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The Problem With Soulmarks Is

Chapter Text

Soulmarks are an integral part of society in both magical and nonmagical culture, all over the world. For both muggles and magical folk, it is common knowledge that the words marked on a person’s skin are the first words they will hear from their soulmate. It is also known that having words on one’s skin at birth means they will one day meet the person who is their perfect match, and having no words at all means they have no such perfect match. But that is where the similarity between a magical and a nonmagical soulmark ends.

For a nonmagical individual — a muggle, in some areas of the world — the soulmark is written in a pale whitish shade that shimmers faintly under sun or moonlight. Soulmarks are nearly always for romantic partners, and usually occur between two people of differing gender. To form a soulmate bond two people who share words must also share intimate relations, and after that point have a faint sense of each other’s emotions and exist in perfect harmony.

Soulmarks are treated differently from muggle culture to muggle culture. In the days of arranged marriages these marks were often ignored, or two individuals who were to be married were made to recite their words to one another at their first meeting. In more modern times soulmarks are rather more revered, but by the same token people have stopped believing soulmarks are the be-all and end-all of a proper romantic relationship. True, to meet and marry one’s soulmate is a wonderful thing, but it is up to the two soulmates to make the relationship work. And now-a-days, more stock is put into healthy, developed relationships than in markings on one’s skin. This has caused a good bit of conflict between the magical realms and those muggleborn new children of magic because for wizarding folk, the opposite is true.

In magical society — any magical society, in any time or any location — the writing on one’s skin is sacrosanct. This is because wizarding soulmates are very different from muggle ones. To a witch or wizard, soulmate transcends romance, and instead is someone who is their perfect match in magic as opposed to a perfect mate. Like muggles, a young witch or wizard has pale shimmering words, but unlike muggles that changes once they meet their soulmate. Once both parties have spoken their first words to their partner, their words turn bright gold and change with every new phrase a bonded pair exchanges. If both phrases aren’t exchanged at the same time, the first person’s will turn bright red before changing to gold when its partner phrase is spoken and the magical bond is formed.

A bonded soulmate pair in the magical world, in truth, shares magic between them. It gives truth to the idea of Plato’s that soulmates were remnants of one individual who was split in two. Soulmates for wizardkind do not have to be romantic; as aforementioned, the other half of one’s soul transcends romance when magic is brought into play. Soulmates share magic, they share any spells cast on them, and they share joys and burdens. The only things two soulmates, once bonded, can keep from one another are their thoughts.

Magic also changes the rules around a bit as to how a pair might exchange words. For muggles it is simple: each has the first words they hear from the other, full stop — and these are usually mundane greetings or introductions. But a wizard might speak to another person of magic several times and not activate their words, simply because for magical folk the words must be spoken in person. Speaking through an enchanted mirror does nothing, nor does speaking face-to-face through Floo or some other communication. Oh, in some ways this holds true for Muggles as well (they discovered such with telephones, though strangely words spoken through television still count) but it is a minor difference. Minor, but important.

Another difference is that a muggle and a magical person cannot share soulmarks. It just doesn’t happen. Because magical soulmates are bonded through magic instead of through physicality, the bonds themselves are different. A magical person cannot share magic with a magicless being. Not through a soulmate bond, at any rate.

Because of this strong bond of magic, it is also all-but impossible for a bonded soulmate to live past the death of their partner. They might last days, weeks — but not beyond that. The only thing that might sustain a soulmate past the death of their partner is to have had children by said partner. There is a weak magical bond between the children of soulmate parents, and from parent to child. This weak bond can sustain a soulmate past their partner’s death — if the person wants to live. Of course, that is not always certain. For muggles, of course, there is no noticeable consequence for the death of a soulmate besides incredible grief.

Wizards also cannot kill their soulmates because of this fact. Even before the bond has occurred their magic is both compatible and interchangeable. Wizarding wars have, as a result, an unbelievably short shelf-life, as generally the first time a soulmate pair is put in opposition to one another the conflict is settled as hastily as possible to prevent issues in bonding.

There are any number of other tiny, infinitesimal differences which culminate in magical soulmarks being so completely different from muggle ones as to be utterly alien. There is, in fact, a mandatory class held in all wizarding schools which teaches its students everything about soulmarks and soulmates, just in case they were raised in a more muggle environment than a magical one.

Besides the bond itself, there are a number of reasons for the sacredness of soulmarks in magical society. Firstly, it is possible to lose one’s soulmark through overuse of soul magic, whether light or dark. The tragedy in this is that while one half will find their words inexplicably missing, the other half will still have their words, and so are condemned to a half-life without a soul bond despite needing one. Light magic and dark magic are things greatly debated, and are revered or reviled based on propaganda and belief, but soul magic is the only true taboo in all magical societies. It is said that only a person truly depraved in both magic and mind would ever try to do anything that would rid themselves of such a powerful and beneficial bond.

The only wizard to openly do such a thing in modern history was Gellert Grindelwald, who was rumoured to have met his soulmate as a young man, but abandoned him for world domination and afterwards destroyed his own half of the bond so that he could not be reasoned with by his other half. Many rumours abounded when Albus Dumbledore was able to defeat the man, as the Hogwarts Professor was admitted to St Mungo’s for months after imprisoning the Dark Lord Grindelwald. It was whispered that poor Professor Dumbledore had been forced to duel and imprison his own soulmate — that it was the only way he could have defeated the man, was because Dumbledore had known him so well.

Even a young Tom Riddle, researching ways to gain power and ensure he did not die before he had become great, dared not do anything so foolish and self-destructive as to dabble in magics that might remove his soulmark. Riddle had been enthralled by the stories of the power a bonded pair could wield together in his Soul Magic classes, and was determined to find his own soulmate as quickly as possible. This desire didn’t come to fruition, but Tom did learn a great many things that were not common knowledge about soulmates, soulmarks, and soul magic in general.

The Dark Lord Voldemort crossed the fragile and near-invisible barrier between acceptable magic and unacceptable magic (in regards to soulmarks) quite by accident in late 1976. It was in the months and years after that mistake that his name became one to be feared; one never spoken. Later, it was rumoured that whatever had removed his soulmark had also destroyed the Dark Lord’s sanity at the same time.

In Hogwarts at this time many muggleborns like Lily Evans found themselves coming into conflict with the wizarding ideas of soulmarks and soulmates. Lily found herself bonded with an indescribably rude boy she met on the Hogwarts Express, long before she began her Soul Magic classes. She was sorted into Gryffindor instead of Slytherin due to her existing bond, but was furious at being separated from her best friend. Lily hated having an immature bully for a soulmate, and so fought the urges of the bond with everything she had. It took James Potter six long years to win her over, and their bond was one of the strongest in centuries because of those struggles. It was strong enough that even beyond their death, their magic existed to protect their young son in a powerful blood-bond that lived in his very skin.

Their magic formed a protection powerful enough to defend against almost any spell — except the Unforgivables.

Chapter Text

When Harry was a very little boy, it had been his favourite thing to trace the strange words written in red on his skin. They were where everyone’s soulmark was: written wrapped around his wrist, where they were easily hidden by the thick silver band he’d never been able to take off. Harry would push the band up his arm and would marvel at his words.

He hadn’t been able to read them at first, when he was exceptionally small, but he did know what they were. It was the only question his Aunt Petunia had ever answered willingly, without a hint of ill temper. Harry had asked her why he and Dudley had wristbands covering the pretty markings, when his aunt and uncle didn’t.

Aunt Petunia had pulled Dudley into the room and sat them both down. She’d told them everything she knew about soulmarks. She said they were the first words their soulmate would ever tell them, and that their soulmate was the one person who would love them above anybody else. Dudley had fiddled with his plastic band and, bright-eyed, had asked his mum tons of questions about ways he could figure out what kind of soulmate he had just from the words.

Petunia had smiled and talked about handwriting and ways to guess how they would meet from the words, even if you couldn’t tell anything else. She’d shown both boys her words: an apologetic, “Oh, let me help you get your books, miss,” from what she told them (neither boy had learnt to read yet). Uncle Vernon had a matching, “Hey, watch where’re you’re going!” and Aunt Petunia told the boys the story of how a hurried university student had knocked the books out of his classmate’s hands.

Even if Harry didn’t particularly like Aunt Petunia, who was nasty on good days, he did like the story. He later retreated to his cupboard, pushed up his bracelet, and wondered what his soulmate would be like. He also wondered why his words were red. Aunt Petunia’s words had been a silvery white, and the few times Harry caught glimpses of Dudley’s or Uncle Vernon’s theirs were the same colour. A year later he went to primary school, and was absolutely delighted to finally be able to read his words. He was heartened by the sheer unusual nature of the words — both their meaning and their colour.

After all, a person whose first words to Harry were something as odd as Avada Kedavra had to be as unDursleyish as possible.

*          *          *

When Harry was eleven a giant knocked down their door on his birthday. The giant promptly introduced himself as Hagrid, turned Harry’s world upside-down with the revelation of magic, and gave Harry a birthday cake and Dudley a pig’s tail. Harry’s mind was whirling the next day, full of new information.

That stuff he’d been told the night before about Voldemort was plenty scary — having some madman who might or might not be dead out for his blood would scare any reasonable person — but everything else was so wonderful he didn’t pay it any mind. Diagon Alley was just the most amazing thing Harry had ever seen. Gringotts was so cool with the goblins and the roller-coaster-like ride to the vaults, and even though the boy Harry met while being fitted for robes was rather snobby and rude getting his wand after totally made up for it. Even going back to the Dursleys was pretty good, because nobody was being nasty to him. They were ignoring him instead, but Harry would take what he could get.

He was reminded of his odd words on the Hogwarts Express. The pair of twins who helped him put his trunk on the train had bare wrists, and Harry hadn’t been able to resist glancing down at them. He was startled to see words written in gold on their wrists. One had the shining words “Hurry up!” and the other had “Oy, Fred, c’mere and help!” which oddly enough was the last thing this twin had said before the pair was distracted by Harry’s scar.

The twins noticed his curious looks. “Oh?” one asked.

“You were raised by muggles, weren’t you?”

Harry nodded hesitantly. Both twins nodded decisively back.

“Right—”        “—just so you know—”         “—the colour and changing words are a wizard thing.”

“Quite right. Our cousin who’s a squib has white words—”

“—and they don’t change ever, even though he’s met his soulmate.”

“But you’ll learn the rest in Soul Magic class, so we’ll leave that to old Flitwick to teach you.”

“Quite right. Coming mum!”

The pair ran off to meet up with the mother calling them. Harry had eavesdropped on their conversation a bit with no remorse (it was much too interesting and funny, in a wistful way). Then Harry met the twins’ brother, Ron. He was curious about what they’d said about soulmarks, and Ron was curious about how muggles saw soulmarks, so they found themselves talking about it for a while.

Ron told Harry that unlike with muggles, a soulmate bond didn’t have to lead to marriage. Fred and George were soulmates because they were twins — literally two halves of the same whole. Their relationship was totally platonic, and it was very common for magical twins to be soulmates. Sometimes they would share a romantic partner as adults, sometimes they would go their separate ways in that regard, but they would be very closely connected forever, and would likely always live together and do things together.

Harry’s new friend told him about his older siblings’ soulmarks. His oldest two brothers still had silver marks, but apparently Percy had a bond with a Ravenclaw girl in his year. Ron’s “Are you doing magic? Let’s see then,” was silvery white like his oldest brothers and his baby sister. It was also hidden under a silver band just like Harry’s. Harry told Ron what colour his words were, but didn’t show him, a bit uncomfortable. Ron just chalked it up to a muggle thing, and admitted wizards only hid them to differentiate. There wasn’t any stigma about showing people your words like there was in the muggle world.

They did eventually move on to other topics — mostly Quidditch. Ron also introduced Harry to the wonderful world of wizarding sweets and Chocolate Frog cards. But to both Ron and Harry’s immense surprise, halfway through the train ride a bossy girl barged into their compartment looking for the same toad as the blond boy from earlier.

Ron had snapped at her and she’d blinked at him, scratching under her plastic muggle soulmark-band. She’d been flustered, but became interested when she saw his drawn wand. The girl said Ron’s words and he’d gasped out loud. His silver band had shimmered and a seal had appeared down his vein-line. The band had fallen off and Ron had gaped at his now golden words. The girl, surprised, had pulled up her own muggle armband to reveal words equally golden.

The spell Ron had been about to cast was forgotten as the girl — who introduced herself as Hermione Granger — began pelting both boys with questions on soulmarks. Ron had answered shyly, but with growing confidence, and Harry had happily included Hermione as his second friend. The three eleven-year-olds had watched in fascination as their conversation made Ron and Hermione’s words change over and over again. Harry had been a bit wistful.

The only rather annoying bit was when the snobby boy from Diagon Alley showed up again. He’d been snide and rude when he learnt that Ron and Hermione were newly discovered soulmates, calling Hermione some horrid names which made Ron punch him out. Harry had noted that Malfoy didn’t have a silver band himself, and golden words peeked out from under his robe sleeves.

When they were escorted off the train the First Years had been shepherded onto a series of boats with Hagrid. The first view of the castle was stunning, and Harry had been amazed and awed that this place would be his home for most of the year for the next several school terms. Hagrid left them with a stern witch who was quick to begin giving them a speech.

“Welcome to Hogwarts,” said Professor McGonagall. “The start-of-term banquet will begin shortly, but before you take your seats in the Great Hall, you will be sorted into your houses. The Sorting is a very important ceremony because, while you are here, your house will be something like your family within Hogwarts. You will have classes with the rest of your house, sleep in your house dormitory and spend free time in your house common room.”

She stared around at them all regally. “The four houses are called Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw and Slytherin. Each house has its own noble history and each has produced outstanding witches and wizards. While you are at Hogwarts, your triumphs will earn your house points, while any rule-breaking will lose house points. At the end of the year, the house with the most points is awarded the House Cup, a great honour. I hope each of you will be a credit to whichever house becomes yours.”

Professor McGonagall smiled at them all faintly, before becoming all business again. “The Sorting Ceremony will take place in a few minutes in front of the rest of the school. I suggest you all smarted yourselves up as much as you can while you are waiting.” Her eyes lingered for a moment on Neville’s cloak, which was fastened under his left ear, and on Ron’s smudged nose. Harry nervously tried to flatten his hair.

She paused before leaving the room. “Also, any of you who met your soulmate on the ride here will need to come back to this hall after the feast. You’ll be checked over by our soul magic expert and will be given some informational materials so that you understand how this will affect your lives. All other students will follow your assigned House Prefects to the dorms after the feast.” And with that she left them, leaving behind her the parting, “I will return when we are ready for you. Please wait quietly.”

And so after the sorting Harry followed Ron’s older brother to Gryffindor Tower with the other new Gryffindors while Ron and Hermione went back to the Entrance Hall. There was one Gryffindor girl crying on a blonde girl’s shoulder, as apparently she was part of another twin-pair of soulmates and her twin sister had been sorted into Ravenclaw. Pavarti wailed that she’d never been apart from her sister before, and to everyone’s surprise the Weasley twins bookended her and began whispering comfortingly in her ears until she was calm enough to go up to the girls’ dorms.

Ron showed up in the boys’ dorm a while later, after all the boys aside from Harry were already asleep. He had a pamphlet and a teddy bear, and blushed when he noticed Harry was still awake. “The bear’s charmed with Hermione’s magic,” he said. “They said since our bond is new we really should stay in the same room, but it’s inappropriate or something so I got this teddy bear instead. We just have to spend all the time during the day together or we have to sleep in the infirmary.”

Harry just smiled wistfully. “At least you’ve got your soulmate, now,” he said. “And Hermione seemed really smart, and kind of scary.” Ron had nodded thoughtfully, and both boys eventually dropped off to sleep — Ron clutching the teddy bear that connected him to Hermione.

The first month or so of school was both fun and…difficult. The difficult part was how obsessed everyone seemed with Harry. Whispers followed him wherever he went and random people would come up to him to ask the strangest things — or just to ask for an autograph. Harry’s only saving grace was his two newly bonded best friends, but they had their own struggles to work through.

Because of the newness of the bond Ron and Hermione held hands whenever possible, and even the infamously grumpy Professor Snape who clearly loathed Harry found his eyes softening whenever he saw the newly bonded soulmates. Ron and Hermione weren’t the only new soulmates, either. A first year Ravenclaw had bonded with an older person in the same House, but as none of the Gryffindor classes were ever with Ravenclaw this didn’t affect them so much.

The drama Harry did notice and pay attention to was a bonded pair in Slytherin and Hufflepuff, and a second between a Hufflepuff and one of the Gryffindor girls. The Gryffindor-Hufflepuff pair was Fay Dunbar and Hannah Abbott, and they acted just like Ron and Hermione, only because they were in different houses the pair slept in the infirmary and had special, modified schedules. The Hufflepuff-Slytherin pair was the one Harry was most curious about and surprised by.

That pair was the muggleborn Justin Finch-Fletchley and the pretty but glacial Daphne Greengrass. The Slytherin girl was studiously pretending her soulmate didn’t exist, and Ron had explained to a confused Harry that Greengrass was from a pureblood family. While her family hadn’t supported Voldemort like, say, Malfoy had, they were very mistrustful of and disdainful towards muggles and muggleborns. Poor Justin was distraught, and while all the older students and teachers assured both Justin and those distressed by this drama (like Harry) that she’d give in eventually, it did plant a seed of worry in Harry’s mind.

Harry was so invested, in fact, that the class he most looked forward to was the Soul Magic classes under Professor Flitwick. Because Harry had Charms class before this one, Professor Flitwick didn’t do anything funny when he got to Harry’s name in roll (which was honestly a relief) but he did give Harry a warm smile before continuing. After that they got right down to it.

The first few lessons all focused on the major differences between muggle and magical soul bonds. Then, they segued into the types of wizarding bonds to appear: twin soulmates, romantic soulmates, platonic soulmates “of immense brotherhood or sisterhood”, as Professor Flitwick put it, and mentor-student soulmates, which Professor Flitwick said were really rare, and which the Hogwarts grapevine said was the type of bond Malfoy and Professor Snape shared. It was all pretty interesting, but Harry ended up having to read ahead to figure out why his words were red.

The textbook talked about a few different colours soulmarks could come in. Silvery white, in a witch or wizard, meant they hadn’t met their soulmate yet at all. Gold meant a bond had been formed. Black meant one bonded soulmate had died before the other (and usually heralded the death of the remaining soulmate). The book was very clear that it was impossible for one soulmate to die before they’d met and exchanged words with their counterpart. It just didn’t happen. Ever.

According to the textbook, red words came from one soulmate saying words without having anything said in return. The book had lots of different reasons for this: perhaps one person had been under a Silencing Charm, perhaps one person left before a reply could be made, or perhaps the red-marked individual was younger than their soulmate to some extent. This was the one Harry felt was most probable.

It just fit. Harry hadn’t been around any magical people who had spoken to him between roughly a year old and the age of eleven. Therefore, since his words had been red so long as he could remember, his soulmate must have been old enough to talk when Harry was a baby, but since Harry hadn’t been able to talk back only half of the bond had been filled. Harry was also starting to believe the words on his wrist must be a spell of some kind. Avada Kedavra really didn’t sound like normal conversation. No, it sounded much more in line with the odd almost-nonsense sounding spells they were constantly learning now.

It was odd, knowing he had an older soulmate. If they could cast spells, the youngest they could have been was eleven. That would make his soulmate at least ten years older than him, probably more. Perhaps they were a mentor-student bond?

When Professor Flitwick had explained those in Soul Magic class, he had said that sometimes, due to age gap, soulmate pairs who were highly talented in some branch of magic found themselves in a mentor-student relationship, where they studied together and made lots of magical discoveries together. He’d then gone into some really complicated stuff about reincarnation and astrological signs and divinatory stuff that had gone over the heads of the First Year students. But Harry had something else in mind.

Everyone was fairly sure that Professor Snape and Draco Malfoy had a mentor-student bond. It was probably why Snape praised Malfoy so much in class. As much as Harry hated to admit it, Malfoy was good at potions. Good enough to keep an eye out to sabotage Harry and still get his own potion done both on time and with a good grade, which was harder than it sounded. Harry knew because he used to try to mess up Dudley the same way in class out of petty revenge, and he’d only really managed it in maths or other classes where he was already really good, just dumbing himself down.

Harry wanted to ask Professor Snape for advice, maybe for help on finding out whoever might be his other half. The Professor was younger than all the others, after all — young enough to be of a similar age to Harry’s parents. The problem here was that Professor Snape loathed Harry with a fiery passion Harry truly didn’t understand. But Harry remembered how the man had softened whenever he noticed young soulmate couples… perhaps, since it had to do with Harry’s potential soulmate, he wouldn’t be as nasty?

Harry could only hope.

*          *          *

Severus Snape could honestly say the last thing he’d expected on the last Friday before Christmas was to see Harry Potter knocking at his office door. It was sheer curiosity (and no small amount of boredom) that kept him from slamming said door in the brat’s face.

Potter wasn’t having trouble in his class — far from it, as loathe as Severus was to admit it. Oh, Potter had no particular flair for potions, and his many “accidents” brought his grade down, but when Severus was able to remind himself to grade fairly Potter came out with all Acceptables and Exceeds Expectations. Severus was well aware that Draco was sabotaging Potter’s potions, but simply discounted those from the boy’s grades and reprimanded his impetuous soulmate in private. Honestly, he considered it good training for the Potter boy. As he grew older he would have half the wizarding world out for his blood; better to get used to hostility in a controlled environment first.

Severus glared down at the arrogant little brat daring to interrupt his evening. “Yes?” he asked testily. Potter didn’t quite meet his eyes, scooting his foot along the ground nervously.

“Uh, sorry to bother you—” he started meekly. Severus couldn’t help the scoff that escaped. Thankfully, he did manage to control the gut-punched gasp that nearly escaped when Potter finally lifted his gaze, expression hardening in a very familiar expression. Lily had borne that face every time she’d seen James pranking someone for years, and seeing it on the son Severus was studiously ignoring was Lily’s was jarring.

“Oh, come in,” he snapped, opening the door wider. Potter walked warily past him, still eyeing Severus with Lily’s “You Arrogant, Bullying Toe-rag” face. Severus closed his office door firmly and gestured Potter to take a seat, almost against his will. He sat, and Potter sat as well. The boy stopped looking him in the eye again, instead fiddling with his silver soulmark band.

“Well?” Severus bit out. “I don’t have all night.”

Potter grimaced. “Uh, sir, I wanted to ask you about some stuff Professor Flitwick taught us in Soul Magic class.”

A muscle in Severus’ jaw twitched. “And you couldn’t have asked him?”

Potter wrinkled his nose. “I dunno,” he muttered. “It would have felt weird.”

Severus rolled his eyes. “Right. What is this question?”

Potter fiddled with his band some more. “Um. Well. When he was explaining how wizarding soul bonds tend to manifest, he talked about mentor-student bonds—”

Oh, bloody hell. Severus held up a hand and Potter miraculously stopped talking when bid. “This is about Dr-Mister Malfoy, isn’t it?” He was surprised when Potter shook his head. He was expecting the boy wanted him to control his soulmate or something equally rude. He’d heard all the rounds already this semester, and it made him want to scream. Oh, it all came from people who had no bond yet, so they didn’t understand the truly revolting nature of what they’d asked, but it didn’t stop Severus from assigning them the worst detentions he could think of.

One did not control one’s soulmate even when they were mentor and student. That was not only illegal, but horrific to think of when one was bonded.

“Well, not really,” the boy amended. “I just—” He bit his lip. “My words are red. They have been as long as I can remember.”

This was worse. Hell, had Potter come to him for advice?

“Red?” Severus managed to repeat. Potter nodded.

“I know it’s a spell, but I don’t know what spell. So I know they had to have been at least eleven — but probably older, cause I skimmed through all my first year books and this spell isn’t taught first year so I don’t really know. You’re closer to my parents’ age than the other professors; surely you might know who I would have been around as a baby who might have cast spells on or near me—”

Severus held up his hand again to stop the flow of consciousness. His other hand came up to pinch the bridge of his nose.

Some minor part of him was impressed. That was a fair bit of sleuthing the boy had done, but it was an absolute headache besides. Similar in age? You could say that. Would know who Lily and James Potter might have allowed near their infant son who had a maniac chasing him? Abso-bloody-lutely not. Of Lily’s friends, only Alice Longbottom was still alive and her soulmate had been Frank. The only other ones he could think of were Pettigrew, the wolf, and Black. Pettigrew was out for the obvious reason of being deceased. The other two would both be total disasters if it were true. Which it wasn’t because he knew both had soulmates. He didn’t know who their soulmates were, but they’d lost their silver bands at eleven.

And there was still a chance he might be wrong. Lily might have taken Potter to an Order meeting as an infant for all he knew so somebody else could have spoken to him. Still…

“And so, what, you thought I would miraculously have answers?” Severus asked caustically. How much had Potter thought this through?

The boy just shrugged. “Not really. I thought maybe you could just point me in the right direction.” His face brightened. “Maybe you’ll recognize the spell? I’ve tried looking it up, but I’ve been doing it on my own, without knowing what I’m looking for, so it’s been pretty slow going.”

He seriously doubted he wouldn’t recognize whichever spell the blasted brat had on his arm. But, really, he had to ask, “And you couldn’t ask someone else to help you identify this spell?”

Potter cringed. “Sorry, I just, in the muggle world—”

Severus nodded in understanding. That silly muggle superstition that you shouldn’t show people your words before you’d identified your soulmate. Most muggleborns found it uncomfortable to bare their arm to anyone, even close friends. Lily had been the same way even after meeting her soulmate. “I understand,” he interjected hastily. “I had a muggleborn friend, as a child.” He was slightly flabbergasted he’d even admitted that much, but Potter’s face just eased from its temporary confusion.

“Yeah, well, I haven’t been able to show Ron, even.” The boy grimaced. “I don’t even really want to show you, but I thought — since you might know a bit about my parents as adults — it would be killing two birds with one stone. And even if you hate me for some reason—” That made Severus’ head jerk back and he blinked rather hard at the boy’s almost despondent expression “—well,” Potter added, “at least I know you won’t tell anyone my secrets. You’re a private person, sir.”

Severus scowled, feeling uncomfortably bare. He stood abruptly. “Let’s see it, then,” he said.

Potter stood as well, looking faintly uncomfortable again. He pulled the silver band up his arm so that the stark red letters were barely visible. Severus bent over the boy’s arm only to jerk back as if burned, his eyes widening. A trickle of pity tore its way through him.

The boy was watching him with wide green eyes. Lily’s eyes. How was he supposed to tell those eyes—?

“Sir?” Potter asked cautiously. “You recognize it?” Severus nodded, hardly able to speak. Potter’s face brightened and he almost felt ill. “Really? What does it do?”

He seriously thought about lying. Or, possibly, refusing to answer. But Potter was clearly not stupid. He’d figured out enough to get this far. He’d employed the help of someone who hated him. Potter would figure this out on his own, and soon. He would just have to show someone else. But no — if Potter showed anyone — (Now Severus really did feel ill) —

The boy would be in immeasurable danger. Everyone knew the Dark Lord had destroyed his soulmark. What would he do if his soulmate suddenly appeared long after, completely unable to bond? Severus remembered stories from his mother’s school days, stories of the young Dark Lord who had been so amazed by stories of soul bonds. The Dark Lord would twist Potter’s magic inside out trying to bond with him. It wouldn’t be possible, but the Dark Lord’s reaction to “impossible” was to invent new results — always Dark, usually detrimental to everyone involved, even the Dark Lord himself.

“It’s the incantation for the Killing Curse,” Severus croaked. Potter froze, face paling.

“What?”

Severus leaned over Potter, looming in his face with glaring black eyes. “You must never show your soulmark to anyone, you understand. Not your friends, not long-lost family members, not anyone you might marry one day — no one!” Potter was very white, but didn’t seem to understand yet. Severus didn’t care.

“Swear it, Potter!” Severus shouted at him, shaking the boy.

“I s-s-swear,” Potter stammered out. Severus pulled back. He opened the door to his office.

“Get out,” he said. “This never happened. Don’t go looking for anything to do with your soulmate, you understand me? Not if you want to stay alive.”

Potter had run from his office, still pale. He’d disillusioned himself and followed the boy. Potter had paused outside his office, clearly puzzling through things, fiddling with the silver band once again covering those damning words. Then, pale fright turned to dawning comprehension. Potter darted over to the nearest bathroom. Severus leaned on the door and heard the sound of retching.

Good. Potter understood then.

Now Severus was going to get thoroughly drunk over the holidays in the hopes that he forgot this had ever happened. Draco and Narcissa would scold, but at this point he didn’t care. He had a bottle of good Blishen’s Firewhisky with his name on it.

Chapter Text

Professor Snape did indeed act as though their Christmas meeting had never happened. Harry honestly wished he could forget it; that he could wipe it from his mind and wipe the damning red words from his skin.

Avada Kedavra.

His soulmate’s first words had been to try to kill him.

Harry didn’t need to be told never to tell anyone about this. It made it hard to explain why he’d started crying himself to sleep every night, but it was none of Ron’s business and Harry told him so.

Perhaps the shameful (horrific) knowledge hidden under his silver armband had been what prompted Harry to confront his unknowing soulmate at the end of term. Voldemort had ruined Harry’s future chances at a bond like Ron and Hermione had. Harry wouldn’t let him destroy anything else if he could help it.

And so Harry confronted him. Harry killed his first man; Harry spoke his first words to his soulmate without a hint of recognition from the other. Harry won, but in the end he really felt like he’d lost. He had lost his innocence, his joy in the very idea of soul bonds. Harry had lost everything and nothing at all.

It was part of what made Harry confront him again, the next year. The Chamber of Secrets debacle was exactly that — a debacle. One Harry had no desire to repeat. The diary copy of Harry’s soulmate was handsome, and had a leather strap covering his wrist — as though it was covering words. Harry dreamed, and he wondered. That Tom Riddle hadn’t been real; he’d said as much. A memory, he’d called himself. A simulacrum made to mimic Soul Magic without the negative consequences.

The Tom in the diary hadn’t known the real Tom Riddle had destroyed his own soulmark.

Harry didn’t have the heart to tell him, and after second year Harry cried himself to sleep for different reasons. Tom might have been a copy, but it didn’t change the fact that Harry had murdered a magical artefact that his soulmate had poured time and magic into — an artefact that hinted that Tom Riddle, at least, had wanted a soulmate, even if Voldemort eventually destroyed his own mark.

The third year student had been almost apathetic about the fact that a mass murderer was chasing him down. At least this one wasn’t his deranged soulmate, Harry thought to himself dully. The thought made him giggle for minutes on end in a manner that made him seem deranged himself. He thought about sharing the joke with Professor Snape, but then wondered if he was going mad too.

Maybe Harry and Tom could be mad together.

It all came out in the end: Sirius wasn’t really trying to kill Harry, Snape had a real hate-on for Harry’s father because he couldn’t stand heroism, and Remus Lupin had actually spent the whole year trying to choose between his soulmate and his best friend’s son. That little fact rather made Harry forgive him for not telling Harry sooner about his friendship with James Potter. It helped that Professor Lupin slipped the Marauder’s Map back to Harry at the end of the year.

That was one useful bit of magic, and any legacy of his parents just made Harry want to grip it tighter. At least they loved him the way they should. Harry knew for certain now — the Dementors made sure of that. He’d begun to have doubts.

After all, his soulmate could never love him. Why would his parents have?

Fourth year was both better and worse.

Professor Moody had drawn Harry aside after his first class. The pity in the man’s face and the way both his eyes studiously avoided Harry’s wrists made Harry very sure he knew what this was about.

“You can’t tell anyone!” he blurted out. “Please!”

Wide, panicked green eyes stared up into mismatched blue and brown ones, and Professor Moody’s face had unexpectedly softened. “You have my word,” he said. “The Dark Lord would either kill you or try to force a bond where none can exist.”

Harry nodded faintly. He’d figured that much out for himself, thanks.

Professor Moody just clapped Harry on the back and sent him to Madame Pomphrey for a calming draught. For once Harry went to the Hospital Wing without complaint. He needed some measure of artificial calm to get through the rest of this horrible day.

For the rest of the year Moody was noticeably solicitous of Harry. Where he was harsh and almost cruel with the other students, he was…gentler…with Harry. Oh, not to the point that it was suspicious, but Harry definitely noticed. He was grateful for it, after he’d been forced into the Triwizard Tournament through yet another plot of his deranged soulmate. Professor Moody actually let Harry have a good rant or three about it in his office. The man would just sit and watch him with amusement as Harry ranted about how really, if he wants to know my skill level, hasn’t the last three years of crazy stunts given him enough of a hint!?

Of course, Professor Moody then wanted information on said “crazy stunts”, but such stories were a small price to pay for the ability to speak his mind for once without any fear.

That gratefulness surprisingly didn’t turn to resentfulness after learning who Professor Moody really was. To his credit, Barty Crouch Jr. hadn’t told Voldemort a damn thing about Harry being his soulmate — or about any of the other talks that had happened in his office. Harry almost wondered if, in some twisted way, Crouch had been trying to protect his precious Lord by protecting Harry. Of course, then he’d revealed himself after the Third Task and revealed he had plans to smuggle Harry to Europe by faking his death. Harry was actually sorry Barty had been caught. And he hated that Fudge had ordered the clearly insane man Kissed. Barty should have been sent to St. Mungo’s, at the very least.

And now Fudge was ignoring the fact that Voldemort was back. He was burying his head in the sand and refusing to see the truth. It was infuriating.

There were only two good things about the summer after Harry’s fourth year. This out of the whole rigmarole of bad: dementors in Little Whinging, his friends being incommunicado for the whole summer, the farce of a trial Fudge held for him. All of it. But for those two good things, Harry didn’t know what he would have done.

The first was getting to spend time with Sirius.

They’d corresponded before this, of course. Unfortunately what with Sirius being on the run and Harry having such a hectic life-threatening existence, they hadn’t been able to talk much. This summer was a time for simply that. They got to talk, to get to know each other.

Harry told Sirius about his past four years at school — the ups, the downs, and even some of the few funny bits. Sirius in turn told Harry stories of his parents, the Marauders, and even about the Black family. There were loads of weird, neat, or just plain creepy stories about the once-huge family. Sirius even told Harry in private that he’d named Harry the heir to the Black fortune, if anything happened to him, and Sirius fully expected Harry to blow it all on stuff that would make Sirius’ pureblood-obsessed ancestors roll in their graves.

The second good thing was that Sirius noticed something was off about Harry. How sad was it that the man who hardly knew him noticed over his own best friends?

Still, sad or not, Sirius noticed, and he told Harry he was willing to listen. Sirius never pressured, he never pushed the issue like Hermione might have. He just told Harry if he ever wanted to talk Sirius was there for him. In the end, for lack of anyone else to speak to Harry told him…

after getting an oath from his godfather to never tell anyone, on his life and his magic.

Harry didn’t realize how much Barty’s death was bothering him until he began to tell Sirius about it. Harry had started with his soulmark, of course, and about how Snape had figured it out and absolutely flipped on him, warning Harry to never tell anyone, ever. Sirius had been horrified, but not at Harry. He’d been horrified for Harry.

Sirius had hugged him, and whispered kind things. When Harry began ranting and raving like he’d got into the habit of doing with Barty, Sirius had let him. Sirius had agreed with him and added even more condemnations on Harry’s insane soulmate. Some of them even made Harry laugh.

Then Harry told Sirius about Barty.

Sirius wasn’t as sympathetic this time, but…he had listened. Harry couldn’t fault the man for his opinions. Harry still didn’t know whether he believed Barty had been innocent of torturing the Longbottoms or not (it was possible; see Sirius Black for Crouch Sr’s other big mistake) but insane Death Eater or no, the man had protected Harry. Barty hadn’t been obligated to do that. In fact, Barty was really obligated to do the exact opposite. He was a loyal Death Eater, practically worshiped Voldemort from the bit Harry had gotten before the man had died. But…he’d protected Harry. Came up with plans to get Harry as far away from Voldemort as was humanely possible.

Harry had grown fond of Barty, loathe as he was to admit it. Sirius at least was comforting, or as much as anyone could be. He certainly agreed that nobody deserved the Dementor’s Kiss as their end.

For once Harry didn’t want to go back to Hogwarts. But go he did, and while at Hogwarts Umbridge turned Harry’s life into a living hell. Harry hated her. He hated the woman who was so determined to silence their words, to stifle their thoughts. Harry was never gladder Hermione was capable of talking Harry into things than when she convinced him to start the DA. It became Harry’s only support in this mess that was his life.

He only wished Cho and Cedric could have been part of it. After Cedric died, Cho reputedly hadn’t even lasted two weeks before following her soulmate to death. Harry had been very surprised to find several friends of Cho joined the DA eagerly. Marietta Edgecombe was almost militant about her belief in Harry, despite her mother’s precarious situation in the Ministry. For Harry’s part, he just found it gratifying to teach people things and watch them get better and better as months went on.

Last year, Harry had told Barty-disguised-as-Moody that he wanted to be an Auror. Now, with the DA all looking up to him and everything Harry was learning about defensive magic, he was starting to think he’d rather be a teacher instead. Harry wondered if Barty would have supported that idea, as well. It was certainly less dangerous than being an Auror.

With Christmas came fear and worry. Mr. Weasley had been attacked in the Ministry right before the break, and Harry had seen it through the eyes of the snake. Harry didn’t know what to make of it. Was he just going mad? Had Voldemort somehow possessed him through their uneven and unsteady link? Had Harry somehow accidently and unknowingly possessed Voldemort through the same link?

Harry didn’t know, and it made him afraid.

Oh, Ginny and Hermione ganged up on him and handily blew the “Voldemort had been possessing Harry” theory out of the water, but the other ideas still rattled around in his head. None of the others knew Harry and Voldemort had a half-formed, twisted soulmate bond after all. Sirius had theorized that must be what connected Harry to the man, after some extensive research in the Black library after Harry had gone back to Hogwarts.

“It’s probably,” Sirius told him, “some sort of defensive measure. I mean, soulmates can’t kill each other. Not with magic, anyway. And whatever magical protection Dumbledore said you have, well; to be honest even if it can burn people to ash it can’t block the Unforgivables. That’s why they’re called Unforgiveable, is because they’re both terrible curses and completely unblockable by any magic in existence except soulmate magic. Much as I love your dad, and admire your mum’s brains, there’s no way the two of them could have come up with some sort of magical protection that could do the impossible. No, I’ll bet their protection works on their soulmate magic — which is why it only started working after they both died — and so it just pulled your unrealized bond forwards to protect you from future murder attempts from your clearly crazy soulmate.”

Harry nodded faintly. That did make sense. “Is that why it’s so one-sided?” Harry wondered aloud. “I mean, I can see into his head, and tell when he’s doing complicated magic like possessing his familiar, but I don’t think he’s ever gotten anything from me.”

Sirius just nodded. “Probably,” he agreed. “Now hand me a beard, will you?”

Harry grinned and handed Sirius a little beard and Santa hat to hang on the next house-elf head up the stairwell. Sirius's delight at having the house full again, and especially at having Harry back, was infectious. Sirius was no longer the downtrodden yet supportive host of the summer; now he seemed determined that everyone should enjoy themselves as much, if not more than they would have done at Hogwarts, and he worked tirelessly in the run-up to Christmas Day, cleaning and decorating with their help, so that by the time they began setting up the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve the house was barely recognizable. The tarnished chandeliers were no longer hung with cobwebs but with garlands of holly and gold and silver streamers; magical snow glittered in heaps over the threadbare carpets; the great Christmas tree, obtained by Mundungus and decorated with live fairies, blocked Sirius's family tree from view, and even the stuffed elf-heads on the hall wall wore Father Christmas hats and beards.

Harry gladly helped, now that his own worries had been assuaged. It was the first time he’d ever really helped decorate for Christmas. Out of all the holidays, Christmas was the one the Dursleys refused to let him have any part in — not even the decorating. Harry could see why, now. Decorating for Christmas was almost as fun as celebrating on Christmas Day. It was wonderful to spend time with the people you love.

On Christmas Eve when Mundungus brought the tree in — already covered in live fairies — Sirius had helped the thief put the Christmas tree into place. He’d grinned at Harry over his shoulder and asked if Harry would be willing to go down into the basement.

“We’ve got other tree decorations in the storage closet down there. It’s the only unmarked door. Make sure you don’t open any of the marked ones: we’ve not cleaned those rooms out yet. Just get the big box marked Yule out of the closet and bring it up.”

Then he turned back to the tree, already beginning to put presents under it. Harry had nodded and went off to get the box, the twins on his heels. Apparently they’d wanted to explore the basement, but hadn’t been able to sneak around their mother yet. Harry descended the steps from the kitchen cautiously.

It was dark down in the basement. There wasn’t anything creepy on the stairwell like the house elf heads up above, but once they got to the basement level it grew eerie again. Harry and the twins found themselves staring down a long disused corridor lit with gas lights that sprung to life as they entered the corridor. The walls down here were bare stone instead of wallpapered. The floor was hardwood instead of carpeted. There were alcoves along the walls between doorframes filled with odd things — a bust of a woman whose face seemed to be melting, a stuffed effigy of a hippogriff’s head, jars filled with strange pickled creatures.

“Well,” Fred said, his voice echoing down the corridor. “This is cheerful.” George snorted and Harry shot both of them sharp looks.

They made their way down the dimly lit corridor searching for the unmarked door. Most of the doors had placards on them naming the rooms: four Ritual Rooms judiciously spaced out between other rooms, three doors in a row all labelled Wine Cellar, two Potions Labs, and even one padlocked door labelled Playroom that Harry had to convince the twins not to open. Considering there was dried blood on the door, Harry didn’t think Playroom meant what the twins believed it did.

Then, halfway down the hallway (Harry was sure it had gotten longer as they’d walked through it) they finally found one unmarked door. It looked rather like a closet door — it was smaller than the others and much more nondescript. Whereas most of the other doors were panelled and painted, this was a simple door of plain wood. The doorknob was smooth brass instead of a coiled snake done in tarnished silver.

“This must be it,” Harry said, carefully grasping the doorknob. The door creaked open, and after a few moments of nothing jumping out to eat them Harry and the twins walked into the large closet.

The moment Harry’s foot crossed the threshold candles flared to life. It was clearly a closet: there were boxes and old trunks piled up to the ceiling of the room, so far up they couldn’t see the rear wall. But funnily enough, there were two armchairs, a little table between them, and a fainting couch with a quilt draped over it at the front of the storeroom. On the little table was an unlit oil lamp, a dusty deck of cards, an even dustier set of Gobstones, and a bottle of bourbon with two grimy tumblers next to it.

George muttered a Scourgify, cleaning the years of dust off the furniture.

“Wonder what this was here for?” his twin quipped. Harry shrugged.

“Dunno. Maybe it was a hideout?” That made the twins snicker. But Harry frowned. “D’you think we could try summoning the box of decorations?” he wondered aloud.

Fred shook his head. “I wouldn’t chance it,” he said. “Look at how tightly it’s all packed. You’d knock everything over, and we’ve no idea what’s been breeding in this stuff.”

“Joy,” Harry said dryly. “I guess we’re doing it by hand then.” The twins nodded cheerfully and set to work.

They pushed their way in front of Harry and began pulling boxes out, quipping that because they could do magic, they might as well be at the front in case doxies attacked or something. They would pull a box out, search it for the word Yule, and if it didn’t have anything would pass it to Harry to set aside. At one point, though, the pair found a case of what seemed to be dried potion ingredients and began debating whether Sirius would let them keep it, and what they could use it all for. Harry sat down in one of the armchairs to wait until they refocused.

It was tiring work, this, and Harry gazed around at the boxes. He supposed back when Sirius was a kid it would have been Kreacher’s job to fetch things from this closet. Sirius just didn’t trust the bitter house elf to do his work properly. Harry did wonder what all of this stuff at the front was for, though. Hideout did seem like the most likely answer, but it didn’t give him too much information.

Harry’s eyes passed tiredly over the fainting couch opposite the armchair he was sat in. He blinked in surprise at something that glinted behind it. Harry stood, glancing at the twins who were now arguing prices it would be reasonable to ask Sirius for to get this whole case of ingredients.

The fifth year walked over to the fainting couch. Behind it, mostly-hidden in a shadowed alcove, was some sort of large clock. Harry nudged the couch aside to get a better look. It was a funny-looking clock, from what Harry could see. He lit his wand with a Lumos to illuminate it better.

There were two faces on this strange-looking clock stacked atop one another: one clock face and the other that seemed to be a calendar face. The clock face was above, and had arms indicating time. There were two rings of numerals in different languages, and then another circle inside the clock face that seemed to indicate something else entirely. There was more than the usual number of hands on the clock face: one that seemed to represent phases of the moon and another with a star on the end being the most noticeable, but there were three others besides.

The calendar face was much simpler. There were no hands at all, and twelve large images around the edges that seemed to represent different months lined its edge, while the twelve symbols of the Greek zodiac were placed in a tighter circle inside this ring of months. This face didn’t have any hands, as aforementioned, but the pictures all moved, and currently one of the topmost circles — depicting a snowy forest — was animated and in full colour where all the others were sepia toned and still. Below the December icon a strange goat with a fish’s tail swam around its little spot, flapping its tail. Harry smiled at the little figures before stepping back to look again at the odd clock as a whole.

The whole thing was huge. Harry craned his neck looking up. It was nestled into an alcove that went above the ceiling of this large storeroom. Harry suddenly wondered if it was a secret passage of some sort. Maybe a stairwell? Or perhaps an elevator or dumbwaiter?

There was a door below the calendar face that was just shorter than average adult height. Harry grasped the delicate latch keeping the stained glass door shut. It swung open smoothly, no signs of age showing. The interior of the clock was dark when Harry stuck his head inside, but there was clearly room for a person. Harry cautiously stepped inside. Candles flared to life over his head, and Harry jumped as the stained glass door swung shut again of its own volition.

He pressed a hand to the door to push it open again. Then Harry was jerking his hand backwards when the door shocked his fingers. “Ow!” he exclaimed, nursing them in the palm of his other hand.

He nudged at the door cautiously with his shoulder, but thankfully it didn’t shock him through his jumper. The whole little cupboard was glowing now, and there was a faint humming sound in the background. When Harry pushed on the door it refused to open. He grimaced, turning about in the little cupboard. Maybe he’d been right and there was another way out?

Only there really didn’t seem to be. The back of the cupboard in the large odd clock was smooth wood, as was the ceiling scant inches above his head. The two sides had things on them. To one side Harry noticed a large tapestry that seemed to be a replica of the Black Family tapestry upstairs, only there were no names burnt off this one. Also, the text was shimmering faintly, as if it wasn’t quite there. Harry lifted the tapestry, but the wall under it was smooth but for what seemed to be a list of names burnt into it. All the names had a thick line scored through, making each one illegible.

He turned to check the other wall. Surely there was some way to open the door from the inside?

Thankfully, on the other side Harry noticed a pair of dials. They had faded and peeling golden lettering written between them that Harry couldn’t read even with the glowing of the walls around him, so he ignored it. The first dial refused to turn at all, seemingly stuck for some reason. The second dial only turned backwards. Harry turned it all the way anticlockwise, but when he pushed on the door it still didn’t budge. The humming was getting louder.

Maybe it could be opened from the outside? Harry banged on the glass door, no longer worried about breaking it.

“Hey! Fred! George!”

But there wasn’t any answer. Harry continued pounding on the glass.

“Fred! George! This isn’t funny!” He paused, panting for breath. He was starting to get just the faintest bit panicked. Surely someone would hear him banging eventually. There hadn’t been any corpses of other people trapped in this cupboard, after all, so there must be a way out. He tried shouting again.

“Guys! Hello!” Harry got an idea. “Kreacher!”

But even though Sirius said the crotchety old elf had to obey Harry like he did Sirius, Kreacher never appeared. “Dobby?” Harry tried. He collapsed, feeling his eyelids drooping heavily.

The humming sound was loud, and almost hypnotic in its intensity. Something was happening right now, Harry was sure. But he didn’t know what. He stood and tried fiddling with the dial some more, turning it this way and that before pushing on the door. He even managed to get the stuck dial to move the barest few millimetres to the left. When he did so, the humming and glowing intensified for a moment before abruptly vanishing.

In the now pitch-black clock Harry could hear his breath harshly in the small confines of the cupboard. His heart was pounding in his ears. He pushed on the door hopefully, but again it didn’t budge. He tried shouting again.

“Help! Somebody! Anybody!”

His eyelids were growing heavier and heavier. He felt like he’d run a full marathon, as though he’d warded off a hundred dementors with one Patronus again.

“Help,” he said again, weakly, feeling as though he was suffocating.

The door swung open and Harry fell forwards into the arms of a man in heavy dark robes of the sort Harry had seen a lot of at the Ministry. He stared wide-eyed at the man he’d only seen those two times, both at the Ministry and at St Mungo’s — it was Broderick Bode. But there was something strange about him.

Perhaps it was his black hair, grey at the temples. Hadn’t it been white at the hospital? Or maybe it was the fact that he looked very healthy instead of sallow-skinned and he wasn’t mumbling to himself oddly. He couldn’t quite put his finger on it, but something rang very clearly as wrong to Harry’s well-developed sense of danger. He tried to stand up, to pull backwards, but Bode had a rather strong grip on Harry’s arms.

“Well then,” Bode said pleasantly, “having a bit of trouble, were we?”

Harry gulped.

Chapter Text

Harry was pulled out of the clock-cupboard by the still smiling wizard. Another wizard came up beside Harry and began casting spells silently around the clock, his brows furrowed. Harry noticed he had the same robes on as Broderick Bode, though his hair was a curly blonde instead of greying black. When the other wizard lifted his wand Harry saw the glint of a silver soulmark band under his robes.

Bode, meanwhile, murmured something and jabbed his wand. Harry jumped as his hands were suddenly tied behind his back and he was pushed into one of the armchairs. Looking around, Harry realized that the room looked — odd. It was much cleaner and more brightly lit than it had been, before, and the twins were gone. The armchairs and fainting couch also had different upholstery, and the bottle of bourbon was missing.

Bode sat in the other armchair, and Harry noticed for the first time a third wizard, this one standing in a corner out of the way with a bemused expression. He was wearing more normal robes than Bode and the other wizard, though they were of the quality that Lucius Malfoy usually wore. Golden words peeked out from his sleeves. This wizard’s hair was black like Bode’s, but his eyes were a pale grey unlike Bode’s shiny black eyes.

