not going to let the summer remain quiet.”

“Dammit,” Salazar whispers.

Martinus grinds his teeth. He was looking forward to a quiet summer, as well. His wife, Gertrude Bulstrode Flint, is due to give birth to their first child in late August or early September. Neither of them yet know if the baby is male or female; Martinus would rather be present to prevent Gertrude from trying to get rid of an unwanted first girl. Martinus doesn’t care what gender his first child is as long as they are healthy, but no matter how many times he has informed Gertrude that being male is not necessary for a Flint to inherit the family seat, she is intent on having a boy for an heir. For the infant’s sake, Salazar hopes that Gertrude Flint has a boy. He strongly suspects that any girl, even a properly acknowledged one, would soon suffer an unfortunate “accident.”

“We’ll remain alert, then,” Salazar says. “Do you need help tomorrow, Trinity?”

“No, I think I can manage, much as I truly dislike Apparating in a bloody chair,” she replies. “Martin, you’ll remain safe?”

Martinus glances at Salazar and then nods, recognizing that they’ve again shifted the behavior of the Underground. From now on, it is their other identities they will use for each other. “What does our other friend call herself? I don’t yet know that name.”

“She chose Monica Davies, but if you want to know the reasoning behind it, you’d need to ask her,” Salazar answers. Desdemona mostly seems amused by her Muggle name and identification, though she has also vowed to learn to operate a car. Salazar wishes her luck on that; he isn’t interested in learning to drive a machine that pollutes the air every moment its engine is running. He can Apparate anywhere on this island he needs to go.

“What about you?” Martin asks.

Salazar smiles. “Saul is not my real name. I’ve already taken this step.”

Martin gives one of his rare grins. “What is your real name, then?”

Salazar glances at Trinity, who rolls her eyes, then looks back to Martin. “I hope that you will both live long enough to find out.”

 

*          *          *          *

 

Salazar is disappointed to learn that he missed a film released in January that is meant to be a biography of Galileo Galilee. He’d like to know if it is accurate, or another fanciful embellishment of yet another historical figure. Someone else recommends Monty Python and the Holy Grail. He finds a cinema still showing the film, sits down, and hopes it isn’t a riot of color.

It isn’t a riot of color, but that becomes a moot point right at the start. Salazar is all but certain the film would be entertaining if he’d not spent the majority of it completely bewildered. The blend of clothing styles and buildings from multiple eras he actually lived through is disorienting, as is the dialogue, the intent, and the random…police car?

He gives up. He’ll attempt to see this film again at a later date. Perhaps then Salazar will be able to look past the blended historical disaster to enjoy its strange plot.

Even in London, Salazar is often immersed in Death Eater antics and Pure-blood politics. Death Eaters meet often in Diagon Alley, which merely gives Salazar another means of keeping an eye on the idiots. They don’t wear the robes and masks in public, of course, but it’s obvious that Death Eaters are what they are. Salazar wonders if the stronger twits among them are aware of the danger they radiate, that they give themselves away and cause others to retreat from their path.

Strong does not mean intelligent. The smart ones are those whom others would never suspect. Lucius Malfoy is a good example. The younger Malfoy walks an extremely fine line between intellectual up-and-coming politician and hateful young braggart with a skill Salazar would envy in a man who would use such talent to good purpose.

Despite being older than Narcissa Malfoy, Bellatrix Black is not yet wed after rejecting her parents’ original choice of spouse. Cygnus and Druella don’t insist Bellatrix choose another to marry, possibly because they are also quite wisely terrified of her. Bellatrix Black is not the sort to regret murdering her parents if she found them too irritating to endure.

A bit of spying within Dumbledore’s gathered group of supporters grants Salazar the means to finally meet Andromeda Black Tonks, though at first his heart nearly explodes at the shock of finding Bellatrix Black standing in a room where Andromeda is meant to be. Good gods, their resemblance is uncanny. The difference is in Andromeda’s eyes, which are keen and kind where Bellatrix’s are joyfully vicious. Andromeda’s long strands of curling hair are not stark black, but a very deep, dark brown with beautiful red-violet undertones.

Thank goodness Salazar is taking the place of an unkempt young Muggle-born thief named Mundungus Fletcher that evening. Andromeda Tonks is polite, but doesn’t want to linger in his company. Salazar will get over his shock and attempt to discover more about her later, in a different guise, as the eldest of the Black sisters seems to be one of the few of his House who graduated Hogwarts with an understanding of what it truly means to be a Slytherin.

The meeting itself is held inside a dreary section of Longbottom Manor that hasn’t been used for decades. It reminds Salazar of his one brief visit to 12 Grimmauld Place, when Pollux Black invited Voldemort to use his home for a Death Eater meeting two years ago. Even Voldemort was not impressed with the Black family’s sense of cleanliness and décor. Salazar was glad that Sirius and Regulus were safe at Hogwarts, as he was also filled with the longing desire to strangle the life out of every Black currently in residence. Perhaps this is where Walburga learned that it was fine to ensnare and marry her close cousin Orion, as Salazar is all but certain that Pollux and Cassiopeia Black are sleeping together. Alphard’s difficulties in disentangling himself from his parents and leaving this house, Sirius and Regulus’s individual bad habits and unsettling behavior—all makes perfect sense, as they live with fucking mad people. Dorea must take after her grandmother, Ella Mae Max, as she is nothing like her vile siblings. Orion Black is the only one who is even close to sane and civilized, but to say he is the least badly behaved of all those present is like saying that Cnut’s people only invaded and slaughtered a little bit of England.

Listening to Dumbledore speak to his gathered followers is as enlightening as it is disturbing. “I know that we are all used to the summer months being quiet and largely free of Death Eater activity,” Albus Dumbledore says, “but do not be fooled. If we are complacent, the Dark Lord will use that complacency against us. We must be vigilant—”

“CONSTANT VIGILANCE!” Alastor Moody roars. Salazar isn’t the only one to glare at him.

“Rightly so,” Dumbledore continues, his eyes twinkling merrily. “I hope we will all get to enjoy this year’s rather warm summer, but there are rumors that the Dark Lord plans to change his previous habits.”

“What rumors?” Elphinstone Urquhart asks. Salazar is unfamiliar with that wizard, but he is sitting beside Minerva McGonagall, who remains utterly beautiful…and their body language speaks of familiar intimacy. They are dating, possibly even betrothed, though he sees no ring on Minerva’s hand.

Be happy, he thinks, even though it pains his heart to see that that any chance to court Minerva McGonagall are dust. Find all the joy you can, and claim it fiercely.

“How do you know this, Albus?” grizzled Elphias Doge asks.

“Oh, I have my ways,” Albus Dumbledore says, the words accompanied by even more of that irritating twinkling.

Monty leans forward in his seat. “Albus, we are all on the same side. Our side.” Several other members murmur in agreement, including Andromeda and Ted Tonks, Harfang and Callidora Longbottom, the Weasleys, and certain of the Prewetts. Interesting. They follow Albus Dumbledore, yes, but at least some of those present are willing to demand the truth that is owed to them.

“Whether or not Barty and the M.L.E. actually carries through with recognizing this group, we are all here to defend Wizarding Britain,” Monty continues. “One group, Albus. We go out and fight while trusting in each other. We can’t have secrets, or we endanger that trust, and that’s when we’ll start dying. I, for one, would like to avoid the dying part.”

Salazar bites back a smile Mundungus Fletcher would not indulge in, too busy worrying about his own unwashed hide. Not a politician, his entire backside.

“So would I,” Filius Flitwick says in a dry voice. Beside him, Malcolm McGonagall nods vigorously in agreement. “Albus, please tell us. Trust us as we trust in you.”

“Very well,” Albus Dumbledore concedes. “You’ve raised an excellent point, Fleamont.”

Salazar internally seethes. The man is a master of scolding and praising another using the exact same words. Estefania would loathe him—not for his skill, but for the manner in which he uses it.

“There may be another resistance group in Britain. Sometimes we receive messages from them that are not traceable by magic or mundane means. I trust this intelligence more on some days than others, but I think in this particular instance, they’re right. Voldemort is planning something, and he’ll likely capture all of Wizarding Britain’s attention when he does so.”

Dorcas Meadows’s near-black skin turns ashy blue-violet as she pales. “God, please not another family slaughter. Not after what was done to the Bones and Crouch families.”

“We don’t yet know if that is what he has in mind,” Albus Dumbledore refutes in what manages to seem like reassurance. “But as Alastor insists, we will be vigilant. We will be cautious. We have our ways of alerting each other to danger. We will, as young Fleamont reminds us, continue to rely on each other.”

Monty waits until Albus Dumbledore leaves the room. “I am forty-six years old with a teenager attending Hogwarts,” he hisses.

“Oh, don’t pay it much mind, Monty,” Hagrid’s voice booms out. A moment later, his large hand claps down on Monty’s shoulder. He doesn’t seem to notice that he nearly knocks Monty out of his chair by doing so. “We both know Dumbledore’s just like that, him bein’ as old as he is. He’s not yet stopped calling me a lad, and I’m nearabouts your age, too!”

“Thanks, Hagrid.” Monty’s words for Hagrid are honest, his expression clear of all signs of irritation, but those who truly know him would recognize at once that Monty is still displeased. Unfortunately, it seems as if most of those in this room are not capable of realizing that Dumbledore was subtly undermining Monty’s standing within the group. The others will now be less inclined to listen to his words and ideas. They won’t even notice their own building aversion, and Monty knows it.

Salazar glances around the room while pretending to be overly interested in a gilt-edged antique still lying on the table. It’s those who are the children of Blacks, who came from a household where paranoia was a way of survival, who might’ve noticed. Andromeda Tonks is certainly aware, though Ted Tonks remains oblivious. Septimus and Cedrella are conferring in low voices; if Cedrella’s expression is to be judged by its cool nature, she is furious. A moment later, they both wave Monty over. Monty, capable of recognizing that he is in the company of a Sane Black, gladly joins them. The Weasley sons, Ignatius, Bilius, and Arthur, stand in their own small circle. At one point, Arthur’s eyes flick over to Monty and his parents, a moment of keen observation swiftly hidden beneath an expression of a rather bland pleasant nature. Salazar nearly breaks character in appreciation for the cunning he has just witnessed from a Gryffindor-graduated half-Black Weasley. That one will be fun to watch in the years between the wars.

Harfang and Callidora are with Minerva McGonagall, her brother Malcolm, and Elphinstone Urquhart. “You should get married this summer, just as you’d planned,” Callidora is saying. “If you wait on the whims of that madman, it may never happen at all!”

Salazar ignores the sensation of the bottom plummeting out of his stomach. This is not the first time he has encountered such a lost opportunity. He can and will bear it.

“It just seems such a crass thing to do,” Minerva McGonagall is replying, the Scots burr in her voice more pronounced than Salazar is accustomed to hearing. “To be happily wed when so many are still mourning what they have lost…”

“Nonsense,” Harfang chides her. “I know I’m only thirteen years older than you, Minerva, but take it as the wisdom of a doddering old sod. No one but a fool is going to begrudge you and Finn here for taking a moment to be happy.”

“Even if my own baby sister would be one of them,” Callidora says in displeasure. “If Charis dares to show her face at the wedding ceremony, slap her senseless. Merlin knows I’ll certainly be attempting to climb over the guests in order to do the same!”

“God knows this war didn’t stop Lucius Malfoy and Narcissa Black from marrying,” Malcolm reminds his sister. “Heard it was a right festival of excess, too.”

“Well…” Minerva McGonagall looks at Elphinstone Urquhart, a smile tugging at her lips. “Perhaps.”

“It isn’t as if Robert and Malcolm haven’t already threatened to remove my organs if I muck things up,” Elphinstone Urquhart says, grinning. It makes Salazar inclined to think well of him, even though his envy remains. Malcolm is still as much a firebrand as his sister, and Robert McGonagall is a popular ordained wizarding minister with a wife and Hogwarts-age daughter. If Elphinstone Urquhart sat through a pair of Scottish brothers threatening a man on behalf of their sister and came through intact, it speaks well of his intentions.

“That settles it. We’ll have it here at the manor,” Callidora says, which gains her Minerva McGonagall’s startled attention.

“What? No, we couldn’t possibly—”

Time to depart, Salazar orders himself. “Mundungus Fletcher” nicks a dusty picture-frame whose golden appearance is paint rather than true metal on his way out. The Longbottoms know by now not to leave anything truly valuable in a space where Mundungus Fletcher will be spending any length of time whatsoever.

Salazar allows himself to concentrate on truly hating Albus Dumbledore as he leaves the manor. He’ll give himself until the Multa Facies Sucus wears off, and then he will once again put that hatred aside. Like it or not, Wizarding Britain needs that twinkling bastard.

He slips the Invisibility Cloak out of his pocket and puts it on as he feels the potion wearing off. If he waits at the Apparition point beyond the manor’s wards, he may get the opportunity he’s looking for.

He does; Monty approaches the Apparition point alone after most of the others have already gone. “What the actual sodding hell does Albus think he’s playing at?” Monty mutters under his breath.

“Power,” Salazar answers, causing Monty to jerk his head up and yank his wand free before he recognizes Salazar’s voice.

“Sal! Dammit! I don’t think I needed that bit of heart failure,” Monty gasps, putting his wand away. “Where are you?”

“Lurking under a certain Cloak, and it’s probably best I not take it off. I thought you spoke well, by the way.”

“You were inside the manor.” Monty straightens his shoulders, taking in and releasing a deep breath. “Some days, that man drives me to drink. Today is likely to be one of them, but I’ll wait until James is distracted in his bedroom for the evening. He’s up to something, but won’t confess; he only promises me that it’s harmless.”

Salazar smiles. “I’ll wager you an excellent vintage of wine that he’s attempting to become an Animagus.”

“Please stop telling me these things,” Monty begs. “You’re cheating, you’re teasing me, and you’re leaving me astonished as well, because it sounds as if he succeeds!”

“As far as I’m aware, he does, though I’m uncertain of when.”

“His Transfiguration is God-awful,” Monty says ruefully. “Are you certain?”

“Transfiguration and an Animagus Form are two different masteries within the same branch of magic, though learning the latter will certainly help him understand the former better than he currently does.”

“Now there is the teacher I used to hear. I’ve missed that.” Monty’s smile is far too brief. He takes off his spectacles, blinking a few times. “No matter how fine the glass, it doesn’t matter. It still gives me a headache to wear them now.”

“I’m certain the clear eyesight makes up for the headache each time,” Salazar says.

“Oh, it does. I know you received Dad’s letter regarding the potion, but he downplayed his reaction. Dad was absolutely giddy to be able to see so well again. Even Mum appreciated the renewed clarity, though she didn’t truly need spectacles yet. Euphemia is the only one of us who, pun not intended, saw no difference at all.” Monty rubs the bridge of his nose. “I’d love to give a dose to James, but there would be too many questions. Besides, if he won’t yet trust me with his doings, I can’t yet trust him with vital secrets. When he’s ready to confide in me, then perhaps he’ll learn that he doesn’t have to wander around with shoddy eyesight anymore.”

“I think that is the decision of the wise parent I suggested you be.”

“Thank you.” Monty sighs and then turns in place, now fully facing Salazar even if Monty still cannot see him. “What do you think Voldemort is up to?”

“I’ve no idea, but we know there will be something. If he follows the pattern of his previous large-scale horrors, Voldemort will say nothing to anyone of his plans until he suddenly calls for certain of his Death Eaters to accompany him. They’ll depart together with no chance for us to warn anyone unless a spy is among the chosen. Even then, there still may not be opportunity for that spy to send warning to others.”

“I take it that happens far too often for anyone’s preference,” Monty murmurs.

“We are still far too few,” Salazar growls. “I know that will change, but right now it makes things difficult. Monty, there are so many of these fools. If you count all who are against Voldemort, still we’re outnumbered at least twenty to one.” Trinity thinks that number is higher, and wants to do the maths to prove it. Salazar asked her not to; he doesn’t need to be so miserably depressed when things are already dire.

“Good God.” Monty briefly rests his clenched fist over his mouth. “Jesus wept.”

“Whatever Voldemort has planned, I think it’s a sign,” Salazar says, though he hates to see Monty turn so fearfully pale. “We thought the turning of the year was bad, but I fear this war is about to become a nightmare.”

 

*          *          *          *

 

Salazar isn’t trying to locate Lily Juniper Evans when he finds himself crossing paths with her again—not in Diagon Alley, but on Charing Cross Road on 8th July. He recognizes her fiery red hair and halts in place, letting others walk around him. He hasn’t seen her in public since discovering her identity in September 1971. Like Sirius Black, James Potter, Remus Lupin, Peter Pettigrew, Severus Snape, Selene Crouch, Octavian Burke, and so many others, she will begin her fifth year at Hogwarts in September.

Lily Evans is tall for her age, though Salazar thinks she has already reached her full height. She is just coming into the fullness of youthful beauty, and stands with the confidence of a lady. Despite her rather shabby ensemble of torn bell-bottom denims, scuffed trainers, and a flowing green shirt with unraveling cuffs. Lily Evans is so much closer now to resembling the wife and mother who Salazar once witnessed die in a Horcrux’s retained memory.

Her eyes are the exact same shade of emerald green that Nizar’s had once been, before he chose to be rid of that eye color entirely. It’s a bit daunting to see it again now.

“You should get it, Sev. You like it, after all,” the girl is saying.

“Liking it and knowing exactly how much pocket change I’ve on me are two different things, Lily,” her companion says. He’s taller than Evans, but still in that unfortunate stage when a lad seems to be composed of naught but arms and legs. Severus Snape has retained his extremely pale skin, almost as if he is in a constant state of ill health. Given the pinched look around his black eyes, the young man is certainly stressed—though Salazar loses his glimpse of Severus’s eyes when he purposefully shakes his lank black hair over his face to hide them. That habit of youth looks so practiced that it must be heavily relied upon.

“I could get it for you, Sev,” Lily offers.

“Lily—”

“Friends do that for each other, Severus. You wouldn’t be in my debt!”

“It’s a Slytherin thing, Lily.” Severus pinches his lips together. “Unless you would accept a potion in trade.”

Lily grins, bright and shining in a way that tells Salazar that she has a strong, kind heart. No doubt a temper, as well, but that shine of kindness eases his quiet fears that the tale of Nizar’s parents and their willing sacrifice was nothing more than propaganda meant to soothe the wizarding masses.

