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A Trebled Soul

Chapter Text

For as long as he can remember, Harry Potter has dreamed.

Not the same dream, over and over again, but the same lifetimes. He grows up and a blonde haired child grows parallel to him, perpetually running and always smiling.

(Sometimes he gets glimpses of loneliness, empty bedrooms and a yawning distance between himself and his agemates on a playground-- but that’s hardly unfamiliar, blending with his waking days. Easy enough to brush those times to the side in favor of the earth-fire hues and verdant, endless forests)

The city-- village-- is always the same. It’s beautiful and breathtaking. Trees surround it and the buildings aren’t quite tall enough to match. It’s full of familiar faces, most still as small as he is, but he sees them and thinks: precious.

When he wakes, he stares at the dark ceiling of his cupboard and feels a sadness so deep and aching in his chest he has no name for it. Harry has never been so free to run wherever he wants to go, has only been outside a few precious times in his life, and thinks of the clear blue skies and green trees with thoughts that begin with I want and inevitably end with him clenching his small fists in the threadbare blanket he curls up with.

-

Black hair and black eyes and Harry isn’t educated enough to know any sort of stigma that goes along with that combination of dark features; he is a small boy only ever greeted by laughing eyes and happy smiles and has no words for the feeling that builds up behind his ribs.

He sees red and white fans and knows, for the first time, the love of a mother and father. More than that, a clan, full of aunts and uncles and cousins.

Black hair and black eyes and red-white fans, all around; he has a skin-deep knowing that (their presence means) he is safe and so, so loved.

The phantom sensation of two fingers brushing against his forehead lingers for days.

-

Sometimes he has pink hair and his mom brushes it lovingly.

His father reads him stories by a hearth fire.

Harry reads everything he can get his hands on and meets a girl who makes him forget all of it-- makes him want to be bold and fearless.

They lay on the soft grass of a sun-drenched hill, wind carrying softly past them and the stretching meadows. Blonde and pink tresses tangle as they talk and talk and talk for hours and fold fingers and flowers together and laugh without worry.

-

Harry is boy and freak to Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon and Dudley, never ‘Harry’. He knows, objectively, that it’s his name. It’s what they call him when he goes to school, the only place he ever thinks about his own name.

Probably he’d turn just as readily to Sasuke, or Naruto, or Sakura.

Nobody ever calls him by dream-names, though, or talks about their own. He doesn’t dare ask why.

-

He isn’t aware, for the longest time, that his dreams are abnormal. How could he be? The very first rule in the Dursley household is don’t ask questions. Every scrap of knowledge he picks up is painstakingly gained.

As a result, when he finally-- finally-- gets to go to school, he absorbs everything like a sponge. He learns with time how to walk the line between ‘bad enough to be an embarrassment and earn a beating’ and ‘good enough to out-do Dudley and earn a beating’ with regards to his grades. It doesn’t take long with the proper motivation.

Still, Harry learns.

His tests and assignments don’t reflect the knowledge he sucks in so greedily, of course, but what has that got to do with anything? The relief of being able to understand things-- understand, even when he doesn’t ask questions, because Harry knows better to try despite when all the other children do because breaking Rule Number One means pain, hunger, darkness-- overshadows everything else.

(There’s always been a dichotomy between the rules for Harry and the rules for Dudley, always, and Harry knows this to be the way of the world: other children like Dudley, by virtue of not being freaks, can ask all the questions they want.)

(Harry has never managed to isolate the traits that differentiate him from Dudley and the other children, but it never stops him from trying. He’ll stick to every rule, be good, and maybe one day he’ll be set free from them).

-

Harry Potter lives three days asleep for every one day awake, for all that they’re definitely dreams and gone when he opens his eyes. It’s never long enough, and the days are disjoint. He’ll be running through the streets and laughing wildly, or at a library surrounded by books, or yet again stumbling after his older brother in tree-ringed training grounds.

The dreams vary in season and month, sometimes not matching up at all. Sometimes he sees entire days of memories, adventures that stretch several sunsets and he sees all of them in a row in one night, waking with a summarized recollection.

His memories work fine, though. While the dreams span out into years he hasn’t yet lived through, the ones he has follow him into the waking world with perfect detail.

He’s six and just read his first book in his head.

He remembers turning six and blowing out candles on a white cake, pink-cheeked and merry, brimming with excitement.

He remembers turning six and fire tickling past his lips, an inferno launching from his fingers and skating across the lake, hissing with steam where it brushed past the water. He cheers with pride and accomplishment, his whole family whooping and clapping.

It was the day he turned six that the Sandaime Hokage first treated him to Ichiraku Ramen, after he tried and failed to drag his jiji there by the sleeve. The old man had followed at a sedate pace, as calm as could be, smiling over his pipe as he asked about everything Harry’d done or seen or found interesting that month.

Sometimes, the dreams jump ahead.

Harry is seven and has to run from Dudley and his friends on the playground.

Hardwood floors and the smell of barbecue, rolling around with Akamaru, who’d gotten huge since Harry’d last saw him, Kiba’s laughter loud in the background. Behind them, a contented sigh and potato chips crunching merrily--

Feathers, surprisingly sturdy under his hands, wind rushing past and the entire world spread out beneath him. It stretched out as far as the eye could see, horizon to horizon, with Garuda radiating smug pride, uncontested prince of the skies--

Lee was a monster. No, really. Each hit made her stifle a grunt and threatened to push her back and each came on the heels of another, stupidly fast. His speed was ridiculous, generating concussive force by sheer acceleration. She took them and was hard pressed to get a move in, finally creating her own opening by punching the ground and breaking it, lunging in fast with her fist cocked back--

-

The older black-haired, red-white-fan boy is his brother. The word sits odd on his tongue, new and confusing when he first learns it.

At the same time, it’s like the universe righting itself. Itachi is his brother and that’s a fundamental fact of life, one of the world’s only truths.

As Naruto, he doesn’t have siblings. Nor as Sakura.

As Sakura, parents more than make up for the lack, spoiling her as an only child. Ino serves as playmate and confidant.

When he’s Naruto, he has Iruka, several days a week. Before that he has the Hokage, for whole hours sometimes. Time blurs until all of his precious people are fought for and won, found-family clenched tight in his desperate fingers.

Orphan is another word, one that tastes familiar when he learns it, sinking into his skin and making the world make more sense.

Harry Potter is an orphan and half his dreams mirror that.

-

The school he sees in his dreams is much different than the one Harry himself goes to.

Harry goes to class during the day and enjoys the freedom from his cupboard and the things he learns from the teacher. He looks at the homework Dudley turns in and is proud when the work Harry’s done comes back with perfect marks.

(His own homework is purposefully lesser, done after Dudley’s, and Harry is getting better at gauging how many problems to get wrong to maintain the constant difference.)

At night he dreams of a different school. Men and women in flak jackets teach him about a power called chakra and how to harness it.

(Harry learns this, too.)

-

Most of the dreams stay dreams.

Harry knows they’re only okay so long as no one knows about them. He can’t let on that he has them. Doing the things that Sakura, Naruto, Sasuke and the other-- dream-- children can do would be a dead give away. None of the other normal, non-freak (Dudley) children, could do those things.

So it’s not okay to try the things he learns from them in the waking world.

It’s not okay at all.

(Behind a school building one day, when no one is watching, he picks up a leaf and remembers what he learned the night before. His hand trembles as he presses it to his forehead.)

(His breath stops when it stays.)

-

Sometimes the dreams follow him into reality.

The times are rare. Few and far between.

He remembers each of them with painstaking clarity.

Accidentally climbing the roof had terrified him. He tells himself later that the wind must have caught him, or something normal, because he didn’t weave any handsigns. He was being good.

But after some time-- and the time stretched onwards, for hours, because who would notice him missing?-- his breathing evened out and he forgot about the punishment surely awaiting him.

The fear ebbed away and was replaced by something else as he took in the sight of the setting sun on the far-off horizon, warm-hued colors painting the buildings until they resembled a different city, the village of his dreams. Being up high was of no concern just then, as the wind picked up and it felt like coming home.

(When it ruffled his hair, he just let his eyes fall closed to enjoy it.)

(There was no explaining away the ghostly hand he felt on his shoulder.

 

 

He didn’t turn around to dispel the illusion.)

 

Chapter Text

When Harry turns eight, he spends a few shocky months remembering and dealing with the massacre of his entire family.

It would undoubtedly be worse-- he has memories of it being worse-- if he didn't also remember that Itachi loved him, apologized, was forced to kill their parents while a mad and tortured Uncle Obito killed the rest.

The memories started coming faster and staying longer after that. He was only eight but remembered each day up until his ninth birthday, and then his tenth-- all three ninth and all three tenth-- and facts about his lives that softened some of the blows.

Shortly after Harry's ninth May, he learns how to make shadow clones and that there was a reason he'd always been alone as Naruto.

At the same time, he knows-- and has always, vaguely known, but the knowledge burns clear and bright when he wakes up that morning-- that Kurama would be one of his best friends, that Uzumaki Kushina was his mother and Namikaze Minato was his father and they both died for him and loved him, like the sea loves the shore, forever and without hesitating.

Jinchuuriki, he learns, and he stopped feeling like a child after his family was massacred, but this is another feather shed. A child is full of hope and laughter, unaware of more serious or worldly concerns; a child thinks he can reach the sun if only he flies high enough.

Team Seven forms the next day, and again he starts remembering faster. A dozen dozen d-rank missions, one a day for months, shoved into just a week of dreaming, remembered in waking days with perfect clarity.

It was harder to go back into his cupboard in the evenings, knowing what he knew about running through the trees.

Leave a shadow clone, he thought one day, and the idea felt reckless.

Don't let it get popped, was next, a voice of caution as he thought about all that could go wrong. It was often that Dudley tried to punch him, though rare that a hit landed.

His Uncle, however, was a different story.

Harry decided not to take risks until the summer break, by which time he knew enough about surviving in ninja forests that the tiny woods of England were almost cute.

He turned nine to the July sun rising over the wrong trees, air wetter than he was used to and not quite as warm.

Life had become a lot easier with access to shadow clones. While he wasn't quite brave enough to leave one during the day, where the unexpected shove or beating could prove disastrous, leaving one at night was a stroke of brilliance.

A clone was locked inside the cupboard at night, while his relatives were asleep and extremely unlikely to disturb or interact with him, and Harry was free to take to the trees.

Deer, he found out, tasted nothing like tiger.

Eating a proper number of proper sized meals every day was phenomenal. As Sakura, he'd learned how to cook at her mother's insistence. She'd had regular meals for all times that she wasn't on a mission, and when she was, she'd been sure to pack ration bars into sealing scrolls.

They tasted like dry treebark, but she'd known what Harry knew now-- that anything was better than the gnawing hunger of starvation.

He also learned that fire jutsu took a lot less chakra proportionately when you had more reserves than you'd ever had before (but not quite as much as you'd ever had before.)

That is, middling between Uchiha prodigy-- one of three bloodlines descended from the progenitor of all chakra-- and Uzumaki-- the only one out of three bloodlines descended from the progenitor of all chakra that was renown for beyond-huge chakra reserves-- jinchuuriki levels.

As Sasuke, he'd had slightly better than average chakra control. As Naruto, he'd never been forced to learn any until the rasengan-- just taught more and more destructive jutsu for which the consequence of overloading them was not failure but a better success.

As Sakura, he'd learned secrets of chakra control and such precise manipulation of it as to overwhelm both of the others’ memories of how to wield it. It was quite literally first nature to use the perfect amount of chakra for a jutsu, without going over the point at which extra chakra stopped enhancing the effect, in order to calculatingly maximize the benefit to cost ratio.

(It was second nature to shove as much power as possible into a technique, and third nature to input an imprecise but satisfactory amount that would guarantee jutsu success and still leave him with enough juice to use the technique again later.

As Sakura, he'd despaired over her teammates.)

Kakashi taught them about survival by dropping them into the Forest of Death, and those lessons quickly got reinforced by the Chunin Exams, so it was a small matter to catch enough food for himself, clean and cook it on a campfire with no identifiable smoke signal, and have enough time and energy to train and practice the jutsu he remembered doing in several other lives.

What neither of his past selves knew was that letting a shadow clone sleep for you transferred the memory of sleep-- which the brain needed, and which satisfied the original body’s need for it somewhat. He eventually decided it made sense for something like that to transfer, considering both chakra and memories did.

By this point of his life, he'd spent several waking days gluing leaves to his forehead-- the notion that he should be ignoring his dream lessons flew out the window last winter, when he'd relearned of the Uchiha massacre in full detail, and he'd learnt that nowhere was safe and he should be as strong as he could be, as fast as possible-- and weeks doing subtle chakra exercises whenever he could.

During showers before the summer, he had practiced floating on an inch of bath water; once, he'd spent an entire weekend in his cupboard distracting himself from hunger by keeping a broken crayon attached to the tip of his nose.

He had no real ninja tools to practice with, but fashioned some wooden kunai of proper weight to get back the muscle memory-- which took forever.

It felt ridiculous being thwarted by not having any sort of knife to help with the process.

Finally, he'd come onto the solution of-- and it would have been a lot simpler with a blade to channel chakra through, which was of course the crux of the problem-- digging a shallow but long hole into a big rock with a shaky chakra scalpel, and melting down rock of another type into molten liquid to fill the mold.

Then he'd had a rudimentary saw, once he pried the cooled darker rock from the mold-- destroying it in the process, of course-- and could hack at a branch.

It was ridiculous. He literally had the power of customizable fire at his fingertips, and lightning, and wind sharp enough to cut but not, by itself with no weapon to direct, controlled well enough to do anything with besides large scale destruction--

--He thought of rasenshuriken and was temporarily boggled at being theoretically capable of bringing such force to bear and still having to sit through grade school--

--Yet couldn't make a silly kunai?

Ridiculous.

And there was no village to buy them from.

For all he'd been taught his entire life, this time around at least, there were no ninja villages at all.

He’d worried that he had been reborn into either a timeline where the Sage had never existed to bring chakra to men, or so far into the future that all traces of the villages had turned to dust, and all knowledge of chakra was lost.

It was probably the not the first option, since the moon was still high in the sky, and likely to be the second, as modern maps had caused him to nearly rip his hair out showed some bizarre world where all of the land was oddly spread out, like a great battle had ripped the countries apart but had somehow faded from common memory.

It made his head hurt to think about, so largely he just missed Konoha and refused to give up searching for some hint or mention of chakra or home.

In the meantime, he has an entire summer of catching up on the physical portion of every ninjutsu technique and taijutsu form he'd ever learned to be getting on with, and he still takes three whole seconds to get off a simple kawarimi.

 

Chapter Text

He spends the year after that summer dividing his time between a small army of shadow clones.

It truly is an ingenious learning tool to anyone with the chakra reserves to pull it off. Naruto had many times the chakra reserves required, Sasuke had significantly more than Kakashi to be getting on with, and Sakura had enough control to manage it at least a couple times, though her attention was almost always better spent elsewhere.

As Harry, he uses the technique to sleep (though he often gets to do that with his own body nowadays, which is nice), to learn his textbooks from school, to catch food to eat, and to practice a variety of jutsu.

His main body usually does the attending of school, just in case a clone were to get popped, and tends to spend his time discretely drawing very, very basic sealing arrays.

It hadn't taken Naruto long to discover the secrets of fuuinjutsu-- it came like breathing to the Uzumaki clan, or at least as easy as breathing fire to the Uchiha, for example-- and once they met, Karin had helped sift through the ruins of Uzushiogakure for secrets to preserve and teach.

As a genin, he'd gotten the hang of the most basic seals-- to Sakura’s bafflement and Sasuke's grudging impressedness-- and storage and the boom arrays were familiar enough that he could recreate them without looking.

If he'd been merely copying them a lifetime ago, he'd have no chance at remembering now, but Kakashi had made damned sure he knew every element and every line’s purpose and meaning before he got to even draw out his own seals, copying each step directly from the book, much less tweak them to his own devices.

He could no more forget the various symbols for sealing than he could forget how to read and write what he remembered as ‘the language all people spoke’ and his teacher told him was definitely ‘Japanese’.

So Harry draws sealing arrays very, very carefully in class, while Harry sets up traps for local wildlife and Harry reads what he's supposed to be learning from textbooks and three Harrys walk on water while holding leaves to their foreheads, while another Harry sleeps nearby, another couple Harrys go through the katas they remember and a Harry or two practice breathing fire or healing fish until they run out of chakra and expire.

He has very full days.

He's still practicing the arrays without chakra, partially because he can't figure out how to infuse chakra into the ink through the plastic safely, but mostly because any interruption to the process would be disastrous, even something so simple as a teacher ordering him to stop or a classmate jostling him.

The ghost of Kakashi, and then Jiraiya, and probably Orochimaru too for good measure, would actually find a way to appear and haunt him if he attempted something so reckless, whether or not they had lived in this timeline or not, and he didn't particularly want to deal with that or the smoking remains of the neighborhood.

To say nothing of the Nidaime’s inevitable death-defying, dimension crossing, time and space negating vengeance.

The man had invented shadow clones, the spacetime defying flying thunder god jutsu, the edo tensei and Sage knew what else that was too risky to let others know about. On top of that, he'd been an Uzumaki, as much one as Naruto, through their respective mothers, and no one ever underestimated what an Uzumaki could do, if they were smart.

One of them had found a way to seal a bijuu into people, after all, even without taking into account the invention of the zombie apocalypse, solid clone and limitless teleportation jutsu.

Despite the fact that he's living each day a dozen times through his clones’ memories, and has continued to learn through his dreams for an extra three perspectives-- though honestly, the knowledge comes readily while he's awake at this point--the time flies.

He is ten before he knows it, literally, having spent a weekend dancing through tree tops and getting caught off guard by dawn breaking.

The moon is pale and disappearing overhead, the only reassurance he has of the Sage existing here at least at some point, and the rising sun begins to take its place, burning the light of a new day into the sky.

Chapter Text

Each month after that sends him closer to eleven, and closer to feeling restless and trapped in his small skin.

August is when he first lets a rasengan spin easily in one palm. He’d first managed at seventeen to do it without a clone’s help. Probably, with all the revisions he’d done to it at that point-- the giant ones, for instance-- he’d have been able to manage it earlier, if he’d only tried. It was both easier and habit to use the crutch, though.

In September, he heals a dying rabbit to full health.

While the knowledge was there, figuring out how to use this body’s actual chakra as precisely as he’d used his as Sakura took time and practice.

In October, he travels so far from tree branch to tree branch that he doesn’t recognize where he is in Europe. Three days of straight travel while he’s supposed to be locked in the cupboard feels like air, like he’s any of his previous lives on a mission and surging forward with no thought in his head but speed and freedom.

Harry starts up a slope without chakra, passing trees until they start to get sparse and small, and then they’re bushes, and finally he’s climbed a whole damn mountain, pastel countryside spread out before him.

It’s like that time he shunshined to the top of his school, only better, because he’s higher and he can see for miles and miles and no cruel civilians are within screaming distance.

He hauls himself to the top of a huge boulder, flat topped, and spreads his arms. The wind is fierce up here and he lets it hit him greedily, chakra pooled to the bottom of his feet to latch him there.

The exhilaration carries him all the way back down the mountain again, and stays with him for the journey home. It doesn’t feel like slipping chains back on, to land in the Dursely’s back yard, concealed in a shadow.

It feels like he’s a bird, soaring for the first time. Like nothing could possibly tie him to the ground.

Chapter Text

Winter comes and Harry goes to school, but grows restless. He makes more and more shadow clones.

He finally gets hold of chakra-infused ink. Experience has taught him that a pot of ink infused with chakra will get the job done, and he has memories of using pure chakra to draw seals as an adult sealmaster, but the best kind of seal ink is made by the user and infused with chakra every step of the way, as the pigment is bound to the resin.

He’d made his own ink before; just not in this body.

Almost giddy with anticipation, Harry saved connective tissue from the kills of his last meals. He was careful to, as his available range increased, hunt further and further away each time. Wiping out the game population near Little Whinging didn’t sit well with him, as much as he needed to eat.

Now he boiled them in an earthen pot, carefully shaped with free doton-- Sakura’s element-- and kilned with steady fire. Soot was especially easy to come by: charcoal from burned trees, crumbled into black, lumpy powder.

For now he’d keep it in the small clay pots he’d hand-molded and kilned. The kilning process required a low-level-- for chakra flames, at least-- fire applied in a steady stream over a period of hours .

It was such an excellent stamina builder that he was amazed afterward, nearly exhausted each time. Jutsu usually needed sustaining for seconds or minutes, at most.

He carefully took the makeshift pot off the fire with the animal ingredients and water happily combined, about half the water having boiled away. If he let it keep going, he’d get glue. Hot, hot glue that would solidify when it cooled down.

Like this, he could add the soot-- and he did, throwing a few handfuls in, and stirring with a sharpened, heat-hardened stick-- and have nearly two quarts of ink.

Pouring chakra into it had to be done at a constant level, or the ink would be unevenly infused, and Harry worked hard to keep the influx consistent as he finished the process.

Only when he somewhat messily got the ink into the individual pots did he cut off the flow with a sigh.

Once the high of success had worn off, he was forced to admit that his seal repertoire was extremely limited to what he had perfectly memorized. And while seal masters as he’d once been did have an extremely good understanding of seal components, and he’d memorized the lot of individual symbols used in them like an alphabet to Jiraiya’s satisfaction, he’d had books and handwritten notes.

Even seals that he’d invented himself he’d have trouble recreating exactly, because every seal master worth his salt, no matter his level of experience, made sure to carefully check his work against a perfect copy of the seal before activating it.

The good news was: through trial and experimentation, he could probably get close enough , and then refine them until they were as he remembered.

But without his dictionaries of the language of seals, every single thing he’d do would be risky as all hell. He’d basically have to reinvent fuinjutsu from the basics.

It would be an undertaking of ridiculous difficulty.

Probably it was a good thing he’d never lacked for stubbornness, courage or ambition.

Chapter Text

Come January, he was backtracking to the beginning. Numerous close calls and explosions had led him to this point. He dropped all his notes in disgust and pulled close a notebook he’d begged off a teacher.

Loose leaf paper, construction paper, and dropped pencils and pens were not hard to come by in a school. He’d boiled some glue for the express purpose of making a good dozen rudimentary animal-hair brushes, surprisingly versatile, and used his chakra ink sparingly.

Chakra ink gave better results for its seals. They lasted longer and rarely malfunctioned. Regular ink-drawn seals had to be infused with chakra afterward and could only be used right in that moment-- the different between filling a cup 99% of the way and adding the 1% with a thought, and filling a cup 100% over the course of a couple minutes and then running like hell, because your countdown had already started.

A seal made by a seal master would activate with barely the touch of chakra to activate it-- the sealing scrolls, exploding tags, and other standard ninja gear required pre-charged, infused-ink created seals to use at a moment’s notice in battle.

Still, they had to be tested exhaustively , because a seal drawn in chakra-ink was going to go off once activated-- Sage help you if the effect was wrong, or the array ill-conceived.

That said, regularly inked seals had one benefit: you could draw eight versions of a rune that all looked vaguely right, barely a millimeter in difference, rip the page into eight pieces, and hand each piece to a shadow clone to feed a portion of chakra into to see the results.

From an entire mile away.

Pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, ow, shit .

Harry resolved to make a dictionary of carefully affirmed base alphabet runes to have a foundation for experimenting. You could reconstruct a smoke bomb seal for three weeks and never succeed once if even one of the lines was drawn the tiniest bit off.

Even with hundreds of shadow clones, it took until mid-April.

He hadn’t even tried arranging them together , yet.

Chapter Text

In May, Harry begins healing his own injuries. He sets over a dozen shadow clones a day to grabbing fish and keeping them alive, which quickly adds up.

By June he begins keeping a low level genjutsu of his own appearance up at all times. Eventually he’ll be able to maintain it in his sleep, and soon after that, he’d be able to give the genjutsu something to hide.

The Strength of a Hundred seal takes years to form, being constantly fed chakra with immaculate control. When he reaches the level of chakra control to begin the process-- that is, when he is able to control all the chakra in his body and decide exactly where it will go-- the nature of his chakra will change. He’ll direct most of it into the burgeoning seal, but the other portion-- the portion he leaves himself-- will be controlled just as precisely.

It’s that perfectly controlled chakra that he’ll be able to send to his bones and muscle tissue in the meantime; it’s that precise command of his own energy that will let him hit with the strength of a hundred men.

Of course, most medics have a limited reservoir of chakra to work with. Sakura certainly did; she had to stow away a majority of her chakra for three years to bring to bear the amount of chakra Sasuke had at any given moment, that Naruto had in one finger.

Harry had shadow clones to streamline the process of perfecting his chakra control, and a damned sight more chakra to be sealing away.

He’d feed twice as much chakra as Sakura fed into the seal every day, and have a jounin’s perfectly controlled pool of chakra left over. The extra chakra he often shoved into a technique as Naruto and Sasuke, past the success threshold, which dissipated into smoke, explosions or nothing when a technique was used, would be virtually nonexistent.

He would do what so few ninja could, or would dedicate the time to do: truly master a jutsu, so that he put in only as much chakra as needed to be successful and not an iota more.

Chapter Text

On the last day of school, Harry climbs back up to the top of the building and waits for the sun to set. He has a shadow clone down below, but wants to see this himself.

He has a summer spread out before him, wide like a sea of opportunity, and while it still tastes like freedom, he has begun to wonder what he’ll do in this world devoid of chakra.

He was a Kage once, and a Kage sleeps under his skin still-- but what is a Kage without a village to protect? What is he, if not a shinobi of the Leaf?

Once, Harry was the second coming of the Sage of Six Paths. He was an ANBU captain and Nanadaime and all of that, all that means, is rolled up within him culminating in a sense of glorious purpose, an unknown but weighty destiny waiting to be carried out, but Harry himself is merely--

lost.