He actually looked strikingly like Sirius.

Harry pulled at the invisible bonds tying his hands behind him and Bode tutted. “Now, now, don’t struggle. I am terribly sorry about this, lad, but it’s all standard procedure.” He first wove his wand in complex pattern back and forth in front of Harry’s face. Several minutes of this produced some sort of parchment that Bode proceeded to read and hum thoughtfully over. “No signs of mental instability…never been Obliviated or Confounded, good, good…you’ve had prior exposure to the Imperius Curse, it seems, but it looks like you got out without any psychological or reality-bending damage… Huh.”

His black eyebrows went up and he looked Harry up and down. “We’ve got a Black Heir,” he remarked to nobody in particular.

Then he pulled out a vial of clear liquid and Harry’s eyes widened. Bode’s eyebrows went up. “Recognize this, do you?” he asked, exchanging a significant look with the wizard still casting spells around the clock.

Harry nodded hesitantly. “My potions teacher showed me, once,” he said, omitting the part where Snape had been threatening to use it on him. “It’s Veritaserum, isn’t it?”

“It is so nice to not have to explain,” Bode said brightly. “Stick out your tongue, now, and we’ll be done quickly.”

“Do I have to?” Harry asked nervously. Bode just raised an eyebrow.

“Certainly you do. It’s standard procedure. If you refuse to take the Veritaserum voluntarily we will have to give it to you by force.”

“O-oh,” Harry replied weakly.

“I don’t mean to scare you, lad,” Bode soothed. “I’m sure there isn’t anything wrong, but we need to verify our answers and right now Veritaserum is the best way to do that.” He pulled a tightly rolled sheet of parchment out of his robes and unrolled it over his knee. Harry’s brows furrowed.

“What’s that?” he asked.

Bode shrugged. “Oh, just the standard list of questions I’m supposed to ask.”

Harry thought hard. He’d been afraid they were just going to ask any number of questions, but if it could be controlled… “Is there anything about soulmarks or soulmates on that parchment?”

Bode looked bemused now, exchanging a less definite look with his partner. “Well, yes…” At Harry’s wide-eyed look of panic, he added, “It’s standard procedure, lad, and if it makes you feel better those questions aren’t very specific.”

Harry gnawed his lip. “Okay,” he said finally. He squeezed his eyes shut and stuck his tongue out.

His tongue went numb the second the potion touched it. Harry’s eyes blinked back open and he pulled his tongue back into his mouth. Everything was a bit hazy, like when he’d been under the Imperius Curse. Harry wondered if he could resist answering like he’d been able to break the Imperius Curse.

“Now!” Bode said, holding up the parchment so that he could read it better. “What is the full date today?”

“December twenty-fourth, nineteen-ninety-five,” Harry said automatically. He didn’t feel that was a question worth fighting, so let the fog guide his words.

Bode nodded. “Mm-hmm. And what was your reason for getting in Morgana’s Clock, here?” He gestured to the odd clock in the corner.

“Is that what it’s called?” Harry managed to ask, but then the Veritaserum took control of his mouth again. “I was curious about it, because I thought it might have a secret passage back up to the ground floor.”

Bode seemed amused by that, glancing over with a smirk at the quiet wizard that looked like Sirius. When Harry had asked his question the man’s eyes had widened in shock, but now he just looked entertained. “I see. And what is your relation to the Black Family, lad?”

Harry gritted his teeth. He didn’t know if he was still in Grimmauld Place (sure, the room was similar, but maybe it was like those Vanishing Cabinets Hermione had read about) and if he wasn’t, his answers could implicate him. He couldn’t let them know he was having contact with Sirius. The Ministry would send him to Azkaban for sure in the current climate.

Bode’s eyes were widening again as Harry struggled to keep from answering. Finally, the fog grasped his mind firmly and he blurted out, “Sirius Black is my godfather, and he’s named me heir to the Black family fortune.” He cringed, expecting condemnations. But Bode didn’t seem at all bothered.

“Would that be Sirius, son of Orion and Walburga, or a different Sirius Black?”

There were multiple Sirius Blacks? “Sirius is the son of Orion and Walburga Black.” The words were pulled from between his teeth, and he glared. The dark-haired wizard in the corner shifted in his seat, gasping softly, but Bode continued to be unperturbed.

“Do you have any desire or plans for world domination, conquest, or assassination?”

“Wha—No!”

“Well, that’s a relief,” Bode’s partner said wryly, and Harry jumped, having forgotten he was there in his fight against the truth serum. Bode continued to ask questions.

“Have you ever travelled in time, to the best of your knowledge?”

“N-yes.” He’d almost managed to change his answer that time. Bode looked impressed for once.

“Clarify. How did you travel in time, when did it happen, and why did you do it?”

Harry managed to keep silent for a good several minutes this time, the three wizards looking more and more impressed. But Harry was discovering that Veritaserum was much more insidious than the Imperius Curse, and was eventually made to answer.

“Hermione and I used the Time-Turner she got for classes. It happened in early nineteen-ninety-four, and we were trying to keep Sirius Black from unjustly being given the Dementor’s Kiss because the Minister thought we were Confunded and refused to believe he was innocent.”

It tore from his throat in a torrent. The man in the corner went white, and grew progressively more ghostly through Harry’s spiel. Bode was back to looking impassive, but the curly-haired wizard had his mouth hanging open. Bode seemingly ignored Harry’s words and instead continued to question him.

“Do you have a deceased soulmate?”

“N-no.” That question had been so close, too close… Bode seemed to notice his discomfort, because his next question had nothing to do with soulmates.

“Do you have any other deceased family members or friends you wouldn’t be averse to bringing back from the dead?”

“Yes.”

Bode lifted an eyebrow. “Who?”

“Cedric Diggory, Li—” Harry bit his tongue hard enough to draw blood, growing annoyed with his inability to avoid answering the man’s questions. The curly-haired wizard laughed even as Bode sighed. He murmured a spell that healed Harry’s now bleeding tongue.

“You, boy, are too clever by half and strong-willed to boot. Ever thought about working in the Department of Mysteries?”

Harry answered this question truthfully, ignoring the blond wizard’s “Oi, that’s not regulation, Bode!”

“No,” he replied simply.

Bode sighed again. “Pity.” Then he was all business again, looking down at his parchment. “State your full name and date of birth.”

Harry blinked. He’d assumed the man didn’t ask for his name because Bode knew who he was. Everyone knew who he was. But Harry’s confused distraction was enough to have him automatically replying, “Harry James Potter. I was born on the thirty-first of July, nineteen-eighty.”

“Hmm.” Bode consulted his parchment again before rolling it back up and sticking it in his robes again. “Well, those were all the serious questions I have to ask. Anything else you can make your own choice whether to tell anyone. Stick your tongue out again.”

Harry did so, and was relieved when feeling came back into his tongue with the acrid-tasting antidote to Veritaserum. Bode also flicked his wand and Harry’s hands came untied. He rubbed his wrists gingerly.

Bode looked professional again. “Mister Potter,” he said in a very official-sounding tone, “I am sorry to inform you that you have fallen afoul of one of the oldest magical artefacts in Great Britain, Morgana’s Clock. Am I correct in assuming you do not know what this is?” Harry nodded slowly and was given a brisk nod in exchange.

“Morgana’s Clock was created by Morgana Black, one of the earliest recorded members of the Black Family to live in the London area. She was an Unspeakable in the Department of Mysteries — then only a research organization funded by the Crown — and she invented the Hour-Reversal Charm which we have since adapted for use in Time-Turners such as you already have experience with. Now, how much do you know about the capabilities and limitations of time travel?”

Harry was starting to get a very bad feeling about this. It was dawning on him what must have happened. He stammered his answer, “Um, I know you aren’t supposed to see yourself when you go back in time. The only way to avoid going mad is to know what’s going on. And- err- I’m pretty sure that everything you do in the past was just meant to happen that way. You can’t really change time.”

Bode nodded. “All correct answers when applied to Time-Turners. What you need to understand, Mister Potter, is that the Ministry and its predecessors have been experimenting with time magic for a very long time. Our island has a strong affinity for such magics, and it is much easier to both travel in time and study the effects of time travel while within the boundaries of England, Scotland, and Wales. The Time-Turner was perfected in 1904 after a series of time travel experiments in the late nineteenth century. It was discovered by Saul here’s grandfather—” he gestured to the blond wizard at his side “—that going back more than five hours has a devastating effect on any witch or wizard, particularly when using spells such as the Hour-Reversal Charm. The experiments in the eighteen-hundreds had wizards being unborn all over the place, people dying of inexplicable ailments or old age in the distant past, and many other things. Thus Time-Turners were designed to limit how far one could go backwards as well as subtly keep you from doing anything that would jeopardise the established timeline. The only artefact that has ever been known to safely turn time back decades or centuries with no ill effects is in fact, Morgana’s Clock.”

“So…I’ve gone back in time?” Harry asked, feeling shell-shocked.

Bode’s partner, Saul, nodded. “Indeed,” he said. “For some reason, just as Hogwarts was built over a nexus of magic in this part of the world, Grimmauld Place was built over a nexus of time. Morgana’s Clock is the only magical artefact ever created that allows unregulated time travel: you can go back however far you want and change whatever you want with no magical backlash. Essentially, the Clock’s a functional paradox machine, because nine times out of ten, people who use it change time dramatically from what they remember, but most records we have all agree that the changes were for the better, for some reason. Nobody really knows how, but Morgana Black discovered the perfect location to build her magnum opus — and naturally, being a Black, she keyed it to her family only and built a house on top of it.”

Harry blinked, processing that. “Wait, but I’m not a Black!”

The man in the corner harrumphed. Bode cut in hastily. “Not in blood, Mister Potter, that’s true. But a godparent and godchild bond was created to mimic a soulmate bond in some ways, and while you don’t share magic with your godparent, magically speaking they are part of your heritage as much as your biological parents. That’s why godparents usually adopt orphaned godchildren with no custody battle at all — because magically speaking, a godparent is simply a third parent, and has almost equal rights to the parents that created you. It’s not a well-known fact, but it has caused inheritance issues before.”

Bode’s partner took over. “In the case of Morgana’s Clock, it would have read your magical signature — given you a right shock too, I’ll bet — and then however you turned those dials would have controlled how far you went back in time, and the range of the time travel.”

Harry blinked. “What do you mean by range?”

The curly-haired wizard shrugged. “Well, technically speaking you don’t have to stay inside the clock once you’ve activated it. That’s half the reason for the magical signature reading, besides identity checking.”

“But—” Harry interrupted, “but the door wouldn’t open!”

“Just stuck,” he shrugged again. “It happens sometimes. It must not have been oiled recently in your time period. Or in this time period either, honestly.” The curly-haired wizard eyed the quiet man in the corner. “You’ll need to get a house elf to check that over. It should be done once every year or so, or that door does stick.”

Turning back to Harry, the blond wizard continued. “Back to the point, though, the range dial is that second one. The time dial is the first. You didn’t turn the time dial too far, so it seems you’ve only gone a bit over twenty years back in time. The range dial was interesting, though. You messed with it quite a bit, didn’t you?” he asked.

Harry nodded with a bit of a grimace.

“Thought so. The range was wide enough to hit the whole house for sure, and it might have even stretched as far as Diagon Alley and Gringotts. We’ll have to send someone to check later. As it is, we need to identify everything in this house that was pulled back in time with you. It’ll be anything with your magical signature: your familiar, if you have one, well-worn clothes or things you’ve handled a lot.”

“Is that why you locked my house down?” the quiet wizard snapped, finally speaking for the first time.

Harry was confused, but Bode just nodded. “Yes, well, usually the range is at least the whole house in other instances where this has happened. We couldn’t risk anyone contaminating our time traveller’s magical signature unknowingly, so it was easier to quarantine the house.”

“Wait, what?” Harry cut in, feeling very confused. The man in the corner gave Harry a glaring look.

“My quiet evening was interrupted by a full platoon of Unspeakables barging into my house, taking my wife, children, and house elf to the Ministry, and then taking control of my house wards.”

Harry cringed. “Uh…sorry?”

“Speaking of,” Bode said, “If the team upstairs has everything gathered we could bring your family back, if you wish.”

“That would be much appreciated,” the wizard said with a hint of sarcasm.

“First we need to deal with protocol, Broderick,” the blond wizard reminded his partner. Bode blinked.

“Oh, right. My mistake.”

“Protocol?” Harry asked cautiously.

“Mh, yes, well, usually whoever goes through this clock is a Black, so there’s no issue of custody if the time traveller is a minor as you are. But you’re a Potter by blood and a Black by magic, so technically we really should talk to your blood relatives first according to the law. Particularly since the man you claim is your godfather is currently, what—” He glanced over at the owner of the house (whom Harry realized must be a Black himself).

The Black grimaced faintly, but said, “Sirius is twelve. He’ll be thirteen in November.”

Harry’s mouth opened and closed. He had a hard time imagining Sirius as anything but Dementor-worn and haggard. Trying to picture him as a Second Year was nigh on impossible.

“And I would guess, going by this lad’s name,” Mr. Black continued, “that his father is James Potter, who is the same age as Sirius. And by the laws, wouldn’t Fleamont and I have equal right to him? It would be basically down to his choice, yes?”

Bode hummed. “Oh, I didn’t think about that. You know Charlus Potter has a son who’s just now seventeen—”

“I don’t know who that is,” Harry interjected hastily, “and Mr. Black’s right. My dad is James Potter. What’s this about custody?”

The blond wizard explained. “In a custody battle, biological parents take first precedence. If they’re out of the running, then godparents are in the lead. In the absence of either parents or godparents, grandparents — being either the parents of your biological mother and father or of your godmother or godfather — have next right. If none of those parties are available, a minor goes to their closest living relative regardless of magical significance. Now, since you claim to have been born in 1980 and the date you gave as your current time is 1995, you are most definitely a minor.”

Harry scowled. “Didn’t stop the Ministry from holding a full trial like I was an adult for misuse of magic last summer.”

The blond wizard looked temporarily flabbergasted, so Bode cut in. “You have a misuse of magic offense on your record? What for?”

Harry glared at them. “I was attacked by Dementors, so I cast a Patronus. Then the Minister tried to have me expelled and my wand snapped because he said I was lying about the Dementors, and I did cast the spell in a muggle area. Not that any muggles who didn’t know about magic already saw it, but Fudge has gone round the twist.”

The three adults exchanged uncertain looks, clearly at a loss as to how to reply to that. “Well,” Bode said slowly, “future corrupt Ministry administrations aside, what are your views on guardianship? As your parents and godparents are all children, your grandparents and god-grandparents are eligible for guardianship.”

Harry gnawed his lip. So, if this guy was the parent of his godfather…that would make this Orion Black. Harry remembered all the funny names the Blacks had on the tapestry. “Do I have to change my name?”

Mr. Black spoke up. “I would recommend you change your middle name, no matter whose guardianship you choose. It is a wizarding tradition for firstborn sons to have their father’s name as their second. That’s how I figured out James must be your father — there hasn’t been a Potter named James in about four generations, so he was the most likely candidate.”

Harry eyed the man. “Do you want guardianship of me?”

“You are as much heir to the Black family as I am, right now,” the man said quietly. Harry blinked.

“You aren’t head of the family?” he asked in surprise. Orion Black shook his head.

“My father is still alive. I am currently heir of a head, and Sirius is heir of an heir. As in your time you were the heir of a head, you and I hold equal standing.”

Harry looked down, pensive. “I never got the chance to meet my grandparents,” he said softly. He looked back up. “What are they like?”

Orion’s lip curled a bit. Still, he managed to be both polite and unbiased, for the most part. “Your grandfather is a Potioneer of some renown. He currently runs a large business that creates and sells hair care potions. He also occasionally sits his father’s Wizengamot seat, as old Henry Potter has been getting on in years. He’s unabashedly a Gryffindor in everything he does. Your grandmother is from an old family, but was a Ravenclaw and so is more interested in obscure research and dominating the international duelling circuit than in socializing. I know they had some difficulty in having children: James is their only son and both are considered rather older than is normal for such a young son.”

The fifteen-year-old took this in, nodding thoughtfully. “Can we tell them about the time travel, or are you going to make something up?”

Bode answered smoothly. “Legally, we have to inform your guardians. But we will be coming up with a backstory for you, and you aren’t allowed to tell anyone else about travelling in time if it can be avoided. We do leave that up to your discretion, though. It is going to be your choice whether Mister Black here is Obliviated or not, actually, if he doesn’t become your guardian. Your only obligation to the Ministry is at some point writing out a record of what you know about how the timeline went originally. Generally, that document is referred to as a Temporal Memoir and if you wish it can be published as fiction if it’s not too inflammatory. On our end, we will help create your new identity, get your schooling caught up, and integrate you back into society as smoothly as possible.”

“Do keep in mind—” Mr. Black cut in again, shooting Bode a wary look after the comment about Obliviation. “Keep in mind that magically, you are heir to House Black. Even if you go to live with the Potters, I have a feeling my father at least will want to meet you and involve you a bit in the family politics.”

Harry grimaced at the words “family politics”. Joy. He fiddled with his silver soulmark band.

So that was his choice. His grandparents or Sirius’ parents. Harry had to repress a grimace at the idea of being under Walburga Black’s thumb. She was bad enough as a portrait — he didn’t want to see what she was like alive. Sirius had never said anything really terrible about his dad, but Harry got the feeling Sirius didn’t think much of him. The picture Harry had been painted was…actually a bit like a weaker, Slytherin Mr. Weasley. He let his wife rule him and the household, puttered about in his hobbies, and ignored problems that ran contrary to his comfortable life.

That almost made Harry want to stay to see if he could help the man, his “saving people thing” (as Hermione called it) kicking in. But Mr. Black said he’d still have to deal with the Black family no matter what, so nothing was really stopping him from getting to know his family for the first time.

“I’d like to meet my grandparents, please,” he said quietly but firmly.

Bode clapped his hands together. “Brilliant!” he said. “Now that that’s decided we’ll go back to the Ministry, now. My minions upstairs will bring things for you to look through, to determine what all you want to keep and what was just stuff you’ve used a lot — the house may be missing a doorknob or two, unfortunately.”

“Do you mind if Mister Black here retains his memories?” Bode’s partner asked with a smirk. “Or do you want him Obliviated?”

Harry grimaced. “Uh, I don’t really like the idea of removing memories in general…” He eyed the man, and then had an idea. He’d exercise his Slytherin side a bit. “He can keep his memories — if he promises to help tutor me and help me deal with those family politics he mentioned.”

A quick look at Orion Black saw him nodding with a faint grimace. But there was a smirk, too, a faint amused line to the lines of his shoulders that said he saw what Harry had done, and thought it clever. Bode chivvied Harry out of his seat.

“Come on, then, we need to get upstairs. We’ll Floo back to the Ministry out of the drawing room.”

The teenager was urged up the stairs, Orion Black and the two Unspeakables following behind. Once they were all on the ground floor the curly-haired Unspeakable went over to talk to a fellow Ministry wizard waiting in the entrance hall with a bored expression. They spoke softly for a minute or two and then both came over to where Bode was standing with Harry and Mr. Black.

“They’ve got all the carried-over stuff, Broderick,” the man’s partner said. Bode nodded.

“You might as well bring the Blacks back through, then,” he replied. The curly-haired wizard and the other Unspeakable went into the drawing room. Bode followed, Harry now behind him. They got there in time to see a flesh-and-blood Walburga Black Floo back through with a tiny but unmistakeable Sirius Black and an even smaller boy who actually looked a bit like Malfoy had as a kid, only black-haired.

Harry’s jaw dropped at seeing the miniature version of his godfather. “I’ll let you meet him, later.” He jumped at the whisper in his ear, and then turned to Orion Black in confusion. The man was smiling at him.

“What?” Harry whispered back.

“He’s your godfather. If you want to meet him, you shall,” Black said simply. Harry nodded in thanks, unable to think of a reply. Bode grabbed Harry by the elbow.

“Floo address is “Ministry of Magic”, in case you weren’t sure,” he told the teenager. Harry nodded again.

Bode stepped in and vanished in a flash of green flames. Harry stepped in and clearly said, “Ministry of Magic”, not too eager to see what messing up this address would do to his destination. His last sight was that of a bouncy small version of Sirius eagerly asking his father questions.

 

Chapter Text

Harry tumbled out of the floo and into Bode’s arms once again. The Unspeakable smirked down at him, but said nothing about Harry’s poor Flooing skills. Instead he just banished the soot off of Harry and began pulling the boy along.

Harry was once again standing in the very long and splendid hall that was the entry to the Ministry of Magic. The dark wood floor beneath their feet was polished to a shine. The peacock blue ceiling was inlaid with gleaming golden symbols that kept moving and changing like some enormous heavenly noticeboard. Instead of being at the end of the hall this time by the visitor lift, Harry had come out of one of the dozens of gilded fireplaces set into the left wall. Every few seconds other witches and wizards emerged from one of the left-hand fireplaces around Harry with a soft whoosh; across the hall, short queues were forming before each outgoing fireplace, waiting to depart.

The fireplace Harry had come out of was across from the golden fountain in the centre of the hall. The group of golden statues, larger than life-size, stood in the middle of their circular pool. The tinkling hiss of falling water was added to the pops and cracks of the Apparators and the clatter of footsteps as hundreds of witches and wizards, most of whom were wearing tired, weary looks, strode away from the set of golden gates at the far end of the hall.

“Follow me,” said Bode.

They were going against the throng, wending their way between the Ministry workers, some of whom were carrying tottering piles of parchment, others battered briefcases, still others were arguing about this and that while they walked. Harry clung to Bode’s robes in an effort to not be swept away in the crowd. He did notice, oddly enough, that a path opened for the Unspeakable, as if the dark robes stamped with the Department of Mysteries logo had repellent properties.

“This way, lad,” Bode said, and they stepped out of the stream of Ministry employees exiting the golden gates. They walked right past the security desk, and Harry noted that while in this time there was a bored witch in peacock-blue robes instead of an unshaven wizard, nothing much else had changed about the desk. She even had a Daily Prophet, and Harry could see pictures of unfamiliar people on the front of the newspaper.

The security witch started to stand when she saw them go past, but sat down again with wide eyes when Bode gave her a glare. “It’s DoM business, Verity,” he said warningly. He pronounced it “doom”, but Harry assumed he meant the Department of Mysteries. Verity looked properly intimidated and let them pass without recording Harry’s wand.

Bode grasped Harry by the shoulder and steered him around the edge of the stream of wizards and witches walking through the golden gates. They edged their way inside without being bothered to the smaller hall beyond where the lifts stood behind their wrought golden grilles. Once again, the crowd waiting for lifts instead of leaving the building parted for the Unspeakable. Harry and Bode were allowed to the front of the wait, and stepped into a lift as soon as one landed.

With a great jangling and clattering the lift descended in front of them; the golden grille slid back and Harry and Bode stepped into the lift. Bode pressed the number nine button cool as can be and stepped back.

There was a pause, and only a few witches and wizards stepped in with them. Unlike when going to Harry’s trial, he had plenty of elbow room. Several witches and wizards were looking at him curiously; he stared at his feet to avoid catching anyone's eye, flattening his fringe reflexively as he did so. But Bode had put on a mournful, unblinking expression Harry realized he remembered from running into the older Bode with Mr. Weasley. It was an odd thing, seeing it on that younger face. The grilles slid shut with a crash and the lift descended slowly, chains rattling, while the same cool female voice that was apparently always in the lifts at the Ministry spoke.

“Department of Mysteries,” the cool voice said, not mentioning a level number.

The lift doors rattled open, and everyone in the lift stepped out into the corridor. Harry again noted how it was quite different from those above. The walls were bare; there were no windows and no doors apart from a plain black one set at the very end of the corridor. Most of the people who had been in the lift went off to the side down the stairs, but Bode, Harry, and a witch with a  similarly doleful expression and Unspeakable robes all walked towards the black door.

Harry turned towards the plain black door. Standing here now, he was startled to realize he recognized this door, had been dreaming of it for months. It lent an eerie feeling to everything, but even so Harry followed Bode through the door. It swung open without anyone touching it, silently.

They were standing in a large, circular room. Everything in here was black including the floor and ceiling; identical, unmarked, handleless black doors were set at intervals all around the black walls, interspersed with branches of candles whose flames burned blue; their cool, shimmering light reflected in the shining marble floor made it look as though there was dark water underfoot.

Harry dimly remembered from his dreams. In the few where he’d gotten farther than this black door, he’d walked across this circular room, straight across the stone floor and through the second door. But the witch shut the door behind them all, and that was where things changed from Harry’s dreams.

Without the long chink of light from the torch lit corridor behind them, the place became so dark that for a moment the only things they could see were the bunches of shivering blue flames on the walls and their ghostly reflections in the floor.

Bode and the witch stood quite calmly, not walking towards any of the doors. There was a great rumbling noise and the candles began to move sideways. The circular wall was rotating. For a few seconds, the blue flames around them were blurred to resemble neon lines as the wall sped around; then, quite as suddenly as it had started, the rumbling stopped and everything became stationary once again.

Harry's eyes had blue streaks burned into them; it was all he could see. He had no way of knowing how to get out. He could no sooner identify the exit door than locate an ant on the jet-black floor. The witch stepped forwards and cleared her throat.

“Space Room,” she said. A door sprang open and she walked towards it, disappearing inside and slamming the door behind her.

Harry shut his eyes for this round of spinning, opening them again to gratefully see that the room was stationary again. This time Bode spoke.

“Time Room,” he said. Yet another door sprung open, and Harry was led to yet another room he recognized.

He knew it at once by the beautiful, dancing, diamond-sparkling light. There were patches of dancing light on the walls and floor and an odd mechanical clicking in the background.

As Harry's eyes became accustomed to the brilliant glare, he saw clocks gleaming from every surface, large and small, grandfather and carriage, hanging in spaces between the bookcases or standing on desks ranging the length of the room, so that a busy, relentless ticking filled the place like thousands of minuscule, marching footsteps. The source of the dancing, diamond-bright light was a towering crystal bell jar that stood at the far end of the room.

Bode ignored the wonders of the room, instead making for the only other door that led out of this room full of clocks. He led the way down the narrow space between the lines of desks, heading for the source of the light, a crystal bell jar quite as tall as Harry was that stood on a desk and appeared to be full of a billowing, glittering wind. Harry followed, but paused as he passed by the bell jar. He squinted, looking at its heart.

Drifting along in the sparkling current inside was a tiny, jewel-bright egg. As it rose in the jar, it cracked open and a hummingbird emerged, which was carried to the very top of the jar, but as it fell on the draught its feathers became bedraggled and damp again, and by the time it had been borne back to the bottom of the jar it had been enclosed once more in its egg.

“Woah…”

“Come along,” Bode chivvied him. “You can sit and watch the time jar later. I’m sure there’ll be plenty of waiting to be done after we’re finished with the protocols.” Harry reluctantly followed to the only door behind the bell jar.

Once again Harry had the odd feeling he’d seen this place before: high as a church and full of nothing but towering shelves covered in small, dusty glass orbs. They glimmered dully in the light issuing from more candle-brackets set at intervals along the shelves. Like those in the circular room behind them, their flames were burning blue. The room was very cold.

Harry edged forward and peered down one of the shadowy aisles between two rows of shelves. He looked up at the end of the closest row. Beneath the branch of blue-glowing candles protruding from it glimmered the silver figure fifty-three. Harry shivered. He could not hear anything or see the slightest sign of movement.

“This way,” Bode said, his voice echoing around the hushed room.

“Sorry I keep getting distracted,” Harry apologized. “This is all just…familiar, somehow. I feel like I’ve dreamt it.”

Bode’s eyebrows went up. “Very interesting,” he murmured.

They walked forward between the towering rows of glass balls, weaving between the long alleys of shelves, the further ends of which were in near-total darkness. Tiny, yellowing labels had been stuck beneath each glass orb on the shelves. Some of them had a weird, liquid glow; others were as dull and dark within as blown light bulbs.

Eventually, they came to a wall, where there were several doors. Harry stared back the way they’d come. “How big is this room?” he asked. Bode just shrugged and Harry assumed he wasn’t getting an answer. He followed Bode out of the room of glass orbs.

This time they were in a totally unfamiliar location, a simply furnished drawing room, from the looks of it. In the middle was a stack of stuff. There were Unspeakables walking in and out of the room, waving their wands and muttering over the pile or speaking softly amongst themselves.

“I want you to find everything you want to keep out of that,” Bode told Harry, pointing at the haphazard pile of stuff. Harry nodded and stepped forwards.

The first thing he identified, to his relief, was Hedwig, looking disgruntled. She flew over to his shoulder and Harry smiled. “’Lo girl,” he said softly, stroking her feathers.

Hedwig’s cage seemed to be missing, but Harry did see his Hogwarts trunk. That was also a relief. Most everything he would need was in that — books, clothes, potions supplies, his invisibility cloak. There was a blank and faded sheet of parchment on the floor that Harry hastily snatched up and stuffed in his robes. He didn’t want the Marauder’s Map getting accidently thrown away. Another one wouldn’t be made for a few years at least, if his dad was really only twelve.

Harry glanced around. His Firebolt was naturally missing (and Harry hated Umbridge a little bit more) but there were other things: a Galleon Harry recognized as the DA master coin he used to tell people meeting dates, his spare pair of sneakers, a few unopened gifts with his name on them, a number of doorknobs, the bed Harry slept in at Grimmauld Place.

Harry sorted out stuff he wanted to keep for sentimental or practical reasons, separating things he didn’t mind throwing away. He put the unopened gifts in his trunk, handling them with melancholy feelings. He wondered if tomorrow was Christmas Day in this time period as well. Then, curiously, Harry picked up another sheet of parchment off the floor. He read it and his mouth fell open, his eyebrows crawling up his forehead.

“Something interesting?” Harry jumped.

It was one of the Unspeakables. Harry held out the sheet for him to look at. “It…it’s a contract.” The Unspeakable read it.

“I can see that. You’re in business?”

“I gave my best mate’s older brothers my winnings from the Triwizard Tournament to start up a joke shop. I didn’t realize they put me down as a silent partner for real. I thought they were just joking around. I mean…” He tried to explain himself when the Unspeakable looked amused. “I didn’t want anything from them. I didn’t want or need the money, and they’d been swindled out of all their savings earlier in the year. They’re brilliant, they are, could put Zonko’s out of business, so I didn’t want them to give up on their dream.”

“And apparently they decided that generosity deserved a good turn as well,” the Unspeakable said dryly. He handed back the contract giving Harry a third of Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes in exchange for one thousand Galleons of start-up money. “You’d better keep that,” he said. “If you deposit money for these two before the contract is listed as having been made, and make it available for them, it will still be valid come 1995.”

Harry blinked, his fingers curling over the parchment of the contract. “Oh,” he said faintly. He looked down at it again and looked up, a thought having occurred to him.

“What’s the current date?” he asked. Bode winced over where he was talking to his curly-haired partner.

“Ah, I never did specify, did I?” he asked. Harry shook his head. “It’s currently the evening of March 24th, 1972.”

Harry’s mouth opened and closed wordlessly. So — it wasn’t Christmas any longer, then. Maybe he’d just open his presents before he went to bed tonight. “So… I jumped forward three months but back over twenty years? How does that work?”

All the Unspeakables shrugged, grumbling. “Nobody really knows how the Morgana Clock works,” one of them said.

“We know things about its parts, and we can make educated guesses,” another agreed. “But the true extent of Morgana Black’s experiments was never written down, and so was lost with her death.”

Harry frowned. “But…if it’s March… Why was Sirius Black home? Shouldn’t he have been at Hogwarts?”

“It’s Easter Holidays, sort of,” one witch chimed in. “My niece is home for the week. This year’s holidays are closer to two weeks than one, because the Defence professor had a bit of an accident and they’re trying to get a replacement before April. I think originally the break would have begun next Wednesday or so, but instead the kiddies all rode home on the Express yesterday—which was a Thursday, by the way. I doubt the days of the week are the same.”

“Huh,” Harry mused. What an odd coincidence, that he’d gone back to a date where Sirius was actually at Grimmauld Place. Also, apparently it was now Friday evening instead of Sunday.

“You done with the sorting, lad?” Bode asked him.

“Oh — yes,” said Harry, startled. Bode nodded.

“Come on, then. We’ve got more that needs doing.”

Harry once again followed Bode through yet another door, this time into a cluttered and dusty office. Hedwig, still on his shoulder, gazed about at everything, her white head turning round and round.

Bode sat behind the desk and conjured a comfortable chair for Harry to sit in. He pulled out a scroll of parchment and a quill. Then he waved his wand, muttering an unfamiliar spell. A soft white glow appeared around Harry’s seated form. Hedwig, ruffling her feathers, left her perch on Harry’s shoulder and alighted on a cabinet instead with a disgruntled air. Bode ignored the owl’s antics.

“Down to business. I’m going to ask you about your school. Don’t tell me what House you were in, but otherwise answer me to the best of your knowledge and understanding. That spell is to tell me if you lie, so don’t bother trying or I’ll pull out the Veritaserum again.”

Harry blinked. There was a whole lot he could comment on in that, but… “Why don’t you want to know what House I’m in?”

“Prejudices,” Bode replied shortly. “We all have preconceived notions of how people from certain Houses should act. Being a Quidditch player means something different in Ravenclaw than in Gryffindor. It means something different if you’re captain of the debate team as a Hufflepuff than if you were a Slytherin. I don’t want any of that cluttering up my head, so just don’t tell me your House.”

Harry nodded hesitantly. “Okay…”

“Now,” Bode said, holding up his quill. “What were your usual grades in the core classes at Hogwarts: namely Transfiguration, Defence against the Dark Arts, Charms, Potions, Astronomy, History of Magic, and Herbology?”

“Uh…” Harry had to think on that. “Well, I always made top marks in Defence. Pretty sure I’m the best or one of the best in my year. I’m also really good at Charms, usually. I like Herbology, and I’m usually close under Neville in class rankings — he’s the best in our year — so I must be doing well. I suppose I’m average in Transfiguration and Potions. And Astronomy, I guess.”

“What would you base that observation on?”

Harry shrugged uncomfortably. “Just…observation…I guess. I always did about the same as other students in Transfiguration and Astronomy, and I was never ahead of the really clever students. I always got terrible grades in Potions, but the teacher hated me and I think he didn’t care if other students sabotaged me, so I don’t think the actual grade I got was accurate.”

Bode had been watching Harry closely, but the spell-glow around him didn’t change colour at all. The Unspeakable hummed to himself and scribbled for a few minutes on the parchment, muttering about placement tests.

“I suppose you had Binns for History of Magic?” he asked in resignation. Harry nodded, amused when the man began grumbling about substandard teachers and how Hogwarts was going downhill if it couldn’t pay an exorcist and hire a real History teacher. Harry frankly agreed on that point. Snape needed to be kicked out too. Thankfully he’d be a titchy first or second year here, not in a position of authority over Harry.

That thought made Harry snicker. Bode just raised an eyebrow, but Harry cleared his face and refused to comment.

“What classes did you begin taking in third year?” the Unspeakable asked.

Harry shrugged again. “Divination and Care of Magical Creatures. Frankly, I don’t know anybody who was actually good at Divination. Our teacher liked it when we wrote depressing stuff, so it was really more of a creative writing class than anything. I think we probably had really good experience in Care though. Hagrid was cleared at the end of my second year and became teacher for that class.”

Hagrid?” Bode repeated incredulously. “What did he have you studying — manticores and dragons?”

Harry snickered again. Clearly this man had met Hagrid. “Our first lesson as third years was hippogriffs.”

“Bloody hell,” Bode muttered. “Right, even if your grade was terrible you’ve got more hands-on experience than most graduates in the current class.” He presumably wrote out something to that effect on his parchment. “Any extracurriculars?”

Harry blinked. “What?”

Bode gestured. “Extracurricular activities. Clubs, study-groups, sports, that sort of thing. You mentioned being in the Triwizard Tournament, for one.”

“Oh!” Harry nodded. “Yeah, I won the Triwizard Tournament. All my opponents were seventeen and eighteen, too, while I was only fourteen. One of my best friends said that while I did have a lot of help, everyone was cheating so she thought I might have won on my own.” After the tournament was over Hermione had gone back through everything they’d all done and tallied it as impartially as she could, according to OWL and NEWT standards. And everybody knew Hermione was the smart one, so when she said Harry might have been able to win without Barty clearing the way for him Harry agreed with her results.

He had another thought that made him grin. He wasn’t banned from Quidditch in this time period! “I play Seeker for my House team. Youngest Seeker in a century, in 1991.”

“Impressive.” Bode made another notation. “Anything else?”

Harry thought. “There was a duelling club in second year,” he said hesitantly, “but there was only one meeting. And, um,” They couldn’t get him in trouble when the Educational Decrees didn’t exist yet could they?

“I headed up a pretty large Defence study-group this year,” he finally said.

“How large?”

Harry squirmed. “Almost thirty students?”

Bode’s eyebrows went up again. “Really? In a Defence group? Did you have a Professor overseeing it?”

Harry shook his head.

“Really.” Harry couldn’t tell what Bode was thinking. “And they behaved?”

Harry blinked. “Um…yeah, mostly. I had to talk to Fred and George once or twice about pranking people, but mostly everyone was just there because they wanted to learn, so they weren’t exactly going to act stupid.”

Bode hummed thoughtfully. “What did you teach?”

Harry shrugged. “Just stuff to prepare for OWLs and NEWTs. I started our first lesson with Expelliarmus and some basic duelling practice. Since then we’ve covered Reducto, shielding, the variants of Bombarda and other explosive spells, the Stunning Charm, and a couple other things.” He brightened, remembering how impressed Madame Bones had been with his Patronus. “We covered the Patronus right before Christmas Break began.”

“The Patronus?” Now Bode actually looked flabbergasted. “Whatever for?”

Harry hesitated. “They wanted me to,” he said slowly. “Most of them knew I could cast one, and I suppose they thought it was cool. I just know it’s a useful spell in any good Defence arsenal, so I taught them.”

“You can cast a Patronus?” Bode said disbelievingly.

Harry stood, holding up his wand. “May I?” he asked. Bode gestured for him to go ahead, his expression curious but sceptical. “Expecto Patronum!” Harry exclaimed, thinking of his wonderful Christmas with Sirius.

Prongs shot out from the end of his wand in a silvery light, cantering about before giving him a baleful look because there wasn’t any danger. “Sorry,” Harry said. “He didn’t believe I could do it.” Prongs snorted and tossed his head. Harry just grinned and cancelled the spell, making the ethereal stag disappear.

Bode’s eyes were wide.

“How long have you been able to do that?” he asked. Harry shrugged.

“I started learning midway through my third year. By the end I could cast one strong enough to push back dozens of Dementors. That’s part of how Hermione and I saved Sirius — you know, with the Time-Turner.”

Bode nodded slowly.

“And how many of your students in the study-group could do it?”

Harry thought. “All of them conjured mist. Some had it stronger than others,” he said slowly. “I’d say only about ten or less managed a corporeal Patronus during the DA session, but I learned in front of a Boggart that turned into a Dementor for me. They didn’t have any struggle. And this was really just something fun we did in an informal session before the holidays. I planned to do a full lesson on it later — maybe around Easter — but I don’t know how I’d rate it since nobody tested it against a Dementor or the illusion of one like I did.”

Bode hummed thoughtfully again, writing on his parchment once more. “Well, I think that’s all for your school information that I need. Here.” He tossed a heavy black cloak with the Department of Mysteries logo as the clasp. “Wear this so you don’t get detained. You can wander around the Department a bit. I’ll send someone looking for you when we need you again.”

Harry stood, pulling the cloak on. A glance at Hedwig saw her head was under a wing, presumably asleep, so he didn’t call out to her. Then his stomach rumbled rather embarrassingly. Bode cracked a smile.

“I suppose we should feed you first. Go back to that first room, the round one, and ask for the cafeteria. You can get food there.”

A frown furrowed Harry’s brow. “But how do I find—”

“You do know how to cast a Point-Me, young mister Defence prodigy?” Bode asked wryly. Harry flushed.

“Point-Me will work in here?” he asked. Bode smirked.

“Only for some things,” he replied mysteriously. Then he bent his head over the parchment and began writing again.  He was rifling through his desk at the same time, pulling out and discarding forms. Having been clearly dismissed, Harry went off in search of food.

Sure enough, using Point-Me led him back to the big round room. Once it was done spinning Harry opened his eyes and asked for the cafeteria. A door to one side sprang open and Harry went through eagerly. He went down a narrow corridor full of enchanted windows to the one door at the other end. Opening it revealed a large room full of tables. There were plates already set out, and menus on top of the plates.

Harry sat down and picked up a menu.

“You say what you want to eat to summon it.” Harry jumped, turning in his seat on the bench to see yet another Unspeakable sitting beside him. Even though — he hardly looked old enough to be out of Hogwarts. The Unspeakable smirked.

“I’m Gus, by the way,” he said carelessly. He stuck out his hand for Harry to shake, and Harry noticed he still had a silver soulmark band on his wrist. “And you’re the most recent poor sod to get dragged back in time by Morgana’s Clock.”

Harry blinked. “Does everyone know about that?” he asked uncomfortably. Gus shrugged, his smirk widening.

“Funny thing about Unspeakables, kid. Something about dealing with oath-bound secrets day in and day out makes us incurable gossips when we’re actually able to discuss something.”

Harry made a face and Gus laughed. The wizard eyed Harry curiously. “Is it true you won the Triwizard Tournament? Why on earth would they have brought back that monolithic murder fest?”

That made Harry snigger. “Yes, I won, and we were only told it was being reinstated due to a need for international cooperation. They did try to make it a bit safer — they banned anyone under seventeen from competing, for one.”

“Okay,” Gus said with raised eyebrows, “there is no way you’re seventeen.”

Harry grimaced and shrugged. “I was illegally entered last year as a fourth champion by someone trying to kill me. I was fourteen at the time, so you’re right. I’m not seventeen.”

“And you still won? Wicked!”

Harry brushed it off. “I had lots of help,” he protested. For some reason telling Bode Hermione’s suppositions felt different than just sitting and talking about it here. Gus rolled his eyes.

“Kid, cheating has been a Tournament tradition since the very beginning. And by your own admission, you hadn’t even passed your OWLs and you were competing with NEWT students!”

…Which was basically what Hermione had said, if with graphs and statistics to back her opinion with evidence.

“Why do you keep calling me kid, anyway?” Harry asked. “You don’t look too much older than me!”

Gus grimaced. “It’s the face, isn’t it?” he sighed. “I’ve always had a baby face. Kid, I’m almost thirty. That makes me twice your age, hence calling you kid.”

Harry blinked. “Oh,” he said faintly.

Gus just smirked again and turned to his own plate. “Kung Pao chicken, please, heavy on the sauce.” Harry blinked as a glowing white timer appeared above his plate. Gus then picked up the brass mug and said, “Butterbeer.” It was suddenly filled with frothy brown liquid. Gus gestured to Harry. “Might as well order now. It always takes a few minutes for the food to get here.”

Harry looked back down at the menu. There was lots of unfamiliar stuff on there.

“I’m partial to the Asian foods, but the pie and mash is good if you want something simple. And the chips are to die for, I swear.”

Hesitantly, Harry ordered a simple fish and chips dish, asking for iced pumpkin juice in his mug. Harry’s timer had half the amount of time Gus’s did.

The chips really were as good as Gus said — better than the ones the house elves at Hogwarts made, actually. Once both their meals had arrived the two ate in companionable silence, with Gus occasionally asking random questions about Harry’s time period.

“So, is old Dumbles still headmaster in your time? How old is he?”

“Wait, I heard something about a Time-Turner and Dementors from Saul Croaker. Story? Please?”

“Were you in the Slug Club?”

“What do you mean who is Horace Slughorn? I thought he’d retire on his deathbed, not before!”

It was…fun, and as much as Gus was apparently a good deal older than him, Harry was starting to think he’d made a friend. Gus did assure him that he wouldn’t spread anything Harry had told him.

“My oaths make it so I can only tell other Unspeakables anyway, since you’re technically a DoM project until you’re given an actual identity. But don’t worry, I won’t go blabbing. I’m going to hold this over everyone else’s heads for ages. They’ll be begging me for scraps of info — only so long as you don’t go telling everyone your life story. Just tell me and Bode, yeah? I might actually win this year’s Most Unspeakable Unspeakable award with all the stuff you’ve given me.”

Apparently the “Most Unspeakable Unspeakable” award went to whichever Unspeakable had kept the most secrets at the end of the year. This was determined via truth spells, drinking games, and year-long betting pools. Croaker — the curly-haired wizard who was Bode’s partner — had apparently won it three years in a row, and Gus was determined to wrestle it from him.

Speaking of Croaker, the blond wizard showed up just as Harry was finishing up the treacle tart he’d ordered after cleaning his plate. Gus was eating his tiramisu with reverent slowness.

“Oi! Potter!” Croaker exclaimed. Harry looked up at him. “We need you again, lad. Broderick finally found a group of oath-bound Healers willing to do work in the evening. Come on.”

Harry stood and followed him, waving goodbye to Gus.

 

Chapter Text

Harry stood and followed him, waving goodbye to Gus.

He was led back to the drawing room beyond that hall of glass orbs. Most of the Unspeakables who had been in this room before were gone, as was everything Harry had indicated he didn’t want to keep.

His possessions were stacked neatly in one corner. Bode was standing in another corner with a quill and parchment out as if he was prepared to record something again. Croaker went over to join him after pushing Harry towards the group in the middle of the room. Standing there was a pleasant-looking woman in the lime green robes of a St. Mungo’s Healer. She had two male Healers with her.

“These are Healers Pollingtonious, Spleen, and Pomfrey, Mister Potter,” Bode said dolefully. “They’ll be giving you a full examination so that we can create new medical records for you.”

Harry blinked. The healer that had been indicated when Bode said Pomfrey was a tall man with light brown hair. The healer in question smiled at Harry’s bemused look.

“Presuming you aren’t from too far into the future, you likely know my sister Poppy,” he said. Harry nodded.

“Oh — yes. I didn’t know Madam Pomfrey had a brother.”

Healer Pomfrey shrugged. “I don’t see why you would have.” The one female Healer stepped forwards.

“I’m Heather Pollingtonious, Mister Potter,” she said. “I’ll be your primary Healer today. Herbert and Phillip are just here to fill in gaps I can’t account for.”

“You’re lucky to have gotten Pollingtonious, kid,” the male Pomfrey added. “She’s the most talented Healer we have at St. Mungo’s. Shoo-in for next Healer-In-Charge of the whole hospital. Otherwise there’d be five of us.”

The woman swatted at him. “Honestly, Phillip,” she scolded. She conjured a chair with a wave of her wand. “Would you mind taking off your shirt and that cloak, lad? You can leave the trousers, but I need a bare torso for my spells to get proper readings.”

Harry flushed, but did as she asked. As he sat in the chair he queried, “Why would there be five of you?”

Pollingtonious blinked. “Are you muggleborn, lad?” she asked in some confusion. Harry scowled at her.

“Half-blood,” he snapped. “I was raised in the muggle world, though.”

She waved her hands in front of her, flustered. “Oh, I didn’t mean to sound rude, it’s just that normally we only get that sort of question from muggleborns. To answer you, ordinarily if you want to become a Healer you specialize in one of the five Healing Wards at St. Mungo’s or become a mediwitch or mediwizard. Healers are capable of much greater feats of healing than medi-healers. A muggleborn friend of mine likened it to the difference between a Doctor and a Nurse…?”

When Harry nodded in understanding she continued. “Anyway, I’m a bit of an anomaly because I’ve trained in two Healing Wards — Creature-Induced Injuries and Artefact Accidents — and am currently going through training to heal Spell Damage as well. If the Unspeakables hadn’t gotten me they would’ve needed to get one Healer for each Ward to check you over properly.”

“Oh,” Harry fell silent, thoughtful.

Healer Pollingtonious took that as an opportunity and began casting over him. Her first couple spells didn’t seem to do anything at all that Harry could tell, but then she cast a spell on a piece of parchment. It began floating around Harry in circles. He could see some sort of map of his body being sketched onto the parchment, with different spots being highlighted in different colours. She had a second quill and parchment hovering next to her which seemed to be writing some sort of list out. Several times, her work made her pause in her casting with a frown, brows furrowed. When the woman was finally done she collapsed into another chair with a huff.

Pomfrey took over, casting spells as well. His took much less time, and the third Healer (Herbert Spleen, Harry thought his name was) took his turn. This wizard began a list as well, muttering in aggravation under his breath as he silently cast spells.

Then the three healers retreated to a corner of the room, speaking amongst themselves. Finally, they turned back to Harry.

“We’re going to go over our results now,” Healer Pollingtonious told him kindly. “We’re going to ask you about various injuries, and I need your answers to be as truthful as possible.”

Harry nodded hesitantly and the Healer cleared her throat. “Alright, then.”

Her first question was surprising. Harry expected to get something about the basilisk bite on his arm, or the Acromantula bites from the Third Task, or maybe even the oddly large number of scars Harry had — possibly even about the unusual lightning-bolt shaped scar on his forehead. But Healer Pollingtonious’ first question was about whether he felt he’d always gotten enough to eat.

Harry had squirmed in his seat a bit, hedging that yes, he got plenty to eat, and he was a growing boy besides… The healers were having none of it. Bluntly, he was asked if he’d ever been denied food for more than a single meal at a time. Wincing, Harry admitted that yes, his muggle relatives often left him without food for days on end. Oh, they fed him, Harry hurried to explain. They just might only give him a sandwich in a day, or a bit of toast, or an apple… And it was only when he was being punished.

They asked how long his muggle relatives had been withholding food as punishment. Harry shrugged and said it had been going on for as long as he could remember. Then, they asked how often it happened. That made Harry squirm again.

It hadn’t been too often when he was a kid, Harry tried to explain slowly. Usually only when he did obvious accidental magic. Maybe once every other month he’d be locked in his cupboard — his bedroom, he hastily corrected, but he was sure from the frowns they’d all caught when he almost said — and he might not be fed properly while locked away for a  week or more.

But…Harry did have to admit they’d gotten worse once he started Hogwarts. There were so many reasons to choose from. His relatives didn’t like magic, he explained, and so when there was more magic going on he’d been treated worse. But… it did seem like every summer since his first year had him fed less and less, even if he wasn’t locked in his room. He ate plenty at Hogwarts, Harry added hopefully. But that didn’t seem to improve the stormy faces.

