“What is that?”
Harry smiles at Regulus, who’s loitering in the doorway of the Defense classroom and gaping at the image floating in the middle of the air. Harry supposes it is pretty impressive, even if you don’t know what it is. It looks like a spiderweb of intricate silver lines with a sapphire egg in the middle, spinning softly. Sometimes the lines change position.
“It helps me keep track of all of you who decided to enslave me,” Harry replies.
Regulus visibly droops for a second before he straightens up and scowls at Harry. “You wouldn’t have taken our oaths and made ones of yours in return if you really thought that way, Professor Salvare.”
“Of course not.”
“Then why did you say it?”
“For the expression on your face.”
Regulus eyes him and then turns back to the silver-and-blue image. “You still didn’t explain what this really is.”
“A visual representation of the oaths you and I and the rest of us swore,” Harry explains. He stretches and sits down in the chair behind his desk, where he can watch the silver lines near the edges of the image. He wonders idly if Regulus has noticed yet that some of them are less attached to the sapphire picture in the center than others. Well, it’s not like he really needs that explained to him yet. “I meant what I said about not branding you like that insane Dark Lord, but the one advantage of doing something like that is that the one who does it can keep track of his followers more easily, and know when one of them is in trouble, and call them to him.”
Regulus shivers a little. “I’ve heard about him calling his followers to him, but—never anything about him responding when one of them is in trouble.”
“I said he would know, not that he would do something about it.”
Regulus nods slowly. “And you think that you’ll be able to keep track of us with our oaths alone? What if—I mean, I don’t want a brand, but I would do it for you, Professor Salvare.” And there’s the hero-worship shining in his eyes that helped to change the course of history.
“Please don’t ever say something like that, Regulus.” Harry doesn’t have to glance at the image to know which silver line is the closest to the sapphire hub in the middle that represents his magic. He leans forwards and holds Regulus’s eye. “I don’t want to brand you.”
“So I shouldn’t speak the truth?”
“You should be careful of whom you speak it to,” Harry says sharply. “Especially if you don’t know who’s listening.”
Regulus pauses, then says, “Well, that’s sort of what I’ve come to speak to you about, Professor Salvare. You know that not everyone in Slytherin swore to you.”
Harry sighs. “Yes, I know.” Honestly, more of them swore than he’d like. He came back in time to encourage independence among those young Slytherins, not just change whom they follow. He can only hope that he’ll be able to make them think and perhaps reconsider standing on their own in the future.
“The ones who didn’t swear are spreading rumors.” Regulus lowers his voice. “They’re saying that they’re going to tell You-Know-Who about you. And they’re gloating that You-Know-Who is going to punish you for taking away people who he wanted.”
Harry meets Regulus’s eye, and probably startles him with his earnestness. But that’s all right. This is the most important thing Harry has ever told him, except maybe the ethics lessons that he gave Regulus earlier this year. “I promise I’ll protect you. You don’t have to worry about Voldemort.”
Regulus shivers at the name, but doesn’t look as if he wants to run, which is an improvement. “I know that, professor. I wanted you to know that so you can be aware that we’re going to protect you, too, and none of us are going to turn and run away because some of the sixth-years think they’re impressive, serving a madman.”
“You can’t face him on your own.” Merlin, that’s all Harry needs, someone who would otherwise have been a Death Eater deciding he’s going to be a hero and trying to confront Voldemort for the sake of honor and glory. Or, worse, deciding that he has to “prove” himself to Harry.
“Who said we were going to?” Regulus has this superior expression on his face that frequently appears there, and just as frequently drives Harry mad. It says that Regulus is going to reassure Harry, and that he’s the adult and Harry is the suicidal teenager. “We’ll face him together, sir, the way you said. We’re united and strong in purpose.”
“You’re not ready for that,” Harry says, and Regulus finally drops the condescending smile and appears to actually listen. “I know you’re good at Defense, but even at my side, you wouldn’t be ready to duel Voldemort. Or the Death Eaters he keeps around him in his inner circle, either,” he adds, because he’s sure that’s where Regulus’s busy little mind will go next. “You’re only fourteen, Regulus—”
Harry rolls his eyes a little. “Voldemort is not going to find a teenager terrifying.”
“Is that so important? What’s important is that I want to help you. And you’re going to face the Dark Lord this summer, aren’t you.”
It’s not a question. Harry would wonder how Regulus finds these things out, but honestly, it just seems to be the way his mind works. Harry is really sorry that he never got to know the Regulus from the original timeline, the one Harry changed by traveling back. He bets that Regulus was just as smart, if he put together clues about the Horcrux.
“It’s important,” Harry says. He dismisses the image in the center of the classroom with a snap of his fingers, and ignores the way Regulus jumps. It’s good for him to be a little off-balance, lest he think that he really can go wherever he wants on his own. “I’m going to make Voldemort focused on me.”
“Then he’ll target us anyway.”
“Focused on me,” Harry repeats. “He’ll want to get at me, sure, but he’ll much more want to defeat me in open combat. He doesn’t think he has anything to be afraid of, yet. He’ll challenge me to a duel in front of his followers.”
“You’ll win it.”
Harry smiles, because there’s a slight questioning tone in the bottom of Regulus’s voice. “Of course I will, but I can’t defeat him permanently just yet. There’s a few things I need to make sure of before I try.” Like checking out some of the Horcrux locations, and also what his time travel did to the prophecy.
“I don’t see why this is so important to tell me.”
“Liar,” Harry says affectionately. Regulus’s chest is slightly puffed-out, and he’s all but strutting, as much as someone can who’s also leaning on a doorframe. He likes knowing things before anyone else does. “And the important thing is that I want you to stay out of sight right now, not attract his attention, or he might get obsessed with defeating someone else who challenges him instead of me.”
Regulus sighs. “All right. But you’ll need to tell the others that, too.”
“They’ll move on Voldemort if I don’t?”
Regulus tilts his head. “I’m not betraying any particular person’s plan, but yeah.” He glances away, and Harry immediately faces him, because he can tell something else is coming up. “Um. I was hoping you could recommend a place that I could stay this summer.”
“Your parents’ home would be dangerous for you, yes.” Harry tilts his head in response. “I would recommend the school, but Professor Dumbledore has a policy of not liking students to do that.”
Which has never made sense to Harry, honestly. Yes, Professor Dumbledore has said things like, “Students need a chance to reconnect with their families and stop being students of the school for a few months,” but what about the ones who are safest being students and have terror waiting for them at home?
Harry sighs away his frustration, and the memories. It doesn’t really matter. If he can’t fight someone head-to-head, he just steps around them.
“Yes, sir.” When Harry glances back at Regulus, he’s perched on the arm of the chair in front of Harry’s desk, his head bowed and his fingers twining together. “I already asked him, and he said no.”
Harry nods. “Then I’ll install you at the Decoy House.”
“That one hasn’t made the rounds in Slytherin yet? I’ve purchased a house that’s exactly as extravagant and overblown as Voldemort would expect from someone challenging him. It has wards beneath wards. Even if he attacks it directly, he would have to hammer on it for hours with a full circle of helpers to have any impact, and I’d be there by then. It’s an old Selwyn manor house. I’ll make sure to tell the elves to prepare a room for you.”
Regulus stares at him, and his face is devastated. Harry sits up slowly. “Regulus?” Damn, he’s not omnipotent, but he hasn’t made a misstep this bad in a while.
“Just—thank you.” Regulus bows his head and swallows. “Could there be room for other people, too?”
Harry nods. “Of course. I had a few other students I was going to ask.” He doesn’t plan to reveal their names, because he has no idea if Regulus knows that Severus is abused at home or that Sirius is reconsidering his plan to go to the Potters’. “There’s plenty of space, though, so you can stay away from each other easily if you don’t get along.”
“That’s the last thing I’m worried about.” Regulus bows his head and looks away, and Harry politely averts his eyes. He has some idea how difficult this is for Regulus. The Sirius of his timeline offered him sanctuary from the Dursleys, and Harry was ready to go with him on the spot.
If it had ever worked out…
Well, it didn’t, Harry thinks firmly. And everything is different now. Sirius and the rest of the Marauders never played their terrible prank on Severus. And James and Lily started dating this year, instead of later, so who knows what children will be born to them?
“Thank you, Professor Salvare,” Regulus finally says, when it sounds like he has his voice under control.
Harry smiles at him. “No problem.”
“Young Henry, if you could stay behind? I had a question for you.”
Harry turns around with a smile and lingers against the wall in the staff meeting room as the rest of the professors file past him. Minerva gives him a tight-lipped smile that Harry returns. She thanked him at the start of the meeting for giving ethics lessons to Sirius Black and “taking the Marauders in hand,” although Harry isn’t sure how much she knows about what he did.
But as long as those young men have a better future than before, Harry’s not sure that it matters.
“Yes, Albus?” Harry asks, and settles back in the deep leather chair he rose from when Albus waves at him. The man, meanwhile, is fussing with arranging his long beard and picking up a cup of steaming tea that’s popped into being on the little table next to his chair.
Harry has found that he’s been able to accept Albus far more easily when he came back in time than he could right after the man died. Then, he was baffled and angry, and he was trying to win a war. Now, he’s winning it more easily. And Albus isn’t a bad man, simply blinded by his fondness for Gryffindor.
And his fondness for controlling people, Harry thinks as Albus leans forwards in a faux-casual attitude. Though Harry is probably the only person in the castle it would read that way to.
“I wondered about the source of these rumors I’m hearing.” Albus carefully selects a lemon drop from a canister he carries around with him, and holds it out to Harry. Harry smiles and shakes his head, the way he always does. Albus sets the canister aside with no sign of hard feelings. “Do you know about them?”
“Which rumors, sir?”
“True, this is Hogwarts, there are always rumors.” Albus nods with a smile of his own. “The rumors that the young Slytherins swore loyalty to you and plan to follow you as a leader.”
“Those rumors are exaggerated, sir. It’s some Slytherins in the fifth and fourth year, plus a few of their comrades in the years above. Not nearly all of them. I wouldn’t have accepted an oath from anyone younger than third year, anyway. They’re not old enough at that age to understand the completeness of what they’re asking for, and it’s not right to bind still-maturing magic that way.”
Albus’s eyes widen a little. “I expected you to deny them completely.”
“You believe I’d lie?” Which isn’t necessarily a surprise, but it’s important information for Harry to have.
“That’s not what I meant.” Albus hesitates for the first time since the start of the conversation. “Why would you accept the oaths of students that young at all?”
Harry eyes him. “So the rumors I also heard about the Order of the Phoenix were completely exaggerated? You never asked for the oaths of any students who wanted to join that?”
Albus actually stares outright, as astounded as Umbridge in the other timeline when Harry finally managed to get her arrested. Then he takes another lemon drop. “I—may I ask where you heard those rumors?”
