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You Had Me At Hello

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It was the guy that attacked him, hurrying away from the Auburnbrie sisters while rubbing his cheek.

“You!” Cor exclaimed in surprise, marching over. Justifications for his interference, a demand for an apology for kicking him in the balls, even an apology of his own, all sat on the tip of his tongue as he crossed the distance between them. He wasn't quite sure which of them he was going to say, that all depended on the hunter.

Who turned around, and suddenly Cor forgot all of it, steps stuttering to a stop.

Those were the the prettiest damn eyes he had ever seen.

His voice stalled in his throat as the teenager faced him properly. They were the same age. They were the same age, and he was tiny. Wild jet black hair, pale sharp features, and those eyes, wow, summer leaf green in colour and framed with long black lashes. He wore the blood of his enemies, tough work roughened leathers covered in scratches and mud from hard fighting. His weapons were dented and caked in blood from use and prior kills, and not a single speck of it was his own. Even the way he stood gave him pause, straight backed, chin up, meeting his eyes head on, feet firmly planted. Confident in a way he rarely saw even from his brothers in the army.

“Can I help you?” the boy asked coolly and Cor swallowed at the crystal cut Tenebraean accent, opening his mouth to say.... something. But. Wow. No. The first person aside from Regis himself to have ever put him on his ass was not only his own age, but clearly no stranger to hardwork or getting his hands dirty. After so many years of having to fight tooth and nail for even the slightest scrap of respect from men twice his age with half his skill.... He gets dropped by a guy half his height and weight with a face like that? He was pretty sure he'd had some rather X-rated dreams that started along those lines.

And then the boy scoffed, scowling and barging past him when he took too long to answer. “Whatever, if you're too stupid to figure out what you're fucking saying that isn't my problem.”

Looking back.... He could have reacted better.

 


 

Cor stared.

It was hard not to with so much skin on show.

Potter stood up and reached for a shirt, the fading shadows of livid angry bruising fading away under Lady Auburnbrie's care. He had about the same muscle mass as your average alley cat. Lean and wiry, there wasn't an ounce of spare fat on him and Cor could see every muscle shift and move beneath his skin as he grabbed it and began to pull it on. A thin dusting of dark hair trailed up from his trousers to his belly button, a long thin pale scar went across his chest from shoulder to hip, his back completely unmarked save for a strawberry red birthmark a tiny bit to the left of his spine below his shoulderblades.

He swallowed uncomfortably, feeling overly warm, and looked away as Potter spoke to Regis. Only looking back when Regis made a joke about how familiar it was that he didn't like being told what to do. Which, no. He didn't mind. He just hated stupid people telling him what to do. Because they always told him to do stupid things.

That shirt was too big for him, he decided inanely in the back of his head somewhere. Potter looked far too deceptively fragile like that. Never mind the fact that the shirt he was wearing could have fit Cor himself, which once he realised put his brain down several other tangents that made his stomach turn pleasantly and his heartrate kick up. He scowled at himself because Potter had the personality of a feral cat, and cute face aside, he didn't want to think about that sort of stuff about him. He was an asshole. And what was he doing in someone else's shirt anyway?!

He might have been a bit snippy and demanding because of it.

And quite rightly he had a wet flannel thrown in his face for it.

Weskham removed him from the room before he could retaliate.

What followed was perhaps the most embarrassing dressing down he'd received to date. He was not interested in Potter like that!

Except he was.

A little.

He slouched in his seat scowling down at the table, ears hot, uncomfortable as Weskham primly read him the war treatise about appropriate behaviour to others, especially when sexually interested in them. And of course he refused to modulate his voice. Which meant Clarus proceeded to choke on his beer, until Cid smacked him on the back and demanded, “Are y'all fuckin' kiddin' me, Rus? Y'all didn't notice?!” as if it were as obvious as the sun in the sky.

Which, apparently, according to them, it really was.

He slouched further in his seat, folding his arms grumpily as Regis and Harry showed up, feeling his ears go hot when the Ulwaat boy sat next to him to talk to Cid, before proceeding to prove himself more than just a pretty face. Economics, manufacture, Cor listened with half an ear and turned away from them, grumpy because he wasn't allowed to talk, so joining in on the conversation wasn't allowed. It wasn't just because there were daemons that had stalled industry out in Lucis proper, it was also education. The plain fact of the matter was, Insomnia had public education. Lucis did not. Schools were rare out here and so was higher education. Many older people didn't even know how to read depending on how far out in the sticks they were. Insomnia had a considerably higher population, and over 98% of them were educated to at least highschool level, meaning that those who opted to go further, and become graduates had their pick of placements and fields of study. And with the war, the big money was in communications and defence. And with the population stuck in what was essentially a large cage, entertainment.

But of course he wasn't allowed to share his thoughts. Even if he thought Potter would find it interesting. He didn't want to risk Weskham locking him in the car the next time they went to do something interesting, or took Regis into a daemon nest.

It wasn't that he didn't trust them to keep him safe – but His Majesty told him to protect his only son and heir.

He didn't want to let his King down.

If he fucked up and Regis got hurt, if he died, the relations between refugees and citizens would sour even further. Right now, he was the only real tangible proof that they could be accepted. He was a public figure in a way that he didn't think the others in the Retinue had figured out yet.

“What do you think?” Potter asked curiously, looking at him, obviously attempting to offer an olive branch.

He grimaced and looked away.

He was going to swap where all of Weskham's knives were in their case for this.

 


 

“Y'all must've been pretty highly ranked before hand,” Cid observed, leaning against the side of Lady Auburnbrie's truck to get a better look at the small haul of accessories that Potter was sorting through. The hunter looked at him in bewilderment. “In yer army,” the old man elaborated as Cor looked between the two.

Potter's face twisted in confused offence. “I'm fifteen,” he spluttered, “I'm not old enough to join the army!”

Cor stared at him, “We're the same age, and I am,” he pointed out. True he lied about his age when he signed up for the military, but right now they were both at the right legal age. Just what was Ulwaat's age of enlistment if they thought fifteen was too young?

“Well, what were ye doin' before this?” Cid asked, something like real worry in his tone as he examined the dark haired teenager who was looking increasingly uncomfortable and dismayed.

“I was in school. Like everyone else my age in the country,” he explained stiffly. “It's – minimum age requirement to join the army is eighteen.” So late? “It's illegal to – I mean, there's cadets, but I don't....” The hunter dragged a hand through his hair looking pained and uncomfortable in a way that immediately made Cor worried. Because – because he was starting to get a bad feeling about all this. When he first mentioned having to stay in Meldacio to wait for his godfather his chief argument was the fact that the man couldn't fight, and just now he'd admitted to only being a hunter for two months, and being quite successful at it judging by the miniature haul of rewards he had spilled out across the flatbed in front of him. Some of which could be sold for a very pretty gil. But he wasn't in the military. And in fact looked quite uncomfortable with the very concept because of his age.

“Were you ever trained?” he asked slowly, studying the boy's pretty face closely.

He scratched at his ear uncomfortably, leaf green eyes flickering between his face and a point just past his shoulder. “You're... gunna have to be more specific,” he requested at length.

Not good.

“Did anyone ever teach you how to use a sword, or a gun?” he asked with rising dread, because if he was right....

“I held a sword when I was twelve once? And killed a giant ass snake?” he suggested more than informed.

It felt like the bottom of his stomach dropped out.

He was a civilian. Not a hunter. But an actual 100% Insomnian level civilian. A school boy. A fucking school boy left in the middle of Cleigne to try and survive without weapons, or glasses, or a clue of where he was with absolutely no training or background in combat. His godfather couldn't fight so clearly the man wouldn't have been able to teach him to defend himself, he had no style – fuck Cor should have seen it before now! He had no Style. Nothing was standardised. Not his sword forms, nor even the way he held his pistols!

The fifteen year old sighed and tucked his hunt rewards into his backpack. “It's not a big deal,” he told them calmly, and completely erroneously. Even Cid was looking at him in outright horror.

“I beg ter differ,” the old man choked out. “Y'all takin' hunts without knowin' her ass from yer elbow. Yer gunna get yerself killed one'a these days,” he said in dismay.

“Not dead yet,” he pointed out as he got to his feet and swung the backpack on. Cor stared up at him, an impossible figure cut out of the blue sky around him. “I think I can handle it,” he declared before turning and jumping out.

Cor shook his head and folded his arms to hide his clenched fists. “You flail with your sword like you're having a seizure, and you're blind. That's bullshit,” he pointed out sharply. He had no swordschool. Yes he had been getting by so far, but luck could only take you so far! He was a Rank 5 hunter judging by the accessories he had, so he definitely had skill. But his handicaps – from here on out they could very well get him killed, especially in unfamiliar surroundings so close to the front lines!

But the dark haired boy only threw a knife-edged smirk over his shoulder, “And yet here I am,” he mused lightly.

Yet there he was.

Fuck.

“Roll yer tongue back in, boy,” Cid grumbled, rubbing his chin looking worried.

Cor flushed and glared at him, “It wasn't out!”

 


 

Harry snatched his hat off his head, pale faced and near frantic. “Get changed, quickly!” he whispered, “Run around in a uniform and they're going to know who you are immediately. Hurry!” he hissed even as he turned to check the alleyway they had just come from.

Cor summoned his civilian clothes from the armiger. The hunter had a point, one he hadn't really considered before because he typically lived in his uniforms. They were a lot sturdier and made of specially woven fibres exclusive to the Crownsguard defence support and equipment suppliers, his clothes were more armoured than most Niflheim soldier's so called bullet-proof vests.

Harry paused for a split second, looking him up and down before he dropped to his knees and bent forward.

His heart practically jack-knifed into his throat, his stomach flipping – and Harry untucked his jeans from his boots.

“Shoelaces catch on damn-near fucking everything out in the wild, never tuck yer boots in,” he whispered quickly, voice catching on the edges of Lady Auburnbrie's familiar Cleigne accent. “Don't know what they do in your home, but I've never seen a teenager with his shirt tucked in either,” he added doubtfully even as he reached up to Cor's hips, fingers tugging swiftly at his jeans as he pulled his shirt out from them.

This – he was a mess. He was half hard, sweating like crazy, bright red, and then there was a clatter of guns and boots and he grabbed Harry by the back of his shirt to yank him behind him even as they looked up at the unit of Niffs bearing down on them.

One of them turned back the way they came, “Nothing, sir! Just some handsy teenagers. You two,” he barked, turning back towards them with disgust. “Either keep it in your pants or get a room. Scram!” he barked, gesturing with the muzzle of his gun for them to get gone.

Harry grabbed his hand, “Y-yessir,” he squeaked, his hands shaking and cold, nails digging into Cor's flesh as he turned tail and practically dragged him down the other street.

Cor tightened his grip on the hunter's hand, alarm and concern clenching in his chest when he got a good look at the other fifteen year old's face.

He was terrified.

His eyes were wide behind his glasses, pupils dilated to pin-pricks, he had gone chalk white, and cold. And yet, despite all that, he checked every sidestreet, every window and doorway as they ran down the alley to the main plaza where they could see the tipster in the window of his kitchen helping to evacuate people from the street. Harry waited before dragging him to a hiding space and ducking down, his breath shaking ever so slightly as he carefully inhaled and exhaled as if counting.

Part of him was confused, Harry was willing and able to tangle with daemons and fiends five times his size. But guys with guns freaked him out? The other part of him was concerned. Harry was a civilian, hunter rank or not. He wasn't used to these kinds of situations. His plan to get them out of Lestallum was great, flawless even. But it could all fall apart if he panicked.

He tightened his grip a bit and pointed out an older hunter further up who was arguing with a pair of Niffs. Harry looked back at him and nodded, his expression determined as he pointed to where they were going next. They ran. Cor kept a tight grip of his hand and stayed quiet even as they reached the hotel and saw the soldiers in front of it. At least Clarus found a safe place to hole up, and then came Weskham and Cid, playing up the Leidan Red-Neck angle so hard he was surprised Cid was even playing along with it.

They were so close to escaping the city that he could practically taste it. Harry's shaking had lessened with their goal so close that he didn't want to wait, didn't want to pause. He wanted to get them out.

Even if he had to go through the next unit coming into the city.

He reached for Genji through the armiger.

“No!” Harry yelped, whipping around to grab his hand. “No! You'll draw too much attention!” he whispered frantically, looking over his shoulder to the group of men, and then over Cor's shoulder with mounting panic. “We can't fight everyone!” he hissed, tugging on him.

Cor begged to differ. They were only human. And they were dressed for covert ops, no heavy armour or gear. He could absolutely one-hundred percent take them.

Cor! Please!”

He jerked and snapped his head around to look at him in shock, Harry grabbed his arm and yanked him down a sidestreet, and he went because – because he looked like he was on the verge of breaking. Because of him. Cor was the one making him panic like that. So he shut up and let the hunter pull him out of sight, hide them in someone's narrow far too small porch where they had to stand practically between each other's legs.

“Once we're out of the city, we can just hop the fence at the side of the road,” the smaller teenager whispered, rubbing his arms nervously, pale skin covered in pimples of adrenalin and fear to the point where Cor felt like an even bigger asshole for being the one to put them there – and not even in the fun way that he sometimes dreamed of.

Harry tipped to the side a little, peering out and down the street and then tensed up horribly.

And then he looked up, his face going from stressed to considering for a split second, before something like resignation and determination set his jaw and knitted his eyebrows together.

“Do not stab me for this,” he hissed.