Salazar casts the Invisibility Charm and follows the teenagers as they walk along, curious as to where they’re off to that would necessitate the need for a trade. “I cannot believe they made you a Prefect,” Severus says.

“I know!” Lily exclaims. “It’s ridiculous. What have I ever done that means I should be a Prefect?”

Severus doesn’t hesitate. “You punched Sirius Black in the face.”

“I don’t think that counts, even if he deserved it,” Lily says. “Still, a Prefect. Who do you think the other Gryffindor Prefect is?”

“If it’s James Potter, I’ll be publicly accusing Professor McGonagall of being pissed out of her mind when she made her choices for Prefects.”

Lily laughs. “Oh, I truly doubt it’s Potter. Who do you think will have it in Slytherin? Or are you hiding a Prefect’s badge at home?”

Severus snorts his opinion of that. “As if Slughorn would ever consider someone who couldn’t also further his position. No, the Prefects will be wealthy and influential, like Malfoy had been.”

“Lucius Malfoy is a prick.”

“I’m not arguing with facts.” Severus thinks about it. “I’d wager on Adrian Carmichael. Influential, famous family, not a Death Eater.”

“I think Octavian will be one of Ravenclaws Prefects,” Lily says.

Severus nods. “He’s intelligent enough. The letters came out early this year, though. It’s weird.”

Lily hesitates. “Maybe they’re worried something is going to happen.”

“They’d best be ready to pay for my schoolbooks, then, because I’m not shopping in the Alley if it’s on bloody fire,” Severus replies. “Irene Selwyn for Slytherin’s other Prefect, by the way.”

“Ew!” Lily exclaims. “Her? She’s…well, she certainly acts like a Death Eater.”

“Maybe,” Severus says, though even he sounds as if Irene’s status as a Death Eater is a certainty. “But she’s a Selwyn who’s dating seventh-year Marcus Talbot, who is definitely going to be the Talbot heir. Her cousin in Slytherin is Guinevere Greengrass, meaning the heir to the Greengrass family fortune is Irene’s uncle. Slughorn will be all but drooling at the idea of having her indebted to him in any way.”

“I understood about half of that,” Lily complains cheerfully. “Definitely no trouble understanding the last part, though.” She pulls open a shop door, revealing that they’ve reached their destination. “Slughorn is completely ridiculous.”

“The phrase you’re really looking for is useless twat.”

“Sev!”

Salazar follows them into a record shop, which always has a pleasant blend of scents from the fresh ink, pressed paper, and vinyl. There are also the newer cassette tapes, but their selection is small compared to the records that still dominate the shop.

He doesn’t trust cassette tapes. He remembers how easy it is for magnetic tape to rip, tear, and burn.

Surrealistic Pillow, huh?” The clerk minding the till could stand to wash his face a bit more, and his eyes shine with the sharpness of greed. “Want the original, do you?”

“No. The original British release doesn’t have “White Rabbit.’” Severus sounds firm, but not disdainful. Salazar thinks that could easily change.

“We’re looking for the import from across the pond,” Lily Evans says in a far more accommodating tone, though Severus’s eyes narrow when the clerk’s eyes drop to focus upon Lily’s chest.

“Right, that. I’ve only got the one copy. It’ll cost you a tenner,” the clerk says.

What?” Lily glares at the clerk until he looks up at her. “That’s extortion. An import is just six pounds, even when it’s a good one!”

The clerk looks smug. “That’s my price. Take it or leave it, girlie.”

Severus gives the clerk a flat stare. “Wait here. We need to speak about it,” he says, and guides Lily away with a cautious nudge to her upper arm.

“He’s lying,” Lily growls. “He’s definitely got more than one copy lying about, and he’s cheating us, besides!”

“We’ve checked every other shop in London, Cokeworth, and a few other places we’re really not meant to be,” Severus counters in resignation. “Even if he’s cheating us, we won’t find it anywhere else.”

“I’ve only got six pounds, Sev. That’s why I offered to get it for you!”

Severus looks thoughtful. “If we knew where it was located in the shop, we could just nick it.”

“Severus.” Lily stares at him until Severus flushes. “I know you’ve done that a few times, and with Black Sabbath, that berk clerk utterly deserved it, but that’s not the answer every time you’re short a pence or three!”

“Yeah—yeah. I know—I know that.” Salazar files away stutters when anxious and continues to watch.

Severus retrieves a Muggle leather wallet that looks like it’s been pounded on with a sledgehammer, left in a bog, and then pounded on a bit more. “Wait—I forgot my spare change from lunch. I’ve got four pounds and…a few pence,” he says after counting it out. “That’ll clear us.”

Lily grins. “We’ll have joint custody of a vinyl record, Sev.”

“There are probably worse things to have joint custody of.”

“Cave trolls,” Lily suggests, and Severus pulls quite the entertaining face in response.

Lily and Severus return to the counter. “My eyes are up here,” Lily says, pointing at her own face. The clerk jerks his head up, his ears turning as red as his spotty skin.

Severus lays the money down on the countertop, but keeps his hand firmly atop it. Wise young man. “We have your ten pounds, but I want to see the album first.”

“Fine. Bloody kids.” The clerk stomps off, vexed not by the sale, but by being caught staring.

“At least I never catch you ogling my tits,” Lily says, stifling a giggle.

“I have absolutely zero interest in your chest,” Severus returns dryly, but he smiles.

The sale completed, the two make off with their wrapped vinyl import. Salazar resolves to find his own copy, as he’s rather fond of “White Rabbit” as well. First, though…

Salazar drops the Invisibility Charm and approaches the clerk. “Buenos tardes, necio idiota. It seems we need to have a bit of a discussion regarding propriety.”

“What are you, their dad?” The clerk rolls his eyes. “Get lost, old man.”

“Perhaps in a bit. First, though: how old are you?”

The clerk straightens to his full height, five inches taller than Salazar. He’s never understood why so many men believe that their height lends weight to their words. Even Godric wasn’t foolish enough to underestimate a shorter man. “Twenty-three. What’s it to you?”

“Twenty-three.” Salazar nods. “Are you oft in the habit of fantasizing about young women who are underage?”

“Oh, fuck off,” the clerk retorts. “Get out of my shop, old man, before I call the coppers on you.”

Oh, pedófilo. Soy mucho más viejo de lo que puedas imaginar…[1]

Salazar leaves six pounds on the counter to cover the cost of the other import copy of Surrealistic Pillow he finds hidden in the back. He’ll be dwelling on ways for the young ones to recover their money, though that pathetic clerk will now think long on whether or not to continue his vile habits.

Nizar’s portrait sighs in resignation when Salazar tells him about the encounter. “They’re still not dating-close, right?”

Salazar grins. “No, hermanito. It’s a shame that you were told so little of their lives. They are certainly close friends who understand the ways of Slytherin trade, though your mother doesn’t seem fond of the notion.” He thinks on what else could be said. “Lily Evans looked to be happy and content with her life. She has a temper, and no difficulties in speaking her mind…but she is kind. Of that, I have no doubt at all.”

“I’m glad.” The portrait waits and then rolls his eyes when Salazar doesn’t say anything else. “And what about Snape, then? Come on, I’m all but dying for gossip on the man who is going to be a caustic fucking bastard in twenty years!”

“Severus Snape is quite fond of the company he keeps in regards to Miss Evans,” Salazar says. The portrait begins swearing at him, a vile mix of Castellano and Parseltongue. “He otherwise seems to be quite unhappy. Given the summer holiday, I would assume his household is just as unpleasant as it was when he was five years of age. The passing years might even have made it worse.”

Nizar is incensed. “Does anyone I once knew have a normal fucking family?”

“Considering I must discard many candidates based on the rest of their family? So far, only your father seems to qualify.”

“Given my experiences over the past century, I don’t think my father’s family counts as normal, either,” Nizar replies, rolling his eyes. “I wonder when Snape decides that life as a Death Eater is better than hanging about with a Muggle-born?”

“I’ve no idea, but I imagine it will be soon.” Salazar thinks the same of many young Slytherins, and it’s of great disappointment to them both. “Of the person he is now, though? I can’t see it. Severus Snape loves your mother as the best of friends love one another. Something must occur that makes him believe it necessary.”

“Now I’m feeling sympathy for Snape. Thanks so much for that.”

“You’re welcome, hermanito.

 

*          *          *          *

 

If there are any signs of Voldemort’s impending attack, they miss them all. Martin’s Dark Mark isn’t called upon. Bastion sees no hint of what is to come, but it is once again a day of many gathering places. Trinity, now in contact with the M.L.E. and Dumbledore’s lot via messages exchanged with Lucretia and Monty, uncovers nothing.

Only Marion is in attendance when Voldemort suddenly chooses ten companions and leaves Malfoy Manor. Precious minutes are lost before she can escape the crowds and safely send a Patronus to Trinity, and then another to Salazar.

Not that it matters. None but those chosen Death Eaters have any idea where Voldemort has gone.

This time, it is the M.L.E. who knows what is happening before anyone else.

It’s four o’clock in the afternoon. The Ministry is beginning to empty as junior and senior staff leave for the day, using the public Floos in order to return home. Some of the older staff won’t or can’t handle Floo travel any longer, and so they use the public exit upstairs.

Voldemort and his Death Eaters attack the Ministry workers as they step out onto Downing Street, but it’s the Wizengamot members their spells and curses are really meant for.

 

*          *          *          *

 

James Potter never forgets the 24th of July 1975. If pressed, yeah, he’ll tell you he didn’t really pay much attention to that morning, especially since he slept through it. Not even the afternoon was all that remarkable, just Potter family business as usual. Sirius sent him a message by way of their enchanted paper around three o’clock, big block letters next to a dog’s head with sad droopy ears, reporting on how he’s stuck in Grimmauld Place and it’s so fucking dull. James would love to send a message back, something to cheer him, but the Marauders discovered when they first figured out enchanted message-sending that everything they try to send to Sirius bounces off of 12 Grimmauld Place’s stubborn-arse wards.

After a dark-haired stranger in a scuffed black leather jacket and denims Apparates directly into his house, though, James pays a lot more attention to everything. “How the hell did you do that?” He stood up at some point, wand pointed, feet planted and ready to possibly hex and run for his life. Nice to know his dad really is teaching James good habits and all, but in the meantime: stranger who Apparated right through the wards!

The man spins towards James, wand clenched in his hand, too, but he doesn’t point it at James. “Where is your grandfather?” he gasps out.

James doesn’t lower his wand, but silver-edged short hair, hazel eyes, familiar features. He’s pretty sure he’s seen this bloke before, even if he doesn’t remember where. “Why should I tell you that?”

“Good lad,” the man says, which is kind of bewildering. “Please at least tell me if Henry is at home. Your grandparents and your parents. Please.”

“Uh—” James stutters, but then Mum rushes into the front parlor where James had been lurking, hoping Remus might’ve been able to pop a message through by Floo.

“Saul!” Mum turns as pale as a ghost, and she’s properly Welsh-pale, so that’s terrifying to witness. “What’s happened?”

“Is Henry here?” the man Mum called Saul repeats his question, sounding frantic. “Euphemia, please—”

James is sourly wondering why this bloke keeps referring to his grandfather by Henry instead of Harry, like everyone else who’s the least bit sensible, when his grandfather stalks into the room. Granddad is already unbuttoning his shirt sleeve cuffs as if he’s expecting a fight. “Saul? Why are you here?”

“Oh, thank the gods,” Saul whispers. James, relieved that Granddad and Mum both seem to know the bloke, finally lowers his wand while noting that Saul at least understands how to choose decent Muggle threads. Sirius would be drooling over that jacket.

“What’s happened?” Granddad asks. Something about his tone of voice snatches up James’s attention and turns it sideways into fear territory.

“Monty and Elizabetha?” Saul insists, which really doesn’t help with the fear. That just makes it worse.

“Monty’s in Scotland,” Granddad says. James already knows that’s code for meeting with people in Professor Dumbledore’s Order, so that probably means he’s okay. Or it means he’s really not, oh fuck. “Elizabetha is meeting with Madams Patil, Spinnet, and Shetty, as she usually does on Thursday afternoons. Tell me what in God’s name is happening, Saul!”

“There has been an attack on the Ministry. In London.” Saul finally seems to take a real breath, but his grip on his wand is still way too tight. “I had to—”

“Downing Street. Oh, no.” Granddad’s eyes turn to hazely steel. “No, I wasn’t in danger, Saul. I still take the Floo whenever I feel as if I’m up to it, and today was a good day. Or at least, it was a good day. How bad is it?”

“I don’t yet know. I came here first.” Saul briefly rubs his eyes. “Now I’m off to find out just how bad it is.”

James’s idiot brain finally catches up. Attack on the Ministry in London. Fucking Death Eaters attacked the Ministry! “You mean Volde—”

“James.” Mum’s voice is like a whipcord snap. “You recall our rules on this matter.”

“Right.” James swallows too hard. His parents are hardline on him having anything to do with the war, and that’s not until after he graduates. They don’t keep it a secret or anything, but listening and talking about the war are vastly different things in the Potter book. “Okay.”

“I’m coming with you,” Granddad says to Saul.

Saul looks horrified. “You’ll absolutely do no such thing!”

“They’re my—I’m one of the lead voices of the opposition, Saul,” Granddad snaps. “I have to be there, or people will panic.”

“People are going to be panicked no matter what you do,” Saul retorts. James stares at the man’s eyes, looks at Granddad, and feels his eyebrows rise. Granddad and Saul, whoever he is, have the exact same color eyes. Weird.

“But,” Saul continues, and he sounds calmer. Thinkier, Sirius would joke. “You’re right. You do need to be there, Henry, but you are not leaving this house.” Saul holds out his hand.

Granddad stares at Saul in angry disbelief. “You cannot be serious.”

“I’m afraid that is the job of the current Black family heir.”

James can’t help it; he lets out a snort of laughter and then feels his face heat. “Sorry.”

Granddad glances at James, but his expression isn’t stern. Then he looks at Saul again. “Just this once. Only the once!”

“I refuse to send you into what may still be a war zone, Henry.”

James suddenly yelps and grabs for the folded piece of paper that was just rudely yanked from his trouser pocket. “Hey! That’s mine, you—” James snaps his mouth shut before Mum catches on to what he was about to say.

Saul gives James the strangest look even as he tucks James’s messaging paper into an inner jacket pocket. “I’m aware of who it belongs to, James Potter. You’ll see a return of your property, but not until after we’ve all sat down and had another conversation on the importance of secrecy.”

James gapes at him, almost missing it when Granddad holds out a single silver hair. “Be careful, you old fool,” Granddad tells Saul.

Saul takes the hair and nods. “Considering who I’m about to become, I’ll be taking no chances at all. I will return as soon as I can, but I suggest you have everyone else come home.”

“I’ve just realized I didn’t hear the door chime,” Mum suddenly says. “James, did you let him in?”

“No!” James is insulted. As if he would ever be that sloppy. “He Apparated directly into the house!”

Granddad gives Saul a curious glance. “How on earth did you manage that?”

Saul is already dropping that single silver hair into a vial full of what has to be Polyjuice. James doesn’t know of any other potion that needs a hair to work, though Remus might.

Lily might know. Or she’d be able to ask Snivellus.

Right. As if Lily Evans will ever give him the time of day.

“That is a very good question, Henry, as I’ve no idea at all,” Saul answers Granddad, and then Disapparates. There isn’t even a crack afterwards, which is so amazing that James almost forgets to be terrified.

“An attack on the Ministry,” Granddad says, his eyes wide behind his glasses. “In broad daylight. In full view of any Muggle who happens to be nearby.”

“Oh, Goddammit,” Mum mutters.

James stares at her in complete surprise. He’s never heard his mother swear before, not in his entire life.

 

*          *          *          *

 

Downing Street is a cordoned-off disaster. Ten Downing is utterly inaccessible, even though Salazar expects that all government staff has already been evacuated. He uses the Invisibility Charm until he can approach the Aurors stationed at the cordon in front of the Ministry. The police tape blocking access is real enough, but the Aurors haven’t quite gotten their uniforms correct. It will pass a distant inspection, but any reporter who chooses to zoom in with a camera and snap a photograph is going to be hunting for secret government police who don’t exist.

A Disillusionment Charm is blurring everything roped off by the tape and folding, flashing warning signs. He can see only rubble, but given the grim faces of the Aurors, the charm is masking the presence of bodies.

“Let me pass, Auror Robards,” Salazar says to the very young man standing with his slightly older training partner.

“I—er—I’m sorry, Mister Potter. I can’t—I can’t let you—”

Salazar sighs with no artifice needed. Henry would feel much the same. “Auror Robards, I am a member of the Wizengamot, and rumor is already circulating that my fellows were targeted by him. I need to know what happened. Please let me pass.” He hesitates. “Fetch Head Auror Scrimgeour, if you feel it necessary. I will wait.”

Robards glances at his partner, an Auror Salazar has seen before but does not yet know by name. “I’ll do that. Please wait here,” Robards says before darting off into the chaos beyond the cordon.

Salazar watches him go, amused by his own acting. He still struggles to pronounce Harry, yet mimicking Henry’s speech patterns and accent is no trouble at all.

To distract himself, he asks the other Auror, “Is it very bad, Auror…?”

“Auror Proudfoot, sir. John Proudfoot,” Robards’ mentor replies. “And…” Proudfoot’s expression is a brief expression of fright and misery. “Yes, sir. It’s very bad. I wouldn’t be in a hurry to see it, were I you.”

“I appreciate your concern, but I must. I don’t yet know what has become of…certain individuals.”

“Understood, sir.”

Robards returns with Rufus Scrimgeour, who scowls when he sees who he believes to be Henry Potter. “This is really no place for you right now, Harry.”

“Is there still a danger, Rufus?”

Rufus frowns, already giving in to what he sees as the inevitable. “Not unless you trip over the rubble. Let him pass, Proudfoot. Robards, rejoin Proudfoot on duty. We can’t let—I don’t know what sort of cover story we’re to come up with this time, but we can’t let the Muggles see how bad it really is.”

“Yes, sir.”

Rufus escorts Salazar to the edge of the rubble, which is where the influence of the massive casting of the Disillusionment Charm ends. “Bloody hell,” Salazar mutters. His eyes can’t settle on any one thing, there is so much to distract. Blood. Dust-covered limbs protruding from rubble. At least one set of staring eyes, a victim of the Killing Curse. “Who did we lose, Rufus?”

“We don’t really know that yet, Harry,” Rufus says, crossing his arms.

Salazar has known this man for years. That was aversion, not the truth. “Rufus: I’m not much fond of visiting this magical disaster.”