Chapter Text

Harry clambers upright in bed, eyes squinting into the darkness. There’s a sharp rapping-- Aunt Petunia-- on the closet door. His cot is warm under him from a night’s sleep.

He blearily makes a cross with his fingers. A body double of him appears in the cramped space, making it seem even smaller before it dispels itself, sending the knowledge of his awakening to a forest full of clones.

Today was one of the rare mornings where he was in the cupboard for the night instead of a clone, and the reason why was obvious-- Aunt Petunia was urging him up, up, up, because it was Dudley’s birthday .

“I’m up!” He calls, pulling on clothes. He has precious few pairs, shoved under the cot that he is honestly getting too big for at this point.

“Mind the bacon!” She yells, because she’s too busy cooing over her spoiled son to cook for him.

Harry’s only previous experience with aunts and uncles and cousins is his faint memories of Uncle Obito, overshadowed with the half-mad specter of him that had recency. Shisui was more like a second older brother than a cousin, and the others were the clanmates whom you saw, but only really interacted with at holidays.

(He remembers every name, every face, purposefully held onto for weeks and months after an idiot grief counselor offhandedly remarked that he might forget. Even now he could chant them, sketch the lines of their faces, furious practice making perfect).

The grief of his brothers-- and clan-- is surprisingly removed, Harry thinks as he turns the bacon. He doesn’t dodge the pops of grease so much as use it as practice to direct healing chakra without his hands. The mourning is there, and will likely never leave him, but in life it was a constant, terrible weight. He carried it with him in everything and every place.

It might be the years between the massacre and him now. It could also be the cleanse of reincarnation, creating some sort of buffer with his three other selves: Harry, Naruto and Sakura. Or so too could it be that the loss doesn’t stand out overtly when compared to the loss of his world, and his village, and the knowledge that everyone he’s ever known in all three lives are ostensibly dust or, worse-- never having existed in the first place.

He minds the bacon.

Dudley screams about getting one less present than last year and his parents swear to make it up to him, which only reminds Harry about his own birthdays, the quiet ones as Sakura before she was a jounin, and the handful as Naruto as he aged in that perfect, golden bubble of time with Jiraiya, and the countless as Sasuke that passed without notice because no one was alive to celebrate them.

Breakfast is served. Harry hurriedly eats before the table can actually collapse under the weight of the gifts.

By a twist of fate, Harry is allowed to go the zoo with them, which promises to be at least interesting -- what animals has he not seen from this life?-- but not as interesting or otherwise more preferable to leaving a shadow clone with the cat lady neighbor and having a free day.

The car ride is slow, dismal, and Dudley and his friend pelt Harry with spitballs while he can’t move from his seat. The opportunity is one they should cherish, because they never catch him now on the school yard.

Once there, the animals are mildly entertaining. Harry is fascinated by the size of the tigers. They’re so small! He’d always been told that the tigers in the Forest of Death were larger than normal, but surely not to such a degree?

How absurd!

Do they even taste the same?

He’s wandered away from the Dursleys to see them, which presumably they could care less about so long as he managed to stay relatively near them-- Sage help him if he wasn’t right there to get in the car when they decided to leave-- and Dudley and his friend finally cottoned on to him having some measure of enjoyment from his day.

Naturally, they had to intervene. While the adults were busy by the aquarium, not quite out of eyesight, Piers and Dudley came over to heckle him and the nearest tigers.

“Could eat you in one bite, tosser.” Piers says, sneering.

Harry snorts. Hardly.

“Oy,” Says Dudley, king of the world today. He steps forward to shove at Harry’s chest. “Think you ought to apologize for the attitude, Potter.”

“Thinking? ‘Suppose you put forth the extra effort for your birthday, then?”

Dudley went red in the face. He puffed up, looking around and then looking forward. He was a bully, but a careful one.

His parents were looking at each other, not the three of them. As they talked, Uncle Vernon glanced over dismissively, and he and Petunia stepped into the aquarium. They wouldn’t go far, not with their precious Dudders outside, but for the moment he was completely unsupervised.

A young couple turned the corner with a stroller, making them-- for a few moments, anyway, in somewhere so crowded as London Zoo-- alone save for a busy janitor a ways away.

“Think we ought to teach you some manners, Potter.” Dudley says, large and angry.

Piers flows in beside him like a rat terrier, nipping heels to Dudley’s bulldog bark.

“Yeah, Potter.” He says, rat nose pinched and eyes excited.

Harry isn’t particularly worried about getting injured or even humiliated by his cousin and their agemate, no matter how good they are at bullying and terrorizing other children. They’re still untrained civilians, after all.

Not that any action he could take can be overtly abnormal. Even when he’s not responsible for weird things happening, his Uncle likes to use it as confirmation of his ‘freakish ways’ and beat the snot out of Harry.

Harry kind of chalks it up to them noticing something off about him, as careful as he is to hide his differences. They only use his abnormalness as the excuse they need to be inexcusable child abusers, anyway, and when Harry is free of them he’ll make damned sure they don’t have another child in their care for any reason.

Dudley crowds Harry back to a little nook-alley behind the tiger territory, an alley used for maintenance and cleaning staff to get around and not meet with the touring crowds. There’s a steel door built into a zookeeper-only building and the muffled sound of some machinery.

“Nowhere to run now, you little freak!” Piers chimes, uncharacteristically bold as he darts in and makes to slap the side of Harry’s head. Harry sees it coming, debates whether to dodge out of the way or wait for Dudley’s inevitable, more brutal punch and--

Black.

Chapter Text

Sometime later, through the blackness: pain.

Pain.

A wave of gut-clenching nausea and heat-focused pain .

Harry focuses his chakra there without really thinking about it, identifying the source of the issue as the back of his head. Blunt force trauma, some part of him interjects helpfully, except he can’t think through the urge to retch.

He wakes, as a shinobi is trained to wake, without changing his breathing patterns or twitching.

It’s an obvious field asset to not let on to your captors that you’re conscious, to take stock of the situation and plan your resistance or escape.

Prisoners of war are an inevitable consequence of war, after all, and the ninja villages had seen a lot of wars.

It’s not meant to be anything but a last resort, but even genin are trained to deal with being prisoners of war. Training to bear torture and keep Konoha’s secrets is reserved for chunin and above. Genin are both not told anything of import, due to rank, and also, thusly not likely to be spared in an assault. If they’re universally worthless from a captor’s standpoint, then they’re universally slaughtered.

Granted, genin get paired with jounin to prevent that sort of thing.

Sounds.

Harry listens carefully to the room. Civilians have virtually no chakra to trace, but-- like lightning bugs. Not even a candle’s flame, dim and a step away from winking out. His cousin’s is near, and so is Piers’, but he can only tell the latter’s identity from the sound of a whimper.

He is slammed into the reality of the situation when he notices the thin plastic around his wrists, bound behind his back. The floor is cold under him, polished wood. A fire crackles in the room. There are no ninja in this world, and one has not popped out of the woodwork to accost him.

No shinobi would tie a prisoner-- and certainly not with their hands together, able to form hand signs. They’d use seals, somehow, or the rarer chakra-resistant metal. An academy student could escape from physical bonds like mere rope. It’s a technique so banal D-rank doesn’t even suit.

If nothing else, they’d use common ninja wire, razor edge daring you to move so much as a muscle.

Soon, his nausea fades. The sickening pain is gone, though he’s a bit tender there.

Somewhere near is a civilian who’d kidnap three children.

But not, Harry’s senses tell him, in the room.

“Piers,” Harry dares to whisper, because he hears no sound from Dudley.

The boy screams weakly, and there’s a scrambling sound.

“Piers!” Harry whispers more insistently.

“H-harry?” The boy croaks, and they both pause for fear of being overheard.

“How long has he been gone?” Harry questions, right to the point. He shoves up to his knees, awkward due to the binding, and puts his weight on his heels.

A quick visual survey shows they’re in some sort of cellar. Piers is across the room from Harry, bound similarly. Dudley lies unconscious next to him.

There’s a fireplace, crackling sinisterly, the only warmth in the room.

“We’ve been kidnapped!” The boy sobs. “H-he--”

“Piers!” Harry says sharply, snapping him out of it. “How long has he been gone? Has he been to check on us? When?”

“I-I don’t know how much time ‘as passed!” The boy wails.

Stairs leading up and to a door. Harry’s ankles are zip-tied. The idea of a man coming near enough to tie him would likely be more distressing if he hadn’t woken expecting enemy nin.

He’s not proficient enough with many jutsu to do them without hand seals; it wasn’t the focus of his training. He’d been aiming to get at least to where his counterparts had been at his age, if not further, in terms of skillsets and physical fitness.

E-rank jutsu, though, are something special. He’s never even practiced in this body.

He bends his fingers just so and slips out of the bonds with ease. It takes the barest flex of chakra.

The zip ties fall to the ground. Harry stands, rubbing his wrist. There’s a bruise blossoming on the back of Dudley’s head, visible through his short blonde hair. Piers is a cowering mess, to be expected of a traumatized ten year old.

Because the ten year old in question will undoubtedly give a true account of what he sees, Harry carefully molds chakra with hand signs. He has Piers’ complete attention, so it’s not hard to weave the genjutsu.

Genjutsu against other shinobi are designed to be hard to spot; you wouldn’t just make them really drowsy without warning. It would be a clear indication that an illusion is afoot, and they’d take control of their chakra to release it immediately.

Civilians, though, have no recourse. Their best bet is to stay out of shinobi business or, if they have garnered the wrong sort of attention, hire opposing shinobi for protection. Money is what turns the wheel, after all.

Piers falls asleep in seconds. Harry regrets that he’ll have cause to doubt his own memories, later. It seems unnecessarily cruel to distress a civilian so.

However, under the circumstances... it is definitely a mercy.

Harry moves to heal Dudley, only to be distracted by the doorknob turning. Well, no need to make this overly complicated.

It’s childsplay to get back down as he was before. His zip ties go under his bulk to hide their existence, and his arms and legs go back under him to hide their absence.

All three children are, for appearance’s sake, unconscious.

Harry hears the guy moving, clumsy with lack of training. His footfalls make noise. He shuffles around, keys jingling, and generally making so many small noises that Harry’s eyelid would twitch if he’d let it.

The idiot goes for Dudley first, which is fortunate for him. Piers wouldn’t wake up and Harry wasn’t asleep. Dudley groans as he’s jostled.

“Hey, shshsh. It’s fine. Everything’s fine.” His voice is-- honeyed, almost. The tone he uses sends chills down Harry’s spine.

Were Kurama with him, he has no doubts what kind of emotions they would sense from this human.

The sound of metal on metal; a pocket knife being opened. Harry glances up and sees him kneeling, prepared to cut Dudley’s ankle ties. The boy is still out cold, but twitches a bit.

Harry throws chakra into a kawarimi, something he’d practiced doing sealless in the forests all year. It’s a line of sight trick, and his senses blur for an eighth of a blink before he’s in Dudley’s place and Dudley is in his.

The knife is in the man’s hand. Harry grabs the man’s wrist, breaks it ruthlessly, and closes his fingers around the weapon. The man can only scream in anguish.

“Are their any other children here?” Harry says, but he can see the man doesn’t actually fear him. It’s in his eyes. Or more specifically, the folds of skin at his eyebrows, around his eyes, and around his mouth. Emotions are obvious even to the undisciplined. Harry notices shock, yes, and pain-- but the psychopath thinks he can reason and manipulate Harry into putting the knife down.

The man has practice preying on children.

Harry slits his throat in one motion, careful to put the force necessary behind the blow. It’d be messy if he had to go back and cut deeper, just because he overestimated his reach and strength.

Of course, it’s messy to begin with. Harry nimbly dodges out of the way of the fountain of blood, ignores the gurgling, and drag’s Piers’ unconscious form out of spurt radius.

Dudley is stirring. Harry quickly drops Piers and lays hands on his cousin, glowing with the green of iryou-ninjutsu. The dazed quality in his eyes vanishes to leave stark terror. He immediately vomits, which is unfortunate, though Harry does manage to angle his head so that none of the spray hits either of them, or splashes back to their clothes.

He has half a plan formed, and takes action to ensure it’s success.

But first he needs his cousin coherent.

“Dudley!” Harry snaps, in a no-nonsense voice. He focuses on the healing as his cousin weakly protests. At the exclamation, he stops.

Harry lets his chakra carefully repair the damaged blood vessels and, even more delicately, reduce the swelling in his brain. A concussion, then, and without the sacrifice of hundreds of fish in two lifetimes Harry wouldn’t have the med-training to fix it.

Finished, Harry drags his cousin away from the vomit. Between the blood and sick, the room has become rapidly smaller.

“We were kidnapped,” Harry says, whispering. “That man over there-- he came at me with a knife. I got it away from him and cut him.”

What ?” Dudley demands, reeling from the quick healing and improbable situation. He looks and sees the corpse, though, and goes about five shades paler.

“Oh my god,” He says, and then he sees Piers.

“Don’t worry, he’s only asleep. I checked him first.” Harry is quick to reassure. “Let me get his ties, though.”

Dudley looks down at his own zip-tied hands in shock.

Harry brandishes the knife, a good several inch blade, though not weighted at all for throwing.

It’s the work of seconds to yank it through the zip ties. With the boy unprotesting, he even manages not to nick flesh.

“Untie me next!” Dudley says, despite his eyes wide with fear at the knife. Harry does so, a lot more carefully, but the knife brushes the meat of his palm at the last second and Dudley howls.

“You cut me!” Dudley wails, fist swinging. Harry has to grab him to stop him from getting his own blood everywhere. He takes his cousin’s arm, pulls a bit to make him stop struggling, and lays one green-glowing hand on Dudley’s.

“W-what are you doing!?” His cousin demands.

“Your parents always call me a freak, right?” Harry says, sticking with the simplest answer. “It’s because I can do things-- superpowered things. Like move fast and fix cuts with-- with magic.”

“Magic.” Dudley repeats disbelievingly. The proof is in the way his cut closes shut, though, and his eyes widen with realization.

“Magic!” He exclaims. Harry is frankly surprised his cousin isn’t horrified. Then he realizes that despite the fear and hatred his parents tried and nearly succeeding in instilling in the boy, they’d made one mistake.

He had spent the last few years watching things like Dragon Ball on the telly, and playing violent, fantasy-inspired video games on the shiny systems they’d bought him.

To Dudley, and most kids with their upbringing, magic was simply cool .

There was also the fact that he was numb and shocky, from waking up disorientated and the quick healing; his body had already flooded his systems with ‘injury! Pain! panic!’ messages, which the healing didn’t completely stop.

“W-what do we do?” Dudley asks, and to his credit he looks resolved to action. He stumbles to his feet and stands next to Harry.

“I’m going to heal Piers, but leave him asleep, and we’re going to teleport out of here like it never happened.” Harry decides firmly.

There’s duct tape residue on Piers’ mouth. Apparently, he wasn’t knocked out like Harry and Dudley. Harry does a full-body scan with chakra and is relieved to see that despite the anomaly, there’s no indication he was hurt while Dudley and Harry were knocked out.

Still, he lets pure chakra burn away the residue and heals the stress on his wrists from fighting the zip-tie.

“Just-- just appear back at the Zoo?” Dudley questions, and Harry nods.

“I don’t know how much time has passed--”

“Forty five minutes.”

“What?” Harry turns to his cousin in surprise.

“Forty five minutes,” Dudley repeats, with a shrug. He waves his wrist-watch for emphasis. “Mum told me we were going to eat at noon, and it was eleven then. It’s noon.”

And she’d told him that a little bit before they’d gone to look at the gorillas, right next to the tigers.

“That’s brilliant, Dudley,” Harry tells him honestly.

Piers is properly healed.

“We’ll have to let him think it’s a bad dream,” Harry admits. “I don’t know how to erase memories or anything.”

“We can say we wandered off, and got lost, and he fainted,” Dudley suggests, before looking surprised at his own suggestion.

“Right.” Harry says, and: “Stand back.”

Dudley scrambles to obey. When both his cousin and Piers are safely behind him, Harry brings his hands together and then his fingers to his lips. Fire is born, blisteringly hot; it surges forward in a controlled cone, which Harry directs at the ground in front of them.

Fire splashes off the tempered floor, but incinerates the vomit on contact. A slight rancid odor permeates the air very briefly, until even that is burned away.

Harry cuts off the stream abruptly.

Behind him, Dudley is wide-eyed and impressed.

“Oh my god, you can use magic ,” Dudley manages. His voice seems to leave him after that.

Harry encourages Dudley to bend down so they can load Piers onto his back-- Dudley grunts but shoulders the weight, though he is unable to straighten fully.

“Okay, ready? Now remember, we’re going to appear at the zoo.”

“And we went to go look at another exhibit, but we got lost. And then Piers fainted, and we didn’t know what to do.” Dudley sounds winded. The wobbling lip he adds to the distressed voice will almost certainly sell the performance.

“No matter what, you can’t tell them the truth,” Harry points out. “Even if they don’t believe you.”

“I’m not dumb ,” Dudley protests, and Harry bites the inside of his cheek. Eleven years old, he reminds himself.

“Then get ready. Are you ready? Okay. One, two--” The world disappears in a swirl of green leaves.

Shunshin is a jounin favorite. It requires a location in mind that’s not too far away and about ten times the chakra of a kawarimi. You do have to expend significantly more chakra to teleport two civilians, though, and Harry is a small bit winded as he and the other two pop back into bright sunshine.

The leaves settle around them just as a search party comes around the corner.

Petunia shrieks like a banshee and runs-- bodily runs -- to her son. Mother and son ease Piers down and through tears, Dudley yells, “Oh, Mum, I was so scared!”

Harry’s entire body tenses like a livewire. He thinks, you little shit --

“We were lost!” Dudley wails, and gets out bits and pieces through the crocodile tears that he’s spent years perfecting. Petunia comforts him gamely, likely still terrified that the worst had happened-- for good reason, apparently-- and mindful of the crowd of adults, Harry pastes on a look of miserable confusion giving way to relief.

Chapter Text

Dudley’s birthday is so terrible that his parents feel the need to make up for it. They plan a summer vacation and let Dudley pick out all the details. There is a small hesitancy there, however, where once there was none. 

He looks to Harry when his parents aren’t looking. He glances over to see how Harry reacts to things, to catch Harry’s expressions. Harry, for his part, is caught off guard by this new development. He rolls with it. 

“How does it work?” Dudley asks, as they’re sitting in the backyard. Aunt Petunia is in the house, likely reading a tabloid rag or watching the telly, and they’ve been released to play for the evening-- or in Harry’s case, stay out of sight and out of mind. 

Harry stops to think about it. He’s had to explain and teach it before, of course. 

“It’s called chakra,” He explains. “It’s life force. The physical energy of your body, from your cells, combined with the energy of your mind and your spirit. You combine it into one force and it becomes stored in your body. As you use it up, more physical and spiritual energy combine to fill the reservoir.” 

“Use it up?” 

“It flows through you like blood, and if you direct it to your hands you can make hand seals. The hand seals--” Harry demonstrates-- “Allow you to use the chakra. The seals direct how it comes out, either to do a basic ninja technique, like switching places with an object, or to turn it into one of the five basic elements.” 

Dudley clumsily tries to imitate the seals. Harry walks him through the typical handsigns. 

“Each technique, or jutsu, uses a certain amount of chakra. If you use too much, you’ll die.” 

“What!?” 

“Chakra is made of life force. If you use up all your reserve of chakra too fast, your body naturally tries to shove your cell’s energies into spiritual energy to replicate it. Then you use that emergency amount, and soon there’s no energy left in your cells. Chakra exhaustion leaves you in a physical coma-- you usually almost always have more spiritual energy than physical energy, so physical energy has to replenish. Extreme chakra exhaustion is fatal.” 

Dudley processed that. Harry gave him time. 

“How do you know all this?” His cousin asked. 

Harry paused. Considered. 

“I have all my memories from a past life.” He admits. It’s easier than saying his three past lives. 

“What, seriously?” 

“I remember learning all this in school. The school I went to as Naruto, I mean. An academy for ninjas.” 

Dudley stumbles over the name and then his eyes widen dramatically. 

“You’re a ninja?” 

“Is ninja better than magician?” 

“Ninjas are awesome,” Dudley informs him seriously. “What was your Nar-- Nal--” 

“Naruto?” 

“Yeah, that. Your life before. You were a ninja? 

“I lived in a whole village of ninja,” Harry confirms. 

“Well, where are the ninja villages now?” 

Harry feels his throat tighten, clears it to speak. 

“I don’t know. As far as I can tell, everything is different. It’s like hundreds of thousands of years have passed.” 

They spend an entire afternoon talking about it, and then every afternoon for weeks, which finally culminates into running through the neighborhood, just to give Dudley some muscle-- teaching a civilian to mold chakra is dangerous enough with them having an excess of physical energy to draw from.

Chapter Text

Harry James (Haruno Uzumaki Uchiha) Potter gets a letter addressed to his birth name, written on thick parchment-- not the cooking paper, but fancy stationery made a few hundred years back, the kind you’d see in museums on school trips.

It’s got a wax seal and everything.

Harry feels her head tilt a little, eyeing the bird that delivered it warily. She ignores the way her heart pounded to see it, a messenger-- well, not hawk, obviously.

It’s an owl, and who had thought to tame those? And not a summons, either, she decided after trying and failing to get it to talk.

They’re in London and Harry is out on the balcony of their hotel room-- has been, for hours, just watching the sun set. The wind feels nice-- like freedom. Like standing on a mountain and remembering the power of a star in her hand. Like being crowned Nanadaime while overlooking the village, deafening cheers ringing out.

This balcony isn’t that high, and the streets and heartbeats of Konoha aren’t spread out before her. She clenches her fist. The owl hoots dolefully at her.

Harry opens the letter.

Dear Mr. Potter , it starts, which makes her eye twitch briefly.

The letter had been unerringly addressed to Harry J. Potter, Outside Balcony, Room 306, followed by the precise details of her hotel.

Probably it means she’s being watched. It’s hard to care.

You’ve been invited ...

Her eyebrows creep up her forehead as she reads.

Harry finishes reading, slightly incredulous. She finds the owl patiently waiting.

Satisfied it will stay-- we await your owl -- she dances back through the glass door and heavy blinds.

“Dudley!” She says. “Could you bring me a pen?”

Hotels have free pens and stationery laying around, don’t they?

“Yeah!” Dudley comes back.

Petunia and Vernon are on a date, and they with strict orders not to leave the hotel suite. Luckily, it is a suite. Vernon and Petunia have the master bedroom, Dudley and she the twin beds in the much smaller room off the small living area.

Dudley hands her the pen and pulls the blinds back so he can see what’s going on.

She registers his sound of astonishment as she flips the parchment to it’s back-- pocketing the equipment list-- and presses hard to make a reply, using the scrawny railing as a writing surface awkwardly.

To whom it may concern,

The existence of magic is new to me. Please enclose more information. Please advise where I might purchase school materials. Assume I know nothing, which is true. Cannot accept invitation without knowing more about school & compare with other options.

Thanks,

H.J. Potter

It was short and the pen, a cheap bic, didn’t really want to write on the material. Probably a nice ballpoint would just glide across it, like a fountain pen in a fancy leather journal.

She blows over the words impatiently, making sure they’re not wet. A bit of shuffling lets her get the envelope in hand without dropping the letter over the side of the balcony.

It’s not raining, but deeply overcast. The wind suggests a storm is coming instead of the usual London drizzle.

She carefully scratches out the address, if it matters to a trained messenger-- bird-- and writes down HOGWARTS-- REPLY ENCLOSED-- DON’T HAVE MY OWN MESSENGER BIRD.

‘Owl’ was something she patently refused to write down.

She manages to get the letter back into the envelop and makes a one handed tiger seal, molding the tiniest bit of chakra to fire nature until her fingers are hot to the touch. She runs them over the back of the wax seal, which had simply come off the bottom of the envelope instead of breaking, and when it’s a bit liquidy holds it down.

There. She’s old hat at attaching letters to messenger bird legs, though the fact that this is a square envelope instead of a scroll changes the process a little.

The bird looks more amused than anything. She kinda feels like it’s mocking her.

“Shoo.” She says when she succeeds. “Go. Off to Hogwarts. Bring me their response.”

The bird hoots at her, but departs.

What would it have done if she’d been inside?

Dudley is waiting with a surprising amount of patience just inside the room. She wonders what that’s about, until it occurs-- she hasn’t not told him anything, as far as he knows. Answered every question, gave details, even volunteered information and told funny stories for the hell of it.

She was even teaching him, slowly and carefully, to mold chakra. It was an accelerated course from what most academy kids took years to learn, cautiously and gradually introduced to the concept, but outliers like her brother and Kakashi proved it could be done in a relatively short period of time-- though the time spent in academy was spent learning a lot more than molding chakra.

Kids in the warring clan era learned that just fine without an education system. No, the academy taught discipline and when to use jutsu, and history and teamwork and how not to die like sheep in the slaughterhouse the first time you see combat. It taught tactics . There was a reason the basic three jutsu were the basic three.

Plus: learning the basics was good for you.

However, Dudley probably wouldn’t be drafted into the frontlines of the next ninja war, so she modified the lessons a little bit.

“What was that about?” Dudley asks.

“I’ve been invited to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, apparently.” She says, glib.

“The what ?”

“Right? I don’t know. Maybe there are ninja out there after all, and they just... call themselves magicians now.”

“How did they know to invite you, then?”

That’s a... really good question actually. She frowns. Unless they had a massive quantity of people out looking for chakra users-- but no. She refused to believe there were that many, and honestly, she’d have sensed someone watching her.

“Seals, maybe?” She proposes, thinking of how she’d find more ninja in the world. Complicated, chakra-activated seals, put in the most populated areas, that would alert her if anyone used chakra in the vicinity?