Cor frowned, stab him? What was he -

Hands grabbed his skull and pulled him down, even as Harry reached up and crushed their mouths together.

What

what what what what what W HAT

The hunter snarled against his lips, “Do you want to get shot? Stop dicking around and put your fucking back into – ”

Irritation licked his insides, mixing furiously with stress and embarrassment and just about drop of frustration he had felt about this impossible boy and his mouth and his eyes and his hands and hips and ass. He shoved him backwards against the wall and kissed the living daylights out of him, digging a hand into that thick black hair he had fantasised over for a week, it was nothing like he expected, coarser and thicker than he thought it would be, even as he used his grip to force Harry's head back. He tasted like exactly nothing but spit and skin because Cor wasn't paying attention to stupid shit like that as he pulled him in tight, wanting to feel every inch of him against him.

The gun was getting in the way. He grunted in annoyance and shoved it down and out of the way, feeling Harry's hands tangling in his shirt as he tried to stand up straight, gasping into his mouth with sounds that should have been fucking illegal.

He gripped Harry's hips and pulled him in close, grinding into him even as he hiked the hunter up one of his thighs, and there were clearly no objections if the way he was leaning into it was any indication. He nuzzled into Harry's neck, kissing and licking at his tendons just to hear the sound of his voice.

Right before they were doused with cold water and the home-owner smacked him in the side of the head with her bucket.

“NOT ON MY DOORSTEP!! NOT ON MY DOORSTEP!!” she shrieked as the two of them scattered like scalded cats.

 


 

It had been a long time since he had seen something so grim. A long long time.

Night had long since fallen when they got out of Crestholm Channels. The border control Crownsguard had deployed swiftly and brought out generators and extra men to hold the area, medical had the two survivors that Harry had found, and there were already engineers and soldiers on the scene to handle the clean-up and reignition of the power. Once the power was back on they could focus on removing the daemons and fixing the rest of the systems.

It wasn't easy coordinating the border control with the more typical Crownsguard, for one, only the Crownsguard would actually listen to him. Border control seemed to hold him with some level of contempt, at least until Clarus put his fucking foot down. But by that point, all the instructions he had were already given out, and unless he was going to take his sword up and go back down there, there was nothing more for Cor to do.

So he took a step back, and then he saw Harry in the distance, just outside the ring of activity, sat on the back of his truck, watching the organised chaos with a dull look on his face. He swallowed a little, and then made his way over after taking a quiet breath.

“You alright?” he asked gently, staring down at the hunter's pale miserable face.

He grimaced into his knees, “No.”

He looked back out over the Crownsguard and the Channels, silent for a moment. “...First time seeing someone dead?” he asked softly.

Harry shook his head, “No. Just.... the first massacre I've ever seen,” he admitted quietly, something complicated in his voice before he squeezed his eyes shut and dragged a hand through his hair with a sigh.

The only way to handle these kinds of situations was to focus on the good.

“The two people you found will live,” he stated. “The lady is awake. She was one of the people at ground zero. They were looking to expand by boring another reservoir so they were taking soil samples and doing sonic imaging of the surroundings when they saw an empty cavity less than a metre away,” he explained, spotting Harry's tired green eyes watching him curiously from the corner of his eye. “As soon as one of the guys knocked on it, the whole wall caved in and a bunch of daemons crawled out. She said she thinks they got trapped in there during a landslide of something.”

Harry's eyes slid shut with something that could have been relief, or could have been heartbreak. Days like this, it was hard to tell.

“As long as they keep the armed guards for the next few weeks to ensure nothing else forms up, they should be fine then,” he muttered. Sound advice that he would be sure to pass on. No one was certain what daemon spawning rates were, but if the hunter was suggesting weeks, then that was what Cor would be passing on.

The hunter tightened his grip on his knees and hunched up unhappily, shivering in the sharp Leidan night air, squeezing his eyes shut and grimacing in unhappiness.

It hurt seeing him like that.

He stripped out of his jacket, well aware of how cold the smaller teenager could get, and dropped it over his shoulders before folding his arms and turning to watch the men working in the distance and refusing to be embarrassed about his actions. There was a long stretch of silence as Harry stared at him with a sad face before he huddled down and drew it around him in silence, hiding his face in his knees again.

He didn't say anything. And it didn't take long before eventually the hunter slowly relaxed, dropping into an exhausted slumber that eventually saw him curled up on the flatbed under Cor's jacket.

 


 

Regis couldn't believe his eyes.

“Wesk!” he hissed, scurrying away from the tent, “Wesk! Have you got your camera? Weskham, you absolutely have to get a picture of this! Look look!” he whispered, grabbing his friend's arm and pulling him over to Kimya's tent. The young women grinning and holding the tent flaps open for them to get a better look.

Weskham paused, blinking, and then covered his mouth with a hand, grinning, “Oh my. Well. Happy Birthday indeed,” he muttered softly.

“I know right?” Regis giggle squeaked, trying to keep his voice down but the absolute glee making it hard.

Cor shifted in his sleep, frowning a little as he pulled Harry a little closer and buried his face into the other teenager's hair. The two were curled up tight, practically suction-cupped to each other with Harry tucked up under the soldier's chin, both of them sleeping soundly. Which, given how it was long past dawn, was highly irregular for Cor who was often up with the sun at the same time as Weskham himself.

Regis flapped his hands eagerly, “Weskham, you must, please,” he practically begged as his Retainer summoned his polaroid camera to hand.

The sound of the shutter, followed by both Regis and Clarus' cackling, woke the pair as Weskham quickly retreated, and Kimya worked to getting the two teenagers out of bed for breakfast.

 

 

Chapter Text

Cor was just one of the many born without a Red Thread.

Just one of the unlucky ones. Or the lucky ones, depending on who you asked.

With twenty percent of the population with an empty hand there were a lot of differing opinions on the subject of soulmates and how easy they were to identify, ranging from positive to negative, with almost everything in-between. Cor didn't particularly care one way or the other, he didn't have a thread, he didn't have a soulmate, and he had spent a great many years aggressively ignoring, or beating the shit, out of those who accused him of not having a soul because of that. Because that was a belief as well. That those who had empty hands also had empty bodies, that they didn't have a soul. He was pitied for having to 'spend his life alone', as if he couldn't find love without a thread, or were incapable of it. Of being admired for his 'freedom', of not being tied down to one person and expected to find his happily ever after with them and never go near anyone else. Of being considered expendable because there was no soulmate to mourn his passing, no one to miss him, usable because he had no one that would require support in his absence.

That was his childhood in a nutshell. His childhood, his pre-teens, his career in the army – and when it all got too much, he ended up being considered too wild, too unstable. Without a soulmate to calm him down, to rein him in, he was considered a wildcard, a mad dog, and pulled from the front lines. The only place where he could reliably take out his disgust and aggression on the enemy instead of the assholes he shared a bunk with. Only King Mors, empty handed like him, had knowing eyes and steady hands when he gave Cor a chance to prove that he was just as good, if not better, and worth so much more than the lack of light wrapped around his little finger. He didn't have a thread, but that didn't mean he was missing anything.

Until suddenly, one day, it felt like his hand was burning.

Until suddenly, one day, he had a thread. Vivid scarlet, glowing against his skin, trailing off and fading to nothing, but undeniably there.

Pointing west.

All at once an awful number of mixed feelings filled him even as he was quick to hide his hand from Regis when the Prince crawled into the tent. If His Highness saw the thread, he would immediately drop his Pilgrimage in order to track the person on the other end of it down, and... complicated feelings aside, this journey was not for him. It was for the good of the Kingdom. And Regis, the hopeless romantic that he was, would put it on hold to find Cor the same 'Happily Ever After' that he had with his own soulmate, Aulea, who waited for their return back in Insomnia.

So he kept his hand hidden, out of sight, and dug out a pair of gloves the first chance he got.

 


 

Annoyingly, he wasn't used to keeping his hands covered, or his thread hidden. He got caught.

“Cor – what – you have a thread?!” Clarus squawked loudly one evening as they played cards.

Immediately everyone was clustering around him even as he tried to shove his hand under the table out of sight. Far, far too late, as Regis was already pulling it out to get a better look.

“When did this happen?” Weskham asked in shock as they stared down at the little glowing scarlet thread attached to Cor's little finger, pointing North-North-West, towards Cleigne's unpopulated jungle mountains.

He squirmed uncomfortably as Regis pulled a map and a compass out and began to excitedly plot a line to where his soulmate might possibly be, never once considering the implications of a thread forming so late in life. Even those people who were born decades before their soulmates were born with threads, bright healthy and red, but unlinked, just a little red ring on their finger that hadn't yet been tied off.

Until two weeks ago, Cor didn't have a ring, or a thread, or anything at all. He was Empty Handed.

And now he wasn't.

“About two weeks ago,” he muttered quietly.

“Y'all kept this quiet fer two weeks?” Cid demanded, sounding hurt.

He squirmed, “I – this trip was too important. I knew – Regis would want to find them and we – don't – we don't have the time...” he muttered shamefully. This trip wasn't about him. They had much more important things to do than go chasing after his soulmate.

Clarus clapped him upside the head. “Idiot punk. For this we have time. Jeez kid. Soulmates are worth it,” he scoffed, longing and jealousy plain on his face as much as his empty hand. Now the only one in the Retinue without. Cid's pointed back to Insomnia along with Regis' where his wife was in charge of the housekeeping staff at the Citadel. Weskham's pointing Soul-South-East, directly at Accordo and Altissia specifically. Cor gave him a pained look and the Shield snorted in fond amusement and sadness, ruffling his hair, “Don't hold back on my account, punk,” he muttered.

“Meldacio,” Regis declared, looking up at them with a grin. “Cor's soulmate is in Meldacio Hunter HQ.”

 


 

They say that you'll know who your soulmate is at first sight.

They're right.

Cor knew who it was before they even stopped the car, he didn't even need to see the thread that visibly connected the two of them together.

It was a boy, small and thin, sat up to a plastic table in an open care restaurant with an older teenager. A disassembled gum in front of him, the older boy, clearly a hunter, talking him through the cleaning and assembly of it. He had thick wild jet black hair, pale sharp features, the slight shadow of a bruise on his jaw, and the prettiest damn eyes he had ever seen, and he wasn't just saying that because this was his soulmate. They really were stunning. Summer leaf green in colour with long black lashes.

He hadn't noticed Cor yet, too busy listening to the older teenager who showed him carefully how to assemble the gun, nodding slowly, before it was disassembled again and laid out for him to try himself. He had small, bird-like hands, but they were deft if slow in putting everything back together, properly, carefully. The older teenager nodded and said something encouraging that had his soulmate nodding before disassembling the gun again with much more certainty and speed than before.

The older boy suddenly caught his hand, turning it over with a startled look on his face, the glowing red thread stretching out and away from them visibly straight to the Regalia, to Cor, sat frozen between Regis and Clarus, watching them through the windows.

“He's cute,” the Shield said in the silence.

Regis gave him an encouraging smile, “He looks a little confused. Perhaps his thread didn't show up until recently as well? Come, let us go and introduce ourselves properly,” he suggested kindly, patting Cor's knee before pushing the door open to climb out as the two at the restaurant got to their feet, the larger of them propelling the dark haired boy forward despite his obvious confusion.

Cor swallowed against his dry throat as he climbed out, watching the dark haired boy carefully as his leaf green eyes flickered over them all, going back to him time and again. He was so small. And thin. He could wrap a single hand around both of his wrists, he realised with a small lurch in the pit of his stomach.

Regis was right. He looked confused. And more than a little out of his depth as they finally came to a stop and the taller boy put a hand on his shoulder, smiling stiffly at them. “Evenin' gentlemen,” he greeted with a thick Cleigne accent, practically looming over the shorter boy's shoulder, built rather a lot like Clarus, inches both taller and wider than Cor, and obviously protective of the darker haired boy. “I take it yer here 'bout th'thread?” he asked plainly.

“Indeed,” Regis agreed with a charming smile, his political one. “Please, allow me to introduce ourselves. I am Regis Lucis Caelum,” immediately the teenager straightened up, surprise and awe washing across his face, “this is my Shield, Clarus Amacitia; my Retainer, Weskham Amaugh; my Mechanic, Cid Sophiar; and my bodyguard, Cor Leonis,” he introduced, gesturing to each of them in turn before taking a slight step to the side so the youngest of their group could be seen properly.

The older teenager nodded slowly, looking between the two youngsters present, “...I'm Dave Auburnbrie. My ma is th'one in charge 'round these parts. This is Harry Potter, m'Aunt's charge,” he introduced carefully at length, as Harry and Cor studied each other, the former with slight suspicion and bewilderment, the latter shyly, almost hungrily. “Shall we, err, take this inside?” he suggested, “Or would ya like t'sit?” he asked, gesturing to the seats around them and the incredibly interested tipster looking between the two teenagers and their very clear glowing red thread.

Actually, Cor went a bit pink, realising that a lot of people were looking at them with varying expressions of interest and glee.

“Inside please,” he muttered. This was not a fucking entertainment spectacle.

 


 

Of the Auburnbries', only young Dave had a red thread, and his pointed just a little bit north of Insomnia to the Galahd region, much too far away for him to go and visit at his current age. The sisters took the introduction of the Retinue with remarkable aplomb, remarking that they had been hoping that a member of the Royal Family would drop by eventually. The reveal of the thread connecting Harry and Cor, not so much.