Rufus jerks, startled, and then glares at Salazar. “Oh, Merlin. Fine. Which of you is it?”

“It’s Saul, Rufus,” Salazar answers. Rufus’s tensing shoulders relax, though not by much. “Henry is aware that I’m borrowing, never fear. He feels strongly that he needs to be seen here, and I feel strongly that I’ll not see him die needlessly.”

“Good on you, then, for making the stubborn old goat stay put,” Rufus mutters. “Voldemort and ten Death Eaters launched an assault when everyone began to leave the Ministry for the day. I know of at least sixteen deaths so far, and yes, some of them are on the Wizengamot.”

“Fuck,” Salazar says under his breath.

Rufus glares at him. “Exactly that! You couldn’t warn us?”

“There was absolutely no chance. I sent a Patronus to you the moment I learned from the Underground that Voldemort had departed the manor, but he told no one where he was going.”

“Your Patronus certainly made it so my Aurors were up and ready to fight, and probably did so with soiled pants, to boot,” Rufus says grimly. “A bloody Gorgon. Great Merlin, some days I hate you.”

Salazar decides he’ll spare Rufus the indignity of needing to admit or deny that he also needed a fresh pair of pants. “Did it help?”

Rufus hesitates. “Much as I’m still sore that we didn’t have better warning…yes. I think it would be so much worse if I hadn’t sent Aurors topside to make certain Voldemort hadn’t come here. Thank you.”

“Don’t thank me. I’d rather it had been the warning these people deserved, not the least we could manage.” Salazar glances around, waiting until forensics wizards from the M.L.E. rush by, followed closely by one of several teams of healers from St. Mungo’s. “Who did we lose from the Wizengamot? Henry will wish to know.”

“For certain?” Rufus leans on his cane, and it’s no casual gesture. The man is tired, and his leg is not faring well. “Christopher Bainbridge. I don’t know which of his sons will take the family Wizengamot seat, but I doubt they’ll be neutral after that bloody bastard murdered their father.”

“That isn’t likely, no,” Salazar agrees, making certain his vocal patterns are a match to Henry’s again. “Please, keep going. I want to know the first part of how much worse it may yet become.”

“Giorgio Zabini. Edgar Harper.” Rufus pulls an irritable face. “Summanus Carrow, though I’d say his death was not intended. That one’s been supporting Voldemort from the start.”

“He did, yes, but…” Salazar gives up and casts a privacy charm. “Dorcas Carrow is the one who chose to bear Voldemort’s Mark, and he wanted the family seat. I don’t know if he participated in the attack, but it would be no surprise to me if Dorcas Carrow murdered his own father to get what he wished for.”

“Voldemort’s getting rid of the chaff, solidifying the ranks.” Rufus’s grip on his cane tightens. “We’re about to be overrun, aren’t we?”

Salazar glances around at the devastation again. A team of healers and Aurors working together have just pulled a new body from the stone and masonry that fell onto the street during the attack. When one of the healers moves to one side to gain a better grip, Salazar recognizes Larunda Figg, the family matriarch, by the mourning veil and jewelry she always attached to her long fall of silvery-pink hair.

“We were overrun in January. I hope you’re not overly fond of sleeping, as I don’t think either of us are going to see much of it for quite a while.”

Rufus shakes his head and then spits on the ground. “God take it, I see Jenkins. You’d best be on home, Harry, or you’ll be trapped in an unpleasant conversation with a twit.”

Salazar locks eyes with Jenkins, and then makes his—and Henry’s—opinion known by deliberately turning away. “Thank you for the warning. I’ll do everything I can, Rufus.”

Rufus sounds as if all the exhaustion of war has just landed upon his head. “I know you will.”

Salazar waits until late that evening before he returns to the Potter manor. Henry and Elizabetha are waiting up for him. Monty passed out in the armchair, while Euphemia retired early, if only to keep James from sneaking back downstairs. “The Evening Prophet didn’t sugarcoat it.”

“No. It was easy to realize that this time, I don’t think they dared,” Henry agrees. “There is a list of the known deceased. The count stands at thirty-two, including the four Wizengamot fatalities.”

“Fuck.” Salazar tilts his head back to stare up at the parlor ceiling. “I’ve been conferring with the others this evening. Given what was overheard, before and after the attack, we think Voldemort is deliberately pushing for the Ministry to declare war. He’ll use it as a political tool, twist events so that it’s seen by the undecided amongst the Pure-bloods as if the Ministry of Magic is attacking Pure-bloods with impunity.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Elizabetha says flatly.

“But Voldemort excels at such trickery,” Salazar replies. He reaches into his jacket and retrieves the charmed paper he stole that afternoon from James when he noticed how many communication charm variants were embedded in it. “This is a brilliant messaging system. If the four of you can convince James to share the method by which it was created, it’s a tool the M.L.E. and others could use.”

“James realized who you had to be,” Elizabetha says, giving Salazar a brief smile of forgiveness. “Why did you come here, knowing James was home for the summer?”

“I panicked,” Salazar admits. “I know that Henry does not always use the Floo, and…”

Elizabetha nods. “We understand. I would likely done the same. We are still deciding how to make certain James keeps quiet about your continued existence, but that is our difficulty, not yours.”

Henry unfolds the flat paper, which appears to be blank. “This certainly holds enough magic to be capable of something powerful.” He folds it again and tucks it beneath his arm. “Voldemort is going to get exactly what he asked for. I’ve been in talks all evening by way of messenger birds and Patroni. You should expect the month to end with a political shift within the Ministry. Some of Voldemort’s allies didn’t appreciate the opportunity to become collateral damage at the hands of the man they thought to follow.”

Salazar tries not to grimace. “Will it do any good?”

“Honestly?” Henry and Elizabetha share a long look that speaks of many shared late nights, and none of them of late have been for the pleasure of it. “I’ve no idea, Sal. None at all.”

It takes another six days, but by Ministry standards, Wizarding Britain’s government is traveling at lightspeed. The morning newspaper on 30th July announces yesterday’s sacking of Eugenia Jenkins as Minster for Magic. She’s been replaced by the current holder of the Bagnold seat, Millicent Bagnold, a Half-blood by way of her mother. Despite her blood status, she’s considered a good politician by many, not quite a moderate, but not someone Dumbledore would believe to be useful to him, either. She’ll have her own opinions, which she must’ve stated before the emergency election, as she only won her new position as Minister for Magic by a single vote.

Also of interest is that the Wizengamot is recognizing Albus Dumbledore’s Order of the Phoenix as an official body of resistance against Voldemort. The group has been given no power other than a bit of political clout granted by that acknowledgement, but he imagines Albus Dumbledore will use every single bit of that power to immediate use. Salazar hopes it’s all devoted to ending the war, but it’s only 1975. They’ve six years and some months to go before that time.

The next day, Salazar is present under Multa Facies Sucus to listen as the new minister gives her first public speech. Considering Wizarding Britain’s fearful state of affairs, it’s a bold move to make.

“Today I am making it clear to all of you gathered here, and to all of Wizarding Britain: the so-called Dark Lord Voldemort is an enemy of the people, and of this Ministry. He is a scourge on the whole of Britain for his war against Muggle-borns and Muggles alike, and for the Pure-bloods and Half-bloods he kills without concern or hesitation. Anyone who acts in support of Voldemort and the Knights of Walpurgis, now known as Death Eaters, will be considered just as guilty as those who began this war, and swiftly consigned to Azkaban. That is the fate awaiting all Death Eaters, along with their Dark Lord Voldemort.

“Wizarding Britain is officially at war.”

 

[1] Castilian: “Oh, pedophile. I am so much older than you can imagine…”

Chapter Text

Severus Snape wisely made certain that he and Lily ordered all of their school supplies by Owl Post after the Ministry finally removed their heads from their arses and recognized the stupid war. Petunia would have lost her stupid twit mind if an owl had shown up for Lily loaded down with “freak” things. It’s seemed wiser to keep what’s left of the peace, at least for the rest of the summer holiday. That dinner he and Lily were forced to share with Vernon Dursley is still a recent, vivid, unwanted memory.

“I really hate that I’m asking this, but what the fuck does Petunia see in that overbearing prick?”

Lily looks up from where she’s sorting ingredients for Potions. She’s one of the only other students Severus knows of who is properly particular with what she’ll put in a cauldron. Their fifth year begins in a week, and for the first time, Severus isn’t in a hurry to go back. Dealing with the Pure-bloods in Slytherin House is going to be worse than ever. The lines are going to be drawn, and Severus isn’t from a family who can afford to lurk in what’s left of a fading neutral zone.

Severus is so fucked. So, he distracts himself by asking Lily about Petunia’s God-awful taste.

“I really don’t know, Sev. He’s…” Lily shudders. “Vernon Dursley creeps me out. I don’t think he’d ever try to, y’know, do anything. I’d hex his bollocks off if he tried, anyway. It’s just…he really does have little beady piggy eyes, doesn’t he?”

“He sort of does, yeah,” Severus agrees, grimacing at the thought. Seventh-year Death Eaters have looked at him with less loathing than Vernon Dursley. “I mean, Petunia is still in school, and he’s, what, five years older than she is?”

“Six years,” Lily corrects him, properly re-wrapping a bicorn horn so it won’t break apart in her kit.

“A twenty-three-year-old man is dating a seventeen-year-old student.” Severus is now just as creeped out as Lily. “Don’t your parents think that’s, you know…not okay?”

“Of course they do, but Petunia hasn’t listened to them about anything since I got my bloody Hogwarts letter!” Lily exclaims in frustration. “I think Mum and Dad believed that if they welcomed Vernon properly, Petunia would maybe…I don’t know. Be less…just…less! But she hasn’t been. Petunia’s just so awful, Severus. Nattering on about how Vernon is going to propose like a normal person after she graduates from St. Mary’s.”

“I’m sorry.” Severus doesn’t know what else to say. He doesn’t quite dare reach out, either. Severus and Lily haven’t really touched like they used to, no easy hugs or hand-holding. It’s not that he wants her to snog her or anything—wrong gender, for starters—but he misses it. It feels like they’re not as close as they were before, and he’s scared that the war is going to ruin everything. “Want to listen to ‘White Rabbit’ again? It always cheers you up.”

“I’ll get it. I’m closer, anyway,” Lily says, rolling away from her Potions kit and crawling over to Severus’s turntable. “Besides, you like it, too.”

Severus lets the familiar bass line wash over him when the song begins to play. “Yeah, I do. Still hate the book, though.”

Lily frowns at him. “If you hate Alice in Wonderland, why do you like this song so much?”

“Because it sounds like they understand.”

“Understand what?” Lily asks.

Severus tilts his head so that his hair hides his face. “That once you go down the rabbit hole, there’s no going back.”

When they return to Hogwarts on the train, they share a compartment, as they always have, though it has to wait until after Lily endures a “drop-dead dull Prefect meeting.” Ravenclaw and new Prefect Octavian Burke joins them, though, which is irritating. Burke is too willing to hang out with Potter to be entirely sensible, even if he doesn’t act like a shit to Severus or Lily. Honestly, Severus doesn’t even think Burke has ever noticed that Lily is a Muggle-born.

Their other unwanted companion this year is Richard Rothschild, one of Lily’s friends among the Ravenclaws. His older sister Iola had been in Slytherin before she graduated; Severus respected Iola for being one of the few Slytherins he’d known that year who wasn’t a complete tit.

He still has no idea how Iola and Richard Rothschild are related to the other magical English Rothschilds, not when the head of the Rothschild family won’t acknowledge their existence. Iola and Richard both said that they’re Pure-bloods, the children of a Trader witch from Bristol. Severus doesn’t know about Iola, but Richard is staunchly not the Death Eater type. That means Severus has to put up with Richard’s occasional suspicious looks the entire fucking way to Hogwarts, but at least the Ravenclaw keeps his mouth shut.

The Sorting is…odd. Severus ends up feeling so disquieted by the Hat’s song about divisions and conflict that he forgets to clap to welcome the new Slytherins. Regulus Black isn’t very happy, either.

“Yeah, great. Remind me that my family is split in half and my brother’s on the wrong side of the line. Thanks for that, you stupid hat,” Regulus mutters.

“It…” Severus trails off. He wants to say that it’ll get better, but it won’t. It will probably get worse. “You still have Narcissa?”

Regulus rolls his eyes. “You do recall that Narcissa is an icicle, right?”

“Honestly, I was so busy trying to avoid Lucius Malfoy’s droning that Narcissa was pleasant in comparison.”

“Ugh. Stop helping, Severus. Just—stop.”

Before the new term began, Severus ventured into London on his own to visit another record shop, a better shop with clerks who aren’t raging dickheads. He paid in advance for a copy of Pink Floyd’s next album, including the money to have it shipped to Hogwarts after its release. The album doesn’t arrive by Owl Post until the 20th, but Severus doesn’t open it yet. He’s barely seen Lily since they got to Hogwarts, thanks to it being their stupid O.W.L. year. He’s going to fix that at least once before Hallowe’en, and hopefully again before the winter holidays. Severus has to show Lily, somehow, that he’s not on the side of the line her Gryffindor friends are insisting he must be on.

His best friend is a Muggle-born. You’d think that would be an obvious hint that he’s not a fucking Death Eater!

The first Hogsmeade Weekend isn’t until the 25th and 26th of October. Severus is all but ready to scream with impatience in the meantime. Even lessons in Latin from Nizar’s portrait aren’t enough to distract him this term, though at least that is going better than his miserable failure at Spanish.

The Marauders are more brash, more blatant, more boisterous—more annoying this term. They’re up to something, too. Despite both Madam Pomfrey and Dumbledore’s statements of sympathy regarding Lupin’s recurring “illness,” Lupin is never in the hospital wing.

“I dunno. It happens so often that Remus probably stays in his dorm until he feels better,” Lily says when Severus mutters about it as they climb the stairs.

“Those idiot self-declared Marauders have been leaving the castle every time Lupin’s been ill this term. Who would leave their friend behind when he’s supposed to be sick?”

Lily shrugs. “It isn’t like they haven’t proved that they’re thoughtless arseholes, Severus.”

“True,” Severus says, but he can’t let it go. It’s gnawing at him, the timing of it all.

It’s the moon. That damned full moon. There are a multitude of things a wizard can get up to on the full moon, and a lot of them can get everyone else into a load of shit.

Severus sometimes thinks it might be lycanthropy before dismissing the idea as ludicrous. Werewolves aren’t allowed at Hogwarts. They’re dangerous.

Lily gives the portrait hanging on the wall a password that Severus memorizes out of habit, and then she pushes open the door to Gryffindor’s empty Common Room. Lily claimed that it was warmer as well as deserted, and she’s right on both counts.

Severus gets his first look at the Gryffindor Common Room’s scarlet and gold glory. It’s not bad, really. Two different hearths host cheerful burning fires. The room has lots of overhead lighting, and bright autumn sunshine floods into the room from two massive windows.

Lily grins and bounces in place when Severus finally reveals the album he’s been teasing her about since it arrived in the post. “Pink Floyd! I didn’t know they were putting out another album this year!”

“I noticed the poster in the record shop when we were getting Surrealistic Pillow,” Severus says, smiling. Maybe they can survive this year. Then it’s just two more to go, and the Houses won’t matter anymore. Magical uni doesn’t give a shit about Houses, and he knows they could both go on scholarship. He can brew potions in his sleep, and Lily holds sway over Charms.

They listen to the album on the Common Room’s Charmed gramophone, lying on the floor with their heads close but bodies apart in a floppy T-junction. Severus loves “Wish You Were Here,” the album’s title track. Lily thinks it’s depressing, and she hates depressing songs, especially right now. Severus admits he can’t really blame her for that. Then Lily declares she loves “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” all eight parts of it. She says that it reminds her of Severus.

Severus reads the liner notes for the song and gives her a baffled look. “It sounds like the song’s about someone mental, Lily.”

“No.” Lily stares up at the ceiling, a thoughtful look on her face. “It’s supposed to be encouraging. Shining on, I mean. It sounds like they’re telling someone not to give up.”

“I’m not giving up,” Severus mutters. They’re back to this already. Dammit.

“You’ve got some interesting friends, then.”

Severus sits up and bites his lip. He’s told her this before. It has to stick eventually. “It’s not…it’s—it’s politics, Lily.” Good; at least he won’t completely stutter his way through this explanation. Strong emotion often leaves him sputtering like a buffoon, but he’s been thinking about this particular Lily-Translation problem for a long time. “I’m a Half-blood in a House that’s supposed to be nothing but Pure-bloods. Gryffindors have different politics to worry about.”

Lily sticks out her lower lip in a petulant frown. “There aren’t any politics in Gryffindor. This is just school, Sev.”

“There are politics everywhere,” Severus says, but he can tell she doesn’t understand. Worse, he doesn’t know how to make her. Not…not literally, but—

Shit. Even in his own head, Severus doesn’t have the right words.

 

*          *          *          *

 

On the Autumnal Equinox, Salazar nearly suffers bloody heart failure. He is doing nothing more than wandering past one of the many record shops in London, his mind occupied by the Death Eater meeting he’d just spied upon in the Alley, when the strains of his brother’s oft-played melody strike his ears and pluck his nerves with icy fingers.

Salazar braces himself against the nearest lamp post, ignoring curious passersby as he calms his ancient heart and learns to breathe again. He knew, in theory, that the melody Nizar recalled must be from his time, but Salazar hadn’t expected the song to slap him in the bloody face!

Once he can breathe, walk, and think all at the same time again, Salazar enters the shop. That song, that fucking song, is being played at full volume—and it has words. It has words that are going to haunt Salazar for the rest of his life.

Salazar buys the latest Pink Floyd album, Wish You Were Here, ignoring his shaking hands as he accepts a handful of change from a pleasant clerk minding this particular shop’s till. The album’s cover art is of one man shaking hands with another, who seems ignorant of the fact that he’s on fire.

Deals with the devil, Salazar thinks, noting the studio filming lot acting as the backdrop. He wonders if such a thing is worse than making a deal with Death themself. Then he goes home and puts the record on the turntable before warning Nizar’s portrait of what he’s about to hear.

It’s a bit easier to cope with, this time. Salazar instead focuses on the novelty that he’s listening to a brand-new song that he’s been playing on various stringed instruments for nearly one thousand years. Even if he had known the words from the start, he still wouldn’t have guessed which band would create this song. It’s Pink Floyd’s sound just as much as it is not.