Eventually, Healer Pollingtonious simply said that they’d be giving him nutrient potions, and it would be best if he could eat nutrient-potion-laced meals for the next six months at least. A swift glance between her and Bode meant it was probably going to happen whether Harry agreed or not, the teenager thought glumly.

They asked a few other questions about nonmagical injuries. Had he been hit often — Harry told them about his bully of a cousin. Had he ever had limbs dislocated — Harry said yes, but fudged on when and why since they didn’t seem to know that. He ended up chalking it to Quidditch and falling off of things. They also asked if he’d ever been concussed, and he had to admit he wasn’t sure. Uncle Vernon had thrown him hard enough to do so a few times, but it wasn’t as if he’d ever been taken to a doctor and diagnosed. Likewise Aunt Petunia had caught him with a frying pan several times before he’d grown better at dodging and ducking. But he didn’t know for sure, so he mumbled something again about bullies and not being sure.

Then they moved on to more magical injuries. They were very, very angry when Harry told them the scars on his hands — I must not tell lies — was from a Ministry official and Defence professor forcing him to write with a quill that drew his blood as ink. Harry was told that the artefact he’d described was known as a Black Quill, and was a Class-A Restricted Artefact that could, in the long run, make him more vulnerable to Dark Magic and dark artefacts in general.

Throughout this, Bode was scribbling down everything Harry told them, muttering under his breath. It sounded like he planned to have Delores Umbridge monitored through her Hogwarts days and blacklisted from ever joining the Ministry, which Harry felt vindictively was almost worth getting sent back in time in the first place.

He was told they would send a special potion he needed to wash his hand with twice a day, and that would reduce the magical side-effects of the Quill. Unfortunately, the scarring would remain forever. Harry had figured as much, and wasn’t too bothered. Then they wanted to know about the Acromantula bites and why it looked like he’d been healed of a dragon attack on his shoulder.

Harry haltingly explained about the Triwizard Tournament, hesitant after how upset his talk of the Dursleys and of Umbridge had made the adults in the room. But the three healers worked together to coax it out of him, and Harry found himself explaining each task in detail — and even giving a vague description of his kidnapping from the Third Task and the ritual he’d been forced to participate in as well. He refused to discuss names, though.

When he was asked about the basilisk bite before his clearly regrown arm bones, Harry realized they must be going backwards from most recent injuries to the oldest. He explained the reopening of the Chamber of Secrets as thoroughly as he could; only holding back the few details that might reveal Harry was soulmate to the person who had opened it.

They were all quite interested in how Harry had survived the basilisk’s bite, and when Harry began explaining about Fawkes Healer Pollingtonious began writing something down again excitedly. She asked Harry if he could come to St. Mungo’s for some tests afterwards, because they hadn’t had the chance to study someone who’d been given phoenix tears in recent recorded history, but Bode glared her to silence. Harry made a mental note to maybe talk to her later. It didn’t seem like that big a deal, honestly.

Explaining about an incompetent Defence teacher who managed to vanish his arm bones had them all quite amused, and Harry couldn’t help but tell them all about the fiasco of the Duelling Club just to further ruin Lockhart’s reputation in advance.

Harry was almost startled to realize he’d practically not been injured at all his first year. Instead, they asked about the heavy mantle of soulmate magic sitting on him — explaining they could see evidence it had forced him into a coma (which must have been the end of first year) but weren’t sure what it did otherwise. Harry hesitantly began to explain the details Sirius had discussed with him.

Harry’s parents had been soulmates, but his mother had struggled against the bond for nearly all their years at Hogwarts because she didn’t like his dad’s attitude. The struggles had been mostly one-sided, but James’ continual attempts to win her over — essentially fighting for his soulmate’s love and bond — had strengthened their bond beyond the usual amount.

Sirius had explained to Harry that the more struggles a couple went through, the stronger their bond usually was in response. But normally, because of how wizarding culture viewed soulmarks and soulmates, people hardly struggled with their bonds at all, instead accepting the will of magic. Lily had fought James for six long years, and then the two had fought for their lives together against people trying to kill them for the next few years until their deaths. This, Sirius theorized, was how they’d managed to create such a powerful magical protection for Harry. They’d done some sort of sacrificial ritual that ensured that even if they were dead, their magic would linger on to keep their son safe — a reversal of the usual way the bond between a soulmated romantic pair and their children usually worked.

Harry explained this, and while the Healers merely seemed touched and discounted the coma from their records (soulmate magic was intrinsically unharmful to soulmate-created children) the two Unspeakables grew very intent. They didn’t say anything, just narrowed their eyes and exchanged unreadable looks.

The last questions the Healers asked were all about soulmates, so naturally Harry was uncomfortable. They could clearly see he wasn’t bonded from the silver armband he wore, so instead they’d begun to ask about his words and if he thought his bond could be fulfilled in this time period. The Unspeakables had hastily silenced them.

Healer Pollingtonious began to splutter. “But Mr. Bode, this is standard procedure when checking a young wizard’s health—”

“Yes, yes,” Bode snapped back. “The DoM will take care of that, thank you. We’ve got our own experts. You needn’t concern yourselves.”

But while the Healers and the Unspeakables argued, Harry fell into a bit of a stupor. He’d not thought at all about his soulmate since coming back in time — he’d not had a spare moment to really process, so he hadn’t been able to. It wasn’t as if he didn’t usually ignore Voldemort was his soulmate in most of his life anyway. But now he was in the past. Had anything changed?

A peek under his bracelet while the others were distracted confirmed his words were the same, and they were still bright blood-red. So Voldemort was still his soulmate. But…what did that mean?

While every book on the rise and fall of the Dark Lord Voldemort agreed that at some point he’d lost his soulmark, none of them agreed on when that had happened. Several insisted it hadn’t occurred until later in Voldemort’s campaign, in the late seventies. Others were adamant he’d lost it before appearing in 1970, or he’d never had one in the first place. Harry knew the last possibility was false because he was Voldemort’s soulmate, but for the other two options he really had no way of knowing unless he tracked the Dark Lord down and spoke to him. And for obvious reasons, Harry was reluctant to do so.

At the moment, Harry decided he would just assume nothing had changed. He’d act as though he had a markless soulmate and would live his life the way he wanted. He wasn’t going chasing after a madman — not when he was in a time when Voldemort wasn’t even actively hunting him yet. This decided, he went back to watching the adults argue.

In the end Bode and Croaker apparently won, because Pollingtonious threw her hands up in the air in exasperation. “Fine!” she cried out. “I can see you won’t be dissuaded.” Pomfrey whispered something in her ear and she shook her head jerkily and scowled. Spleen, who hadn’t spoken much, took a moment to be the diplomatic one.

“We’ll just borrow an office to write up the lad’s medical records. I assume later this week we’ll be doing a mock-up version based on whatever alias he’s settled into?” When Bode nodded Spleen did as well. “Alright, then. You might want to let the boy sleep: all our preliminary diagnostic spells read low-level exhaustion. You can do anything else you need to do with him starting tomorrow.”

Then Spleen began guiding his fellow Healers to one of the doors out of the drawing room. “Come along, then,” he told them. “We’ve got work to do.”

Bode walked over to Harry with an exasperated sigh as the Healers left the room, Croaker following them. “Finally,” he grumbled. He eyed Harry. “I know you’ve got some hangup about your soulmark, but you will be discussing it tomorrow morning. I won’t need the exact words on your wrist, just some details to add to our records.”

Harry grimaced, but nodded in acceptance. Bode clapped him on the shoulder.

“If it makes you feel better, we are Unspeakables, lad. You’re a time project, which means we can’t talk about any information you give us under pain of death until you’ve got a real, established identity. You don’t have to watch your words until that point. Now that Healer was right. It’s almost midnight, and you’ve had a hell of an evening. Time to get you to bed.”

Once Harry had his jumper and the heavy Department of Mysteries cloak back on they left the area of the Time Room once again. Bode led Harry back to the large circular room, where he called out for the “Sleep Chamber” once the room had stopped spinning. Surprisingly, Harry was not led to a dormitory of some sort as he had assumed by the name.

The teenager gaped at the dimly lit but still beautiful surroundings. The room was a massive dome shape, and the walls/ceiling had been coloured the same shade as the night sky. The floor was the same shiny black stone that was in the circular room, and around where the walls met the stone floor beautiful abstract patterns were painted in sunset shades and the colours of the northern lights. There were no candles or real light fixtures in the room. There wasn’t even an imitation moon. Instead, the rounded walls were studded with what looked like gemstones, mimicking the soft glow of stars.

And all through the room were clouds. They were white, fluffy clouds trimmed in gold from what Harry could see of the ones just skirting the floor. But the higher up they went the more their colour seemed to fade and blend in with the walls. Harry only knew there were clouds in the higher areas because they were obstructing swaths of star-lights. Otherwise they camouflaged perfectly.

“This is where we study the phenomenon of sleep,” said Bode. “In the rooms beyond we study dreams and visions, comas, petrifications, and Draught of Living Death. This is our main database — Unspeakables will sleep here when they have to pull all-nighters and such. Every person who sleeps in here adds to our collection of knowledge on sleep patterns and how magic interacts with sleeping individuals.”

Harry cast about. “But where do people sleep?” he asked in confusion. Bode gestured.

“On the clouds,” he said simply. “Go on. Try one.”

Harry walked hesitantly next to a cloud hovering patiently nearby, just off the floor. He put a hand on it and pressed down. It was thick and fluffy, like a mattress. Harry hesitantly sat down. He instantly felt his eyes growing heavy. He yawned.

Bode rapped Harry on the head with his knuckles. “Lay down, silly.”

He did so, feeling groggy. Harry wrapped himself in the heavy cloak he still wore. It worked quite nicely as a blanket. He could feel his eyes drifting shut.

It was funny, that his first night without strange dreams came in the place he’d been dreaming of so long.

*          *          *

Harry was shaken awake the next morning to Gus’ smiling face. He blinked dumbly at the sight, confused for a long moment. Then he sat up, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes.

“It wasn’t a dream?” he asked. Gus’ smile faded.

“No, kid, it wasn’t a dream. You’re really in 1972.”

Harry yawned. “Just brilliant,” he grumbled. He stood and the cloud that had been under him wisped away to nothing. Harry blinked. “Huh.”

Gus grabbed Harry by the arm. “Come on, kid. I just got here, and I want breakfast. I’m betting you do too.”

Harry followed Gus willingly enough. “Where’s Bode?” he wondered. Gus shrugged.

“He always has breakfast at home, I think. He’ll be here soon enough. Come on!”

They went through the spinning of the circular room and asked for the cafeteria. They walked in to see the place was much fuller than it had been last night. Half the people there were yawning sleepily and casting spells to shake the wrinkles out of their clearly slept-in robes. Others jittered in place, dark circles under their eyes hinting they hadn’t slept at all. It was only a very small number of individuals who were wandering in looking well-rested and wearing fresh robes as Gus did.

Just like the previous night, the empty plates all had menus on top of them. People were ordering their meals aloud like at the Yule Ball. Harry perused the menu. It was full of breakfast foods this time — many of them totally foreign to Harry’s eyes. He wrinkled his nose.

“What’s…kookoo sabzi?”

Gus looked over at Harry’s menu. “Oh, that? It’s just an omelette. It’s a Persian recipe, I think. I just ordered myself crepes.”

Harry decided to follow Gus’ lead and ordered crepes. He asked for hot tea for his morning drink. Gus was nursing an oversized mug of what Harry was fairly sure was strong coffee after ordering an “extra-large caffè macchiato”.

Bode wandered into the cafeteria as they were eating. Like Gus, the older Unspeakable had on a clean set of fresh-pressed robes, and looked as though he’d actually slept last night. (Unspeakables who’d slept were in the minority according to what Harry saw in the cafeteria.) Bode was also holding a large folder full of sheets of parchment.

“Well, I’ve got almost all your preliminary records,” he said to Harry as he sat down. He pushed his plate aside and simply ordered a coffee. “There’s just a few more details we need to fill out.”

“Yes?” Harry asked apprehensively, remembering what he’d said last night about needing to ask about Harry’s soulmark. Before beginning to speak, Bode flicked his wand. The chatter around them was suddenly muffled and his view of the people outside their corner of the table was hazy, as though he was seeing through a gauzy curtain.

Now we won’t be bothered,” Bode said with satisfaction. There was an amused cough at Harry’s shoulder.

“Don’t mind if I join in, do you, Broddy?”

It was Gus, who also had his wand out and had somehow done something to be inside the little privacy bubble Bode had created instead of outside with the rest. Gus was smirking, and Bode scowled at him. Harry looked between them in confusion. “Oh, if you must,” Bode finally said brusquely.

He softened back to what seemed to be his default mournful expression when he turned back to Harry. “Now, for starters, do you have your wand?”

“Oh — yes,” Harry said.

The teenager pulled it out and Bode held out a hand. “May I?” Harry hesitantly handed it over. Bode waved his wand so that it was hovering over his palm, not touching, and he cast some sort of spell that had a quill jumping out of his pocket to record what seemed to be details about Harry’s wand.

“It’s an Ollivander make, isn’t it?” Bode asked idly. When Harry nodded he nodded sharply in return. “You’ll have to pick up its current version from the shop then, if it exists. You are allowed to keep this wand — I’ll have a permit for second, concealed wand filed for you. Unfortunately, for things like classes, exams, and any career you end up in you need a wand that exists in this time, if that makes sense. This wand that came with you from the future will have to be a spare unless you’re self-employed and don’t finish up schooling at a real school. Unless, as I mentioned, you end up with its double. Then you can use both interchangeably.”

Harry nodded his understanding slowly as he was handed his wand back. He rolled it between his fingers contemplatively. He didn’t much like the idea of getting a new wand — this one had always served him well, and he liked having Fawkes’ wand — but he did understand the reasoning behind it. Hopefully he’d just be matched with its past version and that would be that.

Now,” Bode said, “we’re going to talk about your soulmark. I know you don’t want to talk about it, but it’s really necessary I have a few other questions answered.”

Harry grimaced deeply, but Gus was the one who spoke. “Wait, why don’t you want to talk about your soulmark?”

Bode was unconcerned. “He was raised in the muggle world,” he said. “It’s a cultural taboo for most muggles to show one another their soulmarks before the bond is active.”

Gus tilted his head to the side in consideration of this new information. “That’s weird,” he said. Harry shook his head almost violently.

“It- The muggle thing is part of the problem, but it’s not the main reason I don’t want to talk about it.”

Bode’s eyes sharpened. “I know you don’t have a bond yet. If you did then that—” he tapped Harry’s silver soulmark band “—would be gone and you would’ve had a person dragged along just like your familiar was. Frankly I was astonished your godfather wasn’t pulled to this time, but I suppose having a younger version of him alive might have mitigated that need. He doesn’t have the bond yet, but he will, only he might not any longer… It’s heavy paradox-time related stuff, don’t worry about it.”

Harry blinked. “Um…”

“Back to the point,” Bode said hastily. “Are your words red, or completely unrealized?”

Harry squirmed. “…they’re red,” he said eventually. Bode nodded.

“It’s a really fascinating thing, Morgana’s Clock. Every person who’s ever had an unrealized bond when they go through finds their bond being fulfilled in the past — no matter how many centuries they’ve gone. It lends to the idea that people who use the Clock were meant to do so, but because they always seem to change time, it’s almost like at certain points in history things are meant to be changed from how they would have gone without interference… anyway…”

“That’s right,” said Gus. “You’ve been studying the Clock in your spare time.”

Bode shrugged. “It’s a fascinating study,” he said simply. Then— “So do you have any idea who turned your words red? And when?”

“Oh, I know exactly who and when,” Harry said darkly.

There was a beat of silence, and then Bode gestured. “Elaborate?”

Harry glared. “I don’t want to say who it is.” A lifted eyebrow was his answer.

“And why not?”

Harry cringed. “Sometime between…I dunno, the sixties or so and the year I’m born… my soulmate loses his soulmark. Because it was definitely gone the second time I met him.”

“Damn,” Gus breathed. Harry flinched minutely and a hand rubbed his shoulder. “No, don’t do that, kid. It’s hardly your fault. Still, he’d be alive right now?”

Harry nodded. “He was born in 1926,” he said, not looking at either of them.

“And that’s really all I needed to know,” Bode said briskly. “If your words are red there’s a bit more urgency in finding them. We’ve helped form bonds before with time-travellers who knew who their soulmate was but hadn’t had a second meeting yet in their birth time. It’s just protocol. Don’t worry kid, we won’t tell, and we won’t ask for any more information.”

He put the last sheet of parchment — that had details of Harry’s wand and the simple notation Red words, soulmate already born — in with the other papers. The folder glowed for a moment and Bode made a satisfied noise.

“Ah, it’s done.” He waved the folder about under Harry’s nose. “We’ve got all your necessary information, now we just need to compile a new identity for you.” Bode stood, breaking the magical bubble muffling the area around them. Harry stood as well, more reluctantly. Gus followed him.

“Can I tag along?” he asked brightly. Bode just rolled his eyes.

“Oh, I suppose,” he grumbled, guiding Harry out of the cafeteria.

The three of them went back through the circular chamber and into the Time Room, walking quickly from room to room until they’d gotten to Bode’s office again. He sat behind his desk, taking the folder with him. Harry sat in the chair still across from the desk and Hedwig flew down to land on Harry’s knee. Harry pulled out the piece of bacon he’d gotten for her and fed his owl.

“You’ve got a pretty familiar,” Gus said. Harry smiled softly at his dear feathery friend.

“Her name’s Hedwig,” he replied. “She was my first real birthday present.”

Both of them jumped a bit when Bode clapped his hands together. “Right!” the older man said. He pointed at Gus. “Since Saul isn’t here yet, and you said you wanted to help, you can be gofer.” Gus groaned.

“Why did I know you were going to say that? Okay, what do you need?”

Bode flipped through Harry’s folder. “All the Black, Potter, and Travers records for the past…twenty years. I also need…hmm…Gringotts’ Big Book of Disappearances and Suspicious Accidents…and their cursebreaker mission records for the same period as the family records.”

Harry was bewildered. “Whatever for?”

Gus laughed. “We’re building you a new identity, kiddo. We’ve got to give you a new name and parents while still allowing for you to be in the custody of your actual blood relatives—”

Bode took over. “And we have to fit your medical records and basic history to a believable timeline of events for your new past, so that it’s harder to suss out most of what you’re going to be telling people is all lies. The best falsehood has a heaping handful of truth in it.”

Gus nodded. “It’s a bit like weaving a tapestry. Neither of us have done this before — the last time traveller through the Clock came through to around 1900, I think — but every Unspeakable in the Time Room halls is trained in how to do this regardless of what we’re actually studying. Don’t worry. By the end of it you’ll hardly be able to tell which parts are true and what’s false.”

Then Gus left, presumably to fetch the records Bode wanted. He wasn’t gone for too long, but it was enough time for Harry to tire of petting Hedwig in silence. He broke the quiet with a question.

“So I get why you wanted Potter and Black records…but why the Travers?”

To Harry’s best knowledge Travers was the name of a Death Eater. He didn’t know if the whole family had been full of pureblood maniacs like the Malfoys, or if it was just the one guy like with Peter Pettigrew, but he was uncomfortable with the idea of being associated with a family that might be closely tied to Voldemort.

Bode’s eyebrows went up. “Your grandmother Euphemia was born a Travers,” he said quietly. “I’m just covering my bases. The Blacks will be tricky to pair you with, and Potters have never been the most prolific family. The Travers family, on the other hand, has several branches scattered across Britain and France. It is likely at least one of your false parents will be a Travers instead of a Potter or Black.”

Harry’s lips thinned but he didn’t protest. It made sense. But… “What sort of branch was my grandmother from?” He noticed the past tense belatedly and winced, but didn’t correct his question. Bode knew what he meant.

Bode hummed. “From Mister Black’s description yesterday,” he said thoughtfully. “I would assume she’s from the branch that lives mostly in South Wales. They’re a whole group of mad Ravenclaws — spell crafters and Unspeakables, the lot of them. I know Lady Potter was nearly recruited for the DoM, but changed her mind when your grandfather proposed. Otherwise, I’m afraid I know nothing about her. We were at school at the same time, but I was a rather self-absorbed Slytherin and she was a grades-obsessed Ravenclaw. I don’t think we exchanged more than a dozen words through our entire Hogwarts career.”

Harry smiled faintly at the picture Bode’s words painted of her. He’d never known anything about either of his grandparents, but from Bode’s description his grandmother sounded an awful lot like a Hermione who’d actually gone to Ravenclaw like the Hat wanted. Though, Harry couldn’t imagine Hermione turning down a job with the Department of Mysteries for anything, much less because she’d been proposed to.

A companionable silence fell for a few minutes. It was broken by Gus returning with his arms full of parchment-stuffed folders.

“You will not believe,” he complained, “the snark of that bloody goblin liaison.”

“Goblin liaison?” Harry asked.

Gus smirked. “There’s a Gringotts goblin assigned to work with the Unspeakables on anything we need bank records or extra funds for. We also split profits with them on gambling on future events — we run probabilities to see if anything’s changed and they keep anything from looking illegal. It’s very profitable.”

Harry couldn’t help but laugh at that. Then he jumped when Gus slammed the massive collection of information on Bode’s desk. Bode rubbed his hands together. “Right! First things first, we need to know when you were born.”

The teen blinked. “Um—” Bode flapped his hands.

“Yes, yes, 1980, I remember. I mean when you would have been born if you were from this time period. Also, you skipped three months; your birthday’s likely different.”

Bode flicked his wand and a strange device came floating out of a cabinet. It landed precariously on top of the teetering stack of papers. It was an odd sort of object, looking rather like a cross between a muggle till, a clock, and a spindle. “Prick your finger on the needle,” Bode told him. “It’ll calculate your date of birth based on your current age.”

Harry gave him a dubious look but did as the man asked. He stuck his finger in his mouth after the prick drew a drop of blood. The entire silvery needle turned red and something began clicking in the bulky till section. The clock — which oddly had planets instead of numbers, and had about twelve hands — began to tick, some of its hands going anticlockwise and others going clockwise. After several minutes of clicking and ticking a bell dinged. A small slip of paper came out of the receipt part of the machine. Bode took this paper and read it, one eyebrow going up as he smirked in amusement.

“Well, Mister Potter, your new birth date according to the time displacement is the 31st of October, 1956.”

Harry’s mouth opened and closed weakly. “October?” he repeated. “My birthday’s Halloween?

Gus barked out a laugh. “Tough luck, that,” he said. “Hard to have a birthday party when everyone has Samhain festivals to go to. Still, you never have to make an effort if you want sweets on your birthday.”

“Uh-huh.” Harry had no idea how to react to this. He hated Halloween, had for years because bad things always seemed to happen. And now it was his birthday? This was not okay.

“Now,” Bode said, “You take this—” Harry was handed the slip of paper “—and make sure to memorize it. Once you’re sure you won’t forget, destroy it.” Harry looked down at it.

Just as Bode had said, it had the date 'October 31, 1956' written on it. Above that was a complicated set of numbers that apparently indicated his exact age down to the minute. It also listed the new date for the rough time of his conception (sometime between December of 1955 and February of 1956) and the new date his soulmark words turned red (January 31, 1958). Harry sighed in a melancholy way.

Gus nudged him. “Cheer up, Harry,” he said, entirely too cheerful himself. “Now that we’ve got a date we can do the fun part — making up who you’re going to be!”

Harry gave him a wan smile. “Yeah,” he agreed. “That does sound fun. Not being Harry Potter would be awesome.”

The Unspeakables didn’t understand the significance of that, but they didn’t have to. Harry was just relishing the realization that the famous Harry Potter, Boy-Who-Lived no longer existed. And, if Harry really tried — he might never exist at all. Morgana’s Clock was a paradox machine, after all, and according to what Bode had told him Harry was fully capable of changing time.

He’d save his parents from their death; he'd keep his younger self from both being orphaned and becoming famous; he’d keep Sirius from being illegally imprisoned. He would do it! He’d save them all.

And he’d have a good life in spite of his soulmate.

After all, like Sirius had said when they discussed Harry's soulmark — the best revenge was living well.

 

Chapter Text

It took them close to two days to get Harry’s whole life mapped out from the mid-1950s to present day 1972. And it was weirdly fun, just as Gus had said. It was about finding real pieces of stuff and creatively sticking them together, kind of like solving a mystery plus creative writing. It was great.

The first part, of course, had been figuring out who his “parents” were going to be in this new identity.

They’d gone through Black, Travers, and Potter records along with the Big Book of Disappearances and Suspicious Accidents for hours trying to find someone who had conveniently vanished and died while missing that was of appropriate relation to either Fleamont Potter or Euphemia Potter nee Travers (or a Black, if his grandparents couldn’t be managed). They didn’t even take a break for lunch or for dinner, instead getting Gus to make food runs and bring back finger foods to munch while they worked.

Bode explained to Harry that finding somebody who’d vanished mysteriously wasn’t the hard part. There had been a period of time from the late forties up until only about a decade ago where Hogwarts had encouraged its students to go abroad to “broaden the mind” and “gain experience” before being employed. Oh, Hogwarts had done the same for years before that, but it was that time period that was the problem.

When Grindelwald had been defeated in 1945, Europe was thrown into chaos. Young witches and wizards who once did European tours began to go a bit farther abroad than before. Nobody wanted to visit MACUSA, where the restrictions kept you from experiencing anything of real fun, so they also began going a bit off the beaten track. Some young witches and wizards went on tours of Asia, but many more visited Oceania, South America, and Africa. Unfortunately, those were some of the most dangerous wizarding regions in the world, and so there was a rash of disappearances for about thirty years. New Hogwarts graduates would go off travelling and simply never come home. Gringotts records could be consulted, and oftentimes after the poor sod’s remains had been tracked down it was discovered they’d fallen afoul of foreign dark wizards, militant groups of muggles, or magical creatures of varying sorts.

It got so bad in the sixties that the Board of Governors forbade the Headmaster and other Professors from advising students to travel, instead encouraging them to jump straight into jobs and adult life. They also moved all materials about foreign schools and tourist spots into the Restricted Section and entirely cut out an elective course on International Wizarding Relations. Bode was disparaging about the efforts, claiming they’d gone overboard, but new methods at Hogwarts had a test-run life of about two decades before they could be protested, and if the death rates of graduates went down it was likely that any protests would be ineffectual.

Harry thought it was all rather silly, but it did explain why he hadn’t known about any of the foreign schools until he’d been taken to the Quidditch World Cup.

As they searched, Bode’s prediction that there would be more Travers to pick from as potential parents than Potters held out. In truth, there were only about three Potters Harry could claim relation to who had disappeared around the right time: two of whom were women who’d later been found alive and had since married and the third of whom had a reputation for liking men over woman and so would hardly be the sort to father a son.

“We could claim he’s Charlus’ illegitimate son,” Gus suggested at one point. Bode snorted.

“Do you really think that dragoness Dorea would sign off on that? Or Charlus himself?”

“It would give us that Black connection you really want,” Gus pointed out, but turned the page anyway.

The Blacks themselves had produced equally poor results.

“Here’s a distant cousin who disappear — no, never mind. He was sent to Azkaban and they hushed it up, he never disappeared. I can’t be his son.”

There was more searching in silence. In exasperation, Bode suggested, “We could claim Harry’s from a squib line — there’s plenty to pick from.”

“Are you trying to have Harry lynched, Bode?”

The boy in question blinked. “What do you mean?”

Bode and Gus exchanged awkward glances. “Err — you’ll learn soon enough Harry. We’ll let Arcturus or Orion explain it to you.”

Then the Travers—

“There’s this girl. Went missing a year before Harry would have been born, was friendly with several young Black men.”

“She’s an option. How close is she related to Lady Potter?”

Gus pulled the copy of the Travers tree over. “Uh…distant cousin? They share a great-great-great-grandfather, and I don’t think the girl’s parents would take in an illegitimate child so there’s a chance we could swing custody going to Euphemia. She does have a good half-dozen sisters though. Has eyes similar to Harry’s, on the upside.”

Bode sighed tiredly, wiping his hand over his face. “Put it in the possibilities stack.” Gus did so, placing that girl’s Ministry file on top of a distant Potter-related cousin who’d been eaten by a Chimera in 1960.

Harry held up the file he’d been reading. “What about this guy?” he asked. Bode took the file and flipped through it.

“Vanished in 1950, married an aborigine girl in Australia, died in a turf war…hmm… it’d be hard to explain why you don’t speak the native language. Besides, you look nothing like either this boy or his wife. Discard pile.” He tossed it over.

There was silence for another hour or two, brief interruptions about hopeful files all being discarded. “Here’s a Travers he could be related to — oh, no, he died of…damn. Never mind.”

Harry looked curiously and turned flaming red when he saw his distant cousin had died of syphilis.

And then sometime in the early hours of day two of looking through dusty old files Harry noticed something interesting in the file he was reading. He blinked.

“Hey…you didn’t say my grandmother had siblings.”

“Two brothers, according to the family tree,” Gus said disinterestedly. “Henry and George. I’ve met old George Travers. Georgie’s a tosser, but his three girls are all gems, and brilliant to boot.”

Bode straightened. “One of Euphemia Potter’s siblings disappeared in the right time period?”

At Harry’s nod he snatched the file and flipped through it. His expression grew more and more uncharacteristically delighted as he read through the file.

“EUREKA!” he shouted. Gus lifted an eyebrow.

“It fits?” Harry asked eagerly.

“It fits perfectly,” Bode agreed. “Listen to this: Henry Travers, Euphemia’s younger brother, went out on a tour of Oceania at the age of eighteen in 1952. According to the newspaper clippings in here, there was some sort of scandal involved because he was joined halfway through his tour by a “sister of House Black” who was thirty years his senior — hence the scandal. There was some debate over whether they were soulmates or not, apparently some people thought it was a sham so that Lycoris Black could leave her father’s household. Hmm. The pair vanished somewhere in New Guinea around 1954. The Black reappeared about a decade later — in 1965 — in Australia, where she was shipped to England with a black soulmark on her wrist. She died only a week after reaching London, presumably because of her soulmate’s death. The entire week she was home she raved about needing to save “them”, but it was never confirmed who “them” was. Rumour had it she’d either had multiple lovers, or she had lost a soulmate and children.”

Harry’s mouth opened and closed wordlessly. Gus looked impressed. “That does fit really well,” he said slowly. “How much of it can we confirm?”

Bode tossed him the Ministry file and the Big Book of Disappearances and Suspicious Accidents. Then he Accio-ed Lycoris Black’s file and tossed that over to Gus as well. “Why don’t you find out?” he asked. Harry eagerly helped him.

Most of it was confirmed. Apparently not even Gringotts had been able to definitively prove whether the unconventional pair had been soulmates or not — or even whether they’d been romantically entangled. All the records and people who had mentioned seeing them over the roughly ten years they’d been missing wrote that they seemed to be very close friends, but there weren’t even hints of “improper behaviour” in public. There was a snag in the fact that in the Travers family, you needed permission from the head of your branch to marry. Henry Travers never got that permission, and both Unspeakables agreed it was out of character for a Black to have had a child outside wedlock, even with her soulmate. But otherwise it held up.

Henry Travers and Lycoris had moved from island to island in Polynesia for a while before moving to New Zealand. Travers had offended a local coven of dark witches and their dark wizard friends and had been chased all the way to the main Gringotts branch of Australia. He was killed, but Lycoris made it into the bank and so survived to be returned to England.

“That would work for an attack when I was little,” Harry pointed out hours later once they’d sorted everything out. “A dark wizard killed my parents — if I was a kid, I might not have known my mom died of soulmate death instead.”

“Hmm.” Gus considered that. He replied thoughtfully, “It would be better if you were told they were dead — didn’t even see it.”

“But I did see it,” Harry argued. “Isn’t the point to make it so I don’t have to lie? I hear my parents when dementors are nearby. There’s no way to get around that. We’ll say I heard and saw my parents being attacked, at least, and maybe thought I heard them die. Then I was attacked and almost died myself.”

“We could fudge on things there,” Bode said slowly. “According to this timeline you would have been about nine. Well, eight turning nine that fall. As you said, perhaps you saw your parents cursed and believed they both died? Perhaps you were then kidnapped…hm, that could work…and your parents escaped after you were taken. Then their end could go according to the records and we can progress your backstory without worrying about what your parents are doing.”

“So I had parents for nine years?” Harry considered the idea. “I suppose I could use stories about the Weasleys for stuff about families…and Sirius…”

“Now you’re getting it,” Bode encouraged him.

Harry had thought of something else. “What’s my name, though? Can I keep Harry? I don’t mind dropping the Potter, honestly, but I like being a Harry.”

“Oh, that’s easy,” Bode said in amusement. “The man we’re claiming is your father was named Henry, after all. Harry’s often considered a nickname for Henry, so you were clearly named after your father. Since you’ve got a Black mother whose father shares a name with your godfather, you can be Henry Sirius Travers, nicknamed Harry.”

Harry grinned. “Brilliant,” he said, bouncing a bit. “Harry Travers,” he tried out. It wasn’t half-bad — and he was named after Sirius too.

Gus interrupted their brainstorming. “Why kidnapped, though, Bode?”

The older man shrugged. “Easiest way to get him at least some of that malnourishment. Both according to Harry and his medical records, he was fed well enough as a small child, fed haphazardly as he got older, and the real periods of starvation began when he was around nine or ten. It would fit.”

“So, what, you’re going to claim he was held captive for the past several years? How was he educated?”

“Well I suppose he could have been rescued a year or two back…”

“What would this coven even want with a captive? Ransom? They killed his parents; they’re not looking for ransom!”

“Well we need to account for his uneven food intake somehow… Any person who knows basic diagnostic charms will find that a massive red flag…”

Harry cleared his throat and the two wizards turned to look at him. “What about an eating disorder?” he asked them. Both blinked.

“A what?” Gus asked, looking totally bewildered. Harry rolled his eyes.

“I heard about it some in the muggle world. There are food disorders where people starve themselves for loads of reasons — or sometimes people hoard food.” He grimaced. “Hermione catches me hoarding food sometimes. I do it when I’m really worried, apparently. I just can’t help it. If I was kidnapped and held captive for a year or so, maybe while this coven or whatever tried to get ransom out of other relatives, or to sell me or something, I was starved and tortured and stuff so I have an eating disorder.”

“What, like you starve yourself for some reason, then realise you’re doing it and overcompensate? Or maybe the other way ’round?” Gus was still looking confused.

Harry shrugged. “It works, doesn’t it? We can say I’ve mostly recovered by now, of course, so sometimes I hoard food but not much else. And then you can have me going to school, because if I was only captive for a year or two I would be right at eleven when I was rescued.”

Bode nodded, writing details down. “Good thinking, Harry,” he said. “Just one problem — why wouldn’t your rescuers have taken you straight to England when they heard your name? The Travers family isn’t the wealthiest, but any wizard would recognize them as a moderately influential pureblood family unless they’re totally foreign.”

Harry frowned thoughtfully, but it was Gus who answered. “Well if we’re giving him eating problems, we could just add to his issues. Maybe say his trauma made him refuse to talk. He could be mute for a good few years and then he’s being brought back now because he’s talking again.”

“How would I have cast spells if I’m not talking though?” Harry asked in confusion.

Bode had the solution, waving the potential problem off nonchalantly. “We’ll teach you nonverbal casting before you have to interact with people. It’s not hard, Ministry policy just doesn’t allow silent casting to be taught to students who haven’t taken their OWLs because once you’ve gotten the hang of casting without incantations there’s a whole gamut of things you can do almost without thinking about it or knowing a proper spell. Makes it harder to use Priori Incantatum on the wand and it muddles the Trace.”

The teenager nodded slowly. “Cool,” he said simply. Being able to cast spells silently like most of the adults he saw about would be awesome. Bode nodded, writing that down as well.

“Now, let me get your medical records—” He fished Harry’s own folder out of the mess on his desk and pulled the appropriate roll of parchment out. Harry looked at the daunting list of past injuries.

Someone (likely Bode or Croaker) had grouped Harry’s injuries by school year in case they needed to invent time spent in a school. Magic apparently could detect nonmagical injuries, but the older it was the less accurate information about it ended up being. So injuries before he was eleven could have all happened within two or three years from random stuff, but injuries after that — magical and mundane — needed to be given specific causes and specific dates.

“So…” Harry began. “So the easiest thing to do would be to go by year. I’ve got to run into a troll, a basilisk, dementors, a dragon, preferably merpeople as well because honestly that story is cool, and at least one Acromantula.” He looked up at the Unspeakables. “Who could I have been rescued by that would end up with me running into all of those?”

Gus and Bode looked at each other. “Gringotts,” they said almost at the same time. Bode smirked and Gus laughed.

Harry was confused again. “Gringotts?” he asked.

Bode, still smirking, explained. “Gringotts hires teams of cursebreaker wizards to do their dirty work. Raiding tombs for riches, raiding muggle mansions or museums for riches, investigating for information or profit, sometimes even destabilizing governments or terrorist organizations for profit. The goblins are restricted by the treaties at the end of the Goblin Wars when interacting with regular wizarding society, so they do an excellent mix of messing in the muggle world and running the crime scene in the magical one to get around their oaths. If you were found by a team of cursebreakers they probably would have just taken you with them — explaining why you weren’t medically treated for your muteness or your eating thing, and giving you a whole array of locations you could have been brought to in order to give you an adventure-filled adolescence.”

Gus noticed Harry’s mildly taken aback expression and added, “And the goblins will cooperate, don’t worry. They love a good lie when they can get away with one, and if you give them any information you know they can use to make money they’ll be even more willing to help you.” He picked up one of the tall glasses of water he’d asked a house elf for about an hour ago.

Harry nodded. “I could tell them about the Quidditch World Cup I went to. It had really unusual results. Oh!” his face brightened before he grinned vindictively. “And I bet they’d like to know about Bagman.”

Gus choked on the water he was drinking. “B-Bagman? Who?”

Harry blinked. “I think his first name was Ludo?” he said uncertainly. Harry scowled. “Slimy guy. He was in debt big time to the goblins, and apparently put a really big bet on me winning the Tournament so he was always trying to help me cheat. And he’s the reason I gave Fred and George my Triwizard winnings. They bet their life savings at the World Cup, and he never paid them back.”

Gus blinked. “Damn,” he said with feeling. “I’m going to kill little Ludovic if he ever acts like that in this timeline.” His head tilted to the side. “Maybe I should talk a little more about my work with the goblins so he gets it into his head that gambling with goblins is the height of idiocy.”

Harry wrinkled his nose. “You know Bagman?” he asked with a bit of disgust.

Gus shrugged. “Well yeah, I’m friends with his dad. He’s only fourteen in this time period, you know. And old Wulfric Bagman is a brick. Outstanding chap. Hufflepuffs, you know.”

With a groan Harry buried his face in his hands. “This is so weird,” he whinged. Gus patted him on the back, murmuring “there, there” in a mocking tone. Bode just rolled his eyes at the both of them.

“Back to the point,” the older Unspeakable reminded them. “We currently have Harry being dragged around by cursebreakers until this spring, presumably because he began talking again after years of being mute. He'll have done correspondence school, of course. If he'd been at a proper school his difficulties would have been addressed.”

“What's correspondence school?” Harry asked.

Bode was prompt in his reply. “Exactly what it sounds like. You do assignments by owl, tests are administered once a year in person, and your guardians would have to fill out forms proving they could supervise all your classwork.”

Harry frowned. “But how can we have me even doing that sort of school? You can't just invent things where real people who would remember that are involved!”

Gus sniggered. “Then it's a good thing real people aren't involved. Every time traveler we've helped integrate into society attended the Chrónia Akadimía, an exclusive school in Greece that occasionally does correspondence courses for speakers of English, Greek, and Latin.”

“It's a famous place,” Bode smirked, “but very exclusive. You probably only hear of one person every century or so attending from the British Isles, so you needn’t worry about someone catching you out in a lie. And it stands on the incredibly well-hidden island of Moirai, which doesn't actually exist.”

“That’s convenient,” Harry said dryly. He decided to get them back on topic. “So I’m living with a team of cursebreakers doing mail-order lessons with a fictional school. Can I make up whatever I want about the cursebreakers, too? I could base them off my real Hogwarts professors.”

Bode nodded in agreement. “That’d be best,” he said. “We’ll tell Gringotts after we’ve gotten everything ironed out and they’ll retroactively add this group to their records.”

Harry grinned, glad things were coming together so well. “So if I’m encountering things as I travel, most of these things will be in the wild or connected to tombs and stuff, right?” he asked.

Gus agreed this time, looking up from where he’d started to read the cursebreaker records. “Quite right, Harry,” he said. “Your second year’s the easiest. According to the Gringotts records they’ve encountered basilisks in various stages of growth a good twenty times or so while exploring magical ruins in Africa. One more instance won’t hurt.”

“I fought a basilisk in Africa? Wicked!” Harry grinned again. “I suppose instead of a magical diary it was just a magical artefact or poltergeist or something possessing some local girl? Can she be named Jenny so I don’t have to think too hard about the names?”

Bode was studiously continuing to write everything they brainstormed down. Gus had the idea that perhaps during the period he was taking third year courses he might have started in the tropics and been frightened by a lethifold, prompting him to want to learn the Patronus charm. Then later that same year he’d been moved to a remote mountainous area, where the cursebreakers he was living with found an infestation of dementors. That took care of his Patronus story.

The events of first year were easiest to blend over due to a supreme lack of magical creatures… though Harry supposed he could mention having seen a baby dragon hatching, and the troll was a minor thing. (They were used as guards by some Gringotts branches, weren’t they? He could have run into one by accident.)

In the end, for the whole debacle with Quirrell they just decided to simplify the existing story. Harry had been at a Gringotts Outpost and had come across a robber in the process of stealing from the Outpost. As Outposts were much less heavily fortified than proper Gringotts Banks and were guarded mostly by the cursebreaker teams that used them as bases of operation, nobody would be surprised by this. Harry stumbled over a robber, was used as bait while said robber tried to get through the protections on the Outpost storehouse, and then killed the robber with accidental magic.

By contrast, the previous year — the Triwizard Tournament — was the most difficult. No mention of the Tournament itself could be made, but the tasks all left their marks. He had to encounter a nesting dragon, merpeople, and at least one Acromantula. In the end, they decided the dragon could have been wild, and the Acromantula would be wild as well if they set Harry’s location during this year to Southeast Asia, particularly the islands around Indonesia. The merpeople might have been a migrating pod—

“Perhaps deep-sea diving for treasure brought you into contact with a village, instead?” Bode interjected into Harry and Gus’ theorizing. “You could have encountered them by accident and just passed through while rescuing a “treasure”, without specifying what the treasure was.” The two agreed that was a likely reason for cursebreakers to be underwater and continued on.

The most difficult thing, honestly, was explaining the mark of the Black Quill on the back of Harry’s hand, along with the signs of the ritual Harry had been kidnapped for. That cut Pettigrew had made up his arm had been done with a cursed blade, so it stood out prominently. It would be great to claim one or both had been done during his “kidnapping” between the ages of eight and eleven, but any diagnostic spell that recorded attacks with dark magic on Harry’s person would reveal the lie. Harry thought while Gus and Bode argued over equally unviable solutions.

“What if we say I’m captured again?” Harry wondered aloud. The two Unspeakables stopped quarreling.

“What do you mean?” Gus asked curiously. Harry shrugged.

“Well, I was kidnapped a few months ago for real. We can say maybe that the same group that had me as a kid caught me again, this time for some other reason. A dark ritual they needed a sacrifice for? I was caught with a friend…and they killed my friend. But I got away in the end almost out of sheer dumb luck.”

His tone grew melancholy as he finished up. He still felt bad about Cedric dying. Oh, Sirius had talked Harry out of the buckets of guilt he’d been carting around, but it didn’t stop Harry from wishing he could have done something, anything to save both Cedric and Cho.

He leaned over the desk to distract himself and read Bode’s notations of his new life story upside-down. Suddenly, a thought struck him and Harry had to sit down hard.

“How can I have gone to any of these places? I’ve never been anywhere, really. I can’t describe them; I can hardly even imagine them!”

“Calm down!” Gus exclaimed, patting Harry on the shoulders. “We have ways to account for that, don’t worry. Setting up this whole backstory is gonna take a solid month or so. That’ll be plenty of time for us to familiarize you with the places you’re supposed to have gone, with the magic you’re supposed to have learned. Hey, speaking of learning — why don’t we write him up for an internship so his schooling isn’t messed up?”

Both Bode and Harry looked puzzled, and Gus huffed. “Honestly! It’s March right now. Harry vanished right before the second term of his fifth year. If we don’t do any proper teaching he’ll have to start his OWLs year all over again. I remember what a nightmare that year was for me, and I wouldn’t want to repeat it. Why don’t we give him a couple-year internship? For the next few months we’ll solidify his backstory, train him up, and have him sit his OWLs. Then come September he’ll start sixth year at Hogwarts.”

Bode began nodding, clearly having caught on. “And his internship will renew next summer and possibly the first summer after he graduates. With him here officially we won’t have to sneak around getting his Temporal Memoirs in order. He can do those over the summers.”

Harry looked back and forth between the two Unspeakables. “What’re Temporal Memoirs again?” he asked. “And, if I do an internship do I have to be an Unspeakable once I graduate? Because I really want to be a teacher right now, not an Unspeakable.”

“The Temporal Memoir is your record of the original timeline according to what you remember,” Bode clarified. “And no, it does not obligate you to work at the DoM. Not forever, anyway. Most internship contracts are set up like apprenticeships still, and they require you to work two years after the internship is done. I’m not sure if the DoM’s contract formatting has been updated yet or if ours follows the old method.”

Harry considered this. Summers and then two years of his life was a small price to pay after all they were doing for him. Besides, maybe he’d learn some really cool stuff while working here. “Okay,” said Harry firmly. “Let’s do it.”

Bode smirked at him. “And now — to the actual building.”

They made their way through the circular spinning main room to a room called “The Identity Room”. Despite its name the room was bland and empty — empty of items anyway. It was full of people.

Later, Harry would always think that this had been the coolest part of the process. Bode and Gus had taken their notes along with Harry’s file to a whole group of other Unspeakables. There were Gringotts goblins and a team of cursebreakers as well. Everyone took a piece of Harry’s file and began to make it real.

Documents were created. Entries were added to diaries and letters were forged. Harry was consulted anytime anything was made up wholesale, but often they used real people as a basis or a witness and went from there. There was a trio of witches that even borrowed Harry’s photo album and began creating copies that matched this new, fictional version of events. He was assured the original album would remain intact, but he still found it fascinating to watch the pictures changed. Ron and Hermione had switched hair colors in all the photos, and anytime there was a photograph of somebody alive in this time period they underwent physical alterations that made them unrecognizable unless you knew who they’d started out as. (Harry could not get over seeing McGonagall young and dark-skinned in one Hogwarts Christmas picture which had been adapted into a cursebreaker team photo.) They even made up some new pictures, and helped Harry invent stories to go along with them.

Slowly, bit by bit, Harry’s life was completely remade.

The goblins confirmed that Harry’s vault had been pulled through time by the Clock, as had several of his original records. So they simply modified said records, and attributed Harry’s small mountain of gold to contributions from commissions by the fictional cursebreaker team Harry was said to have been raised by. They also told Harry later in no-nonsense tones with narrowed eyes that he would be coming by the bank later to talk future profit. Harry wondered if gambling with goblins was the height of idiocy if you were enabling them to win. He would have to ask Gus later — he had a feeling the question would make the man laugh.

Ollivander was there. He’d brought what looked like his entire wand stock and Harry was tested to see what wand fit him best now. Harry was too relieved for words when he got the twenty-year-younger version of his own wand back again. Ollivander thankfully didn’t say anything cryptic and vaguely ominous this time, so Harry just thanked him before the teenager was dragged off to another part of the identity building.

Work was done on Harry himself. His black hair was lightened a shade or two to the dark brown members of the Travers family all tended to favor. They also used spells to lengthen Harry’s hair, making it about as long as Bill Weasley’s. Harry asked for a hair-tie and pulled it back into a low tail. His fringe was left, made just long enough and thick enough to hide his distinctive scar.

A clever bit of permanent transfiguration was done to his face to make him look less like a Potter. His thinly bladed nose became wider and shorter (Harry saw the likeness to the adult Sirius). The shape of his eyebrows was changed to look more like a Black, as was his mouth. They left his eyes alone at his request.

Some of Harry’s many scars were erased — mostly the very oldest. Fake scars that mimicked torture curses were added to his back and shoulders to cover ones they couldn’t fully remove. They even managed to fade his lightning-bolt scar to a shimmery white that was very hard to notice unless he was under weird lighting, though they couldn’t seem to get rid of it entirely.

It took hours of delicate magic to get Harry himself finished, and that after hours more of documents of various kinds being created. It was…incredible to watch all these talented adults work magic. He’d never seen it as something integral to life and jobs before. Magic had been his escape from the Dursleys. But this… Harry wanted this.

At the end Harry Travers didn’t exist yet, but all the pieces were in play. As things began to wind down Harry trotted over to where Bode was arguing with two goblins in Gobbledegook.

“What now?” he asked. Bode gave him an indulgent look.

“Starting tomorrow we begin the lengthy process of creating Harry Travers,” he said. “First we’ll get permission from the living parties with power over Henry Travers’ and Lycoris Black’s remaining legacy to use them in your alias. It’s standard protocol, but if we don’t get permission it’ll be back to the drawing board.”

Harry was aghast. “Why would you do all this if you might be forced to undo it all?”

Bode shrugged. “Urgency. If they agree, we’ll start within minutes of their agreement. Of course, they’ll likely agree. They have no reason not to.”

“What happens once they agree?” asked Harry, trying to be optimistic.

“Oh, we’ll have forged documents to distribute, a paper-trail of photos and letters to set up, and memories to modify. We’ll take you around to fill in blanks in your stories and you’ll be intensively tutored in nonverbal magic. You’ll also start the prep-work for your OWLs, but that will continue even after we release you into your grandparents’ custody in a month or however long it takes to make you a real person.”

Harry nodded, stifling a yawn. Bode cracked another rare smile. “Let’s get to the Sleep Room, lad. I’ll be joining you tonight. I have a meeting with all the relevant parties first thing in the morning. I’ll have to get that blasted Rookwood to entertain you again — apparently Saul’s out with wizard’s flu.”