“If ya want 'im so bad, take 'im,” Ezma Auburnbrie declared plainly from her armchair. “Boy's a halfwit waste a'resources I can't afford t'have kickin' around doin' nawt.”

The stung look on his face and the expressions of both her sister and her son indicated that there was a vastly different story, but that was the exact moment that Harry spoke for the first time since they drove up.

“I can't leave,” he refused, the clear cut Tenebraean accent stopping them all in their tracks as he glowered down at Ezma. “I need to stay so Sirius can find me.”

“Yer soulmate has come t'pick ya up. If ya want t'wait fer yer godfather, ya can do it somewhere else, an' not under my roof,” Ezma declared coldly as she stood up, managing to tower over the fifteen year old despite only being a handful of inches taller. “I took ya in because ya had nowhere else t'go. An' now ya do. Get out of my damn house a'fore I throw ya out.”

“Madam Auburnbrie – ” Regis attempted to interrupt only for the teenager in question to turn on heel and stalk out of the house, thin lipped and pale faced with his fists clenched at his sides.

Ezma retook her seat in the stunned silence that followed, crossing her legs and peering down her nose at them. “Th' boy'll go with ya now he ain't got a roof over his head. He might not know his ass from his elbow, but he ain't a moron 'bout savin' his own skin,” she scoffed.

Cor felt sick with a strange mixture of anger, confusion, and disbelief. “Are you completely insane?” he heard himself asking from far away even as he shoved himself away from the wall and left the house before she could answer, before he did something like draw a sword and demand a duel. Like the actual fuck he would be in any way okay with her forcing his soulmate to come with them because he had nowhere else to go, how dare she?!

He cast around for a minute, trying to spot him, only to recall the thread and want to hit himself before following it to where he was talking to the tipster back in the open air restaurant.

“ – free labour in exchange for room and board?” he was asking, arms folded, as he looked up to the tipster.

The old man was rubbing his chin, looking thoughtful, and a bit doubtful. “Well, we'd love t'have ya Harry. Yer a mighty hard worker, an' ya know yer stuff. But, surely you'd rather go with yer soulmate, right?” he asked pointedly, not quite looking at Cor over the shorter teenager's shoulder, but definitely aware of him all the same.

Harry was quiet for a moment before looking down.

“I don't – I – he's a complete stranger,” he pointed out, sounding stressed. “Why is everyone trying to force me to choose between a complete stranger and my godfather?” he demanded disbelievingly, his voice catching.

The tipster shook his head and reached out to lay a hand on the teenager's shoulder, only to stop and pull back. “Ain't no one tryin' t'make ya choose, kiddo. But soulmates are special, they're gifts from th'Astrals. Ain't no one gunna match you like they can. It's like findin' th'other half of herself,” the man explained kindly, throwing a soppy look to the woman manning the grills behind him as he hummed along to the radio, their red threads bright and joining the two of them together firmly.

“And as soon as Sirius finds me, I'll never see him again. Ever. And I can't not go home. And he won't be allowed to come with me,” he explained harshly, slumping with a heavy sigh.

“What makes you say that?” he found himself asking, causing the tipster to quietly step away from the conversation, and Harry to practically jump out of his skin and whip around.

“What?!” he blurted, startled.

Cor gestured to one of the tables and sat down. “What makes you say I won't be allowed to come with you?” he asked quietly. Having seen what happened in the house with Auburnbrie, he was extra careful to keep any and all tones of accusation or defensiveness out of his voice, he got the feeling that his soulmate was probably hypersensitive to it by this point, and he didn't want to make this situation even more stressful for him. Afterall, it was thanks to Cor that he was now homeless. And god, his blood burned at the thought of it.

Harry glanced at the tipster with a conflicted look on his face, but the man was already serving a pair of hunters that had just come over. He pressed his lip together reluctantly, bit sat opposite, and Cor tried not to notice how his clothes were too big, obviously belonging to Dave judging by the side, and how they gaped wide around his neck, showing off his collarbones and the teasing edge of a car at his shoulder. To their left the pair of hunters sat down and started off an innocuous conversation about fishing in the Vesper, all the while their eyes flickering to them every now and again with blatant interest and amusement. He fought not to scowl at them. Yes, the first meeting between soulmates was cute/interesting/entertaining, but fuck off, this was sensitive? And private?

“There are.... laws about outsiders for a start,” Harry admitted quietly with an awkward shrug as he rubbed his hands together between his knees. “We've been in hiding for such a long time that – the punishment for telling non...citizens anything is heavy. Then there's the fact that same-sex couples are illegal – ” Cor choked, and the conversation at the next table hiccuped.

“That's – illegal?” he echoed in disbelief. “But you can't change who your soulmate is!”

Harry shrugged a shoulder, “We don't have threads at home,” he admitted calmly. “None of the Astrals bother with us, so we don't bother with them. Until I crashed in the Vesperpool two and a half weeks ago, I'd never even heard of a red thread,” he admitted, spreading his hands out in front of him, his red thread wrapped and tangled tightly around his little finger as though the gods were afraid he would find a way to wriggle free of it. “Soulmates are considered myths, the stuff of fiction and silly romance novels. Nice in theory, impossible in practice.”

“And... I take it you're not a fan?” he asked carefully, trying not to let any of his disappointment show. His grandfather had been very thorough in explaining things to him as a child so he would know how to help his friends, or his children in the future. Sometimes soulmates didn't work out. Sometimes you could be the best of friends, sometimes the most passionate of lovers, or the most bitter of enemies and rivals. Your soulmate was your other-half, and sometimes, it was your better one, others, your worse. It all depended on who you were as a person. There had been siblings who were soulmates of each other, it was more common in twins, but familial soulmates were a thing as well. So, he was well aware that sometimes.... sometimes it just didn't work out. It didn't make it any less disappointing when he had suddenly received a thread, found it attached to someone so lovely to look at, only to find that they....

Harry looked over at him with something complicated on his face, silent for a moment.

“I'm sorry,” he finally said. “I don't – I don't know what you expected, but I'm sorry that I'm obviously not it. But I can't – I can't change the fact that I have to go home, or that you won't be able to come with me.” He looked away, his expression darkening into something thoroughly miserable and bitter. “Ignoring what the Ministry would do, it's just too dangerous anyway.”

“Dangerous? In what way?” he asked, straightening up, making the dark haired boy look at him sharply but not say anything. “In what way?” he prompted firmly, “I'm the personal bodyguard for His Royal Majesty King Mors, and currently attached to His Royal Highness Prince Regis,” he pointed out flatly as he summoned a notebook and pen to hand. “If you're in danger, the least I can do is advise you if I can't come – ”

He cut himself off, seeing the look of outright alarm on Harry's face as he looked between the notebook, his face, and then, glanced fearfully at the other hunters who were still pretending that they weren't listening in, and then the tipster before looking back at him in disbelief.

“What is it?” Cor asked warily.

“You have magic too?” he practically whispered, leaning forward in his seat.

Too?” Cor echoed. That – what?

Harry nodded, and then, angling his body so it wouldn't be seen, pooled pure white light into the palm of his hand.

 


 

The Regalia was a tight fit for the five of them, no one could exactly be called particularly small, and Clarus had a bad habit of spreading his legs out.

It was tighter still with six, but Harry was small, and Cor had absolutely no problem with having him sat on his lap.

 

Chapter Text

The surprise ruin was found while hiking to the north just beyond Daurell Caverns, built within the base of the great serpentine arches that gave Duscae such a unique silhouette. Cor had been the one to spot it in the distance as they explored in the hopes of maybe finding another Royal Tomb hidden away in the resource rich Schier Heights that Lucis had claimed many generations ago.

Once inside though, it looked less like a temple, and more like some kind of research lab. At least to Harry who was used to cauldrons, and jars, and cupboards, and carvings across the stone. It reminded him an awful lot of Snape's office as they carefully explored the rooms, slaying daemons as they passed, going down winding staircases and passing all sorts of wall carvings leading them down, and down, and down again, and finally into a harrow dark room with what looked like stone computer monitors from those old Hollywood movies.

“What do you think?” Clarus asked as they spread out through the room, everything covered in dust and utterly devoid of daemons. Eerily so.

Harry shook his head, “I need some more light,” he muttered, digging out a few glow-sticks and cracking them over a knee, shaking the fluid until he had enough illumination to read the console. “....Something about time,” he decided after a while of reading. He blew at the dust and used a hand to try and wipe some of the more stubborn clumps away.

As soon as his hand touched the console, bloody red light lit up from the runes and washed through the room in a vivid angry wave.

“What's going on?!” Regis yelped, summoning a weapon as he skipped away from the bloody floor carvings to stand back to back with Weskham.

“I don't – I'm not sure!” Harry admitted, alarmed, as he tried to read the runes even as the air began to hum. “It says something about time. About – about going backwards? I don't recognise the verb! The particle is a possessive and I don't – energy maybe? This one is the word for the mind but they've got a terminology that's only ever used for the physical body!” he explained, panicked now as the humming began to reach a pitch and the console in front of him got brighter.

Cor took a step forward – and looked down as they all heard the flick of something move.

Harry whipped around, the circular plate beneath the Insomnian's foot, formerly dark and dull, now menacing scarlet.

He lunged forward, something dropping from the ceiling in the corner of his eye – he shoved Cor backwards, and yelled as whatever came down from the ceiling slammed into his forearms, staggering him down to the floor where he smashed his head into something, falling to his knees as all the lights went out, and then everything went

red

 


 

“Harry!”

“Get the lights!”

“Harry are you alright?!”

Everything was pitch black until – they got their chest lights going, filling the chamber with thin white light as they scrambled forward and – stared in complete disbelief.

Green eyes stared up at them in confusion.

“Oh.... Six....” Weskham murmured faintly, staring down at the four year old who stared up at them from within a glass tube.

“Harry?” Regis asked hesitantly, kneeling down in front of the child who drew back and eyed them with fearful suspicion before nodding hesitantly. This.... oh dear.

He was four. Absolutely tiny. Thin doll-like limbs, scruffy wild jet black hair even more untamed than when he was a teenager, familiar summer leaf green eyes, a pair of bulky black second hand glasses held together with sellotape perched on a tiny button nose, overlarge second hand rags for clothing, skinned knees, bruises, and a grimy bandage around his right forearm. And he looked at them with a complete lack of recognition.

The Retinue all exchanged looks of dismay.

“Cor? Could you – look at those consoles?” Regis asked faintly, looking up at the teenager who was staring down at his crush with a completely bewildered expression of dismay and disbelief. “With Harry, erm,” he looked at the child who was peering between them with large eyes, “like this. You're the closest we have to a linguistics expert.”

“.....Right,” he finally managed to get out even as he offered the child a slightly awkward attempt at a reassuring smile. He got a suspicious little scowl in return that had no right to be as cute as it was. Regis coughed into his fist to hide his grin as he saw the very real smile that Cor was quick to turn away and hide before hurrying to the consoles. Harry glowered suspiciously at his back before turning his frown onto Regis, still looking very scared, but also as if he were more than killing to give him a swift kick and run away as well. Some things never changed evidently.

“Hi Harry. I'm Regis. You can call me Reggie if you'd like,” he introduced with as charming a smile as he could muster. “These are my friends, Clarus, Weskham, and Cid. The boy behind you is Cor,” he said, gesturing to them all. The little boy squinted at them through his glasses with a scowl before examining the room around them with pressed lips. But he didn't say anything, or ask any questions either. Regis wasn't sure if that was a good thing or a bad one. “I know this must be scary, ending up in a strange place with strange people. We're not going to hurt you, absolutely not, on my honour and my mother's grave. But this is a dangerous place,” he explained gently as the little boy looked up at him with a frown. “I'm going to get you out of there, but you have to promise not to run away, right? There's all sorts of monsters outside this room, and we don't want you to get hurt.”

The boy gave him a dirty look, glanced at everyone else, and then nodded slowly. “Okay,” he agreed with obvious reluctance. And Six, he sounded so adorable. Regis beamed and gestured at Clarus to help him get the large glass tube up. It wasn't hard, it had mechanisms attaching it to the ceiling that were designed to lift it up and down, but without any power they were useless. And no matter how many times Cor touched the consoles, they refused to light up again, meaning the place had completely run out of juice when it did.... whatever it did to make Harry pocket sized.

The child drawled out and gave them all a highly suspicious scowl before glancing to the door leading out. Thank god for Cid, who promptly stepped in front of it with a knowing smirk that caused the four year old to give him a terrible stink-eye.

 


 

“Age regression,” Cor announced after far too long spent reading runes, scowling, rubbing his head, and consulting the notes he had of the language that Harry had been helping him learn. “That was the verb he didn't know. Looks like they were trying to create a 'Fountain of Youth', reversing the physical energy of time while preserving the mind as it was. They just never figured out how to do that. Or get it to last,” he added with a glance down at Harry who was sat on the floor with a granola bar, playing snap with Cid.

“Last?” Weskham echoed thoughtfully, his voice tinged with relief.

Cor nodded, “The less time he regressed by, the shorter the amount of time he's going to remain as he is. Half a day for every year judging by the calculations. So, about six days, give or take,” he explained as Cid called snap and tried to put his hand down – only for Harry's little fingers to snap out and slam down on the pile of cards, winning the round. It.... took a few rounds and a very careful explanation before he would play properly, they had to tell him that he was actually allowed to win the game if he wanted to. At first he hadn't even wanted to call snap or even try catching the cards at all. That was when they learned that his cousin would slam his fist down on top of his fingers if he won, and his Aunt would accusing him of cheating and punish him. That had.... been hard for Cid to deal with. They hadn't been able to hear what the child whispered, but they definitely saw the way the old geezer's face went murderous for a split second before he forced a slightly manic smile onto his face and told him that he was allowed to play because those things were against the rules of Lucian Snap.