“Around,” Harry says. He knows he’s being unhelpful, but it’s true that mutters about the Order of the Phoenix course through the school, and students always think professors have more hearing problems than they really do.
And if some of his information came from traveling in time, who’s going to prove it?
“The same way I heard yours, yes.” Albus waves his hand in a gesture like a duelist acknowledging the end of a duel. Harry just waits, relaxed. He doesn’t think it’s the end. “I have a very different purpose for the Order than you have for the students who follow you.”
Oh, this ought to be good. “What purpose do you think I have for my students, Headmaster?”
“To guide them into serving you.”
Harry blinks. He thought Albus was going to accuse him of being a recruiter for Voldemort. “No. I swore to protect them and to work with them, and I will.”
“Work with them to do what?”
“To change the world.”
Albus sighs. “Alas, reform takes a long time and is a dangerous goal to promise an organization full of such young people.”
“Well, I suppose you would know.”
Albus blinks at him. Harry is rather enjoying his new power of astonishing the Headmaster. He’s sure it won’t last for long, but it’s nice while it does.
“I am recruiting a group of people to fight a war,” Albus says, a bit stiffly. “And I recruit from among the sixth-years and seventh-years only. Those who have attained the age of seventeen and are competent to make the decision for themselves.”
Harry snorts. “You think age makes that the case? It’s a useful cut-off line to avoid objections from parents, I’ll grant you. But I’ve seen seventh-years in my classes who still have the emotional maturity of an eleven-year-old and fourth-years who know exactly what they want from life.”
“You speak of Mr. Black, I assume.”
“Sirius Black just finished his fifth year, Headmaster.”
Albus sets down the canister of lemon drops hard enough to rattle the table. It’s too small to do that, so he must have added magic to his gesture. That probably makes some people cringe once they realize it, but Harry isn’t actually intimidated. He just widens his eyes and smiles a little.
“I mean Mr. Regulus Black,” Albus says between his teeth. “Who came and asked me for sanctuary a few days ago, and was cast down when I had to refuse him, but then seemed perfectly happy this morning.”
Harry shakes his head. “Headmaster, why refuse him when you know what awaits him back home? Honestly, it’s for the best that I was able to offer him sanctuary—and bound to do so, as someone who accepted his oath. But Hogwarts has more room, and you must know that he would have been happier here, in a place he knows.”
Albus looks lost now, probably because Harry isn’t making the kinds of arguments that Albus anticipated. “I cannot offer sanctuary to any student at the school.”
“You need to rethink that policy in terms of students from abusive families, and families who follow Voldemort,” Harry says. “You can’t just maintain a policy with no exception when you’re a teacher. It doesn’t work.”
“It has worked well so far.”
“Has it?” Harry lowers his voice a little. “Did it work well when you ordered Tom Riddle to return to an abusive Muggle orphanage in the middle of a war?”
Albus goes very still. Then he says, “One wonders how you know these things, Professor Salvare.”
“One wonders about one’s purpose for dragging one in here and questioning him.” Harry stands up. “You haven’t made it clear what’s objectionable about the students I took under my protection, Headmaster.”
“You are gathering a private army.”
Harry snorts. “Just because that’s what you see when you look at yourself in the mirror…”
“You are being disrespectful.”
“Better to do that to a person than to students who needed sanctuary whom you refused,” Harry says crisply. “I haven’t committed a crime, Headmaster, and you have yet to accuse me of one that you haven’t done yourself.”
Albus stands up, his face thunderous, although Harry frankly doesn’t know why. “You cannot take students who you aren’t related to into your custody like this.”
Harry smiles. “Are you going to challenge me over it?”
“I am in loco parentis for all students while they…”
He trails off, and Harry nods. “While they’re in Hogwarts. Not during the summer, Headmaster. You made that clear to Regulus and to Tom Riddle and to many others down the years. I don’t think you did it for evil reasons. I think you’re someone who lost his family and now desperately wants to buy into the myth that blood family is happy and the best place for a student at all times. But it’s not always true.”
“Who are you?”
“Your Defense Against the Dark Arts Professor.” Harry salutes him with an idle flip of his hand and walks out of the room.
“Professor Salvare, I need to talk to you.”
Harry glances up from his packing. It’s not often that one of his sworn Slytherins comes to his quarters instead of his office, unless it’s Regulus. On the other hand, from the way Evan Rosier leans panting on his door, he might have gone to Harry’s office first.
“Of course, Mr. Rosier. What is it?”
“There’s—” Evan leans down, panting, hands on his knees, and Harry stands up. So this isn’t just a fight with Gryffindor students, the way he assumed at first. Evan forces himself back up and gasps, “Severus. Someone took him.”
Harry feels cold whip through him, and for a moment, he listens for the chime that will tell him history is trying to reassert itself. But he doesn’t hear it. And it’s entirely possible that, yes, new things are happening because he changed the timeline.
He calms the urge to shout and nods. “Can you take me to where he was?”
Evan shoots him a nervous look, but nods and begins to run. It’s only when they’re rushing down the corridors of Hogwarts that Harry notices the probable reason for the nervous look. There’s a blue glow coming from his wand, glowing against the dark walls more noticeably than it did in the firelit room.
Harry has never believed in waiting until the beginning of the fight to prepare his strength.
“Can you learn anything about what happened, Professor Salvare?”
“Give me a moment, Mr. Rosier.”
Evan goes silent. Harry crouches down near the edge of the Forbidden Forest. The anti-Apparition spells are still intact, which means that it wasn’t Apparition. He turns his head, nostrils flaring, and casts a spell wordlessly that won’t technically be invented for another twenty years.
But, well. Such spells are commonplace in the Department of Mysteries.
The ground flares for a second, and then blue light races away from Harry and begins scribbling in the dirt. Harry growls triumphantly. Yes, there was a Portkey used here, and it went from Hogwarts—what the spell is writing in the dirt on one end of the long arrow—to—
“Mr. Rosier.” Harry stands. “I need you to return to the Slytherin common room and make sure that your Housemates are safe and in their beds. Start with your yearmates first, then work your way higher.” He feels a bit bad about it when he sees the strained, white face Evan turns towards him, but there’s no way in hell he’s taking a teenager with him into what he knows will be a trap.
“I want to come with you, Professor Salvare!”
Yes, Evan Rosier was a talented, loyal Death Eater, Harry thinks, remembering a line that he read in a history of the first war with Voldemort. He keeps his voice gentle. “I understand that, but I would be distracted trying to protect you.”
Evan flinches as from a blow. Then he looks down and swallows. “Thank you for being honest with me.”
“You’re welcome. And I do need someone to check on the Slytherins. I don’t know if any others in our fellowship are missing, or if…”
He trails off, reconsidering the wisdom of just blurting it out like this to Evan, but the boy’s eyes are already hard. “I know, Professor Salvare. If any of the upper years who don’t follow us are gone.”
After a moment, Harry nods. “I’m sorry, Evan.” He would have spared fifth-years and fourth-years in Slytherin from knowing that someday they’d have to fight their friends, if he could.
“It’s not your fault, Professor Salvare.” Evan wipes his hand across his face, and then stands up straight and tall. “What should I do if I find someone who looks like they’re about to leave? One of ours or…not?”
Harry meets his eyes. “I trust that you’ll remember the spell you excelled at the most during our class’s practice sessions.”
Surprise flashes across Evan’s face, and then he nods. He was the best in the class at the Dreamless Sleep Charm, which is an older alternative to the potion. It drops someone in their tracks for two hours, if cast properly.
“You don’t want me to duel them at all?”
“You think I want to risk you?” Harry demands, despite the fact that a clamor in his head is urging him to go and find Severus. All of his followers are important, even if some have an exaggerated importance in his head because he knew them in his original timeline. “If you can’t safely hit them with the charm, retreat and be ready to report when I return.”
“Yes, my lord.”
Shit, a bit too commanding there at the end, Harry. But it would waste time to stay and argue about it, so Harry nods shortly to Evan and then runs towards the edge of the anti-Apparition spells. When he reaches them, he whirls on his heel without slowing his run and Apparates to the destination his spell inscribed in the dirt at the other end of the arrow.
To Malfoy Manor.
Harry is moving the instant he lands, because he knows this is a trap, and he knows that he’s going to have to fight for his life, and Severus’s.
The Cutting Curse aimed at him flies wide. Harry gets his legs back beneath him and drops into a crouch, watching the blond man who moves towards him with a Death Eater mask over his face. He’s inside the grounds of the Manor, which he didn’t expect; he thought he’d appear outside the gate. They must have dropped the anti-Apparition spells to “welcome” him.
“My lord said you didn’t have a brand on the boy.” The Death Eater brandishes his wand. “I would advise you to mark your property more visibly.”
Harry curls his lip. He doesn’t know the voice, but he knows who this must be, simply based on age and the Dark Mark glowing with long corruption to his senses. “If I wanted advice from a slave, I’d take it, Abraxas,” he says, and then he pitches himself into the duel.
His speed appears to take Malfoy by surprise, but Harry doesn’t care much about showing off his skill. He fights with brutal efficiency, determined to lay Malfoy down so that he can search for Severus.
To that end, he Vanishes the bones in Malfoy’s legs and wand arm after dodging a few more curses and raising one shield. Malfoy cries out as he slumps to the ground. Harry steps on his wand, snapping it, as he walks past.
He casts another spell that no one outside the Department of Mysteries is likely to know, and a more active image of the blue orb with the silver strands that Regulus saw snaps into being beside him. When Harry concentrates on the nearest silver strand, he can feel the emotions, and he can feel the tug that comes from it.
The oath he made with Severus leads him around a flowerbed and a small copse of trees and a pond.
And there’s Severus, staked out on a patch of dirt that’s shifting and heaving slowly underneath him, all his limbs spread-eagled and bound with chains. Slow tears are making their way down his face, which chills and crystallizes Harry’s rage. He can only imagine how much pain Severus must be in to show that emotion.
Standing over him are two men in Death Eater masks whom Harry doesn’t know, at least not for certain, and an older version of Tom Riddle. Harry gazes at him. He has absurdly pale skin and brilliant red eyes, but still some black hair and a nose.
“Henry Salvare,” Voldemort purrs. “You indeed snatched up the bait.”
Harry doesn’t bother replying. Voldemort wants some contest of wit, probably, despite the fact that he has two unarmed people on his side. Harry knows what the dirt heaving beneath Severus is—a curse that is feeding on his life-force, draining it into the earth. It will be literally impossible to separate him from that patch of earth without breaking the chains, and impossible to break the chains without separating him from the patch of earth. There’s a counter that undoes both at once, but the Death Eaters are already stepping forwards, drawing their wands, while Voldemort watches and cackles. They’re not likely to give him that time.
Not that it matters.
Harry flicks his wand and pulls.