Salazar lifts the needle from the album after the song is finished, troubled when Nizar’s portrait is silent. He turns around to find his brother staring at the turntable, an unfathomable expression on his face. “What is it?”

Nizar blinks a few times and meets his eyes. “Can you—can you manage to capture a recording of Lily Evans’ voice?”

“Oh,” Salazar whispers.

“Yeah.” Nizar’s portrait scrubs at his youthful face and sighs. “It’s like…this really faint echo in my head. I think it’s always been her.”

Salazar is back to strumming the melody on a lute he brings out of storage, realizing over the years that he’s lost some of the proper notes. He now owns the actual bloody song to compare to, and it isn’t long before he has the whole of it in his head once more.

He takes that song, that memory of Nizar’s mother granting him a melody from 1975, as a sign that something in 1981 will go right.

Martin brings in a new member to the Underground in October, one he introduces to Trinity but not Salazar. That is as it should be, even if it sometimes makes Salazar itch not to know. He likes secrets; he likes knowing secrets. Shortly afterward, Bastion has also brought someone in. Trinity calls them Richard Burke, but also seems to find them baffling.

“Why?”

“Oh. Because they’re supposed to be dead,” Trinity says, chewing on the end of a bic while sorting through her notes. “I’m glad they’re not, but it was still…I’m selfish enough to want someone from my family to turn up alive, Saul.”

“And I still don’t blame you for that,” Salazar tells her. “Martin’s find doesn’t have a second identity?”

“Martin sounds like he doesn’t want to frighten them off,” Trinity replies. “He says she’s never had anything to do with Muggles before in her life.”

That doesn’t seem auspicious to Salazar, but Martin’s new find must be close to the Inner Circle, or stand within it. On Hallowe’en, that enables Trinity to send Salazar a Patronus that is shouting at him about Voldemort’s yearly tradition and Hogsmeade.

Salazar freezes in place before he sends a Patronus to Rufus, then to Lucretia, and tells them to warn Dumbledore’s Order, as well. He’d make the attempt himself, but there is no time. Most of that lot would take the appearance of a Gorgon Patronus as impending treachery, anyway.

The M.L.E., backed by a Ministry that finally believes in the war, arrives in Hogsmeade in force. It isn’t enough, but then Dumbledore’s Order of the Phoenix joins them. Together, they prevent what would have been the slaughter of every Muggle-born who has ever dared to take up residence in the village. Instead of a massacre, the battle is afterwards referred to as the Hogsmeade Skirmish.

“Skirmish,” Monty says snidely, leaning back in his chair with a warm compress over his eyes. “Fuck the lot of them with a sodding dictionary.”

Salazar raises his glass in salute for a man who can’t currently see it; Monty has a steaming towel draped over his face as he tries to rid himself of a migraine caused by magical exhaustion. “May it be a very large dictionary, then.”

It’s a success, though. A victory. Wizarding Britain needed a rallying point, and Voldemort accidentally gave them one.

The M.L.E. loses three Aurors to the battle. The Death Eaters lose two of their own. Salazar thinks it an unbalanced trade until he sees the names of those Voldemort can no longer call his own. Miranda Burke Selwyn was one, the mother of four Death Eaters named Allenford Selwyn Junior, Madlyn Selwyn Greengrass, Hector Selwyn, and Impatience Selwyn; she was killed by Auror Alastor Moody. Her husband, Allenford Senior, vows revenge, but that’s not likely to happen. Allenford Senior is not competent with a wand, nor is he that intelligent. Miranda Selwyn’s children aren’t interested in revenge at all, but they’re a cold lot in the best of circumstances. Their aunt, Augusta Longbottom, would very much like to remind the idiots that the infamous Burke chill is not meant to be a lifetime devotion.

Octavian Montague is Voldemort’s other loss, a vital one. Harfang Longbottom takes grim credit on public record for Octavian’s death. Not even the actual Death Eaters on the Wizengamot, including William Montague himself, speak of arrests or investigations. They’re all Pure-bloods; they understand the need for familial revenge.

Martin still believes that it was his wand that caused Robert Longbottom’s death, but Salazar has reviewed his memories of that day in the Potter family Pensieve several times, and he no longer thinks so. Salazar isn’t certain that Montague was the real culprit, either, but he knows exactly what Martin’s wand looks like. His only use of the Killing Curse on 1st September 1971 hit no one.

The victory grants another of Voldemort’s followers the bravery they need to realize that escape might be possible, after all. Salazar knew that Lucretia Fleet Lestrange, Patrician’s wife, was fearful, but by November of 1975, she is both terrified and absolutely done with feeling that way. “I gave birth to monsters,” Lucretia spits bitterly. “My twin boys. I was so proud of them, once. So proud I’d given my husband two Heirs, two sons! And now it’s…” She lets out a choked sob and quickly waves off any hint of sympathy. “Damn Patrician for twisting them. Damn all three of them for treating me as if I’m some disposable toy!”

Trinity looks alarmed. “Rabastan and Rodolphus—have they…touched you?”

Lucretia’s response is a strained smile. “You truly don’t wish to know.”

Much like Martin’s October find of a spy, Lucretia refuses a secondary Muggle identity that would grant her the means to retreat to a place of safety when needed. Perhaps Salazar should have taken that as yet another ill portent.

Salazar is still trying to find the Death Eater who is murdering innocents to fuel a spell harsh enough to break ancient wards, but so far, no one feels the need to brag of their skill. Without that option, Salazar settles for the next best thing—finding a way to counter it.

“Breaking ancient familial wards? That would require a great deal of power. Most of them were probably blood wards to begin with, built and tied into the family bloodline at the start.” Nizar’s portrait is sitting on his ceiling, resting his chin on the hand he props up with his knee. “I dunno. That is and isn’t blood magic, Sal.

“You just started hissing again,” Salazar tells him, and listens to a great deal of swearing in Parseltongue. “I’m still looking, little brother.”

I know. It’s just complete shit that this would happen now,” Nizar hisses in irritation. “But you were asking about messy murder for breaking wards, and about ways to counter it. I’d tell anyone who will listen to bleed on the origination point for their house wards. By strengthening their ties to the original magic, they’ll strengthen the wards. Magic will be more interested in protecting the people who are paying proper attention to it.

Salazar groans aloud. “Hermanito, it would be easier to convince Voldemort to put down his wand and take up knitting.”

I didn’t say it would be easy, especially since Wizarding Britain is full of idiots who think Blood Magic is evil. Worse, that blood-strengthening isn’t even a guarantee that it would work. Murder is such a brutal act, Sal, but it’s also a powerful one. That’s why it grants people fucking Horcruxes.

Salazar is in Lambeth visiting Trinity in her home, introducing her to Norman Greenbaum’s music, when she unexpectedly hands him a folded pamphlet. “What is this?”

Trinity looks smug. “A possible solution to your problem with a hissing portrait.”

The Union of the Physically Impaired Against Segregation,” Salazar reads. The flyer is printed and folded properly, but the ink making up each letter is not crisp, but look as if they’ve been formed from static. “This doesn’t look like a loose-leaf copy.”

“Oh, now who’s behind on Muggle doings?” Trinity taunts him, grinning. “It’s a xerographic print. Electronic, cheap, and becoming commonplace, even if the quality isn’t yet as nice as something you’d get with magic.”

Salazar resists the urge to swear in frustration. He needs to spend more time in London for exactly that sort of reason, but the Underground is still too few. “If this flyer represents what I think it to be, then such is long overdue.”

“It is,” Trinity agrees, “in both Wizarding and Muggle Britain. Wizarding Britain doesn’t treat a physical disability as a mental one, but Muggle Britain is still in the habit of the latter. Wizarding Britain doesn’t have any interest in improving existing modes of mobility, while Muggle Britain is improving those means fairly often. Neither of them provides for those of us who need those means a way to access most of the bloody world, though!”

“You’re a member of this group, I take it?”

Trinity smiles. “I needed something else to do with my time, and…well, I’ll confess to a bit of selfishness, as I’m now one of those who would benefit by this cause’s success. I was so thoughtless before, Saul. I never once considered that there might be children who should have been in Hogwarts with me who couldn’t be.”

Salazar glances up, brow furrowing. The staircases were designed to compensate for those who couldn’t climb them, and would carry one along until they were deposited where they needed to go. It sounds as if that no longer occurs, which is not only unpleasant news, but disturbing. Nothing should have altered that bit of magic. Not unless some group of fools did so deliberately. “I am sorry it was a lesson learned by violent, irreversible means.”

“I’m not. I’m frustrated, but not sorry. I can continue to feel pathetically sorry for myself, or I can help make certain that at least for Muggles, things get better. Speaking of which…” Trinity hands him another xerographic-printed flyer. “This is the solution.”

“Sign language.” Salazar raises both eyebrows. “From the examples I’m seeing, they’ve progressed far beyond finger-spelling. I don’t see anything resembling the hand-signing we used in Europe, either.”

“That’s because France and the U.S. have different signs than Britain. Yes, really; global politics and spite mean that we can’t even have a universal sign language,” Trinity says.

Salazar is too old to be surprised by that. “This, though—this is useful.” It even has a place where classes are being taught, for free, to help those who are unable to hear or speak but cannot afford private schooling or tutoring. “I’ve no time to attend such a class, though.”

“One of our members with a bit more wealth behind them, even if they’re quiet about it, says they’re going to record the classes onto what they’re calling a video cassette.” Trinity pulls a face. “I’m assuming there will eventually be some way to watch it without broadcasting it on the television. I hope they mean a visual recording, at least. I’m not certain what a sound recording of a silent class could ever hope to accomplish.”

“Please let me know the moment this member has the means to make copies of these recordings, and if they speak of a way to watch them at home.” Salazar still has no idea when he’ll have time to learn another language, but he has to find it. The degradation of his brother’s portrait’s ability to speak in other languages is getting worse.

“I’ve included the class times, anyway. Just in case,” Trinity says. “I don’t think you should lose the means to speak with your family, even if all you have left of them is a portrait.”

Salazar reaches out and grips her hand. She holds on tight, lips pressed together in a thin line of grief that will not fade. “Thank you.”

“Besides, I’ll be learning it, too,” Trinity adds. “Martin already knows this language; he says he learned it, of all places, within the Slytherin Common Room. He also said that he wasn’t the only one to do so. They use it to speak to the Merpeople.”

Salazar immediately discards the idea of using these signs among dangerous company. “That is interesting. I wonder who taught the first of them?”

“Martin had no idea. Desdemona had at least heard of it, but never learned it for herself.”

Desdemona still resides in the Dunbar manor, and insists upon using her own name when safely at home. Given that she has full control over the wards, any potential monitoring spells, and lives alone, Salazar doesn’t mind dropping the habit of Monica for a brief time. He is visiting her there on 22nd November to finalize their appearances and placements in Voldemort’s next gathering when Nerys catches up with him.

“Please do not be bad news,” Salazar mutters as he collects the letter from Euphemia’s owl. “I don’t think I can handle more bad news this year.”

 

Sal,

I thought that you would like to know, given who the baby is named after. Robert and Alice Morgan had their second child. Another boy. (It really does seem like mixing in Half-blood and Muggle-born blood improves childbearing in witches, to my vexation. It’s a bit too late for me to tell off my ancestors.)

They named him John Franklin Morgan II, after his grandfather.

 

“Good news, then?” Desdemona asks after he lowers the missive.

Salazar nods. “A birth, not a death. A boy who was named for a friend who died during the European wars. John Morgan II is a great-grandchild of Iola Black.”

Desdemona looks surprised. “I hadn’t realized she maintained a presence in Wizarding Britain after that infamous split from the family, when Lycorus Black’s widow, Magenta, declared Iola to be disowned and disinherited for marrying a Muggle.”

“The foul part of that family would love for everyone to believe that, but Iola wasn’t the sort to bow to foolish whims. She and her Muggle husband, Robert Hitchens, resided in Winchester until their deaths. They had two children, both Half-bloods. Their son Robert married Amber Rothschild—”

Desdemona lets out a loud, startled laugh. “Oh, that must drive Obsidian to utter madness! He loses his temper if anyone so much as breathes a word about his older sister! Is she still alive?”

Salazar shakes his head. Obsidian’s gloating in regards to his sister’s death was oft annoying, but Amber Hitchens prepared her revenge in advance. “She died in 1974, but by then, Amber was the eldest surviving Rothschild. She took the granted opportunity to inform her grandchildren that they had the legal right to re-take the Rothschild name, if they wished. If you’ve puzzled over the origins of the siblings Iola and Richard Rothschild…”

“I had, a bit, as Obsidian refuses to acknowledge their existence.” Desdemona cackles again. “Iola is even named for her grandmother!”

“Her great-grandmother, yes.”

“Excellent,” Desdemona declares. “I suppose Robert Hitchens the younger had a sister?”

“Robert Junior is still alive. If it were not for his current frailty, I’ve no doubt he would be fighting in this war. His sister was Ella Hitchens, wed to John Morgan. She died in 1973, but he died in Germany. 1943.” Salazar manages a smile, though he still recalls every single loss from those days with a heavy heart. “Lysandra Yaxley Black was another one of ours. She died in Luxembourg in 1942. We didn’t even know that it was Arcturus Black II’s wife who spied with us until well after her death.”

“I didn’t even know her to be a war hero,” Desdemona says in surprise. “There is so much I’ve realized of late that I don’t know about my fellow Pure-bloods, much less the rest of Wizarding Britain, or even of Muggle life. I did often wonder why Cedrella was so upset during the last year of the European Wizarding War. I thought it was because Septimus Weasley had gone off to the Continent, and because of her pregnancy, not a deep-seated Black family need for revenge.”

“Charis would have supported Grindelwald if given half the chance, but Callidora and Cedrella might’ve ended the war themselves if given the opportunity—” Salazar breaks off when he realizes there is a strange ringing in his head. It resembles the ringing in his ears following those times when he has been far too close to an explosion.

“Saul?”

What in gods’ name is that? He shouldn’t be hearing any such thing. It isn’t the earth. There is no hint of a fire anywhere on the planet that he can sense, so it isn’t a nuclear explosion.

“SAL!”

Salazar blinks several times and looks at her. It isn’t a new sensation. His head is ringing from the lack of one. “Something has changed.”

Desdemona stares at him. “What? I’ve never seen you like this before!”

“I think…no. I’ll not say a word until I confirm it. I need to go to Spain. Send a Patronus if an emergency occurs, but I should return in a day or so.” Salazar Apparates to the southern coast without waiting for an answer, startling a pair of late-season beachcombers. “My apologies,” he says to them, and Disapparates. He hopes they don’t speak of his appearance and departure, if only so that the Ministry will leave them the bloody hell alone.

The moment he arrives on his father’s lands, he knows. He still needs to see it with his own eyes, but there is no mistaking that sensation. What else has he missed while being so preoccupied with Voldemort’s stupid fucking war?

Salazar Apparates to Burgos to find a city crowded to the brim with spectators. Still he does not find what he seeks, and this time listens to what his magic has to say. There. Madrid.

Madrid is just as crowded, especially the stairs and walkways before the Palacio de las Cortes. A trim man in a military uniform and sash is just emerging from the palace, whereupon the noise from those around Salazar increases dramatically. A woman is at his side, wearing a dress cut to modern fashion standards, but there is no mistaking that she is royalty. Three young children with them are being closely guarded.

Despite the presence of the military, someone nearby is brave enough to shout, “¡El dictador ha muerto! ¡Viva nuestro amado rey![1] That he is not immediately accosted and arrested is almost distracting enough that Salazar nearly misses the import of the first sentence.

Franco is dead. Juan Carlos, his named successor, is now king.

Salazar can only think of one course of action given the situation. He seeks out the magic that calls to him from a family who is normally to be found in Burgos. They are not related to him by blood, but they’ve no choice but to deal with him.

“Ignacio Algernan Vasques Serrano.”

An elderly, stoop-shouldered wizard with neatly tied grey-blue hair with silver edges turns away from his regard of the palace. There is no hint left to his features to say he is of Basque-Arabic descent, but the old magic is in his blood, nonetheless.

Ignacio’s black eyes widen upon seeing Salazar. “You!”

“Me,” Salazar agrees, smiling as if it hasn’t been nearly fifty years since Ignacio was last forced to endure his company. “I do hope you’re again ready to stand as the Magical Marqués of Burgos.”

“Papá, who is this?” asks the younger man at his side. He could easily serve as a stand-in for Ignacio…were it still 1925.

Ignacio scowls with all his aging might, as if that might be enough to drive Salazar away. “This, Augusto, is the family curse.”

Salazar grins. If that is the way it is to be, he may as well enjoy it. “That I am.”

He is not able to see Juan Carlos until very late that evening. It is not the difficulty of getting past the throngs of those who are celebrating a returned king, though he suspects most do not yet understand the significance. The security officers are no trouble at all; they do not even notice Salazar’s passage. It’s the impatience of waiting for a new queen and three new infantes to sleep. They have never met Salazar, and for now, it is safer that way.

The new king is not sleeping. He is sipping on a glass of wine and staring out of a window in the sitting room that precedes the closed doors to his bedroom. His military uniform was no mere formality; even at rest, his shoulders and back maintain an officer’s bearing.

“Juan Carlos Alfonso Víctor María de Borbón y Borbón. It has been a very long time.”

Juan Carlos whirls around, hand reaching for a weapon he is not carrying. “Who are you? How did you get into this room?”

“Am I not memorable? The Marqués of Burgos certainly thought I was.”

Juan Carlos frowns. “There is no such position in Burgos.”

“There was before. There must be again,” Salazar counters.

The young king turns on a second lamp and peers at him. “Salazar Deslizarse. I do recall you now. My father introduced us when I was still young, before the end of World War II.”

“That he did. How is the infante Don Juan taking to the idea that you’ve been crowned in his rightful place?” Salazar asks.

Juan Carlos grimaces in such a manner that speaks of one who must hear that question often. “He is displeased, as he has every right to be, but I remind him that Spain is fortunate to see a monarch returned to her at all. My father says he will consider me a rightful heir to his throne when I have proven my worth.”

“He is stubborn, just as all the men of your bloodline have been. I think he is wrong, though. Spain needs youth right now, not age, no matter what wisdom might accompany it.”

Salazar’s new king regards him with a line of thoughtfulness between his brows. “My father was not lying when he said you were Spain’s guardian, a magician who cannot die. Was he?”

“Alas for us all, he was not. Nor is it mere legend that your kingdom has other magical guardians of noble blood and title.”