Harry meant to ask who Rookwood was — wasn’t he a Death Eater, too? But he was so tired, and the hand guiding him was warm on his back. They’d been doing this for nearly forty-eight hours, hadn’t they? And the Sleep Room was just there, and it was so nice to lie down…

Harry would ask who Rookwood was in the morning.

Chapter Text

Fleamont Potter’s motto in life was that good things always came about in unexpected ways.

Take his sorting — for centuries Potters had bounced back and forth between Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff, avoiding the two flashpoint houses with easy charm and genial reserve. Fleamont had not been expecting to be sorted into Gryffindor, but it turned out to be the best several years of his life. He was a Gryffindor through and through, though it was true most of his friends came from other houses. Newt, Jig, and Flea had been the names people remembered; getting in and out of trouble in style.

Oh, poor Newt had gotten into a bit of trouble over that nasty mess with dear, troubled Leta (Flea had been telling him for years the Lestranges were complicated and loyal to themselves above all others, but Newt was a Hufflepuff and refused to cast aside friends). But even Newt’s expulsion had ended up favourably, as he’d never have gotten that commission to write a book on magical creatures if not for his reputation with magical creatures. And Newt’s book research had led indirectly to meeting his future wife, a completely unforeseen turn of events.

Meeting his own beloved Euphie had also happened in an unexpected way. Flea had never been one to chase after love of any kind: he fell into and out of both friendships and courtships with ease. In the end, his future mate’s words were seared on his wrist and that was good enough for him.

He’d been quite expecting to be horridly bored at that Ministry dinner, and he had snapped and snarled like an offended lion at all those around him. At least, that was what the girl ten years his junior had sniped back at him when he served her some angry remark. Their bond had formed from that instant, and despite the pressures of their families and their tumultuous courtship they eventually came together beautifully.

His little Jamie was Flea’s favourite difficulty to ponder. He and Euphie had tried for year to have children to no avail. They’d done everything, offered any amount of money, if only someone could help them bear a child of their own. They had even begun to think of adoption when Euphie finally fell pregnant at the late age of fifty-three.

The pregnancy had been long and difficult. Once or twice they’d been sure Euphie and the baby were going to die, but in the end they pulled through it. The happiest day of his life was when Fleamont was presented with his darling little boy, his pride and joy.

And now Flea had once again been presented with something surprising.

He held the letter from the Department of Mysteries in his hand as he walked, the seal at the bottom allowing Flea and his wife to pass by the wand check-in with no repercussions. They joined the trickle of individuals heading towards the lift. It was so early that most of the Ministry hadn’t begun to arrive yet — general call-time wasn’t for another hour or so, Flea knew. Flea himself was rarely awake at this time, though Euphemia kept odd hours when researching something new. He’d much prefer to be abed yet, and then have come in at regular visiting-time. But when the Unspeakables called for you, you came. Idly, Flea wondered again why he and his wife had received so urgent a summons. No details had been given, just a date and time and an order to come down to the Department door and wait for entry.

Euphie stepped assuredly into a lift with only two other individuals — one wearing the familiar heavy robes of an Unspeakable. Flea followed behind her, eyeing the second man curiously. It was Arcturus Black, who was somewhere between Flea and Euphie in age. He was standing impatiently in the lift, waiting for it to descend. Flea noticed he had a letter with the Department of Mysteries seal on it as well.

Arcturus noticed the two Potters with a blink of surprise. He inclined his head. “Mister Potter,” he greeted. He ignored Euphemia was a familiar aloof air. Flea just hoped Euphie didn’t plan to hex the man this time.

Flea nodded back as well. “Lord Black,” he returned. He eyed Black’s letter again. “So you’ve been summoned as well?”

Black shrugged. “I doubt we’ve been summoned for the same thing. An old family artefact of mine had a bit of a backfire, made the whole basement out of sorts. I expect I’ll be bringing a most singular package back home. Transportation will certainly be interesting.”

Flea supposed he wasn’t there for the same reason, then, though why he was using that Slytherin double-speak Flea had no idea — but Euphie’s eyes were narrowing at Lord Black and a dawning suspicion was appearing on her face. Huh. Interesting. Well, Euphemia would tell him later, whatever the matter was. He didn’t have the patience to suss out that Slytherin-Ravenclaw nuance right now. Too damn early in the morning for subtlety, if you asked him.

The lift clattered to a halt and the four people inside stepped out. The Unspeakable glanced at the three civilians.

“You all have letters from Unspeakable Bode?” she grunted. At the nods she jerked her head at the black entrance to the Department of Mysteries. “Follow me, then,” she said crabbily. They were led to a large all-black circular room Flea had never been in before, though he knew Euphie was familiar with it. Black looked vaguely bored, so he had clearly been here before as well. Flea watched the shimmering blue flames they had for lights.

Euphie gripped his arm and whispered in his ear, “Close your eyes.”

He did as his wife bid just as there was a great rumbling and the sound of stone sliding over stone. Was something moving? He peeked one eye open to confirm that yes, the walls were spinning, and closed them again to ward off dizziness. Once the room had stopped spinning the Unspeakable called out, “Time Room!”

A door sprang open, and the Unspeakable led them through a fantastic room full of clocks. Flea felt as though he was trying to look in every direction at once, but the other three just went on straight through without glancing around. (Though Flea was sure he’d caught Black casting the Time-Turners on their shelf a covetous look.)

The next room they came to was the fabled Hall of Prophecy, rumoured to have been somewhere within the Ministry, but it had never been confirmed exactly where it was. The dusty orbs were mostly dark, with a few here and there lit with an internal soft glow. Again, though, he found himself at the end of a line headed straight through without looking about. Finally, they came to a drawing room that was empty but for a second Unspeakable. The one who’d led them here murmured something in the second’s ear and then wandered out. The second Unspeakable stood.

“Thank you for coming here today,” the Unspeakable said. “I am Unspeakable Bode, and I have called you here to aid in a Department of Mysteries project. Please, have a seat.”

The Potters sat in two of the available chairs, but Lord Black remained standing, a scowl on his face.

“Is this about the clock?” he demanded of the Unspeakable. “Why would you be involving…these people?” There was a sneer cast their way at his last words. Euphemia stuck her nose up in the air and sniffed, light glinting off her spectacles.

Unspeakable Bode remained unruffled. “Perhaps if you sit and listen, I can explain,” he said in sepulchral tones. Still, a hint of annoyance was creeping in around his eyes. Lord Black sat. Bode nodded.

“Now, I know Lord Black is aware of Morgana’s Clock, but for the sake of simplicity I will explain the details to you all…”

Fleamont’s eyebrows rose progressively higher at the description of a clock capable of changing time. It was obvious this was the magical artefact Black had been referencing earlier. Still, how did a time-travelling clock backfire? And what would that have to do with a package?

Once Bode was finished speaking Fleamont had one remaining question. “The Ministry hasn’t destroyed or confiscated the artefact?” he asked incredulously. It was a bit out of character for the Ministry. Black smirked, sitting up straighter.

“The Lady Morgana made it unbreakable,” he said in a self-satisfied way. “Any attempts to smash the clock have resulted in it piecing itself back together. Any attempts to remove it see the clock returning itself to its original location.”

The Potter nodded thoughtfully. “Alright then. So what does all this have to do with the missus and me? We aren’t Blacks, and we’re not exactly experts on time magic either.”

Unspeakable Bode nodded. “True, you are not Blacks,” he agreed. “But the young lad who came back through the clock by accident a few days ago is both your grandson, and the heir to the Black family.”

What!?” Euphemia exclaimed furiously, speaking for the first time. Flea nodded, eyes wide. “…seconded,” he said weakly.

The Unspeakable shrugged. “Harry James Potter, son of James Henry Potter, is godson to Sirius Orion Black, who was the Lord of House Black in the time Harry came from. Therefore, the boy is heir to the House of Black despite not being of Black blood himself.”

“He’s heir?” Arcturus asked in disbelief. “Full heir?”

“As far as we can tell,” Bode said, spreading his hands. Fleamont was shaking his head.

“I don’t believe this,” he said faintly.

Unspeakable Bode pulled a pair of photographs out of his robes. “Perhaps these will serve as proof?”

Flea took the pictures. The one on top made his breath catch in his throat. There was Jamie, perhaps about twenty years old — Merlin’s Beard the boy would grow up to look like Flea’s father! With James was a beautiful red-haired woman with vibrant green eyes. Both were smiling and holding onto a toddler with his and James’ black unruly hair and the woman’s green eyes. The photographic adults were taking turns making the toddler wave at the camera.

He turned to the second photograph. This one was even more startling. A green-eyed teenager who looked uncannily like his Jamie (clearly the toddler all grown up) was standing arm in arm with a grinning man Flea recognized as a Black. The boy’s expression was adoring, the man’s fondly paternal. They were standing beside a staircase, an odd line of decapitated house elf heads wearing Father Christmas beards and hats adding a surreal aspect to the picture.

The man passed the photographs to his wife. He saw her face soften and knew she, at least, believed it. What else could he do but accept the facts?

Instead of giving them directly back to the Unspeakable, Euphie passed the pictures to Lord Black. The man’s expression was placid when viewing the top picture, but the second one made him still. “That’s little Sirius, alright,” he said hoarsely. “He takes after my cousin Pollux. And that picture…it’s taken in Grimmauld Place. That’s the front staircase — and I could see my ridiculous grandson doing that to the elf busts. Utterly outrageous.”

Despite his words his lips were twitching at the corners as he gave the photographs back to Unspeakable Bode. The sombre man accepted them and returned them to a pocket concealed in his robes.

“According to precedent, as the time traveller is a minor we must give his closest adult blood relatives the opportunity to accept custody of him. If you refuse, custody will revert to Lord Black.”

“Of course we’ll take him!” Fleamont boomed out. Euphemia just smiled.

“Unspeakable Bode, James was a miraculous surprise for us. I will never turn away the opportunity for a second child — particularly since this boy is our grandson to begin with.”

Bode nodded briskly. “Then I will proceed to the second portion of our meeting. We were lucky enough to come up with a believable — if a bit dramatic — backstory for young Mister Potter that utilizes both Mrs. Potter’s brother Henry Travers and Lord Black’s sister Lycoris Black. I will give the both of you copies of the basic backstory we’ve worked out for Mister Potter. You need to read them and, preferably, sign the release form at the end granting permission to use your sibling’s name and life details.”

Having said his piece Bode passed Euphemia and Arcturus each a thick packet of parchment and then pulled out a ticking timepiece. Flea stood up curiously and wandered over behind his wife’s chair, reading over her shoulder.

It started out like a standard file from the Ministry Hall of Records. It listed what would be his grandson’s full false name (Henry Sirius Travers) and the names of his fake parents (Lycoris Black and Euphie’s brother, obviously). Then it went on to date of birth, presumed location of birth, and other very basic information. Page two was where things started to become odd. A notation explained that the next few pages had been pulled almost wholesale from the personal Ministry files and Gringotts search information about Lycoris Black and Henry Travers.

It was all mostly familiar to Flea — he’d lived through the whole scandal surrounding what everyone had assumed was the elopement of the youngest Travers son to the new Lord Black’s sister. It had been a scandal not only because of their difference in age but because Lycoris had left before the end of the mourning period for old Lord Sirius Black II. There’d been arguments between Euphie’s poor parents and Arcturus Black for months before Lycoris had sent a letter back to her brother. He’d apologized for bothering the elder Travers, retreated to his country estate for several months, and then never mentioned it again, even when the gossip continued to sell papers for ages.

Nobody knew what had been in the letter, but Arcturus had ignored his sister’s absence despite all manner of rumours. When she’d resurfaced ten years later he hid her away until she died, refusing to allow Euphie and her parents to ask about if Lycoris knew what had happened to Henry. Lord Black had even killed the healer who leaked the information about her blackened soulmark in a duel, handily silencing any more questions or speculation for fear they’d be next.

Euphie’s hands trembled as she read the tale that had been pieced together by the Gringotts goblins. Their branch of the Travers family had fallen on hard times shortly before Lycoris returned, culminating in the prolonged deaths by illness of both Euphemia’s parents. They’d never been able to afford the fee the goblins charged to consult the Big Book of Disappearances and Suspicious Accidents, and after her parents died as well, Euphie couldn’t bear to know.

The story was both more heartening and more heart-wrenching than they’d expected. That her brother had lived quite happily for years with either a wife or fellow explorer and friend was a relief after years of wondering and worrying. That he’d been killed after offending a local coven of insurgents was just like the impetuous young Henry they all remembered.

Notations pointed out where things had been smoothed over and fleshed out to explain Harry’s existence and life with his “parents”. None of it was disgraceful to either deceased individual. In fact, Flea could just see Henry agreeing to all of this if he were still alive. He’d been a kind-hearted soul, but he craved a life of excitement. Helping a time traveller would have been the highlight of his life.

By the fourth page, however, they were moving into the entirely fictional as they extrapolated what Harry’s life might have been like after the deaths of his “parents”. More notations pointed out where pieces coincided with Harry’s actual experiences, and gave summaries of the original events. With every paragraph the Potters grew more and more alarmed. They exchanged disbelieving looks. A troll at Hogwarts? An eleven-year-old saving the Philosopher’s Stone from a possessed defence professor? Defeating basilisks and dementors? Winning the Triwizard Tournament at fourteen!?

But there were other notations, more negative ones, which made it all seem real. Nearly all of the magical creature encounters were accompanied by a medical footnote of injuries acquired at the time. The boy also had a dizzying list of magical injuries and pre-existing mundane injuries that weren’t caused by either magical creatures or homicidal defence professors. (And was it just him, or did Hogwarts apparently go down in quality within the next twenty years? Perhaps he should try to acquire a seat on the Hogwarts Board of Governors like his father always insisted.)

The way everything had been blended together into a new life was clever, and more than capable of standing up to scrutiny with a bit of acting. But…it was still disheartening to the two parents who adored their only son to learn that their beautiful James would be dead before his own son’s first birthday. It was enraging that said son had apparently been abused and forced into dangerous situations for the next fourteen years of his young life. Children should be cherished and protected, not left to sink or swim as their grandson had been!

The few glances Flea shot at Lord Black noted he seemed similarly upset over the boy’s experiences. His face was ashen and his lips were pressed very tightly together under narrowed eyes. He held his packet in a white-knuckled grip. But he also had a glimmer of respect and almost admiration on his face, a very unusual look on the younger man.

Euphemia reached the release form on the last page and picked up the quill provided, signing it without a word. Flea noted Black doing the same. Both packets vanished, presumably to a records office somewhere to be filed. There was silence for a long moment.

Lord Black was the one who finally broke the stillness. “In that dossier,” he noted, “I did not see an explanation as to why our young time traveller can claim heirship to the House of Black.”

Unspeakable Bode nodded to him. “We felt it best to wait for your input, for that issue. As Lord Black you might have greater insight into what could make the magic of your family claim two individuals as equal heirs to your title.”

A smirk lifted one side of Black’s mouth. “I do have an explanation for that, actually,” he said. “And it’s not one you would have come up with on your own. I don’t think anyone knows all the details but me.”

Bode raised his eyebrows and gestured at Lord Black to continue speaking. The Unspeakable also pulled out a quill and parchment that floated beside him, the quill ready to record Black’s words.

“While my father and my sister never saw eye to eye while alive,” Black began with black amusement, “my father did leave Lycoris an unusual bequest in his will. She was left her favourite properties out of the Black holdings and a large sum of money. Once all tallied up, her bequest was only barely smaller than mine, and slightly larger than my son’s.”

The Unspeakable looked quite surprised, and Euphie’s eyes widened as a small “Oh!” escaped her.

Fleamont blinked. “Right, for those of us who’ve never dealt with the inheritance laws of wizarding nobility, please explain that?”

Amusingly, Arcturus actually rolled his eyes. “Honestly,” he grumbled. Euphemia was quick to jump in and explain it to her husband.

“The Lord can give whatever bequests he wants to whomever he wants,” said his lovely wife, “but the one constant law is that the monetary amount that each bequest totals up to must match their standing in the family. Ordinarily, the main heir and the Lord’s wife receive the largest, followed by the heir’s heir and the heir’s wife, followed by any other children of the Lord, followed by any other children of the heir and children of the deceased’s other children…and so on until you’ve covered everyone blood related to you within either four separations or bearing your surname. Bequests outside the family don’t follow this rule, of course, but to give his daughter a bequest larger than his heir’s heir would legally give her the right to challenge Orion for the position of Heir Black once Arcturus claimed his inheritance as Lord.”

The Black in question nodded. “Exactly,” he agreed. “Except that Lycoris never accepted her bequest — she left the country before the will reading could be arranged. Father died right before Yuletide, and with the busyness of the season combined with funeral arrangements I wasn’t able to have the will reading held until early the next January. And by then of course Lycoris had gone gallivanting off with that Travers boy.”

He fidgeted with the pocket watch hanging from his waistcoat. “She told me in her letter that they were soulmates,” he admitted. “And she believed Henry’s father would never agree to a marriage because he’d quite firmly told her off when Lycoris tried to begin courting him after he graduated Hogwarts. I gave her my blessing and I did tell her about the bequest she had waiting, but she likely kept putting it off. Cory did tend to do that when she was having fun.”

Arcturus breathed out explosively and Fleamont frankly stared. He’d never seen the younger man act so human — not even when they were both students at Hogwarts.

“And then shortly after Sirius was born — my heir’s heir — Orion fell ill with Medusa’s Plague.”

Everyone in the room sucked in a breath of horror. Medusa’s Plague was a sickness from Greece that slowly turned its victims to stone. Unspeakables studying it had confirmed that the plague was actually a vicious curse that had been modified to act as a virus. The only way to save someone being petrified by Medusa’s Plague was to pay an exorbitant amount of money for the Perseus Institute in Mycenae, Greece, to revive the patient. Oftentimes families would save up money for generations before being able to afford to revive even one person. The immensely wealthy Weasley family had bankrupted themselves only two years ago and gone into decades of debt when paying for the healing of only four members of the main branch of their family.

The Black nodded with a sigh. “I kept it hushed up because my brother Regulus had just died of dragon pox and the family didn’t need any more publicity. Thankfully, I was able to call in a few favours and get my fee lowered without tipping off the press. But even so it still took them several days to revive him, as by the time we got Orion to Greece the plague had covered his entire body. Due to the nature of Medusa’s Plague, our family magic deemed him dead.”

He grimaced. “I had to cancel the activation of his will and rework his placement as heir when I discovered as much on my return to England. I had assumed at the time that the heirship passed to my cousin Pollux, as my daughter Lucretia had already joined legally with the House of Prewett and Sirius hadn’t been announced yet, being a new-born. I was confused that Pollux never mentioned anything, and I must confess as the finances and the Black properties never tried to treat him as heir I assumed his status as heir had been revoked, somehow.”

The Unspeakable interrupted. “But that’s not how legal magic works. Once an heir, always an heir unless the person legally becomes a member of a different noble family or unless the heir becomes head.”

Arcturus nodded. “Yes, yes, I know, but I’d been Lord less than a decade and simply didn’t understand how it would all make sense otherwise. Until, of course, my sister showed up on my doorstep six years later dying of her soulmate’s death and my house wards gave her the same status as my son.”

Unspeakable Bode’s eyebrows went up. “The heirship went to Lycoris.”

Lord Black nodded again. “The heirship went to Lycoris,” he agreed. “Legally, it makes sense. Orion was magically considered dead, and she’d been favoured over him by the last Lord Black. It didn’t matter that she’d never accepted the bequest, it was in my records and so the family magic deemed her the next heir when the current was unavailable. When Lycoris died her status as a potential heir became defunct, but if she had a son, it would certainly have passed to him. Any child Lycoris had would inherit her possessions and any inheritances she had — unclaimed or not. That would handily explain Harry’s status, I would think.”

There was a heavy silence once again.

Well damn, Fleamont thought. He nearly said it aloud, but caught himself at the last moment. It felt appropriate for the moment, but Euphemia despised uncouth language at the most lax of times. The Unspeakable pulled out his wand and sent the parchment off somewhere — presumably to update young Harry’s file. Flea had to repress the urge to cross his arms over his chest impatiently, but despite his best efforts words still burst out.

“Can we meet him?”

The Unspeakable blinked slowly, but then did something with his face that might have been a smirk. Or maybe just a muscle spasm. “I don’t see why not,” Bode said slowly. “He’s been listening at the door, after all.”

What—?

Bode flicked his wand again and one of the side doors sprang open, sprawling a young man on the ground. Green eyes looked up sheepishly and he grinned at the Unspeakable. He stood, rubbing the back of his neck.

“Gus said it was fine,” he said. Even his voice sounded just like Jamie’s! But his face didn’t quite match what was in the photograph. He had quite a lot of physical similarity to the Black family for someone not related by blood, and he also bore more than a slight resemblance to Euphie’s brother and father. Transfigurations, Flea assumed. It would have been hard to claim he was the child of a Travers and a Black when he looked so undeniably like a Potter.

The teen turned to look over the three other adults in the room with wide eyes. He stepped forwards.

“You’re really my grandparents?” he asked Flea and Euphemia in a small voice.

*          *          *

Harry’s morning had started with the unpleasant realization that he’d spent the past few days making friends with a future Death Eater and Ministry spy.

He’d had no reason to connect the friendly Gus with the Augustus Rookwood they’d been discussing in that memory Harry had watched of Bagman’s trial. They’d never shown pictures of the man and Harry hadn’t seen him in the memory at all, so he’d not known what Augustus Rookwood looked like. Harry had been furious with himself, sure he’d been taken in…and then Gus himself had shown up during breakfast and Harry’s anger had deflated.

Voldemort didn’t know about Harry in this time period. There was no reason for elaborate plots concerning him. Sure, he was a time traveller, but it was doubtful Gus would be able to tell anyone about him right now. They way Bode had explained it, Unspeakable oaths kept you from even hinting at current projects. You could find ways around the oaths if you wanted to talk about “shelved projects” — projects that weren’t under current study — but it was still very difficult. The easiest way to tell someone about the Department of Mysteries was to quit without officially filling out the exit paperwork. You’d be considered a deserter and hunted down, but you’d escape the oath that bound your tongue on all Department matters.

There were other ways around the oaths, of course, but none that could have Gus telling anyone about Harry’s arrival only days after the fact. So…there was no plot. Rookwood was just being friendly and open; a personality which, if Harry thought about it, did make sense for a spy. People would tell more things to a nice or ordinary-looking person than a snarly scary one.

And actually, Harry realised, Gus might not even be a Death Eater yet! It was 1972, which meant while later history books would consider the Wizarding World two years into the war against Voldemort, officially the Ministry for Magic wouldn’t declare itself at war until sometime next year.

The timeline of the Wizarding War (well, First Wizarding War, since a second technically begun in 1995) went something like this. Voldemort first appeared in early 1970 as the leader of a militant political party known as the Knights of Walpurgis. The party supported pureblood ideals such as limitations on interactions with muggles, repossession of muggleborns who would then be adopted out to pureblood and halfblood families, as well as decreases on restricted categories of magics labelled as dark. They began with lobbying the government, but quickly escalated in an attempt to force the Wizengamot’s hands after being ignored. They did boycotts of muggleborn businesses and crazy-dangerous stunts like riots, night-time arson, and defacement of objects symbolizing the muggle world or muggleborns to effect change. Hermione had once likened their early actions to the WSPU in the women’s rights movements of the early 1900s.

Their actions continued to escalate over the next two years until Voldemort led a protest in the Ministry itself in which he and several masked members of his political party used incredibly dark magics and apparently destroyed half the Atrium. He was officially labelled a Dark Lord and the Knights of Walpurgis were blacklisted from government participation. Voldemort declared he would get his way through either peaceful means or violent ones and vanished for several months.

When he and his group reappeared, they’d been reorganized and all members barring Voldemort were afterwards always masked and heavily cloaked. They’d never been officially termed Death Eaters — hence why he and Hermione had never heard of them even after all the research they’d done in third year — but people began using it around the time the Ministry officially declared they were at war with the Dark Lord Voldemort in the summer of 1973.

The declaration of war came after several attacks on various muggleborn business and muggle areas wizards tended to frequent. There had been only accidental casualties, and any muggle witnesses were Obliviated by Voldemort’s followers, but the Ministry claimed the intent was clear and declared war. Voldemort continued to escalate his violence, and deaths became common in battles between supporters of the Dark Lord and the Ministry’s forces — which were lumped together with the Order of the Phoenix at the time.

However, sometime in 1976 the attacks began to shift from scare tactics and actual deaths only occurring in pitched battle to senseless violence. This was why people theorized this year was when Voldemort had lost his soulmark, but nobody had ever gotten close enough to the nameless man to find out either way. All anyone knew was that his attacks became bigger, bolder, and a lot deadlier. It was also around then that the Dark Lord began to be referred to as You-Know-Who or He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named due to a combination of his most stomach-turning atrocities and because he’d begun to set out subtly warded regions set with a Taboo of his name that allowed him to attack those who spoke of him openly in public areas such as Diagon Alley or Hogsmeade.

Things continued to escalate, and Voldemort had very nearly won when Harry and his parents had brought Voldemort’s conquest to a screeching halt. Without their leader, the Death Eaters collapsed into disarray and were picked off in pieces by the Ministry and sentenced to prison.

Harry knew at this point Voldemort was still considered the leader of a rather radical political party. He wasn’t even called a Dark Lord yet! Gus couldn’t be a Death Eater because they didn’t exist yet either! Oh, he might be in the Knights of Walpurgis, but there wasn’t even a guarantee of that. Most of the more well-known Death Eaters had joined after the political party had been reformed into a militia.

So Harry had done his best to pretend he hadn’t been about to make accusations of Gus and laughed along to his jokes. If Gus noticed he was uncomfortable, the man likely chalked it up to meeting his grandparents for the first time later today. First, Gus distracted Harry by showing the teen his usual duties in the Hall of Prophecies, and then when that hadn’t worked he snuck Harry into Bode’s office and suggested with a sly grin that they listen in to Bode’s meeting with the Potters and Arcturus Black.

The teen had gone along with it for lack of anything else to do, and he had been fascinated by all he could hear. The stuff about Lycoris Black was really interesting. Then, Bode opened the door on him and because Harry had his ear pressed up against it his grandparents’ first sight of him was sprawled on the ground caught in eavesdropping. Harry tried to talk his way out of trouble, but the amused glint in Bode’s eye reassured him he’d done nothing wrong.

Then, Harry couldn’t help but ask if the distinguished older gentleman (whose hair stuck up in the back like his had before the transfigurations) and the pretty middle-aged woman (whose eyes were a much darker shade of green than his but who shared his need for glasses) were really his grandparents. His grandmother’s sharp face had melted into a soft smile and she had nodded.

“Yes, I suppose we are,” she said. She held her hand out to Harry, but when he took it she pulled him towards her instead of shaking his hand. “I’m Euphemia,” she said. “You would have called me Gran in your time, but here I suppose I’m Aunt Euphie.”

“Aunt Euphie,” Harry repeated a bit numbly. She smoothed down his hair with her free hand.

“They did make you look a good bit like Henry, didn’t they?” she asked him. Harry nodded.

“They gave me a face chart,” he explained. “They told me I could pick areas they’d add Travers features and areas they’d add Black features. They did a mock-up in an enchanted mirror and I shuffled things around until I liked it. Then they did permanent transfigurations on my face. The wizards doing the transfiguration said it was important I liked it, because I’ll have to look at it in the mirror for the rest of my life.”

He jumped when a laugh boomed out behind him and his grandfather clapped him on the shoulder. “Too true,” the man agreed. “Though most of us can’t exactly afford permanent transfigurations to change our faces however we like, so we’re stuck with what our parents give us.”

Harry smiled uncertainly up at him. “Well, I liked the face my parents gave me,” he said shyly. “Only I looked too much like Dad to keep it. They only let me keep Mum’s eyes because she’s a muggleborn.”

Arcturus harrumphed in the background. “Muggleborn?” he huffed.

The boy instantly went from shy teenager to defensive warrior. “Mum was Head Girl and did most of the runic magic behind the blood protection she and Dad left behind for me. She set records at school so high only Tom Riddle in the forties was above her in the charts. She even broke Dumbledore’s old records. The only person who ever came close to breaking Mum’s records was my best friend Hermione. She’s muggleborn too, and she’s been described multiple times as the brightest witch of the age even by people who don’t like her. Blood purity doesn’t matter, not really. It’s your actions that make you great — not your bloodline.”

Arcturus blinked slowly at him. “I’ll take that into consideration,” he said with equal deliberateness. Harry nodded sharply at him and then turned back to his grandparents.

“What do I call you?” he asked his grandfather. “And is your name really Fleamont? Gus said it was but he could just be pulling my leg.”

The older man grimaced. “Yes, my name’s Fleamont. I actually go by Flea, usually. Or Monty.”

Harry’s repressed laughter must have shown on his face, because his grandfather just clapped him on the shoulder again. “Go ahead and laugh,” he said in amused resignation. “I’m used to it by now, believe me. If only my dad hadn’t promised my horror of a grandmother to give his firstborn her surname… ah, well, it built character in me.”

He sniggered at that. Then, mischievously, “So I can call you Uncle Flea?”

Flea boomed out another laugh. “Go right ahead, lad. And old sourpuss in the corner over there will be your Uncle Arcturus. Technically, he’s your god-great-grandfather, but since we’re going to be acting as though his sister is your mother you should really call him uncle.”

Harry mouthed out the words “god-great-grandfather” but shook his head, dismissing it to puzzle over another time. Instead he smiled up at his grandfather. (Uncle Flea, remember Harry!)

“Thanks!” he said simply.

Uncle Flea nodded and rubbed his long-fingered hands together. “Right!” he said cheerfully. “So how do we acquire custody of a time traveller?”

Bode had his hangdog face on again. Harry had determined that doleful expression was his default, and any actual emotions were both unusual and generally only when he was interacting with people in a non-profession manner. Bode especially wore his glum face when dealing with people from outside the DoM.

“Technically, you don’t,” he droned. “Before you leave today you’ll sign special forms allowing you access to the 1972 Clock Project — which will legally let us keep you up to date on this project without the need for any Obliviates. It should take roughly a month to have Harry Travers made into a real, legally existing individual. During this process Mister Potter will remain here and will practice his new identity. At the end of that time Gringotts will contact all three of you and officially, custody will be sorted out through the bank. Unofficially, the forms you sign today will specify what your relationship will be with Harry once he exists, and so will grant you unofficial custody of a young man who does not yet exist.”

“Even after I’m living with you I’ll still need to come back to the DoM,” Harry chimed in. His grandparents blinked at him.

“Really? Whatever for?” Aunt Euphie asked.

Harry grinned. “I’ve got a three-year internship with the DoM,” he said. “They’ll help me pass my OWLs since I’m going to be missing the second term of my OWLs year. Then in September I can go to Hogwarts with dad, but as a sixth year. Over the summers after the next school year or so I’ll come back and do a proper internship, along with some projects they like time travellers to work on.”

Uncle Flea nodded sagely. “Well that all seems very reasonable,” he said. “Judging by your listed birth date on the form you really should be taking your OWL year next year, but I can see why you’d want to get it over with. And if you’ve been living with cursebreakers there’s no reason you mightn’t be advanced enough to be ahead a year.”

“Well before we have to leave I want to hug my grandson,” Euphemia sniffed. Bode raised an eyebrow at her.

“Oh, you’re not leaving yet,” he said, managing to sound ominous. “You’ll be starting to help Mister Potter here with his identity — he needs to know everything he can be told about Henry Travers and Lycoris Black. A son should be able to describe his parents, after all.” Harry bounced on his toes a bit.

“Let’s go to the cafeteria!” he said excitedly. “They’ve got awesome food, and if we put up those privacy bubble spell things Bode uses nobody will bother us. Unspeakables are really sensitive about privacy and stuff. And can you tell me stuff about Dad — sorry, I need to start calling him James don’t I?”

Harry chattered his way out of the room, three civilians in tow, enjoying having grandparents for the first time in his life.

 

Chapter Text

Harry got to spend the rest of the day with his grandparents and Arcturus. They told him story after story about the people he would have to pretend were his parents, and asked Harry questions about his life and time at Hogwarts. Arcturus and Harry debated ideas of blood purity for nearly half an hour before the Black smirked and stepped back, hardly saying a word until it was time for the civilians to leave. Instead he watched Harry interact with his grandparents, grey eyes calculating and considering.

After yet another night spent in the Sleep Room, Harry was awakened at some ungodly hour by Gus, who was so obnoxiously cheerful Harry knew he must have had at least one large cup of coffee already. Gus rushed Harry through breakfast and dragged him to the DoM bathrooms. Harry had been escorted to those his first day in the Ministry (they were behind a disguised door outside the Department itself), but today Gus showed him a second room hidden at the back of the loo that had showers, a large bath, and even a sauna!

Harry was glad of the opportunity to wash up. It had finally occurred to him yesterday he’d been in the past for three days and hadn’t washed or brushed his teeth or anything. He felt grimy, and a chance to shower was just fantastic. Afterwards Gus dragged him back through the black door and through the circular hall to a rather small chamber past the “Mind Room” (Harry did not want to know what the tank of brains was for) full of nothing but cushions scattered across the floor. Once in the room, Harry was introduced to another Unspeakable who went by Rowena.

“Like the—”

“—founder of Hogwarts, yes,” Rowena said dismissively. “Don’t know what my mother was thinking…”

She clarified upon seeing Harry’s confused expression. “Oh, it’s just that our family has been in Ravenclaw for centuries. If not for the only known descendant of Rowena Ravenclaw claiming to have never had children, there’d be rumours about us being descended from her, like everyone talks about the Smiths being descendants of Hufflepuff despite not having any proof. Anyway, Mum decided to name me after Ravenclaw, so of course I was the first person ever in our family’s recorded history to be sorted into Gryffindor.”

Harry couldn’t help but laugh. “Well, good for you then,” he said. Rowena smirked at him.

“Well, thanks kid. Now, to the point of why you’re here — Rookwood here says you need to learn nonverbal casting, correct?”

Harry nodded, faintly nonplussed. Why couldn’t Gus or Bode just teach him? They cast silent spells left and right.

Rowena was still smirking. “I’ve been asked to teach you because I just came back from sick leave and haven’t started any new projects yet. I’ll be helping you learn not only nonverbal casting but something any person with secrets to hide needs to know — Occlumency. I’m sure,” she said in a louder tone, holding up a hand to stem Harry’s attempt to speak, “that you’ve never heard of this before so I’ll explain. Occlumency is the magical defence of the mind against external penetration. Someone who knows how to enter another person’s mind is known as a Legilimens, and unfortunately most of the known Legilimens in Britain practice this magic without much care for either privacy or legality. So!”

Harry jumped at the sharply spoken word as Rowena raised a finger and pointed it at him.

“You need to learn to properly guard your mind. Thankfully for you, Occlumency has the added side-effect of ordering your mind and making you more in-tune with your internal magic, both things you need for nonverbal spells. Really, the easiest way to teach these is side-by-side.”

“Okay…” Harry replied when she seemed to expect it. “How long will this take?”

Rowena shrugged. “No idea. It depends on how emotional you are naturally and the amount of mental discipline you already exercise. Now let’s get started!”

What followed was the oddest set of lessons ever. Rowena began by explaining to Occlude properly in the short term, you needed to be able to clear your mind of thoughts and emotions anytime somebody tried to penetrate your mind. Eventually clearing your mind would become second nature and you could progress to the second, more difficult stage, which involved “building mental constructs” and “crafting false memories” to confuse someone who entered your mind. Then, she made him sit with her on the floor and do meditative exercises.

Rowena talked Harry through something called “yoga”, teaching him how to begin to do the different strange stretching poses. She explained this had been how she’d learnt Occlumency, and if it didn’t work she’d try some other methods she knew of. As they slid from pose to pose, Rowena spoke to Harry all the while. They ended up talking about the weirdest things.

First, Rowena asked Harry what it was like being twenty years in his own past, and all the things he’d learnt and seen since going through the clock. All of her questions were probing and insightful, and Harry really didn’t mind answering her. And so when she began asking about things from his file, he talked about those as well, even where he might never have spoken about it otherwise, like his cupboard.

They took a break for lunch, but Rowena put some sort of spell around them that moved as they did. It was like Bode’s spell he’d used a few times in the cafeteria only it also played soft, soothing music of a distinctly foreign sort. They continued talking all through lunch and then as they went back to the little room full of cushions. There were also an uncomfortably large number of questions asked about feelings. Rowena wanted to know how every situation had made him feel at the time it happened, and how he felt thinking back on it.

The other odd thing was that Rowena told him if he wanted something he had to cast a spell instead of using his hands. If he wanted to grab one of the cushions — he had to Accio it. If he was asked to pass the salt and pepper at lunch — he had to levitate them over. Rowena would also have them take sort breaks from yoga and talking and she would instruct him to cast random spells around the room. The catch? He had to do all this without speaking a word.

It was hard, really hard, and by the end of the first day he’d not managed to cast a single spell wordlessly. He also hadn’t figured out why Rowena didn’t have them practicing Occlumency, and instead had them talking all day. She just laughed at him when he asked.

Harry was still with Rowena during dinner, but afterwards she sent him back to Bode’s office. There, he found the drawing room beside the office had been made into a classroom. Harry entered to see another Unspeakable he didn’t know. This Unspeakable didn’t introduce himself as Rowena had. Instead, the hooded figure told Harry he was to take a series of placement tests to see how much work needed to be done to get him ready for his OWLs. Harry sat down at the only desk and got to work.

It was like doing exams with only one teacher. He would take a written test, and the Unspeakable would then ask him to cast spells in the same subject. For Potions class he was asked to brew a number of potions ranging from first year lessons to even potions Harry hadn’t heard of yet. The Unspeakable always asked him to first try brewing it with a simplified recipe (usually just a list of ingredients) or without a recipe at all, but would give him the recipe if he needed it. When Harry was finished it was quite late and he was chivvied back to the Sleep Room for the night.

The next morning was almost a repeat of the last. Gus woke him horribly early and dragged him to breakfast. Today, however, he received the results of his tests last night. He was in line with where most OWL students would be in March in some classes, and behind in only a few (Potions being one). Gus mused that perhaps there’d been new spells added to the curriculum in the next twenty years, or they’d gotten better teachers, so that was why Harry’s results were ahead of where someone who’d only had class until Christmas should be. He was even farther ahead than usual in defence, so far in fact that they said he really only needed to work on a bit more theory before taking that exam.

After breakfast Harry was returned to Rowena. They did yoga in silence for a good hour or so, quiet music in the background. After a certain amount of time had passed, though, Rowena put a silencing charm on Harry and handed him a book. It was called Guarding the Mind, and it was presumably about Occlumency. He was told to read it, and take notes, and so did.

The book wasn’t too thick, so it only took him a few hours. It was an interesting read, all about the history of Occlumency and Legilimency and how you were supposed to clear your mind. There were a few mental exercises to do so, and Harry scribbled all of those down. The book also said the usual method of teaching Occlumency was have a trusted individual continually attempt to penetrate your mind while you tried to clear your mind before they saw anything. Harry wondered why Rowena hadn’t done anything like that.

After he was finished with the book it was time for lunch. Rowena brought take-out from a muggle fast food restaurant and Harry tried a few times to summon his food silently before she finally brought it over to him. After lunch Harry was taken to a maze Rowena had set up through a few offices and rooms in the Department. He was told the silencing charm would be removed at the end of the maze and he had to navigate it with silent casting.

Unfortunately, as Harry hadn’t managed to silently cast at all yet, he totally failed at clearing the maze. Rowena took pity on him and removed the silencing charm anyway. He had dinner, and afterwards Rowena asked Harry what he’d thought of the Occlumency book.

“It was interesting,” Harry told her, “but the book said you learn Occlumency by having someone cast the mind-reading spell at you while you practice clearing your mind.”

Rowena huffed.  “Okay, first it is not mind-reading. The mind is too complicated to be read like a book. If you liken it to anything in the real world, it’s like following a bramble branch tangled in with a whole lot of other brambles from its top end down to its root tip. The neural passages of your brain are…well…they’re weird. Going into another person’s mind is disorienting. The more the caster knows about the other person the easier it is, and the more trusting the person being cast on is the less uncomfortable it is. If someone you don’t trust casts Legilimens on you again and again it can make you literally sick.”

She tossed her hair over her shoulder. “I was talking with you all yesterday to get us more familiar with each other. I also want you to start thinking about how your emotions connect to your memories because that’s important to know when you start doing hard stuff like creating false memories and thoughts to confuse someone trying to take information out of your mind. I just killed two birds with one stone yesterday.”

Harry blinked, and nodded. “That…makes a lot of sense, yeah.” He did look at her sideways though. “But why would you just tell me you’re being nice so I trust you? Shouldn’t that make me trust you less?”

Rowena blinked and then smirked. “Does it make you trust me less? I’m trying to get you to trust me so that I can teach you something without hurting you. I have no other motives. I think the better question right now is do you trust me to cast a curse at you over and over again that will make you relive thoughts and memories you might not want anyone to see?”

Harry sat back. “I…I don’t know.”

The Unspeakable nodded. “When you can answer that, we’ll start our lessons properly. Until then we’ll talk and practice nonverbal casting.”

And that was what they did. Rowena talked with Harry about anything under the sun, even answering a few questions about her life that Harry had asked her. After a while had passed Harry would be put under a silencing charm for the rest of the day. He’d run the maze, trying to get through and cast nonverbal spells at the same time. This went on for the rest of the week, until Harry woke up one morning and realised to his surprise that he’d been in the past for almost ten days now. Harry was struck with a horrible sense of homesickness, wondering what Christmas would have been like spent in 1995 with Sirius. He wondered how the DA would handle Umbridge without him.

Nobody really knew what happened to the original timelines that people who travelled through Morgana’s Clock came from. Some theories claimed that they dissolved into nothing and the new future created by the actions of the time traveller was the only future. Other ideas maintained that travelling back in time created a split timeline, where a person vanished from the future of one timeline, reappeared in the past of another, and influenced the second universe accordingly while the first remained unchanged.

Harry didn’t know which he’d rather have happen. Was it better for the future Sirius, Hermione, and Ron to not even exist? Sirius, at least, was better off. He was twelve, surrounded by friends, and had what appeared to be a doting grandfather in Arcturus. He didn’t know anything about betrayal and he’d never even met a Dementor. But Harry’s other friends… none of them were even born yet.

Mr. and Mrs. Weasley were still a young couple. Bill was likely a toddler; Harry didn’t think he even had any siblings yet. Well, maybe Charlie. Hermione’s muggle parents would be in school right now probably, or just starting up their dentistry practice — they wouldn’t have a child for another seven years. Neville’s parents were the same age as Harry’s right now. Mad-Eye Moody wouldn’t even be Mad-Eye Moody yet! He’d lost his eye and leg in the war against Voldemort, which didn’t officially start for another year. He was just Auror Alastor Moody. Hell — he might even just be an Auror Trainee.

Rowena took one look at his face and asked what Harry wanted to do today. Harry didn’t know — but then he remembered his Christmas presents, all wrapped but not yet opened. He went back to the drawing room with Rowena in tow and gathered his gifts. Rowena suggested they take them back to the little room full of cushions along with some punch and biscuits.

“It’ll be like we’re celebrating Christmas for them,” she said. Harry nodded in agreement. Frankly, he was just glad to have the presents. The Unspeakables said it was a wonder they'd come back with everything else that was his. Bode theorized that the magical intent behind the gifts, even undelivered, was enough to have Morgana's Clock lock onto them. Either way, Harry was just glad they'd come through. It...it was like getting one last glimpse at his friends who may or may not exist any longer.

Once they were set up, both sitting on the floor surrounded by snacks, Harry hesitantly began to sort through his presents. The first one he picked up was labelled with Hermione's neat handwriting. She had given him a book that resembled a diary except that every time he opened a page it said aloud things like: ‘Do it today or later you'll pay!’

Harry wasn’t sure whether he laughed or sobbed. He set the homework planner — he could almost hear Ron complaining about it in his mind — to one side and picked up another present.

The second one he grabbed was from Sirius and Lupin. The note said, “From Padfoot and Moony ― for the rebellion.” He smiled faintly at the set of excellent books entitled Practical Defensive Magic and its Use Against the Dark Arts, which had superb, moving colour illustrations of all the counter-jinxes and hexes it described. Harry flicked through the first volume with a melancholy air; this would have been highly useful in his plans for the DA. Now, he’d just be the best Defence student he could be, and that would have to be enough. He ran a finger over the book plates on the inside cover of all the books. They were all labelled Prongslet along with his initials HJP.

Hagrid had sent a furry brown wallet that had fangs, which were presumably supposed to be an anti-theft device. Unfortunately, the fangs prevented Harry from putting any money in without getting his fingers ripped off until Rowena noticed his dilemma. She cast some complicated spell on it and told him to pick it up. Harry did so reluctantly, but was surprised when the wallet just purred and its fangs retracted. Rowena giggled.

“It’s got a command spell so it knows its owner. My dad has one just like it. Now, it’ll only let you near it.”

Harry smiled and thanked her. Rowena just shrugged and stuffed another biscuit into her mouth. “I’m going to be so fat,” she moaned, but Harry had turned back to his presents. Tonks had surprisingly sent him a present as well: a small, working model of a Firebolt, which Harry watched zoom around the room, wishing he still had his full-size version. Rowena was fascinated.

“When does the full-sized version of that come out?”

“Why?”

“Because my soulmate will want it for sure and I’m going to start saving up now!”

Ron had given him an enormous box of Every-Flavour Beans, Mr. and Mrs. Weasley the usual hand-knitted jumper and some mince pies, and Dobby a truly dreadful painting that Harry suspected had been done by the elf himself. He turned it upside-down to see whether it looked better that way, but still couldn’t figure out what it was until Rowena noticed the note on the back.

The Unspeakable rolled on the floor laughing as Harry read with dismay the explanation that this was a picture of the Very Great Wizard Mister Harry Potter and it was from Dobby.

“It — oh — it looks like a gibbon with two black eyes!”

Harry threw his new homework diary at her; it hit the wall opposite and fell to the floor where it said happily: 'If you've dotted the "i"s and crossed the "t"s then you may do whatever you please!'

At that Harry couldn’t help but join her in helpless laughter.

That day after lunch Rowena didn’t take him straight to the maze. Instead, after silencing him, they went back to the small chamber filled with cushions. Rowena grinned.

“Okay, Harry,” she said. “I have an idea. I’m not sure you’ve been properly motivated in casting silent spells yet this week. The one time you almost summoned that glass of water was pretty good, and I know you were really thirsty at the time so I’m going to motivate you.” She smirked and summoned all Harry’s Christmas gifts to her silently. “Do you want them back?” Rowena asked.

Harry tried to summon them. One of the Defence books Sirius had given him twitched. Accio, he thought firmly again. The homework planner came sailing before falling down again.

“Oh, come on,” Rowena said. “You can do better than that. You told me you summoned your Firebolt from Gryffindor Tower to a stadium by the Forbidden Forest! Use some of that determination.”

Accio! Harry repeated in his mind, and to his astonishment all his presents came flying back towards him. He cancelled the spell with a silent slash, and even managed to levitate them all down gently. Harry bounced on his toes, grinning.

Rowena smirked back. “That’s more like it!” she said. “Now do that in the maze today!”

The next week was a blur of activity and further practice. Now that Harry had managed to do it, everyone was asking him to randomly demonstrate spells silently. He was encouraged to practice casting as part of his normal life — summoning things, levitating things, using tooth-brushing spells and shoe-tying spells instead of doing it himself the muggle way. And any time he was caught casting verbally he was hit with a stinging jinx that made him jump and yelp.

Now that he wasn’t practicing nonverbal spells in the afternoon his schedule was rearranged. Now, in the mornings he was taken by someone — usually Bode, Gus, or a still coughing Croaker — to further build his stories about living around the world.

At first he was taken to specific locations: houses Henry Travers and Lycoris Black shared during the time Harry would have been a child, wizarding villages and marketplaces he likely shopped at, places he might have played. They bounced him all around southern Oceania, and Harry was amazed by the sights and smells and new foods he got to try.

There was a specific group of Unspeakables studying time magic who were so wrapped up in secrecy spells that they couldn’t say a word to anyone who wasn’t also a time traveller. They began teaching him the basics of sign language: ASL, which they told him was internationally recognized, and was recognized by most people who knew of any sign language, as well as goblin hand-sign, which worked in conjunction with Gobbledegook as part of the language but could be used alone if silence was needed. Goblin signs had been added in to the wizarding versions of ASL and BSL because regular muggle-created sign languages lacked sign-terms for various aspects of magical life, and several basic goblin signs easily substituted in the missing vocabulary.

 Learning the signs was difficult, but it was almost like memorizing wand movements. Some days even though he’d mastered nonverbal casting he’d have a Silencing spell put on him in the morning, and he had to wear it all day while he talked and cast spells all without saying a word. It was difficult, but fun.

He was given to a group of Australian Unspeakables and made to practice speaking like they did — while Lycoris would have been certain to teach him “proper English” (a rather thick upper-crust accent he also had to practice), being a child, he likely would have developed at least a tinge of an Australian accent, so when he did speak he needed to sound authentic. Sometimes, to give him more time to visit or practice, they’d stay all day and then turn time back to the start of the morning. Harry would take a nap before going to his Occlumency lessons after lunch.

Those had begun to progress as well. Two days after casting nonverbally for the first time, Harry felt he trusted Rowena enough to begin properly teaching him Occlumency. And so their lessons began.

It was even more difficult than nonverbal casting. The spell Rowena cast sent them both hurtling down Harry’s memory lane. The small room swam in front of his eyes and vanished; image after image was racing through his mind like a flickering film so vivid it blinded him to his surroundings.

He was five, watching Dudley riding a new red bicycle, and his heart was bursting with jealousy ... he was nine, and Ripper the bulldog was chasing him up a tree and the Dursleys were laughing below on the lawn ... he was sitting under the Sorting Hat, and it was telling him he would do well in Slytherin ... Hermione was lying in the hospital wing, her face covered with thick black hair ... a hundred dementors were closing in on him beside the dark lake ... Staring at the enchanted replica of his soulmate and knowing he’d have to kill him ...