Once assured he was allowed to win, that there would be no crushing of hands, Cid hadn't managed to win a hand since. The little gremlin child had lightning fast hands and an eye for patterns and colour. At first he thought to let the child win a few rounds to reassure him but then realised that he was never ever going to actually win now that he had allowed the child to do so. The fact that Harry was now grinning though meant he didn't mind.

“He's going to be pocket sized for six days?” Clarus asked curiously from where he had been leaning against the doorway to make sure no daemons came down their way, glancing at the child as he gathered his cards and carefully began to pat them back into a neat little stack.

Cor nodded.

 


 

Cid was the one to carry Harry out. The little boy only had to see a daemon once before he turned and buried his face in the old man's neck, going absolutely still and silent, clinging tightly and trying not to get in the way or break their concentration as they fought their way out. Worse still, it was dark when they finally stepped outside, and the nearest haven was a few miles away.

“Yer bein' real good. A real brave boy there Harry. Think y'all can hold on a lil' while longer?” Cid asked, rubbing a hand up and down the child's back, receiving a jerky nod but not a single word. He glanced over to the rest of the Retinue with a nod and they started running, pelting fullspeed down the deer path that lead them to the ruin – predictably, daemons did spawn. But they didn't wait around for them and just kept running.

Running until they reached the car, passed it, and up onto the opposite side of the road where they could see a thin ribbon of glowing blue smoke to identify the haven they were aiming for.

“We're here. Safe an' sound,” Cid declared happily, rubbing Harry's back. “Think y'all can do with Cor fer a bit while I help set up camp, lil' man?” he asked, shifting so he could peer down at the child's face properly.

The four year old slowly sat up straight to look around carefully, giving the campsite a dubious look before his eyes went wide at the sight of the glowing rocks. Cid grinned at him and then carefully extracted the child's limbs and handed him over to Cor where the sixteen year old propped him up against a hip. Then he went to go and help Weskham set up the stove and help him get some food going that a four year old would actually be willing to eat. No offence to Wesk, but the majority of what he cooked up was far too fancy for a child.

Cor eyed his young charge in amusement as the four year old gave him a suspicious flower. He would have thought it hard to believe that something so small and abominably cute would grow up to be become what he did, but it was only too easy to see with the way he wrinkled his nose and squinted at him.

He chuckled a little, “Shall we sit over here, out of the way?” he suggested, nodding to a little out of the way chunk of rock where they could still see everything that was going on, but not be in the way. Harry eyed it and eventually nodding a little, staying still and quiet as Cor carried him over and sat down, carefully shifting him to sit comfortably in his lap and not on the cold stone. They watched the rest of the Retinue working in silence, at least until he noticed the child fidgeting, fiddling with his fingers and glancing between everyone and his hands. Cor shifted slightly, making the child's head snap around to look at him.

“Are you alright Harry? Do you need to pee?” he asked calmly, internally panicking a little because – helping a drunk squadmate take a piss was one thing... helping a four year old probably was no different, easier given the size actually, but the four year old version of his crush whom he was actually quite eager to see without trousers was a very different animal and one he was entirely uncomfortable with the very concept of.

Thankfully he shook his head and looked down at his hands nervously.

Cor frowned at him, “If you don't ask, I won't know how to answer, Harry,” he pointed out gently. “It's fine. What do you want to know?” he encouraged gently.

“Not a'post t'ask questions,” the four year old admitted quietly, as if he were sharing a secret that he wasn't supposed to tell. Cor had to close his eyes briefly against the sick swooping feeling in the pit of his stomach.

“You're allowed to ask me whatever questions you want, Harry. I'm not a grown up,” he said, his voice far steadier than he thought it would have been. “You can ask any one of us any questions. Reggie is a Prince so you're allowed to ask him because he's a Prince and he needs to know everything. If he can't answer the question then he needs to go and study so he can answer it properly when he's a King. So asking him things is helpful. You can ask Clarus questions too because he's – going to be a policeman.” That was what Harry compared the Crownsguard to, right? When they were talking about law enforcement over dinner that night. “And you can ask Weskham questions because he's a teacher. He's supposed to teach Reggie all the things he needs to know to be King, so if Reggie doesn't know the answer, Weskham will. And you can ask Cid questions too because he's a Dad, and Dad's have to answer questions. It's in the Law,” he promised, and lied a little bit at the end but really.

Harry gave him a sceptical look. “No it isn't.”

Cor nodded solemnly. “Oh yes it is,” he declared, hiding a smile as the little boy shook his head, scowling.

“No it isn't!”

“Oh yes it is.”

“No!”

“Yes.”

“Nooo!”

“Yep.”

Cor grinned as Harry huffed and continued to argue, little face scrunched up furiously. He was so cute.

“What are you two arguing over?” Regis asked with a chuckle and a grin as he came over.

“He said Dad's have to answer questions because it's the law! He's wrong!” Harry exclaimed pointing at Cor who grinned absolutely shamelessly up at Regis behind the child's back.

The Prince's lips wobbled ever so slightly as he fought off a laugh and nodded solemnly, “He's quite right Harry. In Lucis all Dad's have to answer the questions that children ask them.”

The four year old scowled furiously, “Noo! That's not true!!”

Too cute.

 


 

Unlike teenaged Harry, baby Harry was up with the sun and already helping Weskham with making breakfast when the others peeled themselves out of their sleeping bags to face the day. His little face screwed up in concentration as he stirred the breakfast pot under Weskham's hawk-like eyes. The previous night had been.... very not fun.

Weskham had decided that after they'd eaten it was time for certain little people to go to bed, but first, his clothes not only needed a wash, but his bandage needed to be changed. Look at it, it was filthy. None of them anticipated the tears that erupted when they told the child to take his clothes off. It took almost forty five minutes of frantic reassurances and talking before he would stop crying and consent to let them clean everything, and a lot of promises that he would get his clothes back and no, no one was going to be angry about his arm, of course not.

That was really put to the test when the bandages came off and revealed horrible raw, infected grease burns up his arm. Burns that made Cor's stomach twist and flip as he recalled being down in that hole with Harry at Galdin Quay talking about their scars, and Harry told him about being pushed while cooking breakfast and splashing himself with oil.

Then came the reveal that magic was apparently a forbidden word in the house, and anyone who said it would get spanked because it didn't exist and only freaks and crazy people believed in magic. It had been a bit eye opening for everyone, but they managed to calm Harry down and get his permission to prove that magic existed by using a magic potion to heal his arm. The scars remained, and they were horrible to look at, but the infection vanished and he seemed absolutely thrilled that his arm didn't hurt anymore, which left Cid having to chug what remained of his beer before 'casually' suggesting that Harry come with him and Weskham to wash his clothes so he could make extra sure that no one threw them out.

As soon as they were out of sight, Clarus launched his beer can at a tree so hard it exploded.

Bedtime was easier.

There was no space to lay out another bed side them, and they didn't exactly have an extra sleeping bag either. However, if Clarus didn't mind shifting to the outside of the line, it would leave enough headspace to set up a kind of nest of blankets and jackets above them. Beforehand, harry had his own tent that he was willing to share with whomever wanted a little more space to stretch out – often Cor, Regis, or Weskham. Clarus still maintained a distance out of respect for Harry's personal comfort given their history, and Cid snored like an engine and knew it.

Baby Harry had no problem sleeping in the offering of blankets and coats, he was asleep before the rest of them had even finished getting changed for bed.

He sucked his thumb while he slept.

Cid chuckled and gently tried to tug it out only for sleepy green eyes to open and the child to practically bury himself in coats to escape him.

A light sleeper, unlike his teenaged self.

 


 

Lestallum was bright and interesting and after a very interesting car journey where at first Harry was very well behaved, sat quietly on Regis' lap. But the more they passed interesting things, the more excited he became, to the point where he was crawling from lap to lap in the backseat in order to see everything on either side, much to the amusement of everyone present. In Lestallum though, he stuck very close to them, to the point where they were nearly tripping on him, at least until Cor took his hand and moved to the middle of the group where they could all keep a better eye on him.

The number of women who stopped to coo at them, who seemed to think that Harry was Regis' son or younger brother which – okay, yes, the resemblance was somewhat uncanny like this.

The market was busy and hot and they got separated from the group remarkably quickly. But Cor kept a tight grip on Harry's hand and politely brushed off any and all men and woman that tried to talk to him. Then he saw the little trinket shop and looked down at the child, before looking back up at the stall.

Sure it might only be for six days, but......

He scooped the four year old up and headed over. “What do you think, Harry? Do you see any that you like?” he asked, shifting his grip so the child could get a better look at the man's wares. At the collection of cactaur statues, stuffed toys, plastic figurines, and other bright trinkets and doodads.

He half expected him to go for the cactaur statuette, but no.

His eyes immediately went to the soft yellow chocobo ragdroll. He didn't say anything, but the way his grip tightened on Cor's shirt, and the way his eyes went wide, more than told him which toy had garnered so much interest.

The others were going to tease him like crazy for this, but... it was barely a hundred and fifty gil, and he was clearly absolutely enchanted by it. They'd spent more money on dinner. And if it made Harry smile, then... he was more than willing to pay for it, handing over the money and collecting the chocobo from the grinning vendor before passing it up to the little boy who stared at it in awed silence with stars in his eyes.

He looked at Cor carefully as he reached out, obviously expecting him to pull it away, but when it was gently nudged into his hands, when he was allowed to grasp the soft suede-like yellow fabric and nothing happened, he made a quiet nosie and hugged it tightly to himself before burying his face in the side of Cor's neck, hugging him with his other arm.

“Thank you,” he mumbled quietly, hiding his face in the yellow fabric.

“You're welcome Harry.”

If his kids were anywhere near this cute, then there was no way in hell Cor was ever going to be able to say no to them. RIP wallet and bank balance.

 


 

Cor didn't know an awful lot about children, but he was fairly sure kids still needed to take afternoon naps at four. So when Harry started showing signs of flagging, he was quick to find them a quiet out of the way bench to settle down on to wait for the others, and for Harry to inevitably fall asleep on. Which he did. Clutching his chocobo tightly in one arm, thumb in his mouth, and Cor with his other.

Weskham chuckled when he found them. “Well, isn't that adorable,” he declared softly so as not to wake the child.

Cor stroked his hair with a small smile, “yeah.”

He twitched when he heard the sound of a camera and glared up at the Retainer as he cheerfully tucked his Polaroid away, comfortable with the knowledge that the soldier couldn't retaliate with a lapful of sleeping toddler.

 


 

Despite Regis' best efforts, Cid had put his foot down while on their little shopping excursion. Harry would only be knee-high for six days, they did not need to purchase him an entire wardrobe of clothes, shoes, toys, and books. Put your bankcard down, Regis! Think about how he's going to feel when he's back to his usual self, idiot man.

But things managed to sneak in anyway. A decent pair of little shoes for a start. A spare change of clothes. A book of Lucian fairytales to be read at bedtime. And none of them could resist the moogle poncho when they saw it. Not with the little wings and the bright red pompom between the cat-like ears.

Giving them to the child however, was traumatising for everyone.

He took one look at everything and burst into tears, horrifying the Retinue as he turned and buried his face into Cor's shoulder, practically strangling his chocobo. It took a while for the tears to run their course, during which they learned that it was a simple case of being overwhelmed because all of that was for him? At which point Cid had to physically leave the room in search of something heavily alcoholic to calm his nerves – Clarus wasn't far behind when he heard the four year old sob out that he was a Freak and Freaks get what they're given and he's never had anything new, ever, and how was he going to pay for this? They didn't have a house he had to clean, or a garden to weed, and Mister Weskham wouldn't let him cook. Please don't take his toy away, he'll find something to do, he'll pay for it. Somehow.

If he hadn't had a lap of crying four year old, he would have left to break something. As it was, he got front row seats to the most fury he had ever seen on Weskham's face, ever, and Regis on the verge of summoning Astrals out of sheer rage. He pushed the thought aside and concentrated on assuring Harry that he didn't have to pay for any of it, only to have a choked sob and a shake of his head say otherwise. It only made him cry harder.

Regis knelt in front of them, “If you feel that strongly about it, Harry, then I have a very important job that only you can do, if you want to pay us back,” he said solemnly, making the child hiccup and stop crying, peering at him with wide wet eyes and blotchy pink cheeks as he sniffed. It was criminally adorable but Cor couldn't even muster a smile at the sight of it. “It's a very important job, Harry. Are you ready? I need you to keep Cor out of trouble.”

“Oi,” he grunted, unable to stop himself from frowning at his prince, slightly offended despite himself.

“Cor is very good at fighting. But he doesn't believe it sometimes,” Regis explained, not looking away from Harry's wet eyes. “So he'll go and he'll find a big scary monster and he'll pick a fight with it. I want you to stay with Cor and tell him off if he tries to do that. Can you do that for me, Harry? He won't go near any scary monsters if you're with him, so you're the only one I can trust to do this for me.”

Harry considered his words carefully, looking down at his chocobo ragdoll and then back up at Cor with a frown on his face.

“Fighting is bad,” he eventually agreed. And, Six help him, he then reached up to put a hand on Cor's cheek and point at him, “You shouldn't fight. No. It's bad.”