But even then.

Dudley looks skeptical.

“I think you should ask,” He says seriously.

“I think even if I don’t end up going, I’m going to ask. And find out everything I can about these people.”

There’s a small chance this isn’t real-- that it’s an elaborate setup-- it doesn’t take chakra to train a messenger bird, after all-- but even so, she wants to find out who’s behind it. Who knows her-- his-- name, who knows where she is, who knows she can do things no one else can?

She’s going to find out.

“And, uh, not to be rude or anything,” Dudley starts.

She hums at him, still deeply pensive. He’s gained a healthy respect for her since finding out exactly what she can do, and started teaching him the basics of the same.

“Are you a girl right now?”

Harry looks down at herself, almost in surprise. The differences between an eleven year old boy and an eleven year old girl-- well, as team 7 they’d been great, but they’d also had crazy hair colors to differentiate. Her own body barely changes when she bothers to physically shift along that line.

Most of the time she doesn’t. In fact, she never has. Naruto rarely did. It’s just been an itch lately-- knowing she can’t wear one body over another. It’s annoying. Not needing to is one thing-- not being able to is another.

So she’d just... taken the opportunity. It’s nice. Not that great, honestly, but the small rebellion makes her smile. The amount of control makes her feel-- well, in control. Of her life.

“Uh.” She begins, wondering how to explain it to an eleven year old. He doesn’t even know she’s all of team 7 in one body.

“Naruto wasn’t always a boy. Sometimes he-- we-- were a girl, too. Sometimes we were both.”

Dudley blinked.

He took several moments to think that over. She’s been proud of him, lately, with how quick he’s picking things up. It takes him less effort to consider even mundane things nowadays-- he actually questions himself, and his actions, and puts thought into his words.

“Well,” Dudley starts, then frowns. “Is that a ninja thing?”

Dudley-- nowadays-- rarely means to offend, but his blunt honesty and careless questions would often toe that line with anyone else.

It’s an out. One she could take.

“No,” She answers.

“Huh. That’s cool. Can you teach me that jutsu?”

She laughs. Her cousin is simple, but in the best way.

“It’s really easy to get wrong. Maybe one day. You wouldn't want to be trapped with a girl’s body forever, would you?”

(Transformation jutsu is an S-ranked thing. It changes you on a cellular level and it’s dangerous  as fuck. Naturally, Naruto could do it easily as breathing).

His wrinkled nose is answer enough.

Harry applies a calculated burst of chakra with a thought. There’s no burst of smoke. That’s where the excess chakra goes, when one performs a technique, and with her control that’s just... not a problem.

Her body shifts with none the wiser, and she looks down without distaste. This body feels just as nice as the other. And even-- she doesn't need to, but she does anyway--

Harry puts his hand on the balcony door and shuts it firmly; they were letting the cold out.

He resolves not to think too hard about it, and just do what feels right, when it feels right. That’s definitely what Naruto had done, after all.

“Hey Dudley?” He asks, making their way back to the living room. The telly has the weather: a meteorologist confirms his suspicions about bad rain.

“Hm?” His cousin is busy rummaging through their snack supply for crisps.

“Do you think I’d look good with pink hair?” Dudley pauses, thinks on it.

“Like your friend Sakura?”

“Exactly like my friend Sakura.”

“Huh. I dunno. Maybe? It’d be neat. She could punch through mountains and stuff, right?”

Harry laughs.

“Yeah she could.”

And that’s that.

He runs his hand through jet-black hair musingly. Well, it certainly couldn’t hurt to try it out.

They watch the telly.

Chapter Text

Is he a fourth wheel for a terrifying group of people? Or is he, Harry, an amalgamation, the combined product of of the others? Sasuke + Naruto + Sakura = Harry?

Sometimes it’s hard to tell. He’d like to think he’s the sum of his own experiences, Sasuke and Sakura and Naruto reborn into one body with a resultant personality. Red and Blue and White make lavender.

Naruto and Sasuke were perfect foils; it showed then, when he was experiencing it. Now both personalities kind of blend into one argument, and his exasperation as Sakura slides forward. Probably. It’s a mix, and most of the time it just happens. He’s himself, a product of all his former lives. But if he thinks about it too hard, tries to isolate where each thought is coming from--- it has the potential to drive him insane.

So when he and Dudley sit at the park, waiting, he carefully doesn’t dwell on the mismatch of memories. He’s a shinobi of the leaf. He’s been a kage, an ANBU captain, a medic, a jinchuuriki. He’s stood on mountaintops because no one could stop him. He’s done a lot and survived most of it, so this won’t be a big deal.

Shadow clones were accompanying the adults to attend the vacation’s agenda. He’d originally planned to henge one of his clones to resemble his cousin; Dudley had another idea. Since Harry’d explained Dudley might never manage a clone on his own, he convinced Harry to do a chakra donation. It was highly advanced manipulation-- kinjutsu, no matter how Naruto used it like it was going out of style-- and Dudley’s face once the hand seal had done it’s job was something Harry wouldn’t be forgetting any time soon.

“Now I can remember what happens today,” Dudley had said, proud of his plan.

“Now we’re going to have to be quick,” Harry corrected. “That clone’s going to dispel in four hours; any more than that and the mental strain might hurt you.”

Dudley looked dismayed at the consequential time limit, but only briefly.

Magic!” He enthused, and Harry laughed.

So now they awaited the promised spokesperson.

Possibly it was a testament to his own arrogance, that he’d forgone clone guards set up on the perimeter. It didn’t feel like a trap. There was too much planning involved in the letters; the equipment list, the pointed language. It was too elaborate for a set up.

There was also the fact that if it was ninja related, if they did know anything about Harry, they’d know about his other selves, too. And they wouldn’t bring a spokesperson, or even a single, powerful individual. If they knew anything at all about Harry’s abilities, they’d bring an army-- or three.

Finally, a giant of a man shows up, trying and failing to look inconspicuous while also looking around-- obviously searching for someone, obviously over seven foot tall.

Wizards are giants,” Dudley hisses next to Harry, near bouncing in his shoes. He radiates excitement.

Harry ignores his cousin and waves very obviously to the giant. The man comes over with a beaming smile. It turns out he’s even bigger up close. He’s ten foot tall, but not like a beanpole-- more like you selected the picture of a normal man and tugged up by the corner. He’s wide around as well, proportional to a normal-sized person.

The overall effect is kind of stunning.

Dudley, beside him, is stunned.

“Hullo!” Calls the giant merrily, once in range. “Suppose yer the only eleven year olds who might expect’a strange man, means you must be the right ‘uns!”

Dudley grins up at this obviously magical man, enchanted. Harry rolls his eyes fondly at his cousin.

“Yes,” Harry says. “You’ll show us where to get the school supplies?”

“‘S what I came for,” The man agrees. “That’d be Rubeus Hagrid, Keeper o’ the Keys o’ Hogwarts, at yer service.”

“Hi, Mr. Hagrid. I’m Harry Potter. This is my cousin, Dudley Dursley.”

Hagrid beams down at him.

“Know jus’ who you are, young man. In fact, I got summat for you.” He begins to reach into his overly-large coat pockets, clearly searching for something.

“Really?” Harry is surprised. He’d remember meeting this man, he’s sure.

“It’s not every day yer young man turns eleven, you know!” Hagrid chortles. He finally pulls out a twine-tied box, pink in color.

“Might have gotten a little squashed on the trip,” The man hedges, but bends over at nearly the waist to present it to Harry.

Harry takes it, fingers numb with shock.

“Thank you,” He says.

He remembers getting birthday gifts-- not quite as other people, but not as himself, either.

He can be forgiven if his throat is a little tight.

Opening the box reveals a chocolate cake, with thick, tacky chocolate icing and the words ‘Happy Birthday, Harry’ in green.

“Baked it myself,” Hagrid says proudly. “Letters an’ all!”

Looking up, Harry sees the man is pink in the cheeks.

“Oh, wow!” Dudley says, leaning over to see. “My parents never got you a birthday cake!”

“Your parents are... your parents.” Harry rebuffs.

Dudley shrugs, like, fair.

Hagrid misses the entire exchange.

“Why don’t you carry this for us, and when we stop for lunch we can cut into it for dessert?” Harry proposes, regretfully offering the cake back up to the giant.

Hagrid takes it back easily enough.

Since Hagrid can’t fit in a taxi, it’s fortunate the place they need is nearby. Likely it’s why the correspondence-- professional and succinct-- gave the park as a meeting place.

They cross the street to the pub, Harry eyeing the exterior doubtfully. It’s not that shady pubs don’t have their uses-- shinobi had certainly favored them to cleaner establishments-- it’s just that the uses for shady pubs didn’t tend to be ‘school supplies’ unless the kid in question is learning the tricks of the trade as a genin.

“Do we have to go inside?” Harry asks, closer to his relatively defenseless cousin than strictly necessary.

“Er...” Hagrid pauses, looks them over, and lingers at their faces-- obviously young. Most pubs in England aren’t the bars Harry was familiar with once upon a time, in that they often have families and children inside. This one is particularly grim and seedy looking.

“We can go around,” Hagrid decides.

They go around, which in this case means ignoring the front entrance and going nearly all the way around, only to go in through a side entrance. It’s a door with three small steps that leads into a dark hallway.

One door leads into the pub proper. Another, the one they take, exits into a private, walled off alley.

A single brick tapped leads to the entire brick wall collapsing in on itself.

Harry, focused on Hagrid, sees not a twitch from the man.

Relaxing only slightly, Harry gestures and Dudley follows the man into a colorful and exotic bazaar, about a century out of date, and takes his first steps into the magical world.

Chapter Text

It turns out that the banks of the wizarding world are run by goblins (“Goblins, Harry!”) and asking, “I have a vault? Why do you have my key, Hagrid? Who gave it to you?” leads to a damn near riot.

Hagrid is ushered out of the bank while Harry and Dudley are ushered into an office. They sit in large chairs facing a large desk.

“Am I to believe you’ve never received any correspondence from Gringotts Bank?” A harsh-voice goblin demands.

“I’ve never received any correspondence from anyone before my Hogwarts letter,” Harry corrects, willing to let this play out however it will. The goblin has his vault key, quickly confiscated from Hagrid.

The goblin’s face gets even more pinched.

“That is highly unlikely, as you are Harry Potter. Cragsrock!” The last bit is a shout, unexpected and directed to the door.

Another goblin comes running in.

“Harry James Potter needs his account manager,” The first goblin snaps to the apparent Cragsrock. Cragsrock obediently runs off.

“If your account manager cannot explain this, Harry James Potter, I will personally see your vaults put to rights. Goblins do not tolerate incompetence.”

Cragsrock doesn’t come back. Instead, yet another goblin, presumably Harry’s account manager, comes shuffling in.

“Gnashtooth, why hasn’t Harry James Potter been receiving his monthly bank statements?”

“Has. Opens ‘em and everything.” The new goblin grunts.

“And his key?” The original goblin sounds mild, despite his furious countenance.

“Used it just last week.”

“So why,” It continues, “Did I just confiscate the key from a Hogwarts employee, Harry James Potter ignorant to his vault’s existence, let alone its contents?”

That makes Gnashtooth stand straighter.

“That is a very good question, my liege. By your leave, I will begin investigating immediately.” His diction transforms to the formal like a switch being flipped.

Both goblins, Harry realizes, are pissed at the very idea.

He thinks he likes these strange and shrewd, yet honorable folk.

The door slams shut behind the hurrying goblin, only to hit the wall again with a tremendous clamor a few seconds later. It’s Gnashtooth, wide-eyed and out of breath.

Dudley jumps badly.

Harry has to pause to let concentrated chakra ebb from his wrists back into his core. There’s steel clutched in his hand that he doesn’t drop immediately, though he does let his over-long sleeve cover it.

“You can’t possibly have found--”

The goblin interrupts his superior, blurting out the words so close together it takes Harry several dumb moments to parse the sentence.

If he doesn’t know anything about his property where are his house elves,” Gnashtooth gasps in one breath.

The goblin behind the desk looks from Gnashtooth to Harry, noting the panicked goblin and the boy’s wide eyes, the impact of the words not registering-- and why should they? Until now, Harry has never heard the term ‘house elf’ in his life.

“Fuck!” Swears the goblin.

Harry has the strangest urge to put his hands over his cousin’s ears. Harry might have memories of wars and mission camaraderie, whore-house infiltrations and worse, but Dudley-- sniggers. Dudley sniggers.

Harry turns to him, exasperated. Oh, right. Schoolyard nonsense.

“What’s a house elf?” Harry asks, instead.

The goblin behind the desk puts his head in his hands.

Chapter Text

The goblin behind the desk-- and that is really starting to irritate Harry-- sends Gnashtooth away firmly. Then he looks Harry dead in the eye.

“Call your elves, lad.” He says, voice strangely heavy.

“My-- what? How?” And to address the simmering confusion churning fast in his gut, “Who are you?”

“I am Grímnismál, son of King Ragnok. You are standing in my bank.” The goblin-- Grímnismál-- grins sharply, all teeth.

Harry can’t help but feel the gesture suits-- for name and temperament.

Almost immediately, the expression falls flat.

“House elves are a type of fey creature. Similar to how bowtruckles live in trees or gnomes live in gardens, house elves tend to wizard homes. They are fully sapient, despite needing a magical bond to live, and for millennia they have been making contracts with wizard families-- forging symbiotic ties of magic to keep themselves alive, while providing the wizards with wild magic in return. They are very powerful creatures.”

“I’ve never made a bond with a house elf,” Harry says, but his thoughts are already racing to--

Families.

Wizard families.

“I see by your expression you understand.” Grímnismál nodded. “What worries me is that if the Potter elves haven’t been able to contact you since the night of your parents’ murder--”

Every piece of glass in the room shatters.

“My parents were murdered!?”

Harry can barely hear himself over the clamor of his own heart, roaring painfully loud in his ears.

Grímnismál rears back, surprised, only to frown thunderously.

“No, please,” Harry manages to grit out, as the goblin opens his mouth. “The elves-- what were you going to-- you’re worried?”

Three times now Harry has lost his parents, then-- and can remember two, Kurama’s memories and his own, as Sasuke, painting vivid pictures. He burns to know what happened to the ones of this life, this time, and he will. Later.

Grímnismál looks mildly surprised he managed to overcome his emotions, but tamps it down to continue succinctly:

“I worry, with the time that has passed and no bond to sustain them, the elves may have perished in your absence.”

Harry hasn’t known of these possible elves long, mere minutes in fact, yet the idea hurts. He wants a family, wants it so bad, and the words ‘fully sapient’ and ‘magical symbiosis’ ring in his ears.

“What--” He starts to speak and has to swallow, tongue clumsy. “How would I know?”

Grímnismál grimaces.

“I don’t know the name of the head elf, though they should be in charge of the main Potter property, and your account manager should have received notification if-- well, your account manager should have been notified of a lot of things. This is a horrid mess.”

“Is there nothing?” Dudley asks, drawing both pairs of eyes to him. “I mean, nothing he could-- no way to feel some bonds, if they’re there?”

The blonde gulps.

“If you haven’t sensed any bonds on your magical core, heir Potter, I’m afraid it-- wait. You haven’t known any kind of magic in your years? No training, no meditation?”

Halfway through a frustrated condolence, Grímnismál’s voice adopts a hurried cadence, almost hopeful.

“No, not-- magical meditation.”

“That is horrible!” But the goblin sounds excited. “It’s entirely possible you just haven’t known how to look, lad. Reach deep and feel for your magic. Concentrate, now.”

Harry isn’t too fond of the notion of closing his eyes in a strange place, with possibly armed individuals all around and only Dudley’s well-meaning fists to watch his back. However, something about this-- all of this-- feels like a dream just out of reach--

Something he’s more than familiar with--

And if there’s anything he’s learned, it’s to trust his memories, reach further, and he does so, plunging his awareness deep into the pool of his chakra.

For a moment he has the disorienting sensation of missing each of his selves-- as Sakura missing Naruto and Sasuke to watch her back, as Naruto and Sasuke wishing the same, independent, and he misses the feeling of Kurama under his skin, stalwart protector, most of all--

With barely a thought, Harry turns his senses inward, trying to feel for anything--

Deeper than he’d ever delved before, deeper than he’d ever had cause to push his thoughts and deeper than he’d thought possible, and still would now, if not for focusing one mind, with the experience of three, well-familiar with the results that can come from channeling fierce hope into determination, to the task-- and letting himself fall deeper than his chakra, the pool of physical-spiritual-energy slammed together, waiting to be used-- letting him mind fall and catch itself and fall some more, like a barrier dissolving into awareness of spiritual energy, but something more--

He can’t figure out what the strange energy is so quickly, decides to just call it magic and move on--

Even if he had discovered this energy within himself, he’d be too caught up in the newness and rhythms of the glowing, swirling energy-- an energy he can only now pull his attention from for the desperation driving his search-- to discover anything relevant.

Now, so faint he almost misses them even with all that focus brought to bear, Harry senses-- something. His thoughts try to shy away from it, even as he frowns and concentrates harder. Even while directly attempting to parse the feeling, trying to locate the finicky strands--

Threads, basically--

Gossamer--

--Is like catching starlight: stupidly, absurdly difficult.

Finally, Harry manages to push through and very nearly hears an audible pop. The sensation isn’t unlike a magical pressure change in one’s ears, all mental resistance suddenly banishing. Harry belatedly realizes he’d wielded all that sparkling energy, used it for strength as he struggled and strained to just see the mysterious connection-- it had felt like catching a glimpse of something out of the corner of your eye, but turning caused it to vanish-- and now all that energy propels Harry past the point of former resistance.

He has half a moment to realizes there are energy tethers connected to this pool of his magic, dozens--

They pulse with light and life, all colors and

Rushing excitement, tears, joy horrorHope awe

A tide of emotions and Harry is kneeling, somehow

He

Dudley, yelling

Grímnismál’s voice, tone and volume irrelevant--

A small green hand, clasped in his, and a magic that feels like home and hearth, love and fire, libraries and live steel and family.

Harry gasps, clutching the hand like a lifeline.

It feels like he hasn’t inhaled in several minutes, though he knows it’s only been seconds at most.

He holds tight to the hand in his, probably too tight, but there’s a discrepancy, a tattered ribbon and a slow starvation and it resonates in Harry like a bell, has him shoving magic to the bond before he even registers the choice, instinctively wills some of his magic to the tether that binds them, sensing it grow from frayed to vibrant and strong.

The knowledge comes, then, that the elf would die without this connection to his magic-- that it’s all that’s keeping him alive-- even as warm, wild magic surges back along the bond, flaring it open even wider.

Huge eyes look to him, all he can see.

Magic rocks between them, an almighty tide, and Harry is aware of every atom of his body, it feels like: his chakra frothing a layer up like a crazed thing; under him, the hard bank’s floor; the air charged and hot on his skin and a tangled web of light around them, beautiful and bright.

Sebastian, thrums the connection as both sides bolster it.

“Sebastian, Sebastian, Sebastian,” And as their bond rings with it, Harry finds he’s been saying it aloud, half desperate, and at some point he’d dropped his kunai and sank to his knees, but can’t care at all because there’s an elf in his lap, small-strong hands thrown over his shoulders, and Sebastian is sobbing with joy and relief and gratitude, that sing through the magic they share, and bawling “Master Harry, Master Harry, Master Harry,” over and over again.

Magic glows on their skin and between them, though Harry has only eyes for the elf-- his elf.

He finds his own cheeks wet and there’s nothing he can do about it, nor can he do anything about the low fury that coils in his gut, white hot and sizzling, because he can feel it, there are-- the number jumps, unbidden to his mind-- eighty two bonds attached similarly to his core, all barely hanging on, and he reaches deep and shoves magic as gently as he can to every single one of them, nearly choking on the cacophony of tear-jerking relief that the elves feel, echoing back to him, as each one seizes his or her bond with him desperately and floods him with their magic in return, names and knowledge dancing in his magic, dancing in his skill, and he repeats them all out loud until his throat is hoarse, until he has no idea how much time has passed on his knees but they ache, and it is such a welcome ache, because he is whole and the bonds sing, healthy and happy and it’s a thousand times worth it.

When the lightshow dies down, it merely sinks into his skin, a faint glowing that seems to be sticking around for at least a few minutes.

Harry leans back from his painful kneeling and lands right on his ass in the goblin prince’s office.

He’s breathing heavily, but grinning as wide as he ever has.

The exchange both took heavily, from this new pool of energy-- his magic-- and revitalized it, stretching horizons and deepening, maybe?-- the breadth of the pool.

He’s sweaty, yet exhilarated.

Glancing to his cousin reveals Dudley is shocked.

Glancing at Grímnismál reveals the goblin is likewise shocked, one hand tight on his desk and the other reaching, abortively, in Harry’s direction. As Harry watches, he lowers the arm.

“Was that--” It comes out as a rasp, ineligible.

Harry tries again.

“Was that not supposed to happen?”

“Let me tell you about hereditary magic,” Grímnismál says, still staring. “And the legacy your parents left you.”

Chapter Text

Harry takes a breath, forcibly banishing tension.

“Sebastian, right?” He asks, though it’s completely unnecessary.

The little elf nods, small and shy. He can’t take his eyes off Harry. The elf looks older, wrinkles and laughter lines pulling at his features, but you wouldn’t know it from the way he moves or the colour of his hair.

“Tell the others I’ll be home soon.”

“It will be done, Master Harry.” He says, popping out.

Harry can still feel their bond, obviously. Even now he sends rivulets of energy to the tethers, worried if he stops he won’t be able to direct the magic again, as well as to make up for lost time. The bonds still feel unacceptably thin.

He gives himself just one more steadying inhale before he picks the ring up from its velvet lined box. Part of his brain is tripping over who last wore it, getting caught over and over again on the fact that his father’s skin had touched it, that DNA probably still lingers on the inside of the band.

Part of him wants to grab a swab.

Don’t be stupid, he chastises absently. They’ve got to have bodies somewhere, if that’s what we’re worried about.

Harry shakes off the idea and slips the ring onto his third finger.

Magic crashes down like lightning on his shoulders.

“Jesus fuck!” He screams, has to bite down on his tongue to muffle more screams into groans, barely keeps his feet.

The weight of it is heavy and unyielding, a wildfire engulfing him. His chakra network, so exhaustively trained over years, screams with pain as it pulses and flexes. It feels exactly like the delicate network is being flooded with water and that water is flash frozen, expanding out in a surge to force the pathways wider. Over and over again it thaws, and freezes, contracting and bursting outward to the beat of his own heart.

It burns, but Harry can hardly pay attention.

The secretive layer of untamed magic somehow beneath his chakra network, the one he hasn’t had time to study at all, is--

It feels like a vivisection, like his ribs are pulled open to reveal the core of him, and lightning is poured inside-- if lightning could also feel like molten lava and sunlight, ice and steel.

The new energy-- he belatedly realizes it is an energy-- coils and flexes in him, throwing things into hectic disarray, making his lungs seize and his blood scream and it’s like a storm--

It stops.

Harry’s skin feels raw. His chest aches, but when he focuses on that, his airways flex open and cool air sucks in. He feels like he’s been electrocuted, like every muscle in his body constricted at once and only expands now, several exhausting eternities later.

Son of a bitch, he wants to say, but can’t find his tongue.

A moment later, he dizzily realizes that might not be the best idea.

What he ends up saying is: “My skin feels raw.”

And new.

“Congratulations Lord Potter, your family magic has settled nicely.” Grímnismál notes, a hint dryly. “For now.”

For now?” Dudley demands, voice a higher register than normal.

“Yes, for now. Over the coming weeks it will settle in properly. You should stop feeling so shocky and vulnerable, then, as you open up to the breadth of it available to you. It may seem overwhelming, as it should-- you’re the only one to bear it. It will wait for you to mature physically as well as magically. Once you are able to handle it, the full measure of it will settle on you.”

“This isn’t it?” Dudley asks, horrified.

“Of course not. Usually one waits until at least their majority-- age seventeen-- to claim it. An heir is obviously connected to it from birth, like all children, but is meant to be gradually introduced. Even then, the Lord may live long and healthy; his son might be a grown man before he can expect to inherit. And, you must be aware, it is very, very rare that an Ancient and Noble family is reduced to one member.” He frowns at them. “Family magic is not meant to languish in such a way.”

Harry shuts the box with shaky fingers, the ring a heavy weight.

“I advise you take some time to adjust to the changes in your magic.” Grímnismál says.

Harry frowns.

“I’d only touched it the once,” He admits. “I doubt I’ll notice much difference.”

The goblin laughs. It’s startling. Both boys stare.

Harry shakes it off, turns to Dudley. He glances at Grímnismál.

“We don’t need to be anywhere special for the adoption, do we?”

The prince pauses.

“No, not technically. It would, however, be wise to wait until you’ve recovered from the claiming.”

Well, Grímnismál is the expert here on magic. Harry tells him as much, which causes the goblin to snort.

“Not hardly. You should meet my mother.” He grins at them.

“Speaking of,” Dudley says, almost tentative. “How long until we meet my parents?”

Harry pauses. He usually has a good sense of time. The various magical trials had basically ruined it, though. He has no idea how much time had passed on the outside.

“You have been within the Bank for just shy of two hours.” Grímnismál volunteers, unexpectedly.

“Thank you,” Harry is sure to say.

The goblin nods, looking mildly fascinated.

“Well-- if that’s all we need to do today--” he looks again to Grímnismál. “-- then I think we can meet back up with Hagrid and get my school supplies.”

“Is there anything else we absolutely need to know?” Harry asks the goblin.

“Yes, obviously, though nothing much that will help you today. You’ll need a wizarding solicitor for legal counsel, for one. Goblins make it our business to know much about law, but can’t legally represent you.”