No, said a voice inside Harry's head, as the memory of Tom's Diary drew nearer, you're not watching that, you're not watching it, it's private—

And he remembered what Rowena had said, about the mental focus needed for nonverbal spells begin like the focus needed for Occlumency… he’d needed to focus on breaking the Imperius Curse too… and something in Harry’s mind heaved.

It felt viscerally like he’d thrown up, like his heart had lodged itself in his throat and choked him, like he’d picked up a bludger and tossed it by hand as far as he could after it had hit him in the stomach. The room came back into view and he realised that he had fallen to the floor; his knees were resting on a large cushion. He looked up at Rowena, who had lowered her wand and was grinning at Harry. She’d been pushed a few feet backwards.

“That was good, Harry! You need to work on emptying your mind before I see anything, though. The goal is to keep me from viewing any of your memories. If I was somebody snooping around, I’d already have seen too much. Your memory of the Sorting showed a pretty old-looking McGonagall. That would make anyone suspicious.”

Harry nodded as he got up from the floor, accepting the point.

“Basically, you let me get in too far,” Rowena said. “This is your mind. You need to either keep me out completely, or control what I see. I’ll take either with how short our deadline is for now.”

“Did you see everything I saw?” Harry asked, unsure whether he wanted to hear the answer.

Rowena shrugged. “Flashes of it,” she confirmed. “I saw a dog chasing you?”

Harry nodded. “My Aunt Marge thought it was funny when he chased me around,” he explained. Rowena shook her head.

“Your relatives were first rate bastards, kiddo,” she muttered. “But for a first try you did really good, Harry.” She raised her wand again. “Let’s try again.”

Harry cleared his mind like the book told him too, boxing away all his thoughts, feelings, and memories and just drifting.

“Okay, get ready Harry... on the count of three... one — two — three — Legilimens!'

A great black dragon was rearing in front of him ... his father and mother were waving at him out of an enchanted mirror ... Cedric Diggory was lying on the ground — no, Harry thought, you can’t see that. Suddenly they were seeing meaningless memories: Harry practicing Transfiguration homework… playing on the high monkey bars where Dudley couldn’t climb or reach… naming the spiders in his cupboard and imagining he had a spider army…

With effort, Harry managed to push Rowena out of his mind again. He stood there panting.

“Why was it harder that time?” he asked.

Rowena smiled at him. “Personally, I think you did really good. Pushing me away from your sadder and more negative memories into a stream of fluff was a good idea. That’s part of why it was harder to push me out; when you take control of the flow of memories, you’re effectively pushing me forward into certain parts of your mind. That makes it harder for you to pull me out. But like I said, we’re on a deadline. We need you to have basic proficiency at the end of the month, and you need to be capable of occluding on instinct by September. One of the main Legilimens in the country is Headmaster Dumbledore.”

Harry blinked. “Wait, Professor Dumbledore can see inside my mind?”

Rowena nodded. “Yes, he can. He uses it for security reasons, mostly, and when an issue is in doubt and he needs more information. I understand the reasons, but that doesn’t mean it’s not entirely immoral not to at least inform people you might first. I know you had a close relationship with the version of him in your time, but you’ll need to remember this version of him doesn’t know you and has no business knowing about your time travel unless you decide to tell him yourself.”

Harry nodded slowly in return. “Yeah, I get that,” he agreed. He didn't really think the professor would do something like that, but Rowena was in charge of him right now. And he did understand the need to make sure his thoughts were secret. Even if he'd not been overly aware of things that could make money, if, say, a future Death Eater got their hands on his knowledge of the war against Voldemort and the Dark Lord's second rise it would spell disaster for everyone.

Rowena raised her wand a third time. “Now, you calm? Let’s try again. Clear your mind. Empty yourself of emotion. Legilimens!”

He was watching Uncle Vernon hammering the letterbox shut ... a hundred dementors were drifting across the lake in the grounds towards him ... he was running along a windowless passage with Mr. Weasley ... they were drawing nearer to the plain black door at the end of the corridor ... Harry expected to go through it ... but Mr. Weasley led him off to the left, down a flight of stone steps...

The connection was broken abruptly as the memories shifted into Harry’s dreams of the Department he’d had before coming back in time. Rowena looked shaken.

“What was that?” she asked. Harry blinked.

“Uh — I’ve been dreaming of the DoM for months,” Harry said hesitantly. “I realised it when Bode brought me here the first day.”

Rowena still looked discomfited. “That…I’m going to have to tell somebody about that from the Studies of Sleep. Dreams like that need to be looked over by an expert.” Then she shook her head.

“Anyway, you’ll probably spend part of tomorrow being checked over. Now let’s try that again. Legilimens!”

They practiced over and over. Harry got much better at controlling the flow of memories — and even got to where he could shunt Rowena into a blank blackness of current thoughts. The only downside to that was that she could tell what he was planning when she was in his thoughts and could counter it. He was improving, Rowena assured him. But Harry didn’t feel much like it. After those first two times he didn’t manage to push Rowena entirely out of his mind again.

The next day, true to her word, Harry was sent to the Sleep Room where someone checked over his dreams instead of spending another morning in Australia. The man was befuddled, insisting they looked like the sort of shared dreams that travelled across a soulmate bond — only of course Harry wasn’t listed as bonded yet, so that didn’t make sense to him. Harry realised he must have been sharing dreams with Voldemort, and he could only wonder why Voldemort had been dreaming of the Department of Mysteries in the months after his resurrection. Well, it wasn't as if it mattered much any more. That set of dreams were over twenty years away for the current version of his soulmate.

He was sent back to Rowena to practice Occlumency again in the afternoon, and the cycle continued. Now, Harry was being taken to places where his adventures with the Gringotts cursebreaker team might have happened.

As Ron had said during the summer before third year, Egypt was dry and dusty, but it was amazing. Harry was shown around the main Gringotts facilities and allowed to shadow different cursebreaker groups under various glamours to change his appearance. The cursebreakers were all told he was an Unspeakable project, if they asked, and to not ask any more questions. They did teach him some cursebreaker slang, though, that would lend authenticity to the idea that he’d been raised in his teenage years by a group of them. Of course, most of the time he shadowed cursebreakers around the various Gringotts facilities he was silenced, so he would practice his sign language, but it was the idea of it that was important.

Africa was equally awesome, and Harry nearly gave Gus a heart attack when he found and held a fascinating conversation with a Runespoor. For an hour. While it curled around him. The Runespoor was a surprisingly good conversationalist, and it enjoyed the chance to speak to a human in the serpent tongue. While Runespoors were one of the few magical creatures capable of human speech, it liked being able to use its own native language. Harry, for his part, was enjoying listening to the three heads argue over whether he was small or average height for a human.

And then when Gus returned Harry just laughed as the big bad (Death Eater) Unspeakable gasped on the ground, white-faced and terrified of the giant three-headed snake.

The best part of all the trips, though, was when he was taken to places with a beach. During the expedition to show him a usual Lethifold locale, they’d made a day of it and Harry got to play at the beach for hours. Oh, Rowena still made him do Occlumency training when he returned to England regardless of his sunburns, but he did get to regale her with how he actually did meet a Lethifold by accident, as it was slowly drifting through the island jungle. He’d chased it off with a Patronus and then had made a sandcastle with Croaker, who insisted if he had to spend time at the beach he was going to practice the sand-sifting spells he had to use while making Time-Turners.

As week two blended into weeks three and four of living in the Department of Mysteries, they began alternating days to take him on trips. On the alternate days, he began cramming on everything he needed to know for his OWLs — the original goal had been to have him take them with the Hogwarts students in June, but it was halfway through April now and Harry was months behind. It was looking like except for his Defence exam, he’d be taking his OWLs under special dispensation in July or August instead. Even with the delay, he had a ton of work to get through.

His Occlumency improved slowly. He got to where he could direct Rowena wherever he wanted the instant she penetrated his mind. She didn’t even have to speak the incantation, and she’d still be routed into a mess of inconsequential memories before being pushed out of his mind. That was his main improvement: he figured out the trick to pushing someone out after he’d taken control of their attempt to see inside his head. One day Rowena even brought in a group of strangers, Unspeakables who specialized in mind magics. The lot of them spent all morning trying to break into Harry’s mind while Harry completed various tasks with nonverbal magic. By the end he was pale and shaking, but he’d successfully gotten them all out of his mind without anyone seeing anything incriminating. The hot chocolate and treacle tart Rowena gave him as a reward was worth the experience.

And then, over a month after Harry had first tripped through time in Morgana’s Clock, the day finally came. The day Harry Potter would be set aside, and Harry Travers would walk out of Gringotts beside the Aunt he was supposed to have never met.

Chapter Text

Actually getting Harry into Euphemia Potter’s custody was an ordeal and a half. As had already been discussed, Harry needed to go to Gringotts, where they would get what information they wanted out of him and then contact Euphemia and Arcturus to have an entire mock-custody discussion before signing Harry over to the Potters. The first problem was getting Harry to Gringotts in the first place.

The easiest solution was to Floo, but most glamours didn’t hold up through the Floo and they couldn’t risk someone seeing Harry unglamoured in the Floo Hall of Gringotts since he was supposed to be coming from Gringotts. So instead Harry was taken to the main Atrium of the Ministry under heavy glamour charms altering his appearance. Bode apparated Harry to his home and then they walked down the road to a park where Croaker was waiting with Harry’s luggage, which also looked totally different to how it had been when it arrived.

Harry’s trunk had been emptied and tossed out, and Harry had been bought a decently sturdy travel-suitcase that had hidden compartments in the main “suitcase” section and, if you turned the key anticlockwise, the inside of the suitcase would transform into an expanded interior that held a small apartment. When opened to this setting you climbed down a ladder into a walk-in wardrobe. A small hallway led off from it to four rooms: a study, a small bathroom, a rather empty room the Unspeakables suggested Harry make into a miniature potions lab, and a bedroom. The suitcase had been weathered by a group of Unspeakables whose job it was to make Harry’s possessions look as though he’d been using all the new stuff since he was eleven. Faded and dirty stickers were added to the outside proclaiming him to have travelled to various wizarding locations.

Harry had pulled out all his clothes (his Hogwarts robes were discarded like his trunk) and more clothes practical for travelling were bought for him. His muggle outfits were thrown away wholesale and he was given new clothing similar but in wizarding styles. Every item was systematically given a bit of believable wear. Any extra Hogwarts paraphernalia he was allowed to keep such as scarves, hats, and jumpers, were recoloured — some of the red and grey jumpers were made red and brown or grey and black, the yellow stripes on everything was made a plain white — so that they didn’t exactly match Hogwarts colours any longer. His Weasley sweaters were his only clothes left completely untouched, and Harry was glad of that. Most everything was hung in the wardrobe-entrance to the apartment, with a few articles of clothing being put in the actual suitcase compartment of Harry’s new luggage piece.

Other things he’d found in his Hogwarts trunk were moved to various locations in his suitcase-apartment. His old and new textbooks were all stacked neatly on bookshelves in his study (barring Lockhart’s books and the Slinkhard textbook, which he gleefully turned to cinders). He was allowed to keep the Occlumency book Rowena had given him, and various other Unspeakables gave him some novels and other books on useful magic that a traveller might find use for. On the roll-top desk were the written OWLs assignments he was currently working on, and in one drawer was a box holding every letter he’d dug out of his trunk. They were heavily charmed so that only he could read them. His potions kit was put in the empty room along with a cauldron, a podium to place a recipe book, and a cabinet where he could store brewed potions and extra ingredients.

One shelf in Harry’s new suitcase-bedroom held all his new generic but carefully weathered Quidditch gear, each item bought to replace the Gryffindor-themed articles since Quidditch gear was resistant to spells being cast on it. The sneakoscope Ron had given him two years ago was put on another shelf in his room alongside the currently useless broom-servicing kit, the old flute he’d gotten from Hagrid first year, various other knick-knacks and gifts, and his revised photo album.  His original photo album was hidden alongside the Marauder’s Map in a shrunken box under his mattress. Harry figured when he wasn’t using it his invisibility cloak could join them there. Hedwig’s cage was also in his bedroom, the owl sleeping inside for now.

Croaker took Harry from Bode and Harry took his suitcase from Croaker. Then he was apparated to half a dozen locations — their glamours changed each time — before landing in an alleyway halfway down Charing’s Cross. Croaker cancelled the glamours altering Harry’s appearance and then Harry pulled out the invisibility cloak he had stuffed into a pocket in his tan robes. Before he pulled it over his head Croaker tapped him right at the top of said head with his wand. It felt like an egg being broken in his hair, and as the spell slid down around him cold trickles seemed to be running down his body from the point the wand had struck.

After the cold feeling had vanished Harry looked down at his body, or rather, what had been his body, for it didn't look anything like his anymore. It was not invisible; it had simply taken on the exact colour and texture of the dingy alley wall behind him. He seemed to have become a human chameleon.

“Neat,” Harry said. They’d talked about the Disillusionment Charm when discussing this plan, but Harry hadn’t realised exactly what it did. They’d made it sound like he was going to turn invisible. Then, before Croaker could prompt him he pulled his invisibility cloak on over his already mostly-invisible body and said, “Ready.”

Croaker smirked and swirled his wand around his own head. He morphed into a particularly old witch carrying a large carpet bag. “Come along then,” he said in a quavering effeminate voice. “I have some shopping to do.”

Harry stumbled invisibly on the disguised Unspeakable’s heels as Croaker tottered through the Leaky Cauldron and out into Diagon Alley. The “woman” then made a very determined beeline for Gringotts, Harry still trotting behind her completely unseen. Croaker led Harry into a side room and cancelled both his illusion and Harry’s Disillusion. He nodded at Harry.

“Go through this door here—” he pointed to a side door different from the one they’d entered the room through “—and ask for the Head Goblin. Tell them you’re a DoM project and they’ll take you where you need to go.” And with that Croaker put his disguise back on and staggered back out of the room querulously asking where the loo was.

Harry did as he’d been bid as soon as he managed to fully stifle his nearly hysterical laughter. Croaker hadn’t mentioned how he would be disguised, only that he would be. That old lady disguise was just awesome. Harry would have to remember that himself.

The teenager went hesitantly through the side door. He seemed to be in a tunnel that wasn’t a main part of the bank. It was much more simply decorated than the outside, and there were no goblins standing guard except one by the very door Harry had just opened. He smiled uncertainly at the suspiciously scowling guard.

“Um, I need to see the Head Goblin. I’m a Department of Mysteries project, you see.” As he spoke, he carefully used the goblin hand signals he’d been taught to augment and emphasize his speech.

The goblin’s eyes widened and he nodded. The butt of the heavy ceremonial spear all the Gringotts guards held was rapped three times on the ground and another goblin came running. “What?” the other goblin barked. The guard began to speak in Gobbledegook, and the other goblin eyed Harry strangely.

“Come with me,” he said finally.

Harry was led along a labyrinth of tunnels and corridors down to a hallway of offices. Harry was led to the one at the end of the hall, neat letters spelling out “Ragnok” inked on the door. The goblin leading him opened the door and gestured Harry inside.

“Sit,” he said brusquely, gesturing to a chair in front of the desk. Harry sat. The goblin walked out, closing the door firmly behind him. Harry blinked and looked about.

The office was empty, but finely furnished in shades of burgundy and muted orange. The large desk in front of Harry was mahogany, and all the parchment sheets atop it were neatly stacked in a paper-tray. There was a collection of quills in what looked like a muggle themed coffee mug with the words “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn[1]” written on it in fancy old-fashioned lettering.

After only a few moments of sitting and waiting, the door behind Harry opened and a different goblin entered the room. The older goblin had hair that was a fading chestnut streaked with grey and white as well as a long nose and glasses that resembled the ones Headmaster Dumbledore always wore.

The goblin went around the desk and sat in his chair. Harry blinked. He vaguely recognized seeing this goblin on his very first trip to Gringotts. He’d been much older than he was right now, of course, with all snow-white wispy hair. His long, pointed nose and half-moon spectacles were the most familiar things about him.

Ragnok looked over said spectacles at Harry. “So you’re the project that’s had the Department of Mysteries in such a fuss, are you?” he said grouchily. Harry nodded and Ragnok nodded back. “Right. I’ll need the Temporal Business forms then.”

He fished the forms in question out of the massive stack of parchment in his paper-tray and laid them out in front of Harry. As he’d been told back at the Department, Harry read each one carefully.

The first was merely an addendum to the Weasleys Wizard Wheezes contract the twins had sneakily filled out after Harry had given them his Triwizard winnings. The addendum noted that the one thousand galleons would be taken out of Harry’s vault and put in a separate account (plus 50 galleon fees for transfer and the price of a low-security vault) where it would be kept in trust until June of 1995, at which point it would be given to the as-yet unborn Fred and George Weasley in exchange for a third of the company. The addendum added stipulations to the vault of money — the twins would only be allowed to use this money for their business, and the third of a company given to Harry was non-negotiable. Frankly, Harry didn’t much care either way, but he did wonder what this would do to the contents of his vault.

He asked Ragnok as much. “I’ve never seen an actual listing of what all is in my vault, you see. Would taking a thousand and fifty galleons out dent it too much?”

The answer, apparently, was no. Ragnok called in a goblin for a ledger for the “vault under review”, and promptly handed it to Harry. His eyebrows went up. The vault had approximately 50,625 galleons in it right now — approximately because it also had an awful lot of sickles and knuts. The final total came out to closer to sixty thousand galleons, which was an incredible amount of money in Harry’s time. Back in the 1970s, before the First Wizarding War ratcheted up prices, it was even more.

Bill said the price increase during the 1980s, which had settled out but not yet begun to fall in the 1990s, was due to the increase in demand as the population grew again after the war. The population grew, returning to more healthy and normal numbers, but the number of suppliers had shrunk during the war and didn’t grow with the population because all the new people were children. Hermione had been the only one to really understand Bill’s talk about money values, but Harry did remember what he’d said about how before the war, the galleon had been worth a lot more than it was worth after just because everything was cheaper. So…

Yeah, he had no problems signing the addendum to this contract.

The second piece of parchment was a simple thing involved with re-cataloguing and reassigning Harry’s vault. Vault 687 was a Potter Vault; specifically, in Harry’s time it had been the family vault left behind by his parents. In the current time period it was one of three vaults maintained by the Potter family: the other two were a vault that contained Euphemia Travers’ dowry money, and a vault that was apparently the current family vault. Harry supposed the two must have been combined sometime within the next few years, and when his father was grown or something — presumably also after his grandparents had died — the other two vaults had been merged into Vault 687, which right now was under Harry’s dad’s name. It wasn’t a particularly full vault: to Harry, it looked like it was some sort of allowance scheme for Harry’s father to use.

When Harry’s money had come back in time as one of his “magical possessions” according to how Morgana’s Clock worked, it had simply been added to the contents of the vault already there. The Unspeakables had separated out all of Harry’s own money and it had been held separately for a little while. But they must have gotten together with Fleamont Potter sometime during Harry’s month of intensive training because this document explained that the current contents of the vault had been transferred elsewhere and Harry needed to sign off on taking full ownership of the vault, under the Travers name instead of the Potter one. There was an addendum explaining that as a time traveller, if he died his vault would be sealed and later given over to any future versions of himself that might appear, otherwise it would be donated to the Department of Mysteries.

Harry supposed all of that was fairly straightforward, and so signed it as well.

The third form Harry had to deal with was about his alias — specifically the Gringotts cursebreaker team he was supposed to have lived with for the past five years or so. He had to fill out basic profiles for each of them, and then read through the basic description of mock-missions they’d come up with based on Harry’s list of adapted adventures and make any corrections that needed to be made.

Writing out the cursebreaker profiles was fun. The goblins had decided he’d been picked up by one of their larger teams — with eight people in the team, seven regular team members and an eighth slot people would be rotated out of every year. During Harry’s month of training with the DoM he’d been give help in setting up backstories for everyone he’d have to discuss. He’d then been surprised at random intervals with intense interrogations on various events in his fabricated history until he could repeat even minor details without having to think about it. All that was left now was to copy it all out.

Harry wrote out versions of his main Hogwarts teachers to begin with. Professor McGonagall became the young but stern Athena McGinn, Professor Snape was made into the nasty Salazar Snipe. He had a bear of a man named Rory Haggard on the team as well as the kindly healer of the group Persephone Sprig, who was a cross between Professor Sprout and Madame Pomfrey. Boring Percy Weatherby was a combination of both Professor Binns and Percy Weasley. Percy’s cousin Bill Weatherby was also on the team, and through him Harry could have Ron and the entire Weasley family in his reminiscing.

There was a whole list of people Harry mentally labelled the “defence professor stand-ins” who would have each been with the team only one year: thieving Quirinus Quemort (arrested for trying to steal from Gringotts), followed by the incompetent Gilderoy Hartley, then werewolf Romulus Lune, the rather mad Barty Mudd, and finally a man Harry based heavily on both Sirius and various Order members Harry had rather liked named Patrick Brown. He’d have Umbridge be a member of the “dark coven” that had kidnapped him.

The most complicated one to fill out was in writing up the final member’s vague description: instead of a made-up parallel for Professor Flitwick, Harry had gotten permission to use the name of Warwick Fleet: an actual half-goblin employee of Gringotts Harry had followed around for several days of his stint familiarizing himself with various Gringotts locations. Fleet was part of a rotation of cursebreakers that often did work with the Unspeakables and didn’t have any family or a permanent cursebreaker team to reveal the lie. Harry had asked the wizard for permission to use him in his fake “cursebreaker family” so that if he needed to ever introduce someone to a “member” of his team he would have a real person to produce. Fleet had been amused, and he had agreed readily.

Harry sighed in relief as he finally finished that information sheet. All the missions looked good, and Harry had created a colourful tapestry of individuals he’d been interacting with as a teen that he could tell stories about that would both allow him to share personal stories with people but still stay in keeping with his false identity.

The third sheet was a copy of a form he’d had to fill out before leaving the Department of Mysteries. This copy would be placed into his Gringotts records and sealed. It was a document legally changing his identity from Harry James Potter born 31 July 1980 to James Potter and Lily Evans, to Henry Sirius Travers born 31 October 1956 to Henry Travers and Lycoris Black. It was straightforward enough — he had to sign with both his original name and his new name, and then bloody his thumb and press a fingerprint to the round space just under his signatures.

This would enable him to not only legally refer to himself as Henry/Harry Travers even under truth spells or Veritaserum but would also allow him to legally claim things that had belonged to his supposed parents. That was an important part of proving his new identity, after all. People might realise something was fishy if he couldn’t inherit from his own claimed parents.

The next document was mostly-blank, with labels where things needed to be written. Reading down the labels that said things like Quidditch results and Year of event and probability of wagers, Harry slowly realised what this was. “You want me to write down stuff you can make money off of,” said Harry.

Ragnok nodded. “Any Quidditch matches, broom races, or other sports you attended or knew about, and their results. If you knew about any betting going on, and what the rates were, write those down as well.”

Harry nodded back to him and got to work. He borrowed a quill from the goblin and began with Quidditch. He’d only been to the one professional quidditch match, but Ron and the other Gryffindors did tend to bring up matches a lot — particularly match wins. Harry wrote down as many he could remember, and the odds (though he did note that he’d learnt most of this from a group of schoolkids). The years were a bit more difficult to fill out, but Ragnok just assured him when asked that if he couldn’t remember, he should just leave the year blank and they’d set the DoM to calculating when that win likely would occur.

Under Major Money-Making Events Harry wrote down both the 1994 Quidditch World Cup and the Triwizard Tournament the same year. He explained in his description that Ireland had won, but the Bulgarian Seeker had caught the Snitch anyway. He then told them the only people to bet on that possibility were sixteen-year-old Fred and George Weasley, but they’d been swindled out of their winnings. For the Tournament he described how he’d been made a fourth contestant by someone trying to kill him, and how that had changed the tasks. Harry forced himself to be painstakingly honest and wrote down every instance of cheating he knew both he and the other contestants had done. Then, he wrote down what he could remember of Hermione’s end-of-term fourth year Arithmancy project. She’d showed it to him because it involved him — it had two parts, the first calculating who might have won if the judges had been impartial and there’d been no cheating (Harry was still either first or second place), and the second part calculated how it might have gone if Harry hadn’t been in the tournament at all (Viktor would have won). Harry didn’t remember all the numbers, but surely the goblins had people who could do this better than a very smart fourth year student.

Down at the bottom of the form was a heading labelled Advice for Gringotts. Harry paused, tapping his quill on the parchment. In the end, he wrote out the attempted robbery back from his first year, explaining the vault had already been emptied and the thief in question had been possessed by a dark spirit who had then tried to steal the same artefact at Hogwarts. The goblins at least deserved a warning. With that last thought in mind, he also mentioned Bagman’s gambling problems and suggested that perhaps it was just better to keep him from ever gambling with Gringotts or other goblins to begin with because he wouldn’t pay them back.

Once finished Harry simply had to sign off on the form. He signed the document with his new identity, and a new line of text appeared under his signature. Harry had to squint to read it, but it informed him he would receive ten percent of any profits made from the information he’d provided. Wicked.

While he’d been writing Ragnok had wandered out and back into the office several times. Once Harry was finally done, throwing the quill down and leaning back in his chair with an explosive sigh, Ragnok was sitting again noting something down in a massive ledger. He accepted the forms from Harry and shuffled them back into the mountainous stack of parchment in his paper-tray. Ragnok handed Harry a new Gringotts key to his vault, and then picked up a small bell hidden behind the mug full of quills. He rang it briefly and then set the bell down again. His door opened to reveal what seemed to be a decades-younger version of Griphook, the goblin who’d taken Harry to his vault for the first time.

“Yes, sir?” the goblin asked. Ragnok smirked.

“I need you to cover a rather unusual custody debate, young Griphook. This young man has been cared for by one of Gringotts’ top cursebreaker teams for the past several years. We have just identified his actual family and he needs to be remanded into their custody so that the Ministry doesn’t begin squawking about kidnapping and similar unpleasantness. I’ve already contacted them by owl, but you are to handle his transfer of custody, do you understand? Do this well and there may be a pay raise or even a promotion in it for you.”

Griphook’s shiny black eyes gleamed and he bowed. “I am honoured to take care of this for Gringotts Bank,” said Griphook. He accepted a file from Ragnok and Harry stood.

This was it. Harry Travers began here.

“Follow me,” the young goblin said to Harry, turning and walking out of the office. Harry strode behind him, suitcase in hand. He was led to a large conference room and told to sit. He did so obediently, politely asking “Mr. Griphook” if he could have a drink of water, remembering to add goblin hand-signals as he spoke. It had been Fleet’s idea for Harry to call all goblins at the bank “Mr.” or “Ms.” Because all cursebreakers employed by Gringotts were subordinate to the goblins, this was how all Gringotts cursebreakers addressed Gringotts goblins. As a traumatized child he’d have picked up the inflections used by the adults around him once he began talking again, Fleet said.

Griphook looked surprised to be addressed in such a way by a wizard child but called for a lower-level goblin to fetch them both refreshments as they waited for the other parties to arrive. Arcturus got there first, his eyes sliding over Harry as though he’d never seen the boy before.

“So you’re my sister’s son, are you?” he asked brusquely. Harry nodded his head meekly but didn’t answer aloud. Arcturus harrumphed. “Well you do look like a Black,” he acceded.

Harry’s grandmother arrived right on the hour, Harry’s grandfather missing from her side. She smiled at Harry when she stepped in and hugged him, winking as she did so. “Oh, you poor boy!” she exclaimed. She drew back and regarded Arcturus.

“Lord Black,” she said coolly.

“Mrs. Potter,” he said dismissively in return. Both turned back to Griphook, who cleared his throat.

“It is my duty to inform you that this young man, one Henry Sirius Travers, has spent the past five years in the custody of Gringotts following his rescue from a group of Australian insurgents.” Griphook was reading from a piece of paper, glancing up at the witch and wizard watching him as he did so. “Following the revelation of his true identity his closest living relatives have been discovered and contacted to decide custody of this young wizard.”

He put the sheet of parchment down, looking up rather nervously. It was obvious he was the only one who didn’t know this was a charade. Harry felt rather sorry for him, but hey, if he botched it he probably wouldn’t get in trouble at least. “In light of this, it is asked that Arcturus Black and Euphemia Potter nee Travers discuss the custody of Henry Travers. Should you both wish to claim custody the case will be forwarded to the appropriate Ministry office and a hearing will be held. Should one of you not want custody, or if an agreement can be come to today, the papers will be filed with the Ministry by Gringotts as early as tomorrow morning.”

Arcturus’ eyes narrowed and he stood. “How do I know this is really my nephew?” he asked sharply. “You lot had him for five years. Are you saying his identity was never checked through magical means?”

Despite the Black’s displeased expression and angry tone, Harry could tell there was a glint of humour in his eye that made him look rather like Sirius when playing a prank. Harry kept his own face bland but let a bit of indignation creep in that this man who was supposed to be his uncle didn’t believe he was who he said he was. Griphook shuffled through Harry’s file.

“Yes, well, he was exposed to a large amount of dark magic during his time in the possession of the insurgents who killed his parents and kidnapped him, and so regular magical means of determining his name and heritage would not work until the dark magic was flushed from his system. In addition, the boy refused to speak at all, much less discuss his past, until this past winter, and so could not simply be asked for his name. After he revealed his name for the first time it was discovered that his system had been cleared of the magic, and so he was tested and proven to be Henry Sirius Travers, son of Henry Travers Sr. and Lycoris Black.”

Arcturus harrumphed again and sat back down.

“Well if Gringotts has no doubts it’s enough for me,” Euphemia said unconcernedly. “And I’d be glad to take custody of my nephew. I’ve always wanted more children, and Jamie would love an older brother to play Quidditch with.”

Arcturus frowned. “If he really is my nephew he will have inherited Lycoris’ vault and any inheritances she may have neglected to claim before her death. I want to know whether he can claim my sister’s vaults.”

Griphook nodded, clearly having expected that. “Please take this, Mister Travers,” he said, handing a closed ledger to Harry. There was a rounded indentation on the front of the ledger. “Place your wand in the circle and state your full name. Any vaults and other inheritances you are capable of claiming will be written into the ledger.”

Harry did as bid, saying, “My name is Henry Sirius Travers,” while pressing his wand to the indentation. Something sparked, and the pages inside the ledger glowed. Harry opened it slowly.

At the top was Vault 687. Just below it was Vault 1242, listed as a business vault and nothing else. Harry supposed that was the vault with the money for the twins. Under both of those was a bold black line, the words Inherited from Lycoris Black just below the line. It listed a small personal vault with only a little bit of money in it (only one hundred fifty galleons) but under that was a bracketed list entitled Bequeathed by Sirius Black II, father, to Lycoris Black, daughter. This list had a vault with an insane number of galleons in it, an apartment in Birmingham, and a seaside cottage in southern Ireland. There was a second bolded line that separated out what he’d inherited from his ‘father’ Henry Travers. This one only had a single vault, but it had a decent amount of money and “assorted items” inside it.

Harry passed the ledger around the table when Griphook told him to. Euphemia just nodded thoughtfully, but Arcturus scowled.

“My wife’s health will not permit a rambunctious child in our home,” he said. “It’s why we moved away from the main family to France. But if you take custody of my nephew I want access to him.”

Euphemia hummed consideringly. “I suppose we can come to an arrangement.”

They began a very polite argument that mostly consisted of how often Harry would visit Arcturus, certain events and such that the Blacks would handle instead of the Potters, and somehow Arcturus wrangled permission to manage Harry’s finances for him until he was seventeen. Oh, because Harry was over the age of eleven Arcturus couldn’t remove anything without Harry’s permission, but he would be able to invest for Harry and move his money around.

At the end of this very intensely mannerly discussion Griphook was sweating and Harry was a bit wide-eyed himself without even having to fake it. He hadn’t known all of this was going to happen. But it never actually came to more than snide insults and eventually they signed a contract listing out everything they’d discussed. The contract glowed once both signatures were on it and Griphook had signed as well as the Gringotts Representative.

“Thank you for doing business with Gringotts, have a pleasant day,” the goblin said, summoning a guard to escort the three humans back to the main Entrance Hall of the bank. Harry walked out at Euphemia’s side as Arcturus went over to floo out of the bank straight to his home. Harry grinned in the sunlight.

“It’s over,” he breathed out. Euphemia grinned at him.

“Not quite yet, it’s not,” she disagreed. “I have to introduce my darling nephew to the rest of my family.”

Before Harry could object they’d reached the Diagon Alley apparition zone, and Euphemia grasped Harry by the arm and they both vanished. Harry grimaced a bit as they landed. No matter how many times he was side-along apparated it didn’t seem to get any less unpleasant.

Still faintly queasy from the side-along apparition, Harry opened his eyes. They were standing arm in arm in a flower-lined lane under a brilliant blue sky. The sun shone brightly overhead. Cottages stood on either side of the narrow road, flowery curtains covering their windows. A short way ahead of them, a cluster of unlit old-fashioned streetlamps indicated the centre of the village.

They walked forwards together, a gentle spring breeze caressing their faces as they passed more cottages. “The Potter family has lived here for generations,” Euphemia said. “There’s the family manor just outside town — it’s a bit young for a wizarding estate, only build in the late seventeen-hundreds. It’s called Potter Manse and your great-great-grandfather was exceedingly proud of the additions he made to it in the mid-nineteenth century. Aside from my husband, son, and I, my father-in-law also lives at the Manse. Amusingly enough, he’s also named Henry.”

Harry remembered what Bode had said about Harry being a nickname for Henry. Had James named his son after his, perhaps, recently-deceased grandfather?

Then the little lane along which they were walking curved to the left and the heart of the village, a small square, was revealed to them. there was what looked like a war memorial in the middle of the square, a tall obelisk inscribed with names. There were several shops, a post office, a pub, and a little church whose stained-glass windows were glowing jewel-bright from the reflection of the sunlight across the square. His grandmother began talking again.

“That gaudy obelisk used to be a lovely statue that depicted some muggle war hero on a horse. When a magical person looked at it long enough it would transform into a depiction of Godric Gryffindor. He came from here, you know. That’s why the town’s called Godric’s Hollow. But the bombing in the muggle war they had at the same time as Grindelwald’s second war destroyed the old statue, so the muggles put up a war memorial instead. We’ve not been able to find a good wizarding sculptor to redo our half of the statue, unfortunately.”

They walked across the cobblestoned square. Villagers were crisscrossing in front of them, calling out cheerfully to Euphemia. She replied with equal good humour but kept on walking. Nobody bothered her as they went except to greet “Missus Potter”. They heard a snatch of laughter and old music (sixties rock by the sound of it) as the pub door opened and closed; the little church was silent and empty by contrast.

“Every Potter who’s ever lived has been buried in the graveyard behind that church,” Euphemia told him softly in a more solemn tone than she’d been using before. “They’ve got a private family crypt only family members can access.”

Harry frowned, thinking that through. “Do…Do you think my—” He paused, thought through what he wanted to say. “What do you think would happen if the only living Potter was a baby?” he asked carefully.

Euphemia’s eyes widened, and Harry knew she’d understood his unspoken question. “Well, I suppose the poor babe’s parents would be put in the main part of the cemetery with everyone else,” she said briskly. She hurried Harry past the church and out of the square, chattering in a nervous sort of way.

 “Your Uncle Flea’s only cousins live here in town, down the road a bit. Charlus and his wife Dorea, and their son Caelum. You’ll meet Charlus and Dorea at supper. It’s customary for young Potters to grow up in the manse but then move to the village for a while as young men — or even farther, I know Charlus’ father moved all the way to London — but they almost always come back. The house Charlus is living in now was the one Flea lived in, actually, but Dorea wanted her own home where she could be lady of the house, so they turned the bachelor pad into more of a little home. I expect they’ll move out when James is grown, though. He’ll likely live there at least until he’s married.”

Or until a madman comes knocking at the door, Harry realised in a daze. Harry gazed around at the cottages they were passing now: at the front doors, their shining tile roofs, and their front porches, wondering whether he remembered any of them, knowing deep inside that it was impossible, that even if he had been born and raised in one of these cottages he’d been only just over a year old when he was forced to leave this place forever. It was sobering, to realise this was his home. These villagers might have called out to Harry’s mother the same way they did to Euphemia. Perhaps Harry would have spent time in that little church at Christmas.

Euphemia walked Harry down a slightly wider street leading out of the village in the opposite direction from which they had entered. Harry could see the point where the cottages ended and the lane turned into open country again. They walked sedately down the road, past more windows hidden with frowsy curtains, people coming in and out of houses or doing gardening in the front lawn. Euphemia pointed to the large two-story house at the very end of this row of cottages as they passed it.

“That’s where Charlus and his family live right now. When Flea bought it the house was just another cottage, but Cousin Charlus added a second story when he and Dorea moved in.”

Harry knew from reading the accounts of that night with Hermione that in the future this house would have a massive hole in the roof where Voldemort’s Killing Curse had backfired. He’d seen a black-and-white picture, once, that revealed a house entirely covered in dark ivy, surrounded by rubble and waist-high grass.

But right now, it was just another house like the cottages beside it. The roof had grass growing on it, and a little chimney coming out of the middle. There were three windows on each floor facing the road, and the front door had been painted a pale green. The hedge was neatly trimmed, the grass was properly cut, and the massive overgrowth of ivy in the future was right now reduced to three trellises of climbing roses set up between each of the windows and at the end of the house.

Harry took a dazed step forwards and grasped the shiny black iron gate. It was likely rusted badly in Harry’s time, having been abandoned for fourteen years. Not like now. Now everything was whole. He didn’t try to open it, instead simply wishing to hold some part of the house.

Euphemia wrapped a hand around his shoulders.

“Harry?” she asked gently. He took a violent step back, shutting his eyes and clearing his mind as he’d been taught. He boxed away all the grief and wonder and horror combined that seeing the house where his parents would one day die arose in him and turned determinedly to his grandmother.

“Let’s keep going,” he said. “I’d like to get unpacked before lunch.”

 

[1] Gone with the Wind, 1939

Chapter Text

“Let’s keep going,” he said. “I’d like to get unpacked before lunch.”

She smiled uncertainly. “Of course, dear,” Euphemia agreed. They began walking away from the main village of Godric’s Hollow, the paved road under their feet turning to packed rubble and earth along the way. Harry’s eyes widened when he saw the house. That must be it — it was the only house Harry could see around. And what a house it was.

It was a large stone-and-brick building with a dark tiled roof. There were two floors from what Harry could tell, and each floor had at least six windows across the front. There was a low wall that went around the front and one side of the manse separating the house from a large green lawn, freshly mowed. Harry’s keen eyes could pick out small stone outbuildings a half a mile or so away, and a sheep wandering the property revealed what those outbuildings might house. Harry and Euphemia came up to the house from the side; a stone lane met up with the country road and following it swung them in an arch around the low wall towards the front door.

Harry could see small patches of bright flowers, lovingly tended, growing in circular groups between the low wall and the lane leading up to the door of the manor house. Euphemia walked up to the door and tapped the doorknob with her wand. It swung open.

“We’ll have to get your wand keyed in to the doors at the house, Harry,” she said. “Remind me later we need to do that before bed tonight.”

Harry nodded, and at the last minute remembered to add a “Yes, Aunt Euphie.”

He was given the grand tour around the house. The first floor had a small dining room right off the front door with a study just past it, sitting and drawing rooms that were cater-cornered at the front left and back right of the house, and a large kitchen area behind the staircase that came down just across from the front door. Going up the staircase he was shown the three “adult” bedrooms — one belonging to Euphemia and Flea, a second to Flea’s father Henry, and the third was used by Charlus and Dorea whenever they stayed over for the night. Euphemia showed him a secret way through an enchanted mirror that allowed you to go from the front of the second floor to the back. Ordinarily, she told him, you could only get to the last three rooms on the second floor from a staircase in the kitchen. This mirror was only one-way for people under the age of 21, due to how the enchantments had been designed.

The back area had James’ room, the room Cousin Caelum stayed over in, and a currently unoccupied bedroom. Harry was told to look it over and see if he liked it. It was nice enough, Harry thought. The large double bed was covered in plain white sheets and a dark auburn comforter all under a black-and-white quilt. There was a wardrobe to one side of the bed. The room also had a fireplace, a small vanity, and a fainting couch over to one side of the room. When Harry came out and Euphemia asked how he’d liked it he just shrugged. “I don’t really care what my room looks like,” he said. “Having a room is good enough for me.”

Euphemia laughed at him and called him precious. Then, she led him back down the stairs to the kitchen and showed him the pantry and mud room that led outside. They even nipped out the back door and glanced down into the cellar that could only be gotten to from outside the house. Once they were back inside Harry was led up the main staircase again, and to a small door between Euphemia’s room and Old Henry’s room that Harry had assumed was a closet. It turned out to be a spiralled staircase leading up to an attic-area that had wizard-expanded space to make it useable.

This floor had a library, a potions lab, and four guest bedrooms. An old man stuck his head out of the potions lab when they came up. He looked a great deal like Fleamont, only his messy hair was snow-white and his eyes were blue instead of hazel. Harry thought he vaguely recognized him from the Mirror of Erised in first year, and Harry realised with a start that this was his great-grandfather.

“Wasn’t expecting you back so soon, lass,” Henry said grumpily.

“And I wasn’t expecting you to be brewing today,” Euphemia retorted. “Didn’t Healer Bones say you weren’t to be doing anything strenuous?”

“It’s not a complicated potion,” Henry protested with annoyance clear on his face. But there was a shiftiness present too that had Euphemia pushing past him to see what he was doing.

She inhaled deeply, closing her eyes. “Purple berry dye, burnt demiguise hair, and Quintaped bile as an enhancer... Why are you brewing a prank potion, Henry Potter?”

The man scowled at her like a child whose hand had been caught in the cookie jar, crossing his arms in front of him.

“’S for Jamie,” he grumbled. “Poor lad’s been miserable over his soulmate ignoring him. I thought I’d send him something to help cheer him up. You know pranking always makes him feel better.”

“Prank who?” Euphemia asked warily. “If I get one more letter from Horace Slughorn complaining that his punishments hardly stick when Jamie’s grandfather’s helping him with pranks—”

“Oh, not the Slytherins,” Henry said hastily. “He got the idea that if he pranked his soulmate, she at least wouldn’t be ignoring him anymore. So he asked me for a potion to change her hair to purple.” He then muttered under his breath, “Little muggle-raised princess who thinks she knows better than her Professors.”

“That doesn’t sound like a good idea to me.”

It was only when the other two turned to stare at him that Harry realised he was the one who’d spoken.

“What? Why not?” Henry asked testily.

Harry blinked, but having drawn attention to himself he supposed he might as well justify his comment. He grimaced, and he spoke slowly in that strange jumble of accents he’d accumulated as part of his backstory. “Well, if she’s a little girl, won’t pranking her just make her more upset? If she’s ignoring her soulmate, perhaps James should figure out why she’s ignoring him and try to make up for whatever he did. I mean, what if pranking her doesn’t make her pay attention to him more? Then he’s still ignored and he’s got detention or whatnot on top of everything else.”

Henry huffed. “Suppose you have a point,” he said grudgingly. “I’ll tell him to use it on someone else. And more discreetly, so Horace Slughorn doesn’t send you another letter, Euphie.” Then Henry squinted at Harry. “Who’s this, anyway?”

“My nephew. Apparently my brother Henry went and had a son while he was off at the other end of the world. Harry here was just properly identified and sent back to England, so now he’ll be living here with us. I was just about to let him pick out a bedroom.”

Henry hummed thoughtfully. “You like brewing potions, boy?” he asked him. Harry blinked. He started to sign his answer, and then stopped, as if he’d suddenly remembered to speak aloud. Then, he said hesitantly, “Um…I suppose it’s alright. I’m not very good at it, though.”

The old man harrumphed. “Well, perhaps you can help me brew one day. I’ve got to go now, the potion’s about to boil over.” And he slammed the door in both of their faces. Euphemia just laughed.

“That’s Old Henry for you. It’ll be fun, brewing with him. He’s one of the best potioneers in the family, you know.”

Harry was still a bit dazed from the encounter. “Does a talent at potions run in the Potter family?”

Euphemia nodded. “Oh, they’re famous for it. Never been titled, don’t hold any real weight in society as a whole, but this family has been inventing new potions for generations. Old Henry was more interested in politics than potions as a younger man, but now that the healers are all telling him to slow down he’s gone back to brewing a lot.”

Harry considered this sourly. He wondered if Snape had known his family was famous for being both good at and fond of potions. It put the way the man treated him in class and allowed others to sabotage him in a whole new light. Well, Harry thought, I’m well shot of him. Maybe here I can learn to love potions like my family seems to. He’d been excited for potions before his first class, after all. It was Snape who’d squashed that with his nastiness and bullying.

As he thought about it all Harry was showed the upstairs bedrooms. Euphemia said he could choose either the room downstairs or one of these rooms as his personal one. These were smaller than the bedroom downstairs but were just as nice-looking. Still had double beds, but the wardrobes were narrower and smaller with space-expanded interiors. There weren’t vanities in any of these rooms. Instead two had small old-fashioned desks and the other two had chests of drawers. Harry did like the view from the windows in one room in particular, he thought to himself.

It was the one at the back of the house, past the potions lab and library. The little room had a private bath and the bedroom itself was half under the eaves of the house, making the roof sloped. The back end of the roof met up with a large window, a wide cushioned shelf under the window creating a little reading nook. The wardrobe was small and fat, almost more of a cabinet than a wardrobe…until he opened it up to reveal its insides were much larger than its outsides. This was one of the rooms with a desk, and it was the same sort Harry had in his suitcase — a roll-top desk with little shelves inside for parchment and ink bottles and other writing supplies.

Harry also liked that the room was almost hidden from the rest of the house: the only way in was through the library, and whoever had set up the library decided having a door there was no reason not to add extra shelves and so while not actually disguised to look like a shelf, the door did have a bookshelf affixed to the back which camouflaged it a little.

Once Harry had chosen a room Euphemia left him to “get settled in”, telling him she’d send their elf Taffy up to fetch him when it was time for lunch.

It was difficult for Harry to decide what he would take out of his suitcase and what to leave in. He knew he needed to leave anything that was noticeably from the future in his suitcase: Bode had assured him that the key had been specially charmed so only he could use it without his fingers being burnt off, and even if somebody negated that charm they still couldn’t open the apartment portion of the suitcase. It was the safest place for anything that didn’t belong in this time.

So while he took out the assignments he’d gotten from the Unspeakables and put them on his desk, he left the letters alone. Any knickknacks and books that had no date on them could come out, but he checked every one of the books from his time to make sure the publication date was 1972 or earlier. If it wasn’t, then it stayed on a shelf in his suitcase. He brought out the altered version of his photo album and set it on the bedside table.

Then, since the clock hanging on the wall told him there was still an hour or two before lunch, Harry sat down at his desk to do some of his OWLs assignments. Impulsively, he decided to start with his next potions essay. Harry worked through his potions essay, his herbology and transfiguration assignments, and was halfway through his most recent assigned theory reading for defence when a female house elf popped into Harry’s new room.

It was smaller and slighter than Dobby, but it had a similarly long nose. Its large round eyes were blue, and it wore what looked like a red embroidered cloth napkin as a toga.

“Mistress Euphie is saying that it is time for lunch, young master!” the elf squeaked.

Harry nodded, standing and setting his book aside. “Thanks,” he said in reply. Thankfully this elf didn’t burst into hysterical tears like Dobby was prone to either. Instead it just nodded and vanished again.

The teenager made his way down the two flights of stairs to the ground floor, but a glance into the dining room revealed it was empty. Harry wandered to the back of the house towards the kitchen. There he found his grandmother and great-grandfather sitting together at the kitchen table eating sandwiches. Euphie beckoned for Harry to join them.

As they all ate Euphie and Henry wanted to know how Harry was settling in. Henry wanted to know if Harry had gone exploring yet. Harry shrugged and shyly admitted he’d been doing his homework assignments instead.

He had to explain his correspondence schooling, and Henry was impressed he was doing even a correspondence course with Chrónia Akadimía, but asked if he was planning to continue it now that he wasn’t travelling all over. “You could go to Hogwarts, you know. Euphie’s boy Jamie is a first year there right now.”

Harry just smiled and agreed that would be nice, but he had to get through this term’s worth of Chrónia classes first. All the while he was talking, he had to keep reminding himself to either sign while talking, or begin signing, stop, and then talk as if he’d prefer to not speak aloud. And then, when he did speak, he had to use that Australian-English-goblin accent he’d acquired while preparing his backstory. It was kind of complicated, but he’d gotten used to it over the past month (or more, but time turner use had thoroughly scrambled Harry’s ability to gauge how much time had actually passed) with the Unspeakables, so Harry managed to make it all look and sound natural enough.

After lunch Henry wandered off muttering about needing to “check on the sick mooncalves”, and Euphemia turned to Harry and asked how he was really doing.

“You took a funny turn out by Charlus and Dorea’s house. Are you really alright?”

Harry nodded. “Yes, I just… I just realised that was the house I’d lived in — as a baby, I mean. When my parents were alive.”

Euphemia let out a soft “oh” and changed the subject to Harry’s fictional correspondence lessons. “I know you’re actually studying with the Unspeakables. Are you really doing long-distance lessons, or do you need to visit in person?” Harry told her what Rowena had told him: that he was required to continue coming to the Department for at least a few hours a day until he was either proficient in Occlumency or until he started Hogwarts in September. They would also prefer him to come and do at least some of his lessons in person so that he could fit more into shorter amounts of time, but that part was more flexible.

After a bit of discussion, they agreed that Harry would spend the mornings at the Ministry. He would leave before the sun was up, eat breakfast at the DoM, and do lessons with the Unspeakables until lunch, when he would come home. Euphemia showed him where the house Floo was (in the sitting room) and where the Floo powder was stored (in a china vase on the fireplace mantle). While they were in the sitting room Fleamont Flooed in from somewhere. He kissed his wife on the cheek and exclaimed over Harry’s presence, asking him eagerly how he’d been settling in and how he liked the house. Harry answered as best as he could but thankfully Fleamont was more than capable of carrying the conversation without Harry really having to say too much. At one point they migrated to the kitchen so Fleamont could begin to prepare supper. Apparently while their elf Taffy could cook she rarely did so; instead the elf helped care for the potions ingredient garden and the livestock while the male Potters usually cooked.

“It’s just like potion brewing, really,” Fleamont said cheerfully, and Harry blinked. He’d never thought of it like that before. He shyly suggested he could help cook sometime.