He grimaced, looking away from earnest green eyes, “Okay, okay. I'll... I'll be good,” he muttered, pulling a face when he saw the grin on Regis' face, and the camera in Weskham's hands as Harry patted his head and called him a good boy.

 


 

No one was particularly keen on leaving Lestallum with Harry being as he was, but with the rumours that the Prince was out and about with his son now kicking around, no one wanted to run the risk of Niflheim descending upon them again, especially with a four year old in hand. So they left first thing in the morning after breakfast and decided to go and visit Keycatrich, which was considerably more secure against any Imperial interest.

They stopped off briefly to eat at the Coernix station in Aster Clough, and Harry got to meet his first real life chocobo while the Retinue did a little shopping.

Everyone just about died of cuteness when the four year old saw the catoblpas in the distance and immediately grabbed Cor's hand and told him loudly that he w\asn't allowed to go and fight them, which, given the moogle poncho and the little pompom bouncing as he shook his head and glared up at him..... Cor promised not to go near them, unable to say anything else much to the hilarity of the others.

“Can we keep him like this?” Clarus asked quietly with a wild grin.

“He does make a most effective leash for Cor's more destructive impulses,” Weskham agreed mirthfully, no doubt remembering the first time they passed through and the night where Cor and Clarus got bored and competitive and he left in the night to go and pick a fight with one of the titanic herbivores. It nearly killed him, but he succeeded. He killed it, and was nearly crushed UNDER it – which no one in the Retinue was ever going to let him live down.

“Reggie might jest adopt 'im iffin' 'e don't change back,” Cid chimed in with a smirk. “'e'll 'ave a fight on 'is hands though,” he promised with a grin at the alarmed look he received from the Prince.

“No! You wouldn't old man!” he exclaimed before darting forward and scooping both Cor and Harry up into his arms and sticking his tongue out at the mechanic. “They're mine and you can't have them!”

Cid took a page out of Cor's book and bounced an orange off his forehead in response.

 


 

Mid and Melba were ecstatic to welcome them, confused by the change to Harry, but rolling with it none the less. Harry meanwhile went over-shy, and was not very keep to get anywhere near Melba or her sister Alba even though he was fascinated by baby Carole. Layla the cat didn't seem to know what to make of him now, eyeing Cor and then him as if deciding if she wanted to get anywhere near the Insomnian in order to explore the little boy. Harry just had to goo at her the once and the cat was butting up against his fingers though, Cor completely disregarded in favour of sniffing and investigating Harry as closely as possible while the child petted and stroked her head and back with expert hands. Confiding in them that Missus Figg had a lot of cats, whoever she was.

He was less keen on the dogs, giving a little scream and yanking his legs up and away from them when they rushed out of the kitchen to investigate. He didn't take his eyes off them once, and maintained a strangle grip on his chocobo, ready to run at a moment's notice until they were once again shut up behind the baby-gate in the kitchen. Only then did he relax even a little bit.

“Are you afraid of dogs?” Cor asked quietly while they sat in the back garden where Harry could get to the table in order to draw on a few sheets of paper. He had been incredibly well behaved, but obviously bored once the initial terror regarding the dogs had passed. He hadn't been loud, or destructive, but he had obviously been bored out of his cute little skull. So Cor took him outside to quietly distract him.

Harry scowled and shook his head. “No!” he snapped quickly, “I am not!”

He arched an eyebrow and leaned back, “It's okay if you are,” he pointed out softly. “You're allowed to be scared of dogs. I'm scared of small spaces,” he admitted, watching as little green eyes went wide. “I'm scared I'll get stuck and squished.”

He mulled it over thoughtfully, “You are very big,” he admitted after a while. “I like small spaces,” he said turning his attention back to his drawing. “If I scrunch down really really small, Uncle Vernon can't reach me. And Dudley's scared of spiders so he doesn't come in my cupboard either.”

“You cupboard?” he asked curiously, nudging the highlighters that he'd dug out of a desk draw upstairs a bit closer.

Harry nodded as he grabbed the green one, tongue poking out as he focused on his drawing. “Uh huh. That's my room. Not even Aunt Petunia goes in.”

“Is that where you play?” he asked slowly.

The four year old shook his head as he picked up the blue highlighter. “It's my room. I sleep there. I'm not a'post to play. I have chores. But I got soldiers. And a frog. I hide them in my shoebox,” he bragged smugly. “It's under the spider's nest in the corner so Uncle Vernon doesn't touch it. Done!” he exclaimed happily, neatly cutting through the red haze of utter fury slowly clouding through Cor's better judgement. He didn't jump, but he did tense as Harry jumped down from his seat with his sheer of paper and eagerly climbed up into his lap to show him.

“And what's this?” he asked automatically when the four year old showed him, even though it was absolutely obvious, surprisingly so, at first glance.

“It's us. That's me.” The smallest figure with highlighter green eyes and a small neon yellow bird. “An' you.” With two highlighter blue dots for eyes and a thin black line with the slightest tilt up in one corner, holding the smallest figure's hand. “Reggie.” Green dots for eyes, a big smile in pink, and yellow dots down his chest and on his sleeves for the golden buttons. “Weskham.” He had used a pencil to colour in his skin, and gave him a highlighter pink waistcoat with yellow dot buttons. “'Rus.” The biggest one there, drawn like a triangle with pink dots for eyes. “And Cid.” The second shortest figure wearing highlighter blue trousers, jacket, and a pink hat.

Cor huffed a grin, “Pretty good. Do you want to show them all?” he asked, giving the child a small squeeze.

“Yeah!”

“Let's back up the pens and go inside then.” Between the two of them, Cor giving Harry the responsibility of holding onto the highlighters and his drawing, they cleaned up the table and headed back inside to show off his drawing. All the while Cor's mind working a mile a minute on how to approach the others about this. Normally, he would treat private conversations with Harry as just that, private, and never share a word spoken with the rest of the Retinue. But this? They needed to know so that they could figure out a way to stop Harry from going back. Stop him from having to return to people who would make him sleep in a fucking cupboard.

 


 

Cid took him for bath time and came back out looking more drowned than when a Coral Devil slapped him into the sea at Cape Caem. Harry on the otherhand was squeaky clean and yawning, more than ready for bed, as Cid dropped him off in Cor's lap and left grumbling about having a bath himself. Harry tucked his thumb in his mouth and cuddled up with his chocobo and burrowed into Cor's side on the sofa, quietly watching them all.

Weskham snapped another picture.

He would end up taking another one the next morning when everyone rose for the day. With Regis and Clarus occupying Mid and Melba's bed again, Cid and Weskham on the floor, the married couple in Alba and Carole's room, that left Cor and Harry the sofa downstairs. The four year old dead to the world, sprawled out bonelessly across the teenager's chest, thumb in mouth, chocobo in hand.

Melba thought it was precious while Alba joked about how he was going to have to keep those pictures quiet when he got back to Insomnia or he was never going to get a moment's peace. Well paid, talented, loyal, intelligent, young, and good father material?

“You're not into older women at all, are you?” she asked teasingly.

Cor fled the house as quickly as possible amidst poorly stifled snickers.

 


 

Harry wasn't too keen on playing with the other children. He wasn't shy, he was just disinterested, or wary and good at pretending otherwise.

They also learned that he was a climber.

God help his mother when he was an infant.

This caused some drama amidst the other observing parents when they realised just how high up the tree he had managed to climb while chasing a bird before calling out to Cor and waving at him, very proud of himself for getting so high. Eventually he had to jump down where Cor could catch him.

Children who recognised him from the garden party came over to ask where the boy with the big gun was, and if they could see his sword. He told them that the boy was with Lady Auburnbrie right now, and showed them one of his swords, unsheathing it only a little so they could see the quality of the metal and the maker's mark, but not letting any little fingers get into contact with it.

“Who is the boy with the gun?” Harry asked later while they were walking back to Mid and Melba's.

“Mmm? A friend,” Cor told him with a small smile. “A very important one.”

 


 

Stopping off at Keycatrich ended up being a very pleasant little holiday.

One that ended in the evening when everyone was in the back garden enjoying a BBQ. Cor was talking quietly with Regis, Harry sat on his knee drawing at the table; Clarus, Cid, and Mid were at the grill, chugging beers and chatting while they flipped burgers and sausages; Weskham was with Melba and Alba talking in depth about something or other, and occasionally shooting the men at the grill a narrow stare when he thought they weren't paying enough attention to the food. He had been quite vexed when Cid took control of the grill from him, stating that he was too much of a chef to do a good BBQ.

There was a pop, and a bright flash of red light, and Cor grunted when the weight on his knee suddenly doubled. He grabbed Harry and hauled him back before he could fall, and suddenly the four year old was sixteen again, wearing familiar hunter leathers, holding a highlighter in one hand, and an expression of bewilderment that rapidly turned to horror.

“Aww!” Regis whined with a grin, “You're back!”

“Welcome back Harry,” Weskham called.

“Do you remember anything?” Cor asked, half-curious, half-amused, because, that face. That face said everything.

Harry went sunset red with utter mortification and Regis – lit – up.

“You were so cute!” he exclaimed gleefully, “Following Cor like a baby chocobo, so precious!

“Kill me now, please, just, just fucking throw me into the sun,” the hunter moaned between his fingers to the amusement of everyone.

“Six no!” Regis laughed. “You have to see the pictures, Harry! Seriously, how were you so cute as a kid but ended up like this?!”

He glared at the Prince from between his fingers, face still crimson. “Thanks. It's the trauma,” he snipped sarcastically, prompting more laughter from everyone that wasn't Cor as he shifted his grip to pull him a little more comfortably against him, and, for a change, Harry didn't try to escape. Possibly because he thought he couldn't, or he had decided that Cor was the lesser of two evils right now.

“How are you feeling? Any pain or discomfort anywhere?” he asked quietly while Regis shouted Weskham over so the two of them could fuss over the photographs hey had taken in order to maximise Harry's embarrassment.

The hunter huffed and dropped his hands.

“Physically, I'm fine. My arms and nose hurt, but given how I hit that tube,” he trailed off as he unclipped the leather bracers from around his wrists to reveal the bruising from where the glass tube caught him. He stared at them for a moment before glowering at Cor. “This is your fault, just so you know,” he complained sullenly.

He stared at Harry in confusion.

“Should have just let you be the one to get turned into a kid. Bet you would have been a hundred times cuter than this,” he muttered almost resentfully, which just ended up making Cor's mouth twitch.

“I was a hellbeast as a child. Ou woudn't have had shins or fingers by now if I'd been hit with that,” he refuted calmly, giving the hunter a squeeze. “You were a good boy.”

“Ugh, do not ever say those words in that order to me again,” he complained in disgust as Regis suddenly appeared and began to shove pictures at them.

 


 

“If you don't mind me asking,” Weksham prompted later that evening once the initial torment had worn off and everyone was eating, Harry finally being allowed to vacate Cor's lap to get his own food and change out of his leathers, “Why did you attach yourself so firmly to Cor? If I recall, you were not very keen on him at the start.”

Harry went a little pink and looked down so as to avoid everyone's staring before he awkwardly swallowed his food.

And then he reached down to hold up a certain chocobo ragdoll.

They stared.

He shrugged and out it back down, but only Cor was in a position to see how carefully he made sure it went where it wasn't going to get stepped on, or dirtied, or grabbed by one of the dogs who were finally allowed out of the kitchen now that he was no longer pint-sized and terrified of them.

“No, because Cor got you a stuffed chocobo, you liked him best?” Regis asked, flummoxed.

Harry shrugged again, and focused on his food. “Basically.”

“Cheap date,” Mid chuckled, and yelped when his wife slapped his arm.

“It's cute,” she scolded.

“Sooo, if I get you a real chocobo – ” Regis began.

“I'd still like him best,” the hunter informed him flatly, only to stiffen and go bright red a breath before the garden erupted into hooting catcalls and exclamations. “Oh fuck you all, you assholes!!” he snapped in mortification.

Cor huffed a quiet snicker at him as he had to wrestle Regis off him, the Prince attempting to cling an arm around him and ruffle his hair, loudly exclaiming about how proud he was that Harry was finally being honest about his feelings. He was all grown up now, a man, look at him! He'd come so far since they first met! So cute! He felt like a proud papa watching him as a little boy, now he was a man, proclaiming his love to the world and – WOULD YOU FUCK OFF REGIS?!!

Yes, Harry had been very cute as a small child. But he much rather preferred this Harry. Sharp edges, witty one-liners, and – he should probably go and save Regis from him before the line of Lucis ended tonight.

 

Chapter Text

“No. I refuse,” he declared, loudly, in the cold glowing light of a celestial aurora, wobbling to his feet upon the hand of an armoured titan able to crush him like a pill bug, with even less effort. “Ain't no way, ain't no how. No. Nada. Nyet. Nein. Non. It just isn't happening.”

I T   I S   T H E   D U T Y   O F   T H O S E   W H O   B E A R   T H E   L I G H T   – 

“Not my circus, not my monkeys! And you're not my God!” he snapped, before turning heel and throwing himself off the beings hand before claw-tipped fingers could crush him, or snatch him back.

He knew his lines, he knew where he stood in front, behind, and upon them. He was not a killer. He would not kill. Not for some unknown being he randomly met on an ethereal plane, not when upon finding him the first thing the armoured titan attempted to do was trap him in some kind of magically binding vow of servitude, babbling about duty, light, honour, and responsibility, all the while commanding him to murder a man. As if any of those things defined by him had anything to do with Harry. He had honour, but it was his, defined by him. He had duty, it was forced on him yes, but he chose to accept it. He could have run, he chose not to.