He steepled his fingers together on the desk.

“Let’s see-- you needn’t be pressed for time on the Alley, as an elf can just as easily shop for you. I advise you purchase a lot of books and a wand, today, as that will be need to be done personally. You’re in desperate need of catch-up lessons for matters of managing your estate; you should have been learning the business of it from a young age. However, now that you’ve claimed your title, you have access to the family Grimoire. It includes accountings of your current vault holdings, investments and properties. Your head elf--Sebastian, was it?--should be able to tell you more about the individual properties and their locations. Elf magic surpasses whatever wards or spells might hide them.”

Harry struggled to take that all in. Fortunately, it seemed more-or-less straightforward.

“And the ring itself?” Harry finds himself asking. On his third finger, the ruby glinted.

“More than a status symbol. It will, to start, warn you if you’re about to ingest potion or poison and allow you to sign contracts or make purchases by pressing it to charmed parchment.”

“And the title?”

Grímnismál smiles. It’s not a nice smile.

“You need only introduce yourself as Lord Potter, the Earl of Gryffindor. It is a title you possess, after all. Deal with the rest later.”

Harry laughs, surprising himself.

“I’m not usually one to procrastinate, but I see wisdom in your suggestion.” He allows.

“If you receive an owl from Gringotts,” Grímnismál says, “Answer it immediately. The mail ward and any other hindrances were burned away from your magic with the claiming.”

“An elegant solution to more than one problem.”

“Yes, quite.”

Chapter Text

After books and a trunk to keep them in-- priorities-- Hagrid directs him to a shop for his uniform. He doesn’t know it, but a universe over a more nervous, less worldly version of himself is doing the same thing. Many, many things are different in this universe, though some still mirror.

He still needs school robes. Later, with a new world wide open before him, he’ll come back and buy more clothes that fit-- fancy clothes, casual wear, shoes and so many pairs of underwear that all his newfound properties might not even hold them all.

Harry Potter still steps into Madam Malkins’ robe shop in ratty, ill-fitting muggle hand-me-downs. He’s still alone-- Dudley, who didn’t need to be fitted, begged Hagrid to take him into the magical sweets store and Hagrid complied.

Harry Potter is still dressed poorly, even for a muggle, but a Draco Malfoy who has been bursting with excitement all day for Hogwarts shopping still doesn’t care, and strikes up a conversation.

When the woman-- witch-- in charge of the shop urged him up onto stool to be measured, there was already a blonde boy being helped. As Harry watched, Madam Malkin got him into an oversized, black set of robes and began sticking pins into them.

“Hello,” Said the boy. “Hogwarts, too?”

“Is there anywhere else to go?” Asks Harry, genuinely curious. Everyone he’s met today has assumed an eleven year old shopping must be bound to the school. An assistant comes over and begins the same process on him, coming with what seems like a tent’s worth of black fabric.

The boy takes it as a joke.

“Right? My father considered me for Durmstrang, but everyone in my family has been to Hogwarts. Tradition, at this point.” He laughs.

Harry has no idea what Durmstrang is, beyond apparently another school, and would love to know the traditions of his family. He wishes with some fervent desperation that he were in his cupboard with the Family Grimoire, already, and a handful of flames to read by. 

Instead, he spots a glint of metal when the boy waves his hand lazily. Before he can think of any suave way of asking, and with his claiming fresh on his mind and his magic, he blurts: “You’re a Lord, then?”

The boy starts in surprise, earning a sharp reprimand from the Madam.

“What? Of course not! I’m my father’s heir.” He shoves his hand, ring out, as near Harry as he can. His cheeks are pink, which Harry will later realize is because he’s flattered.

It’s a thinner platinum band, run through with sapphire etchings, and white-edged waves curling inward like vines.

Once he’s sure Harry’s had a good look, he wiggles his fingers pointedly.

“Imagine, an eleven year old Lord,” The boy says, as though such a thing is unthinkable.

And Harry, because some part of him is Sasuke, and therefore awkward, continues this trend of opening his mouth to speak without thinking, says:

“You kind of have to, if all your family’s dead,” and raises his right hand, knuckles out. A ruby glints there, heavyset, against mostly black with a bit of gold edging.

“I-- what--” the blonde boy who looks nothing like Dudley finally shuts his mouth, flushed hotly. “You’re Harry Potter.”

Finally, he’s not the one blurting shit out.

“I am,” Harry says, curious but mostly amused. He imagines this kid was socialized with his Peer peers from an early age, if it works anything like the nonmagical side of the country.

Probably there aren’t many orphans among that group, either.

“What are you dressed like that for?” Asks the boy, looking upset at-- Harry quickly figures out-- his own social blunder.

Harry’s only a fraction as embarrassed as he might otherwise be. He finds himself throwing the other, obviously flustered boy an out. It certainly can’t hurt to have apparently well-connected age mates, especially if they’re going to be going to school together.

(All of his past lives had ached for friendship as children, wanted it like winter ponds long for spring’s thaw, a choking cold dreaming of sunshine. He tries to ignore the chill in his bones begging for precious people and bonds, the ache that’s exacerbated by learning so much about his lost loved ones, today.)

“Well, I didn’t know about magic until today, see-- or my family, or anything.” He offers, easily enough. Humble is a thing he can be, especially if it opens up conversational avenues, shoves them onto a more equal footing.

Making friends is so hard.

His veins still feel stretched and bruised from the inside. He imagines this must be how older jinchuuriki feel-- the ones who, unlike he and Gaara, were their own people before a being of almighty power and energy was shoved into them, a too small skin to hold a hurricane.

Of course, instead of jumping on the opportunity, the boy frowns.

Shit.

“What do you mean you didn’t know about magic?” He sounds horrified.

Shit.

“I just got my letter yesterday,” Harry defends. This is like the goblins all over again. “It was my birthday.”

The boy starts to talk and then stops, looking upset. He takes a second to compose himself.

“That’s not right.” He insists. “You’re-- were, you were, the heir of an Ancient and Noble family. They can’t just-- it’s not right. You’ve got to know stuff so you can manage your House.”

“So the goblins tell me,” Harry says agreeably. He raises his hands in submission. “I’m going to figure out some way to get a solicitor. And a tutor.”

“Though,” Harry adds as an afterthought. “I really have no idea where to start.”

You don’t even have a solicitor.”

Mister Malfoy,” Madam Malkin says, tugging on the boy’s sleeve sharply. “I know Mr. Potter’s circumstances are alarming, but you mustn’t be shouting his business to the whole street this way. And don’t worry, Mr. Potter-- anyone in my shop will have discretion about what they overhear customers saying.”

The young woman who has been fitting Harry nods almost eagerly.

“Of course!”

But Draco isn’t paying attention to either of them, head snapping up as the overhead bell rings.

“Mother!” He shouts, and then everyone else is shouting too, including the ethereal woman in question-- “Draco!”-- as her son pulls free of Madam Malkin’s tender ministrations and runs over. She looks equal parts scandalized and fearful, reaching for her child.

For a moment a sour feeling wells up so strongly in his stomach it hurts.

“Mother, Harry Potter is just there and he doesn’t know about magic and he’s a Lord and he’s not been told anything and he-- we-- we’ve got to do something, it’s not right!” The boy is out of breath with righteous anger and indignity.

The woman, who is blonde and regal and beautiful, absorbs this all with wide eyes, but only a touch of shock otherwise betrayed by her features.

“Shsh, pet. Hush, darling, we’ll fix it.” She promises, running a hand through his pale gold hair.

Harry Potter has four lives between him and no memory of someone so immediately, forcefully and unconditionally on his side. Not even Sakura, who could remember her parents up until their deaths, was ever reassured so completely.

Mostly it was ‘hush, child’ or what a lady would do. Never a ninja. Never a person. Especially not so young. At eleven, Sakura had carved a name for herself into the academy, her genin team, and the village roster as a whole. Take me seriously, she’d demanded with breath and blood; this is who I am.

Draco reached for her and his mother reached back, without even knowing the issue, uncaring of the audience-- a show of solidarity that turned the ache into a throb, echoing the way his insides were still bruised from magic shoving in.

The sudden emotions weighing down were unexpected, though they shouldn't be. 

His heartbeat pushed blood through sore veins and it was obvious that, despite his cousin and the miracle of his elves, he’d never have this.

Parents who loved him.

Such a stupid thing to angst about, when he was a essentially a grown shinobi—powerful, strong and independent.

(Desperate for love.)

Chapter Text

Harry takes in a deep breath and shoves the useless regret for his situation away, pushing through it to focus on how he’ll react. That, at least, is familiar. A shinobi is nothing if not constantly ignoring personal drama for the sake of the mission.

(The part of him that is Sakura takes a hot second to stare at the other two, in a weird bit of disassociating that manages to lighten his mood, if nothing else.)

Madam Malkin is stood frozen. So is her assistant.

“Meredith, would you mind doing this the quicker way?” Says the beautiful woman.

“Narcissa, I can’t cast on a minor without his parents' permission.” Protests the short little witch in all-mauve, her gray hair, a quarter again as tall as she is, swaying along with her abrupt standing.

“The boy wears a Lord’s ring,” Narcissa points out. “He can give you permission himself.”

Harry, who would quite like to get out of this shop, nods before she can ask.

“Please do.”

Madam Malkin sighs and flicks her wand. Tape measures spring up and encircle him. Next, the black fabric flies off him and gray fabric wraps him up, spindling him and then unspindling him in a moment. Another, differently styled set in bright orange do the same.

“I’ve got your measurements, dear,” Madam Malkin says. “We charge 50 galleons for the full tailored Hogwarts wardrobe and all accompaniments.”

“You might as well get Draco that way, too.” Said Narcissa. “He’d not be able to sit still.”

“He was almost done,” Says Madam Malkin primly, though once more she flicks her wand and once more the fabric moves on its own.

They exchange gold and are assured their packages will be mailed. Once outside, Narcissa turns to Harry.

“Who are you here with, dear one?”

“Um. A Hogwarts representative showed me into the Alley. He’s with my cousin now in the ice cream parlor.” Harry gestures to the nearby shop.

“Cousin?” Draco asks. “But--”

“From Lily’s family?” Narcissa corrects, hushing her son once more.

Harry nods.

They enter the ice cream parlor. Narcissa zeroes in on Hagrid before he can say a word.

“Mr. Hagrid!” Says Narcissa, sitting down next to Dudley like they’re old friends.

Hagrid looks baffled.

“Uh, Lady Malfoy,” He says, ducking his head. His eyes catch on Harry and Draco and he smiles, confusion vanishing. “Ah, I see you’ve run inta our young man!”

“And I see you’re letting this young man spoil his dinner,“ Narcissa says, nodding at Dudley, though not unkindly.

“Jus’ a bit o’ a treat,” Hagrid argues. “Lad’d never tried it and we can’t ‘ave that.”

“Still, how about I treat us to dinner?” Narcissa glitters.

She is, Harry learns that day, impossible to say no to.

It’s only after they’ve all had a rather upscale meal that Harry turns to Hagrid and says, “How about that birthday cake now, for desert?”

“Oh, it was your birthday yesterday,” Narcissa says in surprise. There’s no question.

“Did you know I was there when you were born?” She asks, out of nowhere as Hagrid takes out the cake box from his numerous pockets.

Harry chokes on his soda.

“I suppose you wouldn’t. I’d just had Draco, of course, but Alice Longbottom-- your godmother-- and Lily were having tea with me. Both were heavily pregnant. Both went into labor on the same day, weeks earlier than they were due. Later, we joked that there must have been something in the water at the manor.”

Her eyes went misty.

“You wouldn’t know this, dear, but magical travel isn’t safe for women so late in their pregnancies. We couldn’t floo them, and we certainly couldn’t apparate, so I sent elves for my healer and their husbands, who could floo over. That’s travel by fireplace, my dear.”

Harry nodded. All four of them, even Draco, watched spellbound as she told the tale.

“Alice’s labor with little Neville was relatively quick and painless, as these things go. I was the first one to hold him while the healer handled Lily-- there were complications. You did give us such trouble coming into the world.” She teased him.

“Where is--” Harry couldn’t help but ask, throat tight.

“--Alice Longbottom?” Narcissa interrupted gently.

She sighed.

“Shortly after the Halloween we lost your parents, lingering followers of the dark lord broke into the Longbottom’s home. While they survived the attack, they were damaged beyond repair. They’ll be in a care facility their entire lives. Neville’s grandmother takes care of him.”

Draco held tight to his mother’s hand.

Hagrid looks like he’s crying, but took out the cake once more at Narcissa’s gentle prodding.

“It’s not much,” he sniffles loudly.

“I’ve never had a birthday cake before,” Harry reassures him, though it’s a bit of a lie. “I’m very excited.”

“I think it’s lovely.” Narcissa says, cutting it. “Though Harry, dear, you most certainly have had a birthday cake before. I’ve got the pictures somewhere. When you come by the manor, I’ll take out all the photos your parents sent me while you were in hiding.”

“I’d like that very much, Mrs. Malfoy.” Harry manages. “I’ve never seen their photographs.”

He wonders what they look like.

Narcissa stops with her fork halfway to her mouth, a delicate morsel of chocolate cake perched on top it. She sets it down, but her hand is shaking.

“Dobby,” She says, voice rather quiet. A little elf pops in immediately.

“Mistress,” He says, curtsying a little.

“Bring me a photograph of Lily and James Potter’s wedding-- any photo, so long as they’re both in it.”

The elf looks at Harry with wide eyes and vanishes, nodding.

“You don’t have to--” Harry starts, only to be interrupted yet again.

“Don’t be silly, of course I do,” Says Narcissa in a soft tone that brokers no argument. Harry tries a slice of cake. It’s delicious.

“It’s really very good, Hagrid,” Harry tells him. The giant of a man beams, tears prickling at his eyes. As a whole, the nostalgia seems to have gotten to the man.

Dobby pops back in with a handful of pictures.

“A variety, ma’am.” He says.

“Thank you, you may go,” Narcissa dismisses him absently.

She looks the pictures over with a shuttered expression and quick breaths, before visibly composing herself and handing them to Harry.

He looks at them and can’t breathe.

He didn’t have any image in mind of his parents, per se, and only vaguely supposed they must look like him.

“My mother had red hair,” He finds himself saying, and he’s arguably four times as old mentally as he is physically, but feels tears well up in his eyes.

“You have her eyes,” Narcissa tells him. He hardly hears her.

The pictures are moving.

And not just like a video, on a loop, but--

In the topmost image, a red haired woman with his eyes laughs hugely, smiling with all her teeth. There’s a man who looks almost exactly like Harry grinning stupidly, offering thumbs up to the cameraman or someone out of view. Both of them are completely wrapped up in each other.

Until they see Harry.

Then the woman points, eagerly, and the man smiles even wider. They both wave, cheerful and excited.

Harry drops the photos.

As they hit the table, they fan out, and he can see even more of them-- the two of them, facing each other, ropes tied round their wrists; a wider shot of a large group of people, all smiling and waving.

Narcissa makes a noise that has Harry’s head snapping up. He realizes, belatedly, that he’s crying and hastily wipes his face.

“This is heartbreaking,” Narcissa whispers, but makes no move to take the photos. “Take them, please. I insist.”

He must make a face, because she says, “My darling, I can make copies some other time.”

Hagrid picks up a corner of the tablecloth to wipe his face.

“Good people, your mum and da’,” He says, too loud. He’s blinking very rapidly as though to keep the tears back. “Never was any better than Lily an’ James. Never was.”

Dudley, to Harry’s left, reaches for the group picture.

“You’re there, Hagrid. And you, Lady Malfoy.”

“Yes, we are,” Narcissa says. “Some of the people in that picture survived the war. As I said, you boys are welcome to come over and have tea with me. We can look over the albums after we talk business.”

“Even me?” Dudley blurts.

Narcissa blinks, rapidly.

“Well, why ever not?”

Dudley turns red and starts stammering.

“My cousin’s not magical, Lady Malfoy.” Harry points out for him.

“Narcissa, please, darling; I’ve told you twice. Well, that hardly matters to me. Any family of yours is welcome in my home.”

Harry can’t help but smile at her.

Chapter Text

The posh restaurant is crowded but not overtly so. The volume stays at a perfectly manageable background hum, resulting in a rather cozy atmosphere while still being a noticeably upscale establishment.

“Well,” Says Narcissa Malfoy, when they’ve eaten all of the cake. “What else have we yet to do on the Alley?”

“Actually, L-- Narcissa,” Harry corrects himself smartly. She smiles beautifically. Harry looks to Dudley, who dutifully checks his watch.

“We’ve got to-- we said we’d meet my parents in an hour.” He announces, visibly struggling to maintain the semi-formal atmosphere Harry and Narcissa had maintained.

“Oh? Well, you can always come back to the Alley another day." The woman doesn't seemed bothered in the slightest. Harry finds himself wondering if she hosts a luncheon like queens of old held court. Her robes are a stunningly embroidered set. Harry doesn't know anything near enough about wizarding fashion to know how much they must cost, or what they say about her position in society, but everything he's inferred or learned about the Malfoys this evening has led him to believe the answers are: "a lot" and "at the top" respectively.

She turns to the giant of a man sharing a table with them, Harry's earnest guide to the magical shopping district.

"What do you say we get these young men their wands, Mr. Hagrid?”

He turns rather pink, though it's possibly with good humor. He has a warm smile under the messy beard.

“Hagrid, please, Lady Malfoy. I remember well enough the times you came round my hut after the unicorn foals yer fifth year. Folks I have tea with tha’ often can call me by name.”

She smiles at him, too.

That smile ought to be a weapon.

“Ollivander’s, then.” She whisks them all out of the restaurant, tending the bill as promised and tipping, Harry notes, quite generously.

“Ah-- do y’ mind if I head on down ta Eeylop's while ya do? I’ve yet ta get Harry a proper birthday present, ‘s all.”

Narcissa beamed at him.

“A lovely idea! Dudley, would you like to go with him? You’re welcome to join us, of course, but there’d not be much to do and Hagrid is an expert on what that shop offers.”

“What do they--” Dudley starts.

“Ah, ah ah, you mustn't spoil the surprise!”

Bemusedly, Dudley went with Hagrid.

--

 

Hagrid buys him an owl, of course, and Harry tries very hard to stare at it. Unfortunately, the damn thing is gorgeous. Strong and healthy, too. It has all the markings of an excellent messenger bird.

He scowls at Dudley.

“You had one job.”

What?” Dudley protests at once. “No! Wizards use owls to send mail. I don’t make the rules, Harry.”

“Ain’t she beautiferl?” Hagrid asks, more excited than Harry's seen him so far. “I got you a nice stand, not a cage-- let her fly where she likes and she’ll feed herself. Won’t ya, pretty girl?”

Hagrid strokes the owl’s feathers lovingly with a trashbin-lid-sized hand. She puts up with it, eyes not wavering from Harry’s. The man has her perched on his bare forearm and barely seems to notice.

Those claws look fierce.

“She’s gorgeous,” Harry admits freely. The bird seems to enjoy that. She preens a bit.

Intelligent, too.

Damnit, he loves birds. Especially messenger birds. Sakura had found use after use for them being a proper jonin and Sasuke had a summoning contract with them. Even Naruto was a fair hand at handling them as a matter of course. Most ninja were.

“Dead useful, owls. Not a better way o’ sending word. You’ll write ter me, won’t ya?”

And now he was being gifted one, the first gift-- much less birthday gift-- he’s gotten in this lifetime. He hopes his eyes aren’t tearing up.

“Of course, Hagrid. And thank you-- I can’t think of a better gift.” He cleared his throat meaningfully.

Hagrid sniffles obviously and averts his eyes loudly.

“You’ll write to me, too, right?” Draco asks, eager.

“Sure,” Harry blinks, surprised. “There’s so much I don’t know about the magical world. I’d love to know more.”

Draco preens like the owl.

“I’ll tell you everything,” He promises.

Narcissa looks on fondly before swooping in.

“Expect correspondence shortly, dear. I’ll have the photo albums ready.”

Harry nods.

“It was lovely to meet you, Lady-- Narcissa.” She beams approvingly at his quick catch. Draco holds onto his mother’s arm, placing his hand on her offered elbow with a certain sureness that makes Harry dread reading up on manners and peerish etiquette.

“Of course. I look forward to many such meetings in the future as we introduce you to your place in our world.”

The two Malfoys head off, presumably to meet up with their patriarch.

Hagrid passes the bird--a pure, snowy white owl, tips dappled with deep blue on her throat and primaries-- to Harry. He takes her gingerly, huge talons biting into his forearm. He’ll heal it later.

“A very fine owl,” He’s forced to concede once more. It only serves to delight Hagrid further. She ruffles her wings.

Harry strokes her feathers gamely. It barely surprises him when he feels her reach for him, a gentle probe feeling the very outer surface of his magic. She takes a second to-- taste it, he supposes, to find later. Her magic feels like candlelight and leaves.

“I expect you’ll be able to find me, beautiful?” He asks her rhetorically. She hoots softly. He laughs. “How about you give me a couple days, stretch your wings some? We’re staying at a hotel right now.”

He doesn’t know how much she understands, but he’ll figure that out as it comes.

He lifts his arm and she takes off, annoyingly majestic as powerful beats carry her into the air.

They watch her go until she’s no longer visible and Hagrid hands him a train ticket, chatting and generally answering any remaining questions he has.

“Still a weird choice of messenger bird,” He complains to Dudley, once they’ve parted ways with Hagrid.

“But everyone at Hogwarts will have one!” Dudley grins, a touch mean.

“Don’t mock me,” Harry whines. “I can’t believe I’m going to a school named Hogwarts. It sounds like a disease from the middle ages.”

Dudley snorts.

“You’re going to learn magic though. A magic ninja! Ninja magic! That’s like, so stupidly cool.”

“Don’t think you’re getting out of your physical training just because I won’t be there,” Harry warns, dubious.

“Are you kidding? I’ve got a month to learn all I can from you. I at least want to get the hand signs for the bunshin down. It’s the easiest, right?”

“In terms of chakra consumption and concentration, yeah. Kawarimi takes more chakra and henge takes a lot of focus. You should be able to try it before I leave and practice it during the school year.”

Before they pass back through the Leaky Cauldron, Harry stops to concentrate.

He reaches somewhat blindly with no specific qualifications in mind; when a few names come, quite literally out of nowhere physical, to mind, he picks one at random.

“Iris,” He calls with a touch hesitantly.

He expects to have to push some chakra or magic into it like a summoning, but a house elf appears almost before he speaks.

“Master Harry!” She calls, almost painfully eager, rocking forward. Harry can feel it between them, her need to be useful and hastily-quelled nervousness. He resolves then and there to call them as often as possible.

“Can you take my trunk to… wherever I’ll be staying with you guys?” He looks down at her, offering a somewhat unsure grin.

She smiles at him, nodding and ears flopping.

“Yes, yes, Iris can be doing that. We figures Potter Keep because it’s the biggest and best but clean all the houses just in case.”

“Potter Keep is fine,” He says. She tugs on one of the ears absently. “I don’t know when I’ll be there, but soon, okay?”

Iris looks up him, all wide eyes, and before he can react hugs his legs tightly. Then she makes a small squeaking noise and vanishes with the trunk.

Dudley laughs, not unkindly.

“How many did you say there were?”

“Nearly seven dozen. I’m pushing magic into them but the bonds are still-- needy. Half-starving." He swallows heavily, staring at the space his trunk used to occupy. "I want to move to the Keep as soon as possible to be with them, see if it helps. It’ll make them happy, if nothing else.”

Unhappy, unneeded, half-starving.

He could fix it, so he would. He wanted to, of course, but even more than that something in him burned with the need to do so sooner rather than later. If it was some magical compulsion, it was a benign one. He had three lifetimes of ostensibly being a mercenary-for-hire but really doing humanitarian work for free to fall back on. Injustice and suffering sat like a bad taste on his tongue. Even Sakura, who actually had years of missions instead of travelling the world in her early teenage years, chose to heal and help.

"You can keep calling them until then," Dudley suggested. "Get to know them."

Harry nodded, already plotting.

They got back through the side door of the Leaky Cauldron without much fanfare, blinking in the sudden sunlight after the dim-lit pub hallway.

Traffic continued uninterrupted in the street. Pedestrians walked the sidewalk in all types of clothes, a decent sized crowd of people in the middle of London. There wasn't a cloak or broomstick in sight.

Dudley’s shadow clone had instructions to insist on eating at a certain restaurant, barely a street away, so it was a simple matter of walking five minutes and catching their doubles' eyes at the similarly secured outdoor table. Dudley’s clone went to the restroom and the real Dudley took his place; Harry, having long mastered a seamless kawarimi, merely switched places with his clone and let it dispel harmlessly.

“Woah that’s a sudden rush,” Dudley said, blinking rapidly as the last four hours of regular shopping poured into his head. He winced a bit.

“What is, popkin?” Petunia questioned, concerned.

“Oh, uh. Brain freeze.” He took another sip of his milkshake to cover the slip.

The Dursley parents noted nothing.

If Petunia found the area familiar from a handful of trips as a child, she didn't say.

The family, sans Harry-- except when Dudley talked to him directly-- made conversation for the rest of their meal, though the boys ate little more than their clones had. Their stomachs were still full from a lunch taken an entire world away, for all that it was only just across the street.

Shortly after, they returned to the hotel.

It was the last day of their vacation.

If anyone noticed the owl on the balcony, they said nothing.

Chapter Text

Harry waits until Vernon’s at work to ask her.

“Did you know?” His voice echoes out, apropos nothing into the spotless, modern kitchen. It rings clear, bouncing off sharp countertops and empty spaces.

Petunia turns her head to look at him. She starts to berate him out of what must be pure habit before she sees the—he doesn’t know. The hardness of his eyes, maybe. How straight his back is. The expression on his face that is not a timid child’s.