The patch of dirt with Severus attached to it tears out of the surrounding ground with a shower of soil and water. Severus cries out, but Harry floats the dirt in the air and speeds it towards him. The curse will hold it together.
Voldemort, wiping dirt from his face, is no longer laughing.
The Death Eaters are spreading out, no doubt intending to divide Harry’s concentration and make it harder to duel them while holding Severus safe. But Harry takes a ball of silver wire from his pocket and rolls it rapidly towards them across the grass.
He left the Department of Mysteries, but not all of it left him.
The ball billows outwards as it nears the Death Eaters, and the reaching wires stab them both the through the left leg. The men immediately start to cast curses that would snap most metal—if the little ball was made of that. Instead, the magic glows, and then snatches the Death Eaters into the little ball. Miniature versions of them hammer and pound on the sides, yelling soundlessly, as the prison rolls to a stop.
Voldemort stares at them, then up at Harry. Harry arranges the patch of dirt with Severus on it so that it’s floating behind him, and stares back.
There’s hatred on Voldemort’s face, though it’s not as pure or hot as Harry got when he was Harry Potter. He feels almost indignant.
“I will destroy you,” Voldemort whispers.
Harry rolls his eyes. “Like that makes me special, Tom. You want to destroy everyone.”
Voldemort recoils, and then seizes his yew wand and lifts it on high. And Harry knows that it’s time to go. He doesn’t dare try to duel Voldemort with his vulnerable student here. Such a fight would take his full concentration, and he might still not win. He’s never faced Voldemort at the height of his power.
He does, of course, still intend to confront Voldemort this summer, as he told Regulus. He didn’t tell Regulus that he fully intends to cheat his way through that one.
“Severus,” Harry murmurs, backing one step. Voldemort tracks him with those quivering, reptilian eyes.
“Professor Salvare,” Severus says, and then moans in agony.
“Hang onto me,” Harry says, and grabs Severus’s hand. Severus’s fingers wrap around his wrist in a desperate hold.
Then Harry flicks his wand—not towards Voldemort, but towards the enormous oak tree in the corner of the Malfoy Manor gardens that he knows, from experience as an Auror before he became an Unspeakable, anchors the Malfoy anti-Apparition wards.
The tree explodes, his curse obliterating the trunk. Voldemort jerks around. The wards fall.
Harry whirls and Apparates, bringing Severus, dirt and chains and all, with him. The minute they’re on the Hogwarts grounds again, he casts the counter to the curse.
Severus shivers and makes another low noise of pain as the countercurse destroys all the dirt around him and all the metal both at once. The buttons on his robes disintegrate with a series of sharp pops.
“I’m sorry,” Harry murmurs. “I would have spared you that if I could.” He doesn’t think Severus has any other metal on him, but he isn’t sure.
Severus lies still with his eyes shut. Then he opens them and turns his head.
Harry has to look away from what’s in his eyes, the way he had to look away from Regulus’s relief at being offered shelter for the summer.
“Thank you,” Severus whispers. “Thank you, thank you, I thought I was going to die—”
He begins to shake. Harry conjures a wool blanket that he heats with a murmured Warming Charm and wraps around Severus.
“Come on,” he whispers. “We’ll get you to the hospital wing.”
If Severus leans on him all the way there, it’s not something anyone else sees, with Harry going by the secret passages half the time, and it’s not something to be ashamed of, and it’s not something Harry is going to mention.
“What happened to Mr. Prince?”
Harry doesn’t look away from Severus as he answers Albus’s question. He doesn’t want to leave the hospital wing until Severus wakes up. He did leave briefly early this morning, to Apparate Regulus to the Decoy House, but that was all. “He got cursed and tortured. Riddle grabbed him in an attempt to make up for his pathetic failure with most of the other young Slytherins.”
“And you got him away with such slight wounds? I find that hard to credit, Henry.”
Harry rolls his eyes at the far wall—knowing he probably only gets away with it because Madam Pomfrey isn’t in the infirmary at the moment—and answers in a monotone. “He was tortured. That’s not slight.”
“I shall require a full report.”
Harry shakes his head without looking away from Severus. “I’m not part of the Order you run, Headmaster. I don’t give reports.”
“I must know how you were able to defeat Riddle.”
“I didn’t defeat him. I didn’t fight him. I went to rescue someone who swore an oath to me, and that’s all.” Harry turns his head a little, and Albus steps back, with the first look of remorse on his face in—well, Harry doesn’t think he’s seen one since the night the other timeline’s Albus told him about the prophecy. “Now, please, sir, back off.”
There’s a long silence, and then Albus murmurs, “Of course, my boy,” and he leaves.
It’s perhaps an hour later when Severus opens his eyes. He gasps for a second, as though expecting his captors to be there, and then grasps Harry’s arm and relaxes. “Professor Salvare,” he murmurs. “What happened?”
“I got you back from the Death Eaters who foolishly thought to kidnap you.” Harry touches his arm and smiles. He’s glad that it doesn’t seem as though Severus’s arms will suffer from being wrenched up over his head. “Can you tell me what happened? Mr. Rosier didn’t give me a clear picture.”
Severus nods with a swallow. Harry conjures a glass of water for him, and Severus takes it with a grateful sigh. “We were walking along the edge of the Forbidden Forest—Evan and I—to find Potions ingredients that I can’t harvest easily over the summer. Someone must have Apparated in and been waiting for us beyond the wards with a Portkey. I don’t know who it was. Death Eater mask over their faces makes them all look the fucking same…” He trails off.
“It’s all right,” Harry says, but he makes a mental note. “Is there anyone else in Slytherin House who would need the same ingredients?”
“Julius Flint said that if I could find some wild heart’s-mallow, he’d appreciate it…”
Severus trails off again, staring at Harry in horror. Harry pats his arm. “Yes, I’m afraid so. He probably set you up. It’s simply too much of a coincidence otherwise that someone would be lurking around the Forbidden Forest just far enough out to not be detected by our wards but waiting to grab someone with a Portkey.”
Severus shuts his eyes. “What are you going to do to Julius, sir?”
“Intimidate him enough that he doesn’t think working for Voldemort is a good idea anymore.” Harry studies Severus. “Are you all right with me leaving you alone? Do you need me here?”
“No, sir.” Severus smiles a little and eases some of the lines of strain in his face. “I’m all right. Go catch Julius before the Hogwarts Express leaves.”
Harry clenches Severus’s arm one more time, says, “You were very brave, Mr. Prince,” and leaves the hospital wing with Severus’s wondering gaze on him.
It’s no trouble to find the Slytherin common room. Harry doesn’t know the password, but that doesn’t matter. A subvocal hiss to the carved snakes around the torch sconces, and one of them tells it to him.
It turns out to be “Sacred Honor.” Harry allows himself to sneer at the irony as he stalks into the common room.
Far more students are awake than would be usual for this time on a Saturday, but they’re leaving for the summer today. They go wide-eyed and silent when they see him. Harry’s glowing with blue again from his wand, and he makes no attempt to subdue it this time.
“Where is Julius Flint?” he asks, when he glances around the common room and doesn’t see the tall seventh-year.
“I—I think he’s still asleep, Professor.”
That’s Tiberius Wilkes, one of his, but someone who seems to be intimidated by his light show. Harry nods to him and tries to calm down a little. “Thank you, Mr. Wilkes. I’ll just call him down here then, shall I?”
Most of the common room shifts in anticipation. They want to see a show even if they’re partially frightened of one of the people participating in it. Harry holds back his eye-roll.
Teenagers. So dramatic.
Harry lifts his right hand in front of him and crooks his fingers. It looks dramatic, but the real work is being done by his wand, which is low and flicking back and forth at his side like an angry cat’s tail. Harry brings it around at the same time as he moves his fingers in a gripping gesture, and says, “Bring me Julius Flint!”
The spell rips away from him, traveling fast enough that he shudders from the wake of it, and hits the door that leads up to the seventh-year boys’ bedroom. It is gentle when it grabs Flint and brings him down the stairs, though. Harry still doesn’t want to hurt a student.
He just wants to impress the hell out of them and show them that they shouldn’t be depending on their Dark Lord to save them.
Flint, a tall boy with some of the same troll-like features that Harry remembers from his distant cousin Marcus, floats down the stairs, staring at Harry. Harry wrinkles his nose a little when he feels the Dark Mark on Flint’s arm. The stink isn’t as bad as the one on Abraxas Malfoy’s, given how new Flint’s Mark is, but it’s not pleasant.
Harry uses the spell to sit Flint down in a chair in front of him, and Harry takes the one opposite. People around him draw in their breaths. Harry supposes they expected a more violent confrontation, and instead they’re getting one that looks like a professor having a conversation with a disappointing student.
Harry did that on purpose, of course. He doesn’t want to create a situation where people on the fence of following him or Voldemort are afraid to come to him.
Or one where hotheaded idiots think challenging him is a good future move.
“You suggested that Severus Snape and Evan Rosier go to the Forbidden Forest to look for heart’s-mallow,” he says.
Flint’s dark eyes dart around, apparently looking for some sign that one of the other Slytherins is going to help him. But here’s where the nature of the House works in Harry’s favor instead of Flint’s. Everyone else sits still and watches.
Finally, Flint swallows and says, “I n-needed some for the summer.”
“You’re leaving Hogwarts permanently,” Harry corrects softly. “You should know that your plan didn’t work.”
Flint stares at him. Harry tilts his head so that Flint, if no one else, will know that Harry is referring to the Mark on his left arm. “Perhaps you might want to choose your allegiances more carefully, Mr. Flint.”
Harry lets the boy—because he is still that, adult in the wizarding world or not—stutter for a moment, and then nods. “Well. This is a reminder, and a warning. I would have given you help if you’d come to me. I think your Head of House would, too.” Slughorn isn’t great, but he tries to help most anyone achieve their goals, because it helps him forge connections in the future. “Don’t act against Mr. Prince or Mr. Rosier again.”
He thought about telling Flint not to act against anyone under Harry’s protection again, but he doesn’t want to reveal every single person who swore to him. Some of them want to stay private, and some of them aren’t at Hogwarts.
He stands up and turns towards the door of the common room.
“Sir.” Wilkes steps in front of him. “Do you require an escort?”
Harry smiles at him. He has to maintain a delicate balance between protecting his people and preserving their pride. “No, thank you, Mr. Wilkes. I’ll be going directly to breakfast.” He glances around the common room. “I suggest that some of you finish packing and get food in you.”
There’s a scramble behind him as Harry walks through the common room door. He hopes that Flint, at least, isn’t going to be a problem for him anymore, or will think twice before he makes another stupid move like that.
Not that Harry can preserve him from the stupidity of taking the Dark Mark.
Harry sighs, and goes to breakfast.
“I don’t want people to think I’m abused.”
Harry regards Severus over the breakfast table. “It’s your business what you tell them about that, Mr. Prince.”