If he was ever going to kill, it would be his choice, his responsibility, his burden.

Not at the behest of a giant armoured bag of dicks looking down the length of his sizeable metal plated nostrils like he was a booger at the end of his finger.

Fuck. That.

But in that single breathless moment when he leapt, and reached for his magic using an instinct he didn't know he had, everything stretched in one breathless, too-bright, too-dark moment, and it was like all the air was sucked out of his lungs. No.

crushed out

Like some poor abused squeaky toy in Ripper's merciless jaws.

And then – as if with the popping of a soap bubble

everything burst

light
sound
air

gravity

He dropped like a stone the wind tearing at his back and then he hit water.

Cold. Merciless.

Hard.

He gasped.

Inhaled.

Drowned.

And then sank.

Magic burned inside him, and then everything else burned with it.

 


 

He never did find out what happened.

One moment he was fairly certain he was drowning, the next, he was being clucked over by a giant pitch black bird, his back feeling like it was on fire, his chest feeling as though someone had poured petrol down his throat and then lit a match in his chest. It felt so much worse than his back. He had drowned, it wasn't surprising. What was surprising was that his back didn't hurt more once he'd realised what had happened, or rather, why it was hurting.

Wings.

He had grown wings.

Huge elegant black wings from his shoulderblades.

Such a dark shade they looked almost blue in the early morning light, and gold at sunset.

When they were clean at least.

When he first got out of the lake, there was no other word but filthy for them. They were ugly, bedraggled things, sodden with blood and lake water, algae, slime in some places, and mud. So. Much. Mud.

Everywhere, head to foot, he was just covered in it. Likely as not the friendly black feathered bird had dragged him out of the lake through the mudflats. Which was very kind of it, he decided, giving the bird a gentle pat on the chest as he attempted to sit up.

It was.... hard. The wings hurt, and they were heavy, dragging painfully on his shoulders, ribs, and his collarbones.

It would be absolutely fucking typical that he finally achieved his childhood dream of getting wings – only to be unable to fly because he didn't have the muscle for it.

 


 

Miss Kimya Auburnbrie was very nice. And she had wings too, so he didn't have to be worried about hiding his own, not really.

In fact, once she'd bundled him up and all but carried him to Meldacio, he realised that everyone had wings. In dizzying arrays of colours and kinds. Miss Kimya had beautiful rusty red and white wings with black markings here and there, her sister was the same, but had none of the white, and Miss Ezma's son Dave shared only the rusty red shade with the women of his family.

He saw a man with green parrot-like wings, a woman with blue budgie wings, many had the same kind of brown wings that he had seen at home on finches. All of them were large and powerful looking, people fluttered and hopped without problem from the ground of Meldacio to the various buildings built into the cliffs and the underside of the arches overhead.

Kimya took him to her place to get him cleaned up with Dave's help, cooing about how she would help him find his way home.

It wasn't until she washed away all the muck that she apparently realised he wasn't the small child she thought he was. Then her expression became one of horror, and then fury and sorrow as she and her nephew worked together to clean away all the mud and blood from his 'emaciated' back and shoulders. Dave looked freaked out because his 'struts' wouldn't stop bleeding – Harry assumed that was what they called shoulderblades, or, the part of the shoulderblade that attached to the wings? He didn't know. He kept his mouth shut and shuddered when Miss Kimya pressed her magic into him.

“Mmmm.... feels like y'all've got a twist here,” she muttered before placing her hand between his shoulders, “This'll hurt, lil' Fledgelin'. Best grit yer teeth 'fore ya bite yer tongue off,” she warned – and that was all the warning he got before it suddenly felt she she was digging her fingers in around his spinal cord and wrenching it.

He was aware of screaming.

Gripping the bathtub sides hard enough for his hands to burn

writhing in the water and trying to pull away from her

she clamped one hand at the base of his wing and held him still, pulled him up out of the water when he tried to bow away from her

the lights exploded

he smacked Dave with a wing by accident

and then... everything went black.

 


 

He melted their bathtub.

Apparently when Kimya had been healing whatever damage there was to his chest and back from both drowning and the wings, the pain had caused his magic to go haywire, and when he grabbed the edges of the bathtub, his hands caught fire and melted it. Then there was the minor electrical storm he caused, shattering the lightbulbs, knocking out the power to the whole of Meldacio as well as charging every single battery and generator over their capacity, completely ruining them.

And then he'd passed out, and Kimya had to catch his head pretty fast or risk him breaking his nose on the frozen bathwater he was embedded in. That took some chiselling off.

But, they managed to get him cleaned up. Him and his wings. Put him in some of Dave's old clothes, and put him to bed in the other teenager's nest, widening it a little bit, adding more pillows and blankets and set a hotwater bottle between his struts to prevent any muscle cramping.

Which was where he woke up, groggy, feeling terrible, and listening through a slightly cracked door as Kimya's sister Ezma flipped her ever loving shit about a bastard lucis caelum bringing the Empire down on Meldacio's head, and how they needed to get Portuttle to put word out through the tipster network to get the Prince here stat. Dave asked quietly why they were all so certain that Harry was a lucis caelum?

“He's got black wings, boy!” Ezma snapped, sounding unfamiliar with the thread of stress and aggression sharpening and making her sound harsher, rougher, “An' he uses magic! Ain't no other black winged magic users in th'damn world. We need t'keep him inside, out of sight. Make a nest in th'basement. I got some rope, we'll pad it with cotton, strap his wings down,” she decided and Harry felt a very real fissure of fear and alarm down his spine as he forced himself upright.

“Ezma! We can't keep 'im prisoner!” Kimya exclaimed, horrified.

“We can't let 'im outside neither! It's fer his own good!” her sister snapped, and Harry shoved himself out of the comfortable blankets fearfully.

Absolutely not!

He grabbed the flipflops he saw tucked under the bed, shoved them on his feet, and climbed out of the window. He took one of the blankets with him to cover his apparently rare black wings from sight.

Meldacio was like a kicked over ant-hill.

No one noticed him climbing the side of the mountain and vanishing into the treeline.

 


 

Kimya eventually found him living near the huge lake where she first found him. They didn't meet often because her sister was fucking insane, but Kimya was willing to bring him food, tools, weapons, and answer any questions he had about the world. She always looked a bit sad when he asked her about something that was apparently common knowledge, but she never pried into his history so he let her think whatever she wanted to think about his 'tragic' origins. She showed him how to strengthen his wings, and was there for his first gliding attempts, she was also there for some of his experiments in summoning his magic – and nearly died of asphyxiation from laughter when he accidentally burnt his eyebrows off.

She only attempted to talk him into returning to Meldacio once, and it was half-hearted at best. He hadn't even needed to say anything when she brought it up, just looked at her, and she snorted before changing the subject with a 'ya, thought not'.

He never told her where exactly it was he was living, she didn't ask, she just knew it was near-by and left it at that.

He had been riding his new friend, Nox, the giant black bird that pulled him out of the lake, when they'd gone off the beaten track and into a narrow gorge as the sun began to set. The bird took him straight to a waterfall with a beautiful glowing blue design carved into the rocks beside it, and then settled herself down and refused to be moved. Harry would eventually come to learn why, but for that night he decided to set up camp and sleep there quite happily. It was a good spot. The canopy of the little forest was so thick that no one could spot him from the air when they flew overhead – not that many tried after the giant wasps that lived in the cliffs got pissed off at them, hah.

It took a while, but he thought he was doing pretty good at this whole wilderness survival thing.

He made nice with Nox who was a wonderful friend. He got that ugly ass thorny monstrosity that nested in the heart of the forest to tolerate him. It was an utterly foul tempered thing, but it would protect him now, and didn't even flick an eyelid at the sight of him anymore. It was probably the fish Harry fed it as tribute. He named it Muffin in Hagrid's honour. It probably thought he was some manner of strange, clumsy, hairless baby bird given how after a month of him feeding it and falling off things and occasionally deciding to climb on it.

He didn't stay in Muffin's clearing, because despite everything else and how awesome she was, plus the fact the daemons avoided said clearing pretty religiously, it was haunted.

There was a creepy lady in armour that had wings made of bladed bone, and that was not a spirit he wanted to get close to even if the first time they met she seemed more surprised that he could see her than he was to see her. Given the stone structure behind her, he figured it must have been her tomb, so he left her be and sometimes left flowers at the door, hoping a little bit that she wouldn't murder him in his sleep, or hurt Muffin. He didn't think she would, she hadn't so far? But.... yeah.

He managed. It was nice actually.

He kept a diary if only so he wouldn't forget anything important. It would make for interesting reading when he went back home if nothing else. It might help Madam Pomfrey figure out how to reverse this because..... he wasn't going to lie.

The wings weren't the only change.

He just didn't know how to address the.... extra orifice downstairs. That was.... very new. And he was very carefully pretending it didn't exist because – that was a kettle of fish he didn't want to deal with. At all.

 


 

And then, of course, his peace was disturbed.

He had gotten pretty good at flying in the recent weeks, but he couldn't keep it up for long periods of time. He didn't have the endurance. So, once he was finished spear-fishing at the Vesper, he was left to hike back to Myrlwood with his woven basket of fish. He had made a point of catching a few Vesper Gar for Muffin, she really liked those. And he was assuming she was female, he didn't know, he didn't have the faintest idea of how to check, or the interest in doing so.

It was a lovely day, hot, and the walk was peaceful as he sacrificed some of his catch to the local wildlife who let him pass without molestation, used to his comings and goings and tributes. As foul-tempered and territorial as most of them were, several weeks of being fed, not attacked, and even actively assisted on occasion had rendered him something of a neutral party in the valley. Nothing attacked him during the day. At night? Well. Despite his magic being able to pop them like soap-bubbles, he did not go out much at night. It was just more trouble than it was worth.

The only time he stayed out all night was when he was looking for, and then protecting Nox when she was injured.

It was a long walk, a pleasant one, but a long one, and he was huffing and puffing with the weight of his fishing basket on his back by the time he reached his waterfall, the horrible stink and sensation of blood and fish slime having oozed down his back and all the way down to his ankles. Back in his clearing, he set aside the large Vesper Gar he caught for Muffin, and then began the process of descaling and gutting the other fish before stringing them up to dry. He bowled up the fish guts to be mulched later for his planters and then stripped out of his ratty blood-stained trousers to get washed.

It wasn't until he was in the water, cleaning up, that he felt the undeniable itch between his wings of someone watching him.

He couldn't have stopped his feathers from bristling even if he knew how. The cold water, coupled with the sudden awareness of how vulnerable he was, naked, alone, with his weapons and tools over in his bamboo shelter, and nowhere within reach, was a very stark and unpleasantly cold one. They didn't show themselves, or announce themselves, but Harry hadn't survived alone out here without trusting his instincts. And right now, they were telling him he was being watched.

He finished cleaning up, staying in the water to scrub his blood-stained trousers while he was at it before pretending he hadn't noticed them and getting out to hang them and get fresh clothes, and closer to his knives.

It was only after he had trousers and one of Dave's hand-me-down shirts on that they finally made themselves known.

A group of five huge men dropped down into the clearing, incidentally blocking the exit, which really put his back up.

“Finally get bored now I'm fully clothed?” he demanded caustically before the one with the black wings could open his mouth. The group spluttered, some of them going red, others choking in horror, one of them, the oldest, snorted in amusement at his companions. Harry rolled his eyes hard enough to hurt before rolling his sleeves up and going to collect his bowl of fishguts. “What do you want?” he demanded as he took the bowl to a planter full of mud from the lake-bed. It seemed pretty fertile given all the plant-life around the lake, and he remembered reading that fish bone and guts were good for gardens, so, mixing the two would hopefully give his vegetable planters the best chance of actually yielding some decent food.

“Just to talk,” the black winged man explained, watching him curiously as he mixed the lot up with a bare hand. His big friend with the stormy grey albatross wings grimacing in disgust at the blood and filth Harry was handling. “Please, allow me to introduce myself and my companions. This is Clarus Amacitia,” the biggest guy there with the huge albatross wings, “Weskham Armaugh,” the neat black man with the immaculate kingfisher wings, “Cid Sophiar,” the older guy with bright red parrot wings, “Cor Leonis,” the youngest of the group with huge golden eagle wings, “And I am Regis Lucis Caelum,” he finished, gesturing to himself with the expression of a man who expected to be recognised and was a little embarrassed by that fact, his large black swan wings ruffling a little. “May I have your name?” he asked enthusiastically.

Harry scoffed, “No. You may not. But you can call me Harry,” he stated dismissively. Yeah, like hell he was going to fall for the oldest trick in the book after he had so narrowly escaped that armoured bag of dicks.

The others looked confused and offended, while 'Regis' looked delighted, “You know the old ways!” he exclaimed, pleased. Harry gave him a scathing look but didn't reply as he got to his feet with his stinking bowl of mud and guts, and took it to his planter to work it into the soil properly.

An awkward silence stretched out between the strangers as he continued to ignore them.

“Sheesh, tough crowd,” the big guy, Amacitia, muttered in amusement.

 


 

“What do you want? I don't ask again,” the tiny black winged omega demanded coldly without looking up from his rustic mud-brick box as he squelched fistfuls of offal and mud into the soil.

Regis looked a little pained, his struts tensed with anxiety, “Do you – know who I am, Harry?” he asked gently, hopefully.

Green eyes gave them a dismissive glance, “No.”