“Did you know my mom was a witch?” He asks, louder. The weight of the question has been burning a hole in his held tongue for days.

She drops the plate she’s washing. It splashes into the sink with a clatter and she rounds on him with wide eyes.

“Who told you such a thing?” She demands.

“Did you know you’re not just a muggle-- but a squib? Dudley is, too.”

Petunia cuts off mid shout, sucking in air.

“W-what does that word mean?” She demands shrilly.

Harry makes a choice.

“Our whole family, the Evans line, are squibs. It means-- a squib is someone born to a magical family who can’t use magic. But they can see it, touch it. Sometimes even do a little bit of it. You never went to Hogwarts but you could come with me and learn all about magic.”

He sees the offer wash over her. Her lip tightens.

“I don’t need your freakish--!”

“What about Dudley?” Harry cuts her off. His feet carry him well into the room, stopping a few bodylengths from her. “I want to invite him into my magical family. Let him be my heir. I’ve got money, in the magical world. Property. A title, even; one that’s valid in both worlds. I’m an Earl and Dudley could be noble, too, if I make him my heir.”

“Mum.” Dudley chooses that moment to come in with, surprising them both from the door to the kitchen. “Magic is so, so cool. Harry wants to share this with us, won’t you let him?”

“Dudley?” She looks stunned, pale.

“See, look. Balthasar!” A little green elf appears, dressed in Potter regalia.

“Master Dudley?” He questions, happily.

Petunia, of course, shrieks.

“Can you bring us some tea and cake?” Dudley asks. Balthasar grins and pops away.

When he reappears, it’s with an entire tea set for the kitchen table.

“Let Zarry know if you needs anything else, masters.”

He winks out.

“Mum, sit. Come on, elf cake is magically delicious.”

He leads a shocky Petunia to the table.

“Do you want to try some?” Dudley cuts her a piece.

She tries some.

“I don’t understand.” Petunia whispers, a touch hoarse. “Our whole family? That boy always said Lily was-- muggleborn. That she was the only one special. And Lily went away.”

“They might not have known.” Harry says gently. “There was a war going on, by the time they were seventeen, and then they died. Not much time to ask about genealogies.”

“What can sq--squibs do?” She stumbles over the pronunciation.

“Well,” Harry starts. “I didn’t know about magic until a few days ago, but I asked. Squib is a word we use for someone who doesn’t have enough magic to use a wand. It really depends on the person. Some have almost enough magic. Some only have enough magic to see magical creatures, or past wards. If someone put up a spell to keep away muggles, you would walk right through it. You can make potions that don’t need a wand. You can probably read tea leaves, or other small divinations.”

“And Dudley, too?”

“Dudley can do a bit more than that. And he’ll be able to do even more once I make him my heir. I don’t know how much more. But I want to learn, and I want you to be there. I want us to learn together, because we’re family.”

It took a lot to admit.

Even as little as a year ago, he doesn’t think he’d have been able to look past the way they treated him to do it. He knows he wouldn’t have without chakra curling under his skin, powerful and waiting, reminding him that he’s been four times an orphan, now, a power that had allowed him to get much needed distance from this house when he’d needed it most.

Petunia goes very quiet.

Then, with watery eyes: “We never treated you much like family.”

Even now his bedroom was a closet.

Still, body doubles of himself had wandered the English forests, basking in fresh air and the occasional bits of sunshine. He’d caught fish and hunted, drawn seals and laughed when they went wrong. He practiced jutsu and chakra control with wild abandon.

He wasn’t trapped here.

“We’re not dead,” Harry says. He winces at the bluntness but barrels through. “We have time to start over, do better.”

She stares at him. There are tears in her eyes.

“I wrote to the school,” Petunia says, seemingly out of nowhere. “Hogwarts, I mean. I begged the headmaster to let me go, too.”

“I’ll buy you a tutor.” Harry announces, frowning. “I’ll get one for Dudley, too. I need to learn all the stuff people in the magical world grow up knowing about, but-- while they’re there-- they can teach you, too. You can learn history and potions and all the things you missed. You’re an Evans. It’s your world, too.”

At that, Petunia really does burst into tears. Dudley rushes over to comfort her and Harry watches, no idea how to handle that.

When Vernon comes home, it’s to the dishes doing themselves-- courtesy of an elf--, Dudley with a leaf on his forehead, and Petunia hesitantly stroking the feathers of a really very pretty messenger bird. The man goes purple in the face, lets out an absurd bellow, and Petunia flinches badly.

It never occurred to Harry that he might hit her, too.

Before he can decide how to do this-- there just aren’t that many non-lethal ways to knock a grown man out without physical violence, and given the fragile newness ad uncertainty of their truce, he doesn’t want Petunia to see him punch someone-- the rug literally slides out from the advancing man’s feet.

Vernon goes down, chin hitting the floor hard. He’s out like a light.

Harry turns to the elf-- Izzy-- with an eyebrow raised. They blink back innocently, fingers still raised from a snap.

Rage is a flower unfurling inside him. It takes several seconds before Harry can speak without wanting to smash things mightily.

“Do we have a dungeon?” He finds himself asking. He hears the words as if from far away, or underwater. “Let’s toss him in our dungeon.”

Izzy grins at him.

“Potter Keep does indeed be having a dungeon, but if Izzy may make a suggestion…”

And that’s how Harry ends up meeting a half-dozen more house elves. He’s tried to call a different one each time, just to meet them and shore up their connections personally. Still, seeing Sebastian wink in makes him grin.

The head elf gamely directs his fellows into packing up all of Petunia and Dudley’s belongings.

“Did I mention I have a castle?” Harry says to his aunt. “Because I have a castle. Haven’t seen it yet, though.”

Dudley takes his mom’s hand and helps her up. Sebastian reaches out for Harry’s and he takes it, warm and comforting. When Dudley reaches for his other hand, he accepts.

Private Drive is a big, empty house with too-straight corners and not enough love sunken into the walls. Its hearth is a boarded-up thing, devoid of warmth. Propriety took the place of nurturing long ago.

Vernon Dursley is unconscious on the rug, one of the few things Petunia didn’t want to take with her, scared and uncertain but chin held high as she holds onto her son.

Sebastian pops them away.

Chapter Text

Potter Keep is gorgeous, if a bit outdated in terms of furnishings.

He follows his head elf on an impromptu tour, walking slow enough that Petunia, looking around with as much awe as he is, can keep up. They walk into a very large living room and Dudley wastes no time crossing it to stare at the moving portraits.

The whole castle gives off a quaint, lived-in atmosphere that Harry, quite frankly, adores. Sebastian informs him that the elves left it as it was when his great-grandparents lived in it. His grandparents had preferred a—relatively—smaller manor.

“And my parents?” he asks quietly.

“Miss Lily and Master James had a cottage, small as wizard houses go.” Sebastian says, voice just as small.

“Did they—where’s their stuff?”

Our stuff, he almost chokes on.

This makes the elf huff.

“Annoying Ministry wizards try to declare the cottage a monument! It be the property of House Potter. We take everything inside the house and bring it to storage, here. House was mostly destroyed, anyway, and Ministry wizards don’t listen to elves, so we had to leave it alone.”

“That’s fine,” Harry assures him, to the elf’s obvious relief. He still scowls.

“It not fine but it as good as we could do.”

Aunt Petunia tries to take it all in stoically, but Harry can tell she’s getting overwhelmed.

He reaches for an elf at random, a sort of general inquiry. The elves must be enjoying taking turns as well, because this is one he hasn’t met.

“Cal can be helping Master Harry?” An elf appears readily.

A gentle tugging at their bond reveals Caliban. He purposefully guides more of his magic into the bond tethering them, a feat that’s slightly easier when he’s met them.

Caliban—Cal—grins at him.

“My aunt’s had quite a day. How about we find her a room?”

“Your will be done, Master Harry.” He says, a mix of cheeky and solemn.

Harry laughs.

“Aunt Petunia, this is Cal,” Says Harry, gesturing her over.

“These are… house-elves, you said?” She asks, hesitant and careful.

“Yes, bonded servants to the House of Potter. They need bonds with wizards to survive; my family is well served by their abilities.” He explains.

“Actually,” He turns to Cal. “Are there any elves who don’t have much to do?”

No elves be having lots to do until Master Harry comes back to us, but some don’t be having official jobs.” The elf frowns in concentration. A moment later, three elves pop in.

Juliet, Domitius, and Solanio, his magic tells him.

“Would any of you like to be the personal attendants to my aunt? That’s a thing, right?” He looks over to Petunia. “One of the elves can be officially tasked with helping you. Showing you around, letting you eat, bringing you anything you need. Answering any questions you might have, that sort of thing.”

“Where will you be?” She looks alarmed.

“Here.” He answers, surprised. “I’ll be around. This way you’ll be able to ask where I am, and how to find me, or ask the elf if you want a quick answer to a question. They’re easily as smart as humans and can think, learn, reason and feel. They’re just—short.”

Mollified, Petunia nods. It’s a bit shaky.

“So, what do you guys do for the House of Potter?” Harry asks.

“I was on maternity elf leave when Master Harry was taken from us,” Juliet says shyly. “My call name be Jules.”

“I’m Misha,” Says Domitius. “I went on special errands for Lady Lily, gathered potion ingredients. I still be keeping the labs well-stocked, but there’s not much to do. When I hear a good deal, I go and pick up ingredients.”

“Lonny!” Announces Solanio. “I help my cousin Tony maintain the cellar. We make jarred preserves from the orchards, mill flour, and I take care of the wines. Sometimes buy more, so that many years from now they’ll be tasty.”

“Do we make any of our own wine?” Harry asks.

“That’s Tony’s job,” Lonny explains. “He makes elf-wine for the castle stores. Wizard wine is done mostly by the vinyards we be owning.”

Satisfied, Harry turns to Petunia.

“You had a baby when my sister—when it happened?” She asks Jules.

Shyly, Jules nods.

“My son, Jax. He be born shortly after it happen. We name him Ajax, because he was the first to be born after Lady Lily came into our family, made our magics strong.”

“Can I meet him?”

Jules smiles, looks back at Harry with sparkly eyes, and calls her son.

An elf, only about half the height of the ones he’s seen so far, appears.

“Master Harry!” He yells, excitable and excited.

“You’re eleven, then?” Harry asks, bending down to catch the elf as he runs up to him.

“Yes, same as you! But elves don’t grow as fast.” Jax says, sotto voice, like it’s a secret.

“He can’t pop beyond the castle, right now,” Jules confirms. “We gotta keep him in line, show him how his magic will be working when he’s older.”

She gives her son a stern, mostly amused look before turning back to Petunia.

“I can be yous guide elf, if you like.”

“I think I’d like that very much. I can call you Jules?”

Jules nods enthusiastically, big ears flopping.

Like the others, she’s dressed in a little black suit with his family crest on the breast pocket.

“Do you have something you be wearing all the time?” Jules asks, rocking forward on the balls of her feet. Excitement brims in her tone.

“Well, yes.” Petunia answers. “It’s… Usually I would say my wedding ring, but…. Here.” With unsure hands she unclasps a necklace, a thin silver chain that, when she pulls it off, reveals a little flower usually hidden by the front of her blouse. Harry is surprised, because he’s never seen it.

“Oh!” Jules exclaims in shocked awe. She takes it with nimble fingers. Harry is alarmed to see tears well up in her large eyes. “It be feeling like Lady Lily’s magics!”

Something hard thunks in Harry’s chest, surprise predominant among a sudden tangle of complex emotions. He stares at the little flower—a petunia that glints in the light, obviously, now that he looks closer, made up of delicate gemstones and glowing faintly with magic.

Harry stepped closer almost unconsciously. Jules angled her little body so that he could get a better look. When Harry settled his hand in the air above the pendent, he sucked in a sharp breath of air.

It felt protective, radiated a gentle sort of tranquility that was—almost familiar. He couldn’t quite recall where he’d felt something like that before. It was likely—he rationalized—a memory from before he was old enough to store such recollections, but he was sure he had.

He swallowed thickly, stepping back.

He cleared his throat and Jules set about her task briskly, touching it with a glowing digit. When she removed her finger the glow had transferred to the flower; after a few seconds, it faded entirely.

“Now I hear when you call, as long as you be wearing Lady Lily’s necklace.”

“I never take it off.” Petunia said, quiet and almost hoarse with emotion.

“I didn’t wear it, at first, but I couldn’t throw away something… something so expensive, at the time. And then Lily died. She said it would protect me. I thought that was rubbish at first, of course, but then she died and it was all I had of her. I’ve worn it since”

Three pairs of eyes stared at her solemnly as she carefully reclasped the chain.

A moment of silence, broken only by the sound of Dudley walking on the far side of the large room, admiring the moving paintings. The sound of curious questions being asked and answered by his cousin and—Harry squints—his many greats uncle drifts over.

“We can let you pick of rooms on the family floor.” Jules assures Petunia, reaching out a little hand. Less hesitantly this time, Petunia takes it. She’s smiling.

Addressing the boys, Harry says, “I’ll try to think of more for you to do. In the meantime, Misha—I haven’t got my potions supplies for Hogwarts. And my cousin and Aunt are squibs, not muggles. The goblins said they should be able to brew?”

“Misha will go out and find best ingredients,” the elf confirms. “Will get better than the school’s bare minimum potion kit, more like the one Lady Lily used. And bring some reference books for ingredients.”

With a determined light in his eyes, he pops away. Jules leads Petunia to her son where he hears her ask Dudley soft questions.

Harry turns to Lonny.

“Now: do we have enough room for eleven years of preserves?” He asks the remaining elf.

Lonny laughs.

“We be having plenty of room, Master Harry. The cellar is huge and, yous knows, bigger on the inside.”

“Bigger on the inside?”

“Wizard and elf magics combined to make wizard space even bigger than normal.” He confirms. Seeing Harry’s confusion, he elaborates. “Um. Yous know—enchanted to be bigger than it’s supposed to be. Like money bags or trunks.”

“Like bags of holding?” Dudley asks, wandering over.

“You didn’t want to go find a room with your mom?”

“I can find a room any time.” Dudley waves him away.

He’d been torn between listening to the conversations and exploring the large living room they’d appeared in-- enraptured, mostly, by the moving portraits of his relatives by marriage.

“What’s a bag of holding, then?” Harry asks his cousin, full of amusement.

“It’s a magic item in a game—Dungeons and Dragons. It’s a bag that’s bigger on the inside. It can never fill up.”

“Look at you, teaching me about magic.” Harry laughs. “The student has truly become the master.”

“I’m a fountain of untapped knowledge.” Dudley boasts.

He then points a dramatic finger at Harry, who can’t help but laugh.

“And, you say that, but if you don’t teach me this version of magic, too, I’m going to stage a revolt and the elves will join me.”

“Oh? You’ve managed a successful Henge then?”

“Harry, oh my god.” Dudley groans. “I’ve been trying but all I get is weird looking results, according to my bedroom mirror.”

He shuffles closer and puts his head on Harry’s shoulder, who startles only slightly. When Dudley groans theatrically Harry lifts a hand to pat his head, saying “There, there.”

Then, to placate: “Now that we’re not sneaking around we can spend the morning outside practicing openly.”

Not that, with the summer in full swing, they’d been particularly hindered by secrecy.

There were plenty of woods around Private Drive.

“Really?” Dudley perks up. “Is there anywhere on the—well, the grounds, I guess—that would work for training?”

The way he says “training” is suffused with an eleven-year-old’s excitement to learn the ninja arts. That, at least, is familiar. Few things speak more to the Konoha he grew up in than excitable newly-minted Genin, or the last-year academy students about to become them.

He remembers Konohamaru wistfully.

Lonny volunteers, brightly, “The quidditch pitch would be working for any outside running, if yous going to be using magic! But there’s downstairs magic rooms, and a courtyard, and, and, and—”

Harry laughs, cutting him off gently.

“Quidditch is that sport, right? If there’s a level field, we’ll use that.” Lonny beams.

Harry pauses.

“That reminds me. I’ve got a question.”

Lonny leans forward eagerly.

“Do you know anywhere, literally anywhere at all, where I might find a few hundred perfectly balanced throwing knives?”

Dudley’s eyes light up.

“Oh wow, really?” He yells.

“Hey, no—stop celebrating. You’re not learning weapons until you perfect Henge. These are for me.”

“Awww.” Dudley pouts at him. “Spoilsport.”

Harry laughs and laughs.

Later that evening when the sun begins to set, after many more introductions and a bit of settling in, Harry sits down to write a letter.

He’d sent Dudley and an elf—Guildenstern, who went by “Gilly”—to, among other muggle stores, a stationary shop for fancy paper and pens, on the grounds that writing with quills was stupid. Sebastian suggested he either go look for quills charmed to write smoother, or charmed and self-inking, because apparently there was a huge market for charmed quills, and he’d grudgingly sent the elf off to purchase a variety of them.

It was with a fountain pen that Harry composed letters to the Malfoys, as promised.

Draco, he wrote. I’m sorry for the delay. There was quite a bit to get settled. Are you excited for Hogwarts? I admit the prospect of learning magic is an intriguing one, but that might be because I didn’t know magic existed until last week. Am I embarrassingly enthusiastic? The idea of school must be dreadfully mundane to someone raised in the wizarding world from birth.

My elves are helping me settle into this life, but there’s so much I don’t know. Worse still, I don’t even know what I don’t know yet! It’s uniquely frustrating. You and your mother were such a huge help on the alley. Thank you again.

I’m sorry to say that my lack of knowledge hinders me again, here. What on earth should I talk about? Hopefully we have a lot in common. Do you have an owl? I've learned enough to assume your family must have one; do you have one to yourself, though? If you do, have you had it long or did you buy her just for Hogwarts? How big is your family? Do you have any brothers or sisters? Aunts or uncles? Or are you, like me, an only child? I spent a couple days pouring over my family grimoire, tracing names I’d never known. It had information about all my family, people I’ll never meet and barely know about. There’s a history and a legacy there that I know I’ve only scratched the surface of. After that, though, I read through my textbooks. A lot of it was basic, but some things—like our potions text—talked about ingredients I’ve never heard of and provided no reference.

I decided to name the owl Hagrid got me ‘Hedwig’ after a famous witch in A History of Magic. She basically invented modern runic casting. Not being raised as a wizard, I couldn’t wrap my head around messenger owls. Pigeons have been used historically by muggles. Falcons are great. Hawks, even. But owls? I have to admit she’s grown on me, though. I’ve kind of fallen in love with her. She’s gorgeous. I’ll have to think of something great to gift Hagrid with in thanks. To think I’d resented the gift at first—it seems ludicrous now.

Hoping fervently your return letter will give us something in common to talk about,

Harry Potter

When he was done he sat back and exhaled.

Shaking out his hand, he looked at Hedwig with reluctant fondness. She’d flown in the window he’d left open. Apparently, leaving the window open wouldn’t hurt the ambient temperature of the castle. Nor would bad weather need it to be closed. Environmental wards handled most of that.

Harry’d gotten into somewhat of a bad habit by talking candidly to the owl. He didn’t want to mention his past lives to Petunia, wasn’t sure it was appropriate to the elves, and could hardly tell Dudley the full brunt of what being a ninja entailed—the latter didn’t even know he was all of Team 7 wrapped up, somewhat disastrously, in one.

Hedwig did, though.

She barked softly at him from her perch. He’d set up an office of sorts—no, an actual office. It had last been his great-grandfather, Henry Potter’s. The elves had long ago carefully stored his papers and most of his private possessions away.

He sighed and began the next letter.

This one was ostensibly easier. He knew what to write. Still, finding the right tone was hard.

Lady Narcissa,

Thank you for devoting your personal attention to my situation. I’m free for tea this Friday.

He stared at it for a solid five minutes before huffing out a laugh. He added a polite, afternoon time and signed it.

Harry found envelopes for both and walked up to his owl.

“Do you even need an address?” He asked. She gave him a droll look.

“Oh, alright.” He tied them to her leg and she flew off.

“Better than hawks?” Dudley asked, walking into the room. 

“No.” Harry said instantly. “But she’s pretty great. I got the feeling she was humoring me the entire time I figured out how to tie on the letters.”

Harry looked over and smiled at the sight of his cousin, blonde and happy in the doorway. Along the walls were portraits and knick-knacks, clocks and mounted artifacts. It didn't look like a wizard's room unless you squinted, saw something-- like one of the paintings-- move on its own. It did, however, look very fancy. Befitting a Kage, though the leather chair was much more comfortable than the one under his ass, the last time he sat down in such an ornate room to pen his correspondences.

Dudley came over to the window with him. They watched Hedwig's snowy form pass over the trees and rise into the purple of the evening sky, until she was a just another white dot among the appearing stars, indistinguishable from them.

Chapter Text

The pitch, as the elves call it, is about the size of your standard training grounds. 

Harry is almost vibrating with excitement at having Dudley here. 

They ran together, they played in the back yard, they exercised together—Harry often demonstrated techniques and katas, but all their time was limited. And they had to be circumspect. 

Now, though… Now they had all the time in the world. 

Well, three weeks’ worth anyway. 

“Okay. Since we’ve got back from Diagon—” 

“Harry, I practiced Bunshin for a whole week until I literally fell down and couldn’t stand back up, please, please, please teach me Kawarimi—” 

“—And since you can kind of use Henge—” 

Dudley looks like seriously has to piss, he’s bouncing around so much, and Harry has a moment of great amusement. 

“Harry, please.” 

“—We can work on the seals for Kawarimi. Just the seals at first. It took me months to get it perfect even with all three seals. Most ninja never bother. I certainly didn’t, the first time around.” 

“Yes!” Dudley punches the air. 

“Okay, show me all twelve seals.” 

Harry.” 

Harry has them sit and carefully walks Dudley through the twelve, gently correcting his fingers when he stumbles. 

“Okay, now the bunshin seals—no chakra.” 

It was difficult to keep the technique from triggering when he formed the signs and the struggle showed on his cousin’s face. Harry watched. 

“Again.” 

Dudley complied. 

“One more time.” 

“Harry.” Dudley protested, but he did it. 

“Okay, now make two bunshin.” 

Dudley concentrated, but didn’t slow down for the fourth repetition. Three signs and a huge ploom of smoke later, two body doubles were sitting next to him in the same position. They were slightly transparent, one more so than the other. 

Still, Harry smiled. 

“Okay, same thing with the henge. Practice the seals first without chakra, then transform. Remember, it’s the most chakra intensive of them. What you want to focus on is the image you want—let’s go with me, for now—and the constant flow of chakra. Over time, maintaining the flow will become habit, something you don’t even have to think about. That’ll help when you’re doing more advanced techniques.” 

Dudley let the bunshin fade with a sigh. He brought his hands back together. 

The E-rank jutsu were supposed to be easy—the real skill came with implementing them in a fight, and doing so without pausing to concentrate. Harry found he couldn’t dismiss the pride that welled up in him for his cousin’s success. Not only was Dudley far removed from the boy he’d been a mere few weeks ago in terms of kindness and priorities, he’d also found something he actually cared enough to learn about. Harry had always done better than Dudley academically, though Vernon Dursley insisting Dudley was too good for homework—much less spending his precious after school time practicing his letters or reading—certainly didn’t help much. 

“Okay, right. My bedroom mirror really did talk shit about me, by the way. Like, it didn’t have a mouth, but—just so you know. The mirrors aren’t shy about commenting.” 

Harry absorbed that with a little laugh. 

“Let’s see if we can’t get better results with some practice. Remember: dog, boar ram.” 

“I remember.” Dudley said, somewhat proudly. He went through the signs once, twice, and three times before taking a deep breath. His brow wrinkled with concentration. 

Harry almost told him that he could announce the technique name, for an easier time of it, but bit his tongue at the last second. Really, that was a horrible habit to get into and most ninja had to unlearn it the hard way. Better to struggle a little in the beginning. 

There was another explosion of smoke, warm to the touch. It reminded Harry of—a lot. 

When it faded, Harry couldn’t help his laughter. 

“You jerk!” Dudley ranted, unable to see his own countenance. 

“I don’t have pink hair!” Harry couldn’t help it, doubling over and struggling for breath. “And if I did, it wouldn’t look like that!” 

“Shut up.” Dudley blushed, with a mix of his and Harry’s face. Atop his head was an inch of short, magenta hair. “I couldn’t—every time I go to think about what you look like I remember that dumb comment from the hotel, and—look, Harry, if you don’t stop laughing I’m going to practice that one low punch right upside your stupid face.” 

Harry—manfully—manages to quiet down the belly-laughing to a small snicker, and finally swallow even those. 

“Alright, try again. And this time turn into the me that you can see. Focus really hard on the way I look, like—a photograph. Unchanging.” 

Dudley scowls at him, then stares intently at his face. He moves his hands through the signs again. Harry is tempted to close his own eyes, but he’s long since grown out of needing to. He opens himself up to the feel of chakra surrounding him and focuses on Dudley’s, even as the boy molds it. 

With the final ram seal, which Dudley holds, smoke flares. 

It clears fairly quickly. This time, Dudley looks more like Harry. In the face, at least. His clothes and arms remain completely the same. 

The face is actually pretty good! 

“Better,” Harry allows, wishing for a mirror. They really should have brought one out here. 

Well, really. Any excuse to call an elf is a good excuse. 

He swoops out an inquiry like a net cast, envisioning a hole just wide enough for someone who’s not busy. He can feel metaphorical heads turn, then the shiver of a response like a fishing line drawn tight with a bite. 

“Yes, Master Harry?” A young elf asks, appearing with a moderate snap. “How can Seph be of service?” 

“What do you do for the House of Potter, Seph?” Harry asks, curious. It’s a question that occurs almost every time he meets a new elf. 

Seph smiles at him, pleased and a touch bashful. 