Severus toys with his food for a moment in a way that makes Harry frown. He’s already too skinny. “I mean, because I’m living here, they’re going to think that I’ve been abused.”
Harry looks for a moment around the large dining room of the Decoy House. The ridiculous dining room table came with it, and could seat sixteen. Harry kept it in case he ever does need to offer shelter to that many followers at a time. The walls slope up to a ceiling that looks like one in a cathedral, except made of wood, and have shining metal sconces for torches that used to be carved in the shape of the Selwyn family crest. Harry had fun redesigning them so that they now bear a medley of family crests, including ones that come from France and Germany.
Most of the light is actually provided by the chandelier overhead, which Harry keeps supplied with candles charmed not to drip. Harry looks back at Severus and smiles a little. “You don’t think they’d envy you for living here instead, able to use your wand during the summer and brew in the Potions lab whenever you want?”
Severus smiles, but it’s a tense thing. “Please, Professor, I don’t know how to handle this.”
“I would handle it by remembering the difference between thought and deed. Or between thought and word, for that matter.”
“People can think whatever they want about you.” Harry twirls a strand of porridge around his finger and sucks it in, ignoring Severus’s slightly horrified glance. It’s one of Harry’s strategies to make sure that his students don’t idealize him too much. “But unless they’re insulting you to your face or otherwise taking action against you, what does it matter if they think you’re abused?”
“But actions influence thoughts.”
Harry conceals a smile. Severus is getting into the spirit of academic debate now, his eyes alight. “That’s true. But you can’t be sure that their thoughts directly influence their actions unless, as I said, they’re showing you. In that case, you can just come equally directly to me. And you’re overlooking something else,” he adds, because Severus is opening his mouth to argue again. “What do you think about all the rest of the people who’ll be here?”
Severus clamps his mouth shut. Then he says, “I don’t think I should go around insulting them to their faces.”
Harry grins. “Good choice.”
“You’re that Henry Salvare.”
Harry glances up from the display of beetle eyes in front of him. He invited Severus to come with him to Slugg and Jigger’s, but although the boy has relaxed about what people living in Decoy House might think of him, he doesn’t yet want to be seen in public with Harry.
Harry is now grateful that Severus elected to stay in his temporary home. Standing in front of Harry is Walburga Black, her arms folded and her gaze so hostile that Harry doesn’t want his students exposed to it. And it’s possible Walburga might know who Severus is, or recognize some feature of his mother’s in his face.
Harry glances around surreptitiously for Orion Black, but doesn’t see him. The shop is filled with people gaping at him and Walburga, which is bad enough. Harry just focuses on her. “Yes, I am. Defense Against the Dark Arts Professor at Hogwarts. How can I help you?”
“You took my sons away!”
Harry is a little surprised that Walburga is pressing the situation in a public place like this, but then, maybe she thinks people will join in shaming him, and she has to suspect he wouldn’t have accepted an invitation to Grimmauld Place. Harry widens his eyes a little and shakes his head in mock despair. “What? I didn’t kidnap them.”
Walburga draws herself up, and her fingers twitch in a way that says she’s thinking about her wand. “You encouraged them to abandon us.”
“No,” Harry says, and makes his smile sharp. “You did that yourself, Mrs. Black.”
“They will do as they are told!” Walburga is yelling now, although luckily not as loud as Harry remembers from her portrait. “My worthless elder son is at the Potters’ house, and my younger is who-knows-where! All because he couldn’t take a bit of discipline!”
Harry winces internally. He really didn’t want the abuse Sirius and Regulus have suffered to be revealed like that, but on the other hand, he didn’t seek out this confrontation, and the accusation of kidnapping is one he’d have to face. He regards Walburga coolly and says, “Discipline that cost me my children, should I be lucky enough to have any, is discipline I would question.”
Walburga screams at him, no words this time, and draws her wand.
Harry Body-Binds her in seconds, making her drop the wand, and kicks it back towards her. He stares at her, ignoring the persistence silence and stares from around them. No one’s called the Aurors, he thinks wearily. No one’s moved to help.
Some of that might be fear of Voldemort, but not all of it, even if the Blacks are widely-known to follow him—and Harry’s not sure that’s the case. So many people just sit back and gape and point and pretend that a violent confrontation with a woman who abuses her children has nothing to do with them.
“Don’t come after me again,” Harry tells Walburga’s staring eyes. He flexes his magic around her a little, and her eyes grow wider still. “You can feel my power,” he adds, lowering his voice. “Tell your Lord whose behalf you did this on that I can deprive him of all his followers if I feel like it.”
He uses the scoop to pick up beetle eyes, and takes a small jar to the front of the shop to pay. Maybe they aren’t perfect, but he’s sure that Severus will find a use for them regardless.
“I heard my mum confronted you in the apothecary a few days ago.”
Harry puts down the book he’s studying—a tome on curses that he has spelled so only he can touch it—and instead studies Regulus, who leans against the doorframe of the library. He’s kicking at the carpet like a boy much younger.
“It’s not your fault,” Harry says, the most important thing he can say now, he knows.
“But she came up to you and embarrassed you like that.” Regulus sighs. “I’m sorry, Professor Salvare.”
Ah. That threat of embarrassment must be something Walburga used to use on Regulus, and it probably worked even better than most physical abuse because Regulus is so proud. Harry nods to the chair across from his at the library table. “Please sit down, Mr. Black.”
Regulus does, but keeps his eyes aimed down and crosses his legs like he’s done something wrong. He’s getting lanky, Harry notices absently. He never saw any pictures of Regulus except the little portrait on the Black family tapestry, so he doesn’t know how tall Regulus will eventually get, but it should only matter as far as teaching him some kinds of dueling spells. Harry already has plenty of food available at the Decoy House.
“It’s not your fault,” Harry says. “You can’t control your parents’ actions. You can’t make up for what they did to Sirius. You can’t change things if you go back to your house now. You can’t do them proud by taking the Mark. Their expectations are unreasonable, Regulus, and they always will be. I want to make sure that you have the chance to do what you want and make yourself proud, but it’ll be a lot harder if you insist on taking your parents’ actions on your shoulders.”
Regulus stares at him with wide eyes. “How—how did you know I was thinking of all that, sir?”
Harry sighs and decides the time has come to reveal a little personal information. No one knows who he really is, after all, and even though they know he’s a half-blood and that “Salvare” is obviously a fake name, that’s not the same as being able to connect him to an actual family history.
“I had a home life that wasn’t the same as yours, but was similar in some ways, Mr. Black.” He’s been calling “Regulus” by his first name too often, and although he feels for the kid in a lot of ways, he also wants to step back a little when talking about something so personal. “I spent years assuming it was my fault that my family hated me. Actually, they hated my magic. I would have had to make myself into a Muggle to please them. And probably, not even that would have helped. They also hated my parents for leaving them with a ‘burden.’ So I had to accept, in the end, that nothing I did could change things.”
Regulus swallows, a loud sound in the silence that’s fallen. Then he glances down at his hands. “I don’t want to accept that,” he whispers.
“I know,” Harry says gently. “I wanted that control of knowing I could affect things and make them different, too. But it just led to years of my battering my head against a wall of stupidity and insensitivity. In the end, Regulus, it will be so much better for you to let this go, and say that your family abused you and that’s the end of it, and you bear no responsibility for it.”
Regulus closes his eyes. Then he nods. “It’ll take me a while to really accept that, sir. But I can see the sense in what you’re saying.” He forces open his eyes and smiles a little. “And I think it’s the first time that someone has ever spoken sense to me about my family.”
Harry smiles at him. “Good. Now, are there any Black family members you would trust, who you could talk to about this and tell your location, who aren’t your parents? I know their reputation, but not if all of them are truly followers of Voldemort.”
“My grandfather, Arcturus Black, isn’t,” Regulus says. “Although I think it’s only because he’s so old and sick that the Dark Lord would see no value in him. And I know that he deeply disapproves of harsh treatment of children because he thinks it kills magic. My parents just never listened to him because of his age and illness.” He sighs. “That’s not great, is it?”
Harry shakes his head. “It isn’t, but if you think you can bear a conversation with him—if you want to have a conversation with him about this—then I think it would be worthwhile. I can set up the Floo connection securely so that you can call him, assuming that you have access to his Floo, without him being able to know where you are.”
“I’d like that, Professor Salvare.” Regulus stands up. “Can I ask you a question?”
“Of course, but keep in mind that if it’s about my personal background, I may not answer it.”
“I know.” Regulus clenches his fists for a moment. “Why are you so kind? Why do you care? You’re exactly what I need, and what so many of the other Slytherins need, but where the hell did you come from?”
Harry nods a little. He supposes that he should have expected this to come up earlier. “Well, some of that I can’t answer. My personal history, you know. But I can tell you that having grown up in that kind of environment, I don’t want to see other children grow up in it.”
Regulus checks a little, maybe at the implication that he’s a child. But then he says, “All right, but why did you decide that becoming a Defense Against the Dark Arts professor would be the best solution?”
“Pure-blood strangleholds on law and the Ministry mean that I wouldn’t have got very far trying to just change their idiot families’ take on the situation,” Harry says dryly. “And the political way would have taken too long. I wanted to make a direct intervention before a new generation joined Voldemort. The Defense position was the only open one at Hogwarts that fit what I had in mind, as well as my skills.” He studies Regulus, who juts his chin out and looks back. “And I highly suspected I could break the curse Voldemort had left on the post, so I could go back next year.”
“So you’re here for us. The Slytherins.”
“For you, largely, but not just you. Or did you not notice that I spent a lot of time tutoring all the students in Defense?”
Regulus smiles reluctantly. “Yes. Including my idiot brother.” He looks away. “Sirius is at the Potters’ house.”
“Ah, you hoped he would come here and you could be together, right?” Harry shakes his head a little. “I’ve made an impression on Sirius, I hope, but not so much so that he would choose staying with me during the summer over staying with his best friend. But I’ll be happy to make the same arrangements for you to Floo him that I would for your grandfather, assuming the Potters will give us access to their Floo.”
“I—I don’t think I want to talk to him right now. Maybe Grandfather.”
Harry nods. “That’s fine. Just let me know if I need to send him an owl.”
“Oh, fuck, not you,” Harry blurts out when the Floo call he accepted thinking it would be Arcturus Black turns the flames green and he sees Lucius Malfoy’s face in them.
Lucius stares at him, eyebrows raised. He’s young, but he already graduated from Hogwarts before Harry came here, and Harry’s sure he bears the Mark. Which means this is some kind of intimidation or even recruiting effort from Voldemort, Harry thinks crossly. Stupid bastard.
“I was unaware that you knew me, Mr. Salvare. Or that I had offended you.” Lucius gives a deep nod of his head that’s almost a bow. “Thank you for permitting me to Floo you. I represent a business interest that—”
“A business interest?” Harry laughs in spite of himself. “Is that what he’s calling his enterprise enslaving people now?”