“That, at least, I am aware of,” Juan Carlos says dryly. “My father made certain I was well-educated in that regard, not wishing me to be surprised to find that magic is not limited to card tricks and manufactured illusions.”

At least Salazar is saved from having to demonstrate that aspect of Spain. It has always before been a draining, irritating process. “Your grandfather’s abdication of the throne has left their standing uncertain for many decades. Those positions must be restored, or properly abolished, though I don’t recommend the latter. There is a magical war occurring in Great Britain at this very moment, and one never knows if it may spill into the Channel to wash ashore in this kingdom.”

“Spain is a republic.”

Salazar tilts his head, hoping that his expression conveys his opinion of that particular notion.

Juan Carlos sighs. “All right, yes, I know. I was declared King of Spain today. Many think that to be a new title for head of state, but they may soon find I’m to be a disappointment in that regard.” He places his glass of wine aside. “Tell me who else holds magical title in Spain, and where I might find them. If there is conflict between Northern Ireland and England paired with a war with others like yourself, I will not leave Spain undefended.”

 

*          *          *          *

 

Lily Evans watches her dormmates pack their belongings with the frantic haste of headless chickens. “I told you so,” she says to Mary MacDonald.

Mary flicks her wand at a remaining stack of books. “Laugh it up, swot.”

“I am. Totally laughing.” Lily slips out of bed before Mary can decide the books need to be thrown instead of packed. “See you cats later.”

“UGH!” Josephine declares, but that stuck-up Pure-blooded twit hates anything that even smacks of Muggle, including Lily. That’s part of the reason why Lily gathers up new slang over the summer. To share.

She’s supposed to be meeting Severus in the courtyard, anyway. It’s a tradition, especially since he always chooses to stay here. Of course, if Lily had his parents, she’d stay in this icicle of a castle over the Christmas holidays, too.

Lily enters the courtyard just in time to find Benedict Mulciber and John Avery Junior with Severus. They’re both standing while he’s slumped on a bench, but when they see Lily, they scowl and leave.

She drops down onto the bench next to Severus, noticing that it’s already been cleared of snow. It’s even warm, but nobody wants to sit on an icy metal bench in December when warming charms exist. “I don’t understand how you can be friends with them.”

Severus doesn’t look up. “I didn’t realize you were friends with Josephine Harper.”

Lily gapes at him. “I’m not! How could you even think that? She’s so—annoying!”

“Well, you seem right convinced that I’m friends with everyone I’m forced to share a dormitory with.”

Lily shuts her mouth with a snap. “That’s not fair.”

“Why? Because it’s me saying it about you instead of you saying it about me?” Severus asks bitterly. He still hasn’t looked up, his hair hiding all of his face from her. She hates that he’s let it grow this long for just that reason.

“What crawled up your arse, anyway?”

“Aside from the fact that you still won’t believe me when I say those two idiots aren’t my friends?” Severus sighs. He’s shaking, and Lily thinks it’s from the cold. She won’t realize how wrong she is until years later, in July 1978. She’ll be trying to survive her first, completely unexpected battle when she realizes that she’s shaking in the exact same way Severus had been in December 1975.

“I do believe you,” Lily says, except her face heats up. That didn’t sound convincing at all, because…

Because she doesn’t believe him. She knows that Avery and Mulciber are going to be Death Eaters when they graduate. They’ve told people, usually when they’re threatening them with how they’re going to kill them after they’re not hiding in Hogwarts any longer. She’s seen Severus hang out with them too many times, and a bunch of other Slytherins who are just as prejudiced, even if they haven’t declared that they’re going to be Death Eaters with the stupidity that Avery and Mulciber admitted it.

“Sure. Yeah.” Severus definitely noticed. Lily hopes this isn’t the last conversation they’re ever going to have, because they’re friends. She’d miss him if he was gone.

She would.

“Aside from that,” Lily snaps. “You said it was aside from that, so what’s wrong?”

“I feel warm and cherished already,” Severus drawls without lifting his head.

“Sorry,” Lily says, and once again it sounds like she doesn’t mean it. “Really. What’s wrong?”

“Do you remember what I told you on the train platform in 1971?”

Lily blinks a few times, surprised by the change in subject. “That was years ago, Sev.”

“Yeah, it was. Do you remember?”

Lily bites her lip. “You said a lot, and Petunia was distracting. Then your mother dragged you off, so…I’d be guessing, Sev. What did you say?”

“I promised you that I’d never lie to you.” Severus finally lifts his head, his hair swinging back. His eyes are red-rimmed. He looks like he hasn’t slept in days, and he seems…angry? “And I never have.”

“Sev, you’ve been spouting things like that ridiculous werewolf theory—”

“Ridiculous—theory—” Severus clenches his jaw shut. Lily feels bad at once; he only stutters when he’s really, really upset. “Y’know, when Potter got me out of that tunnel, I—I thanked him. I hate him, but I st-still thanked him. You tell me that you—you believe Potter saved me. You believe that there’s—there is a tunnel—beneath that stupid Whomping Willow. You believe Potter’s this—this great sodding hero.”

“Sodding hero? Not likely,” Lily scoffs, though it was pretty brave of Potter to go help someone he’s been fighting with since they all started school.

Severus stares at her. Whatever he sees makes him draw back. Lily feels cold seeping into her coat, and she’s pretty sure it has nothing to do with the weather. “You believe all that, but you—you’ve never once asked me—” He draws in a shaky breath. “You’ve never asked me what’s—what Potter was saving me from.” Then he gets up and walks away without looking back.

Lily thinks she should run after him. She should. It’s just that Severus has never walked away from her before. Not like this.

This is awful. Lily feels nauseas, like someone dropped a rock into her stomach. A frozen rock, to go with that cold feeling.

Severus is right. Lily didn’t ask. She didn’t even think about what Severus might need to be saved from. The Whomping Willow’s tunnel is underneath the school—from what she’s overheard from the Marauders before they learned privacy charms, the annoying gits, the tunnel is even part of the school! There shouldn’t be anything in that tunnel that would harm a student at all.

Except it was on the full moon. Severus hasn’t uttered the word werewolf at all since then. It’s like he keeps catching himself every time he might be thinking of it, and then he doesn’t.

By the time she’s gathered herself to go stomping after him, Lily can’t find him. Severus has gone back to the Slytherin part of the castle, and Lily has to run and fetch her trunk or she’ll be late to the train.

She doesn’t get to say goodbye that year. She doesn’t yet realize that she never will.

 

[1] Castilian: “The dictator is dead! Long live our beloved king!”

Chapter Text

Severus seethes his way through the holidays, Christmas included. He’d much rather avoid everyone on Christmas Day, but Slughorn and Dumbledore both insist that every student in Hogwarts be at Christmas Dinner, the wankers. Slughorn merrily ignores Severus’s every statement of, “I’m Jewish,” like it means nothing. Maybe to someone like Slughorn, it really doesn’t mean anything.

He can’t stop thinking about that last conversation in the courtyard with Lily. There has to be a way to make her understand, but every time he’s tried to talk to her since the bloody werewolf incident has been a stuttering mess, and his latest attempt ended in fucking disaster. He’s afraid they aren’t even friends anymore, and if they’re not, it’s his fault.

“You’re moping,” Nizar says, breaking the silence that’s been lingering between Severus and the portrait for the entire evening. The few other students in Slytherin House who remained for the winter holidays all went to their dormitories an hour ago.

Severus makes himself say it. “She doesn’t believe me.” Not about who his friends are, Lupin being a fucking werewolf, Severus never lying to her—not any of it.

“About what and who?”

“Lily. She doesn’t believe me about—” No, the portrait is aware of Severus’s opinion of people like Mulciber. If Severus would call anyone in Slytherin House a friend, it’s those like Regulus Black, who are intelligent, loyal, and not bloody stupid. “She doesn’t believe me about Lupin being a werewolf. She thinks I should be grateful to Potter.”

Nizar shocks him by saying, “You should.”

What?” Severus glares at him. “You’re joking, right?”

“Not for anything else!” The portrait rolls his eyes. “Honestly, do not forget who you’re speaking to, as I’m neither Slughorn nor an idiot.”

Severus bites back a smile. “Why should I be grateful to Potter, then?”

“Because,” Nizar drawls out, “Potter could have gone along with Black’s scheme and chose not to do so. Somewhere in that idiot’s head is a conscience, even if it’s still in the early stages of development. I don’t mean gush his praises, for gods’ sake, but this is an instance in which you and Lily Evans are both right. Given that the pair of you are about to turn sixteen, I highly doubt either of you are going to be willing to admit it any time soon, either.”

“I…” Severus scowls. “I already thanked Potter. It slipped out just after we got out of the tunnel.” He’d still been terrified out of his mind, but he’d meant it. Severus doesn’t think Potter even noticed.

“Then you don’t have to thank him again, do you?”

“No,” Severus realizes. It’s a relief regarding a problem he didn’t even realize he was chewing over. “But how do I convince Lily? Werewolves are evil! She’s sharing a tower with a dangerous creature!”

“Dangerous?” Nizar doesn’t look impressed. “Remind me, Severus: when are werewolves dangerous?”

“They’re always dangerous!” Severus retorts.

“That is fear talking. I’d rather hear something factual originating from your intellect.”

Severus leans back in the armchair, sulking. He’s starting to hate it when the portrait is right. Not—not really, not like he’d hate it if it came from another student or a Marauder or his parents. But it’s galling, because…

He can’t figure out how to say it. He doesn’t even know why. It just something that is.

“The full moon,” Severus says, grudgingly answering Nizar’s question.

“When on the full moon in particular?”

Severus grinds his teeth, glares at the portrait, and thinks he might honestly be on the verge of trying out a modern hex to see how that scorched nameplate holds up. “At. Night.”

“Which is only part of a single day, once every lunar month.” Nizar raises an eyebrow, calm and faintly amused in the face of Severus’s burning anger. “How absolutely terrifying.”

“Shut up,” Severus mutters, feeling his entire face burn.

“Nope!”

Severus can’t quite keep himself from smiling, even though he still resents that smug smirk. “Just because Lupin’s not dangerous the rest of the month doesn’t mean I’m not…” Afraid, he thinks, but he won’t be admitting that out loud. Not ever, not if he can help it.

“That part is far more acceptable than damning someone for a curse they never asked for,” Nizar says. Severus feels chastised and vindicated at the same time. “If you need to avoid Lupin to feel balanced, then do so. But do it because of what Black almost caused, not for what Lupin wouldn’t have even known he’d done until the next morning.”

“Lupin and Black aren’t talking to each other.”

Nizar snorts, unsurprised. “I wouldn’t much appreciate being set up to be used as someone else’s murder weapon, either. If I’m to kill someone, I’d prefer to do it myself.”

Severus nearly says, “Me, too,” but stops himself. It’s true, and he doesn’t think the portrait would castigate him for that sort of viewpoint—the man who inspired the ancient portrait’s creation probably saw too many real battles during the Founders’ Era to care—but to say it aloud is to admit that he wants to kill someone. Several of them. Maybe he could manage to leave Lupin alone, at least as long as Lupin stays far, far away from him. Pettigrew is bloody useless. Potter…well, the portrait’s right in that Potter could have just let Severus die. He’s willing to wait and see. For now.

Give him Sirius Black and no witnesses. Severus would kill him and not regret it for a moment.

“Why are you so unconcerned about werewolves being in the school, anyway?” Severus finally asks. The clock is chiming a quiet midnight, which means it’s now 1st January 1976.

Five more days until he’s sixteen. One more year until he’s free.

“We taught werewolves in Hogwarts when I was a teacher here.”

“You—you did what?

“I do believe we just reviewed the brief period in which werewolves are actually dangerous,” Nizar reminds him dryly. “Besides, it isn’t as if they were unmedicated.”

“Unmedicated.” Severus sits up. “You had a treatment?”

Nizar looks surprised. “You don’t? Oh, d—I’m sorry. I think I’m truly beginning to see the problem here, and I apologize. I should have realized days ago that you’d faced a werewolf that had no—” The portrait breaks off again, looking frustrated. “You really could have died. I stand by my statement of being grateful to Potter, but if I were free of this portrait frame, I’d be strangling the life out of Regulus’s older brother right now.”

“What—what did this potion do?” Severus asks in excitement, paying almost no attention whatsoever to Nizar’s new willingness to kill Sirius Black. A medication for werewolves means safety. It’s not the dead werewolf result he’d prefer, but medicated is still a way to be less fucking terrified of werewolves.

“I…” Nizar frowns. “I don’t…I think—I don’t remember. I don’t, and I really think I should. I—”

Severus is more than a bit freaked out when the portrait stops talking and stares off in the direction of the painting’s unknown, unseen boundaries within the canvas. Oh, fuck. Not this again. He hopes it’s not this. He hopes the portrait is just trying to remember something about that werewolf treatment.

“Nizar?” Severus prods after too much silence. That isn’t Nizar trying to remember something. That’s Nizar being…stuck.

Severus gets an answer, but not from the portrait. The black ribbon around Nizar’s neck untwines herself, spools out onto Nizar’s green-robed shoulder, lifts her tail—and then smacks Nizar’s ear.

“OW! What the—what was that for?” Nizar asks Kanza, offended. The tiny serpent answers, the hisses so faint that Severus can never make them out. All he gets is the vague sense that an electric fan is doing a shit job of cooling some distant room. Hogwarts has plenty of distant rooms, but no electric fans.

“Oh. Er, sorry.” Nizar doesn’t like these random moments of blank forgetfulness, either. It makes Severus think that maybe the portrait’s magic is breaking down, which makes his stomach cramp in fear. When he leaves Hogwarts, he’s never coming back, but the idea of the portrait not being here is…well, it’s wrong.

Sometimes he thinks maybe Nizar knows it, too. It’s one of the many things they’ve silently agreed not to talk about.

“Maybe…maybe they’ll recreate it,” Severus says. “Or I can find it.” Maybe it’s in the library. It might be in another language, but Hogwarts has books dating back to the Founder’s Era. It’s not entirely impossible. “What was it called?”

“Uh…Wolfsbane?” Nizar gives his head a brief shake, looking pained. “No. Maybe. That doesn’t sound right, but it’s the only term I can think of.”

“Why wouldn’t it be Wolfsbane?”

Nizar refocuses on Severus. “Because that means bane of the wolf.”

Severus stares at him.

The portrait sighs. “Bane, to you, means…I don’t know, annoying or something. Yes?”

“Close enough, I suppose,” Severus says after a moment.

“Bane comes from Old English bana. It means slayer, or murderer. A bane should be a label for a poison, not a treatment.”

Severus hesitates, just on the verge of saying that he doesn’t care. Fuck, but Lupin really is the most tolerable of the Marauders. He’s even managed to have a conversation or two with the werewolf that didn’t result in hexes and detentions. He doesn’t—he’ll stick with Lupin staying far away from him. In the meantime, though, Severus is going to live in the library for the rest of the holiday.

 

*          *          *          *

 

Trinity still spends most of her time in a wheelchair, but of late has gained enough strength in her arms that she’s performed her first cautious, halting steps with braced crutches. She hates her lacking mobility just as much as she glories in her success; the idea of being able to traverse her own house or climb a set of stairs helps her to lean towards joy instead of misery. She has taken to the occasional use of Multa Facies Sucus in order to spy, but limits herself. She worries too much that it would be easy to become addicted to a substance that allows her, however briefly, to forget her injuries.

After months of long consideration, Trinity decided Richard Jugson was hers to kill, even if she has to wait to claim vengeance for what he did to her family. If he dies in the meantime, so be it, but it will not be the Underground who takes that opportunity from her. Trinity still has no intention of revealing her survival to the world. Salazar knows from bitter experience that as grief eases, so too will the self-castigation. In the meantime, all he can do is help the others to keep her occupied, and keep her safe.

The same is true of one of the newer spies, as well. Salazar knows only that they faked their death to escape being pressed or cursed into taking the Dark Mark, and that is all he should ever know of them until both of Voldemort’s wars are done.

Lucretia Lestrange has taken to using nightly potions for anxiety, but it seems it was a habit she’d already been indulging in just to survive life in her own household. Desdemona hears horrors from Lucretia that she will tell no one else, but no matter how often Desdemona suggests it, Lucretia will not run from her home. Salazar thinks her brave to stay, but dying to prove bravery turns courage into foolishness.

Salazar thinks he has also discerned their other new spy’s identity based on their reports, filtered through Trinity, but never says this to anyone else. When he cannot spy upon the Order of the Phoenix, this spy does so in his place, and they are excellent at fulfilling the role of aging Edgar Doge or Mundungus Fletcher. Rubeus Hagrid is the only other Order member who indulges in enough alcohol that impersonating him is a possibility, but not even Salazar knows what would happen if one drank Multa Facies Sucus made from the hair of a half-giant. He has never in his life wanted to be tall enough to continually strike his head against door lintels.

Martin’s son, born on second September last year, gives him a joyful distraction when the spying gets to be too much, though Gertrude Flint does not allow her new child to interrupt her attendance upon her favorite Dark Lord. She leaves the care of baby Marcus to their house-elves. Salazar is of the opinion that the elves will likely do the better job of raising the poor lad. Gertrude was also gracious enough to allow Martin to name the boy Marcus, though she declared that his middle name would be Haydon, for her father.

Salazar met Haydon Bulstrode, the very fortunately dead younger brother of Desdemona’s father Harold. He had not been impressed. At least of her deceased aunt, Hadrea Bulstrode, Desdemona can say that she had been more intelligent than her younger brothers. She was certainly never fool enough to follow Voldemort.

Desdemona sits down next to Augustine Travers on New Year’s Eve while they’re both again enjoying the dubious pleasure of the Carrow Estate. It hasn’t improved in nearly four years’ time. If anything, it’s worse. The Carrow Estate is now one of only seven Death Eater households capable of hosting all of the Dark Lord’s followers at once. Despite the number of Death Eaters arrested or killed in battle against the M.L.E.—or by Dumbledore’s Order, both before and after its official inception—it seems as if Voldemort’s ranks have only grown.

Salazar can’t say as he misses Druella Urquhart Rosier very much, though her son took the loss hard. He’s not overly concerned about that, either, given that Patrick Rosier and his wife Ingrid are enthusiastic Death Eaters. The same can be said of newly widowed Vanity Urquhart and her three rabid children, who do not much mourn their departed father John William Mulciber. They mourn the power he’d held in the Wizengamot. Vanity is not half the politician her husband had been, and the Mulciber influence is waning fast.