Weskham wasn't the only one to see their Prince's ever so slight slump of disappointment and confusion, or the way his feathers flattened sadly. “Ah, well, that... does make things somewhat more complicated,” he admitted awkwardly in what was perhaps the understatement of the century. They find an illegitimate unpresented omega Lucis Caelum and the poor thing not only still has the feather down of a child at fifteen, but the muscle development of someone who had never flown a day in their life, and had no idea who the Prince of the country was.

“We've never met before, so why should it matter to me who you are?” the omega questioned flatly as he washed his bowl at the water's edge before propping it up between several rocks to dry.

“Because we're family, actually,” Reggie blurted out, stung and a little hurt. Only to wince afterwards for the rather... hamhanded confession.

The boy gave him a doubtful look. “We're not related,” he stated, as if the similarities weren't absolutely undeniable or glaringly obvious, as if they hadn't run blood-test proof. “I don't have family here.”

Clarus snorted, “Well, clearly you do,” he pointed out lightly, gesturing to Regis, “There's absolutely no doubt you're a Lucis Caelum.”

The child rolled his eyes and turned away, “My family name is Potter. And it goes back quiet a few centuries. Sorry, I'm not who you're looking for,” he stated plainly, clearly not believing them as he hauled up the three fish that had to be as long as he was tall, and packed them back into his basket. Family name of Potter, so definitely of common birth, and a family prone to alpha off-spring if the name had persisted for centuries. His black wings were obvious, and Lady Auburnbrie had confessed about his magical power – and after seeing the remains of the bathtub they couldn't deny the fact that he had magic, powerful magic by the look of it. That didn't mean his family did. However, there would be signs of Lucis Caelum blood throughout the years, signs that any Lucian worth their salt would recognise. Chances were young Harry's family line originated outside of Lucis. And there was only one King who had ever ventured so far abroad – the Warrior. To the point where he had been buried in Succarpe.

This child could be from an illegitimate line of his. Weskham wasn't even going to entertain the notion that his Prince's ancestors were perfectly well behaved men and women. Just as he wouldn't be surprised if there were more illegitimate lines out there in hidden corners of the world – like the Auburnbries for example being a blend of both Lucis Caelum and Lucis Fleuret, one of the lines of the Oracle. But the magic bred true in their daughters, blessing them with swatches of white within their wings, otherwise they would have been brought into Insomnia, like they now had to with young Harry.

“Excuse me, it's feeding time,” the omega announced before a hard pump of his wings sent him hopping over their heads – not as under developed as Weskham first thought perhaps?

“Feeding time?” Regis echoed in confusion, looking at them.

 


 

That was a Dread King Bandersnatch.

Clarus felt all four of his testicles launch their way firmly up through his lungs and ribcage to lodge themselves in his throat the second they stepped out of the crevasse and into a clearing to find the cute little omega stood literally in front of a Town Killer fiend, hand feeding it fish, while it wriggled and churred like a happy dog for him.

The sound Cor made was absolutely rude.

Regis – had stopped breathing entirely with horror.

“What in th'six hells a'th'Hexatheon did y'all put in that stew last night, Wesk?” Cid demanded weakly, several shades paler even as his vivid Leidian red wings puffed up and bristled with anxiety and alarm. Just like everyone else's. All five of them hovered at the edge of the top of the cliff in frozen horror at the sight below.

Dread Kings were a classification of Alpha Fiend. Yes there were your regular bog standard fiend, but then there were the Alphas, stronger, tougher, faster, smarter. Then there was the King classification, same as Alpha, just worse. Dread King was a classification that so far was only issued to one creature of each fiend species, and they were the record breakers, the titanic ones, the strangely mutated ones. The ones that, if unleashed in a population centre like say, Insomnia, would rack a kill count up in the hundreds of thousands before Crownsguard or Royal Guard could stop them. They were the Alpha of Alphas amongst their kind. Classed as Environmental Disasters more than fiends. Whenever a King gained the size and hormone imbalance to force its aggression levels up to eleven, Meldacio Hunter HQ immediately issued a writ for all Rank 10 Hunters to form up and take it out before it levelled any settlements. And here was undeniably a Dread King Bandersnatch, twice the size of its regular breathern, with thrice the black spikes, double the size of mandibles, puffing steam that Clarus really didn't want to get near – he liked his flesh unmelted, wriggling like a Labrador and getting cooed at by an omega that didn't even come to his nipples in height.

Regis was about to summon the armiger out of sheer fucking anxiety. No wonder Weskham was on the verge of fainting as he kept a white knuckled grip on Cor's shoulder, half to hold himself up, half to hold the youngster back as they clutched desperately to their better judgement and did not attack while the tiny unpresented omega was oh so very close with his incredibly oh so very fragile bones one head-twitch from shattering between those tank crushing mandibles.

The kid fed it another fish, and scratched its nose horn as though it were a puppy, and Clarus felt a little bit of himself die inside.

 


 

Muffin did not like strangers intruding on her personal space.

Harry had to keep her much more distracted than usual whenever she looked like she was contemplating violence, bristling and rattling her horns and grumbling, half an eye on the strangers at the top of the cliff, half an eye on him to make sure he didn't go near them. She got really pissed off when he accidentally got too close to the cliff, jetting steam and chuntering until he crooned and fluttered back, letting her circle and cut him off from them and flop down into the mud, churring even as she angled her head to keep a murderous blue eye on the strangers.

He had absolutely no intention of sleeping in the clearing, not with the ghost lady appearing when the sun went down. Eventually he had to tell the fives blokes to fuck off so he could leave without Muffin pitching the mother of all fits. She still wasn't happy, but after a judicious application of scritchies to her face, she was much more willing to let him clamber across her back and flutter his way up the cliff. He was still getting the hang of short-upwards momentum, so it was ungainly and a little ugly. More tiring than it was worth, but the way he looked at it was he would never get strong enough for sustained flight unless he put the time in.

Of course the weirdos hadn't left, they were stood in the crevasse arguing about how to go in there and 'save' him, weapons in hand.

“If you stab my sentient rosebush, I will set you on fire and then dump your asses at the bottom of Steyliff Grove with no weapons,” he promised them flatly as he ducked under the big guy's grey albatross wing.

“You're alright!” the black winged one, Regis(?), exclaimed in relief, his feathers flattening down from where they had been bristled and semi-mantled over his shoulders with anxiety.

Harry rolled his eyes again, slipping out from between them on the otherside, “Obviously. I'm not a fucking moron. She's huge. If she were in any way aggressive towards me I wouldn't go fucking near her,” he snipped in disgust. Why else would he spend a month lurking at the top of the cliff throwing her fish, getting as close as she would allow, then throwing more, rinse, repeat, until he was close enough to hand-feed, and then use a bit of magic to heal the nasty slash across her face. After that, they were great friends.

“It's male,” the youngest of the group told him shortly, looking determinedly to the left of him. “Bandersnatch, Dread King Class, they're called Town Killers for a reason. They're considered too aggressive to be allowed to live,” he explained stiffly.

“Muffin hasn't – ”

MUFFIN?!!” several voices choked.

“Inside joke,” Harry grunted. “Muffin hasn't done anything more dangerous than menace the local cliff-faces trying to scratch his nose. Maybe people need to learn how to navigate the territory of apex predators and not antagonise them?” he suggested scathingly before he carried on walking.

Was this how Hagrid felt? He was beginning to get the feeling that this was how Hagrid felt.

 


 

Weskham had heard stories of omega that, when abandoned or left to their own devices and starved of human interaction and support, would flock to all sorts of weird and wonderful creatures. There were many famous and beloved fairytales featuring such themes, some of which were even based in reality – such as the Oracle omega who vanished as a little girl and was later found by the future Oracle King living amongst dragons in the mountains. Child omega abandoned in the ancient days being taken in by packs of Voreteeth and running with them. Children in abusive households flocking with the neighbourhood pets, or whatever insects that may exist with them. Refugee and homeless children flocking with feral cats and dogs in Insomnia.

There was even that lovely young man they met in Duscae that found himself flocking to an entire herd of chocobo after he lost his unit in the fighting and was left to fend for his own life in the wilderness with Niflheim troopers and daemons and fiends on the prowl. If he hadn't befriended the local birds, he would have doubtlessly died. Or so he felt, Weskham was not about to disagree with him.

But to find an omega, still with his childrens' down, with a Dread King Bandersnatch wrapped around his little finger.... it was unprecedented. The stuff of legend.

That, and just about every other creature in the basin!

They camped at the haven young Harry had deemed his own that night, keeping strictly to one side for the omega's comfort. Attempts to encourage him to join them were ignored, Weskham had made up some food for him and he had given it the most suspicious look possible a moment before the chocobo he called 'Nox' decided to resolve the issue by eating it instead. Cid laughed at them.

It rained during the night, but come morning, Weskham was incapable of not stepping over that unspoken border between their camps to see if Harry had managed it alright. He was curled up comfortably in his shelter, tucked up on Nox, their wings draped over one another for warmth. Sleeping soundly.

Which he continued to do until mid-morning when Nox evidentially grew hungry and decided to bolt out of the shelter with a cheery wark, leaving Harry to tumble out with a squawk and hit the ground face first.

Then it was time to go fishing, apparently. Something that Regis was more than enthusiastic about doing.

Harry didn't seem too happy about their decision to come with him, but he didn't try to stop them. Which was where they got a front-row seat to the living proof that he had the entire population of the Vesperpool wrapped around his little finger, not just the bandersnatch. Mandrakes, Cockatrice, Basilisks, Sahagin, you name it. They got close enough to see Harry, they all turned away and either ignored him or called out and cosied up. Those that did often got petted, sometimes he would give them fish from his basket of bait, but regardless, he was allowed through their territory unmolested.

The one time Regis landed to try and walk with him, a Basilisk almost rammed him off the path with a furious shriek.

And then Harry started fishing, ignoring them.

He was a lot better at it than Regis.

 


 

Regis had.... mixed feelings.

When they had arrived in Meldacio at the behest of Madam Auburnbrie, they expected vital intelligence, troop movements, information on Niflheim weapons, maybe a person of interest that had been rescued by a hunter and was now being held prisoner. When she told him that she'd found a 'knot-hole' belonging to his flock, he hadn't known what on Eos she had been talking about.

Not until her sister pulled him aside and handed him a bundle of downy blue-black feathers, still soft and silken, until she took him to the bathroom with its destroyed bathtub, the melted sides and finger grooves within the metal, the lightning scars flowering up the walls and the shattered blown out lights overhead. Then she told him about the tiny omega she'd found staggering around the Vesper Bowl. Plastered in mud and blood, no muscle to speak of, too weak to even hold his own wings up, they trailed along behind him, weighted and sodden with water and filth, near to pulling his collarbones and struts out of their sockets, his back muscles twisted and cramped to tearing with the weight of them. His breathing harsh and wet in ways that scared her, bruises across almost every inch of his back, chest, shoulders, stomach, thighs and knees. His clothes had been torn and barely hanging onto his tiny frame by threads and filth, and when they finally got him cleaned up, they found the flesh of his back around his struts had been torn open, shredded. Recently, because they were still bleeding, even then. He destroyed the bathroom when she healed him, he was in so much pain.

Then she'd given him a washcloth, brown and stiff with dry blood.

He called his father immediately, and passed the cloth into the armiger for the Crownsguard to test it back in Insomnia.

There was no doubt in his mind, what so ever. The colour of those feathers, the damage to the bathtub, the walls. There was a very high chance that this omega that Lady Auburnbrie had found was of his flock-line.

When the results came through the next day accompanied by a phonecall from his father commanding him to collect the child and bring him to Insomnia, Regis had been more than willing to do just that. Omegas weren't rare per-say, but they were barely a third of the population in Lucis. Tenebrae had more, if only because their history placed more positive emphasis on omegas due to their royal family and magics, it used to be in Lucis that alpha children were more prized, and that meant omega children were often left for fate and the gods to find when times got lean.

A Royal Omega though? Theirs was not a line blessed with many omega. Even their daughters tended towards presenting Alpha. The Rogue being a prime example. But what few omega that did present in their line? They were almost all bestowed with the honour of Bahamut's personal interest, held up in the annals of history as Kings of Yore. The Oracle King, the Just, and the Fierce. And now.... now this tiny feral omega with the whole of Vesper at his command.

But he didn't act like an omega, or an alpha.

It was as though... he were entirely without awareness of it.

He looked at their wings, there was recognition in his eyes, but it meant nothing to him. He saw the Amacitia's noble wing-span and it meant nothing to him. The vivid colouration of both Cid and Weskham may as well have not existed to him for all it did to endear him to their personalities. And Cor – poor Cor.... his unremarkable mottled brown wings, huge, but dull, not even a second glance, even as he puffed them out to make them appear bigger, lifted them a little higher entirely without realising it.

He didn't know that black wings symbolised the Lucis Caelums'. He didn't know that it proved his Royal Blood as much as wielding the armiger would have. As much as his magic already had.

But he kept his peace, and he let Cid handle it.

He was, after all, the father of a male omega. Unlike the rest of them, he actually knew how to handle the somewhat delicate subject.

 


 

He was up to his greasy tits in idiots, Cid decided, and he was going to tell Mors that when they got the little chickee to Insomnia. After which he would sit back and enjoy watching the little bastard raise unholy hell because even if these royal morons couldn't see it, Cid could. This kid, omega or not, was hell in a handbasket and would not tolerate the glorified bird-cage that Insomnia represented.