Lucius draws himself up a little, or as much as he can appear to while presumably kneeling to look through a fireplace. “This has nothing to do with that. My Lord would never expect you to take his Mark.”
“Yes, yes, I’m not worthy.” Harry waves one hand. “But I don’t see how we have anything to talk about. One of his followers kidnapped my follower and was torturing him. A sixteen-year-old, might I add. I took him back. Now we’re as even as we can be.” Not hardly, but Voldemort doesn’t need to know Harry’s coming for him until he does it.
“My Lord does not see it that way, Mr. Salvare. He’s most anxious to speak to you and give you the opportunity to make amends.”
Harry snorts. “I have no interest in making amends with your Lord, in following your Lord, in serving your Lord, or in allowing my people to be tortured. And those are the only things he would be interested in.”
“My Lord admires your prowess, Mr. Salvare.” Lucius is speaking as though he’s having trouble with his tongue now. “He merely wants to assure you that there’s no need for you to be on opposite sides. It’s not as though you follow Albus Dumbledore or work for the Ministry.”
“No, I just work at Hogwarts, with the children he’s trying to corrupt.”
Lucius freezes. Harry doesn’t know why, since that’s hardly anything compared to what he already said. But then Lucius breathes, “You really do believe that.”
“Yes, of course I do.” Harry rolls his eyes a little when Lucius goes on staring. “He’s pulling children into a war and trying to make them slaves for the rest of their lives by branding them. He does nothing for the good of his followers, only for the good of his insane cause. And part of him has to be aware that it’s insane. He’s a half-blood himself, he knows that power and intelligence doesn’t follow bloodlines.”
“Good speaking with you, Mr. Salvare,” Lucius says faintly, and then shuts down the Floo.
Harry jerks his head up as he hears the chime from the walls. The chime of history, of Time trying to reassert itself. It sounds smug, he knows it does.
“What the fuck do you even want?” Harry demands softly. “I know it’s history that Lucius Malfoy was a Death Eater. Well, he’ll stay one. That’s fine. Why would this mark a return to history’s path?”
The chime sounds once more, and then falls silent. Harry scowls and stands up to make lunch. Bloody forces of the universe, so dramatic.
It wouldn’t be easy for most people to find out what happens to a prophecy when the timeline before it is changed and the person it concerns most might not even be born, but Harry isn’t most people. A quick note to the Department of Mysteries sent by the anti-Patronus that only an Unspeakable can conjure, and Harry has a consultation with one of his colleagues who studies prophecies.
They meet in the center of the shelves with the orbs humming around them. It’s a bit hard to ignore, but then again, Harry has also ignored many temptations to endanger himself or be irritated since he returned to the past. He keeps his eyes on the Unspeakable, who wears a heavy hood like everyone does here.
“We do have dead prophecies,” the Unspeakable says, in a calm, confident woman’s voice which might be theirs or might not be. Harry doesn’t care, if they can give him the information he’s looking for. “But those are ones where someone who is important to the prophecy dies. In other words, it has already been made, and then circumstances change.”
Harry nods. “And this one hasn’t been made yet.”
“Yes, exactly.” His colleague’s fingers twitch a little, and Harry recognizes research excitement. “You have brought us a most interesting question, Mr. Salvare.”
Harry smiles. The Unspeakables know full well that his name isn’t Henry Salvare, but that’s the one he chooses to be known under in this time, so that’s the one they choose to go with. “Would you need some months to find out?”
“We would need some months to investigate.”
Harry knows what that means. They can’t promise him an answer at the end. He just nods. “That would be fine. Please let me know anything you find out.”
“Or we could do it inside a week using the Time Chamber.”
Harry inclines his head. “What kind of price would I pay for that?” He recognizes their tone of voice just as he recognizes the twitching fingers. Unspeakables will indeed work for the public, or people who want the answers to questions, but there’s always a price.
“A full copy of your memories of your original timeline, placed inside a crystal jar.”
Harry considers it for several moments. It’s true that he could make the copy without pain, and it would be valuable enough for the Unspeakables’ work that he might even get the answers to several questions. But it also opens him up to someone else not liking the direction he’s taken, and traveling in time to undo his changes.
Someone might do that, of course, whether or not he knows it. But he doesn’t have to help them drive people like Severus and Regulus back into the arms of the Death Eaters.
“No, thank you. Several months should be sufficient.”
“We will notify you of the results, Mr. Salvare.”
Harry nods, shakes the hand of his disguised colleague, and leaves the Department of Mysteries. Now he needs to investigate the whereabouts of the Horcruxes.
Harry sits on the stone at the edge of the sea, ignoring the way the foam leaps and whirls around him. When he’s this deep inside his own head, casting yet another spell that came with him out of the Department of Mysteries, he doesn’t feel the cold or the wetness anyway.
He drifts through his thoughts and then slowly out, under and down, through stone and water and the requirements for blood, and surfaces mentally inside the cave where Voldemort’s put the locket Horcrux.
He shivers in disgust as he passes through the lake full of waiting Inferi. The taint of the necromancy that created them is worse than the corruption surrounding the Dark Mark.
When he passes out of the lake and onto the island, Harry pauses. The basin that contains the deadly potion is still there, but the reek of even stronger corruption that he expected with the Horcrux isn’t.
Sighing, Harry floats his astral body towards the basin. He knows what he’ll find, but he would feel stupid coming all this way and then not checking.
Sure enough, the basin contains the potion and a gleaming golden locket that’s better than the fake the original Regulus in his original timeline left there. But it’s not a Horcrux. It doesn’t even float up and down in the heavy potion in the same way.
Trust the bastard to get smart and move his damn Horcruxes when he feels threatened, Harry thinks, as he retreats to his body and then stands up carefully on the damp rock to Apparate. Then again, he probably was more sane before he was disembodied.
Dark Lords. So dramatic.
“…And I know we said that, but…”
Evan Rosier shuts up the minute Harry walks into the lab at the Decoy House where Severus has been spending most of his days. Harry raises his eyebrows a little, but he doesn’t think any of his followers are truly plotting against him. He turns to Severus. “You didn’t come to lunch.”
“Um.” Severus’s cheeks are flushed. “I didn’t know if Evan could come with me.”
“Of course. Anyone sworn to me is welcome here. And other people might be, as long as you ask me first.”
“Right. Of course.” Severus shoots a glance at Evan, but Evan is staring at the ceiling with his mouth firmly shut. “Did you want to come to lunch, Evan?”
“You’d be welcome, Mr. Rosier,” Harry adds, when Evan shoots him a desperate glance as if he doesn’t know who or what to listen to.
“Um. Thanks. Right, Professor Salvare.” Evan smooths one hand down his robes and nods. “Thank you. But I did want to talk about something with you. Could we do that while Severus goes to lunch?”
Severus makes a face at Evan, but doesn’t seem inclined to stay. He just hurries out of the room. Harry shakes his head. “Please tell me this isn’t about your OWL results.” Severus was devastated, when they came two days ago, to find out that he’d got an EE in Transfiguration and Charms instead of the O’s he was confidently expecting. Harry pointing out his Outstandings in everything else didn’t seem to soothe him.
“I know you said you weren’t going to be a lord,” Evan begins, careful.
Harry sighs. “Is this about the way I commanded you to go back to the Slytherin common room the night Mr. Prince was kidnapped? I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be so forceful. I was simply worried about his safety, and yours.”
“Partially.” Evan stands very straight. “It just seems to me that you are our lord. Even if you’re not going to brand us.”
Harry smiles a little. This is where being an Unspeakable with a knowledge of British magical history comes in handy. “Did you know that there are specific magical requirements that come with being a lord in Britain?”
Evan’s eyes widen. “There are? I thought it was a title that you—declared, and people supported you or not.”
Harry shakes his head. “That’s the way it can work in some other countries, always assuming that people follow you when you declare yourself a lord or lady instead of calling you a fool. But because the British magical world has no magical nobility, it means that we adopted different standards instead. The potential lord—or lady—has to reach a specific level of magical power, demonstrated in front of a crowd of at least a hundred; claim the title; brand his or her followers to show that they actually have a group of people bound to them; and choose a magical affinity.”
“Choose a magical affinity? People are born with that one. Sir.”
Harry snorts. “Not your fault that you’re one of the many who believe that, Mr. Rosier, but it’s not true. Probably related to the abysmal lack of proper Defense education around here in the last few decades. You can make yourself Dark or Light—or Twilight, or Dawn, or any of a other half-dozen shades on the spectrum that aren’t acknowledged in Britain—by choosing to cast some kinds of spells, and perform certain rituals. You can shape yourself. Obviously Voldemort’s chosen the Dark. And he branded his followers, and he claimed the title, and that library he blew up in Wales counts as his test in front of followers and the public.”
Evan keeps blinking. “I had no idea. I thought our oaths were sufficient.”
“No.” Harry smiles at him. “I promised that I wouldn’t be your lord, and my promises included no branding. I’m not about to break them.”
Evan hesitates, then says quietly, “Certainly, sir, at some point, does it matter if you fulfill the formal requirements? If you fulfill the most important informal ones?”
“What are those, Mr. Rosier?”
“Saving your followers. Protecting them. Caring for their well-being.”
“That, Mr. Rosier, is what any competent mentor or leader does. It saddens me that it has been so rare in your life—in the lives of most of the students at Hogwarts—that you don’t recognize it as such.”
Evan sighs a little. “As you say, sir.”
He looks disconsolate as he leaves the lab to join Severus for lunch, but that’s not enough to make Harry change his position. He meant the promises he made, and the formal requirements are real and no joke, and involve far more control in the lives of his students than he would ever want to assume.
The chime of Time sings, low and sweet, from the walls.
“Oh, shut up,” Harry tells it.
“Sir. Sir. Professor Salvare!”
Harry stirs and sits up on the library couch, surprised beyond measure that he fell asleep there. Then again, he’s been reading books on prophecy and ways of locating magical artifacts almost non-stop this summer, and he’s not young in body anymore. Sooner or later, he has to accept the advancing effects of age.
But not right now, he decides as he sees how frantic Regulus is, shouting at him from the door of the library.
“Sirius is in the Floo! He says he has to talk to you right now!”
Harry stands up and hurries, ignoring the protesting creaks from his knees and back. It seems odd that Sirius would be contacting him when he was supposedly safe at the Potters’ house, but then again, maybe the Blacks are trying some ploy to regain custody of him.
Or even attacked the Potters’? Harry really hopes that’s not the case.
But when he gets to the Floo, he realizes that Sirius’s eyes are wide and bulging, and that there’s someone else behind him, someone who hangs back and seems to keep his face deliberately out of the field of the flames. Harry narrows his eyes, but decides that he’ll ask later who that is and why Regulus gave Sirius the Floo connection to the Decoy House without telling Harry.