“I watched over you when you were small, made sure you didn’t get in trouble. Wizard babies bounce when they fall, and other accidental magics, but that wouldn’t protect you if you drank a potion or picked up Master James’ wand.” 

At Harry’s flabbergasted look, the elf scuffs his foot and continues, voice a little softer. 

“When you went down for a nap, or woke up in the middle of the night, I tended you and read you stories. Bella tends the library and gets new books; she made sure you always had a new story.” 

“What have you done for the past ten years, then?” 

“Only nine and some change,” Seph corrects, then grins. It’s a bit wobbly. “I helped Simmy. Simmy maintains the orchards and our gardens, plants new things and keeps the pests away. We harvest fruits and foods for cooking, and give Tony and Lonny the extras to save.” 

“Does Simmy work closely with the kitchens, then?” 

“Yes, she’s happy to bring fresh ingredients to the head of kitchens, Cassio. The tea you had at your aunt’s home—” here he grimaced, “—was made by dried teas, which come from the herbal gardens, and the strawberries on top of the cake, from the fields.” 

“You didn’t have any other job of your own?” 

The elf regarded him with a solemn look. His eyes welled up with tears. 

“I was your nanny elf, Master Harry. I was yours. The job of my own was to teach you, and guide you, and—” Here, horrifically, his voice broke, “—keep you safe.” 

Harry swallows hard and reaches for the bond he shares with this elf. He expects it to be haggard, frayed more than the others with the sheer weight of the loss he can feel radiating from his small form. It isn't. If anything, it's the opposite. 

Through blurry eyes he grabs the sturdiest of his tethers, the last elf who held him, the strongest tie and the first to be ripped away, and shoves as hard as he can with magic, demanding. 

At the bank, before he ever knew about a ring that carried his family’s legacy, magic and emotions had blown a hole in him, knocked open a space in his soul that should never have been full, making room for the magical bonds-- the room that he was born with, the space that should have never had to been carved anew—the empty place that should have been full of magic as his own grew around it, nurtured and protected it. 

The edges of that space ached

For the first time since meeting Sebastian, since an answered call had torn wide a space in his chest and forced his magic wider to make room in the center of its mass for them, Harry falls to his knees. 

Seph is there when he reaches, is in his arms a second later, and the wrongness of all of this, that shrieks through Harry, it feels like the kind of injustice that needs to be silenced with blood.  

Maybe it wouldn’t have been, if Harry didn’t know three lives in a world built on ‘how dare you, how dare you,’ three generations of villages but countless before having watered the earth with blood and betrayal and war as far back as any histories told. 

But tears slip down his cheeks and rage curls in his magic and a small elf shakes and Harry is pretty sure it’s not just the heart of a shinobi urging him for bloodlust. 

How dare you is a song that sings in that heart, righteous and thirsty, but Harry knows better than to listen to it, sought three times over to save the world and every life in it, humanity a family united against evil incarnate. 

It’s not clan war vengeance that sings in his magic, the animosity and suspicion between villages that begot three wars. 

Harry’s family magic doesn’t want him to kill in vengeance. He’s not yet well-practiced in interpreting the song of it, beating a tattoo behind his heart. 

Still. It’s a song he knows, too, and it’s a human thing. It’s not a desperate shinobi thing. It’s not about loss and vengeance. It’s about hope and victory, life and fire, and it was alive in the breast of everyone who followed him into a war. It says ‘no more’ and it is a line in the sand, a promise, it’s the smiles of once-enemies who don’t have to fight each other and it’s finding common ground with a stranger and it’s the light in your heart that would let you die for someone if you had to, but gives you the strength to live for them instead because there’s so much you can do together

There are eighty-one elves in a castle and one in his arms, his cousin’s chakra small yet growing a few feet away, and bad things will happen in the world, yes, but Harry will do all that he can to stop them. He’ll put himself in front of his precious people—in front of every person on earth if he has to, he’s done it before—and let the light of his life burn away the darkness. 

The song his family magic sings is like a challenge, but it rises like war drums in his ears and then quietens to a steady pulse, the crash of waves against shore. It’s the strength of a sated dragon, settling in his blood, pleased with the strength of his determination, easily given. It pulled at him, testing, for something he didn’t even have to think about. 

It was never a question. 

The dragon of his magic roars, unyielding: 

Do what you must to protect what is yours

And a small elf cries in his arms, relief the loudest emotion coming through from him. 

Yes, Harry says back. Yes, of courseWith every breath in my body. 

Satisfied, the dragon sleeps. 

Eventually, though Harry feels drained of tears and emotion, the elf pulls back and looks at him with big, big eyes. 

“You’re a lord now, Master Harry.” Says Seph, in a voice that sounds wrecked. “You won’t ever leave us again and no one can make you.” 

Yes,” Harry says, because it would be a fucking bloodbath if anyone tried. There is not a prison that could hold him, an enemy he couldn’t cut through. “Seph, I swear.” 

The weight of it settles sudden and fierce, like golden chains of chakra, before vanishing. 

“A lord’s oath has weight.” Seph says, shocked. “It’s tied to your life now.” 

“Good,” Says Harry. “They’d have to kill me. They’d have to kill me to keep me away, and I’m the last of the Potter line. I won’t let you die with me.” 

Seph shudders. 

“Can I, though? Can I give you something that will let me find you, even if our bond was suppressed again? Even if it was broken?” Seph looks to him, serious as anything. 

“What, though?” Harry asks, woefully uneducated about magical theory. “Won’t any other magic risk being suppressed, too?” 

“It would have to be jewelry, like your aunt’s necklace. Goblin-wrought metal. Something that can be hidden and permanent. Something to tie the magic to, that no one can take away.” 

Harry thinks, briefly, of all the jewelry that the women of his family must have owned; the necklaces and tiaras and rings and earrings. He thinks of what the men must have had, too, the pieces he has waiting for him in the family vaults. 

Mostly he thinks of the jewelry only his death would remove, and even then—not by anyone else’s hand. 

“Should you cast the spell, or should it be me?” Harry’s voice sounds raw as he removes his family ring, for the first time since putting it on. It doesn’t leave his touch and the family magic doesn’t go anywhere. The ruby glints in the light as he holds it in front of the elf. 

Tears leak out of the little elf’s eyes, but he doesn’t blink, lip wobbling. 

“It would have to be a ritual,” Seph whispers. “You’d have to bleed.” 

Harry uses his free hand to scoop up the ring and draw a chakra scalpel across the flesh of his palm. He deposits the ring back over the cut. 

“The incantation?” 

“Will be in Latin, which you don't know." The elf takes a breath. "But the simplest would be inmuto magicato open up the enchantments for change." 

Harry doesn't even hesitate, nor does he look away as his mouth shapes carefully over the words. Seph looks back, gold eyes wide. 

Harry's shift to match. A similar glow builds in his palm. 

It's intense. He doesn't think he could move if he wanted to. 

Seph reaches out a shaky hand and inhales sharply. His hand draws close, a mimicry of how Juliet marked Petunia's necklace. His extended finger reaches past the burgeoning magic to the metal sitting in a tiny pool of blood. 

He touches the ring.  

"No magic may hide you from me, no wards may shelter you. The Lord Potter shall be as a beacon to my sight." Seph says, magic thrumming in his voice.  

His eyes look up to meet Harry's. His voice is soft. 

"There is no place you will go that I cannot follow."  

Magic builds into a crescendo, curls around Harry's tongue. 

He finds himself saying, "So mote it be." 

Seph pulls his hand back as the lightshow dies down. 

"Finite," He instructs, and Harry obeys. 

The cut under the ring heals. 

"Well, shit." Dudley says, staring. 

Harry corrects him without even thinking about it.  

"Language." 

He gets the feeling that he should be tired—and he is, a little; tears always drain him—but instead he finds himself rather keyed up. How fortunate that the sun is high in the sky. 

Harry stands, clears his throat. He imagines grass stains are the least of what the elves can fix. 

"Do you think you can find us a mirror? Preferably one that holds itself up. My cousin is going to devote some time to his transformation skills." 

Seph glances between them only briefly before snorting. A smile lights up his whole face. 

"And what will you do, Master Harry?" 

Harry smiles back. 

"I know magic can probably repair any damage we do to the pitch, but it's been here for generations. I don't want to hamper any games before they start. I'm going to grab Simmy and see about doing some landscaping." 

The elf appears as soon as her name is spoken, without even a tug of magic. 

While Harry greets her, Seph disappears and returns with a claw-footed mirror that plants itself into the ground in front of Dudley. 

"Is there any water on the property?" He asks, crouching down to eye level with her. "I want at least one training ground with it, and we can build a pond or lake if necessary."  

"What do you need water for?" Dudley calls over. 

"Finish the academy three and I'll show you." Harry snarks back, unable to prevent the smirk at the thought. Wizards probably have some way of replicating a chakra trick as simple as water walking, but for now? Nothing begets focus in new baby ninja like learning something cool. 

"Really!?" Dudley drops his hands, looking over in undisguised glee. 

"Don't get too excited," Harry cautions. "You haven't even started the Kawarimi." 

Dudley's smile is like the sun. 

"Well, yeah." He says. "But I've got a great teacher." 

Harry snorts, throws a rock at him. Dudley laughs as he dodges. 

The trees that ring the quidditch pitch are large and beautiful, casting shade from the northeast. They're not as big as Konoha's, but they're his and he's safe here. He's got space to plot and grow. 

He's got the beginnings of a family. 

Simmy tugs on his sleeve, directing his attention to her. 

"Master Harry," She says, and her smile is crooked. Her skin is more brown than green. "There's a river that be splitting the strawberry fields from the preserves." 

"Oh, a whole river? How big is it?" He asks, smiling back. Before she can answer, he continues. "That should be fine. Did you know my aunt loves strawberry cake?"  

Simmy tilts her head. 

A moment passes. 

"Lady Lily liked it too." She breathes, and there's a bit of mist in her eyes. She shakes it off. Harry is glad. His own heart had clenched, too. His mother liked strawberry cake. Already he has learned more about his parents in a single day here than the rest of his life put together. 

She rubs her eyes with one hand, talking through the emotional moment. 

"She picked strawberries with me in the summer, told me about yous muggle grandmother. Lady Lily and Cassio spend days and nights trying to make the special recipe from her childhood." 

Harry has an image in mind, more complete than ever now that he knows what they look like. 

He pictures a red-headed girl running through the grass, barefoot. He knows it wasn't here, and he knows he doesn't know what she looked like as a child, but he takes a deep breath and imagines Sakura-green eyes staring out of Mikoto's face, Kushina's red hair. 

He wonders what it would have been like to have a mother past the age of twelve. Four times now he's lost a mother, never stretching beyond early adolescence: the day he's born, eighteen months, just shy of eight, and finally, right as she fought for her life in an exam-cum-invasion. 

At least he has an aunt, this time, though she had needed some work. 

"Do you--" He pauses. "Do you think Cassio remembers the recipe? I think my Aunt Petunia would love to try my grandmother's recipe." 

Simmy blinks at him, long and slow. 

"Her name was Alliaria." She says, focusing hard. It takes Harry a moment to realize she's trying to get the grammar right. "Her name was Alliaria and all the women in the Evans line were named after flowers." 

Then Simmy blinks and the wet shine on her eyes is back. 

"If you were going to be a girl," her voice croaks, "you was going to be Laura. Victorious." 

One day he's going to know so much about his parents that hearing new things won't feel like a punch to the throat. For Sasuke, even the mention of his family was awful, a reminder of so many ripped away at once. Sakura hadn't even told them her parents died in the invasion. 

For Naruto, every new piece of information was hoarded like gold. His parents could have worked a fish market, for all he cared; finding out they were so important and still kept from him burned like fire down his throat. 

Harry will take every little scrap of history, every fact and paraphrased line, and keep them tucked close behind his heart. 

Seph slides closer, abandoning Dudley to his training. He puts his hand on Harry's bent knee. 

"I will ask Cassio to make your grandmother's recipe." He says and vanishes. 

"Simmy will show you the strawberry fields," Simmy declares, swallowing back all the emotions that Harry can feel surging in all three of them through their magic. "And the river with the griffons on the other side." 

Harry takes the hand she offers but pauses. 

"Wait. Griffons?" 

Simmy blinks at him. 

"Yes. We has land set asides for them, safe for their eggs. On the other side of the river. But Master Harry, if you be needing water, you don't be needing the river." 

"Oh?" 

"Yep." She popped her lips on the 'p'. "Didn't anybody be telling you? Potter Keep is here, and there's the fields, and there's the river, but this is being yous island. The ocean is all around!" 

Dudley abandons all pretense of not eavesdropping. 

"There's a beach?" 

Harry blinks, stunned. 

"Get back to work." He instructs. "We can go exploring later." 

Miracle of miracles, his cousin complies. 

The strawberry fields stretch for miles.  

Ten years is long enough to wear away his mother's footprints, but not the small path she took with Simmy.  

He wonders if his father came with them, if they ever picnicked in the meadows here. If it was just visits or if they lived here, briefly. 

Harry closes his mouth around the questions, content to let Simmy lead him. He's got questions, yes, but he's also got time. And all the people around him to answer. 

When they spend the afternoon exploring sandy beaches and overturned rocks, sea stretching as far as the eye can see, the sun paints the whole horizon gold on the waves.  

Chapter Text

Fact: money can buy a lot of things, including haste.

It’s good to know that some things stay the same, no matter where you are. The gold was a thousand times worth it when Harry steps onto a train with a pouch at his thigh full of kunai. Not just throwing knives, but kunai, exactly to his specifications.

Naruto had never used a sword, but Sakura and Sasuke certainly had. His plans to acquire several are already in the works.

The train station is practically empty, they’re so early. It’s the kind of poor turn-out to make an assassin cry, no crowd to hide in. They board the train with fairly little fanfare.

Only a few families mill around outside, some without trunks or luggage; likely already on the train, rooms secured and enjoying the last chance to spend time with their parents.

“Now,” Harry murmurs to himself. “Where is Draco?”

It’s entirely possible he and his cousin are too early, but somehow Harry doesn’t think the Malfoys he’s come to know would even consider something as uncouth as being late.

“I don’t know,” Says Dudley, overall excited but frame wrought with nerves as he falls into step. And then: “Are you sure I’m allowed to be here?”

“I don’t see why not,” Harry says. “According to—”

He stops. Looks down the corridor. Looks into the compartment he’d just opened. Runs through some quick math. Looks back to the door they entered from.

“Okay, no.” Harry frowns.

“What?”

“Bigger on the inside.” Harry remembers what Lonny told him weeks ago. “If the compartments are each, individually, that big—then twelve shouldn’t fit inside one car. Number of doors don’t match up.”

“Wizard space, right?” Dudley shrugs, pushing past Harry into the empty compartment.

“You enjoy the way this breaks my brain,” Harry accuses.

“Look, I’m just saying.” Dudley grins. “Extrad—Extradimensional spaces are a nerd magic classic. And every video game I’ve ever played basically needs bigger-on-the-inside bags so you can carry around all the stuff you pick up.”

“Bag.” Harry scowls. He lifts his hands up to gesture. “Room.”

“Yeah, but the same logic applies.”

Harry grins despite himself.

“Storage seals work on the same principle, I guess, but you can’t go inside them. They’re folded spacetime and—you just don’t put living things inside a storage seal.”

“Speaking of—when do I get to learn sealing?”

“Not any time soon.” Harry responds instantly. He holds up a hand when Dudley starts pouting. “I’m serious—I want my castle still standing when I get back. I’m not giving you free reign to practice drawing seals. I didn’t even get free reign to make my own seals, or even copy them, until I was 14. And that was with a seal master watching my every move.”

And nevermind that Naruto had drawn out smoke seals and all different kinds of bastardized combinations before Jiraiya had ever spoken to him. He’d successfully kept that secret until it hadn’t mattered anymore.

“You can,” Harry amends, “start working on throwing blunted weapons. You’ve got to start early if you want to develop anything like proper aim. You remember the wrist movement I showed you?”

Dudley demonstrates.

“Alright, good. Spend thirty minutes practicing after your run, but before the cheat run. Then another fifteen after you’re finished practicing kawarimi.”

Dudley grimaces, then grins. Something new is always fun.

They’d ironed out his workout plan stringently and it’s not like he could slack off without Harry hearing about it.

They didn’t have any trunks to set on the luggage racks, but Harry was right—they’d also been quite early, so they settled in to wait for the train’s departure.

“Technically speaking,” Harry sits, eying the small room. “The elves are going to get more target practice in than you are.”

Dudley laughed despite himself.

“You did tell them to go easy on me, right? Like, not to throw too fast. I still need to be able to dodge.”

“Speed, strength and stamina are important things in young genin.” Harry grins. It sounds like something a jounin-sensei would say—while making them hook both legs over a tree branch and do sit ups to dodge projectiles.

“So is living. Living is important, Harry.”

“Technically speaking,” Harry begins again, only for Dudley to groan—

“You know, nothing good ever comes when you open with that?”

“--Technically speaking, you’re not a genin. And I’m not your genin sensei. I’m pretty sure most academy students could whip your butt, as you stand currently.”

Academy students have six years of training on me,” Dudley protests loudly.

“Ah, that’s true.” Harry admits. “But academy students don’t get one-on-one instruction and they usually have to focus on reading, writing, tactics and history. We weren’t taught foundational jutsu until one or two years before graduation, and had to be able to use them proficiently to graduate.”

Dudley started to speak.

“Also, first year academy students are six.”

“What did they even teach six-year-olds?”

“Mostly? Foundational studies. Reading, writing, the basics of geography and international relations, a very simplified introduction to anatomy, and—of course—how to mold chakra. The younger you start combining physical and spiritual energy, the more time you have to get used to it. Most importantly, though, we started on chakra control.”

“The leaf exercise?”

“The leaf exercise,” Harry confirmed, pleased.

“Of course, clan kids like Sasuke had a leg up on almost everything. They’d already started chakra control exercises and were leaps and bounds ahead of kids who had never even held a kunai before.”

Dudley looked at him with wide eyes, turning in his seat to face Harry fully.

“Wait, you let six-year-olds throw sharp knives?” Just as the compartment door swung open.

“There you are—what?” His politely intrigued expression turned into ugly surprise.

“Don’t be silly, Dudley, we used dull blades for the youngest. Hello, Draco.” Harry looks up at his only wizard friend and smiles.

“Well, Potter.” Draco sweeps in with a flourish, day robes flowing dramatically behind him. “I genuinely don’t know what to be more surprised by: the topic of conversation, or by the fact that you’ve decided to smuggle your cousin on board the Express.”

His eyes are still a little wide from surprise as he sits down beside Dudley, where he has a good view of Harry across them.

He looks between them, clearly expecting an explanation for what he’d just walked in on.

“Long story short?” Harry offers. “Rules don’t say I can’t have Dudley along for the trip. He can visit Hogsmeade and then head home.”

“Huh.” Draco absorbs that. “Were you aware that a lot of the shops are only open for the weekends the students come down to the village? Zonko’s joke shop, for example.”

Some have to be open, right?” Dudley asks. “Like, it’s still a village?”

“Yeah, like the Three Broomsticks.” Draco allows. “Actually, many of them allow owl-ordering from their main shops in Diagon, like Quality Quidditch. It’s the stores that aren’t part of a larger franchise that stay open year-round.”

“So some of the shops are the only version of their shops?” Harry asks, curious now.

“Yes.” Draco says. “Exactly. If you need something from them, most people might wait until they need things from more than one store, just to justify a trip.”

“Then the village sees more traffic than just Hogwarts?” Harry, again, pressing. He is—slowly—learning all about the economic models in the muggle world and this shiny new magical one, and picking the brains of an heir who’s already received the lessons is only smart.

“Exactly.” Says Draco, looking the barest bit thoughtful now. “It’s not like you can’t floo to the Three Broomsticks and make a quick trip of it.”

Draco never looks as in-his-element as he is when he’s explaining magical matters to Harry. The confidence he exudes when certain he knows what he’s talking about it endearing. He’s like a little teacher, which is highly amusing-- both because Harry must look the same way, when teaching Dudley, and also because Harry has paid a man a lot of gold to do the same thing these past couple weeks.

It will take months to catch up to where the blonde boy is just from having lived at his father’s knee and having received tutoring from the time he could talk.

As it ticks closer and closer to eleven, they ask all the questions they can think of about the village next to Hogwarts. Draco hasn’t actually been to Hogsmeade, but he knows enough from his parents’ stories and his own inquiries to them to make conversation.

He doesn’t even begrudge when Harry turns the conversation toward hypothetical questions, thought scenarios and other markets, small “what ifs” that help him paint a better picture of the wizarding economy. Draco, who like any eleven-year-old loves to know what he’s talking about and be in possession of a rapt audience, glows.

He talks about broomsticks for nearly ten minutes. It turns out he had one, and played in a junior league, though he’d almost outgrown it. He had definite opinions about which model should be his adult replacement.

Finally, though, the blonde sighs and stands.

“Alright, I’ve got to go find Crabbe and Goyle. They might not have even found a compartment on their own.” He rolls his eyes and then looks to Harry, almost hesitantly. “I’ve got to socialize with some other court names, after that, but I can stop by in a couple hours?”

It’s a question; one that Harry waves away with a smile.

“Yeah, we’ll see you then.”

Draco grins, a bright thing, before he makes his leave.

Harry and Dudley occupy themselves picking up where they left off, going over academy curriculum. Dudley feels like he shot himself in the foot because when they wrap up the topic, he’s somehow been pressganged into anatomy lessons.

Finally, just as the clock ticks over, a knock sounds. The door is pulled back.

A redheaded boy pokes his head in and says—

“Oh. Sorry, I’ve been looking and there’s no empty compartments left. A lot of them have one or two people. I guess I’ll find one of the singles and ask to join.”

The train gives another whistle and a lurch; the boy stumbles.

Harry and Dudley share a look.

“Come on in,” Harry allows, magnanimously.

The redhead gives a relieved smile and swings his trunk in just as the train lumbers into motion.

“Cutting it a little close, are you?” Dudley asks, as he and Harry heave the trunk up into the racks.

“You don’t even know,” Says the redhead. “It’s my first year, but I’ve got six siblings and five of them are older than me. Every September we leave the house and come back like five times because somebody forgets something. It’s chaos.”

They laugh and the boy looks relieved, sitting next to Dudley easily. He pushes his hair out of his eyes with his free hand.

“I’m Ron, Ron Weasley,” He stretches his hand out, overlarge sleeve almost covering it before he impatiently brushes it back.

“Harry Potter,” Harry says, reaching out to shake it. Ron stares.

“Are you really?” Asks the redhead in a hushed tone.

“All my life,” Harry laughs. “This is my cousin, Dudley.”

Dudley frowns.

“You know,” He says, taking Ron’s rather surprised hand. “My dad picked out that name, but I’ve always kind of hated it. I planned to use my middle name when I went to middle school.”

“Alexander?” Harry asks. “I mean, it’s a lot more common. And, you know. Not ‘Dudley.’ I learned my middle name was James when I got my Hogwarts letter.”

“Huh.” Dudley says. “Harry James. Harry James Potter. Sounds decent, I guess. It’s weird and new, though.”

“James was my dad’s name,” Harry told him. “James Charlus Potter.”

“And Lily was your mom,” Dudley says, a bit subdued. “Amazing, how much we’ve learned since we moved.”

“You didn’t know your own middle name?” Ron asks, oblivious to their tones, or perhaps curious enough to ask despite them.

“Well, I was hardly raised by my parents.” Harry laughs. “My uncle’s a muggle. My aunt’s a squib, but we didn’t know that until recently. I was just—a baby on their doorstep. How were they supposed to know anything about magic or wizard families?”

“You were raised with muggles?” Ron’s voice raises in surprise, and he stands without seeming to notice.

“Yes?” Harry asks, almost challenging. “I didn’t know there was something other than muggles for all my life, until my eleventh birthday.”

“That’s.” Ron sits, stunned. “That’s crazy.”

Then he blinks, like an owl.

“Wait. The Potters are a noble family! Even with—you know—everything that happened, aren’t you supposed to like. Know about your history, and how to manage an estate, and all that stuff?”

Harry looks at him in surprise.

“Well, yes, actually. And of course, I didn’t learn any of that, either. I’m having to hire tutors to teach me everything I missed. It’s a lot. I spent the last two weeks doing so much homework.”

Dudley snickers.

“And my cousin just volunteered to run another lap around the grounds tomorrow.”

The laughter vanished.

“Harry!”

“So sorry, but look at this way! You only have half as much homework as I do, the exercise will do you good.”

“Maybe if I wasn’t already exercising,” Dudley hisses.

Ron laughs.

“Do you play Quidditch? That’s the only kind of exercise most wizards get.” Then he frowns. “Wait, do you know about Quidditch yet?”

“We have a pitch in my new backyard, so yes, I do.” Harry says, somewhat dryly. “Know about it, that is. I haven’t had a chance to play. It’s the broomstick one, right?”

Dudley says, “You know how wild it is that wizards and witches really use flying broomsticks? That’s what muggles have always said you do, but they don’t think you’re real, so.”

“Muggles have stories about witches and wizards?” Ron asks, looking captivated.

“Yeah, like. You know. Bedtime stories or fiction. Imaginary things like fairies and unicorns.”

“But unicorns are real!” Ron laughs. “Or, you know, I guess muggles wouldn’t know that. How crazy.” He picks up his wand.

“See? It’s—” Here, he reddens, before powering through. “It’s a bit of a hand-me-down, like the robes. My brother Bill’s old wand. It’s so old, look, the unicorn hair’s sticking out a bit.”

And Dudley does indeed lean forward.

“Holy crow! Harry, you didn’t tell me unicorns were real!” He accuses.

“Excuse me, how was I supposed to know? Well, the wandmaker did talk about it a bit, but the wand I chose has a phoenix feather core.”