“I don’t know how to use a wizarding kitchen, but I’m sure it’s not that different from muggle cooking.”

His grandfather was enthusiastic in his agreement, loudly proclaiming they’d have to cook together sometime. Flea then spent the rest of his time preparing supper interrogating Harry on what sort of meals he was used to cooking, the things he enjoyed preparing, and his favourite foods. It was…really nice, having someone so interested and pleased over something that had been Harry’s job at the Dursleys’ since he was a kid. The Dursleys never cared so long as the food was edible, and Uncle Vernon had hated it the few times Harry tried to experiment with unusual recipes. His grandfather, on the other hand, seemed the sort to eagerly help him with all experimenting.

Supper was held in the dining room instead of the kitchen, and all the Potters except James and Cousin Caelum were in attendance. Those two were at Hogwarts — James in first year Gryffindor and Caelum in seventh year Ravenclaw. Charlus was rather like a younger Henry, and accepted Harry easily enough after asking him a few questions about places he'd visited and such. Charlus' wife Dorea, on the other hand, was another story.

She didn't regard him with suspicion, exactly, but she watched him as if he was a puzzle. It was revealed that Dorea was a Black just like Harry's "mother", and so was Harry's cousin twice removed, or something like. From the names the others were dropping Harry was able to piece together that Dorea was Sirius's aunt, Walburga's younger sister. Harry supposed Gus had been right in making him memorize the Black Family Tree.

No matter what he said she continued to regard him with a narrow-eyed, thoughtful expression. It was enough to make Harry feel a bit paranoid. He was doubly careful to sign almost as much as he spoke, and was surprised to learn she knew sign language, so he simply stopped talking to her aloud at all, because his odd accent made her look at him cross-eyed.

All through dinner Harry avoided direct eye contact with her and cleared his mind. Dorea Potter nee Black hadn’t been on the list of British and international Legilimens he needed to look out for, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t use Legilimency. She just might be more discreet about it than figures with more political clout to get out of trouble if caught using it.

Thankfully, Harry’s other new relatives had plenty to talk about: regaling him with family tales and funny stories from their youths and asking for stories of Harry’s in return. It was almost enough to distract him from Dorea’s probing focus on him—and forcing Dorea to act as sign-translator because Harry acted too overwhelmed to speak aloud distracted her a bit. And fortunately, the after-dinner activity the Potters apparently almost always took part in was more than enough to distract the both of them.

He’d not missed a beat when Old Henry asked how he was on a broom.

“I’m a fair flyer,” he’d signed, and Dorea translated. The crotchety old man eyed him as though scenting the understatement.

“Ever played Quidditch? I know they do bloody Quodpot in the Americas; down south they still play proper broom sports, don’t they?”

Startled, Harry nodded. He actually spoke aloud this time, though slowly and quietly. “Oh — yes. And I usually play Seeker, in pick-up games. I’m a fair Beater as well, though.”

“Well, that’s good,” Flea said cheerfully. “We’ve not had a Seeker type in ages. Jamie can be a Seeker in a pinch, but he’s really more of a Chaser, that boy.” He stood. “Well, if you’re a Seeker you can use the old Silver Arrow. I’m a Beater myself.”

“Uh…what?”

Everyone else was getting up, so Harry got up as well.

“We have a bit of a pick-up Quidditch match in the evenings,” Charlus told him. “Or sometimes we play Shuntbumps or Swivenhodge, but the former we only play when the children are home and the latter we only play when Farmer Jones up the road trades us a hog for some sheep.”

“I’ve not heard of any of those but Quidditch,” Harry told him as he was led by the adults out the front door and around the house to a broom shed.

Euphie laughed. “That’s not surprising,” she said. “I know Swivenhodge is only played in England and Scotland.”

Dorea looked surprised. “I thought Shuntbumps would be played in Australia, at least. It is a popular children’s game.”

“Ah, well he didn’t live in Australia that long, Dee,” Euphie rejoined.

Harry nodded and interjected, “Yes, we were only there a year or so. Before that we had a house in New Zealand but travelled an awful lot. I didn’t have many friends as a kid. What is Shuntbumps anyway?” he asked plaintively, growing weary of all this discussion going over his head.

Old Henry came up beside him. “Ever heard of that muggle game — hmm, dodge ball, I think it’s called?”

Harry nodded slowly.

“Well it’s rather like that, only there’s no ball and you’re on a broomstick. Nobody flies very high, of course, and we’re all trying to knock each other off our brooms. But like Charlie boy said, we don’t play unless the children are here.”

“And we sit out,” Dorea said huffily. “Knocking each other around on broomsticks is all well and good when you’re a lass, but it’s too undignified for grown women. Best left for men and children.”

“As you say,” Henry said agreeably, as though she’d said this many times before.

As Fleamont had said, Harry was presented with a Silver Arrow from the shed. The others all divided up old Comet and Nimbus models — old to Harry, anyway. The newest broom, which Flea said was James’s (as he was only a first year, it had been left home), was only a Nimbus 1000. Those were the very first brooms in the Nimbus line and had been released in 1967. Sure, in 1972 that meant the broom was only just five years old, but to Harry, who’d ridden the version that had three decades of improvement over this one, it seemed very old indeed.

Harry was startled to find a good dozen or so individuals carrying brooms had shown up in the field behind Potter Manse that was marked off as an informal Quidditch pitch. From conversation around, he learned that the Potters went flying together nearly every evening, unless serious business was afoot. It was so ingrained in the culture of Godric’s Hollow wizard-folk, in fact, that it was quite common for people wanting to play a good game of Quidditch to show up and play after supper even if the Potters weren’t participating that evening.

There was a lot of exclaiming over Harry, and people who’d greeted Euphemia without further conversation that morning bombarded both his grandmother and Harry himself with questions now. Euphie was in her element, gaily discussing her “nephew” with everyone. Harry was more reticent, but answered a few questions put to him about where he’d been and what sort of schooling he’d had up until now. Well, for a definition of answered. Mostly he signed and dragged Dorea into translating. She bore it with a long-suffering air. Many were impressed that Harry was apparently a student of Chrónia. The Unspeakables had been right, Harry reflected. Nobody seemed to know where it was or what criteria it followed for student intake, but everyone had at least heard of the “prestigious Greek school” and had an opinion on it.

Then the game was organized. Old Henry was Keeper for the Potter side, against a barrel-chested young man who looked to be a recent Hogwarts graduate. Fleamont and Dorea were Beaters, while Charlus and Euphemia were Chasers along with a lady from town who chattered merrily with Dorea before the game began. Their opponents were a motley lot: some farmers, a shopkeeper, and a little slip of a girl who looked to be about nine as third Chaser. Harry’s opponent as Seeker was built more like Krum than like Harry himself—big and bulky with sloped shoulders. The man introduced himself as Sam from the magical bookshop in town and clapped Harry on the shoulders companionably.

“Don’t feel too bad when I get the Snitch,” Sam said.

Harry gave him a startled glare, his surprise having him forget to sign instead of speaking aloud. “And what makes you so sure you’ll get it?” he asked sharply.

Sam rolled his eyes. “You look like a stiff breeze could blow you over, kid. And I’ve got the record for Quidditch victories here on the green. I usually take your spot, actually, when Jamie and Caelum aren’t home. So like I said, don’t feel too bad when I win. I always do.”

Harry had to repress a smirk. This Sam might have the record for informal games here, but the only game Harry ever lost was because he’d been attacked by Dementors, and he was the youngest Seeker in a century. He’d enjoy showing this self-satisfied fellow the ropes.

Funnily enough, the old author of Harry’s history textbook refereed the game. Harry hadn’t known anything about Bathilda Bagshot, but apparently she lived in Godric’s Hollow not too far from the house currently lived in by Charlus and Dorea. And here she was now holding her wand up and getting set to release the balls for the start of the game.

It was a comical sight.

She was a little woman, even older than Dumbledore, and wrapped in half a dozen shawls over her floral-patterned robes. Old Bathilda looked so old she made Henry seem young, despite the two being of similar ages. Her eyes were pale but still sharp, and she held her wand like she was conducting troops on a field. You’d expect her to have a soft, grandmotherly voice based on her appearance, but instead, when the players were all on their brooms and she cried out “Game start!” she had a deep booming voice that reverberated around the field.

The players all took off on their brooms at her shout. The group of children watching from up on a nearby hill began cheering. Some wit had cast a Sonorous charm on himself and was narrating the game of Potter versus Village in a manner very reminiscent of Lee Jordan.

“And it’s Euphie Potter in possession — passing to her cousin-in-law — Maria from the village team trying to block — OUCH! Looks like that hurt! Dorea Potter just proved once again that terrifying things come in pretty packages, folks. Never mess with a Black when dealing in politics or Quidditch. She packs a mean Bludger and a meaner bludgeoning hex!”

Harry sniggered as he swooped above the main game on the Silver Arrow. He’d been a bit apprehensive about getting on such an old broom. He remembered Madame Hooch mentioning the Silver Arrow line when he’d gotten his Firebolt, and he knew it must have been old if she’d learnt to fly on one. But it flew really, really well. Not quite as good as his Firebolt — it was slightly slower, for one, and seemed to have poor-quality braking charms as well. But if Harry had to rank it, he’d put it between his Nimbus 2000 and the Firebolt in terms of speed and maneuverability.

Sam for the other team was flying back and forth in an old search pattern Harry recognized as the first one Oliver Wood had taught him; it was a classic Seeker pattern from Hogwarts plays, though rarely used in professional matches. Because Harry was so good Wood had progressed quickly into teaching him more complex plays he could use to mess with the other team even as he searched for the Snitch. As such, Harry was occasionally ducking into the main play-zone when the other team was in possession. He’d drop down, do a low-level search pattern right in the way of the other team’s Chasers, and fly back up above before the other team’s Beaters could target him easily. The commentator noticed his odd flight pattern, but only spared it a brief comment.

“And Euphie’s nephew definitely has some proper Seeker training — that’s a relatively easy professional-level Seeker search pattern, for you kiddies up on the hill. Only try that with adults watching so they can catch you if you ram someone by accident. Back to the game, William from the village team is in possession, about to reach the Potter goal posts — He throws but Henry Potter catches and throws it to his nephew Charlus. Potter team in possession. And that’s a Bludger from Amelius that Charlus just dodged — oh, it’s coming back now — and Charlus dodges again! And his wife catches the bludger and sends it back at Amelius — I told you that Black was dangerous, Lee! Potter team scores as the Seekers are making a dive — MERLIN’S BEARD, LOOK AT THAT TRAVERS BOY FLY!”

Sam had dived suddenly in the middle of a play, and Harry came tearing after him. He realised halfway down that Sam was trying to catch him out with a Wronski Feint. Not only was Sam just flying straight down, not as though he was pursuing anything, but Harry caught a fluttering glint of gold out of the corner of his eye. The Snitch was hovering just under a goalpost towards Harry’s side of the field. He could probably pull out now and give chase, but Sam would notice and follow right after. Harry instead continued to follow Sam into the dive but began to drift to the side marginally as he dove, as though he couldn’t hold a dive that steep. Just before he hit the ground he veered the old broom sharply towards the goal posts and streaked across the field.

There was a thud behind him, but Harry didn’t look back. He stretched his hand out and plucked the Snitch out of the air but was going so fast he had to loop around the goalposts two more times before he could come to a halt. The Silver Arrow definitely didn’t brake as readily as the Firebolt.

The commentator guy was still shouting about Harry’s move — apparently Sam had noticed him pulling to the side, and forgot to pull out of the dive himself, so technically Harry had turned the Feint back on him. But Harry didn’t pay any attention to that.

“Fair flyer, you said!” Old Henry howled, flying over to Harry on his own Comet. “You should play professional, boy!”

Harry grinned at him. “I may have forgotten to mention that I was also the youngest known Seeker to play on an official team in about…” he mentally calculated the difference “…seventy-five years when I used to play games with the Gringotts teams.”

Henry laughed so hard he nearly fell off his broom, and Dorea flew over.

“Maybe you’ll be sorted into Slytherin when you go to Hogwarts,” she laughed. “I could use another snake in this family of Ravenclaws and Gryffindors.”

Harry kept his face innocent and unknowing and spoke aloud for maximum effect, “What does it matter?”

Everyone within hearing turned to look at him oddly.

“What does it matter?” Dorea gasped out.

Harry nodded solemnly. “Yes, the cursebreakers always used to make a big deal about Houses if they attended Hogwarts. I really don’t understand it, though. I mean, a manky old hat determines your personality at age eleven and everyone judges you on that for years afterwards. It’s silly.”

He was actually quoting Rowena on a rant she’d gone off on a week or so ago about House prejudice in conjunction with her name and being in Gryffindor. He completely understood her point, and so had no problems touting that as if it was his opinion. It was worth it to see Dorea try to explain exactly why Houses were important though. She was so indignant she forgot to look puzzled by him.

As they all landed Charlus clapped him on the back. “Good flying, cousin!” he exclaimed. “I couldn’t believe my eyes when you shot off like that. A perfect ninety-degree turn; nobody’ll believe me down at the pub.”

“They will if I back you up!”

It was the guy who’d commentated the match. He held out a hand for Harry to shake. “I’m Phillip Blishen. My family runs the pub and firewhisky brewery down in town. Blishen’s Firewhisky — maybe you’ve heard of it?”

Harry’s eyebrows went up as his hand was vigorously shaken. He pulled it back to sign his answer. Dorea, who was still beside him, replied for him. “I’m fifteen,” he pointed out. “And this is my first time in England. I grew up as a Gringotts ward, so I mostly lived in Egypt and various places in Oceania as a kid. My parents drank firewhisky on occasion, but it’s not like I paid attention to the label when I couldn’t have any myself.”

The man looked thrown for a moment by the signing, but once Dorea had finished translating he shook it off and shrugged. “Shame,” Phillip Blishen said blithely. “We’ll hold your seventeenth birthday at the pub, then, and you can try it.”

“His birthday’s in October, Phillip, so he’ll be at Hogwarts,” Euphemia said, stepping forwards with a disapproving expression. “And you’ll not be encouraging my nephew to get drunk the day he turns seventeen. Not on your whisky.”

Harry looked up at her, nonplussed. “What’s wrong with his whisky?” he signed. Charlus laughed.

“Nothing’s wrong with it, but it does make you breathe fire for a couple hours afterwards. The weaker your alcohol tolerance the longer it lasts.”

Harry wrinkled his nose. “Oh,” he mouthed silently. The adults all laughed.

Most of the villagers went off down the country road as night began to fall, chivvying sleepy children along. Charlus and Dorea went with them, and Euphemia led Harry to the drawing room where Henry and Fleamont were having cigars and discussing the match. Euphemia left Harry with them, giving him a reminder to not stay up too late, and then vanished. Harry, a tad surprised, stood looking after her for a few minutes until his grandfather spoke.

“The ladies never join us in the evenings,” Fleamont told him. “If Dorea was here the pair of them would go to the sitting room or up to the library to do needlework and talk, but well-bred witches are not fond of the smell of cigar smoke.”

He took a puff of his cigar as if to emphasize the point. Old Henry had laid aside his own cigar and taken out a long-fluted pipe instead, and he was determinedly blowing smoke-rings. Harry sat slowly.

“So…we just talk until bed?”

Old Henry nodded. Then, he added around his pipe, “Or until one of you youngsters drops off, anyhow. So what did you think of the game, boy? Have fun?”

Harry nodded. “It was brilliant,” he agreed.

Henry hummed around his pipe, his blue eyes considering. “And you’ve been settling in nicely? From what young Monty has been telling me you spent the past few years mostly living out of a suitcase. It must be an unusual change.”

It took Harry a moment to remember that Monty was one of his grandfather’s nicknames. Harry looked at his great-grandfather and smiled. “Oh, I love it here,” he said. “It’s like having a home, and it’s been far too long since I had one of those.”

Henry regarded him with a sad smile and Fleamont leaned over to give him a hug. In that moment, Harry knew he’d found a new memory if he needed to conjure his Patronus again in the future. For the first time ever, he had his family.

And that was enough for him.

Chapter Text

Harry woke up the next morning before it was light outside. He made his way softly down the spiral staircase to the second floor and then ghosted down the main staircase just as quietly. He had a small bag he’d been given by Euphemia that held his finished assignments and the heavy cloak that marked him as affiliated with the Department of Mysteries. When Harry reached the Floo he first pulled out the cloak and put it on, then threw some of the green powder into the large fireplace.

“Ministry for Magic!” he called out as softly as possible. He was whirled through the green flames and came stumbling out into the Ministry Atrium.

It was mostly empty at this particularly early point in the morning, only one or two bleary-eyed individuals Flooing or Apparating in every few minutes. Harry walked confidently over to where the golden lifts were, getting in one that had a single Unspeakable in it.

The Unspeakable eyed him. “Morning,” he said. Harry just nodded in reply.

The lift took them down to the stone corridor with the door to the Department of Mysteries at the far end. Harry entered alongside the Unspeakable. He let the man who worked there go to his destination first — the Mind Room. Harry wondered if he was co-workers with Rowena. Then Harry made his way to Bode’s office as he usually did.

The Unspeakable assigned to his case wasn’t there yet, but Saul Croaker was. Croaker listened to a recitation of Harry’s and Euphemia’s decisions on how he could finish out his internship through the rest of the spring and summer and agreed that their plans seemed sensible. Harry was then sent off to work more on his Occlumency with Rowena.

The day seemed to pass by quickly. Occlumency with Rowena, then a break for breakfast. After he’d eaten Harry was sent off to do more OWLs prep, practicing all his casting nonverbally just as his alias required. After a snack he turned time back to further work on stories and mannerisms to help flesh out his new identity, as well as working on a bit more OWLs prep before leaving for the day. It was exhausting, and by the time he Flooed back to Godric’s Hollow for a late lunch he was bleary-eyed and tired.

Euphemia sent him off to take a nap after lunch. Harry didn’t really plan to sleep — he planned to get started on his homework — but he dozed off before he realised it and slept for three hours. Late afternoon saw Henry Potter showing Harry around the property and teaching him how to help with the sheep and the potions garden. Dinner was once again a large family affair followed by a Quidditch game with the villagers. With Harry as Seeker the Potters won once again, and Harry did some of his homework in the evening before going to bed. He did it in the drawing room, and both Fleamont and Henry were eager to help him. When he woke up the next morning the process repeated itself all over again.

The days fell into a pattern of Occlumency-OWLs-time travel-study-nap-family-homework. It was fun and easy despite being exhausting. Harry was learning so much at the Ministry, and experiencing so many new things with the Potters. Harry found himself slowly growing to love all the Potters who had been dead before his first birthday. Each and every one was a colourful personality, and Harry sometimes found himself wistfully imagining growing up with all of them still around in his time.

Old Henry, his possible namesake, was a crochety old man, but James had clearly gotten his prankster streak from his grandfather. Henry was a canny fellow who liked to talk politics and potions, sometimes together. Harry found that when brewing with his great-grandfather, he not only enjoyed himself, but he was learning all sorts of things Snape had never bothered to teach anyone in potions class. Sometimes Henry annoyed him, as the old man was set in his ways and could be rather bigoted about non-humans and muggleborns, despite politically supporting both when he was a younger man.

Harry’s grandparents were simply wonderful. Euphemia was determined to spoil him as much as possible, and Fleamont was always willing to help Harry with his assignments. The old couple also advised Harry constantly on what to wear, and his grandfather had convinced him to use Sleakeazy’s—the hair-care potion Fleamont had invented—to tame his unruly mop of hair. Fleamont and Harry would cook together at meals, and Harry was blushing so brightly he felt as though he’d turned the same colour as a telephone box when the family effusively praised the first meal he helped cook for them.

Charlus and Dorea were another pair of characters. Charlus was cut out of the same cloth as Henry and Fleamont—potion-obsessed to the extreme but otherwise a mellow individual. He shared Henry’s interest in politics and Fleamont’s interest in fashion, and he would take Harry out late at night when the moon was high in the sky to show him the herd of mooncalves the Potters kept. Dorea was an unconventional Black, disdainful of muggles but surprisingly tolerant about half-bloods and muggleborns. She analysed everything Harry said, but also loved to pull pranks with Henry, dragging Harry into her fun because she insisted he needed to “lighten up”. She also enjoyed signing with him. According to her, she’d learnt due to a classmate who’d been permanently Silenced in a duel fourth year that went out of hand, and she’d been falling out of practice lately because the friend was abroad. Translating for Harry helped her remember, so Harry did his best to provide reasons for her to translate for him at every opportunity.

Harry couldn’t wait to meet his cousin Caelum and his dad—who amazingly had only recently turned twelve. Harry had been mistaken when he heard Sirius was twelve back in March and assumed the Marauders were all second years. Apparently Sirius had an early birthday, so the Marauders were in reality finishing up their first year at Hogwarts, not their second like Harry had assumed.

Euphemia even introduced him over the course of two dinner parties to her branch of the Travers family, and they were pretty neat as well. Harry’s “grandparents” were deceased, but Euphemia’s brother George was still alive. George himself reminded Harry of Malfoy or perhaps Zacharias Smith with his self-entitled airs, but Harry’s Aunt Diana was friendly and funny, and their daughters Pandora, Atalanta, and Selene were all awesome in a mad Ravenclaw way that reminded Harry an awful lot of Luna Lovegood.

Cousin Pandora looked a bit like Luna as well, Harry realised after that first dinner together. Her eyes were a sea-coloured bluish green instead of the Travers dark green or hazel which all the other girls had, and her hair was a lighter shade of brown than anyone in the family. Her face was quite like Luna’s, though there were significant differences. Pandora’s eyes weren’t nearly as protuberant as Harry’s friend’s, and Luna’s hair was more of a dirty blonde than light brown. Still, it made him wonder…

Pandora was very interested in Harry’s “correspondence” courses. She wanted to know all about what the famous but mysterious Greek school’s curriculum was like, and how that differed from Hogwarts. Pandora considered herself something of an expert on Hogwarts, as she had graduated a few years ago.

Harry indulged her, and it was quite entertaining to do so. He had loads of fun adapting his own Hogwarts lessons from the future into something that sounded plausible. And despite how sharp she was, Pandora thankfully didn’t catch on. While in some ways Pandora reminded him of Luna, in others she was all Hermione. It…eased the ache in his heart to be making friends with someone as vivacious and wonderful and brilliant as Pandora. And she and Atalanta were two peas in a pod, though Atalanta was a bit more fact-obsessed and less flighty than Pandora.

Harry only got to meet the younger two of his cousins because the entire Travers household had come down with Vanishing sickness the previous summer. They’d all been in St. Mungo’s for months and had only just been released with a clean bill of health. Atalanta and Selene had been doing correspondence courses and tutoring to keep up with their schoolwork at Hogwarts, and Atalanta was stressing because she’d have to take all her OWLs in July instead of with her classmates. Pandora simply lamented that the illness had pushed back her wedding date by months and months. Her poor fiancé hadn’t even been allowed to visit with her until after Christmas, she bemoaned.

Harry occasionally wondered what had happened to Pandora and her sisters in his time. Were they all dead? Had none of them wanted or been able to get custody of their cousin James’ son? Harry would have much preferred one of his Travers cousins to Aunt Petunia as his guardian, honestly. But it was 1972 and the only person who would have the answers had never even met Harry before, so he put thoughts like that out of his head as thoroughly as he could when they showed up.

On the topic of his schooling, Pandora and Atalanta were also delighted to hear that Harry planned to begin attending Hogwarts in the fall. They discovered that if he managed to join sixth year as he planned, he would be in the same year as Atalanta. Little Selene was currently a third year, but was also eager to have her new cousin at Hogwarts with her.

“Oh, maybe you’ll be in Ravenclaw like the girls are, and like I was!” Pandora had squealed, clapping her hands together. “That would just be marvellous!”

Atalanta nodded. “And you could meet all my friends, and we could all have such fun!”

Harry grinned at her. “Well, I’m sure we’ll have fun no matter what Hogwarts House I’m put in. Cousin Dee seems to think I’ll be a Slytherin, you know.” He signed as he spoke, as the three Ravenclaws had expressed a desire to learn both ASL and the goblin signs Harry tended to use “in order to make things easier on him”.

Harry had already decided not to fight the Hat no matter where it wanted to put him. Oh, he’d loved Gryffindor and rather wanted to be in it again simply so he could watch his parents interact, but he knew from talk with the Unspeakables that it would look much less suspicious if he was put into Ravenclaw or Slytherin, due to how most members of the Travers and Black families were sorted. And since he didn’t see himself as quite clever enough for Ravenclaw, well…at least he was pretty sure that all the most obnoxious people that should be in Slytherin right now would probably only be twelve or thirteen. He could ignore them all he wanted.

Pandora nodded thoughtfully. “Yes, I could see that,” she said slowly. “Well, I don’t suppose it matters. You’ll only be at Hogwarts two years anyway — that’s hardly enough time for your House to really define you as usually happens at Hogwarts.”

Harry agreed and then graced Pandora with his borrowed speech (again, from Rowena) on how silly the whole Sorting thing was to begin with. They proceeded to have a lively debate on the pros and cons of giving eleven-year-olds such defining labels for the next hour or two, Atalanta chiming in whenever she agreed with one or the other of them. Harry was really starting to be glad he was becoming friends with Cousins Pandora and Atalanta.

He spent weekend evenings with Arcturus. Harry flooed over to Chateau Noir in France just before dinner every Saturday. He then spent the evening and all of Sunday with the crotchety old Black and his wife. Melania was surprisingly charming, for a Black, and was apparently related to Ernie from Harry’s time, as she had been born a McMillian. Harry hadn’t been introduced to any of the other members of the Black family yet. Arcturus wanted Harry more familiar with the family magic and customs first, and so they spent the time after dinner learning Black family lore.

The family was descended from the blending of two distinct lines of wizards—one a clan of Celtic sorcerers who had followed the way of the Morrigan, and the other a group of Roman wizards who believed themselves to be descended from many of the Underworld-related Roman gods such as Pluto, Mors, or Trivia. The family hoarded centuries of knowledge on various magics ranging from simply the obsolete to the darkest and most wretched of rituals. While the more basic or wide-spread magics of the family were held in the one of three Black Libraries in their largest properties, the spells and rituals that had been created by and then passed down by the ancient Blacks were kept in a set of volumes known as the Black Grimoires. These Grimoires were always in the possession of either the Lord or a family Heir, and it was believed that if they were ever lost the family itself would be lost.

The Blacks particularly had a reputation for celestial-based rituals and spells, and Harry had to read through the Black Grimoires to learn them all. And as an Heir, it was Harry’s job to gain mastery over his family’s magic, though he also had to be well-versed in an overview of the family history and the other magics the Blacks kept record of. It was all fascinating, and despite the man’s strongly pro-pureblood views Harry found himself growing fond of “Uncle Arcturus” as well. The old man was a fantastic storyteller.

On some days Orion would show up as well. His “cousin” was perfectly willing to give Harry stories of a young Sirius and was pleasant enough to talk to even outside of stories of Harry’s twelve-year-old godfather. Every conversation with him did reinforce his earlier impression of Orion as a more stuffy, rich Slytherin version of Mister Weasley, which only made Harry like him more. He could always argue about the things they disagreed on, after all. Orion would always argue in this absent but polite manner and gave in gracefully when he’d been convinced of something or when he had no more arguments to provide. This was in stark contrast to Arcturus, who was like a dog with a bone with some things.

Since Harry didn’t have to pretend at all with the two Blacks, it was much easier to get down to business. He still used his fake accent, to continue building the habit, but otherwise acted more-or-less normal as they taught him everything from how to bow in different situations to dinner etiquette to allowed conversation topics at various types of parties.

Harry got a crash-course in politics from his “uncle” and “cousin” — both pureblood principles and Wizengamot policy. He and Uncle Arcturus had some fantastic debates about pureblood beliefs, but Harry found to his surprise some of them weren’t that bad. There were a lot of “honour the family” and “keep useful traditions alive” mores, and those Harry agreed with. It was the beliefs concerning pureblood superiority over muggles and muggleborns that Harry argued about with both Blacks. He used his knowledge of future muggle advancements as well his more personal recollection of muggleborns he’d met or heard about to thoroughly debunk every superiority argument Arcturus or Orion put to him.

Then Arcturus made the mistake of bringing up the political factions at the Ministry — specifically, the Knights of Walpurgis and their eloquent leader Voldemort who had arrived from the continent only two years prior.

“He’s a halfblood, you know,” Harry said abruptly as Arcturus extoled how well Voldemort had upheld the Dark cause—namely, the cause to loosen Ministry restrictions on various fields of magic and to advocate total separation from the Muggle world even down to products and facilities used.

His “uncle” paused. “I…beg your pardon,” he said in that way he’d taken to doing every time Harry interrupted the old man with another argument.

Harry smirked. “Voldemort. He’s a halfblood named Tom Riddle.”

Arcturus scowled outrageously. “He’s the Heir to Slytherin!”

“Never said he wasn’t,” Harry shrugged. “His mom was a witch descended from Slytherin, and she died when he was really young because he grew up in an orphanage. His dad was a muggle nobleman from Little Hangleton.”

The old Black’s eyebrows drew together. “What’s your proof?” he asked gruffly.

Harry rolled his eyes. “You mean besides the fact that he told me himself? Or, well, will tell me, in 1993.”

“Why would Lord Voldemort be concerning himself with a schoolboy?” Arcturus protested. “He’s a very important political figure.” Orion watched the argument sharp-eyed, like he usually did, but his brow was furrowed as he considered Harry.

Harry turned away sharply, compulsively running his fingers over his soulmark and pushing his silver band askew. “Well, things change, you know,” Harry said brusquely. “He’s always been very concerned with me, not that he ever realised why.”

Too late, Harry realised Arcturus and Orion had both noticed his odd motion to cover his soulmark, had noticed the blood-red death warrant seared into his skin. The men drew back, a considering look on Arcturus’ face and a dawning expression of realisation on Orion’s.

Neither said anything more about Voldemort or the Walpurgis party, and to Harry’s surprise began to give in on some of their blood purity arguments. Harry didn’t know what either one had realised or thought he’d realised, but Harry was content to ignore it so long as Arcturus and Orion said nothing.

Harry did his best to stop messing with his soul band every time Voldemort or Walpurgis were mentioned and pretended his two god-relatives weren’t giving him thoughtful looks.

Hopefully the old Black and his son wouldn’t do anything too disastrous.

He didn’t want his soulmate to know who he was.

Voldemort was likely already mark-less anyway.

*          *          *

As April and May flew by and the cramming began to have some effect on the assessment tests Harry was made to take weekly, the Unspeakables in charge of getting him up to par began talking about letting him take his Defence OWL a few months early. It was still looking like his other exams were all going to be taken at the end of July, but Gus was sure Harry could take his Defence OWL at the end of May, around the same time the Hogwarts students would be taking it. Of course, all Harry’s exams would be taken in the Department of Mysteries by qualified Unspeakables to keep the secret of Chrónia Akadimía’s non-existence, but still. Finishing Defence early would clear up one subject slot for extra cramming in those last two months before he had to take his exams to be able to attend Hogwarts as a sixth year.

Learning with the Unspeakables was an interesting experience. Most of his instructors in his core subjects were all individuals who’d been on leave for one reason or another and had been assigned to Harry as their newest “project”. None of them seemed to know how to teach a fifteen-year-old time travelling boy, and so they often got side-tracked and taught him other things as well. The cursebreakers — loaned from Gringotts and sworn to secrecy — who were helping with subjects like Care of Magical Creatures that were rather difficult to teach in the confines of the Department, were just the same.

They’d take the time to explain the oddest things, or they would give him a crash-course on something important but completely unrelated to the topic at hand. Harry was starting to wonder if he could even take Ancient Runes and Arithmancy OWLs at the end of July just because of how much of it everyone seemed to thing was necessary for him to know. Apparently those two subjects were the backbone of any sort of research job in the Wizarding World. He decided to ask Bode for an assessment test just for the heck of it one afternoon. Bode promised he’d arrange one, perhaps after Harry’s Defence OWL.

Judicious use was also being made of DoM time-turners to cram even more knowledge into his brain. Due to the restrictions on turning back time with the Hour-Reversal Charm, there were specific offices and rooms set aside in the Department that were used for extra study or research while under a time-crunch. The cursebreakers also had their own time-turners usually, used to help in their work, that they would use to stretch the time they spent teaching Harry as well, usually commandeering an empty conference room in the bank to stay out of people’s way. Half the reason he’d begun taking naps every afternoon was because while he was officially spending somewhere between six to seven hours with the DoM every day, time-turner use transformed that into sometimes double or triple the amount of time.

Harry also dropped the idea of a Divination OWL shortly after moving in with the Potters. Everything he was learning from the Unspeakables who studied time and prophecy was that Divination was very subjective, and hard to manage. Harry had actually been walked back through memories of Divination classes where he’d been shown how every single prophecy or foresight that made a bit of sense had actually come true regardless of his own scepticism. Apparently it was very common for people with a gift in prophecy to not realize their true insights. So Trelawney wasn’t a fraud in truth, it was just that her grand-standing made picking the real glimpses of the future difficult. They’d even walked Harry through the memories of several of his classmates, explaining how you could tell their proficiency in Divination as much by what they said without thinking as whatever they Saw in class. The big example Harry was provided by the Unspeakables who worked in the Hall of Prophecy was actually Ron.

Yeah, that had been a weird revelation.

Harry had met a Weasley working in the Hall of Prophecy who told Harry with some amusement that their whole family had a bit of a divinatory strain. It was still incredibly weird that Ron could apparently predict the future without even trying, but the Weasley Unspeakable had shown Harry exactly how subtle the Sight really could be. In their first Divination class Ron had seen windfall of unexpected gold in Harry’s cup — which he’d gotten a year later in the Triwizard Tournament. Ron made some offhand comment in second year about Tom Riddle possibly getting his award for murdering Myrtle — technically true, though in a round-about way. It was also apparently not just total chance that Fred and George had guessed the outcome of the Quidditch World Cup so successfully. Even so, one thing Harry had figured out about himself was that regardless of some latent Seer abilities in the Weasley family, Harry himself was pants at Divination, hence his decision to drop it and focus on his other OWLs.

As May drew to a close, the Unspeakables set up one last practical assessment for Defence before Harry took the actual OWL. Harry loved the practical assessments the Unspeakables gave him. They were either mazes of increasing difficulty or duels that could either be one-on-one or sometimes even multiple against one. He loved the adrenaline rush of fighting and duelling every other day. The best part was that the Unspeakables were all perfectly willing to teach him unfamiliar magic if he asked after the lesson. It was like Dumbledore’s Army only he was the student.

The Unspeakables all liked hearing about Harry’s efforts with the DA. More than one had commented that it was no wonder Harry wanted to be a teacher, because he’d likely be excellent at it. Others told him he should start a duelling club or defence club while he was at Hogwarts for his last two years to see if he really wanted to be a teacher. Harry had never had an actual adult take real interest in what he wanted to do with his life before besides Barty and Professor Lupin. Now, he was the centre of attention for a good dozen different Unspeakables and cursebreakers, and he was thriving under the positive feedback.

His favourite Unspeakables had to be Gus, Bode, and Rowena, but he was gaining surprising fondness for the group that was enthusiastically helping him prepare for the Defence OWL he was taking at the end of this week. There were two women and three men, and he’d not gotten their given names — just the Rooms of Study each one worked in. There were two Soul Magic Unspeakables, a man who worked in the Mind Room with Rowena, another man who worked in the Hall of Forgotten Magics, and a woman Unspeakable who worked in the unnamed research hall behind the cafeteria.

She was the only Unspeakable Harry was at all uneasy with, because Gus had told him that in the hall nicknamed the “Food Room” by outside Unspeakables, the researchers studied poisons, potions, and all manners of foodstuff-related magics. The Food Room Unspeakable was very fond of spells that poisoned him, or made him vomit, or spells that vanished the last meal he’d eaten from his stomach and made him feel absolutely starving. He hated duelling her.

Today Harry would be fighting all of them at once, and he jittered in place nervously as he waited for the others to finish setting up the duelling stage. There was an unfamiliar trio of people wearing robes that, while clearly denoting some sort of Ministry department, were just as clearly not Unspeakable robes. Harry wondered what they were present for. Unspeakables wandered in and out of the area as usual, clearly curious. Practically everyone in the Department knew of Harry, even if there were still several who hadn’t yet met him themselves. There was a lot of hype about the time travelling boy who was so very talented at Defence. But he’d never had people from other parts of the Ministry watch before. He felt his nerves mounting.

When the preparations were complete Harry was ushered onto the duelling floor. He stood opposite the five Unspeakables, unspeakably nervous. His wand was out and held laxly, but in a way that would allow Harry to easily bright it to attention. The hardest thing, Harry felt, was that he needed to do all his casting silently if he could. Now and Friday when he took his Defence OWL.

The man who worked in the Hall of Forgotten Magics was the first to cast, as usual. His spells were always impressive—generally either wandless, wordless, or both. This time he sent a spear of ice hurtling Harry’s direction. The teen dodged and had to pull up a shield at the same time as one of the other Unspeakables took advantage to send another spell Harry’s way. Harry was entirely on the defensive, unable to send any spells out as the other Unspeakables presented a well-oiled team after weeks of working together to teach Harry.

The Unspeakable from the Mind Room had Harry dodging what he recognized as a nasty variant of Legilimency that deliberately dragged up his most embarrassing memories. He’d been hit with it the other day and hadn’t liked it at all.

Harry couldn’t do anything truly offensive, but he did manage to send a silent Glisseo at the floor over towards the Unspeakables, causing two of his opponents to slip before someone cancelled his spell. They began to spread out around the room. This made it even more difficult for Harry to defend against them as he tried to keep track of all five Unspeakables at once.

He dodged and shielded as fast as he could, avoiding spells by a hair’s breadth. Harry got hit by one spell that turned his hair bright green but managed to turn a vomiting curse back on the Food Room Unspeakable with a special shielding charm Gus had taught him. She collapsed to the ground retching.

With one of his five opponents out of commission he could chance an offensive turn. Harry threw out a wide array of spells as fast as he could to catch the remaining four Unspeakables off guard before beginning to dodge and shield again. The Mind Room Unspeakable was dropped with a sleeping curse that would last upwards of a week unless he was fed a Draught of Living Death antidote, putting a second one of Harry’s opponents out of the fight. Now facing only three opponents the previously one-sided fight turned into more of a proper duel.

They traded spells back and forth for several long minutes. The trio of Unspeakables tried multiple times to spread out around him, surrounding Harry to easier subdue him, but he’d not gotten caught by that trick in over a week. Harry dodged and sprinted about, casting spells to force them all to group together. He was grinning as he dodged and cast, his blood roaring in his ears. This was fun!

The Forgotten Magics Unspeakable sent some sort of slicing spell Harry’s way. He just barely dodged, but the edge of it cut across his forehead. He didn’t realise it, but it neatly bisected the lightning bolt scar on Harry’s forehead. Blood oozed out of the cut as Harry continued to dodge around, and unnoticed by everyone, the edges of the cursed scar shimmered.

Harry brushed the blood out of his eyes, leaving a smear of red coating the words carved into the back of his hand. He retaliated with a dozen conjured snakes which he set on the man. That Unspeakable was temporarily put out of commission vanishing the cobras coming towards him. Harry took advantage of his distraction and disarmed the man who worked in Soul Magics, who had been tag-teaming Harry with the Forgotten Magics Unspeakable’s help. He snatched the wand that arced through the air with a Seeker’s deftness and knocked the disarmed wizard out with the same sleeping curse he’d used earlier.

But Harry himself was distracted by his catch, and the other Soul Magic Unspeakable sent a bloody red light towards Harry. It sizzled through the air and he heard it coming. Harry turned to dodge, but he couldn’t avoid it in time.

The spell hit him straight on, but it did nothing visible. Harry paused for only a moment, but it hadn’t had any noticeable effect other than making his scar throb like it had back in first year when Voldemort was around.

But Harry wasn’t eleven anymore, and he powered through the growing headache to raise a shield of water to guard against the fire whip the Forgotten Magics Unspeakable had conjured now. He continued to fight and dodge for another moment or two until another spell broke through his guard. The spell itself wasn’t overly harmful — it was just Tarantallegra, the Dancing Feet jinx — but Harry didn’t hear the incantation. He only saw a green light out of the corner of his eye and panicked.

It took only a few seconds for the onlookers to realise something was very, very wrong.

In his brief instant of panic the scar on his forehead seemed to burst open. Harry screamed, his hands coming up to cover the lightning bolt scar. Glowing golden and bloody red magic seemed to erupt from his skin, forming a shield that made a sound like a clanging bell when the jinx hit. The glowing magic reformed into two vaguely humanoid shapes and rushed Harry’s two remaining opponents. Both slumped to the ground unconscious.

Harry, meanwhile, had fallen to his hands and knees. His scar didn’t hurt any longer, but magic was buzzing over his skin and he could feel it like a kiss on his forehead. It was warm.

He was gasping open-mouthed, his eyes wide. When the magical surge had ended he felt something briefly. It was almost like someone had ruffled a hand through his hair, pressed a kiss to his temple. He heard a voice, so faint and echoey it was unrecognizable, whisper “You’re safe now.”

And then it was over.

The gold and red magic sank back beneath Harry’s skin. He had a faint pins-and-needles feel from it, but even that was slowly settling back down. Harry sat up and realised, blinking, that there didn’t seem to be any blood dripping down his forehead any longer. A hand was lifted to rub across his forehead, and Harry’s breath caught in his throat.

What—

“Harry!”

Gus was suddenly by his side, exclaiming his name loudly. “Harry are you alright?”

Harry nodded, still feeling faintly numb and shaky from…whatever it was…that had just happened. His hand came down slowly to rest in his lap. Harry didn’t know how he felt right now. Grieved? Confused? Inexplicably loved?

It was as though he’d just been given everything he wanted and then had it vanish again, on top of the weirdness that had actually happened. He took a deep, shuddering breath, as though his body hadn’t decided yet whether it wanted to cry or not. Stranger and stranger, considering how little Harry cried in general.

“…Harry?” Gus asked carefully. “Didn’t…didn’t you used to have a rune scar right there?” A finger brushed his forehead and Harry’s head snapped up, his eyes widening again.

“Yeah!” he exclaimed. “It-it’s really gone!? But-”

His mouth snapped shut. He’d managed to keep from telling the Unspeakables all this time that he’d survived the Killing Curse as a baby, he wasn’t sure he wanted to tell them even now. He trusted the Unspeakables to help him get integrated into this time period, even trusted them a bit to prevent things like Umbridge and Lockhart. He just wasn’t sure he trusted them not to go mad scientist over learning he’d survived the Killing Curse because his soulmate had been the one to throw it at him.

Thankfully Gus didn’t seem to pay his sudden silence any thought. “It’s a curse scar, I know. Bode had to spend four hours arguing the Rune Room Unspeakables out of requesting a study of it. We could tell you don’t like drawing attention to it.”

Harry nodded faintly. “Um. What…what just happened?” he finally asked meekly.

“I was hoping you could grant us some insight into that, Mister Travers.”

Harry looked up and gulped. The trio of Ministry officials in unfamiliar robes were standing over him along with Rowena, Bode, and a hooded Unspeakable Harry recognized vaguely as the head of the entire Department of Mysteries. He’d not known that person was coming out to watch Harry’s duel! He didn’t even know what gender the Unspeakable was, and s/he was always hooded and wore face-obscuring and voice-changing charms, even within the department.

“I…I don’t know what happened,” Harry stammered. “That’s why I asked.”

“You’ve never experienced anything like that before?” the Head Unspeakable pressed. Harry shook his head wordlessly.

“Not like the magic. My scar used to hurt…when I was around the person who created it…but nothing like that magic has happened before.”

Bode sighed. He had on his doleful face and Harry just knew he wasn’t going to like what the man had to say. “Harry, I know we’ve been allowing you to avoid explaining that scar of yours, but I think you have to now.”

Harry cringed. “I…well…”

“Just tell us how you got it, okay, Harry?” Gus said encouragingly.

It went against everything Harry wanted, but he knew he had little choice. If they urgently wanted answers asking was only a courtesy. If the DoM wanted answers badly enough they’d just dose him with Veritaserum and he’d have no control at all over the information they dragged out of him. He was stuck, and Harry had no idea what to do.

Chapter Text

Knowing he had no way out, Harry decided to tell them what they wanted to know. Or, well, he’d tell them what he had to. There was no need for them to know everything. He began to explain slowly, haltingly, still leaving out everything he felt he could get away with.

“Sometime soon…a war is going to break out. It’s between the pureblood factions and the muggle sympathizers, and by the time I’m born in 1980 it’s been going on for almost ten years. At some point when I was a baby…my parents went into hiding. They were on the same side as the Ministry, as Professor Dumbledore, and for some reason the opposing side was targeting them. They went into hiding under this special ward called the Fidelus Charm…but they trusted the wrong person. A single person entered the safehouse the Halloween after my first birthday. He killed my father first as my mom ran upstairs. I don’t know if she planned to apparate and couldn’t, or if they actually planned what ended up happening.”

He hesitated, and Rowena knelt next to him, a hand on his back. “What ended up happening?” she coaxed.

Harry took a shuddering breath. “My…my parents were soulmates. They were also apparently both absolutely brilliant. My mom must have known with my dad dead she’d die soon enough anyway, so they did something…I don’t know what they did. But I know my mom stood in front of the man who’d been hunting my family down and begged for my life. I’m not sure she even had a wand on her. He…” this was something he’d started to wonder about after the end of third year. After he’d gotten over the sheer bittersweet joy of hearing his parents’ voices and had begun thinking about the meaning of what they were saying…

“The man was going to let my mom go.” That was unescapable. It was definite. Why would he have told her to move unless he had even a vague plan of letting her go? “He told her to stand aside three times, and each time she refused and insisted he take her and kill her instead of me. Finally, he stopped telling her to move and killed her, maybe because he lost his patience. Then he immediately turned to kill me.”

His fingers found where the scar had once been on his forehead. “When the spell hit it just…bounced right off. My parents had created some sort of protection that kept me safe even years later—when I was eleven, the defence professor that I said my accidental magic killed…well, it wasn’t actually me. He just…turned to ash. Professor Dumbledore said my mom had created a protection when she died for me that lived in my skin. But that’s the only time it’s ever done anything that I know of. It made my scar hurt something awful, though. My scar also hurts whenever I run into the person that created it.”

“About that protection,” the Head Unspeakable said urgently. “You said it turned someone to ash?”

Harry hesitated, and then nodded. “I…I had figured out someone was trying to steal a magical artefact Dumbledore was hiding in the castle, and he’d somehow tricked the Headmaster into leaving too. I…don’t have the best track record with adults, so I figured I might as well try to stop the person myself when the teacher I went to about it didn’t believe me. When I confronted him…I accidently tripped the security measure guarding the artefact, and I fulfilled its requirements. Professor Dumbledore—he said somebody had to want to find it, but not use it at all, in order to receive it. And, well, then I not only had a man with a bit of a grudge against me—he’d tried to hex my broom in my first quidditch game of the season earlier in the year—but he was trying to get that magical artefact off me. He rushed me, trying to grab me and take the artefact out of my hand, and when he touched me his skin blistered like crazy and turned to ash. His hand just…fell off. He was really freaking out.”

He paused again, not sure he wanted to continue. All the adults around him looked disturbed.

“Mister Travers,” one of the Ministry officials asked softly, “have you ever spoke about this before?”

Harry nodded. “I-I told my friends what happened. They were stuck on the other side of one of the protections while all this was going on. And I told Professor Dumbledore after he rescued me.”

Bode had that pinched, displeased look he occasionally got when Harry told him something about the future that he believed had been handled badly. Harry somehow knew he was going to have to discuss all this in detail with Rowena later. She was under oath to not tell anyone what he said or what she saw in his mind, so she was the only Unspeakable he’d ever considered explaining his fame and the reasons for it to.

“So the Headmaster did catch this thief?” the woman of the trio said, sounding relieved. Harry shook his head slowly.

“Not…not exactly. Professor Quirrell jumped back when his hand…uh…turned to ash and fell off. He was trying to curse me, and I was only eleven. I didn’t know enough magic to stop him with my wand so I…I kind of grabbed his face.”

The woman inhaled sharply.

Harry cringed, but Gus spoke up. “Don’t be ashamed, Harry. You said he’d already tried to kill you once that year, and you were only eleven. It was legitimate self-defence. You should be proud you made it out, not ashamed of something you took advantage of to save your life.”

“That’s basically what Dumbledore said at the time,” Harry murmured. “Only he also said I didn’t do anything—he said my mum’s protection was what made him disintegrate.”

“So, this protection,” the Head Unspeakable repeated again, insistently. “What form did it take when it turned the man to ash? How did it act?”

Harry frowned. “It…it didn’t do anything. I couldn’t even tell it wasn’t just me doing whatever-it-was. My scar hurt something awful, too, so I wasn’t thinking too clearly though.”

“You keep going back to your scar,” Bode said shrewdly. “Why is it so important?”

Harry frantically wondered if he could get out of answering this, but all the adults were gazing down at him waiting for an answer. He slumped. Perhaps he’d just avoid mentioning the killing curse and tell them the basics.

“The curse scar was…my godfather theorized it was sort-of a crack in my parents’ protection. That it had messed the protection up. Sirius said that soul magic is…it’s delicate?” He looked up at them all, and many were nodding in agreement. “Well, anyway, any interference can turn a soul magic ritual or enchantment on its head, and the curse scar was interference, even though it was the protection that made sure I had the scar instead of just being…really injured…in the first place.”

“You are dancing around something,” the Head Unspeakable intuited. “The only thing that can truly interfere with soulmate magic is more soulmate magic. How does it connect?”

Harry refused to look at them. “My soulmate was the one who attacked my family when I was a baby,” he said softly, clutching his silver soul band to his wrist so that no edge of his soulmark showed.

The adults above him murmured and muttered. Only Gus and Bode were unsurprised, and each one put a comforting hand on Harry’s shoulders.

“Now that,” the Head Unspeakable intoned, “does make sense.” Harry looked up. The Head Unspeakable sounded amused when s/he spoke again. “I’ll bet your godfather’s theory was that the curse scar was a sign of an incomplete soul bond?”

Harry nodded, dumbfounded.