“Mr. Black.” Harry kneels down and does his best to look calm and unruffled, because that’s how he’ll do better work here than if he runs around screaming. “Are you well?”
Sirius stares at him, his eyes still bulging, and whispers, “Not really, sir.”
Harry nods, accepting that. “Are you physically injured? If you grant me access through the Potters’ Floo, I can fetch you. Or is it an attack?”
“No, no…neither of those.” Sirius hesitates. “Maybe I shouldn’t have had my brother get you, Professor Salvare. It’s not that serious.”
“Unlike your name,” Harry says, and makes Sirius smile a little despite himself. Merlin, he’s shaking. Harry hopes that Sirius tells him what happened soon so he doesn’t have to go over there and shake it out of him. “What is it?”
“I got an owl from Professor Dumbledore.” Sirius is clutching his hands together.
That’s about the last name Harry expected to come out of his mouth. He blinks, and then curses himself for mixing up the timelines again. Sure, Sirius is a Gryffindor no matter what the history and thus a little more inclined to the Headmaster, but he also isn’t the man Harry knew who’d been loyal to him for decades. “Did he say something disturbing, Mr. Black?”
“He said that I couldn’t trust you and I shouldn’t take Defense.”
Again, about the last thing Harry suspects. He sits back on his heels, some of his urgency dimming. “Well, that’s not true, Mr. Black. But I’m not sure that you’ll believe me on the strength of my own denial. I have sworn some of the young Slytherins to my service, that’s true, but only because they begged for it.”
“I have to take Defense!” Sirius bursts out. “There’s a bloody war coming! And you’re the only competent Professor we’ve ever had!”
“Language, Mr. Black,” Harry says a little weakly. “Well, I can promise you that as long as you got an Acceptable or higher, I’ll be accepting you into my Defense class.”
Sirius stares at him with his eyes burning. “I got an Outstanding.”
“That’s great!” Harry says, trying to maintain his enthusiasm in the face of his uncertainty. “Then I don’t see why—”
Sirius leans towards him. “Professor Salvare, what do you think of Professor Dumbledore?”
Great. Harry sighs. “I think he’s a good man trying to do a difficult job in an impossible time.”
“Cut the diplomatic load of bollocks, Professor Salvare.” The shadow that’s been moving around behind Sirius resolves and drops down beside him, and it’s James Potter. Harry tries not to self-consciously touch his own hair. He does know he’s altered enough that no one has commented on his resemblance to James despite the two of them sharing the same classroom for months. “We want to know what you really think.”
Harry raises an eyebrow, a little more in control of the situation. “I think you should watch your language as well, Mr. Potter.”
“But what?” James demands, bringing down his hands hard enough that Sirius yelps and flinches back, presumably from sparks on his side of the fire. “Professor Dumbledore sent me the same message! And Remus and Peter, too. And a few of our other classmates we’ve talked to. But not to any of our Slytherin or Ravenclaw classmates. Why?”
Harry sighs. He still doesn’t want to destroy Dumbledore’s reputation in their eyes; he honestly doesn’t. That won’t serve anybody, and will just make people more suspicious of each other who should be on the same side. But it seems he won’t be allowed to get out of this one with gentle evasions.
“I suspect that he’s worried about something he had a talk with me about at the end of the term. He’s worried that I’m recruiting students into an army. He knows that some of your Slytherin yearmates, and a few in the year below, swore to follow me. We exchanged oaths of mutual defense and protection. He probably assumes that the Slytherins will ignore him if he warns them away from me. The Ravenclaws, I don’t understand,” Harry adds, and it’s the truth. “The only thing I can think of is that many of them have Slytherin siblings, so perhaps he’ll assume that I’ve similarly influenced them.”
Sirius and James exchange glances. Harry watches them, waiting for their conclusions. He looks over his shoulder and sees that Regulus is at least less frantic now.
“What are you recruiting them for, if not for an army?” Sirius finally asks.
“To keep them safe,” Harry says in a slow drawl. “Many of them have parents who would try to force them into servitude to Voldemort, Mr. Black. And while I don’t wish to say anything against the Headmaster, his disdain for Slytherin House hasn’t gone unnoticed by the people in it.”
Nor his lack of care for the students in it. Harry barely holds himself back from an exasperated shake of his head. So Albus was so concerned about Harry that he felt the need to warn students over the summer—but only Gryffindors, of course.
Only the people who might join the Order of the Phoenix.
Harry sits back when Sirius and James remain silent. Sirius finally clears his throat. “You know that I left my parents’ house to come here, sir?”
“Yes, I know, Mr. Black.”
“And—my mother confronted you in Diagon Alley and accused you of making me run away.”
“Don’t worry, I took care of that,” Harry says, a little satisfied as he remembers his interaction with Walburga Black. It won’t be anything she can brag about. “You shouldn’t be troubled by anything your mother says, Mr. Black.”
“What if what she said was true?”
“That I encouraged you to find someplace else to live might be true. That I told you to go specifically to the Potters’ house? You already had that plan in mind, Mr. Black.”
“I mean,” Sirius says, twisting something on his finger that Harry can’t see properly through the flames, “if you encouraged me to be a better person.”
“I would hope that’s true,” Harry says quietly. He remembers the ethics lessons with Sirius, and how he did start paying attention. But at the same time, he doesn’t know how much influence he can have, whether time will try to twist things back so that Sirius plays the prank on Severus or goes to Azkaban, whether he’ll even see Sirius again once he finishes his seventh year. He has to keep vigilant, not assume lasting influence. “But I don’t understand what you’re getting at, Mr. Black.”
“There was another part of the letter Headmaster Dumbledore sent us,” James interjects, leaning forwards so that he almost falls into the fire. “He wants us to join the Order of the Phoenix.”
Harry holds back an exasperated sigh. He actually doesn’t have any idea for sure of when James and Lily and Sirius and Remus and Peter joined the Order fully in the first timeline, only reports and rumors. It must have been in private conversations and maybe correspondence that was burned afterwards, and no trace of his research could uncover it. It would have been even harder to detect if the students were essentially inactive members until they finished their NEWTS. “That has to be your choice, Mr. Potter.”
“But you have opinions on it.”
“I have opinions on the color of the shirt you’re wearing now,” Harry says dryly, and is amused to see James’s hand rise to touch his shirt collar in response. “That doesn’t mean you have to listen to them.”
James and Sirius exchange glances. Then Sirius mouths something that looks, as far as Harry can see through the wavering flames, “Ask him outright,” and James nods and turns around with a determined look.
“No,” Harry says.
“You didn’t know what we were going to ask, sir.”
“You were going to ask if you could join my sworn followers. The answer is no.”
“Why? Because we’re not Slytherins?” Sirius looks ready to lay back his ears and growl in human form.
“No. Because I don’t trust you to work well with the people who are already sworn to me. Mr. Black, you were planning to play a prank a few months ago that could have cost one of them his life. Mr. Potter, I know that you were disappointed about not getting to play pranks after I intervened in that nonsense, and kept pushing your friends to do it. Why should I trust that you’ve changed?”
James’s mouth falls open a little. “You’d choose Snivellus over us?”
“And I think you’ve just proved the point,” Harry says lightly. “You should make your own decisions on joining the Order of the Phoenix, Mr. Potter, Mr. Black. I can’t advise you.” He reaches out to close the Floo connection and ask Regulus what he was thinking to open an unregulated one from the Potters’ house.
Harry pauses with his eyebrow lifted. “Yes?”
“Um, James didn’t mean it,” Sirius says, while nudging James furiously in the ribs with his elbow. James folds his arms and stares at the ceiling and scowls, but finally nods. “We really do want your protection.”
“I can see why you might, Mr. Black, but Mr. Potter’s parents are good ones, to my knowledge. Why does he need more than them?”
“I know there’s a war coming.” James looks sober now, not like the stupid teenage boy he resembled only a moment ago. “I’m smart enough to know that, at least. And I also know that my parents are old enough they probably won’t be able to participate much, or protect me from a raid.” He swallows and wipes his mouth with one hand. “I need allies. I need to know how to protect myself and my family better. One year of decent Defense education won’t change that. Not that you’re not really good, Professor Salvare,” he adds hastily. “Please?”
Harry considers it. He doesn’t want to just have Slytherins as sworn followers, that’s true. But bringing in someone who’s dedicated to causing trouble for other specific people he’s sworn an oath to protect is stupid.
“I need to see an improvement in your behavior for a month after the school year begins, Mr. Potter,” he says at last. “That will include no name-calling of other students, no prank-playing, and a commitment to your Defense studies.”
From the way James grins, he’s actually getting away with less of a burden than he thought he would. Harry resists the urge to cluck his tongue. That would have a bad effect right now.
“Thank you, Professor Salvare!” And James gets up and vanishes from the fire.
“What about me?” Sirius looks anxious, leaning forwards on his hands in a way that makes Harry wonder how others haven’t caught on that he’s an illegal Animagus yet. Then again, most professors have a propensity to ignore their students in a way Harry despairs of.
“Same burden of proof.”
“But I took ethics lessons with you!”
“And you were planning a prank that could have killed someone, Mr. Black, and still didn’t want to apologize on your own. I take that seriously.”
After a moment, Sirius nods reluctantly. “But you would really permit me and James a place among your followers?”
“Yes, if you follow the rules I’ve laid down. Remember, the oaths are mutual. You can’t just get protection from me and do nothing in return. For me or the other students you’ll be working with.”
“I know that. I—I would have considered joining the Order of the Phoenix because James is right. We need the protection.” Sirius looks down for a second. “Thank you, Professor Salvare.”
“You’re welcome,” Harry says, and waits until Sirius’s face disappears from the Floo. Then he reaches out and touches a knot on the mantel that will make it impossible for anyone to Floo from the Potter residence without his prior permission.
He turns and stares at Regulus, who goes from grinning to shuffling his feet in a second.
“Was I wrong?” he asks. “Sirius asked to talk to you, and, I mean, I know he needs this.”
Harry nods, because he privately agrees. “The problem, Regulus, is that you let someone make a Floo call from the Potter residence without asking me if that was a good idea. It’s one thing to open your Floo first, and another to let someone else do it. An intruder could have come through from that side before I could do anything about it, and it would be a lot harder to defeat them and keep you safe once they were here.”
Regulus blinks in what looks like genuine surprise. “You think one of the Potters would do that?”
“There’s such a thing as the Imperius Curse,” Harry says wearily. “Look, Mr. Black, I’m not permanently angry at you. I just can’t have people creating weaknesses within the wards, no matter who they want to see, without speaking to me about it.”
“Of course, Professor Salvare. I’m sorry.”
Harry relaxes, both because of the apology and because Regulus doesn’t seem subdued in the way he would be if he thought Harry was furious with him. “Apology accepted. Now we’ll see if your brother and Potter can keep to their promises.”