“You need rest.”

Salazar glances at Desdemona after using magic to Vanish the amount of liquor in Travers’s flute, granting him the excuse to take another and stay in character. Augustine Travers’s wife, Annette Arsenau Travers, is losing patience with her husband’s alcoholism, but she also wants another baby. Salazar has the dubious relief of Death Eater meetings to assure himself that Annette Travers won’t ask for a continuation of those attempts when her husband is most certainly unavailable—or at the very least, has the appearance of one too sloshed to perform that particular task.

In truth, Annette Travers has so little interest in Blood Purity or Voldemort’s doings that Salazar has been tempted to ask if she’d prefer the Underground. She is one of the few in attendance who truly excels at Mind Magic, however, and even now he’s still uncertain what such an attempt might lead to.

“Why do you say I need rest? I’m fine,” Salazar says. Augustine Travers has picked up a trace of his wife’s ch’ti accent. Salazar’s sanity is grateful that Augustine Travers is known to resort to accentless English the moment he’s the least bit soused.

Desdemona casts a privacy charm. It’s a weak one, to make her seem weak, a charm any Death Eater could easily break. However, Death Eaters cast so many of them for their own personal interfamily dealings that no one will pay it much mind. It’s casting such a thing in Voldemort’s presence that is dangerous. “You’re beginning to look as dead as you should be,” she says.

Salazar glares at her while waving the vessel containing Augustine Travers’ latest drink. There are downsides to certain individuals knowing his true identity, but in this case, it had to be done. Desdemona is recognized as second only to Saul Luiz within the Underground. If he falls to a years-long injury, or worse, someone must take on his role with full knowledge of exactly what is at stake. “That isn’t near as funny as you believe it to be.”

“It’s exactly as funny as I believe it to be.” Desdemona sips at her champagne, whereas Augustine Travers has been appearing to lap it up as if he spent days in a desert and just found an oasis. “There are seven of us now. You need not exhaust yourself, and neither do we. If Martin and myself can enjoy the winter holidays but for the occasional gathering of idiots, you can fuck off until Imbolc.”

“You bloody conniver,” Salazar replies, but it’s conniving he appreciates. She is correct; he’s taken no time to rest, no time to breathe in so long that he once again has no idea what’s happening in the Muggle world. The crowning of Spain’s new king was the only day Salazar has been away from Wizarding Britain, Pure-blood politics, and Voldemort’s court in over five months. “You’ll tell me if anything occurs?”

“We always do. We know what we’re doing, idiot. Make Augustine’s excuses and leave. Annette has already done so.”

When Salazar checks in with Lucretia Prewett, he is immediately assaulted by a Black woman who is all but beside herself with glee. Her son Henry and his wife, Joy, are expecting their first child the first week of February. A boy is to be named after Henry, but a girl is to be named after Lucretia. When Salazar asks, curious, if they know yet whether or not the child is magical, Lucretia yells, “WHO CARES?” and possibly offends a number of her deceased ancestors.

Salazar already heard the news that Sirius Black ran away from 12 Grimmauld Place just after arriving home for the winter holidays. Death Eaters are mocking Pollux Black’s lack of control over his family, a joy even his sister Cassiopeia is indulging in. It’s not until Salazar has a chance to visit the Potter home after Hogwarts' winter holidays end that he discovers where Sirius Black took himself.

“Oh, yes, he came here.” Euphemia looks frustrated. “Bruised and bleeding, but Sirius made it.”

“Illegal Apparition,” Henry explains, disquieted. “Thankfully, one does not need a wand for that, though I don’t know of a Black wand that’s held a Trace on it for more than a year before the family removes it and all but dares the Ministry to complain.”

“Sirius told us that Alphard taught him to Apparate, a skill meant to be reserved for an emergency until he was properly licensed.” Elizabetha growls under her breath. “I think it was wise of Alphard to do so.”

“And they’ve not disinherited the boy?” Salazar asks, surprised. Pollux Black might be the current laughingstock of certain Pure-blood circles, but he has also been resoundingly silent on Sirius’s departure.

Elizabetha glances at Monty, who shrugs. “Given how Sirius was raised, I suspect Pollux Black still believes Sirius will come home on his own. I think the idiot is underestimating how much Sirius wants to pry off the Black family name and leave it behind for good.”

“He’ll stay here, for now. Sirius was already fretting about finding a place to live, but I told him he’ll not be departing until he’s a legal adult unless it’s to attend school, and that’s final,” Euphemia says. “Honestly, Sal—none of us can tell if Sirius is traumatized, or if he’s so afraid to slip up in a way we might find unforgivable that he dares not say anything other than Please and Thank you.

“I’ll attempt to find out,” Salazar promises, though he already suspects that Sirius Black is both traumatized and afraid to slip, as his record of behavior at Hogwarts is not exactly pristine. “Did Andromeda Tonks, Dorea, Lucretia, or Alphard Black have an opinion of Sirius Black’s departure from London?”

“I think they might all have said, ‘Good for him,’ in tandem,” Henry replies.

The next Hogsmeade weekend occurs the third weekend in January. Salazar investigates the Marauders by way of silencing spells and the Invisibility Charm. Remus Lupin seems to be on his own, sharing company with a pair of students that Salazar doesn’t recognize. Odd.

James, Sirius Black, and Peter Pettigrew are roaming around Hogsmeade together. Sirius Black is complaining, loudly, about Remus Lupin’s absence.

“You know he’s not going to come ’round until you apologize to him, you idiot,” James says in a scathing tone. “We talked about this. We talked about nothing but this for most of the winter holidays!”

“I know!” Sirius Black scowls up at the winter sky. “But it was just—it wasn’t meant to be like that!”

“It was like that,” James retorts, though Peter Pettigrew remains silent. “You could’ve—Sirius, we’re Marauders, not murderers!”

Salazar squeezes his eyes shut. Oh, fuck. They’re speaking of the infamous Werewolf Incident. Nizar’s portrait warned him it might happen soon.

He trails after the young men on silent feet, listening to the entire conversation. By the end of it, he’s considered strangling all three of them. Stories of what Remus Lupin has helped them to accomplish ensures that he becomes one of Salazar’s mental victims.

“That bad, huh?” Nizar’s portrait asks Salazar that evening, subdued and unhappy.

Salazar doesn’t blame him. He did not have godparents, but if his parents had thought it a wise idea, he wouldn’t be pleased to discover that his godparents were arrogant, bullying upstarts with no brains in their heads. “Sirius Black is merely sixteen. James Potter and Remus Lupin do not have their next birthday until March. He has time yet to learn that his behavior is foul. They all do.”

“Learning my godfather really was a complete twit is almost worse than learning my father is cut from the same cloth,” Nizar says bitterly.

“Selfish braggarts do not sacrifice themselves for their children,” Salazar reminds him.

“I know they have to improve in some fashion, but Pettigrew—”

“Peter Pettigrew enjoys the bullying antics far more than the others realize,” Salazar interrupts, trying not to snap at his brother’s portrait. That had been a disturbing discovery, not because it was unexpected, but because the others somehow do not notice. Nizar nods in acknowledgement, but vanishes from his portrait frame with that same subdued expression shadowing his face.

“How was your break from spying?” Desdemona asks when Salazar returns on Imbolc, once again impersonating William Montague.

Salazar growls. “A spy never stops spying. Also, fuck all of that for a lark. Please tell me that one of ours knows of an idiot Death Eater who needs to turn up conveniently dead.”

“In a sense, I can grant you exactly that,” Desdemona replies. After the rank stupidity masquerading as festivities are done, Desdemona introduces him to her cousin, Gertrude Bulstrode Flint’s younger brother, Garen Bulstrode.

“Er, hello,” Garen Bulstrode says after briefly shaking Saul’s hand. “Sorry, I’m bloody nervous.”

“That is understandable.” So far, Salazar has the impression of a young man who hadn’t bothered with growing up after becoming an adult until war suddenly made it a necessity. There is no shame in that; too many are facing war and still refuse to mature at all. He has always seemed less than enthused by Voldemort’s ordered violence while remaining fond of the idea of blood purity.

Garen Bulstrode has Gertrude’s pale coloring, which always seems vaguely jaundiced even though neither are suffering from ill health. He is wearing full robes with barely visible sleeve edges and trousers, has dark long hair and a clean-shaven face; he is the perfect image of Wizarding Britain’s current ideal for male appearance and fashion.

“You’re twenty-three years old, and graduated from Slytherin House after managing to capture a favor from Horace Slughorn rather than the opposite, which is rare indeed,” Salazar says. “You scored an O on all of your N.E.W.T.s, and then sat at home waiting for your father to name you his Heir—an honor which his will revealed was instead granted to the next male Bulstrode-named child to be born. You complained of Haydon Bulstrode’s foolishness in public, but did not actually seem surprised by the decision, and I’d wager it is because you expected nothing less.”

“I—I didn’t mention any of that,” Garen Bulstrode stutters.

Desdemona glances at Salazar with a vague hint of surprise. “Neither did I.”

“That is because your cousin’s Mind Magic is shit,” Salazar says flatly.

“My what?” Garen Bulstrode repeats in bafflement.

Salazar crosses his arms. “To use a term you understand: Garen Bulstrode, your Occlumency is shit. Are you out of practice, or did your parents deliberately teach you incorrectly in the hopes that they would always be able to read you like an open book?”

“The latter,” Desdemona mutters under her breath, just as Garen Bulstrode answers, “Probably the latter. I knew that my parents considered me to be disposable, despite Gertrude’s marriage and me being their only other child. I tried to prove I wasn’t, but nothing was ever good enough. After Hogwarts, I ceased in those attempts, as I had brains enough in my head to recognize that there was no point.”

“Haydon Bulstrode and Gisela Derrick never once struck me as having the sense most oft given to rocks,” Salazar says, “and the rocks are at least personable sorts. You’re not being altruistic in this desire to change your allegiance. You want out from beneath Voldemort’s thumb for a reason, but you’ve well-hidden that one thing. Why?”

“I, er—cousin, please don’t kill me, as it was unintentional and I offered to do the honorable thing on her behalf,” Garen Bulstrode blurts out in a rush. Desdemona squeezes her eyes shut and then motions for him to continue. “The youngest Dolohov sibling is a sister, one who is my age. Marta. We took all the precautions, or thought we did, but she is pregnant, regardless, and insists the father is me. I offered to marry her; Marta refused that, and she refused the potion, claiming she wants the baby. Antonin is actually sympathetic; he understands how stubborn Marta can be, but it’s the eldest sister who is the current head of the family. Akilina Dolohov wants my severed head on the nearest silver platter.”

Salazar looks at Desdemona. “You were right. Faking our first Marked Death Eater’s demise will be quite the pleasant distraction.”

Garen Bulstrode seems enthused for all of two seconds before he realizes what’s been said. “Wait. We’re going to do what?

 

*          *          *          *

 

“I was!” Severus protests. “I would have done. I never meant to call you Mudblood, it just—”

“Slipped out?” Lily’s voice is pitiless. “It’s too late. I’ve made excuses for you for years.”

Years? What the—

“None of my friends can understand why I even talk to you, you and your precious little Death Eater friends—you see, you don’t even deny it!” Lily hisses, even though Severus never had the chance to do so. “You don’t even deny that’s what you’re all aiming to be! You can’t wait to join You-Know-Who, can you?”

Severus opens his mouth, thinking several things in rapid succession. Why are you afraid to say his name? and How many years? and You’ve been lying to me this entire time? and Death Eaters don’t have Muggle-born friends! and But I did tell you! I’ve been telling you!

Then comes the last thought, which is nothing but cold, terrible realization. Severus closes his mouth without speaking.

Lily isn’t going to listen to him. She is never going to listen. Lily made up her mind about Severus before the winter holidays. She proved it by never asking him what was in that tunnel…because she didn’t care.

“I can’t pretend anymore,” Lily says, ignoring the way Severus flinches at the words. She really had lied. He’d refused to lie to her, and she—she—

“You’ve chosen your way. I’ve chosen mine.”

Severus still has to try. Doesn’t he? “No, listen. I didn’t mean—”

“—to call me Mudblood?” Lily interjects scornfully. “You call everyone of my birth Mudblood, Severus. Why should I be any different?” She gives him one final look of utter contempt before she turns and climbs back through the portrait hole without giving him the chance to answer. Mary MacDonald gives Severus a scornful glare before shoving the entrance to Gryffindor Tower closed with a resounding, final-sounding thump.

It’s politics! Severus wants to scream. He told Lily that during the first Hogsmeade Weekend last October, reminded her of it in January, ignoring the fact that she’d had no gift for him, even though he’d given one to her. It’s politics and survival, and—

And—

And it doesn’t really matter anymore, does it? Lily knows that Severus can get tangled up in his own words when he’s upset, that they get clogged up in his throat until nothing but embarrassing sputtering comes out. She wasn’t asking that question because she wanted an answer, or even would’ve believed him if he’d managed to come up with one.

Benedict Mulciber is not Severus’s friend, whatever Mulciber himself might think. He’s a connection, one of many vital ones Severus is working to cultivate in his own House, because God knows he won’t get support from Slughorn or Dumbledore after Hogwarts. He doesn’t have to like these people, but he does have to tolerate them, or he faces the chance of waking up dead in his own dormitory bed. For Lily, the world is ready and waiting to place itself at her feet. Severus has tried to explain that difference between them, so many times, but she doesn’t understand.

No, that’s still wrong. Lily doesn’t want to understand. He’s suddenly looking at that afternoon with the Marauders in a new, ugly light.

Lily hadn’t tried to defend him. She’s a witch with a wand, and God knows she knows how to use it, but she didn’t free Severus from Levicorpus. She waltzed up to James fucking Potter and told him to stop. That was it.

Severus thinks, They all believe I’m a Death Eater already. Even Lily.

Mudblood was just the final straw, no matter how much Severus regrets saying it. Nizar’s portrait says children grow up, but Lily—Lily isn’t going to forgive him. Not for that, and not for anything else she believes he’s done. Ever. For a Gryffindor, the world only works one way, and when it doesn’t, it’s wrong.

Suddenly, being a Death Eater doesn’t sound all that unappealing, after all.

 

*          *          *          *

 

James and Sirius would probably have gone on for the rest of their idiot lives thinking of the end of fifth year as the height of the Marauder’s glory but for one thing: James’s parents overheard them.

It’s the first weekend of the summer holiday. Sirius is in the midst of cheerfully going through the high points of what they’d done to Snivellus after exams were over with. “Perfect cap for that week!” he declared.

James has no idea his parents are listening until he hears his mother gasp, “James Henry Potter! What have you done?”

Sirius turns absolutely white as Mum and Dad reveal that they’d been sitting on the bench beyond the hedgerow. If Sirius shifted into his Animagus form, James is certain they would have an albino Newfoundland on their hands.

“Uh,” is James’s brilliant attempt to cover their arses.

 Sirius is still too used to the way his parents, uncle, and aunt do things, and tries to stutter out an excuse that might save them both. “It was—it was just a bit of a laugh, is all.”

“A laugh?” Mum repeats, wide-eyed. Her cheeks flush dark red. “HANGING SOMEONE IN THE AIR AND THREATENING TO STRIP THEM NAKED IN FRONT OF GOD AND EVERYONE IS NOT A BIT OF A LAUGH, SIRIUS ORION BLACK!”

James completely freaks out over the fact that he’s just heard his mother scream for the first time ever. To make things worse, he then utters the stupidest thing that has ever come out of his mouth: “It’s not a big deal. He’s just a Slytherin—”

“Just a—” Mum stares at him before she abruptly sits back down on the bench, covers her face with both hands, and bursts into ragged sobs.

“Go upstairs,” Dad orders. It’s the first thing he says, and might as well be the only thing.

“But Dad—”

“Now.”

The flat tone is what convinces him. That is completely fucking terrifying.

Sirius spends the next hour pacing James’s bedroom while James sits on the bed. Sirius is convinced he’s about to be booted out onto the street—or worse, back to 12 Grimmauld Place. “No. They wouldn’t,” James says in a thick voice, but he isn’t really certain.

They wouldn’t. Would they?

It’s just a misunderstanding, is all. Snivellus is just a Slytherin.

When Gran finally comes upstairs and pushes open the door to James’s bedroom, James stands up and yells, “Itwasmyfaultdon’tsendSiriusbacktoLondon!”

Gran’s nose and forehead wrinkle a bit as she translates that slop of a sentence. Then she sighs. “Sit down, both of you. Sirius, no one will be sending you back to Islington. That would not be a punishment. That would be cruelty.”

James sits back down. Sirius crams in next to him until they’re touching from the tip of their shoulders down to their knees.

Gran doesn’t sit. She stands, gazing at them. In that moment, James has never felt more ashamed of his existence in his entire sodding life.

No, that’s wrong. He’s never felt ashamed of his existence before this moment.

“When you first acquired the book, Hogwarts: A History, you read it and discovered that it spoke of a rivalry between Slytherin and Gryffindor. The book said that it had been so since the school’s Founding, claiming a fight and a departure.”

James and Sirius glance at each other and nearly brush noses, they’re sitting so close. James looks back at Gran and nods. “Yeah, it’s the history. It’s everywhere.”

“Do you recall what your mother, your father, your grandfather, and myself all said when you told us about the rivalry spoken of in that book?”

James swallows, feeling another guilty flush. “You said I shouldn’t pay it any mind. But Slytherins are—you don’t know what it’s like in Hogwarts right now! Slytherins might as well be calling themselves Death Eaters. They’re evil!”

“Slytherins are evil, are they?” Something about the way Gran asks the question makes James feel like he’s just said something else that is supremely stupid. “Well. I see. I will not enjoy informing your Aunt Dorea as to your true feelings about her.”

James stares at Gran, baffled. “But—that has nothing to do with Slytherin. I don’t hate Aunt Dorea.”

“Oh?” Gran looks at Sirius when Sirius makes a sound like a dog that’s just been denied a needed treat. “Tell me again how you are related to my husband’s sister-in-law, please.”

Sirius swallows so loud the sound echoes off the walls. “Dorea Potter’s my aunt,” he rasps. “Mother’s sister.”

“And what House did Dorea Black Sort to in Hogwarts? It is related to a fact you often share quite loudly with the rest of the family.”

“She was in Slytherin,” Sirius whispers, hanging his head.