The Head Unspeakable’s hood tilted to the side in an avian manner. “What many people do not realise is that a one-sided bond is formed every time a soulmark is even partially activated. It’s why your mark turned red when words were spoken to you. His soul connected to your magic. The connection will be complete when your soul in turn bonds to his magic, forming a full two-way soul bond. An incomplete bond so soon after your parents’ protection was formed would have muddied the waters. That also explains what happened today.”

“It does!?” Harry exclaimed along with several others.

The Head Unspeakable nodded. “That one spell which hit young Harry here—the red one—do any of you know what it is?” There was a good bit of murmuring and shaking of heads. “I’m not surprised. It was put on the official duelling roster of banned spells back in 1765. The reason for this is that the curse in question actually disrupts soul bonds.”

There were several surprised exclamations over this that were silenced when the Head Unspeakable raised a gloved hand. “It doesn’t actually affect soul bonds long-term. What it does is temporarily disrupt the bond between two soul mates. It lasts no more than an hour or two, but it was banned anyway because the disorientation and magical instability a disrupted bond causes is dangerous for the cursed individual. Of course, that is for fully bonded persons. There isn’t a ban on using it against unbonded or partially bonded people, because the effect is much diminished. People who have a partial bond might experience unease, perhaps a slight magical disruption. Unbonded individuals would find their soulmarks itching in a quite distracting manner, but nothing more.”

“So when that spell hit me it disrupted my…partial soul bond?” Harry asked hesitantly, for clarification. The Head Unspeakable nodded.

“For that brief time, and right now in fact, your partial bond to your soulmate is severed. Look at your mark.”

Harry did, and was astonished to find his mark the glittery, shimmering silvery-white colour that unbonded people had. “I don’t understand though,” he said. “Shouldn’t this have happened when I went back in time? The version of him in this time shouldn’t be bonded to me at all.”

Bode just shrugged. “That’s one of the phenomena we’re talking about when we call Morgana’s Clock a functional paradox machine. There’s precedent for that, you see — people with partial bonds going through the Clock. They always seem to fulfil their complete bonds without any issue in the past, as well.”

“Huh.” Harry considered that thoughtfully, but steadily avoided all consideration of the idea of his soul bond one day being completed.

“Back to the point,” the Head Unspeakable said, “my theory is that whatever magic your parents devised worked based on a mixture of runes and old soul magic enchantments. We’ve records of something that looked similar to your protection, you see. There have been several versions over various cultures, the original used in Atlantis. They all involved a soul-bonded pair sacrificing themselves for someone — usually a child or an infant — marked with a magical rune of power written in blood. In your case, the Sowilo on your forehead.”

Harry’s hand went up to where his scar was supposed to be. “But it’s gone!” he exclaimed.

The Head Unspeakable knelt and placed a gloved hand right in front of Harry’s eyes. He stayed very still as a wand poked at his forehead. “No, it’s still there,” the Unspeakable said softly. “There’s a very old scar here that goes down into your skull. It just looks like your skin has been healed of any visible mark, along with the cut caused in your duel earlier. The rune is still there, it’s just under your skin and muscle now where it can’t cause you as much pain.”

His mouth fell open. “R-really!? But- how? What healed it?”

“Why, your parent’s soul-blood protection, of course,” the Head Unspeakable said. “It also removed the colour-changing charm on your hair.” Harry gaped. The Unspeakable’s hood tilted again and Harry had the feeling s/he was amused.

“Remember what I said about the ancient Atlantean version of this soul-blood protection? We have extensive records of such protections, and many of our records were copied from other libraries, such as the private Hogwarts Headmaster’s library and the Black Family Library. It is entirely possible your parents re-enacted an ancient Atlantean ritual to protect you, since they knew there was a large chance they would die with the opposition chasing them. At least this way, they could ensure their child’s survival.”

The Head Unspeakable stood. “It’s really very admirable of your parents. They had to have been astonishingly intelligent and talented to properly do all the rituals to begin with, and they did them knowing full well those protections would only wake up if the two of them died in your defence. The only problem is, this protection is very delicate, as you put it, within its first seven hours of existence. Any interference from other soul magic—such as might arise if the person marked with the rune formed a partial or even a complete soul bond in that time—will confuse the protective magic nearly to the point of inefficiency. There are various ways to cleanse the marked individual’s magic and allow the protection free reign, of course. The easiest way would be to place the marked individual in the care of blood relatives to one or both deceased soulmates. The magical love between sworn guardians and a child is powerful enough to cleanse a botched ritual.”

Well that explained why Dumbledore had put him with the Dursleys, Harry thought sourly to himself. But he clearly hadn’t done it right. The Head Unspeakable said sworn guardians—which in wizarding terms meant some sort of magical oaths or contracts, Arcturus had explained on Harry’s first visit to Chateau Noir. Euphemia and Arcturus became Harry’s sworn guardians when they signed all that paperwork with Griphook, but the Dursleys were muggles and couldn’t be sworn guardians even if they wanted to. And on top of that there had never been any love between Harry or his relatives. Harry scowled, but did his best to redirect his attention back to the Head Unspeakable, who had paused for a moment but was now continuing to speak.

“Another way to solve a problem with a soul-blood protection that is described in our records,” the Unspeakable said, “would be to cast an ancient version of the disrupter spell that was cast on you today. It is very likely the modern version works much the same.”

Harry’s eyes were wide. “So…that was my parents’ blood protection that did…whatever-it-was? That’s how it’s supposed to work?” He recalled the breath of warm magic that ruffled through his hair and the quiet voice that reassured him he was safe. He smiled. “Wow.”

“Yes, that’s how it’s supposed to work. The protection is a learning thing, you see. Since it was usually placed on a very young child it would begin extremely overprotective—wiping away every hurt and possible danger. But as the child grew older the magic would loosen its grip, fading away to only protect from truly life-threatening things so that as the child became an adult he or she could participate in more dangerous activities. We’ll have to do something about that.”

The last sentence was said softly, almost as if the Head Unspeakable was speaking to his/herself.

“Do something about what?” Harry frowned.

“Your soul-blood protection has been disrupted for several years,” s/he said. “it didn’t have a chance to grow with you, so it’s likely the protection will treat you like the infant you were when it was first created. Hence the protection reacting to your alarm and removing believed threats, instead of acting to only defend against actual life-threatening spells. As the protection grows, it should begin to be able to tell the difference.”

Harry’s mouth opened and closed silently, his eyes huge. Then, the first thing he could think to say was — “Does this mean no more duelling practice?”

That prompted laughter from the adults still standing around him. “You really do love duelling, don’t you?” one of the Ministry officials said. Harry nodded.

“Yes, it’s really fun,” he said. “It’s almost as fun as flying.”

“Well, I don’t see any reason to stop completely,” the Head Unspeakable announced. “If your instructors work with our Soul Magic experts we can hopefully speed up the ageing of your protection so that it’s not jumping at the slightest thing like an overprotective parent by the time you’re attending Hogwarts.”

Harry nodded obediently.

“Well — not that all this isn’t fascinating—” the only Ministry official to have not talked yet spoke up “—but since the three of us are undoubtedly going to be obliviated of all this as a need-to-know event I’d like to ask you some questions I will actually remember the answers to, if you don’t mind.”

“Uh, okay,” Harry blinked.

“Firstly — excluding the soul-blood protection’s activation — how do you feel you did in this duel? You were fighting five adult opponents, all with Defence Masteries.”

Harry shrugged. “Well, I think I did good. But then, this isn’t the first time I’ve duelled the five of them. They even pulled Rowena and Bode in once, so I’ve even duelled seven against one. That one I ended up failing, but I’ve been practicing a lot since then. I got caught off-balance a couple times, but I think I could have drawn at least if — you know, if the protection stuff hadn’t happened.”

“Have you ever won a duel like this before?” the woman asked. Harry nodded.

“Yeah. I win three-on-ones pretty consistently now — that’s the most common duel type they’ve been drilling me on, you see. I’ve only won a five-on-one once, and that was because I used a method that doesn’t exist yet so it caught them all by surprise.”

“Really?” the woman exclaimed. “It doesn’t exist at all?”

Harry grinned. “Really. I was friends with the creators, you see. They created their own prank products, and while most of them were candies some were charmed objects. One object they had was a wand that would self-transfigure itself back and forth between a wand and some sort of joke object. It was a wand when held still or not held at all, but if you tried to use wand movements with it the trick wand would transform into something silly. I still have a few of their trick wands, and I brought some to duelling practice one day. I used switching spells on three of my opponents to switch their wands for the trick ones. It was really funny.”

That prompted some more chuckles. “It certainly is innovative,” one of the other two Ministry officials chortled.

“How would you have proceeded if the Dancing Feet Jinx had hit you?”

Harry cringed. “Was that what that was? I saw the green light and panicked.”

“We noticed,” Bode said dryly. Harry pointedly ignored him in favour of seriously considering the question.

“I would have done my best to cancel it and dodge any other spells coming until I could retaliate. I probably would have hexed his robe to wrap around him. Then I could disarm him easily, and I’d only have one opponent left to deal with.”

“And we’ve discovered he’s becoming close to unbeatable one-on-one unless he’s fighting an unfamiliar opponent. Against those five he’s been practicing with for months, he can nearly predict their movements,” Gus said with a sunny smile. Harry’s ears turned red as one of the Ministry officials whistled lowly.

“It’s not that big a deal,” Harry said embarrassedly. “Like he said, it’s only because we’ve been fighting together so often. The cursebreakers I’m having lessons with keep slipping tactics and strategy drills into my assignments so I’m learning how to do stuff like that.”

“But it shows you have talent,” the official who’d whistled disagreed. The three exchanged glances.

“I think we’re done here, sir,” the woman said to Bode. He nodded dolefully, and Harry’s eyes narrowed as they all filed out of the room. The Head Unspeakable had wandered off while the Ministry officials were asking Harry questions.

“What was that all about?” he asked Gus lowly. The man shrugged.

“They’re going to be helping us get your OWL results into place,” he said. “And Bode wanted them for other parts of your records. They’re going to file everything and then be obliviated. That’s what that one guy was referencing. They’ll remember assessing a duel in the DoM, but they won’t remember who for or what the result was.”

“Oh, OWLs,” Harry said tonelessly, suddenly filled with dread. Gus smirked at him.

“Yes, OWLs,” he repeated. “You’re more than ready for them, Harry. Don’t worry.”

“Says you,” Harry said. “I don’t even have Hermione to stress with as she obsesses over revising.”

Gus laughed at that, clapping Harry on the back.

“Don’t worry!” he exclaimed. “You’ll ace them, I’m sure.”

As he winked Harry wondered if Gus knew something he didn’t. The future Death Eater looked entirely too amused about Harry’s distress.

But then, he was a future Death Eater, Harry supposed.

Barty disguised as Moody had laughed when he stressed over tests as well.

*          *          *

A few hours later when Harry’s soulmark had been restored to its red colour, Harry had been sitting in the Hall of Souls surrounded by Soul Magic Unspeakables all monitoring his soulmark and the soul-blood protection. They wanted to make sure there were no further complications, now that his soul-blood protection was properly active.

They were also having to be very careful with what kind of spells they cast near him. One Unspeakable tried to light a cigarette with a flame-spell right next to Harry and the golden and blood-red protection had risen out of his skin—only to snuff out the flame and vanish again! The Unspeakables had all muttered excitedly about it, and Harry resignedly anticipated a load of testing sometime soon.

Harry watched in fascination as the words on his arm shimmered and turned red. It looked almost like the blood quill, like bloody words were being carved into his skin. He shivered as he watched it, and then pulled the silver bracelet back down over them. He looked up at the Unspeakables running diagnostics over him.

“Everything okay?” he asked. One of the Unspeakables nodded.

“Your half-bond reformed without issue, your magic is stable, and your soul-blood protection seems to have accepted your half-bond as part of your own magic now. It should continue to function properly, but we really ought to test it…”

Obligingly, the Unspeakable with the cigarette (he’d stepped out to light it and come back in smoking) vanished his cigarette and pulled out a new one. When he tried to light it the blood protection appeared once again to snuff the flame out. “Looks like it’s working just fine,” the smoker said dryly.

They’d turned time back for Harry after that, and he’d been sat in a special room as they tested the boundaries of the protective magic his parents had left him. The DoM had a special team of Unspeakables who were intended to test magic sent through time, and so were all utterly mute from magical protections, and could only speak to other people who had gone back in time. That meant Harry was a favourite of theirs, in the course of his lessons, and he was very familiar with them even though like with the duelling team, he knew none of their names.

The tests began tamely enough. First the Unspeakables ran through standard spells from the Hogwarts curriculum. Anything that even barely resembled a hex or jinx was instantly rebuffed, as were any actual curses. Magic could be performed near him easily enough, but only so long as it was not going to affect Harry at all. But then Harry told the Unspeakables testing his protection about the incident with the smoker earlier (later) that day.

One of the Unspeakables on the time-travel team was also a smoker, so he decided to test that more extensively. They discovered that not only would the protection put out any fires or sparks set near Harry, but it would actually physically push away any smoke exhaled by the smoker as well. Then the same Unspeakable wanted to test the other elements around Harry as well. They discovered that he could get wet, but the blood protection made him buoyant in water, and kept his face out of the water at all times. The one thing Harry had been nervous about was flying. What if the protection wouldn’t let him fly?

Thankfully it hardly seemed to register him flying, even when he did dangerous stunts in the space-expanded room he was brought to. Of course, Harry was an excellent flier and wasn’t in any danger or state of panic. They knew the protection guarded against objects thrown or banished at Harry, so it would likely protect him from Bludgers automatically. He glumly realised this meant no Quidditch until they could lessen the effects of the protection. After all, the people of Godric’s Hollow were very serious about their Quidditch, and even if Harry couldn’t help it the protection keeping Bludgers away from him likely still counted as cheating.

Another odd thing about the protection made it very telling that it had been designed for use on toddlers and young children. The soul-blood protection wouldn’t let Harry be in a room alone unless he was somewhere safe. “Somewhere safe” being a bedroom or a location that passed for baby-proofed, which was really annoying.

In a “non-safe room” he could get a single room’s distance away so long as the door was open, but if he tried to close the door the magic of the protection would reappear to open the door. Even in a single space, if he wandered a certain distance from the adults around him a glowing gold and red light would appear and literally drag him back towards the nearest adult. Oh, it was a gentle dragging, and all the while Harry would hear a soft feminine voice he vaguely recognized as his mother’s gently scolding him. It was almost funny, and Harry loved hearing his mum say anything that wasn’t a dying scream, so he almost didn’t mind.

Still.

He really hoped they fixed it soon, so that the protection would stop treating him like a toddler.

After they had tested everything they could think of Harry was sent off to his OWL study session. Even unusual magical happenings couldn’t postpone his OWLs review, it seemed. On the way out, Harry was very firmly told to inform the DoM anytime his protection did anything new. Then he went back to cramming for his OWLs, which were scheduled for a month and a half from now except for his Defence OWL, which was Friday.

Harry was coming along rather nicely with his review work, despite his apprehensions. He actually used that silly planner Hermione gave him to keep track of everything, and occasionally he wistfully wondered how she would have reacted to seeing him be so dutiful and studious.

The easiest classes to review for were Astronomy and History of Magic. Both classes were mostly book-work, and neither were overly difficult with competent teachers. In the end, most of the focus in those classes was making sure Harry knew what sort of things would exist that didn’t yet, both according to his own recollections and other records from previous travellers through Morgana’s Clock. Evidently the farthest anyone had ever gone in the Clock was back from 2142 all the way to the early 1200’s, so they had plenty of records of various improvements that may or may not have existed in the new timeline.

Apparently, one of the duties of the DoM was to keep track of all innovations and magical changes that were supposed to occur. Any that were negated by timeline changes, but were beneficial to society, would be released by the DoM through the regular Ministry patent office on the date they should have been created. That was why the Temporal Memoir Harry would write was such a big deal, and it was also why they’d borrowed all of Harry’s past and current textbooks before hiding them in his suitcase apartment. They used all the information they could to update their lists and keep time running more-or-less smoothly despite time travellers like Harry causing hiccups.

As for his other classes, Harry’s Herbology and Charms study were also coming along swimmingly. His Potions review was as well despite his having been farther behind in that subject. He supposed all those times Henry or Uncle Flea had dragged him off to the potions’ lab in the attic were really counting for something.

Transfiguration was one class he was having serious trouble in, as Harry had incredible difficulty using transfiguration spells nonverbally. Even for his exams within the DoM the Unspeakables wanted him performing all spells nonverbally. They said it was just good sense, and further practice for when he’d be at Hogwarts. After all, he’d likely be under intense scrutiny for the first few months he was there and so his backstory would have to hold. Harry totally understood their reasoning…but that didn’t make transfiguring nonverbally any easier!

Bode had tested Harry’s growing knowledge of Arithmancy and Ancient Runes and had decided that he’d take those OWLs late, at Christmas or Easter break depending on how quickly he progressed through the materials they’d compile to send him. So he’d be put in the sixth year classes at Hogwarts for the subjects, but only conditionally. He’d be taking correspondence courses with the DoM to catch up in the subjects and would take his OWLs for the classes over break. If he passed he’d stay in the sixth year classes, if not, he would drop down to a lower level or drop them entirely.

The Unspeakables said he clearly had a talent for Arithmancy, but they felt confident he could get caught up in both subjects by spring hols at the latest. Harry just supposed he’d have to wait and see.

By the end of the review period Harry was yawning openly. He’d really had a very full day—he’d turned time back twice, once for the blood protection testing and again for his OWLs review. He’d definitely be taking a long nap this afternoon.

He was met with Bode, Rowena, and Gus at the end of his time in the DoM for the day. They’d turned time back after the duelling incident, so they were caught up and knew what was going on. The three had really become Harry’s primary “minders” in the DoM, and he was growing extremely fond of the three of them, even knowing Gus would become a Death Eater.

The trio made plans for Harry to meet up with the group of Soul Magic Unspeakables tomorrow after his daily Occlumency lesson with Rowena. He’d be doing research with them on what the DoM knew about the sort of soul-blood protection Harry’s parents had created, in the hopes of finding a way to “age it up”, so to speak.

Harry returned to Potter Manse heavy-eyed and drowsy. Aunt Euphemia took one look at him and sent him upstairs for a nap.

“I’ll hold your luncheon for you, dear,” she told him, helping him up to his bedroom. As they walked, Harry told her all they’d discovered that day about the soul-blood protection his parents had created for him—and that the Unspeakable today had unwittingly woken up. Euphemia and Fleamont knew only a little bit about Harry’s past—only what had been meshed with his new backstory, and the few details he’d let slip afterwards. They knew his soulmate was alive in this time period, but they still did not know that Harry’s soulmate was the one who was going to kill their son and daughter-in-law.

And so Euphemia hugged him tightly as Harry told her all about it. She even teared up when Harry sleepily described how his mother’s voice would sometimes speak through the protection, and how he hoped he’d hear his dad.

“I’ve only ever heard him telling Mum to take me and run, you know. I can hear Mum and Dad right before they died when Dementors are around. That’s why Professor Lupin taught me the Patronus. I like hearing them say things that aren’t distressed.”

His grandmother kissed him on the forehead, tucking him into bed. “Well, at the start of next week your father will be talking your ears off, Harry. I told him about you in our last letter to him and Jamie’s very excited to have a cousin. We’ve decided not to tell him who you really are, but I think the two of you will be very close anyhow.”

Harry yawned. “I’d like that,” he mused sleepily. “’Night, Gran.”

His door closed softly. “Goodnight, grandson.”

*          *          *

Harry awoke with the depressing reminder that he couldn’t play Quidditch with the rest of the family tonight or anytime soon, unless they could figure out this protection business. He moseyed his way down to the kitchen to discover his grandfather cooking supper. A sandwich was under a covered plate, and Fleamont pointed to it.

“That’s your lunch, Harry, if you still want it. Supper shouldn’t be for another few hours so as long as you don’t eat too much before then it should be fine.”

Harry nodded. “Thanks.”

As Harry sat, he told Fleamont about the problems with his playing Quidditch. “And I was really looking forward to tonight’s game, too,” he said dolefully.

Fleamont shook his head. “Ah, well, there’ll be other games, lad,” he said bracingly.

Harry frowned. “What should we tell the others?” he asked. “I mean, we could say I’m feeling poorly tonight, but that won’t hold up if it takes a month or two to fix the problem.”

His grandfather blinked. “Oh. I hadn’t thought of that.” He regarded Harry carefully. “I suppose we’ll have to make up some story for the villagers, but I’ve never really liked all this secret-keeping business among the family. I agree your dad shouldn’t be told yet—he’s still a wee thing, so it can wait until he’s older—and Caelum won’t be too heavily involved as he’s going to begin working in France this summer, but letting the others know would help us. Six heads are better than three, after all.”

Harry nodded slowly. “I…suppose so,” he said hesitantly. “The Department of Mysteries basically left it up to my discretion who I tell. I’m not supposed to be overly open with it, and the people I tell have to swear oaths of silence to keep the Black family safe and the Clock hidden, but there’re no real laws against my telling people I’m a time traveller.”

Fleamont nodded brightly. “It’s settled, then. We’ll discuss it tonight at supper, and then tomorrow those Unspeakables will work at convincing your mum and dad’s imprints that you’re not a toddler any longer.”

As the older man was speaking there was a flapping at the window. Both Potters blinked at the large raven carrying a letter in its beak. The raven hopped over and presented it to Harry. This surprised both even more. It wasn’t as if there were a vast number of people who would even know Harry existed to send him letters, after all.

“Only the Blacks use ravens,” Fleamont said uneasily as Harry took the letter, bemused.

Harry opened the folded parchment to reveal a fancy letterhead. His eyebrows went up as he realised exactly what this was. Uncle Arcturus had warned him about this. It was a special lunch known as a Gathering, when every living member who either was born a Black or identified more as Black than as another family was required to attend. They discussed important family business and it was at the Gatherings that family politics and public stances were decided. There were four a year—one at the start of the new year, one a month before the students returned from Hogwarts, a third right before Hogwarts began, and the last shortly after Halloween.

“It’s the invitation to the Black Gathering,” Harry said. “Uncle Arcturus and Cousin Orion have been telling me about this. I’d forgotten the next one is going to be tomorrow.” He looked up. “Can we floo call the Ministry? I need to get a message to the DoM so they know I’ll need to leave before eleven tomorrow.”

Well, comparatively. What would really happen would be them turning back time for Harry an extra go or two so he could get all his usual work in. Harry sighed.

He just knew that tomorrow was going to be an ordeal. He just knew it.

Chapter Text

Harry had supposed today would be an ordeal, but the real ordeal actually began the previous night. They’d sat Henry, Charlus, and Dorea down before supper and had them all take the Unspeakable oaths Harry had been given copies of to show people when necessary. The three Potters had been confused, but they had gone along with it with minimal fuss with a bit of cajoling from Harry’s grandparents. Afterwards, Harry had stood and said, in his original Surrey accent, “Hello, everyone, it’s nice to meet you. I’m Harry Potter, son of James and Lily Potter.” He quirked a smile at the mouths falling open but couldn’t help but fidget nervously. “I was born in nineteen-eighty, and three months ago I accidently arrived in the past because of a Black artefact in my godfather’s home.”

There’d been bewilderment, and so many questions, but at that point Flea and Euphie had taken over explanations. Thankfully, Dorea did know of Morgana’s Clock and its abilities, so she was the easiest to convince. She also admitted Harry was just too much like Jamie and the other Potters. That had been what caught her attention about him. Apparently, his unconscious habits of running his hand through his hair, fidgeting with his shirt, even the way he’d inflected some words was just very…Potter. Which was odd to her, because he’d been introduced as a Travers-Black.

That was when Harry had pointed out that he’d not been raised by any Potters, so he didn’t see how that could be. Unfortunately, that revelation required his grandparents to explain what Harry had told them about the upcoming war, and the role of the Potters in it. Harry hated that he still didn’t know what had happened to most of his family. He knew his grandparents had died of dragon pox shortly before his dad’s graduating year, because Sirius had told him so, but no mention had ever been made of any other Potter relatives. Harry only knew that Charlus, Dorea, and their son had all died the same year because of the Black Tapestry.

Explaining took an awful long time, so long Taffy had set dinner down in front of them all with a huff, announcing they could keep talking as long as they ate while they did so. They wanted to know all about his years at Hogwarts, who had raised him, if being in the past meant he’d never bond with a soulmate—Harry answered Hogwarts questions easily enough, dodged around the topic of the Dursleys as gracefully as he could, and flat out told them all that considering his soulmate had been the one to murder his parents, he didn’t bloody well care if he never bonded with the man.

That had stopped them all short, and it had provided enough of a segue that Harry could get down to the real point of explaining all this—the soul-blood bond his parents had created to save his life. He’d demonstrated what he could and had explained the difficulties with it believing he was a toddler. They ended up cancelling that evening’s Quidditch match to brainstorm ways to explain the blood protection away if the DoM couldn’t wear it down any.

In the end, Dorea suggested implying it was some sort of Black family witch’s magic. Not too many people knew how witch’s magic worked, and even fewer would pry into family magic. They would simply imply the spirits that appeared to protect Harry were ancestral instead of his actual parents, and hedge on why the protection acted the way it did. Apparently there were blood magics in the Black Family Grimoires that could call on ancestral spirits, so that explanation might even pass muster for other members of the Black family.

Harry had agreed, glad they’d finally had a solution. The Potters had all gone to bed exhausted but pleased at how everything had gone—though Harry anticipated several questions over the next few days and weeks. Dorea especially looked like she was biting back hundreds of fascinated questions.

He’d had to be escorted to bed because the blood protection wouldn’t let him near the stairs when he was alone. When they reached his bedroom in the attic his grandmother had kissed his cheek goodnight and wished him well for the upcoming day. Harry had fallen asleep hopeful that the Unspeakables could figure out a way to explain to the imprints of his parents that he was, in fact, fifteen years old and not fifteen months old. He was still hopeful when he’d woken up the next morning, but as the morning waned his hope began to wane with it.

The Unspeakables spent the whole morning testing his protection even further than they had the day before—with added attempts to work out a way to calm the protection down. The problem, Harry was told, was that there was simply too little information on both the original ritual and on whatever Harry’s parents had done. They had to run so many tests to figure out if the Potters had used the original, if they’d used one of the known adapted versions, or if they’d created their own. Without knowing the details, they wouldn’t have any way to safely effect the blood and soul protection at all.

By the time Harry had to turn back time for his daily schooling he was disheartened and tetchy. The Unspeakables all assured him that they had made progress, that they would simply have to work more on it tomorrow, but Harry had been hoping for at least a sign they’d improved it any.

But they hadn’t, so Harry went through his schoolwork morosely before Flooing back to Potter Manse. The bloody protection wouldn’t even let him Floo by himself, so Gus escorted him home, heavy and noticeable Unspeakable robes transfigured to draw less attention.

Aunt Euphie convinced Gus to stay for an early lunch, which Harry was glad of. Gus was such a cheerful fellow, for a future Death Eater. Harry almost thought of him as a friend.

Considering he was going to be fed later by the Blacks Harry had only picked at his lunch before waving goodbye to Gus and trudging upstairs to change and get ready for the Black Family Meeting. He pulled on the robes Aunt Melania had taken him shopping for—the robes in acromantula silk and lightweight cashmere, lined in velvet and satin (nicer than anything Harry had ever worn before) with the Black crest carved into the buttons that went down his front—and tried to make his hair look presentable. Having long hair made that a little easier, but he still had to use a ridiculous amount of Uncle Flea’s Sleekeazy’s in the shower to have it actually lie flat.

Harry stared at the stranger that was his reflection. Henry Travers had dark brown hair that curled in every direction instead of just being ridiculously untidy. Because Aunt Euphie’s (his grandmother’s) mother had been from wizarding India, he now had a darker complexion than Harry Potter who, being another generation removed and the son of a milk-pale redhead besides, had only been somewhat tan unless he spent time in the sun. His formerly striking rune-scar was gone, his forehead smooth. He didn’t think he’d ever get used to that.

Harry’s green eyes were still his most noticeable feature, and they shone even brighter without glasses obscuring them. Apparently there was actually a potion which could fix your vision, but it was not only hideously expensive and difficult to brew, but was restricted by the Ministry besides because it could only be used on people under a certain age and only if the person’s eyesight was a certain level of terrible.

The Unspeakables had given him some while rebuilding his identity, and Harry still wasn’t used to how clear the world was. The glasses his aunt had pulled out of the charity bin years ago had definitely been the wrong prescription after so long, so going from his so-so sight to sharp clarity was still unsettling even after the months he’d been here.

Harry stared at the stranger wearing fine robes in the mirror, wondering rather desperately how his life had gotten to this point. It was…it was jarring, and alarming, to realize he was turning into somebody he didn’t recognize. What if he kept on changing? What if he forgot the sound of Sirius’ laugh, or how it felt when Hermione and Ron hugged him, or the warm feeling hearing new stories about Lily and James Potter gave him?

Red and gold shimmered under his skin, rising up as the ghostly near-invisible forms of his dead parents wrapped their arms around him. “Don’t be sad, Harry,” his Mum breathed. “Everything’s going to be alright.”

Harry stared at himself in the mirror, ghostly images of his parents trying to give him comfort. He imagined having had this all his life. He wondered if these two ghosts sleeping under his skin had been the reason for his unassailable belief that someone out there loved him, even when the Dursleys insisted he was unlovable.

“Yes,” Harry whispered. “Everything’s going to be fine. I might be stuck here in the past but that…that just means I have a chance to keep you all safe.” Harry nodded determinedly to his reflection. He’d been avoiding thinking about the fact that he was never going home, and right now was definitely not the time for a breakdown, but that thought was one he’d had occasionally. It made the thought of being stuck here forever worth it—if he could save his parents, if he could keep his family safe, Harry could stand his whole world being upended.

He deliberately turned away from the mirror. “I’ve got to go meet Dorea, now,” he murmured. He felt his mum’s echo press a kiss to his temple, felt his father ruffle his hair.

“Have fun kiddo,” he heard whispered, and then they were gone again.

Harry managed to push aside the desperate longing in his heart long enough to head out into the main part of the Manse. Dorea was waiting by the Floo, dressed in sombre dark red robes with the ravens from the Black crest embroidered around the hems. She held out her arm for Harry to take as his etiquette lessons with Arcturus and Melania had taught him. Dorea smiled at him.

“Don’t worry, Harry,” she said. “This meeting will be a breeze, you’ll see.”

The family meeting was held in Grimmauld Place. It was Harry’s first time back there since arriving in 1972. Harry looked around at the sitting room they’d flooed in to. He’d not paid his surroundings much mind before, too dazed and confused, but now Harry was able to appreciate seeing this house in its prime.

It was still quite dark and rather creepy, but without the cobwebs, the scrabbling of vermin, and the pervasive smell of rot and mildew, it came across as austere and grand rather than haunted house-esque. Waiting in the sitting room was Orion (whom he had been told to call Cousin) along with the living Walburga Black. She looked just as unpleasant in person as she had in painted form, dismissing Dorea with a rude sniff and giving Harry a once-over that showed she clearly felt he was lacking in something.

Harry, for his part, simply raised his chin, using Occlumency to blank out his face as he gave her his best glare. But he didn’t let his gaze linger on her—he didn’t want to give her the satisfaction of knowing she’d managed to annoy him—and instead he turned to Orion with a warm smile.

“Cousin Orion!” he exclaimed, clasping the man’s hand as Dorea and Walburga pretended to kiss cheeks as per protocol. The two women both stepped back very quickly, still eyeing each other hatefully, but Harry and Orion ignored their animosity to catch up since Harry’s last Sunday lesson Orion had been able to attend, a little over a week ago.

He really did like Orion. He was nice, and the way he reminded Harry of Mr. Weasley meant Harry found him easy to talk to. The poor man was just utterly incapable of standing up to Walburga.

Orion placed a hand on Harry’s shoulder as they finished catching up. “We’re only waiting on Aunt Cassiopeia, now,” he said. “If you like, you and Dorea could head on to the solarium.”

Dorea leapt at the chance to escape Walburga. “Yes, that sounds like a good idea,” she agreed. She offered Harry her arm again. “Come along, Cousin Harry. I’ll introduce you to the rest of the family.”

Harry accepted her arm with a murmur of agreement, and Dorea led him through the house. Harry blinked when he saw the door they were approaching. “This is a solarium?” he asked, fascinated. “It was taken over by this massive Bundium when I was visiting my godfather, so we weren’t allowed near it.”

Dorea’s eyebrows went up. “You know I’m going to ask you more about that later,” she warned.

“Sure!” Harry rejoined cheerfully, and then they opened the door and entered.

The room was full of people. Harry was the only one under seventeen—most of them were actually middle-aged or older. The oldest person there was his “Uncle” Arcturus. The youngest was Bellatrix Lestrange, who was twenty-one, bright-eyed and fresh-faced. She looked nothing like the haughty but maddened woman he’d seen in the Pensieve trial memory. Harry wasn’t sure how to feel about her—he remembered seeing the Longbottoms at St Mungo’s, but…like with Gus, this woman was hardly a Death Eater yet. Harry felt conflicted, and so when Bellatrix practically skipped up to them with a delighted greeting for Dorea, arms akimbo and silver soulmark bracelet barely visible under her voluminous sleeves, he stayed silent.

“And is this my new cousin I’ve heard so much about?” Bellatrix asked slyly, beaming at Harry with an expression that was disconcertingly familiar.

Dorea smiled back warmly. “Why, yes, it is. This is Henry Travers. Henry, Bellatrix Black Lestrange.”

Harry bowed obediently over her hand, offering her a bland smile. “Pleased to meet you, cousin,” he managed to say.

Bellatrix grinned. “Oh, don’t bother being too formal. It’s just Bella to you, lad. Or Cousin Bella.” She leaned forward and said in a conspiring tone, “Frankly, I’m so glad Uncle Arcturus claimed you for our House instead of leaving you for the Travers. We’ve not got enough handsome young men in the family.”

That had Harry flushing and stepping backwards.

Dorea gave him a concerned glance, but said, “You’ll have to forgive him. He’s so shy.”

Bella’s eyes glinted. “Oh, he’ll get over that if he attends enough family gatherings, Auntie.”

Harry was honestly frightened of Bellatrix, and not because of her future as a loony torturing Death Eater. Right now, she looked just like Sirius had when he’d been planning ways to drive Mrs. Weasley insane when she’d been rude about his insistence on telling her what rooms she was and wasn’t allowed to go through. That look boded no good for anyone it was directed towards, Harry had learnt.

The others in the room were all chatting with one another politely but watching Harry out of the corners of their eyes. Just as Harry was starting to wonder if he could politely duck away from Bellatrix to avoid any diabolical plotting, the quiet chatting was interrupted by a tall woman dressed in bottle-green robes nearly running into the room, followed at a more sedate pace by Orion and Walburga. The woman looked closer in age to Arcturus than to Orion, but she carried herself as if she was much younger than her grey-streaked black hair implied. The stranger gave Harry a curtsey as she passed, but otherwise ignored him to make a general announcement to the room.

“Sorry I’m late,” she sang out. “I blew up the cottage again.”

There was a chorus of spluttering from the various Blacks.

“Again!?” Arcturus demanded, striding forwards. “Really, Cassie, that’s the third time since Yule!”

She smirked. “Well, if you’d let me cast some of the wards I want to set over the property we wouldn’t have to deal with this, would we?”

Arcturus just rubbed his brow tiredly. Harry’s own eyebrows went up.

“Is there any specific reason he won’t let you?” Harry asked interestedly.

The Black called Cassie (probably the Aunt Cassiopeia Orion mentioned earlier) blinked at him innocently. “Oh, I don’t know,” she said in a mock-thoughtful manner. “It might be because the one I’d like to set are blood magic, and the Ministry’s awfully touchy about that sort of thing.” She smirked. “Or perhaps it’s because my favourite types of wards turn intruders inside-out, whether they’re nosy relatives or not, in addition to defending the structural integrity of the building.”

Erk.

“Well,” Harry said, trying not to let on that she’d officially freaked him out, “I can see why he wouldn’t want to have to deal with that sort of thing. Having relatives dropping dead because they’re trying to visit you for tea would be most inconvenient.”

Cassie pouted like she was his age. “I’d put them right eventually,” she muttered. Harry didn’t know what was more alarming—that this crazy Black still clearly thought that turning annoying people inside-out was appropriate, that the wards which did so somehow kept the person who’d had their insides replace their outsides alive, or that she clearly knew enough about dark magic to not only create such a ward, but reverse its effects as well.

“Perhaps a compromise?” Harry couldn’t help but say. He winced when he saw Cassie perk up and Arcturus start to look worried. Him and his big mouth.

Oh?” Cassie said eagerly. “And what sort of compromise would you suggest?”

He really hadn’t had any ideas, so he winged it. “Um, maybe…maybe make it so that any wards that effect people who aren’t dangerous intruders—you know, like nosy relatives or Ministry officials—can be reversed by the intruders themselves. I mean,” he continued, warming to the idea, “then you wouldn’t have to worry about undoing the effects yourself, and people will know if they show up and get cursed that you’re not up for visitors, so they should leave. And as for the blood wards,” he added, a sudden idea striking him. Harry threw Dorea a tiny smirk before continuing. She was watching him like he was an absolute train wreck, but she also looked impressed, so he figured he was doing something right.

Harry turned back to Cassiopeia. “Don’t you know the Ministry won’t give a fuss if they think it’s women’s magic? They’d hardly dare to.”

At least, that’s what he’d gathered from what Dorea had said the previous evening. Apparently witch’s magic—known more informally as women’s magic—was a taboo subject for lawmakers because it ran the risk of upsetting wives and mothers unduly. It was thoroughly skirted around in a number of laws, and the loopholes available if you could call something witch’s magic were apparently large enough to drive the Weasley Ford Anglia through. Pun intended. Harry had asked Rowena this morning about her opinion on it, and she’d laughed and said much the same as Dorea, so there must be something to it.

Cassie blinked at him, and then a grin slowly spread across her face. “That’s brilliant!” she crowed. She latched onto his arm. “Oh, you’re my new favourite, lad! Just like Lycoris, you are!” She threw Arcturus a superior look. “Well, what do you think of your nephew’s compromise?”

Arcturus gave Harry the same considering look he tended to when he was talking about Voldemort. Harry wasn’t quite sure why, but was relieved when the man merely said, “I suppose it sounds reasonable, Cassie. But you and I will go over your list of intended wards in detail before you lay anything down!”

Cassie nodded, apparently completely unphased. “Of course, cousin dearest!” she sang out. Arcturus just looked tired and Harry felt for him. He really did.

Still holding onto Harry’s arm, Cassie dragged him forward and into the centre of the room before letting go and turning to Arcturus. “I feel we haven’t been properly introduced to our newest and most interesting cousin, Arty. It must be rectified immediately.”

Harry really wished she hadn’t dragged him into the middle of the room. Everyone was staring now. Bellatrix looked thoroughly entertained, as did Dorea, and the others looked varying levels of impressed, amused, or disdainful. Arcturus just sighed again.

“Of course, dear cousin,” he said with a hint of dryness. “Now that you’ve finally arrived, we can, of course, begin.”

Arcturus stepped forward and laid a hand on Harry’s shoulder. “Cousins and children, kin one and all, welcome to the Black Family Gathering. I would have you bid welcome to the newest member of our family. A Black by blood and by birthright, if not by name. Henry Sirius Travers, son of Lycoris Black and her soul-bonded mate. He is of our kin, he is our kin, and he shall be welcomed among us.”

The family bowed almost in unison and greetings of varying enthusiasm were called out to him. Even Walburga muttered something, even though Harry noted she refused to do so until Orion elbowed her. Arcturus looked satisfied at the reactions.

“Let us take our seats,” he continued, “and begin the Gathering.”

The entire family migrated over to the table at the back of the room. Arcturus steered Harry into the seat to his right, with Orion sitting to his left. Harry was uncomfortably aware that everyone was staring, and no wonder. His “uncle” was making quite the statement, according to what Harry had been taught. Usually at a social function, a nobleman’s heir always sat to his right, with either his wife or a favoured relative to his left. Auntie Mellie (as she’d insisted he call her) looked quite content sitting at the opposite end of the table with the younger women, and she was positively smirking at the ruckus Harry’s seating had caused. Orion was also smirking, but Walburga looked like she wanted to claw Harry’s eyes out with her fingernails.

Pollux Black, Walburga’s father, sat down next to Harry and introduced himself, looking Harry up and down like he couldn’t decide if he was entertained by him or not. It was an uncomfortable feeling. Pollux’s wife, a rather ugly woman who was definitely related to the Crabbe family, stuck her nose in the air and sat next to her daughter rather than her husband, pointedly ignoring both him and Harry beside him. The rest of the family seated themselves by age, with the men in Arcturus’ and Pollux’s generation at one end and the young ones like Bellatrix and her cousins at the opposite end, with many of the oldest women forming a small group around Melania in the midst of the younger cousins.

First was the luncheon, which was Harry’s first real test of the etiquette Arcturus, Melania, and Orion had been teaching him. Thankfully, his alias gave him an excuse to refuse to speak, so he could concentrate more on remembering rules like which fork to use, and the order in which you were supposed to eat your courses. As he did so, Arcturus told everyone Harry’s cover history and Harry did his best to smile and at least nod or shake his head to the various questions his new family had for him.

Discussing heavy topics was rather taboo for meal times, so Harry only had to deal with small talk until their dishes had vanished and been replaced by small plates of dessert, each one specialized for the individual Blacks seated at the table and all but Harry’s accompanied by a glass of wine or Firewhisky. Harry instead had a glass of frothy butterbeer. Once everyone had taken at least a few bites of their dessert, Arcturus cleared his throat.

“To business. I have announcements to begin with, obviously, and then other matters and issues will be addressed.”

The older wizard’s grey eyes flickered to the faces sat watching him. Most of them had their own eyes on Arcturus as well, but some were unable to keep from glancing at Harry in the meantime.

“Firstly, I am sure you have all noticed the new seating arrangements. It has been discovered that my father named Lycoris a potential Heir, under myself but greater than my son Orion. Her status has been inherited by her son, Henry, and Orion and I have decided after much deliberation that he will be trained and raised as a full Heir of House Black. You will treat him with the respect this position grants him.”

A quiet babble erupted, and the voice of one of the Blacks he didn’t know rang out. “What about Orion, my lord? Are he and his sons being set aside?”

Arcturus smirked. “Hardly,” he said. “It is by Orion’s wish that Henry will be taking his place as Heir, and Orion will still act as Heir at many social functions which our young lad will not be able to attend, at least until Henry is of age. Young Sirius is still Heir’s Heir. If I died tomorrow, magic would decide between Orion and Henry to choose the new Lord, but Sirius would become full Heir at that time in lieu of his father regardless of whether Orion were made Lord or not.”

“Sounds unnecessarily complicated to me,” Bellatrix muttered. Harry rather thought she hadn’t intended to be heard, because she started and flushed when Arcturus replied to her.

“You may say that, young Bellatrix,” Arcturus conceded, “because it is true. It is a mess my father created by favouring Lycoris, but our decided upon arrangement is an adequate solution.”

His silver gaze searched around the table. “Any other questions or objections?” At the shaking heads Arcturus nodded his own head sharply. “Then let us move on.”

The next thing discussed were the grades of the Blacks still at Hogwarts, and the tutoring grades of any who were not currently in school. Harry had been surprised while studying the Black Family tree with Arcturus and Orion to learn that Malfoy’s future mom was only a year or two older than he was right now. She also had a twin—and Harry was fairly sure that Andromeda was actually Tonks’ mother. Those two and Sirius were the only ones with the Black name who were currently at Hogwarts. Sirius had a younger brother named Regulus who wasn’t slated to begin attending until September, and who was being privately tutored in history and magical theory as all Black children were before Hogwarts.

“Cissy” and “Andy” were currently sixth years, and there was quiet talk about how their grades had all been more than satisfactory. Harry learnt, to his bemusement, that apparently that prim and proper woman he’d seen trailing after Lucius Malfoy was one of the Slytherin Quidditch Beaters, with her twin being the other one. Huh. Maybe he could convince Melania or Arcturus to let him host a party for all the younger Blacks at the sprawling French estate the older couple lived at, and they could play a game or five of Quidditch.

If, of course, he could get this soul-blood protection figured out before then.

There was some grumbling when it came to discuss Sirius—some still sour over his being a Gryffindor, and many more disgruntled at the sheer number of detentions he’d acquired for only being a first year. Apparently Sirius and James had been in fine pranking form for the past school year, and had been in and out of detentions, only making up any points lost through sheer brilliance in their classes. A few Blacks made sly insulting remarks about Orion and Walburga’s parenting. Orion gracefully deflected all barbs while Walburga’s expression grew more and more sour.

There was a brief discussion of Harry’s own grades—many people were impressed he was “attending” Chrónia Akadimía, despite knowing nothing about it. They explained Harry was preparing to take his OWLs at the Ministry, and that he hoped to begin Hogwarts in the fall. There was a great deal of well-wishes and congratulations. It was kind of overwhelming, actually, and Harry fell back on his cover’s muteness to avoid replying awkwardly to the strangers who seemed so invested in his life.

Once they’d finished with Harry the discussion moved on to Black relatives who didn’t carry the Black name. Harry hadn’t even known they still kept an eye on relatives outside the main family, but he listened as they discussed how Dorea’s son Caelum was doing—having a mental breakdown over his NEWTs, apparently—and what his plans were for graduation. Harry learned why he’d likely never heard of Cousin Caelum. The seventh year was planning on apprenticing to a famous healer in France who was currently an instructor at Beauxbatons. Caelum was also courting a French girl who was about to graduate from Beauxbatons as well. Even if he’d survived the (upcoming) war, he likely would have stayed in France, or possibly moved elsewhere in Europe rather than deal with the political turmoil of being relatives of the Harry Potter.

Neville’s father Frank was the grandson of a Black woman, but as the Longbottoms were nobility in their own right, he wasn’t watched over as closely by the Black family. Still, as he was apparently of a similar age to Bellatrix, his budding Auror career was discussed in brief. They still spent a few minutes talking about Neville’s great-grandmother Callidora, though, as she’d been suffering a bout of dragon pox recently, and her Black cousins were worried about her. Harry was surprised to learn during this discussion that Barty Crouch Jr. actually did count in the ranks of “cousins” the Blacks kept track of. His grandmother Charis was one of the older women at the table, sat just beside Melania. Little Bartemius was at the moment one of the pre-Hogwarts children (he would be starting the school year after Regulus), but his tutors were being paid for by the Black Family. Harry was amused when Charis went into a rant about her son—Bartemius Senior—who in her opinion had turned his back not only on his parents but on the family he’d created, utterly neglecting his son’s education despite the Crouches being a vassal family to the Blacks.

That was when Harry interrupted. “Um, what does that mean?” he asked, hating the way all eyes turned to him. He smiled apologetically. “Sorry, I just—” Harry did his best not to flounder and said, “We haven’t discussed vassals yet, Uncle Arcturus.”

It was Orion who answered. “Yes, sorry, that’s on the agenda for two weeks from now. In brief, a lesser family—untitled purebloods in poverty, immigrants, halfbloods, that sort of thing—can petition the greater family for certain benefits in exchange for family protection and certain concessions. Vassalage is usually sealed by a marriage agreement and is perpetuated by marrying lesser members of the House back into the vassal family. The only way to break a vassalage is to have five generations pass with no one in either family marrying each other. The Blacks haven’t actually made any new vassal families in the last few centuries, which is why we felt we could wait to cover it. The Lestranges and the Crouches are the last of our vassals to remain in our service, actually. While the Lestranges were actually granted vassalage when they arrived in the wake of William’s conquest, the Crouches became such over a millennium ago; according to family lore they were actually muggleborns who petitioned for protection from muggle persecution in exchange for a number of things, including influence over their politics and rights to govern their children. Now they’re pureblooded, of course, after so many centuries of Black-arranged marriages, but they are still subordinate to our family.”

Harry nodded slowly. “Right, I’ve got it.” He wondered, suddenly curious, how on earth Crouch had managed to send Sirius to Azkaban without a trial if Sirius was the heir of a family Crouch was beholden to. Something was…fishy there but considering all those issues were a decade in the future, Harry supposed he’d just have to gather more information. He also wistfully wondered if he could help the younger Barty any. He owned the poor kid a debt due to his older self’s actions, and Harry felt it would only be right to not only repay him, but possibly try to keep Barty’s life from going so thoroughly down the toilet.

Harry tuned back to the family discussion to register they’d turned from the subject of grades to the topic of family finances and businesses. He made a face. Maybe he’d think a bit more on Barty and wait for them to return to a more interesting topic.

Chapter Text

Harry began paying attention again when two of the older Black ladies began squabbling over something or other to the point that they actually began throwing hexes. He watched wide-eyed until Arcturus ended the spat by slamming his hand on the table and demanding they put their wands away.

The Black patriarch tucked a stray hair behind his ear as he sat down again, smoothing out his robes. “Now that we’ve all remembered how to act like civilized witches and wizards again,” he said in a censuring tone, “perhaps we could get back to the family business. Are there any other serious matters we need to discuss?”

Beside Orion and Walburga, Cygnus Black cleared his throat. Harry remembered from his lessons that he was the father of Bellatrix and the two sixth-year twins.

“We have yet to discuss marriage contracts for Andromeda and Narcissa. Bellatrix was already betrothed by the end of her fourth year of Hogwarts—” In the background, Harry noticed Bellatrix make a face “—and yet my younger daughters have not even had their offers reviewed. In addition, neither girl has met her soul match yet, so we cannot know whether their soulmates will be appropriate partners either.”

Harry noticed the sharp, almost angry looks exchanged between Cygnus and his wife, and suddenly realized the wife must have been the one to postpone this. Perhaps she didn’t agree with marriage contracts?

Arcturus nodded slowly. “A wise proposal. I assume you have some offers already, and that is why you’ve recommended I look into the matter?”

Cygnus nodded sharply. “Yes, that is correct, my lord.”

From his pocket, he produced a large leather folder stuffed with parchment. He slid it down the table to Arcturus, who opened it and began to flip through the stack of what Harry could see were letters offering various things in exchange for the hand of a daughter of House Black in marriage, all crisp and smooth and covered in elegant handwriting. Harry read the offers over Arcturus’ shoulder curiously, Orion on the other side also looking them over. It was all formal language and business deals. Harry didn’t much like it, but Melania had waxed eloquent about the benefits of a proper marriage contract for the girl being contracted when he’d dared to offer his opinions on the matter a few weeks ago.