This time, when the chime from the walls cuts through Regulus’s answer, Harry doesn’t even bother rolling his eyes.
His position is still that Time can go fuck itself. But he’s not going to bother contradicting it.
“Are you sure you’ll win?”
“But why are you sure, though?”
Of all the people he swore to follow him, Harry wouldn’t have thought that Andromeda Tonks would be the one who fussed over him before he went to a duel with Voldemort. She’s older than most of his followers, after all, and that means she has a better idea about what someone with Harry’s training can do. He grins at her in the mirror as he adjusts the battle robes of toughened dragonhide around himself.
“It’s a reasonable question.” Andromeda comes up to check the hang of the battle robes. “It’s too bad that you couldn’t get basilisk hide.”
“Why would I be able to get that?”
“I think you could do anything you put your mind to, Professor Salvare.”
Even Andromeda calls him that, who’s not his student. Well, she feels pretty abandoned by her family, too, so Harry supposes she might latch on to him as a mentor. Harry shrugs a little and answers her original question. “I’m sure because it’s not going to be a fair fight.”
Andromeda bites her lip. “That’s why so many of us are worried, though, sir. About what he’ll do to make sure he can win, and how much stronger he is than anyone else.”
“I mean I’m not going to fight fair.”
Andromeda’s mouth falls open a little and she takes a step back from him as if he might start practicing on her. “What?”
“Oh, dear.” Harry grins at her and rolls his shoulders one more time, making sure that both the robes and all the little surprises tucked in his pockets are in the right places. “Did you have this picture of me as someone who would never do that sort of thing? Is it me, or the scent of hero-worship a bit strong in here?”
Andromeda blushes. “I just—Professor Salvare, it’s just—”
“I know how it can feel to want someone to be a perfect hero,” Harry says quietly. “But I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t work that way. And I will let anyone who thinks they can’t tolerate that go free from their oath.”
Andromeda stands up a little straighter at that, her eyes fierce. “No, sir, of course I don’t want that! I only—I heard about the ethics lessons that you offered my cousins.”
“I thought someone who emphasized doing the right thing so much wouldn’t be able to tolerate cheating.”
Harry shakes his head. “We’re never just one thing. And at the moment, I’m Voldemort’s worst nightmare along with being the Defense Against the Dark Arts professor, and your leader, and a duelist.”
Andromeda watches him with deep thoughtfulness as Harry walks out of the dressing room—there are so many rooms in the Decoy House that he might as well use one of them that way—and towards the door he’ll leave through before he Apparates to the destination. Challenging Voldemort was easy. All he had to do was place an ad in the Daily Prophet saying that Voldemort was scared to face him and that meant he wasn’t a Dark Lord at all, and Voldemort issued a challenge to a duel held in a field that used to belong to the Malfoys.
Harry rejected the first invitation, to Malfoy Manor, on the grounds that the public couldn’t view it and Voldemort was being a coward. Insult him and he flies into a rage, and that means he can’t think rationally. He sent the proposal of the field without a second thought, and Harry accepted.
Regulus and Severus and Evan and Tiberius Wilkes and several of his other followers are waiting in the kitchen. Harry smiles at them and claps several of them on the shoulder, then shakes the hands of others.
“Will you come back?”
Regulus asks that question beneath his breath as Harry shakes his hand. Harry stares him in the eye and says, “I promise.”
Regulus is the only one who looks totally happy as he steps back.
“Wish me luck,” Harry says, and winks at them before he walks out. He knows that they’ll be among the crowd at the field; he can’t forbid them that.
But they’ll be among the crowd behind the protective wards that Harry has tied to his own magical core. He can’t forbid them that, either.
“The challenged, Professor Henry Salvare.”
This kind of formal duel requires someone called a Herald who will announce the participants in the duel, and announce, as well, the wounds and the spells given so that those at a distance can understand the “publicly-owed” clash of two powerful wizards. Their particular Herald stands on the edge of the circle that was formed the minute Harry stepped close to Voldemort, zapped into the ground by the wards that Harry is carrying around with him.
Harry doesn’t know if it was Time or Voldemort that’s responsible for their Herald being Lucius Malfoy, but part of him finds it hilarious.
The rest of him is focused very hard on the still figure of Voldemort, standing across from him. His hands are clasping his yew wand. He hasn’t moved since Harry drew the circle with the wards. His eyes have, though, aiming off to the sides as if to gauge the strength of the wards.
He can do that if he wants. He won’t find anything that Harry hasn’t prepared for.
And if he thinks that he can destroy the wards when he kills Harry and then tear into the crowd, that only shows how delusional he is, thinking that he can kill Harry or that Harry would have brought people he’s responsible for into a situation he considered dangerous.
(Not that Harry is entirely happy with the crowd. But he does need to make Voldemort look like a fool in public, and so he took the necessary precautions).
“You may begin your duel at any time,” Lucius says, and bows his head and tries not to look like he’s almost fleeing from the edges of the circle in the grass.
Voldemort doesn’t strike right away, surprisingly. Then again, he had the sense to move his Horcrux. Perhaps he has the sense to realize that someone standing calmly in front of him could be a dangerous opponent.
Harry raises an eyebrow. “In your own time, Tom.”
Voldemort snarls at that, and casts a spell that makes a crackling dark lightning bolt of energy surge up around his hands. Lucius announces in a shaky voice, “The Dark Lord has cast the Wand-Breaker Curse—”
Voldemort hurls it.
Harry shifts one of the wards that make up the circle around him in front of the spell. It’s visible in movement only as a line of burned grass sizzling its way along. But it catches and dissipates the Wand-Breaker, spreading darkness out into the air for a moment and then fizzling it out.
“And Professor Salvare blocks it.”
Lucius’s voice is loud with disbelief, and so are the shouts and cheers of the people in the crowd who apparently believe they’re watching a gladiatorial contest. Harry knows why. The Wand-Breaker Curse supposedly has no counter.
And if you’re not an Unspeakable, that’s probably even true.
But people spent too much time looking for blocks to the Wand-Breaker Curse among countercurses, when they could have just studied wards.
Harry calmly meets Voldemort’s gaze. It’s burning now, as intense as it was when Harry rescued Severus from him, and Voldemort lifts his wand and draws a long line down the middle of the air.
“The Dark Lord summons nightmare-cats.” At least Lucius’s voice has steadied and he no longer sounds like he’s going to faint.
The line in the air swings open like a door, and the beasts hop through. They’re squat, small animals, only a little larger but far more solid than a housecat, a dense black with grey stripes. Their claws create burning slashes in the grass as they prowl slowly towards Harry.
Where their eyes should be, they each have a spongy cluster of eight eyes, resembling a spider’s.
Harry nods in admiration of Voldemort’s cunning. Most people don’t become as skilled as Harry without suffering from nightmares, if only because they probably think of duels they lost, people they couldn’t save, those they had to kill. And nightmare-cats are excellent at pulling those memories forth from a head to feed on them, while at the same time making the victim relive the nightmare.
There’s shouting from the crowd now, in some voices that sound like those of his followers. Harry hopes they’re not stressing themselves too badly about this.
“Well, Salvare? What do you say now?”
Harry ignores the Parseltongue. He doesn’t want to reveal that he understands that yet. He braces his foot behind him as the first nightmare-cat crouches to spring at him. He thinks, idly, that the creatures look rather like what Umbridge might resemble, if she’d ever been Transfigured into a cat.
The first one comes flying at him. Voldemort is cackling. There’s no way to avoid a nightmare-cat’s strike if you let them get that close.
Then again, Voldemort should have learned from his experience with the Wand-Breaker Curse.
Harry casts the crystal orb that was resting against his left flank at the springing cat. It shatters the moment it impacts with that ghastly face, of course, and the nightmare-cat yowls. The sound makes more than one person in the crowd cringe.
But as it crashes to the ground and flails frantically at its face with its paws, Voldemort is the one who screams.
“What is this? They have no counter!”
Harry raises an unimpressed eyebrow, and gestures back at the nightmare-cat, which is thrashing, seizing. “Sure, Tom.”
Before Voldemort can answer, ghostly silver light surrounds the cat and swirls in a frantic dance. Then it fades away. What’s left is a silvery kitten that sits up and mews.
The other nightmare-cats charge Harry. Harry hits every single one of them with a crystal orb, even the ones who try to dodge. He barely needs to aim. They’re so desperate to kill him that they can’t get out of the way.
“Professor Salvare has hit the nightmare-cats with—” Lucius breaks off, and then his voice is indignant, almost a wail, as he speaks again. “How am I supposed to announce it if I don’t know what it is?”
“A variant of the Patronus Charm,” Harry says gently, as the first nightmare-cat he hit rises and the silvery kitten grows wings that billow out around its body like sheets. “That’s all. Announce that.”
“A variant of the Patronus Charm,” Lucius says faintly, despite the Sonorus Charm that he’s cast on himself. He’s occupied, like most of the audience who can see, in watching the silver kitten fly away on its translucent wings, joined in order by all the others as they evolve into their new form.
“There is no variant of the Patronus Charm that does that!”
Harry turns and faces Voldemort again. He wondered why the bastard didn’t launch a spell when people were distracted, but it’s clear now, from the way that his eyes follow the kittens. He’s as distracted as they are, and enraged, and afraid of being made to look like a fool. “Not that you know of, Tom.”
And there it is. Voldemort’s wand moves in a jagged spiral, and he screams, “Stop calling me Tom!”
What comes after that is the barrage of curses that Harry expected, and which he suspects Voldemort was only holding back on before because he wanted to give a proper show, relevant to the public nature of their duel. It doesn’t much matter to Harry. He makes his way closer and closer to Voldemort, using his shields and wards to splinter the curses. Voldemort seems more furious about all his spells failing to land a hit—other than a few that scrape shallow lines of blood along Harry’s arms and face—than he is about Harry coming that close.
But, in the meantime, Harry is getting his final trick ready. His hand dips into his pocket, and feels the reassuring bite of the surprise. When he takes it out, palming it, Voldemort isn’t aware of it. It’s been powerfully Disillusioned.
Lucius yells himself hoarse naming all the spells, but it’s notable that he almost never says Harry’s name. Voldemort is the one launching all the magic. That will make him look more powerful and offensive to some of the audience, Harry knows.
But there’s nothing wrong with defensive magic. And it’s the last blow that matters, not the first.
Harry is at last less than a meter from Voldemort, and he smiles at him. “Getting tired, Tom?”
“I have what it takes to defeat an upstart professor,” Voldemort barks, but for the first time, he’s looking a bit uncertain. Perhaps he’s realizing that most people wouldn’t have been able to go toe-to-toe with him like this, even if they were only defending.