“Exactly.” Gran looks at James as if he’s an insect that needs to be stepped on. James feels sick, like his stomach is crawling up his throat. “Dorea Black Potter: Slytherin. Andromeda Black Tonks: Slytherin. Lucretia Black Prewett, Auror who fights against Voldemort: Slytherin. Alphard Black, benefactor and protector of his cousin Sirius: Slytherin. Regulus Arcturus Black I: Slytherin. Lycoris Black: Slytherin. Arcturus Black III, Lucretia’s father, wed to a Macmillan Hufflepuff: Slytherin. Helena Black, wed to your cousin Victor Potter, mother to Gilbert Potter, both of them deceased heroes of the European war: Slytherin. Phineas Nigellus II, wed to a wonderful Muggle woman: Slytherin. Arcturus Lycorus Black II, wed to Lysandra Yaxley, another hero of the European wars: both Slytherins. Belvina Black, wed to Herbert Burke, father of Phineas Nigellus Burke: all three of them Slytherins. Iola Mae Black, wed to a Muggle and mother-in-law to another war hero: Slytherin. Callidora Black Longbottom, member of the Order of the Phoenix, mother of Robert, grandmother of Frank Longbottom: Slytherin. Cedrella Black Weasley, part of the Order of the Phoenix and mother of three Weasley men also serving in the Order: Slytherin.”

Sirius sniffles without lifting his head. James feels hot tears roll down his face.

“I was concerned about your opinion of Slytherins before you had even boarded the train to go to school,” Gran says. “Your parents thought—hoped—that it was an opinion you would grow out of once you remembered the history of our families. It saddens me that this was not the case. It grieves me that the pair of you thought it a game to torture another, and do not argue with me.” Gran’s voice cuts through the air like a whip, silencing whatever Sirius tried to say. “What the pair of you boasted of doing to another was not only a vile act, it was torture. You would call yourself a Potter after acting like the very Death Eaters you both claim to decry?”

James hunches down further in shame. “No,” he whispers, his voice breaking apart.

Gran looks at Sirius. “Was it because you did not like this student, or because they were a Slytherin?”

“B-both,” Sirius chokes out.

“And does Regulus face these assaults, also?”

Sirius jerks his head up. “Reg—no! I wouldn’t!”

Gran cocks an eyebrow. “Why? Because he is family? If he is a Slytherin, is he not a Death Eater already?”

Sirius stares at her with his jaw hanging open. James wonders if his rug will forgive him if he vomits on it.

“Now. You are both grounded for the entire summer holiday. Give me your messaging papers. I know you have them with you. You will not be speaking to your friends this summer. You will learn this lesson, one way or another.”

Sirius, hand trembling, reaches into his robe and pulls out his folded-up paper, one of the four that keeps the Marauders together when the holidays drive them apart. James has almost given Gran his when he pauses. “But—Remus. If we don’t talk to him, and Peter forgets…”

Gran’s expression softens. Briefly. “I will inform Remus and Peter as to why the two of you will be silent this summer. We will make certain Remus has company.”

“But—but they won’t—he’s—”

“A werewolf?” Gran gives them both a dry look, unimpressed by their shocked silence. “Remus’s mother is family to you, James. Of course we know of his curse.”

James is completely baffled by that. “Remus is family?”

“That tells me that Remus is unaware of your relationship, also.” Gran mutters under her breath in Punjab. “We will speak further of this, but later. Stay in your room. You will be called when it is time for tea.”

After Gran shuts the door behind her, Sirius slumps back. “I think I’d have liked it better if she had just poisoned me like Aunt Cassiopeia.”

James nods. He still feels like he’s going to sick up everywhere. “Yeah. Me, too.”

 

*          *          *          *

 

Nizar’s portrait seethes over what was done to Severus by the Marauders through the entire last week of term. He seems to use his fits of temper to share knowledge, though, because that week becomes one of the most intense bouts of wordplay Severus has ever experienced. Whatever mysterious tiredness is ailing the portrait, it doesn’t stop Nizar from having the sharpest tongue Severus has ever encountered.

On the final night of term, Nizar introduces Severus to the phrase “mind magic” before he goes home for the summer holiday. He then suggests Severus visit Diagon Alley before term resumes, and look into that particular branch of magic.

“Why?” Severus asks. He has no bloody idea what mind magic is supposed to be, though he’s intrigued enough to act on the suggestion. At the very least, it will be a distraction from his best friend deciding to crush his heart into the dirt. He isn’t much inclined to go looking for what’s left of it, either.

“Because sometimes words aren’t enough,” Nizar says. That is cryptic and seems completely unhelpful until Severus visits the used bookshops in the Alley. There is nothing specifically called mind magic, but one of the proprietors whom Severus has maintained a good relationship with since his first year of schooling directs him to two different subjects: Occlumency and Legilimency.

Protecting the mind. Attacking the mind of another.

Nizar’s words suddenly make perfect sense. When words fail, Severus needs a way to defend himself. He likes the idea of having a means of attack that another might not suspect. One of the books even mentions that Pure-bloods are trained in Occlumency as children, though not many learn much about Legilimency. It was even taught in classes at Hogwarts until World War II ended.

Severus goes home with six books on Occlumency and Legilimency and nothing left in his wallet, but he thinks in this case, it’s a fair trade. He immediately asks his mother why she never bothered to teach him.

Eileen gives him her familiar, sour look. “I wasn’t taught Occlumency by my parents. Hogwarts ended the classes before I could learn it in that fashion.”

He isn’t really surprised to hear that. “Have my grandparents ever done anything useful in their entire lives?”

“You exist because they managed to breed,” Eileen responds dryly. “I can’t think of anything else.” She glances down at the books still tucked under his arm and gives him a faint nod of approval. “I may not have learned it, but I’m glad to see you making the attempt. It’s valuable magic to know.”

Severus hadn’t realized his father was at home until Tobias Snape’s voice comes roaring out of the kitchen. “KNOCK OFF WITH TALKING ABOUT THAT MAGIC RUBBISH!”

Severus flinches on instinct, the old fear already back to haunt him. Of course his father is going to try to ruin—

The bubble of fear pops. What does he have left to lose, anyway?

Anger seeps into the spaces that fear and Lily left behind. “Shut it.”

Tobias suddenly fills the kitchen doorway, revealing that he’s gained weight as well as an unhealthy pallor to his skin. “What did you say to me, boy?”

“Severus,” Eileen warns.

“No. No more. Never again.” Severus turns to face his father. “I said shut it.”

“You arrogant little bastard!” Tobias seethes. “If you keep opening your mouth, I’ll shut yours for you!”

Severus drops his wand into his hand. “Go ahead. Try.”

His father’s eyes widen, but Tobias doesn’t back up. “You’re not allowed to use that magic shit outside of school!”

“My mother is a full-blooded witch. I’m a Half-blood. That makes this a recognized Wizarding household, and my wand doesn’t have the Trace.” Severus bribed one of the seventh-year Ollivanders into getting rid of the Trace on his wand. That particular and enterprising Ravenclaw learned Trace Removal from their wand-making relatives—not that the wand-making relatives are aware of this. “That means I can do whatever the hell I want, and no one will care.” Severus pauses. “Well. You might care.”

Tobias lifts his arm and points at Severus, growling. Severus idly notes that his father’s hand is shaking. “I want you out of this house! Today! Gone! I won’t tolerate having you about any longer!”

“On the paperwork for this house, my mother is listed as one of its two owners,” Severus says. “Mother, do you wish for me to leave?”

“Only when you think you’re ready to do so,” Eileen replies, sounding as if she doesn’t care either way.

“Then I don’t think I’ll be leaving just yet. But…” Severus straightens his arm, which pushes his wand just a touch further in his father’s direction. Tobias finally takes a step back. “If you touch me. If you lay a finger on me. If you attempt to destroy any of my belongings. If you so much as even fucking speak to me for the rest of this summer, I will not hesitate. Do you understand?”

Tobias scowls. “Go to hell, you ungrateful little twat.” Then he turns and stomps away.

“You first,” Severus mutters under his breath, lowering his wand. He isn’t going to let it out of his sight this summer. He’ll bathe and sleep with his wand if he has to. Tobias Snape isn’t going to snap Severus’s wand the way he snapped the wand of Eileen Prince when her back was turned. Severus still can’t understand why she’s never replaced it, but asking that question resulted in the one and only time his mother has ever slapped him.

“I’m not certain if that was wise or foolish,” Eileen says.

Severus sneers at her. The anger hasn’t faded with his father’s departure. If anything, it’s grown larger. “I’m certain that I don’t care.”

By the middle of July, anger has become a constant companion. Severus abandons his useless father’s name after he listens to another of Tobias and Eileen’s angry, screaming volleys of words. He signs his hand-me-down copy of Advanced Potions Making with what he’s chosen, and it looks right. He’s willing to admit that it also looks pretentious, but better to take pride in who he is than resent what he will never be. His mother’s shame is not his fault.

Severus receives his O.W.L. grades the first week of August. It isn’t as early as last year, but it’s still off-schedule. O in Potions. O in Transfiguration—that’s a surprise. E in Charms. O in Astronomy—as if he’d be shown up when he’s been studying N.E.W.T. material since he realized how vital Astronomy was for brewing. O in History; he wonders if anyone else managed it. O in Herbology. O in Defence Against the Dark Arts. E in Arithmancy. Study of Ancient Runes had nearly driven him spare, but he still managed an E.

“Os and Es on your O.W.L.s, then? I suppose that’s acceptable,” is Eileen’s grudging praise.

Severus isn’t in the mood to appease anyone right now. Maybe not ever again. “I’m glad you think so. I certainly out-performed you, Mother.” He turns and leaves the room while she’s still sputtering in outrage.

Tobias tries, only once, to nick Severus’s wand in order to be rid of it. His father becomes his first test subject for Legilimency. It works in the sense that Severus invades Tobias Snape’s mind, seeing fragments of his father’s memory of the time he plotted and succeeded in destroying Eileen’s wand so Tobias could render himself “safe” from his wife. It also leaves Severus feeling as if he’s just gone and dunked himself in the nearby polluted sludge calling itself a river.

His father is knocked back and lands hard on the floor. It doesn’t do his ill-seeming complexion any favors.

“I warned you,” Severus whispers, shutting his bedroom door and locking it. Only then does he let himself tremble, a hint of the old fear that’s all but blanketed by newfound rage.

Half-panicked, humiliated and enraged by what Potter, Black, and Pettigrew had done, Severus slipped. He called Lily a word he didn’t mean because of how often he’d needed to use it to appease the powerful members of Slytherin House.

Does that mean I really do believe in Pure-blood ideology? Severus wonders, staring up at his yellowed ceiling late at night. He always told Lily he didn’t, that it didn’t matter, that he didn’t care he was a Half-blood and she was a Muggle-born. At first, yes, he’d hated Lily’s sister because she was a Muggle, and he’d always had his drunken father and some right shitty primary school “mates” to teach Severus what Muggles were like. After a few months of knowing her, and knowing Lily’s parents, Severus’s dislike of Petunia no longer had a thing to do with magic. Petunia Evans is just a horrible, spiteful prat.

“I told you from the very first day we met that I would never lie to you, Lily,” Severus murmurs at the cracks in his plaster ceiling. He did, though. He did it while humiliation turned his skin to fire and his insides to ice. Just one single lie.

I don’t need help from a Mudblood!

Pride goeth before a fall. He was certainly dropped to the ground without a care not long after that moment of stiff-necked, ridiculous, male-posturing pride.

The more Severus studies his six acquisitions on Legilimency and Occlumency, the more he realizes that Nizar’s suggestion was no whim. The portrait has been priming him to learn these subjects since the beginning of his fourth year. “Hold onto a moment in time, slow it down in your head. Practice,” Severus paraphrases, shaking his head. That sort of visualization is a major step in learning Occlumency, and he has, indeed, practiced.

Severus has always known he has his father’s temper and his mother’s sadistic tendencies. He doesn’t want to be ruled by either. He’s going to master Occlumency to keep both of those traits at bay. That magic is going to save him from making another mistake he can’t take back.

If Potter tries anything next term, Severus is going to use Legilimency to land him on his arse.

Maybe it isn’t Pure-blood ideology that Severus believes in. Maybe he just believes that magical kids should get the hell away from Muggles like Tobias Snape. To be safe.

Lily’s parents aren’t like your father, his treacherous thoughts remind him again. They’re safe.

Petunia isn’t safe, Severus retorts in his own head. Petunia’s constant diatribes about “that Snape boy” probably hadn’t helped Lily’s view of Severus. Petunia is still on schedule to marry that right bastard Vernon Dursley, too.

Severus had a brief conversation with Mr. Evans earlier in the summer, and the poor man looks more and more as if he might off and die at any moment—possibly just from the stress of having Dursley as a future son-in-law. Would it be different if Muggle parents who proved capable of bearing magical children were gathered up immediately, taken into the Wizarding world, and safeguarded just as fiercely as a Pure-blood’s offspring? He knows there are hardliners among the Death Eaters who would never go for it, but why not? Voldemort has always preached that protecting magical blood should be among their most important goals, and that’s a method of protection.

Arrogant little dust mote. He’s never forgotten Nizar’s opinion of Voldemort. I’ll still be hanging here when he’s dead and gone, most likely.

So will I, Severus thinks, and it feels like the remains of his heart just cracked in two. I’ll be dead and gone, and you’ll still be hanging in the Common Room.

On first September, on the Hogwarts Express to begin his sixth year, Severus snarls his way into keeping a single train compartment all to himself. He hears later that certain students, such as Ravenclaw Octavian Burke and Slytherin Selene Crouch, were invited to join Slughorn’s stupid Slug Club. This does not include Lily Evans; despite her skill, she isn’t in the category of those who Slughorn considers to be important. It definitely doesn’t include Severus, who can’t decide if he’s annoyed or relieved by his Head of House’s deliberate slight.

At least Severus doesn’t have to put up with Potter, Pettigrew, Lupin, or Black in Potions class anymore. Black is taking Alchemy. Pettigrew is too stupid for Potions or Alchemy. Lupin has never been interested in brewing, though he’s intelligent enough that he scored well on end-of-term Potions exams every single year. God knows what the hell Potter is doing, but Potions is the one N.E.W.T. class when Severus doesn’t have to endure the presence of any of the fucking Marauders. He only has to endure Lily, who is civil, yet makes it perfectly clear that she’s keeping that black-and-white line drawn between them.

After his seventeenth birthday, he doesn’t have to endure any of them at all.

Chapter Text

Severus watches Death Eaters utter false laughter and flattery at each other, accompanied by the strains of quiet music from live performers and a seemingly endless flow of wine and champagne. 1977 was an eventful year, and they’re still celebrating it on 6th January 1978. The Epiphany.

The realization isn’t sudden or striking, as the holiday would imply. Severus is eighteen years old, and he has been slowly recognizing, far too late, that he is a complete fucking idiot.

Katrina Farley’s death earlier in the evening merely cemented the realization. The idea that they could be killed by the Dark Mark has always been an unspoken thought, a vague and unproven threat—until Farley infuriated the Dark Lord. Torture was not enough of a punishment for her transgression. Farley lit up from within, as if Avada Kedavra had been cast inside her heart and bloomed outward.

Whatever means Voldemort used to cause her death, it was not sudden. It was not painless.

It was fucking terrifying.

Narcissa Malfoy joins him at the railing where Severus has been standing, overlooking the grand foyer of Malfoy Manor. “You’re not indulging?”

“Thank you for your hospitality, Madam Malfoy. However, I have no desire to drink while surrounded by deadly idiots,” Severus replies. At least Narcissa is a welcome distraction from dwelling on Farley’s death.

Narcissa isn’t insulted, though she could easily have taken offence. “I don’t, either.” She hands over the delicate wine flute she’s carrying. “It isn’t poison, I promise. I’ve been drinking it all evening.”

Severus glances at her, but if Narcissa wanted him dead, the status he’s earned in Voldemort’s court wouldn’t matter. She would suffer nothing if she lifted her wand and killed him. He sniffs the wine flute, frowning. “Apples?”

“Cider. No alcohol whatsoever. I am a Black, darling,” Narcissa says. “I’m not foolish enough to indulge around these buffoons, either.”

“I see.” Wise of her. Too many duels tend to break out among the sodden dunderheads.

“Dobby.” Narcissa’s word of command summons a thin, spindly-limbed house-elf with bulbous green eyes. “Please fetch another flute of my special champagne for Severus. Ensure that the others know that he is to receive it whenever he requests champagne in my household, never alcohol.”

The house-elf bows his head. “Yes, Mistress,” he whispers, and Disapparates with a pop.

“You didn’t need to do that, much as I appreciate it.” Severus often spends these engagements holding a wine flute filled with alcohol, a semblance of participation. It would be nice for the semblance to become more realistic, as he is also surrounded by paranoid deadly idiots.

“But I preferred to do so. I like to have a conversationalist around who can keep up, has good manners, and who will not end our evening by babbling nonsense and spilling expensive champagne on my robes. Please call me Narcissa. I think we’ve known each other long enough by now that you’ve earned the familiarity.”

Severus smiles. “I sympathize with the need to suffer through the babbling nonsense, Narcissa.”

“Thank you.” Narcissa waits until they both have glasses of cider. Severus think it’s of very good quality, just like everything else in Malfoy Manor. “I did want to know: why the long face tonight? I’m given to understand that it’s your birthday. Felicitations to you, and may you see many more.”

“I hope to do so.” Severus glances down at the letter in his left hand, which he has been folding and unfolding all evening. “Is this curiosity, or a search for gossip?”

“It can’t be both?”

Severus smiles again and hands her the letter. “This is why. Please return it when you’re done. I need to finish mauling it to death afterwards.”

At first, Narcissa seems to be reading merely to be polite. Then her eyebrows begin a slow, stately rise. “This is what is upsetting you?”

“Yeah—yes. It is.”

Narcissa lowers the letter. “Severus, this says that not only will you be a published brewer as of next month, but Britain’s Brewing Alliance wants to grant you the title of Reader for what they say is astounding skill in research and potions-brewing!”

“And they can’t do so without first declaring me a Fellow, and they can’t do that unless I’ve achieved an O-grade on my Potions N.E.W.T.” Severus takes the letter when Narcissa holds it out, folding the paper before returning it to its envelope. “Our schedules are erratic, at best. When the hell am I going to find the time to sit a N.E.W.T.?”

“I see.” Narcissa sips her cider. “You know, I could always encourage certain mindsets—”

“No.” Severus sighs and rubs at the bridge of his nose. “Sorry. I apologize—fucking hell. Narcissa, what I mean to say is that if the BBA is going to do such a thing, I want to have earned it on my own.”