“You mean, the wand that chose you.” Ron corrects, then grins. “The wand choses the wizard. One day I’ll get my own, like Bill did, but family wands work well enough.”

“I wonder if my family has any wands in our vaults.” Harry muses. “Actually, I wonder what happened to my parents’ wands? Or what cores they had?”

Ron smiles somewhat shakily.

“I don’t know what my parents have for their cores off the top of my head, either.” He admits, rather quiet. He flips his wand back right-side-up, then pockets it.

Harry looks out the window and sees they’ve almost left the cities behind for the fields and farmland of the English countryside.

Last time he was on a train, it kind of. Exploded.

Also he tried to outrun it, carrying a princess. Chuckling to himself, Harry turned back to his companions. Ron drew a rat out of his pocket and leaned over to set him gently down on the table next to the window.

“My pet rat, Scabbers,” He explained. “What familiar are you taking with you?”

Dudley burst out laughing and Harry glared at him.

“I’ve got a beautiful owl named Hedwig, but I didn’t see any point in putting her in a cage for the trip. She’ll find me at Hogwarts.”

“Wow, really?” Ron asked. “Well, I guess that makes sense. They have to find us to be able to deliver mail and all. Wonder why everyone doesn’t do that?”

“Tradition, I guess.” He looks to the other wizard. “So, you don’t have an owl?”

“My family does,” Ron is quick to assure him. “Although, he’s getting on in years. His name’s Errol.”

“And you said you have six siblings?” Harry asks. “I can’t even imagine. I’ve always been an only child.”

Well, all but once, and didn’t that turn out well?

Dudley snickers at the inside joke, but Ron takes it in stride.

“That’s a lot, I know. So, I’ve got five older brothers and one younger sister…”

Time passes easily.

A couple hours in, a bustling witch pushes a trolley down the corridor and knocks on every door, asking if anyone would like to purchase anything.

Wizard sweets,” Dudley pleads with no shame whatsoever. “Harry, we have got to try wizard candy.”

“You have wizard money of your own, it’s part of your allowance. If I have to buy you candy, it’s another lap for each piece.”

Dudley’s hands vanish so fast into his own pockets you’d think he taught himself shunshin.

“Some of everything, please.” He asserts firmly, and forks over eleven sickles without blinking.

Harry sighs.

“It’s for science, Harry!” Dudley laughs, as the witch gives them, indeed, a bit of everything—from brightly wrapped candy, to homemade and artfully packaged cakes and pastries, to novelty snacks.

The witch looks to Ron questioningly. The boy flushes bright red and pulls some saran wrapped sandwiches out of his pocket.

“I think we’ve got enough to share,” Harry says to the plump woman, and ignores Ron’s protests.

“What?” Dudley asks. “I was curious about wizard snacks, but it’s not like we can eat all this. I’d be running for ages trying to burn it off!”

Harry laughs, but does lean forward to grab a Chocolate Frog.

“If this is an actual frog dipped in chocolate I’m calling the police,” He mutters.

Across from him, Ron and Dudley grin.

“No, of course not.” Ron says. “Just try it.”

Harry does in fact open the frog and then, to his surprise, has to lunge and catch it when it squirms out of his grasp. He’s only glad he didn’t react out of pure habit and pin it to the wall via kunai. Wouldn’t that have been fun to explain?

“You said it wasn’t alive!” Harry sputtered, holding tight to the frog. When he dared open his clasped hands, the frog was inert once more.

“It’s a spell!” Ron was quick to explain, as though he and Harry’s cousin weren’t doubled over with raucous laughter. “It’s only—it can only do it like, once. One good jump, at least. It’s just animated chocolate.”

“Wizards are weird,” Harry seethes, biting off the frog’s head rather abruptly. To his relief, it’s pure chocolate. Not even hollow. His poor teeth.

“You’re the expert,” Dudley reminds, then laughs anew at the face Harry pulls.

“Oh, what’s the card?”

Harry blinks, then looks back inside the box.

“Uh, Dumbledore. Isn’t he the headmaster of Hogwarts?”

“Yeah, but I’ve got about a dozen of him. The really rare cards are…”

Harry reads the details almost absently.

Across him, Dudley tries various sweets with increasing delight.

Eventually, the compartment door opens once more, this time to let in the head and shoulders of a rather perfunctory girl with bushy hair. Not that Harry had any room to talk.

“Excuse me,” Said the girl. “Has anyone seen a toad? It’s only, Neville’s lost his.”

“A toad?” Harry asks, vaguely remembering that option from the list. He probably wouldn’t have if not for memories of Mt. Myoboku vying for attention.

“Hardly anyone actually brings a toad, these days.” Ron says, in some surprise.

“Did you try seeing if any of the older students know a spell to help?” Dudley says.

The girl sniffs.

“I tried asking the prefect’s cart, but they just told me not to worry about it. They didn’t care at all that Trevor’s missing!”

“Well, did you think there might be a reason?” Harry tries. “I mean, the castle elves are going to gather our luggage when we get there. They might grab anything we leave behind, too.”

“Elves?” the girl asks, surprised. “I’ve read all of Hogwarts: A History and they never said anything about elves.”

Harry checks his watch.

“Well, it’s almost lunch time. Why don’t you and Neville join me and we can talk more about his toad and I’ll introduce you to my house elves. What’s your name, then?”

“Granger.” Says the girl primly. “It’s Hermione Granger and going from the state of the table, there, my teeth might not survive whatever lunch you have in mind.”

Harry fights not to roll his eyes. Dudley has no such compunctions.

“Middy!” Harry calls, trying not to grin from ear to ear.

The elf appears instantly.

“Master Harry,” He beams, clad in the outfit all Potter elves share.

“Would you like to take a seat?”

Middy does, right next to Harry. Hermione, stunned silent, sits down in the third seat across them, while a pudgy blonde nervously shuffles in and sits next to Middy.

“Middy, these are Ron, Hermione and-- Neville, I think it was?”

“Neville Longbottom,” Neville confirms, perfectly quiet.

“Hello,” Says Middy, smiling wide. Harry touches the ribbon of light between them and pushes energy to it out of pure reflex, feels the elf’s happiness radiate back nearly tangible.

“Er,” Hermione says, realizing she can’t very well open with ‘what are you.’

“Middy, is it okay if I tell Hermione about house elves and what you do for the House of Potter?” Next to Middy, Neville lets out a little huff of surprise.

“Of course, Master Harry. Middy is glad to be explaining if you need, or answering any questions.”

“Right, well.” He turns to Hermione. “House elves are a sapient race of humanoids. Unlike, say, brownies or bowtruckles, they are just as intelligent and capable as humans, whether muggle or magical. They think, reason, feel and love. They’re people.” He trades a glance with Dudley, quirking a smile. “They’re just short.”

Dudley grins, too.

“However, several thousand years ago, a disease swept through the fae races. Many species of fae simply cut themselves off from this realm. Almost all the nature nymphs fled. Dryads, who were magically tied to trees; nyads, tied to the waters; and nephelae, of the sky—they died in droves before the survivors, among a host of other species, all fled with the high elves back to the Summer Isles. House elves, who were tied to the hearths of men, chose not to.”

A somber mood fell over the words.

“The disease wasn’t a sickness as we understand it. It was a magical corruption. They don’t like to talk about it, but there came a time when every house elf alive could feel their magic eroding and eating them from the inside out.”

A breath.

“But one day,” Middy says, picking up. “There was a witch who saw her friend dying, so she spent many summers crafting a spell. And she found one, and she used it, and it tied her magic to her elf’s magic. It was a strain on the witch, but her magic stabilized the elf long enough that the elf could reach back and share some of his magic, the wild magic that lives in elf hearts.”

“And magic rejoiced,” Quoted Neville, in a murmur. “For in one act of love and sacrifice, light returned to the world. Hope and wild magic found home in the breast of man and flourished. The lines of the world are made whole.”

“The scourge has passed,” Middy whispered, solemnly completing what sounded like a verse. A poem, maybe.

“It’s a symbiotic relationship,” Harry summarized, clearing his throat. “House elves were already known for living secretly in people’s homes, doing small labors in exchange for food and milk. Their magic is tied to the hearth, and helping, in—I don’t know, let’s say, the same way that bowtruckles and dryads are tied, magically, to their trees.”

“Like—like the shoemaker and the elves?” Hermione asks, surprising Harry.

“Yeah, actually.” Neville says, looking up. “We’re pretty sure that story is about House Elves, before the Accord.”

“Harry, talk about the power requirements,” Dudley prods.

“Oh.” Harry says. “Right, yeah. Not just anyone can support a house elf bond. Even with the feedback—symbiosis—it’s still a strain on personal magic. Of course, in the mid-ninth century, someone figured out how to tie the bonds to family magic instead, so it could be more spread out among members of a household.”

“And then,” Says Neville, smiling shyly at Harry, “Godric Gryffindor performed a rite almost as powerful as the original Accord. In one, unrepeatable feat—with the strongest surge of light magic in our written history-- one wizard single-handedly tied a hundred dying elves to the ley line and wards of Hogwarts itself. Since then, the Headmasters have kept all one hundred positions filled, and there’s no shortage of work to be done around the castle.”

“Right,” Says Ron. “Because House Elves go mad when there’s not enough to do. That’s another reason why one wizard living alone wouldn’t have any.”

Unexpectedly, Middy laughs.

“Yes, it is not good for elves to be having too little to do. So, would young masters and friends like lunch?” He hops to his feet.

“Cassio is enjoying having so much to do,” Harry accuses, to more elven laughter. Middy’s eyes twinkle.

“We all enjoying having so much to do, Master Harry. Cassio be almost done with lunch.” He looks around, then huffs. With a snap of his fingers, the walls and benches are suddenly two foot further apart. Ron, Hermione and Dudley yelp.

“Much better,” Middy says, and vanishes with a pop. Moments later, an entire table arrives, fitting perfectly between them and low enough that they don’t have any trouble reaching it.

Five white plates are empty, one in front of each of them. The center of the table is absolutely stuffed with matching dishes, piled high with food; it looks like three whole courses with appropriate sides. In the very middle is a basket overflowing with soft, fresh-baked bread rolls, the delicious scent of which quickly fills up their compartment.

Harry sighs.

“Do you think he knew, somehow, how many people I’d have with me? Or if it’s just wishful thinking on how many friends I’d make?”

Dudley reaches for the cloth napkin with his silverware tucked inside. “I think Cassio is in charge of the kitchen for a reason, and that reason is: he’s magic. Don’t question it.”

“They’re all magic,” Harry grumbles.

“Oh. Wow.” Hermione looks at the finery with shock. “So, lots of house elves tied to your family magic? I imagine there must be quite a few of you to handle so many.”

Neville chokes on a laugh. Harry glares.

“I take it you’re a pureblood then?” Harry asks.

“I’m your cousin,” Says Neville. “Or, close enough. The Potters, the Malfoys, and the Longbottoms all claim tertiary blood to the main line of the House of Black.”

He pauses, nods to Ron.

“The Weasleys have quaternary kinship.”

“Yeah,” Says Ron, nodding. He raises his hands almost helplessly in the direction of the food. “My dad’s mom was a Black. Mind, not of the main line.”

“And of course, there’s that weird generation gap with the Potters,” Ron continues. “Technically speaking, since there were two generations in the time it took Charlus Potter to have James, Harry’s third generation when you and Draco are fourth.”

“Yeah, that’s always been a bit weird in the histories.” Neville agrees. “But they had James past sixty, so, at least an heir happened? And he was an only child, too.”

“You know,” Says Harry, in a deceptively calm voice. “I would have really appreciated even knowing my dad’s name growing up.”

Both purebloods pause.

“Oh.” Ron mutters, “I’m sorry, Harry. I completely forgot.”

At Neville’s look, Dudley explains.

“My cousin was raised with me and my parents. None of us are magical and my mom and dad didn’t know anything about magic, much less family trees or anything. We didn’t know magic was real until about a month ago.”

“Really?” Neville looks scandalized. “Wow, I bet the goblins are pissed.”

“Pissed is a bit of an understatement,” Harry says lowly, managing a smile. “They’ve lost money over this, with no one managing the Potter investments. Granted, I haven’t lost any money, there’s a steady increase actually, but with no one shifting and reinvesting that gain…”

“Ouch.” Neville winced.

“Yeah.” Harry agrees. “Better than a downward trend nobody caught, I guess.”

“Never thought I’d say it, but I’m glad my family doesn’t have pockets deep enough to worry about investments. My brother Bill works for Gringott’s and the goblins are mean.” Ron whistles, lowly.

“Wait,” Says Hermione, copying the others and setting up her plate politely. “How do you know so much about house elves, and history, and all of that, if you’ve only been learning a month?”

“Well, first of all, I asked.” Says Harry. “The Potter elves were cut off from me my whole childhood, which was unacceptable—”

Neville drops his fork.

“Your bond was suppressed?” He demands, suddenly bold. “But—you’re the last Potter!”

Harry’s face darkens.

“I know.” He bites out. “And we lost—many.”

At Hermione’s look, he elaborates.

“When my parents died, I became the last living Potter. All the family magic holding the elves remained, but when I was—taken to my relatives—they couldn’t find me. I didn’t know they were there. Because of my ignorance, our bond was uneven. On both sides, really. I was supporting them, barely, but they couldn’t give anything back to me.”

He paused.

“You know Einstein’s theory of relativity?” He asks, waiting for her to respond.

“Obviously,” Says the girl.

“Okay, you know the picture they always try to use, describing a massive object bending spacetime around it?”

“Yes, a planet affecting the curvature of spacetime. The grid is round and, you know, concave where the planet sits.”

Harry grins, pleased. He’ll have to enjoy her company during the school year, if only for some decent science amidst the crazy. That, or start a Muggle-raised support group.

“Oh!” Dudley says, around a mouthful of roast chicken. He swallows, tries again. “I know this one, actually. That’s the experiment where you have a sheet, with a bowling ball.”

“Do you have any idea what they’re talking about?” Neville asks, under his breath.

“My dad has talked about ‘bowling’ before,” Ron hesitates. “I think it’s like quidditch? The ball is like a quaffle, at least.”

Harry sighs.

“So, imagine you’re holding a sheet. You and three other people, everyone’s got a corner. What happens when you toss a quaffle in the middle?”

“It, you know,” Ron says, making the motion. “It weighs it down in the middle.”

Neville nods.

“Right. My bond with the house elves is the sheet, and the interference was the quaffle. It stopped a lot of my magic going to them, and prevented most of their magic from coming to me. As a result, an unacceptable number of my family members were lost. They aged prematurely, unbalanced magic eating them from the inside, until they died of it.”

Hermione’s hands went up to her mouth in horror.

“Keep in mind, even one would have been ‘an unacceptable number’, but it was almost two dozen who passed away in the nine years Harry was with my family,” Dudley explains grimly.

Neville mouths ‘two dozen’ to himself and sits back, too stunned to eat.

“God, that’s awful.” Hermione says, tears building at the corners of her eyes.

“Well, it happened.” Harry explains. “That’s why I’m so protective over the bonds I have with my elves. I’ll explain the importance and history and practical effects of the wizard-elf bond to everyone at this school if I have to.”

“To answer your question,” He continues. “I don’t know why there’s no mention of Godric’s spell in your version of Hogwarts: A History. I can only assume you’ve got one of the revised editions and, because there’s so much relatively recent history to consider, some things got left out. It’s there in the oldest copy I have.”

Hermione huffs.

“I’m going to go check out all of the older versions from the library as soon as we get there,” She promises. “To think that details like that could be missing from revision to revision! There’s no telling what else is missing.”

“Well, I think we’re currently on version fourteen, so you might be right about that. Hogwarts is eleven hundred years old, after all.” Neville says, shakily going back to his food.

“I think most of those versions have come out in the last six hundred years,” Harry says, offhand. “I know there wasn’t much history in the first couple centuries after founding.”

Hermione smiles.

“Yes, I think so too. The fact that it’s called “A History” implies it was written after the school was well-established, and it reads like someone trying to uncover facts and compile knowledge about what it was like all those centuries ago.”

By the time they finish the last ‘course’ they’re all basically full. Portion sizes had been on the small size purely because of how much variety there was.

Three courses add up fast.

When Ron takes his last bite, every bit of plating on the table vanishes, leaving it bare wood for a half second before dessert appears.

Harry blinks.

“Do you think they’re still mad about how skinny I am? Because I did eat, you know. I had a lot of fun camping.”

Dudley laughs.

A final plate of brownies appears, almost as an afterthought, moving aside one of the gorgeous three-tier-glass displays of cakes.

“Oh yeah, they’ll be making up for not being able to feed you for… hmm. How old do wizards get, again?”

“About twice as long as muggles on average,” Neville replies, an amused huff leaving him with half a smirk.

Hermione sighs. “That’s just ridiculous, you know. I haven’t seen anything like that printed in any of the books I’ve read.”

“It’s a problem,” Harry admits. “Not the longevity, but the assumptions. A lot of things aren’t written down because everyone just knows them. Which leads to about as many problems as you’d expect.”

“Then they’re going to be trying to feed you twice as much as you can realistically eat for, oh, say about 160 years.”

Harry points at him.

“You’re not funny.”

Dudley grins, unrepentant.

“I’m hilarious.”

“Wait,” Says Hermione, out of nowhere, one delicate morsel of cake perched atop her fork, paused in front of her mouth. “You said ‘none of usare magical, not were. How are you on the Express if you’re not magical?”

“Oh,” Says Dudley surprised but grinning. “I’m a squib. I’m not going to Hogwarts. I’m just riding along to Hogsmeade because nowhere in the rules does it say I can’t.”

What?!”

Chapter Text

The verdant countryside spans past as the afternoon ticks on. As they get closer to Hogwarts, sharing bits and pieces of their lives in the traditional way of new students everywhere, Harry both learns and is learned.

Dudley introduces himself, tentatively, to Hermione and Neville as Alexander Evans, not Dursley, and Harry can’t help but blink in surprise. The way his cousin’s eyes flit over in worry has his expression softening, though, and he discretely gives his cousin a thumbs up.

Relief washes over the blonde in a wave, clearly relieved for the support.

Neville smiles encouragingly, but just as shy, and Harry considers for a moment how similar they are—both larger than Harry, though that wasn’t hard, with blonde hair, though Neville’s was a few shades darker. And while Dudley had Petunia’s deep blue eyes, Neville’s were a mossy hazel somewhere between green and brown.

The Longbottom heir seemed reserved, more out of a painful sort of timidness than anything else, but as the day wore on he’d relaxed and spoke up more and more.

Hermione Granger had no such problems—or if she did, she covered it up with all the facts she’d come to know about the wizarding world. It was a familiar battle strategy: instead cowering in the face of the new, unknown and different, she’d armed herself with knowledge.

The part of him that was once Sakura felt a strange kinship with the other girl, curious and pleased. Of course, he’d not been able to rely on booksmarts for long. It was a false sort of bravery on its own and had to be backed up with implementing the theoretical. All the knowledge of plants and foraging hadn’t helped her with a kunai to her throat in a forest; if she’d taken those plants and made a poison of them, that would have been useful.

Instead she tried to bully through on skills she didn’t have and went through a lot of regret very quickly. Granted, that was an extremely long time ago and for the rest of her life she’d been a veritable force of nature.

As Naruto he hadn’t been aware of it, but with the perspective from the rest of team seven he’s fondly aware of his own tendency to collect people like a hoard. It wasn’t that cold, of course, but he shook himself from his musing and vowed to help both of his new friends be able to defend themselves if needed, to actually use the magic they would learn.

It was an odd thought to have with no known enemies around, but Harry wasn’t naïve enough to think this world was devoid of conflict just because people didn’t—as far as he knew--kill each other out in the open all the time.

His parents had died in a war, after all, and that meant conflict was alive and well in the world. Specifically, several factions existed and had already proven they’d spill blood over their ideas. Harry’s grounding in politics wasn’t very strong yet, despite his lessons, and he absently thought he might be quite sheltered from that side of things at school, though there was at least a history class according to his required book list.

Finally, though, a voice overhead announces that they’re approaching the castle. Startled, Harry looks out the window to see the sun setting. Dudley—Alexander—leans closer to him, brushing their shoulders in a quiet acknowledgement that their time is running out.

“Well, I guess I’ll go back to my original compartment to change.” Hermione says, a prim little frown on her lips. Harry has the most absurd moment of wondering why before his situation clicks. He hadn’t been very exposed to muggle culture at his Aunt and Uncle’s house, absorbing most of what he knew from overheard conversations and observing the behavior of other children at school. He hadn’t watched television and all of his “free” time was spent in his “bedroom”—certainly he spent all his time either there or in the yard until he was six years old.

Harry was sure he had the oddest look on his face as he realized his exposure to any of this world’s culture would have had to have been between ages five and eight-ish. Halfway through his eighth year he’d figured out how to spend half his time in the woods, like a little wild child.

It was a vey civilian mindset in any case, one Sakura had gotten over in mere months.

He glanced at his own shirt and jean trousers and shrugged amiably. Neville shuffled out of the compartment after her, mumbling about doing the same.

“I just thought—are jeans even comfortable under robes?”

Yet another blonde answered him, rather unexpectedly. Draco caught the door as it was closing and stepped inside, already dressed in Hogwarts’ black robes.

“Traditional purebloods go starkers underneath,” He opinined cheerfully, and Ron laughed.

Harry grimaced. Dudley—Alexander-- laughed at his face.

“Most of us wear comfy clothes, mind.” Ron offered, like an olive branch.

“Where do you get casual wear that’s not robes?” Harry wonders out loud. “Muggle shops?”

Draco full body shudders, looking horrified as he sits down with the barest glance at Ron.

“Don’t be ridiculous, Harry.” The use of his first name throws him off momentarily. “There are plenty of shops that offer casual robe under-wear.”

Alexander snorts badly.

Harry cracks a grin at the turn of phrase.

“I didn’t see any at Madam Malkins,” He protests, fishing.

“Well, you wouldn’t. It’s a robe shop.” Ron points out.

“Merlin, Pot—Harry. At this rate you’re going to be swept off into Ravenclaw as soon as the hat hits your head.”

Harry paused.

“Well, would that be so bad? I hadn’t actually given any thought to the Sorting.”

Draco and Ron looked mutually aghast, sharing a look before Draco laughed.

“For some families, maybe not, but the Malfoys have always been in Slytherin.”

“All the Weasleys have been in Gryffindor, too.” Ron says, easily enough after the barest grimace.

“What, all of them?” Alexander wondered.

Draco and Ron give each other wary looks, but Draco caves first.

“There’s the odd Ravenclaw, or two.” He admitted.

Ron thought about it.

“Come to think of it, I’m not sure how the twins didn’t get sorted into Slytherin.” He looked like the world had just shifted on its axis.

Draco snorted.

“Well, your family has always been stupidly powerful. Molly Weasley mothered seven children, when most families struggle with one or two, and she can still use a wand, can’t she? And they’re not weak, or even average. Maybe they would have done well in Slytherin, or maybe they figured they'd stumble into great jobs without having to be ambitious about it.”

“Does it—does it cost magic to have children?” Harry asked, curious and not a little horrified. A painful thought lodges in his throat, that maybe his mother might have survived if he hadn’t left her magically crippled. Ron, who had looked caught between flattered and offended, cut himself off before he could even start to respond, equally curious.

“Not—technically.” Draco pauses, considering. Ron looks intrigued.

“So it’s like this—a lot of magic goes into a pregnancy. A witch has to be careful what spells she casts during one, because casting strong magic is taxing on the body, but also because the kid is growing from her magic. On top of that, a lot of witches purposefully pour magic into the kid—to make sure they’re healthy, and because of some superstitions. But anyway, magical children eat a lot more food than muggles, to feed their magic, right?”

Harry nods on a grimace.

Part of the reason he was so malnourished was because, as his healer told him, he’d needed five to six times the average muggle’s caloric intake and had instead received half a muggle’s, at best.

“It’s the same principle.” Draco shrugs. “They’re not just spending energy to grow a whole entire person, the kid’s magic is growing, too. And magical babies are very needy.”

“Why do you know all this?” Ron demanded. “I don’t even know all this, and my mom has seven kids!”

Draco frowned at him, but at Harry’s curiosity relented.

“If you must know, I asked. I always wanted a little brother or sister and didn’t understand why my parents wouldn’t give me one.”

“Really?” Harry asked. “But isn’t that dangerous? You’re heir to your house, right?”

Draco nodded, fiddling with his wand absently. Ron eyed it with mistrust for just a moment.

“Yes, exactly. But they sat me down and explained that it was very dangerous to leave a witch without most of her magic for a year, and that I had been a very magical baby. And, also—”

Here Draco hesitated. He looked around, as if taking in the room’s company and deciding whether or not to confess something rather private.

Harry opened his mouth to absolve him of the responsibility, and Ron looked particularly uncomfortable, but before he could say anything Draco looked at him, inhaled, and powered through.

“My mother and I almost died when I was born.” He admitted, serious but not hushed.

Ron gaped.

“How?” Alexander asked, before Harry could. “Are magical pregnancies dangerous?”

Like any eleven year old he looked rather queasy about the whole matter but it was also incredibly interesting—if horrible, in this case.

“There was a war going on,” Draco reminded, a touch dry. “And our parents were right in the middle of it.” He looked to Harry, eyes silver.

“Your birthday’s in June, isn’t it?” Draco nods, please by the remembrance despite the heavy topic, and Harry muses out loud.

“Almost two years before the war would end, then. That was the high point of the violence, right?” He wasn’t an expert on the blood war, yet, but he would be.

“That was where the violence really picked up,” Draco corrected. “It had always been bad but that’s when it started getting worse and never stopped getting worse, until one day it stopped completely.”

He eyed Harry, for the first time, as the Boy-who-lived, though it was with a lot more consideration for the person underneath. It quickly faded.