Harry cups his left hand low at his side, tracing his wand in a lazy circle so that Voldemort focuses on it. “Want to know a secret, Tom?”
“Stop saying that name.” This time, Voldemort’s voice has descended into Parseltongue, which is so perfect that Harry couldn’t have planned it.
“You’re not the only one that knows that language,” Harry answers, and Voldemort’s eyes widen and his guard slips, the way Harry has always planned on doing. Voldemort’s thought himself alone as a Parselmouth for too long.
And in that moment of surprise that Voldemort can’t feign and can’t compensate for, Harry stabs the Disillusioned knife into Voldemort’s liver as hard as he can.
The knife’s edge, enchanted to do so, penetrates Voldemort’s personal shields and battle robes like they’re water. The effect only lasts five seconds, but that’s enough. Harry perforates Voldemort’s liver, and, more to the point, draws the knife free with blood on the blade.
Voldemort screams. Then he Apparates.
“Pr-Professor Henry Salvare st-stabs the Dark Lord and wins the duel,” Lucius stutters. Harry glances at him, but can’t tell whether he heard the Parseltongue. Lucius’s face is so naturally pale that he might have, or he might not.
The crowd explodes with cheers. Harry glances at the circle of wards when they tremble, but they hold. He nods. Good. He doesn’t want anyone getting injured in the trampling that might result if they didn’t.
He stretches, cleans the slight wounds on his arms and face with another flick of his wand, and alters the wards so that his followers can enter the circle, but no one else. Evan is bright-eyed, but silent. He wrings Harry’s hand and says nothing. Severus is clasping his arms behind his back with relief, just nodding to Harry, probably afraid that they’ll visibly tremble if he tries to shake hands. Regulus whoops and clasps Harry’s shoulder the way Harry did his wrist when he left the house.
Andromeda is standing behind them, entirely silent. Harry catches her eye and winks. “Told you,” he mouths. “Cheating.”
And she laughs.
And Time is silent.
“Regulus told me that you had offered Black—I mean, his brother—and Potter a place in our ranks.”
Harry nods and hands Severus a cup of tea. Severus is still too skinny, but although he doubtless recognizes the taste of the nutrient potions Harry has been slipping into his tea, he never mentions it, and just drinks. “Yes. But I made it clear that they would not be calling you names or playing pranks—on you or anyone else. And they’ll need a month of good behavior before I even consider them.”
Severus is pale as he turns the cup around and around in his hands. Harry waits patiently for him to say what’s bothering him.
“What if they don’t keep that promise?” Severus finally asks, voice almost inaudible.
“Then they’re out,” Harry says shortly. “I have no patience at all for people who can’t keep their promises. It means they would backtrack on their oaths, too.”
Severus jumps, but Harry doesn’t know why—it’s not like Severus has shown a sign of breaking his oaths—until he raises wondering eyes to Harry’s face. “Then you have no plans to discard me for them,” he breathes.
“Holy Merlin,” Harry blurts. “Of course not.” But then he pauses and considers it from Severus’s point-of-view. Slughorn wasn’t terrible to Severus, but neither did he do anything to protect him against people as well-connected as the Blacks and Potters are. And neither did Minerva. And neither did Dumbledore.
Severus is used to adults abandoning him in favor of the Marauders.
“Is that just your oath?” Severus asks then.
Harry leans back in his chair. “No,” he says slowly. “I admire you, you know. You’ve stood your ground against a lot of people trying to change you.”
Severus flushes and ducks his head. “I didn’t know you knew about my Housemates approaching me to follow the Dark Lord, sir.”
“Not only that, but people trying to force you away from your Gryffindor best friend,” Harry says firmly. “And people telling you that you weren’t worth the status you’ve managed to accumulate because you were a half-blood. No, I can’t know all the pressures that you’ve faced as well as you do, and I know that having Black and Potter as part of my sworn following, if they make it, won’t be easy for you. But I think you can face the challenge with the strength you’ve shown so far.”
It might be the longest speech of praise that anyone has given Severus in his life, for all Harry knows. He wouldn’t be surprised.
What he does know is that it lights the kind of flare at the bottom of Severus’s soul that Harry can nourish and make sure doesn’t go out again, and Severus talks comfortably for the rest of breakfast about potions, the consequences he’ll heap on Black if he breaks his word, potions, the consequences he’ll heap on Potter if he steps out of line, and potions.
It’s a start, anyway.
Harry stretches and eyes the vial of Voldemort’s blood in front of him, which he’s held in magical stasis since the evening of the duel when he scraped it from his knife. So far, he hasn’t managed to use it in the kind of tracking spell he wants to yet. Voldemort has cast charms that prevent people from taking advantage of the most straightforward magical applications of the blood, and Harry doesn’t know that one can track the Horcruxes, or Albus probably would have done it the first time around.
But that doesn’t stop him from trying.
A knock on the door of his office startles him at first, but then he smiles. It’s been a month since the beginning of the school term, a time that’s flown by with teaching, contending with the largest NEWT Defense class that Hogwarts has seen in a generation, helping some of his followers out with personal crises, research on Voldemort’s blood, and marking.
And watching Sirius and James learn more about the meaning of ethics and self-control than he’d thought they could at their ages.
Maybe more than I did, Harry thinks idly, shaking his head over the memory of his own sixth year before he calls out, “Come in.”
Instead of the immediately opening door that he expected, there’s a chaos of arguing voices. Harry frowns and draws his wand. Has someone come down to intercept Sirius and James and try to talk them out of their oaths? He doesn’t feel the power that would mean Albus is there, but it could be some Slytherin or Gryffindor students.
Followers of mine or not, Harry thinks to himself as he stalks over to the door, I’ll redden their faces for them.
He flings open the door—
All the people in the corridor shut up at once. There’s Severus, and Sirius, and James, but none of them have wands drawn, so Harry doesn’t think they’re the source of the problem. He glances over at Regulus, and narrows his eyes at the tall, cloaked figure at his side.
“Regulus?” he asks calmly.
Regulus smiles at him. It’s a tremulous smile, which immediately concerns Harry, but he is standing strong, with his fists clenched at his sides. “I brought someone to see you who wants to make his own oath, Professor Salvare.”
“This evening is for your brother and Mr. Potter.” Harry tries to gentle his tone, because Regulus always does take it so to heart when Harry gets angry, but he’s disturbed. Regulus already breached the necessary protective measures once by inviting Sirius to Floo the Decoy House from the Potters’. Harry hopes this isn’t something else that will mean danger for his students. “I don’t—”
At that point, the man standing beside Regulus apparently decides the corridor isn’t chaotic enough, and lets his hood fall.
It’s Lucius Bloody Malfoy.
Harry massages his forehead carefully, hoping that he gives off an air of exasperation instead of weakness despite the immediate headache that’s struck him.
“Explain yourself, Mr. Black.”
Regulus shifts and glances at Lucius. Lucius nods. “I should do it,” he says.
“Yes, you should.” Sirius is shedding sparks from his wand, he’s so angry, as he stands there with his arms folded and his foot kicking the ground in a way that makes it seem as if his Animagus form is a bull instead of a dog. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” He whips a glance at Regulus. “And you?”
“I know what I’m doing,” Regulus says.
“Mr. Malfoy cannot swear to me,” Harry says. “He has the Dark Mark, which compels him to follow the Dark Lord first.”
“The Mark exerts control,” Lucius says carefully. “But not deadly control. There are precautions one can take to make sure that he—steps around the edges, as it were. I can swear oaths to you that privilege you without punishing me.”
Time sings from the walls like a crystal goblet someone’s running a finger around the rim of.
And then Harry understands the chime that happened when he saw Lucius in the Floo. He didn’t understand it then, because the chimes only sound when Time’s swinging history back to the original course, or thinks it’s found a way to, and Lucius Malfoy being a Death Eater and loyal to Voldemort was the original history. Something Harry never intended to change.
“Fuck,” he mutters under his breath.
Harry holds up a hand, making them wait a minute while he deals with this—this fucking thing.
Time has brought him a spy bearing the Dark Mark to replace Severus Snape.
The chimes alter, and Harry glances over at the wall that they seem to be originating from. The wall that’s directly behind Sirius and James. The mocking flicker of tone sounds in Harry’s ears, and he grits his teeth.
Sirius and James are going to make oaths to someone and fight for a cause they believe in.
Just as they did in the original timeline.
Time doesn’t just want Harry to replace Voldemort as the leader of the young Slytherins, it wants Harry to replace Dumbledore.
Harry massages his forehead one more time. It doesn’t help with his headache, but it makes him feel better in a different way. Then he gives a sharp shake of his head and turns back to face Lucius.
“How’s your Occlumency, Mr. Malfoy?”
Lucius’s face glows with a brilliance that makes Harry want to bang his head against the chiming wall. Why can no one just take his lessons and think for themselves?
“Excellent, sir. My father insisted on it, years ago, before I was inducted into the Dark Lord’s service.”
“Fine,” Harry says, in a tone that he’s sure none of them understand. “And I’m sure you’ll insist that your oath take place tonight, yes?”
Lucius licks his lips. “It was rather hard to sneak away from both my father and the Dark Lord, sir. I might not be able to do it again until the last day of next month.”
Which will be Halloween. Harry doesn’t even want to know what kind of trap Time has lying in wait for that day.
“Very well,” he says. “Sirius and James, you first. Mr. Malfoy, we’re going to have to work stringently on the wording of your oaths.” He fixes Lucius with a bleak gaze that Lucius takes a step back. “Betrayal of me wouldn’t bear the same painful costs that it will if Voldemort finds out that you’re a traitor, but you can be assured that I take it seriously.”
And then it’s time for the mutual oaths, and the way Sirius and James look at him with adoring eyes makes Harry aware that he’s probably their inspiration and not just their teacher (help), and Lucius looks at him the way Evan Rosier does, which means that Harry is going to send him a book on the formal requirements of declaring oneself a Lord in Britain. Even if Lucius already knows them.
Especially if he already knows them. Because, with Harry’s luck, Lucius probably thinks that his duel with Voldemort counts as his public declaration of power. There were certainly more than a hundred people in that field.
Harry shakes his head as he watches them go back down the corridor. Severus, who hasn’t spoken but has watched everything with keen eyes, follows after a second.
Regulus lingers behind.
“See? I know what I’m doing.”
Harry opens his mouth, then says, “Mr. Black, I truly cannot deal with you right now.”
Regulus, because he knows it’ll irritate Harry, bows before he strides back down the corridor to where Lucius is waiting.
Harry slams the door—with a Muffling Charm so that none of them think it’s directed at them—and flops down in the chair behind his desk. He stares at the ceiling himself for a minute.
Then he Summons a large decanter of Firewhisky, and conjures a glass.
Time goes on singing at him until Harry casts Muffliato on his own ears.
Bloody forces of the universe. Bloody people who think they need a leader. Bloody Dark Lord.