Apparently, such contracts could ensure the girl’s money and social status stayed intact or improved according to her marriage. All marriage contracts laid out a list of options that would ensure if ever mistreated or otherwise slighted, the girl could always return to her family’s House with little to no legal or social consequences, often even keeping her children. Ministry law had the children always remaining with the father unless such clauses in a marriage contract were in place. So Harry could see there were some benefits, but there were also plenty of disadvantages.

Such as the fact that despite planning these two girls’ futures, the twins were not present to offer their opinions.

Curious, Harry noticed a tiny corner of parchment that looked anything but crisp and smooth sticking out from the back of the large leather binder. He realized, after pulling a bit at the corner and opening the folder up some more, that there was one offer buried at the bottom of the stack that looked…odd. Harry saw with bewilderment that it wasn’t even properly in the stack, tucked into a back flap of the folder as if to hide it. Harry began to slide it out of the stack, and Arcturus and Orion sat back, looking curious. When Harry got it out, he realized the letter had been crumpled, balled up as if to be thrown away, before being smoothed out again, which was why it looked so odd.

This letter was not at all like the ones at the top of the stack, offering money and business connections and foreign trade deals. The letter began simply and humbly, but with a good deal of compliments — properly laid out according to what Harry’s etiquette lessons had taught him too — for both Cygnus and the Black Family. Then, it went into the offer…which admittedly was fairly one-sided. The offer was to love, cherish, and worship Andromeda, Daughter of House Black, with everything the writer had, to provide her with the life she should have according to her station even if he had to work day and night to make it so, and for all children born from his and Andromeda’s union to belong solely to the House of Black, instead of choosing to start a new House of his own.

It was signed Theodore Tonks, First of his Name, Healer’s Apprentice in the Hogwarts Infirmary. There was also a post-script from Andromeda, mentioning she would also be sending her father a letter regarding this betrothal offer.

Harry glanced up at Cygnus, whose fists were clenched and his lips pressed together, tight and furious. His eyes were like chips of ice, but angry fire burned in their depths.

“From my lessons,” Harry said slowly, “marriage offers should be presented to the House lord from least to greatest. By that custom, I suppose you were right to put this one at the end.”

Arcturus made an interested noise and took the letter from Harry. He read it slowly, his eyebrows climbing. Orion, reading it over his shoulder, began to throw startled looks at Harry. All the other Blacks were looking between Harry, the two Blacks at the head of the table, and Cygnus in curiosity and bewilderment. Next to the furious man his wife sat looking vindictively amused. Harry wondered if she’d known about this offer and had perhaps supported it.

The Lord Black sat back in his chair, gazing up at Cygnus mildly. “May I see Andromeda’s letter?” he asked. His words were calm, but his eyes said he knew exactly what Cygnus wanted him to do with this betrothal offer, and he was unhappy with the attempted meddling to make it so.

Harry knew after a month or so of time spent with Arcturus that he was a prideful, deeply traditional man. Intolerant of muggleborns, perhaps, but he’d listen to any argument contrary to his own so long as he could marshal his own counterarguments later. Cygnus had been revealed to be trying to blatantly manipulate the head of his house. Regardless of whether Arcturus would on his own have discarded a betrothal offer from a muggleborn boy, the formidable Lord Black would never stand for such disrespect from a member of his house.

After a few moments of furious glaring at Harry, Cygnus produced the letter and it was passed down the table to Arcturus. Harry read it over his shoulder and had to repress a grin. Oh, Tonks was apparently just like her mother. The letter was ridiculously snarky, full of subtle barbs towards her father and even subtler pleas for Arcturus, whom she must have known would have asked to see the letter if he ever actually saw Ted Tonks’ betrothal proposal, to listen to what she wanted and give her the marriage she wished for. She also admitted in the first few paragraphs that Theodore Tonks was her soulmate, and she would have him or no other.

The rest of the letter baldly laid out exactly what Andromeda would do if she were betrothed to anyone but her soulmate—nearly two pages of dire threats to do something drastic like castrate her unwanted betrothed, or even run away and elope in the muggle world, shock and horror—and that she honestly didn’t care if she was disowned for chasing what she wanted.

Arcturus read the letter slowly, his frown deepening. Then, he deliberately set the letter down and turned to Harry.

“What do you think of this, my young nephew?”

Harry blinked. For a moment he was confused, and then he saw the calculating glint in the man’s eye, the eager look Walburga had combined with Dorea’s oncoming train wreck stare, both expecting him to crash and burn. This was, like many things Arcturus had placed before Harry recently, a test of how well he could navigate the family. In particular, Harry was starkly aware his personal beliefs were quite opposed to the general consensus the other Blacks would have in response to this betrothal offer. But could he put what he wanted to happen to the family without causing them to all-but revolt? A lord was useless if he couldn’t lead his family in the direction he wanted to go, and that was what Arcturus wanted to see if Harry could do.

His eyes met Orion’s for a moment in a panic, but then suddenly he was calm. Sirius’ gentle grey eyes stared back at him. Oh, Orion lacked the dementor-induced shadows, the subtle edge of war-torn grief never mended, but those were his godfather’s eyes. Harry thought of Sirius, his Sirius whom Harry was determined would never exist in this new timeline.

Suddenly, he knew exactly what to do.

“To me,” Harry said slowly and carefully, ever conscious of both his words and his artificial accent, “this sounds like an opportunity for the House of Black.”

Down the table, Cygnus spluttered. Orion sat back, satisfied, while Arcturus raised a single eyebrow. “Opportunity?” he asked.

Harry smiled thinly. He was sure Arcturus had no idea where he was going with this, and he looked forward to surprising the man.

“Well, from the sounds of it…this is an offer of vassalage.”

Curious noises ran up and down the table of Blacks, the majority of whom still had no idea what the two letters were about. Arcturus blinked once, clearly thrown, and Harry mentally punched the air. “Why do you say that, Henry?” Orion asked, picking up from where his father had left off as Arcturus quietly recovered from his mental derailing.

“The letter is from a young man, first of his name,” —which Harry had been taught always meant muggleborn in this day and age— “and his offer includes giving House Black full authority over future generations of his House. Isn’t that what you only just explained to me, Cousin Orion? It sounds like an offer of vassalage.”

Orion was fighting a smile. “I must admit, in that light, it does.” Walburga hissed something angrily in his ear, and his smile dropped, his whole face drooping. Before she could ruin Harry’s idea, though, the boy jumped ahead of her by turning to Arcturus.

“Don’t you think so, Uncle?” he asked.

Arcturus picked up the letter with thumb and forefinger. “In this, it claims he would be willing to give up his own name and right to begin his own House, in exchange for Andromeda’s hand in marriage.”

“Well, that’s only his first offer, isn’t it?” Harry rejoined. “He’s going to give the grandest concessions first in the hopes that you hear his offer at all.”

“As if he would,” Walburga spat, clearly incensed. “As if any lord of House Black would sully our lines by bringing a mudblood into the House.”

“Firstly,” Harry snapped back as coolly as he could manage, “you watch your tongue, Walburga. We’re at a noble family gathering, not out for lunch at the Leaky Cauldron. I had been told we were to treat these gatherings with respect and dignity, not vulgarity.” The flush that crept up her neck told Harry he’d scored a hit, and he continued with more composure.

“Besides, as your husband told me not too long ago in this very meeting, House Black has in the past sullied its lines with muggleborn vassals, so I don’t see why this offer is such a heinous thing. He may be the first in his family to have magic, but he clearly wants to join wizarding society fully. He wants to better himself, and isn’t that the best solution? I mean, you can’t kill them all, that would be both ridiculous and cause too much public outcry. If you can’t be rid of them, you should put them to use.”

At least, that seemed to be Melania’s viewpoint. And the family seemed quite aware of that, as glances were thrown at her, looking approvingly at Harry from the opposite end of the table. And phrasing “why can’t we all just get along” in Lady Black’s terms wouldn’t have this pack of purebloods wanting to lynch him.

“Personally,” Harry continued, “I think that makes this the most valuable betrothal in the lot. What do trade deals for a single generation, or lump sums of money and land, compare to generations of loyalty?”

Arcturus set the letter down and from the way he looked impressed Harry knew he’d actually managed to convince him.

“I quite agree,” Arcturus said softly. “Loyalty is one currency that will outlast all others. Perhaps it is time for the Blacks to gain new vassalage once again. Your reasoning was very well argued, my Heir.” He glanced down the table, where very few people looked pleased. “Young Andromeda’s letter was her declaration, and in it she admitted to aiding that muggleborn boy in writing his proposal, because he is her soulmate. Andromeda has always been a canny young girl. I do not think such a clever young witch would abandon all sense over even her soul’s mate. Surely, she sees some value he could prove to our House.”

Harry marvelled at how, with just a few words, Arcturus managed to turn those unhappy faces into thoughtful ones. He’d have to learn how to do that, he thought to himself. It was amazing! Arcturus turned back to his “nephew”. “I think perhaps during your lesson on vassals in two weeks, you will help me to draft a new marriage betrothal arrangement between our Andromeda and young Theodore Tonks.”

He’d actually changed something! Harry was almost breathless from the weight of what had just happened. In the timeline he’d been born into, Andromeda had run away (possibly after gelding some poor hapless pureblood boy) with Ted Tonks and they had eloped in the muggle world. Without the money from a dowry and outright blacklisting from the Blacks in high society, neither newlywed had been able to continue in Healer training past Hogwarts graduation, and the pair had scraped and scrounged to attend muggle university together. Tonks had been a surprise born early and had grown up in near poverty until her parents had both found decently paying employment in the muggle world. Here, it wouldn’t be like that. Here, they would both have the full weight of the Black family behind him.

Orion was nodding at Harry, his courage found again and Walburga sitting sullenly beside him. Despite knowing it was a break in protocol, Harry couldn’t help the beaming smile that spread across his face at the compliment.

Then, the hairs on the back of his neck stood up. He felt a magical warmth wash over him from head to toe in the increasingly familiar sensation of the soul-blood protection’s activation. Gold and red surged from his skin, one misty form catching a spell aimed under the table with a raised hand as the other surged forward—to Cygnus.

“Just hold him!” Harry exclaimed, half-standing and raising a hand in protest. To his astonishment, the magic paused, the ghost of his father seemingly recognizing the request and hesitating a moment before simply disarming the man and freezing him in place. Cygnus’ wand was laid gently before Harry.

He could feel all eyes on him, and he desperately wanted to hide. Dorea caught his eye and laid a hand over her mouth. At the reminder he was allowed to go mute if he was uncomfortable, he clamped his jaws shut.

Cygnus was frozen, but Walburga and her mother were both spluttering. “What on earth—” “What do you think you’re doing!?”

“Harry didn’t do anything!” Dorea said defiantly. “Lycoris took understandable measures to protect her only son in a dangerous location like the wilds of Australia, and Cygnus could only have run afoul of them if he’d tried to harm Harry in any way.”

That brought silence to the stunned table. Arcturus was the one who took action, claiming Cygnus’ wand from the table in front of Harry and then pulling out his own wand to petrify Cygnus. The soul-blood protection, seemingly sensing Harry’s safety now that the old Lord Black was standing, drew back and misted back into Harry’s skin, sleeping until the next time they were needed. It was Cassiopeia who spoke.

“Measures? That looked like an old Black blood protection to me.”

Harry spoke with his hands instead of his mouth, and Dorea translated. “We think it is. I was practicing duelling yesterday and had an old soul-blood spell cast on me. After that, this began to happen.”

“Yes,” Dorea agreed. “We think it’s an ancestral protection spell calling on the spirits of past Blacks to safeguard a young member from harm. He can’t play Quidditch right now at all; the magic just stops the Bludgers cold.”

“I’m surprised a protective spell such as that would allow him to fly in the first place,” Pollux said gravely from next to Harry.

Harry managed to unclench his jaw enough to address his unknowing other great-grand-godfather. “It doesn’t seem to register flight as a danger at all,” he admitted, “but then I’m a fairly good flier and I’ve not tried any dangerous stunts since this began happening. We’re hoping to find a way for me to control it.”

“But it only just appeared?” Cassiopeia said intently.

Dorea nodded. “Yes, his OWLs are coming up and we were practicing his duelling. I used several old family spells, both blood and soul magic—we’re not sure which one actually reawakened his protection.” As Dorea was a fantastic dueller, this was a believable lie to tell.

Walburga’s mother huffed. “Well then, I don’t see how you could say it was anything Lycoris did!”

“It has his mother’s magical signature all over it!” Dorea retorted to her sister-in-law, exasperated.

“It must have been disrupted,” Cassiopeia cut in. “Old spells like that are often delicate. The slightest error could have disrupted its intended function for years until a chance cleansing allowed the magic to act in full once again.”

“That seems to be a topic for Black study,” Arcturus said firmly, over top of the discussions happening quietly and curiously around the table. “I want as many of the Black women as are willing to join Dorea and Cassiopeia in researching old Black protective enchantments. All research can be passed to Henry through Dorea, as he’s living at Potter Manse. But for now, we have a more serious issue to resolve.”

The table quieted again. Arcturus turned to Cygnus, murmuring a spell which unfroze his head and shoulders, but kept the rest of his body petrified. Cygnus blinked owlishly for several moments before he realized the position he was in. The realization that he’d been caught only took a few seconds to sink in, his eyes widening and his face falling.

“Cygnus Nigellus Black,” the Lord Black said softly. “You just attacked not only a junior member of your own house, but one I have made very clear in this meeting is to be treated as the Heir and future Lord of this House. And this after lying to your lord about the status of one of your daughters’ soulmarks and attempting to manipulate the decisions of your Lord regarding the marriage of a Daughter of our House. What do you have to say for yourself?”

Cygnus’ face turned ugly, but he clearly knew anything he said about vile mudbloods and whatnot would just land him in hotter water right now, and he said nothing.

“Anything?” Arcturus asked, still in a tone as mild as milk. “No?”

His young cousin simply blinked and glared. Pollux harrumphed, meeting Arcturus’ eye around Harry. The teen leaned back as Arcturus seemed to reach silent agreement with the man, and the lord stood silent as Cygnus’ father came slowly to his feet.

“I,” Pollux said in a harsh voice, “have never been more ashamed of a member of my line. To have opposed this betrothal offer was understandable, but your concerns and desires should have been laid before your lord. I would never do such a thing as you have done.” His eyes landed on Walburga. “And don’t think I am unaware of who may have given you such ideas of interference.”

Walburga, in her seat, flushed and looked down, clearly signalling Pollux had been right and she had helped Cygnus come up with this plan.

“And regardless of any such plans, you attacked a child younger than your own, a Black who has only just been welcomed into our family. Our Heir! How dare you! That boy was only doing as a dutiful Heir should—pointing out that which his Lord had missed, and he was clearly thinking only of the furtherment of our family. As you should have been! Do you not realize you could be disowned for your actions? You sat here, claiming to wish to protect your daughters’ futures, while you put those same futures in danger! If you were disowned, all children of your line would be taken in by your wife’s family! We would lose two Daughters of the House to the empowerment of another family. And you…you would lose everything!”

Harry sat, wide-eyed, as Pollux tore into Cygnus from across the table. The older wizard turned to Arcturus and bowed.

“My Lord, I apologize for my foolish and disobedient offspring. For his punishment, I would suggest confinement, and the removal of his daughters into my own house, as he has clearly proven he would put their status in jeopardy in order to further his personal political agenda.”

Arcturus nodded slowly. “And what is your opinion of this marriage offer, Cousin Pollux?”

Pollux grimaced, but glanced down at Harry. His gaze softened somewhat. “I am loath to allow any mud-ggleborn such access to my granddaughter, but Lycoris’ son makes excellent points. Lestrange is secured for another several generations, but Bartemius Crouch disagrees with the family agenda and if given the chance would cut his family away from our own. More vassalage would be a valuable thing to ensure our family remains at the forefront of society. I too agree that loyalty is a currency more valuable than money or land.” He grimaced. “In fact, were it anything but a boy first of his name, I’d be jumping at the idea that my bloodline could start a new vassal house for our family. Even more so, I would never separate young Andromeda from her soulmate.”

The Lord Black nodded again. “So be it,” he said. He turned furious eyes on Cygnus. “Cygnus Nigellus Black, for your actions here today I confine you to your home until the next Black Family Gathering. You are forbidden to entertain or to send out letters, and your wife will not be allowed to relay messages for you when she goes out. Furthermore, your daughters will be moved into the care of their grandfather Pollux until such time as they have married to better our House, and you will not be permitted to help in the choosing of either girl’s future.”

Harry could feel magic heavy in the air, the wards thrumming dangerously in the background, and he knew something important had just happened. Still, he wondered…how exactly could Arcturus enforce all of that?

Then, the moment had passed, and Arcturus just looked angry instead of frightening. With a flick of his wand Cygnus was freed from his restraints. Arcturus pointed at the door. “You are dismissed from this gathering, young man,” the Lord Black finished.

Cygnus looked a mixture of enraged and mortified. He stood, bowed to his father and his lord, and fled the room. If he’d been a teenager, Harry had the feeling he’d have been in tears.

Walburga, surprisingly, didn’t say a word of protest, nor did her mother, both clearly recognizing the severity of the situation. Once Cygnus’ footsteps had faded down the stairs, Arcturus shut the door with another flick of his wand and sat down again, Pollux sitting as well.

He heaved a sigh. Pollux looked weary.

“Well,” Arcturus said, “We still have Narcissa’s requests to go over. Can we please do so civilly and with no tricks, this time?”

*          *          *

After much discussion of the various contracts offered either specifically for Narcissa, or for either of the twin girls, Arcturus, Orion, and Pollux settled on what they saw as the best offer—from one Abraxas Malfoy, requesting a Daughter of House Black to marry his son in exchange for an alliance for the next fifty years, a French winery and chateau, and an exorbitant amount of money as bride-price. Harry had rather expected it, but he couldn’t help but fidget. He remembered again that glimpse of Malfoy’s mom he’d gotten.

Harry had learnt by now that there was a difference between public and private attitudes for pureblood nobles like the Blacks, but he recalled the beautiful blonde woman, tall and slim, who would have been nice-looking if she hadn’t been wearing a look that suggested there was a nasty smell under her nose. Probably that moment in particular had been because she’d been confronted with a pack of blood-traitor Weasleys sitting near her nice seats in the Minister’s box, but he’d caught glimpses of her all through the game as well.

She’d been properly enthused for it, pale grey eyes alight eagerly even as she sat with unchanging poise. But, while she’d given her son indulgent smiles over his own excitement, she’d not once glanced at her husband, and they’d not touched in any way. Even her escort to her seat had been done by her son, not by Lucius. Maybe they’d just had an argument recently, maybe she’d known about the Death Eater riot about to happen and disapproved, but at the time, Harry hadn’t been able to dispel the feeling that she was…rather unhappy. And he knew for a fact that Lucius and Narcissa weren’t soulmates. In fact, Lucius still had his bracelet, even twenty years from now. Lucius did…but Narcissa didn’t.

“Something troubling you, young Heir?” Pollux asked him. Harry blinked and looked up.

He hesitated, unsure of how to put this. Then, he glanced down the table at Bellatrix, who looked as blank as a marble statue while her eyes blazed angrily at all this talk of selling her sister for such wealth. Harry opened his mouth, and said, “I know I am still learning a great deal about proper society, but…it bothers me that we aren’t even asking the girls’ opinions, I suppose.” He glanced up at Arcturus, growing bolder as nobody scoffed at him. “I mean, if you’d never noticed Cygnus’ bid to manipulate Andromeda’s contract, you wouldn’t have even known about that letter where she made her own wants and desires very clear. What…what would happen if she went through with her threats?”

Arcturus’ eyebrows went up. “Well, if I hadn’t known about her letter, I would have seen it as disrespect and rebellion, I suppose. This letter is a declaration of intent—you’ll be learning how to write one soon. With it, she is telling her Lord what she will and will not concede to. Any member of the House is allowed to write such a letter, or make such a declaration in person, and the Lord is honour-bound to listen as protector of the House so long as it is done well before any decisions are made by the Lord. But if I hadn’t known such a declaration had been made, I would not have known she was acting such because of her soulmate. She likely would be disowned if she actually did as she claimed she would in this declaration, in that case. It is part of why Cygnus’ actions could not be allowed. All declarations of intent must be handed over to me immediately, and the date mark for this letter was over a month ago.”

“He would have ruined her life because she wouldn’t have gotten the chance to give her declaration in person before a decision had been made,” Harry said softly. “That…that isn’t right, that he could do something like that.”

Arcturus and Pollux both regarded him. “What are you suggesting?” Orion was the one to ask.

“…perhaps a trial period?” Harry suggested swiftly, words tumbling over one another. “Give each girl…a year, to change her mind. They graduate at the end of the next school year, don’t they? Give them both until graduation to choose whether to go through with the betrothal or not.” He glanced at Pollux, another idea occurring. He knew because of Tonks and the things she’d told him that her parents had a romantic soulmate bond, but from his first-year lessons he knew a soul bond took months, sometimes years to settle into what sort of relationship the bond was intended to be. Since nobody but him knew it was romantic, yet…he could suggest something to sweeten this new idea to the old Blacks.

“Perhaps Andromeda will withdraw her declaration after she’s been given time to think about it. She might decide she and her soulmate will be better off as friends—their bond is probably still new, since nobody knew of it. They probably aren’t sure what kind of bond they have, yet. But we won’t know one way or another how the twins see their own betrothals unless they are given the chance to speak.”

Pollux nodded slowly. “A sensible idea,” he said. “I know arrangements can often be a controversial subject with young witches not yet aware of their value to our House.”

The table quieted when the Lady of the house spoke. “Personally, I adore the idea,” Melania said. The old woman smiled. “Perhaps we should make such standard, for our family contracts in the future.”

But in the end, Arcturus was the one who would decide. He sat thoughtfully, tapping the Malfoy marriage proposal. Eventually, he nodded.

“Very well. Each family loses daughters every few generations because they would rather be disowned for following their soulmark or their own hearts rather than marry for duty. Lycoris herself was one such, and all of you in my generation remember Cedrella. A few even know the story of Great-Aunt Isla, who ran to the muggle world in destitution rather than marry a man later imprisoned in Azkaban for familial abuse because her grandfather disregarded her declaration of intent. This policy will be good for our family, I believe.”

He laid a heavy hand on Harry’s shoulder. “Well done, nephew.”

Harry once again couldn’t repress the bright smile the compliment prompted.

“Perhaps we shall rewrite both contracts together?” Pollux suggested. “You mentioned writing Andromeda’s at one of the boy’s lordship lessons?”

Arcturus nodded. “We hold them every Sunday. This upcoming lesson will be covering ball etiquette, in preparation for the Summer Soirée, and the next Sunday was when we intended to go over vassalage, alliances, and trade.”

“Oh! Could I help with the etiquette lesson, my lord, please?” Bellatrix pleaded.

Melania, sitting not three seats from her, smiled broadly. “Why, that’s a wonderful idea, isn’t it, my love? It will be good for him to have a young woman as a dancing partner. My old joints aren’t what they used to be.”

“And I would offer my aid on his next lesson,” Pollux added. “We can add in marriage and betrothal contracts to the lesson plan for that day.”

Harry watched, bewildered, as suddenly a flurry of questions erupted around him, all asking about his lesson plan, asking to help teach him.

Pollux glanced down and seemed to notice his pale face and mute bewilderment. “Something wrong, lad?” the older wizard asked.

Harry’s mouth opened and closed mutely. He signed his answer in the face of his consternation and stared down at the table embarrassedly.

He could almost feel the entire table turn to Dorea. “He’s just a bit overwhelmed at the attention. I doubt those Gringotts cursebreakers he lived with after Lycoris died fussed over him at all,” she said, and Harry felt a wave of relief. He still didn’t know why he’d signed what he actually felt.

I don’t understand why everyone cares so much.

He still felt a flush creep up his neck when Dorea’s actual answer prompted a chorus of “awws” from the women in the room.

*          *          *

It was after the meeting was officially at an end and people were just standing in groups socializing that Harry went up to Arcturus. He’d only just escaped Bellatrix, who’d hugged him tightly and breathed a “thank you for taking care of my sisters, Heir Black,” in his ear. Walburga on the other side of the room was glaring daggers at Harry still, but he didn’t let that bother him.

Arcturus, who had delegated organizing aid for Harry’s lessons to Orion, was packing up the marriage proposals stacked at his end of the table. “Um, sir?” Harry asked timidly.

The man glanced at him. “Yes? Do you need something, Harry?”

“I-I was just wondering,” Harry said. “I was wondering how you know Cygnus is going to do what you told him to. If he’s really opposed, what’s to stop him from rebelling? You always tell me I’m going to have to learn to navigate the family because a lord cannot lead when his house disagrees with him, but…”

Arcturus huffed a quiet laugh.

“Between your maturity and cleverness, I often forget you were not raised in our world. Harry, while it is true a House can rebel, they can only do so if given the leeway to do so. Every bloodline member of our House is bound up in loyalty oaths and soul-blood ties, similar to how those of vassalage are bound but much more tightly. And legally, when a family is listed in the Ministry or with the ICW as a Wizarding House, all assets and members of the family are under the direct control of the lord. It is modelled after the paterfamilias of ancient Rome. Cygnus knows if he disobeys me, I could cut him off from his accounts or even legally imprison him in a family dungeon for his disobedience. Moreover, I made my words a direct order.”

He hesitated. “Ordinarily, an Heir would not be told this until they are grown, but the oaths and bindings taken in childhood for members of our House and our vassals ensure that if the Lord gives a direct order, the House is compelled to obey. A good Lord is sparing with his orders, of course, lest he be seen a tyrant. That is, in fact, the first true order I had ever given in my time as Lord Black.”

Harry’s eyes were huge. “Oh,” he exclaimed quietly, “I didn’t know—”

“Of course you didn’t,” Arcturus said. “From what you have told me, Sirius ran away while still Heir’s Heir, and was estranged from the family when his father died, and in Azkaban when I died. He would have had no idea, and thus he would not have been able to tell you.”

Harry was quiet and thoughtful as the man called for an elf to take the leather binder of parchment and put it in his office back in France.

“By…by the way,” he said just before Arcturus walked away, presumably to socialize, “What’s the…um…Summer Soirée and why do I need to learn more etiquette for it?”

The man’s eyes glinted almost mischievously. “Oh, it’s just the largest Ministry party of the summer,” he said. “It’s in three weeks, and Melania heard from her ladies’ group that Lord Astor offered up his castle for the event. I’ve decided to take you so, of course, I have to be sure you can dance and know all the social niceties of a high-society Event.”

Harry stared at him in dismay. “A party?” he managed to squeak out, flash-backs to the Yule Ball raising his apprehension to incredible heights.

Arcturus clapped him on the shoulder again, that hint of mischief still dancing in his eyes. “Don’t worry lad,” he said bracingly. “If you can manage a pack of Blacks the way you did today, a party will be a piece of cake.”

Harry was doomed. Definitely, definitely doomed.

Chapter Text

The most insane week of Harry’s life ended with an exam at six in the morning that Friday. Technically to Harry it felt like afternoon or evening, because he’d already lived the morning twice as he continued to slowly improve his Occlumency, did his other studying, and sat for several hours as the Unspeakables put his soul-blood protection through paces meant to slowly teach it Harry was not a baby and didn’t need as much protection as one.

That part was slow-going. The main issue was that clearly Lily and James hadn’t used the original Atlantean ritual or any of the known more modern versions—they had instead created their own. So nobody was sure which tests or spell combinations or rituals would work for what they needed, and it was all just a lot of trial and error.

They’d decided to let Harry take the OWL on his last run through of the morning instead of first as had been originally planned because he’d requested at least a little extra time to go over his study materials again before actually having to take the exam. So despite the early hour, Harry felt quite alert and ready. It took him two hours to get through the massive parchment roll of questions, but Harry felt sure he had passed. He had no problem with any of the written questions, and the most he was worried about when he rolled the scroll back up and handed it to the Unspeakable proctoring his exam was that his sore wrist would hinder proper spell-casting for the practical part.

Harry was sent straight to Bode’s office after turning in his exam, where he supposed he’d get a short break before taking the practical. He wasn’t surprised that Gus and Rowena were waiting for him with Bode.

“So?” Rowena wanted to know. “How do you think you did?”

Harry blanked out his mind, tightening his walls almost instinctively against her nonverbal Legilimency attack as he answered her question. “I feel pretty confident, actually. It wasn’t half as bad as I’d worried it might be.”

She grinned. “Good job, Harry. And good block. I could barely tell you were Occluding as you answered me.”

Harry grinned back at her, relaxing now.

“Yes, good job, Harry,” Bode said briskly. “You can rest for a bit here if you like, but you’re free to go for the rest of the day, otherwise.”

Harry frowned. “Wait, what? But I haven’t taken my practical yet.”

Bode and Rowena both turned to look at Gus, who was smirking. “You didn’t tell him,” Rowena said, disapproving.

“I wanted it to be a surprise,” Gus said.

“Wait,” Harry cut in, annoyed, “what are you guys talking about?”

“Harry,” Rowena said, “your duel on Tuesday was technically your OWL practical.”

His eyes narrowed. “Technically?”

Gus clapped Harry on the back. “Don’t worry, kiddo, she said that because it’s technically also your NEWT Defence practical. What it actually was, was your Mastery application duel.”

Harry’s jaw dropped. “Uwha?!?” He shook his head, occluding to compose himself. “What do you mean!? My mastery? I’m not in an apprenticeship yet! Can I even get my mastery?”

“Well,” Gus said thoughtfully, “that’s the brilliant thing about Defence Masteries. You don’t need to have a recorded apprenticeship period first. To get a Mastery in Defensive Magic and Duelling, you have to have an application duel on record where you either win or draw against anywhere from three to ten opponents. Once that duel is on record and graded by either Ministry or ICW examiners, you have to log a certain number of hours of practical experience with Dark creatures and wizards—which your school history, even your false one with Gringotts, adequately covers, and Rowena’s vouching for you as a government-registered Master Legilimens who can confirm those memories are real and not fabrications—and then be cross-examined by first the local Auror Office and then the ICW’s Wizarding Examination Authority. And, of course, for your Mastery application to be confirmed both nationally and internationally you need to have both an OWL and NEWT score of Exceeds Expectations or higher on record.”

The Unspeakable grinned slyly. “What many people don’t realize, though, is the process has a loophole. If you submit your application duel before taking your OWLs or NEWTs, and you pass, all practical examinations for standardized tests in Defence are waived because you’ve essentially been judged to be post-NEWT level already. You still have to take the written tests to show you’ve got the research down along with the skill, but that’s no big deal.”

Harry was still slack-jawed. He shook his head slowly. “So…you had those examiners there for…that? But wouldn’t the blood-soul protection waking up have rendered the duel invalid?”

“We picked people able to judge contested matches, just in case they saw something they shouldn’t or in case we had some sort of emergency that interrupted the duel,” Bode said reasonably. “Our Unspeakables were given free rein in what they taught you, after all, which includes a good deal of restricted spellwork. Most of it could be legally covered by a Defence Mastery, though, so we felt expediting that would be a good idea.”

“So…so… What do I still have to do? For my Mastery?” Harry asked, dazed.

“We submitted your practical experience through Gringotts once your duel record was approved,” Rowena said, “and you just took your Defence OWL. Now you just need your written NEWT exam and your cross-examinations. We figured that by the time you reached graduation, you’d be finished with your Mastery as well. It was Augustus’ idea.”

Gus let out a surprised sound when Harry grabbed him in a hug. “Thank you,” Harry said, muffled, into the man’s chest. “Thank you so much.”

He’d not even known it was possible, getting your Mastery while you were still in school. But it would be so useful—he’d be able to focus on other things more. If he studied hard this year, he might even be able to take his NEWT exam next summer and be done with it early. It was the sort of thing a family member or a parent might do, to make their child’s life easier.

And Harry was so, so grateful.

*          *          *

That next Sunday came after two days of steadily growing excitement. The Hogwarts term was ending this week, and the Hogwarts Express would be pulling into King’s Cross station late Sunday evening. Accordingly, Harry spent his lesson at Grimmauld Place instead of Arcturus’ French chateau. The two older Blacks planned to bring Harry and Bellatrix to the station, where they would meet up with the Potters to collect James, Sirius, and the sixth-year twins.

After the events of the Wednesday meeting, Harry had quietly told Arcturus his knowledge of what would have happened to Andromeda in his absence. When Harry had admitted he had no idea when Andromeda and Ted had actually eloped, only that their daughter had been born shortly afterwards, Arcturus had elected to send a quick letter to the twins to ensure Andromeda didn’t do anything rash. Orion, for his part, was simply quietly pleased his son was returning home, though Walburga seemed less enthused.

Harry had known it was coming up, but still—he found himself unspeakably nervous to actually meet his father—his twelve-year-old, not-yet-a-parent, father. The prospect of meeting a tiny, not-yet-scarred Sirius was rather alarming as well, for all that he’d already glimpsed the boy once.

That morning it was maddeningly difficult to focus on his lessons. This was not helped by the fact that said lessons focused on table etiquette for various sorts of parties: buffet-style, banquet-style, restaurant-style…and, of course, on socialization and dance. Harry was given an entire list of topics he could or could not mention, for various reasons, and he had to memorize the do’s, the don’ts, and the wherefores of those restrictions. To his surprise, the only part of the day he actually enjoyed was the part he’d supposed he would like the least—the dancing.

Bellatrix was clearly a fabulously talented dancer, and her enthusiastic grace combined with her witty charm kept Harry more focused on matching her word for word than on how his feet were doing, and to his surprise he didn’t step on her toes more than twice.

Little Regulus Black was in attendance to this lesson. Harry had only glimpsed him before, as well, but found the boy was a smaller, more waifish version of his older brother. Regulus was thin and slight where Sirius was stocky and (eventually would be) broad-shouldered. He seemed in awe of Harry, and he squeaked amusingly like Ginny had back when she’d been all star-struck every time Harry spoke to him or sat near him. Harry honestly thought Regulus was a sweet but strikingly clever little kid. And knowing this boy was magically his uncle, well, that just made Harry more protective of him.

When lunch came and both Bellatrix and Regulus were chivvied to a different room to eat by Melania, leaving Harry alone with Arcturus and Orion, however, Harry couldn’t help but wonder what was going on. The two Black men sat down with Harry at a little table in Orion’s office to eat their meal. Arcturus had a strict policy of never discussion anything but neutral or academic topics while eating, and so the pair continued to quiz Harry on party etiquette until they’d reached dessert.

When Arcturus set his fork down, Harry did as well. He’d come to know these two men enough to know they wanted to talk about something important with him without having to be told. Orion was the one who spoke first.

“As you know, the children are returning from Hogwarts this evening.”

Harry simply nodded. They’d gone over meeting up with the Potters and all tomorrow the previous afternoon. It would be quite the political statement, considering the animosity Euphemia and Arcturus had long shared over the Lycoris soulmark scandal. But the goblins had given both the answers they needed, and Harry’s backstory almost required reconciliation to some extent besides, so both were putting aside their personal feelings to move forward in this new timeline Harry was creating with his presence.

“When you first arrived,” Orion continued, “both my home and my household was scoured for items which had been transposed with you. It was during this investigation, you recall, that we learnt your Heirship had been transferred to the past.” He hesitated. “What you were not told, was that your godfather bond had transferred as well—to Sirius.”

Harry blinked. “Wait. What?”

“Sirius is, magically, your godfather. His bond transferred over. If it had not, say, if he had been at Hogwarts at the time, it is likely your actual godfather would have been pulled from the future with you.”

“Like Hedwig was,” Harry murmured. He’d been told Sirius could have been pulled back as well, only he hadn’t been, but Harry had never been told why. This was… “What does this mean, though?” Harry asked. “I mean, Sirius is twelve. He can’t be my godfather, can he?”

Orion shrugged. “Magic does not care that he isn’t old enough. Your version of Sirius made a permanent, binding magical contract when he accepted his role as godfather to the child of a soulbonded couple. That contract is bound to you, and so since you are in this time, so is that bond.”

“But…what does that mean?” Harry pressed. He’d not ever really asked that before. Sirius had said he was Harry’s godfather, so it was his duty to protect and care for him. Sirius had quietly admitted he’d known when Harry had been nearly killed by the basilisk. It was somehow sensing that, combined with the newspaper revealing Wormtail’s presence in Harry’s life, that had really spurred Sirius on to escape where he’d not been able to muster the conviction previously. But beyond knowing Sirius had some nebulous idea of when Harry was in lethal danger, the teenager really didn’t know anything else about the magic binding him to his godfather.

“Well,” Arcturus said gruffly, “contrary to what you claim to have heard from Ministry officials in your third year of school, if it was known Sirius was your magical and legal godfather there should have been no doubt he was innocent. Such a contract will kill the godfather if he ever knowingly endangers the life of his ward. His magic would be stripped from him if he ever knowingly mistreated his godchild or allowed his ward to be mistreated, and he is automatically the legal guardian of his godchild upon the deaths of the child’s parents.”

“It is possible,” Orion added, “that the Ministry thought Sirius would not have magically bound himself as godfather, that it was a legal status only, to keep such penalties from falling on him, but anyone who knew either the Potters or the Blacks well should have insisted that a godfather bond be checked for before he could legally be thrown into Azkaban.”

Harry huffed grumpily. “I think we’ve worked out there was not really anything legal about Sirius being sent to Azkaban,” he gritted out.

“Indeed,” Arcturus agreed darkly. The knowledge that these two men would ruin the careers of everyone Harry had knowledge of being involved in this—from current Minister for Magic Millicent Bagnold, to Head of the DMLE Barty Crouch Senior, to the incompetent future Minister Cornelius Fudge and his stooge Delores Umbridge—Black vengeance was a thorough thing, and not something to be taken lightly. And yet…Harry honestly felt they deserved what they had coming to them. They had been the ones to condemn an innocent man to prison without trial and based on hearsay and the ravings of a man who’d clearly just lost his mind from grief, and then do everything in their power to make sure he could never be found innocent.

Arcturus shook himself out of his fury, and Harry did his best to as well. “That being said, however, it is prudent that we inform young Sirius of his bond. He is honestly too young for the responsibility, but magic does not recognize age in this situation. If he acts against his magical mandate to protect, nurture, and educate you, his magic or his life could be forfeit.”

Harry suddenly realized where this was going. “You’re going to tell him the truth about my history.”

Orion nodded. “Indeed. It seems the prudent thing to do.”

Harry nodded back slowly. “Will…will he be able to keep it a secret? I don’t mind my actual parents finding out, but Uncle Flea and Aunt Euphie decided James shouldn’t be told yet, because he’s so young. James and Sirius are best friends. When I was twelve, I couldn’t keep any secrets from my best friends.”

It wasn’t as if Hermione and Ron had just taken Harry’s word for not being the Heir of Slytherin, or the twins, or the Quidditch team. But he’d been pants at lying as a kid, to people he cared about at least. He’d gotten better at it recently, because of Occlumency and tutelage from the DoM, but he knew he’d have problems around, say Dumbledore or the Weasleys, just because of what they’d meant to him in the future.

Orion raised a single eyebrow. “He was raised a Black,” the man said simply. “He knows how to follow orders.”

And that was apparently that.

The afternoon dancing lessons were distracted but fun, turning into very nearly an impromptu miniature party when Cassiopeia arrived, plans for her cottage’s wards in tow, and bulled her way into Harry’s attempts to memorize the complicated gavotte, a traditional dance for the Summer Soirée. Arcturus and Melania even joined in for one of the dances, displaying the perfect synchronism of soulmates in their steps. The lively atmosphere was only soured by Walburga’s brief appearance at home. Apparently she was out visiting friends that day, and would not be joining them for the evening trip to King’s Cross.

Regulus’s look of mingled upset and relief was all too indicative of the woman’s unpleasant demeanour.

But finally it was time for the thing both Harry and Regulus had been waiting for—the time to go to King’s Cross and greet the Hogwarts Express as it pulled into the station. It was a flurry of hurriedly getting dressed and ready, and then Arcturus cloaked the entire group (himself, Melania, Orion, Regulus, Harry, a newly arrived Pollux and an eager Bellatrix) in a notice-me-not enchantment that would hold all the way to the station so long as nobody wandered too far from the group.

Today was a day of firsts, Harry thought to himself as they finally set out. To begin with, he’d never been to Platform 9 ¾ from this side of things. For another, Grimmauld Place was close enough to the station that they were walking there instead of Flooing or driving a car, hence the reason for the notice-me-not enchantment. Harry hadn’t ever walked to the station before, so this would be a new experience. And finally, of course, Harry would be meeting a version of his father for the very first time.

He was as excited as he was apprehensive, and though it felt childish to admit even to himself, Harry felt better when Regulus grabbed his hand and held it tight. He squeezed back, aware the ten-year-old was likely full of nerves of his own.

The walk to King’s Cross Station was surprisingly peaceful. They were all in wizard robes and such, not even bothering to blend in a little under the protection of Arcturus’ notice-me-not, but only Harry seemed to find that odd as they walked down the sidewalks and other pedestrians avoided them without noticing. He did still find it odd to wear robes regularly, though. Both the Potters and the Blacks wore wizard fashions more or less all the time, though since Harry’s wardrobe mostly consisted of the sort of things cursebreakers wore, most of his wardrobe looked like a weird cross between Victorian Steampunk and traditional wizard battle robes. Arcturus and Melania had insisted on having him fitted for several Black robes, one set of which he’d worn to the Gathering on Wednesday, and another of which he was wearing right now. They’d recently also ordered him dress robes.

Apparently even though Harry’d still had the bottle green robes Mrs. Weasley had gotten for him to wear to the Yule Ball a little over a year ago, he still needed new robes. The green ones were a little tight in the shoulders by now, and short at the ankles—and it had been a definitely out-of-time robe style in the 1970s, as they were the most modern thing that could be bought in 1994. Still, Harry had protested and quite disliked the fitting for the new robes.

But at least the additions to his wardrobe meant Harry fit in to this group quite well, blending in as another dark-haired, sharp-featured Black, only his strikingly green eyes and darker skin setting him apart from the others with their eyes of grey or black and their paper-pale tones. The entire group walked straight through the barrier to Platform 9 ¾ without so much as a glance around, secure in Arcturus’ enchantment. The station was fairly crowded with families, and many whispered amongst themselves as the Blacks waltzed onto the scene.

Regulus’ grip tightened on Harry’s hand and the boy clung to his robes. Harry looked down at him, concerned.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

“They’re all staring so,” Regulus whispered.

And so they were, Harry suddenly noticed. He’d not realized before—four years as the most easily recognizable celebrity in the known wizarding world had inured him to stares and whispers for the most part. The half-year of unkind whispers and wary stares after Voldemort’s resurrection had only further deadened his ability to notice when he was the centre of attention.

“They’re probably curious about me,” Harry said to the boy. “Sorry.” They were probably also all intrigued by whatever they’d heard of Harry’s backstory, the teenager thought sourly to himself. The Unspeakables certainly had picked a controversial pair of people to be Harry’s cover parents.

Regulus just grimaced at the reply and tried to creep further into the folds of Harry’s many-layered robes where he couldn’t be seen.

Thankfully for poor little Regulus’ nerves, the Hogwarts Express steaming into the station had everyone’s eyes turning to the lurid scarlet engine and away from the product of the biggest soulmate scandal of the 1950s.

The magnificent train pulled into the station to great elation, children and teenagers tumbling out of cars towards parents, chattering excitedly while the train staff called names for families or family elves to come pick up student luggage. Harry noticed that Kreacher had appeared as they entered the Platform, popping up next to Taffy, who’d led the Potters over to the cluster of Blacks staring disdainfully over the crowds.

The two elves popped off together to collect the luggage. It was so strange seeing Kreacher here. He was much younger and healthier looking right now, his ear hair and the little bit of hair still on his head grey instead of snow-white. He was also a good deal less toxic, to be frank, speaking respectfully and politely and never so much as uttering the word mudblood or even filth. Regulus seemed to have a special bond with him that reminded Harry of himself and Dobby, honestly, and some part of Harry couldn’t help but wonder if the poor old elf had simply been senile and insane with loneliness in Harry’s time, after being locked up in Grimmauld Place with only a mad portrait of Walburga for company for so many years.

Harry saw his cousin Caelum first, speaking quietly with a girl Harry recognized as a young Narcissa Malfoy—Narcissa Black, right now. Caelum had the typical Potter looks: the dark brown hair alongside the long face and fingers, but he had the colouring and pale grey eyes of a Black. Andromeda was in their wake, nervously gripping the hand of a mellow-looking boy with mousey brown hair. Harry felt certain the girl he’d noticed was Andromeda, because she bore a striking resemblance to Bellatrix, even more than to her twin.

Tagging along in the back were two little dark heads tucked together, chattering. Two brunettes tripped alongside them, sandy brown hair so long it almost hid the face of a young Remus Lupin, and the badly combed brown locks of a not-yet-rat-like Peter Pettigrew. Harry frowned upon seeing that one, but closed his eyes and took a breath, Occluding away his anger and mistrust.

The group of students collided with the group of adults chaotically. Narcissa and Caelum were talking to both Bellatrix and Dorea (who’d come with the Potters, Charlus alongside her), eagerly discussing the gossip of the school year, while Andromeda nervously stopped in front of her grandfather and Lord and introduced them both quietly to her soulmate. Ted Tonks looked unspeakably nervous, but was holding his own pretty well, Harry thought.

He could see his dad jumping up and down in front of his grandparents excitedly, clearly telling them some sort of story. Regulus had let go of Harry to fling himself at his big brother, begging for stories of Hogwarts already. Pettigrew was dragged away by a witch in mauve robes who was loudly exclaiming over how much he’d grown, while Sirius imitated Andromeda, to Harry’s surprise, by dragging Remus up to his grandmother and saying both defiantly and loudly, “This is my soulmate, Remus Lupin, Grandmama.”

The Blacks all paused in conversation, giving the nervous and sickly looking twelve-year-old boy a once-over, before turning back to their own discussions. Melania instantly began to exclaim proudly, already mothering the quiet boy. The weary, sandy-haired man who’d nervously approached the large group of rabid purebloods for his son looked startled, thoughtful, and relieved all at once. Over Mr. Lupin’s shoulder, Harry’s blood ran cold as he accidently locked eyes with a narrow-eyed blonde teenage girl. He swallowed, his eyes automatically ducking down at her clear displeasure with the situation.

Harry couldn’t quite look at her again, almost afraid despite the irrationality of the feeling, but he did track the pretty little red-haired girl back to the couple the blonde girl was determinedly standing apart from. She was dragging a little dark-haired boy along with her, clearly a close friend and probably also a muggleborn as the Evans had collected both Lily’s and the boy’s trunks. Harry wondered who he was.

A squeeze to Harry’s hand made him look down to see Regulus by his side again. “What’s wrong?” the little boy asked.

Harry blinked and shrugged rather helplessly. Regulus just clung to Harry’s arm in a subtle hug. “I think it’s a lot going on too,” the little Black said. “And I was here at the start of last school year as well.”

A loud voice made him start.

“Oh, wow, are you my new cousin!?”

It was his dad—it was James, Harry told himself firmly. Jamie Potter, his aunt’s son. Jamie was beaming up at Harry, curious and eager.

“Yes, I am,” Harry said simply. He held out the hand Regulus wasn’t holding captive. “Pleased to meet you.”

Jamie laughed gaily, delighted and amused. “We’re cousins! No need to be so formal!” But the preteen took Harry’s hand anyway, grasping it with a fairly firm grip for a kid and shaking it up and down almost like Fred and George might have in this situation, mimicking pompousness. Perhaps James intended to say something funny, but both boys were derailed when magic rose almost invisibly from Harry’s skin.

It was the most subtle effect it had taken yet, barely visible as a distortion of the air yet surging so strongly around James and Harry that Regulus could undoubtedly feel it too, his grip on Harry’s other hand suddenly bloodlessly tight. The protection slid over Harry’s hand and down into James’ skin—searching for something, Harry thought. Whatever it was looking for, it found, seeping back under Harry’s own skin and settling back to sleep.

James’ mouth had fallen open, but to Harry’s surprise, when he finally managed to let go of Harry’s hand, wet his lips, and then begin to talk, he didn’t comment on the odd surge of magic. Instead, Jamie blurted out, “You have the same eyes as my soulmate!”

The boy’s whole face flushed, his ears and neck darkening as well. He looked rather like he wanted to sink into the floor.

Harry just smiled at him warmly. “Really? Usually I only ever get comments on how unique the colour is.”

James shook his head firmly. “No, they’re like hers!” he said insistently. “The same shape…and the colour is similar too…um…”

Harry patted him on the shoulder. “When I come to Hogwarts in the fall, you’ll have to introduce me.”

Jamie blinked up at him. “You’re coming to Hogwarts next year?” he gasped out. At Harry’s nod the boy cheered and ran over to tell Sirius the good news, handily distracting the other boy from the fact that his soulmate had been taken home for the summer.

Harry got a chance to speak to his eighteen-year-old cousin Caelum once they’d arrived at Potter Manse for a late supper. The older boy reminded him of Percy Weasley, but with what Harry was beginning to recognize was a familial air of mischief shared by all the Potters. Caelum had been kind and welcoming, and more than happy to tell Harry what he thought were the important parts of Hogwarts—descriptions of the teachers, the points system, the various clubs and activities.

“I was in Gobstones and the Debate clubs myself,” the older boy said. He sighed. “It’ll be odd, not having those any longer.”

Jamie had been yawning all throughout dinner, and his parents picked him up to carry the twelve-year-old off to bed when he dozed off into his bowl of soup. Everyone else gave early goodnights as well, all departing for their respective rooms.

It wasn’t until Harry had reached his own bedroom that he realized the blood protection had allowed him to go off alone. He sat down hard on his bed, staring down at his hands. Something had changed. But what?

He remembered the odd magical feeling he’d gotten when he and James had first met. Had that been it? Had meeting a real, living James Potter somehow caused the magic to recalibrate itself somehow?

He sighed.

This would be a question for the Unspeakables to work out. This meant his morning was going to be so busy. And that on top of Orion’s plans for he and Harry to tell Sirius the truth tomorrow afternoon. Well, if tomorrow was going to be a full day, he might as well go to sleep so he’d be well rested.

“G’night, Hedwig,” he murmured, darkening the candles in his room with a flick of his wand. He could hear his owl’s wings rustling in the darkness as he laid down to sleep.