“So something happened?” Ron asked, looking fascinated.

“You could say that.” Draco frowned. “My mother was at a Wizengamot session, testifying for her first authored bill. She wanted to increase the punishment for violence against children—any violence. Thanks to her you could get sent to Azkaban for life for kidnapping someone’s child to use against them, or even disciplining your own child with physical harm, or starvation.”

At their looks, he elaborates:

“It used to be quite common to beat your child, or periodically starve them. A child’s magic is extremely volatile so often intense bursts of accidental magic will stop them from being injured in such a way, which is what they want. Strong accidental magic widens the magical channels, though it’s obviously dangerous. Moreover, if you actually manage to hurt the kid, their magic grows to heal them. In the case of starvation, the magic can dig deep and stretch trying to keep a child alive, even if the magic itself needs the calories, increasing their reserve and core strength.”

“That’s dark as fuck!” Ron protests, looking horrified at the idea.

“It’s evil, actually.” Draco snaps, clearly having been raised in a household where his mother wasn’t shy about her beliefs. “Thanks to my mother, Algie Longbottom is still in Azkaban for throwing his future Lord out a bloody window.”

“What, Neville?” Ron drew the dots before Alexander or Harry could manage, deeply and unconsciously familiar of who’s who in an infuriating way. Harry had spent weeks studying family tree charts, but had precious little time to devote to it in light of all the other things he needed to learn as soon as possible.

“No, the other Longbottom scion. Yes, Neville!” Draco snapped, but Harry leaned over to put a hand on his shoulder. Obviously this issue was close to him, personal enough to give him a stake. Personally Harry couldn’t blame him on account of how he’d have set this entire bleeding planet on fire for any of his mothers, if they lived.

“My mother would have cut the wand arm off anyone who even tried to touch me, growing up.” Draco continued, huffy. “But it was the first of many bills she authored, sponsored and spoke for. She’s got a Mastery in Magical Law, with a specialization in Family Law.”

“So she was at the Wizengamot when the attack happened?” Harry prompted, gently.

“No, they were in the Atrium of the ministry. Pregnant women, especially heavily pregnant women, can’t floo, so my father and her were going to the front entrance. They were going rather quickly since she was too pregnant to cast more than a cheering charm. My father didn’t even want her to be there, but—”

“Your mother isn’t someone to be told ‘no’ about something she cares about,” Harry nodded, having known that just from speaking with the witch.

“Death Eaters attacked the Ministry. We know now that half the Ministry was in the Dark Lord’s pocket anyway, so Merlin knows what they were hoping to do—”

“Wasn’t the Atrium full of the other faction’s Lords and Lady’s, too?” Harry thought, imagining where this was going.

“Yes, that’s probably it, actually. Anyway, the Death Eaters attacked—throwing magic almost indiscriminately, though if they had targets they didn’t show it. My father took a painful curse to the shoulder and despite healing, uses a cain to this day. Lord Potter, an Auror not on duty due to the session, bodily shoved my parents out of the conflict. Lily Potter, who was nine months pregnant and shouldn’t have been able to cast anything without endangering you both, started throwing stunners around. She put a shield up around my mother and started picking masked wizards down, on top of that.”

“Is that why I was born so premature?” Harry couldn’t help but wonder.

“No, almost certainly not.” Draco protested. “Lily Potter was just that powerful a witch. She was hailed as the brightest witch of the age which is frankly incredible because she was muggleborn.”

Ron huffed.

“Are you saying muggleborns can’t be smart?”

“No, of course not, Lily Potter was my godmother. I would never insult her. But she was astonishingly powerful without a drop of family magic.”

Actually that wasn’t true at all but Harry kept his mouth shut.

Ron’s jaw snapped closed.

“The title “brightest witch” isn’t to do with intelligence, anyway. It means someone put a Myrddin Orb in her hands and it shone like a star.”

The door slid open, catching everyone’s attention.

Hermione poked her head in.

“What’s a Myrddin Orb?” She asked, coming in to sit with her shoulders drawn back purposefully. Too purposefully—it was painfully clear that she threw on the bravery to cover some sort of social anxiety that, come to think of it, should have been more common with a group full of barely double-digit children. “And why haven’t any of you gotten dressed?”

“Lord Potter and Ron can just put their robes on over their clothes,” Neville spoke up, quietly, right behind her. “And a Myrddin Orb is a device that measures magical power. They’re illegal to buy or make, but not to have, so most old Wizarding families have a few.”

“Yeah, they’re ‘family heirlooms’ with historical value.” Ron air quoted. “We’ve got one, I think—or at least my great aunt does. No idea where it came from and it’s probably in an attic somewhere.”

“They’re mostly used to calculate ritual power for covens and conclaves, or if you’re just lousy with money, to calculate the right amount of magic to put into a spell.” Draco added.

“What’s money got to do with it?” Hermione wondered, processing this.

“They can be rented from the Department of Mysteries, technically, but you have to agree to a lot of oaths first and have a good reason. The Bank’ll let you use one of theirs, but nobody does that because it’d cost an arm and a leg.” He continued.

Neville snorted, quiety, and reddened when they all looked over.

“Sorry, it’s just—literally.” He admitted, and Harry and Alexander laughed.

“That’s a horrible thing to say!” Hermione protested, but Harry raised a hand.

“It’s really not. The goblins are quite proud of their cruelty and shrewd business practices. My account manager, for example, is probably going to literally demand a pound of blood from whoever has been opening my monthly account statements.”

Someone’s been—”

Draco sounded strangled and Harry had to cut him off, likewise at the expressions of Neville and Ron.

“Yes, I know. They wanted to stop sending out the letters immediately but I convinced them to just stick a tracking charm on next months. We’ll find out what’s been going on the 15th, one way or another.”

Neville grimaced while Draco looked practically violent.

“Hopefully it’s just some spell mistake,” The Longbottom Heir muttered, but he didn’t look convinced.

“It’s still wrong to say something so mean about an entire race,” Hermione protested, stubborn.

Harry sighed, surprised at her.

“Why?” He asked, genuinely wondering. “It’s factually correct that in Goblin culture, inaction toward your enemies is considered a weakness. They’re a warrior race who value honor, justice and revenge. What do you know about Goblin culture and tradition?”

She blinked, taken aback.

“I didn’t see any books about Goblin culture, or language, actually, in any of the book stores I went to.” She looked stunned. “Why is that?”

“That, my lady, is because Goblins are ruthlessly protective of their heritage. They’re not allowed wand-rights nor a voice in the law, so they zealously guard their own magic and language. Only a handful of wizards speak Gobbledygook.” Draco answered readily.

“It is not called that,” She laughed, surprised again.

“Oh, yes it is.” Harry countered, deeply amused himself. The Goblins were some of his favorite people and he trusted them like few people he’d known in this life.

She was honestly charming in her misplaced defense of them.

Unfortunately, Grímnismál and his people would probably be more insulted than charmed. Probably still quite amused, though. She was a very little witch.

At her age he’d been in Wave.

“Anyway, Draco, you were saying?” Harry prompted. Draco gave the new arrivals a long look, before finally deciding to resume. After all, he’d already started in front of one stranger, and Neville likely already knew the story.

“There’s not much more to it.” Draco said, thoughtful. “I was born under spellfire. I wasn’t that early, like you two were, but it was the stress and my father’s injury that started her labor and such things take a toll. Lily Potter held me in one arm and her wand in another. My father frankly had no business being in that fight, since he could feel my mother’s pain through their marriage bond and I’m told it was debilitating—more so than normal-- due to the circumstances and the abnormally rushed nature.”

Hermione put a hand over her mouth. Ron looked grim at the very idea.

“But my mother was an Auror and a front-line medic,” Neville said. “It took hours—they were there longer than the battle went on—but she stopped the bleeding. Even when the proper Healers came, they couldn’t switch out because she was too deep in the Charmwork.”

Draco smiled at him, shaky.

“But before that, the Dark Lord himself arrived,” Draco continued, smile dropping off his face. “And Lily Potter dueled him holding me with one arm, while heavily pregnant, until a furious James Potter jumped in and singlehandedly dueled the Dark Lord to a standstill. It was one of the longest and most volatile duels of the entire war.”

Harry could imagine.

“Lady Potter managed to tear down the anti-apparition wards so reinforcements could arrive,” Neville said. “And my father jumped into Lord Potter’s duel. Together they overpowered Y-you-Know-Who and the Death Eaters retreated short after.”

Hermione cleared her throat, breaking the silence.

“How did this conversation even get here?” Everyone looked at her with some surprise. It took Harry a second to remember.

“I think we were talking about how Ron’s mum has seven kids?” He offered.

“We got to talking about magical pregnancies,” Draco admitted, a bit sheepish but not much.

Ron frowned heavily in thought, and clicked his fingers together.

“It was the Sorting!” He remembered.

“Oh, yeah.” Alexander laughed. “You were saying Harry’s going to be a Ravenclaw because he’s so curious about everything.”

“I’ve known about magic for less than a month.” Harry complained, loudly. “Of course I’m curious. That doesn’t make it a core personality trait.”

“What makes you think we’re sorted based on personality?” Hermione asked. “Hogwarts: A History doesn’t say how we’re going to be sorted.”

“Yes, it does.” Neville and Draco said at the same time. They looked at each other and burst out laughing. Finally, Neville explained.

“It’s charmed not to say when new students pick it up,” The shy boy said. “It’s tradition to keep it secret, but my Gran never really bothered.”

“Nor my father,” Draco agreed, amused.

Ron huffed. “I’m glad your family isn’t full of traitors. Three of my brothers are at Hogwarts right now and I still don’t know.”

He folded his arms over his chest and Alexander laughed, greatly amused.

“Well, now I don’t know if I should say…” Neville trailed off, only to huff a little giggle at the thunderous frown sent his way.

Draco rolled his eyes.

“It’s a hat.” He said, spoiling the surprise. “A hat charmed by Godric Gryffindor to do some kind of surface-level legilimency, and sort you into the best house.”

Curiously, Neville went quiet at that.

“Well, I should think Ravenclaw would be quite nice,” Hermione said, matter-of-fact in his defense. “But everything I’ve read says Gryffindor is by far the best.”

Harry grinned a little at that, which Draco noticed and shot him an unimpressed look exaggerated for effect, and Neville huffed another silent laugh.

Before the debate could finish, though, the train started slowing down. Ron and Harry scrambled to their trunks—Harry’s, shrunken and in his pocket—to get their robes, and Hermione lectured them both while Alexander teased him viciously.

Draco excused himself to go solidify his political position in a way that Harry frankly didn’t plan on worrying about, since he didn’t know any of them yet anyway, and they got their School Uniform’s outer-robes pulled on just as the train rolled to a complete stop.

Harry tapped his wand against his trunk to activate the self-shrink feature and placed it back in his pocket, no bigger than a matchbox, and as the others departed waved them away to walk with his cousin.

Alexander scoffed at the effort, but it was clear he was touched.

As they walked off the train, Harry looked to the still-setting sun, not quite slipped beneath the horizon.

“You should get a room for the night,” Harry proposed, thinking of the inn Draco had mentioned. Alexander looked apprehensive at the very idea, but strangely excited.

“I’m worried about that—there’s not much I can do if anything happens.” One of the things they’d been told about was a fairly well-spread prejudice against squibs that didn’t come up too often, as most magicals pretended they didn’t exist.

More likely, though, he could be stuck somewhere or lost, or any number of things.

It was the rare pre-teen who could travel confidently through the world, let alone an unfamiliar place, and even Harry with all his lives wouldn’t risk it for no reason.

Granted, they were more fortunate than most-- probably-- because either of them could easily call an elf escor home. 

“You can still get some shopping done, there’s still light for an hour or two.” Well, light and a fairly well-lit twilight, this time of year. It wouldn’t get truly dark until almost nine.

“I could, yeah. I probably will. Even if it sounded a lot more fun this morning.” He took a steadying breath. “I’m gonna miss you, you know? And I’m glad I rode the train with you but now I’m kind of sad. I can’t help but wonder if this is how my mum felt when Aunt Lily went to Hogwarts.”

Worse, probably, but Harry didn’t say that out loud. The sisters didn’t have a train ride together and Lily certainly hadn’t managed to share her life with Petunia the way Harry had with his cousin.

Resolved, he nodded.

“I’m coming with you.” He decided, surprised he hadn’t thought of it before. Alexander started to protest, but Harry cloned himself without a second thought. His true self jogged a little to catch up with Hermione, Ron and Neville, and the clone wasted no time in henging into an older teen.

A young woman stood before Alexander, sixteen or seventeen, with pink hair a few shades closer to purple than normal. Her eyes were a deep brown flirting with black and she stretched, languid, as they veered off from the rest of the first year crowd leaving the station. All the other years' students were meandering to a winding road, presumably to Hogwarts, but Harry and Alexander followed it the opposite way, towards the village.

This way she’d have both the experience with her cousin and the Sorting ceremony.

“I’m the adult supervision.” Harry said smugly. Alexander snorted hard.

“And what should I call you?”

“Hm.” She considered, appreciating the weather that hadn’t yet grown too cold. Neither of them had sweaters; she was ‘dressed’ once more in jeans and soft cotton. She thought of youth, and discretion, the color of her hair. “Call me Tsubaki.”

Her cousin elbowed her playfully and she ribbed him right back, before clasping her hands at her neck and dropping her arms back to see the first spattering of stars in the sky.

"So," She asked, in the same vein. "Alexander, huh?"

Chapter Text

When the hat slips over Harry’s eyes, the first thing he hears is gravelly laughter.

Oh, lad. You really want to know what magic is, don’t you?

Harry scowled.

Can you tell me? He thinks back, idly instead of with great concentration. A lifetime next to blue eyes and mind-swap jutsu tells him exactly how to communicate this way. It’s bittersweet, but over the years some of the bitterness has faded.

There’s a rage deep in his heart at the lives he isn’t living anymore, at the people he’s somehow lost, but in the spaces between grief and confusion there’s room for painful-sweet memories; he doesn’t know enough words in three languages and four lifetimes to explain the ache Ino’s smile gives his chest.

No, I’m afraid not. You’ve got seven years here to figure it out, though. Where will you do it?

I’ve got a choice?

There is always a choice, my lord. But I’ll ask you this, daughter of Godric, son of Rowena, child of the magic that moved between them: what matters more to you?

When Harry thinks of “more”, when he thinks of important things, when he thinks of home

If you ask about home, he sees Konoha at sunset, two chests rising and falling in the grass next to him.

(Which two vary, but that just makes it better. The sense he now has is no different than it was in those laughing moments, one mind in three bodies).

Just across the river the market is hitting the night swing, paper lanterns set on long poles, and familiar faces waited in the crowed, laughing in stalls and bumping hips and elbows on the well-lit streets. The rookie 9 were well loved, clan heirs, up-and-coming as the powerhouses of the inheriting generation. Somewhere the boys of team nine were ribbing each other into a competition while Tenten bought out a travelling Merchant’s entire weapon stock.

There are giant trees all around and he knows this world, the northern desert and southern islands, the plains and crags and mountains, the valleys in between.

Theirs’ is a warrior culture, slowly backing away from sending children to war. But all have steel to hand, fighting styles and recreational violence. It’s the stretch of deadly muscles, constantly evolving strategy, the thrill of movement and teamwork and victory. It’s not the missions or the awful politics, but the moments in-between, of sweat and strength and becoming a better version of yourself.

Being cut off from that—the general comradery—hurt. It was a connecting tie severed, the ends writhing like a snake cut in half.

(Once he was made of ambition, and now it had cut off, sudden and unbidden, leaving him born anew and untethered, with the ribbons of his dreams, that had reached away from him into the far-off future, the painted sunset, laying cut at his feet. What does he have to want? What does he hope to do?)

He closed his eyes to speed and trust, scarred and strong bodies throwing wire and shuriken and kunai, moving through sword strikes and flips in breathless multidimensional combat, and opened them to a hall full of children, now obscured by black fabric.

They were the right ages. From eleven to eighteen they should have been the cream of this society’s crop, coming into themselves and their power as graduates read for fieldwork under a Jonin, yet here they were they were just entering their training.

Just entering their training at all, not just under a squad leader; just beginning their training in general, like five-year-olds entering the academy.

The culture shock sometimes hit him like whiplash and this was one of those times, so he finds himself clinging closer to the things he left behind.

Home is Konoha. It’s shinobi, it’s fighting, it’s smiles and competence and entering buildings through windows, it’s vests and leg wraps and collapsing on training grounds as you work yourself into exhaustion perfecting a new technique, your teammates coming into view above you upside down to laugh at you and then haul your overexerted self home. It’s flying, it’s people that know you inside and out, it’s ribbing and sarcasm and perfect trust earned a thousand times over.

Home is the sun setting over a village of painted leaves, comrades all around you; it’s the laugh of a friend over the clang of cold steel, warmed by a calloused grip, it’s throwing weapons that you know will be caught and working yourself to exhaustion, it’s the shock in a superior’s eye as you prove yourself again and again a legend in the making.

Harry swallowed and tried to calm his racing breath, lungs heaving. If tears stung at his eyes, well—nobody could see them anyway.

The hat may not have seen any of that, or it may have seen every bit.

Its voice curled like smoke between his ears, knowing, assessing. The magic inside the hat felt like the magic of the castle; familiar in a way it really had no business being, whimsical and melancholy and full of the promise of joy.

There is the potential for great loyalty within you, it said. Harry’s chest ached.

But it’s loyalty for something that has no place here. As ambition used to burn in your lungs, so too loyalty led each foot fall. The budding shape of it is building anew in your mind, I can see it, but that’s not yet the core of youeven if loyalty once shaped the person you were.

The people I was, Harry thought, and laid that thought to rest. Maybe it was addressing all four of him. Or only himself? Those kind of thoughts made his brain hurt on the best of days.

It’s true, though. All the ambition he’d felt had been achieved, more or less, in another life; and now those goals were gone, cut off from him by time and space and whatever waters of reincarnation that had failed to be his Lethe.

And he is loyal, in some way, to the people he has met here—to his cousin, Alexander, and loosely to the woman that raised him; and there are literal dozens of short beings making headway into his heart—to say nothing of a day’s trainride with a handful of children. But.

He’s not loyal at all to this world, would abandon it in a heartbeat for his rightful place. Part of him still views this as temporary, a strange land and a strange life, inferior to where he came from.

How can he be loyal to people if he’s not loyal to this life? If he would leave? How can he form goals for the future when his future isn’t here—or at least, he doesn’t want it to be?

I see, said the sorting hat. So will you bide your time here, studying? Many have. In that case, I have one question for you. The world is a dangerous place. The latest dark lord has fallen, but he was not the first. He will not be the last. What will you do if evil comes for this world while you are still here, if you do not yet love these people?

He’d fought out of love before, defended people he hadn’t known but cared for anyway, the only home he’d ever known; he’d fought a man who wanted to drown the world in the pain he felt. Loyalty to the people of his village, to the heart of it when every wall had fallen, had let him defend it at every cost.

But it wasn’t loyalty to Konoha that had stayed his hand, in the end; that had rendered him unable to kill Nagato when he found him.

We didn’t love the world, Harry thinks, picturing in his mind the word “Shinobi” written on a sea of headbands. When team seven had come back together for the first time, when every nation fought together, when enemies turned as friends to save it.

It wasn’t out of love. If evil comes to this place while I’m here, if it steps foot in my path, then I will rise to greet it.

Why? If not out of love, what guides you?

What?

I don’t need a reason, Harry thought, somewhat annoyed. It has nothing to do with love. I would help anyone, even an enemy, if was the right thing to do.

It was the core of Naruto’s fighting instinct, the heart of Sakura’s defiance, the reason Sasuke never considered going back to the village when he found out what it had done to his brother.

It was why Petunia Evans, who flinched as hard as he once did when Vernon Dursley yelled, even now resided in a castle made of magic.

But that was obvious, wasn’t it? Everyone did that. Regardless of loyalty, regardless of what they wanted, or their own ambition, or how they felt about it—regardless of everything else, people would do what they felt was right.

At the end of the day, people did what they could live with. What would let them look in the mirror afterwards. Who would he be, if he had the power to stop something like that, and did nothing?

To see a stranger struck down by his inaction?

What good was power if you didn’t use it?

Right?

Right, Agreed the hat that his ancestor had once worn, with no small amusement. Standing against the darkness is a duty and a privilege. That’s why you’re a “GRYFFINDOR!”

Harry took the hat off in disgust.

The orange light of a well-lit hall greeted him; a cacophony of sound, no longer muted by the magic of the sentient sorting fabric.

He hadn’t sat down on the rickety three-legged stool expecting to have an existential crisis, yet here he was. He stared at his bare palm, closing and opening his fingers, for a long moment. Here chakra could light up with wind and death, crackle with leashed lightning, glow with medical light.

Here Seph had wove magic into the ring he wore, enchantments opened and made permanent with blood, and even that close on the heal of an oath that bound him.

I won’t ever leave you again and nothing can make me.

Looking up showed him a tall table of dark wood, one of four throughout the hall, and the tie he wore had shifted colors, along with the hems of his robes, into the colors of his house twiceover.

There are dozens of students in matching garments clapping and cheering for his place among them, faces that blend into a larger whole at the moment, but that will—with the passing of time—clarify into familiar people, friends and allies and comrades, if he lets them.

Standing against the darkness is a duty and a privilege, he thinks, turning the quote over in his mind. He hops from the child-sized stool and down the steps, in no particular hurry, and slips onto a bench next to Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley, Neville Longbottom across him.

He remembers the emotions that had risen in him like a tide, barely more than a fortnight ago; the long line of magic that stretched like a dragon awakening from some deep slumber, a test that wasn’t a test because he didn’t have to think.

He’d stood at the end of the world before and put his body, all three of them, between careless, selfish evil and all the lives that stood like stars at his back, glowing lights not yet snuffed out, a tapestry of civilization, of hope and humanity.

The world had stood with him once, and he had stood for the world.

Let evil try, he thinks, looking around and smiling as the sorting concludes and smiling children laugh with relief and burgeoning comfort, taking in the new that will soon be homey and familiar. He doesn’t love them—not yet, and not really, but the embers of it are red-hot in his belly, waiting for fresh air and time to burn well and burn bright.

It’s been two weeks; two weeks and few days that he has known about this world of magic instead of chakra, of graduate-at-seventeen instead of graduate-at-eleven, and the part of him that had cried and screamed at Haku on a bridge in the middle of Wave is still sitting back, stunned, at the idea of allowing children to be children.

Even then, he’d determined that don’t use the child soldiers as mindless tools was a lofty goal, radical and something he’d have to fight for all his life. None of them had managed to stop at ‘don’t use child soldiers’, and even now Harry struggled with the idea, having lived it and lived it comfortably.

By the logic of this place, even their unflinching strength in the fourth war, the hope and power of the battlefield, would be considered ‘too young’. Even Sakura, dressed as a Jonin through and through, her hands healing hundreds if not thousands—even she would have been a child, to these people, better suited to study than make war.

He looks at the tentative friends he’s made, at Draco across the hall who looks back with a tentative smile that Harry returns times a thousand, and thinks these children are younger than he ever was, though he’s only ever been six years older.

(Why can’t he remember being older than seventeen? Why can’t he--)

Harry looks to his immediate surroundings, at Hermione flipping some truly bushy hair back over one shoulder and setting her plate, slowly but surely speaking up about the things she’s read when no one makes to quiet her; Ron with huge stars in his eyes taking in the sheer amount of food, the vastness of the hall and the gold of their plates; Neville looking around with surprise at the noise and happiness around the table, the way they include him in every conversation, the way he’s a part of this.

Draco takes in Harry’s wave and grin and the set of his shoulders relaxing, the blonde turning with confidence to his peers in silver and green and Harry breathes out something of relief. Somewhere, though he doesn’t know it yet, he’s laughing with Alexander and tasting butterbeer for the first time.

The magic of the castle is ardent and warm in a way he struggles to quantify even to himself. It feels alive, more so than even the magic of Potter Keep, and the sense of welcome stretches along his bones like a hug, like a hot bath, like Shikamaru knocking shoulders with him under the summer sun.

It feels like Sakura, Sasuke and Naruto fourteen and together, safe in Kakashi’s house in a way they never were, asleep in a big bed with all their limbs tangled together. That had never happened, of course, but the sensation is there, soft and wrapped around him like a gossamer hug. If he examines it too hard it feels like the safest touch he’s ever known, like a chakra impression of Kushina in a sunlit meadow, except without any kind of time limit-- and frankly that’s just too much to unpack.

Harry weaves his way into the conversation with something like ease, relaxing as he realizes he can’t possibly say anything so awkward or outlandish that they’ll turn their backs to him. It is always a risk, a fear deeply buried, no matter how bright the golden image of the three of them coming together after the war.

Sakura had been teased mercilessly, Naruto nearly abandoned, and Sasuke so thoroughly separated from his peers and superiors that it had taken years to break through to him.

Harry had kept to himself for most of his childhood, exploring the world of his dreams, and only in the last few years managing to embrace the difference instead of hide it. The difference between now and then is staggering.

There's a wand holstered at his forearm in a holster, professionally charmed so he can't even feel it, and he's got a pouch of kunai that's bigger on the inside hidden under genjutsu at his side. On his finger glints a ruby set in mithril that will tell him if he's about to drink poison or potion and it connects Seph to him across time and space. The castle around him brushes like a bijuu against the back of his mind, huge and ancient and welcoming him home.

It’s absurd how at-ease he feels in his own skin, settled and safe, all the curiosity and worry over classes and magical mysteries pushed aside for tomorrow.

The conversation he had with the hereditament of his forefather lingers, but Harry has more answers than questions. The experience has left him feeling sure in himself.

He doesn’t have to love this world to fight for it-- he only has to be a part of it.

And for tonight, at least, he finally is.