Narcissa gives the letter a pointed glance. “You have.”

“Yes, but that’s…” Severus chews over his words. “This war has to end at some point. I want to earn this on my own merit. I don’t want it ever said of me that the only reason I’m any sort of success at all is because someone threw money at the problem until the problem went away.”

Narcissa laughs. “That is what one in my position tends to do—throw Galleons at the problem until the problem goes away. But Severus, I do understand your desire to earn it on your own merit. When you find the time to sit your Potions N.E.W.T., and the Ministry tries to keep you from doing so, will you then accept my help?”

“If there is anything remaining of the Ministry after I’m done with it? Gladly,” Severus replies, and she laughs again. It’s a Pure-blood’s light and rare sprinkle of a laugh, but there is something about hers that’s more genuine than the sounds coming from downstairs. Maybe it’s because Severus knows that Narcissa never laughs unless she truly finds something amusing. Bellatrix, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to know how to sodding well stop laughing.

It’s nice to tell someone about this unexpected birthday gift, at least. Narcissa doesn’t mock his ambition, or his frustration, and the portrait who would be glad for him is unavailable. The friend who might once have been proud of him considers Severus to be the enemy.

Was it worth it? he asks himself snidely.

Stupid question; it never was. Now he is in a situation he finds disagreeable, if not yet completely intolerable…but he is a Slytherin. He will survive until another solution presents itself, no matter how much he might wish to kill some of these complete arseholes in the meantime.

There is a battle scheduled the next evening, one Severus is ordered to participate in. Severus doesn’t voice his opinion that a scheduled battle isn’t a battle, it’s a raid…but the timing suits him. It means he can set something on fire to vent his frustration. He can also be certain that his target in this remote portion of Northampton isn’t occupied, as the house looks to be one stiff breeze away from collapsing.

Casting the spells, controlling the fire; it helps to distract him from the fact that his fellow Death Eaters are roaming the streets, torturing and killing helpless Muggles.

Severus doesn’t know what to do about it, aside from the fact that he dislikes their behavior. Telling them that this is not what Slytherins are supposed to be would just see him laughed at.

If he tries to stop them and fails, he dies. If he succeeds in stopping them, he dies when Voldemort discovers that Severus overstepped his bounds.

Benedict Mulciber decides Severus has an excellent idea. He sets another home on fire, and then Disapparates with the other Death Eaters when tonight’s leader, Dolohov, sends a signal of white sparks into the dark sky.

“Ugh. Careless idiot,” Severus mutters. Then he takes another look at the burning home, swears, and runs straight toward the flames.

That isn’t an empty Muggle home. That’s a wizard’s home Mulciber set ablaze, and its wards are signaling that its occupants are in danger.

One coughing lungful of smoke is enough to remind Severus that there are charms to protect himself from smoke and fire, and if he wants to live, he’ll use them. He then retrieves an obviously magical child with flame-blue hair, along with her terrified Muggle childminder.

A Death Eater wouldn’t save a Muggle, Severus thinks, and scowls. He isn’t angry with himself in this moment. He loathes every Slytherin who has ever passed through Hogwarts wearing silver and green who never once learned to understand the tenets of their own House.

Do not maim for pleasure. Do not rape. Do not forget those who gave you joy. Pay your debts. Do not mistake kindness as a form of repayment, and do not expect a freely granted kindness to be a debt owed. Remember that a Slytherin is cunning; a Slytherin finds ways to survive when others will perish.

He is a Slytherin first, foremost, and always. Leaving the Muggle teenager to suffocate on the smoke produced by magical flames is against the rules he has chosen to live by.

“My house is on fire,” the blue-haired child says, sounding curious rather than scared.

“Yes, it is.” Severus hasn’t interacted with small children in years, but he does recall that they prefer to be acknowledged.

At least the fire isn’t causing much damage. The wards that were placed to protect against housefires are doing excellent work.

Severus wipes the memory of himself from the teenager’s mind when she belatedly starts screeching in fear. He’s also tempted to leave her with a Legilimency-placed reminder that when you’re responsible for another’s life, panicking won’t fucking help.

While the brainless teenager is still disoriented and stupefied from being Obliviated, he asks the tiny witch, “Where are your parents?”

“Phoenix,” the girl says, and then clamps her hand over her mouth. “Nope.”

She’s perhaps four or five years old. Severus isn’t in the mood to use memory-modifying charms or Legilimency on a five-year-old. “I won’t tell anyone you said that if you don’t tell anyone I was here.”

The girl gives him a huge, puppy-eyed look, complete with protruding lower lip. “You promise?”

Severus sighs. “Yes. I promise.” Her parents would most likely rather kill him than listen to him tattle on their child, anyway.

“Then I won’t tell.” She then sits down on the ground and regards her burning house with bright-eyed curiosity. Severus leaves while she’s distracted, unsettled by the entire encounter.

What are these stupid raids for? They don’t cause Muggles to fear Death Eaters, because no one is telling them that Death Eaters and magic exist. They’re not likely to cause wizards and witches who dislike Voldemort to suddenly start being fond of him, either.

Severus is late for the debriefing that is always mandatory after these battles—these raids. He is going to remember and hold onto that distinction from now on. At least outright battles are fucking honest.

Voldemort lifts his wand in a lazy gesture. “Please do inform me as to why you are late, Severus.”

Severus stares at the white tip of Voldemort’s wand…and realizes, with absolute delight, that he can tell the Dark Lord the truth. “Mulciber set a wizard’s home on fire, Lord Voldemort.” The idiots always mutter in fear when Severus says Voldemort’s name, never recognizing that he only does so at the exact right times. “There was a child inside who was obviously magical. A Half-blood at the least, if not a Pure-blood. There were good fire-proofing charms on the home, but the child was being looked after by a fool, and the smoke would have killed them.”

“You retrieved this child, then.” It isn’t a question.

Severus inclines his head. “Of course, my Lord.”

Voldemort praises Severus before the other Death Eaters for not wasting “proper” magical blood. Mulciber spends the next week unable to walk upright.

Severus should feel reassured, but he doesn’t. Voldemort could easily have decided to punish him anyway. It doesn’t take a brilliant wizard to notice that the Dark Lord isn’t exactly the most consistent person in Britain. Tonight went in Severus’s favor. It won’t always do so.

Minister for Magic Millicent Bagnold announces her decision to resign from office on the Summer Solstice that year. Severus listens to the Wizarding Wireless broadcast while residing as a guest in the Rowle estate. Bagnold assures the Wizarding public that a new Minister for Magic will be confirmed by an emergency vote of the Wizengamot, and that Wizarding Britain will know their new Minister’s name by evening. The Evening Prophet arrives with a picture of a slightly rotund man in a bowler hat that doesn’t suit him in the slightest.

“Who the absolute hell is Cornelius Fudge?” Severus asks.

It’s a rhetorical question, but the closest Death Eater, former Ravenclaw Blythe Petersen, decides to answer him. “He’s a nobody, from what I’ve heard. No-name politician from a no-name department in the Ministry who just happened to hold a family Wizengamot seat.”

Severus squeezes his eyes shut, holding back a tidal wave of profanity. “Are they trying to help us win this war?”

“The Wizengamot is stocked with Death Eaters. Yes, they are,” Petersen says, and then vanishes into the crowd. Severus would actually prefer Petersen had stayed. He can tolerate Petersen, who he knew of in Hogwarts. He’s certainly smarter than fucking Benedict Mulciber.

The Wizengamot is a stacked deck. Of course it is. Most of those who share names with its members are here tonight. Severus has to learn to be more observant, or he would have known that already.

He spends the evening watching the other Death Eaters celebrate Bagnold’s resignation and Fudge’s election. They’re wrong to do so, even if Voldemort isn’t forbidding them from being stupid. Bagnold was a popular minister, a Half-blood from a respectable House with a strong seat on the Wizengamot. Her being driven out of office by so many assassination attempts might be seen by Death Eaters as weakness, but those who liked Bagnold will be angry…and scared. People who are angry and scared tend to respond in unforeseeable ways.

He has first-hand experience with that state of mind.

“You aren’t celebrating, Severus.”

Severus refuses to react to the sudden presence of the Voldemort at his back. He has a few of his own rules to live by aside from those of a Slytherin: Show no weakness. “No, my Lord.”

“Why ever not?”

“Bagnold’s resignation is…” No, those words won’t do. Try again, idiot. “Bagnold’s resignation is only a temporary victory. She was popular with many, and some of them were not foolish.”

“You think they will treat this as a rallying point.” Voldemort sounds amused. “They still will not succeed. Wizarding Britain will lose this war, Severus.”

I’m starting to doubt that, actually, Severus thinks. He keeps that idea buried so deeply he barely acknowledges it himself. “I am not concerned about that, my Lord.” He tilts his head in the direction of the revelers and sneers at them. “They think they’ve won already. It will make them careless.”

“If they are careless in war, and die for it, then they deserve their fate,” Voldemort replies, sauntering away.

Severus watches him go, chilled anew. There was no remorse for those potential losses. Voldemort voiced no concern or care for them at all.

Arrogant little dust mote, the memory of a portrait’s assessment taunts him.

Yes, I’m aware, thank you, Severus snarls at the reminder, and goes to see if there’s something to drink in this stupid manor that isn’t drugged or poisoned. Then he is going to find a safe room, lock the door, ward everything to blazes, and get completely pissed.

 

*          *          *          *

 

James Potter isn’t new to Muggle things, which is a gigantic fucking lie that he’d never say aloud in front of Lily or Remus. He knows of Muggle things, just like any wizarding kid who sat through Muggle Studies out of curiosity for two years, took the O.W.L., and then bolted before someone tried to convince him to continue the class. Not even his interest in Lily Evans was enough to convince James to continue on with that nonsense, half of which he’s convinced their professor was just pulling out of his arse.

Sirius absolutely loves the Muggle trains. It’s his first time as a passenger in one, despite the Black family townhouse being located in Islington, right in the middle of Muggle doings, but that’s the Black family for you. Those Blacks, anyway. The Not-Sane Blacks. James is only one train ride ahead of Sirius for experiences. He likes the Muggle trains that speed along on the ground, or above the ground in some instances, but the London Underground can keep its rattling, jam-packed cars all for itself; he wants no part of that ever again.

James jams his fingers into his jacket pocket again, fiddling with the box hidden in its Extended depths. He’s nervous. Lily told them they had nothing to be nervous about, that she’s filled her parents’ ears with information about James and Sirius since the last quarter of their sixth year, but he’s going to be nervous anyway. He wishes he had Sirius’s confidence about this, but if there is one thing Sirius Black has in spades, it’s bloody confidence. It’s a family trait that practically oozes from his pores, which…well. Sirius has learned not to call Snape Snivellus, and he’s sympathetic when Lily has days when she misses the gangly bastard, but that same confidence means it’s hard to convince Sirius otherwise when he’s decided he has a brilliant idea that is, in fact, extremely stupid.

He hates that they got caught up in a feedback loop of bad ideas, cycling through them over and over again, in regards to most things about school for five years. James isn’t the best student. Sirius and Lily are the swots, with Remus right behind them, and he’s always been all right with that. Mediocre grades don’t mean mediocre wizard, but that was never James’s real problem.

James still flushes with shame when he remembers the summer of 1976. They’d deserved every moment of it, too. His parents hadn’t raised him to be a bully, and that’s exactly what he’d been, exactly what he’d done, without it ever once occurring to him that he was acting like a right bastard.

At least he can honestly say he was being altruistic when he volunteered to become an Animagus in order to help Remus, because his Transfiguration was so sodding awful that Professor McGonagall might have pulled out some of her own hair in despair. Becoming an Animagus was fucking difficult, but he fought his way through it, because Remus needed them on the full moon. Side benefit he hadn’t expected, though: his regular Transfiguration improved by bloody spades.

Professor McGonagall even asked James if he’d studied over the summer before sixth year began, and James had sort of stared at her before blurting out, “Sort of?” in wide-eyed panic that one Animagus might be able to sense another. After all, Gran had looked at him, raised an eyebrow, and had just bloody well known.

“Stag?” Gran asked.

James nodded, because you were stupid if you ever lied to Gran.

“Why?”

“Remus,” James said.

Gran nodded. “Wise of you. And you?”

“Uh, Newfoundland,” Sirius replied, “because irony is a di—uh, a thing.”

Then Voldemort had killed Cousin Charlotte, Sam, Joan, and their son William the summer before James started his seventh year, the year William should’ve started as a firstie at Hogwarts. That changed his entire career path. Fuck the Ministry; Dad could deal with the Wizengamot Seat if Granddad ever retired from it. James added his name to the Auror list, and so did Sirius. Professor McGonagall told Sirius that his Alchemy class would count towards the Auror’s Potions requirement for graduating students, so long as his N.E.W.T. score was acceptable, and sent him on his way. Then she looked at James. Maybe she saw the determination in his eyes, because Professor McGonagall had sighed and said she would speak to someone useful within the Ministry to find out if wartime conditions might waive James’s missing Potions requirement—but he should study them in the meantime, as he still had to be knowledgeable about them!

Now they’ve graduated, the war is getting worse, and the Marauders have missed half a year of full moons because of battles or emergencies or Auror training. Peter isn’t an Auror and he can be there for Remus, but that doesn’t really count. The werewolf thinks of Peter as pack, but Peter is also literally rat-sized. A rat can’t exactly escort a werewolf around in a forest and hope to be able to stop him if the werewolf decides someone looks like food.

Ugh, nope, unhappy thoughts. James isn’t in the mood. To distract himself, he glances over at Sirius, whose face is still pressed against the train window, a wide smile on his face. His Animagus form would probably be trying to shove his nose out of the window so the wind would blow his ears straight back. In the meantime, James admires Sirius’s form-fitting denims that flare out at the knee, the brown leather motorcycle boots on his feet, the white button-down shirt with its open collar, and brown leather coat—not black, not like James always thought he would go for.

It’s all Muggle, but Sirius didn’t buy any of it. He would’ve, given half a chance and time to breathe long enough to step foot into a Muggle clothing shop. Whenever Sirius hit London before he ran away from home, he devoted his brief flirtations with free time to record shops. Everything Sirius is wearing today were the last gifts sent to him by his Uncle Alphard, just before Alphard Black was murdered. Sirius keeps wearing them, especially the boots and jacket, as reminders: Sane Blacks exist and Sirius is one of them; Alphard wasn’t afraid of the Not-Sane Blacks; Alphard Black had excellent bloody taste in threads. It’s the sort of outfit that goes just right with Sirius’s hair, which he’s grown out past his shoulders in sleek, slightly curled black waves. He’s the oddball Black with skin that will take color in the sun instead of just burning him to a crisp, so his face has a gold tint that somehow doesn’t clash with his eyes. His long-fingered hand rests on the window; the Black family ring has been on his left index finger since Sirius’s father died in August. Pollux had given one each to Regulus and Sirius at the funeral, Sirius told them later, and said that whichever brother survived the war would be the family heir and patriarch. If they both survived, it would be Sirius, but Regulus was expected to make his older brother behave “like a proper Black.”

Lily dresses Muggle as easily as she breathes. James thinks she looks amazing in witch’s robes, and wears them gracefully, but there is something about wearing Muggle clothes that relaxes hunched shoulders that James didn’t notice for far too long. Today it’s a lady’s teed-shit—dammit, t-shirt—with a thin-line collar instead of the thick band James has seen on other t-shirts for men. The collar is high, resting at the base of her throat, so the long V-neck opening of her pale blue hooded jumper reveals the green shirt beneath. It’s a neat contrast, especially with her unbraided fall of fiery hair falling down to her chest, where it curls up at the ends. Intentionally or not, that combination makes James pay a lot more attention to her breasts than he probably should in public. He’s noticed Sirius doing the same thing, though, and Lily smirks at them every time she catches them at it. Maybe it really was intentional, because Lily Evans is just a little bit evil in a fantastic way. Then again, she’s training as a healer just as much as she’s training at fighting, and Madam Pomfrey taught James that healers are probably all just a bit evil.

Lily is so pale, just like Granddad, even though Uncle Charles is proof that their family isn’t nearly as white as Granddad’s appearance implies. James thinks of Dad and his great-uncle Charles as a mismatched set, and Lily and Petunia are the same way. Pale politician and bronze troublemaker; curvy and kind instead of bony and sour, which is how Petunia Evans Dursley looks in every photo Lily has of her sister.

Maybe if James had a sibling, he’d be a mismatched set, too, what with his skin that always looks like he’s picked up a good tan, and having Dad’s hair, though his is black like Gran’s. That maybe-sibling could’ve been more like Mum, pale and always pink-cheeked, with sea-colored eyes instead of James’s hazel eyes that tried to be like Granddad’s and didn’t quite make it. The maybe-sibling would look like their mum, the way James looks like his dad…except he really doesn’t. Wild magic-weird hair, dimpled chin, and glasses, yeah, check, but James really doesn’t know where in the family tree his nose came from, or the way his face is in proportion to his height but still seems like it’s too long and angular to be his.

He doesn’t have a maybe-sibling with pale skin, though. He has Lily, and her skin is perfect for her fire-eyebrows and her green eyes that look like green bottle glass, at least until you see their brighter, burning emerald fire. Her skin won’t pick up color, not like Sirius does. If she gets a sunburn, the result is freckles, and James adores them all like a complete sodding dork.

She’s also wearing denims, revealing how long her legs are even after the denims flare out at the knee. The bottoms are embroidered with a bright line of flowers that wrap all the way around the hemline. Lily isn’t wearing her “battle boots” today, the resized men’s boots with their metal safety toes that she uses to kick any Death Eater who is stupid enough to come too close. Instead, it’s beige trainers with white stripes and laces that have to be new, as James hasn’t seen them before. She also has something she hates and calls a leash, a Muggle ladies’ purse with a strap that hangs over the shoulder, because Lily says it would look odd to the neighbors if she didn’t have one.

James glances down at his suit jacket, button-down shirt, and trousers. The white shirt looks normal enough, but even he knows that the tweed brown suit is several decades out of date. Lily had adjusted his glasses that morning, smiled, and said that James looked like a uni professor in the gorgeous way instead of the doddering way. He’d taken it as the compliment Lily meant it to be, but had immediately resolved that he needed to go bloody shopping for Muggle-wear as soon as possible.

“Not interested in looking like a gorgeous uni professor, thanks.”

Lily grinned at him. “What, you’ve never found any of our teachers to be a looker