His wings were made for flight. Fluffy and weak as they were, the fact that when Kimya found him he couldn't even hold them up, and now a month later he was fluttering and gliding under his own power, more than proved his point. This was a boy who would never allow someone to steal his freedom from him again.

Cid was honestly looking forward to the fight that was going to break out when they tried to force him to do anything against his will. Insomnia had a rather ass-backwards culture towards omega that Cid had never really approved of. It was why he never took Mid with him when he and his wife moved there. He had barely been old enough to leave the nest, and everyone would have rather he gone with them, but Cid hadn't wanted his bright and brilliant little boy to be crumpled down to fit with what they thought he should have been. Out here in Lucis proper, people had too much shit to be getting on with to worry overmuch about what was between your legs. The problem with Insomnia was that they were cooped up all close and on top of each other and stressed to all shit, trapped, unable to fly. So they got stupid notions into their heads, went strange, cared about the dumbest of stuff and got their feathers in a tizzy about all the wrong things.

The kid didn't act like they thought an omega should.

But to Cid, the kid was quintessential in every way that meant a damn thing.

Omega were not, at their core, the soft sweet nurturers that Insomnia liked to think they were. They were viciously territorial hell-beasts that got possessive as all fuck and would rip your throat out with their bare teeth if they thought you were going to throw hands. What these city slickers forgot about their precious Kings of Yore, about the Just and the Fierce, was the fact that they were the way they were because they were omega. They looked to the people of Lucis, to the land, and they declared it to be their flock, to be their nest, and they would defend it to their last breath.

So the kid, Potter, would rip them a new asshole if they tried to take him away from the place he had decided was his.

But before they got that far, he needed to address some other shit.

Mid had been a late bloomer as far as omega went, no where near as late as this kid, but he had been late enough to cause concerns. And given what Kimya had told them before they came down here.... he had a feeling he was going to have to have a private conversation with the kid.

 


 

“Blood tests came back positive,” the old geezer of the group informed him, hunkering down at the edge of the water while he was fishing.

“Blood tests?” Harry demanded sharply, glaring at him as he puffed away on his cigarette.

“Yep. Those sisters up at Meldacio kept some'a'th'rags they used t'clean y'all up before. We sent one'a'them back t'Insomnia t'be tested. Blood's a match. Yer definitely related to Reggie there. As if the magic didn' give it away t'anyone with eyes,” he explained, puffing away like it wasn't a big deal.

“That can't be possible,” Harry stated. Because it couldn't, he wasn't from this world!

The old geezer shrugged a shoulder, “I'm jest tellin' y'all what th'science says. But that aside, y'all got some gaps in yer education y'all ought to have filled in. Kimya ain't told us much, but I got a son like you, I can assume easy enough,” he declared as he stubbed his cigarette out on the mud and then tucked the butt into a pocket. “Y'all don't have t'answer, but I'm gunna assume y'all were raised in some kinda form a'isolation. Never flown, don't know what the colour a'th'wings symbolise, unfamiliar with family units, with magic, with the geography an'th'history a'th'country. That sorta stuff. But, I'm gunna assume a step further, and guess that no one thought t'tell y'all shit about what's goin' on between yer legs, am I right?” he asked blithely, and Harry felt himself go cold, and still.

“See,” the old guy continued, looking out across the lake as if he hadn't noticed, “Y'all've probably heard folk throwin' terms around like 'alpha' an' 'omega'. Well, they're like genders, male an' female. Word was that back in th'days a'Solheim folk were only male an' female. No alphas, no omegas. But after th'Astral Wars, human populations were so low that th'Astrals did a lil'tweakin' t'hurry the repopulation process back up. Gave us wings in th'process t'make it easier fer folk t'escape daemons too, t'keep us alive longer. But either way. Male, female, alpha, omega.

“Alpha is basically short hand fer insemination. Fertilizers at its most boiled down. Alpha males got two sets a'testes, an' all the trouble that goes with it. Increased testosterone, increased sperm production, hyper fertility. Some get hit worse than others, some get off relatively light. Alpha females got a set a'both. Ovaries an' testes. She'll have reduced fertility because a'th'conflictin' hormones, but there'll be times a'th'year an' month when 'er system'll have a higher concentration a'each making it more likely t'conceive at those times.

“Omegas are on th'other end'a'th'rainbow. Female omega have four ovaries, each can produce an egg at different times, an' 'er body can carry 'em at differin' levels a'development. Generally fertile all th'time. Super dangerous though, carryin' that many at once. Omega males have both ballsack an' uterus. So you, bein' an omega, can get pregnant.”

It felt like his stomach was full of ice and acid all at the same time.

“But yer a majorly late bloomer. So y'all haven't 'presented' yet. That's what we call it when folk shed their down feathers ter show their wings in full form. Y'all can generally tell at a glance who's alpha an' omega by their wings,” he explained, stretching one of his red ones out. “See, its got one joint less than you. That's because, an' fergive me fer bein' rude, most folk prefer t'fuck in midair. Both wings flappin' around at th'same time can get awkward and dangerous, so omega get ball-an-socket joint wings, an' an extra joint there to angle 'emselves comfortably. Also means ya make fer pretty wicked fliers.”

Harry swallowed, and took a moment to close his eyes and concentrate.

Okay.

Okay.

He – he had girl parts.

Not the end of the world.

Madam Pomfrey could get rid of them (he would ask nicely to keep the wings).

He just had to deal with that fact until he could leave this world. So. What? Don't have sex. That way you won't get pregnant.

Not difficult. At all. So there was no need to freak out about it.

However.

He looked at the old guy suspiciously, “You don't act like the others around me. You said you had a son like me, is that why?” he asked sharply.

He nodded as he lit up another cigarette. “I was born in Leide. Outside Insomnia, which is where th'others come from. I was raised not t'give a rats about what folk might have between their legs. Too much t'get done t'be worryin' about that kinda nonsense. Any pair a'hands is a good pair fer workin'. S'what I was raised by, an' what I've raised my boy on. But folk in th'city? They got time t'think'a stupid shit. Got notions about what's right an' proper an' all that fer alphas an' omegas. They won't treat y'all bad, but they'll definitely pussyfoot around ya.”

Whatever expression was on Harry's face it must have been a good one because the old guy took one look and started roaring with laughter.

 


 

Cor didn't know what to do.

He – honestly had not intended to listen in on the conversation between Cid and the omega, but Regis had asked him to stick close and keep him safe until they could reach Insomnia. He had intended to do so anyway, but it settled the small itch between his struts to know that he was not shirking his duty to Regis by doing so. He had only meant to be close enough to come swiftly if there was an attack, he hadn't realised sound would carry so well near water.

An omega who didn't know what an omega was. Who hadn't even taken wing until a month ago. Who had escaped from what Cor was beginning to believe was some kind of twisted metal box or basement to hear some of the suspicious questions the other teenager had. Who still had childrens' down in his mid-teens.

The only people he had seen his age or close to with down still in their wings were refugees. Those people who had been malnourished and stressed to the point where their bodies just didn't feel safe enough to shed those childhood feathers, thus exposing them to the cold, or have the energy to grow their adult feathers in properly.

And in this case, he was beginning to have the uncomfortable impression that it was both in this omega's case.

But.

But.

A Dread King Bandersnatch.

His grandfather told him that you could tell the quality of an omega by the company they drew to themselves, that if he wanted a good life partner, he needed to look for the right omega, or the right alpha if he was so inclined, by who or what they surrounded themselves with. The apex of apex, and the entire valley of Vesper. Not to mention the short period of time he had been here for and created a very comfortable nest on a haven in a forest with absolutely no help, and only a handful of tools, while hiding from the various hunters that Ezma Auburnbrie had quietly sent out to hunt him down and bring him back.

It spoke very highly of his quality.

Never mind his face, or his back and wings. If they had just been a different colour – if he hadn't been a Lucis Caelum.... He glanced at the young omega as he gutted his catch and threw the guts to one side for a sahagin and her young to feast on at the water's edge. The line of his shoulders and neck, the arch of his struts, his wings were longer than Regis', a little narrower, they were beautiful. He was. Everything from his eyes, his back, his waist and hips and legs, his face.

But he was Royalty.

Unknowing, disbelieving.

But his wings, his magic, his blood, didn't lie. Couldn't lie.

So Cor looked away, and lingered to one side, needlessly making sure nothing would attack him here, in his own basic, in his territory, surrounded by the beasts he would rather spend his time with than the people flocking near-by. There was no chance for him there. Circumstances of birth aside, Lucis Caelum Omegas were jealously guarded and protected. There had never been a situation where an omega was born either outside the main line, or with an older alpha sibling. There would be issues of succession, of marriage, and alliances, and –

He glanced over to the teenager as he snickered, playing tug of war with one of the sahagin hatchlings using a stick.

Cor was just a Crownsguard first gen of Refugee stock with dull mottled brown wings, a gil a dozen. Even with his stellar record, there was no chance anyone would even look at him. Especially not him.

 


 

It was an innocuous comment, completely off hand, clearly not even thought about, but all the same it drew the entire Retinue to a stop with confusion and surprise.

“Wait,” Weskham requested, peering at the young omega perched on his rock as he watched them, “Do you – mean to say that you know a different symbolism to wing colours?” he asked curiously.

Harry frowned at him, “No? I know what breed of bird they came from,” he corrected.

“That's not possible,” Clarus refuted, shaking his head, “They don't exist anymore. When the Astrals gave us wings it was at the sacrifice of those birds.”

“That's.... horrible,” the omega decided with a grimace, “Your eco-system must have tanked hardcore, considering.”

“What wings do we have, Harry?!” Regis asked enthusiastically, fluttering over and stretching them out eagerly.

“Black swan,” he stated. “They're native to warmer climates, water-birds, fairly large, and aggressive. They have bone spurs on their wing joints that they use to beat predators away, and enough wing strength to break someone's spine. They're pretty uncommon where I live, we have white swans pretty much everywhere though. They're the same, but a bit bigger.”

Regis hummed, “Perhaps the Oracles have white swan wings?” he suggested, looking at Clarus, “Our wings are pretty much identical save for the colour.”

He nodded, “Sounds likely. Hey, what about me?” he asked curiously.

“Albatross,” Harry said. “Largest sea bird going. They're considered sacred amongst fishermen and sailors. They're also considered ill omens as well. It depends on who you ask and what tales you hear. But they're storm fliers and fishers.” He didn't wait for the others to ask before pointing at Cid, “Scarlet macaw parrot. Tropical seed-eating birds, highly intelligent, but bad tempered. Talkative. They're great sound mimics.” He pointed at Weskham, “Kingfisher. Precision hunters. About three to five inches in size. They perch above rivers, streams, and ponds, and dive down to spear small fish with their beaks before resurfacing and flying back out.” He then pointed at Cor, “Golden Eagle. Largest bird in my home country, very rare, easily the most impressive. They're the quietest and largest of the eagle family, and one of the best fliers. Able to reach two hundred miles an hour during steep dives. They're not common but there were a few nests near my school, we'd sometimes have the young ones try to catch the balls we were playing with during practice,” he admitted with a grin.

Looks were exchanged and Regis coughed into a hand to hide a grin, “So, what you're saying is.... Cor's got the most impressive wings?” he asked 'curiously'.

Harry gave him a suspicious frown. “.....I don't like that tone of voice, but, objectively speaking, yes.”

Clarus frowned, “Oi. Thought you said the albatross was the biggest bird going?” he demanded.

“Biggest sea bird,” the omega corrected with a wary look at him, not noticing the smug gleeful look on Regis' face as he sidled up to his young bodyguard who looked like he didn't know what to do with himself. “And I don't know if anyone's ever told you this, but size isn't everything. It's how you use it,” he quipped sarcastically, making Clarus splutter and lean back as Cid roared with laughter and Regis and Cor choked, while Weskham placed a hand on his head.

“You – you cannot say such things, Harry,” the Retainer told him faintly.

He gave the man a dry look, “You've never attended a public school, have you?” he asked calmly, fighting off a smirk because holy shit the twins would have eaten him alive.

The Retainer shook his head, “You are Royalty, Harry,” he stressed weakly, “Saying such things when we return to Insomnia will – ”

“Hold up,” he commanded shortly, causing the Retinue to pause. “I'm not going anywhere. The fuck are you on about, 'return to Insomnia'?”

Cid smirked and leaned back in his seat, there we go. Show time.

 

Chapter Text

“Are you out of your mind?” Harry asked sharply, glaring up from under the brim of his pointed hat at the Magister Magi Prince.

Prince Regis Lucis Caelum the 113th just laughed like the airheaded simpleton he was more assuredly not. “You don't have one yet, right? Take one of mine. It'll be dangerous to go alone with how they're targeting you,” he explained with a grin.

Harry lifted a finger at him, “One, don't talk about them like fucking objects. Two, I've managed fine so far, I don't need a Forward. And Three, you are not nearly as subtle as you like to think you are!” he finished hotly, pointedly not looking at the Magi's highly amused HAREM of pactio partners – one of which he was currently trying to push on Harry, and had been for weeks now ever since he landed in the magical world after pursuing a cult of demon worshipping summoners through an illegal War Gate. Waking up, literally, worlds away from where he should have been, surrounded by hostiles was – well, not the strangest or most dangerous thing to have happened to him, but it was definitely the most inconvenient.

“It isn't a big deal,” Clarus, the huge sword and shield wielding Royal Knight, said with a condescending grin of amusement, as if he hadn't been rasied for his position as Regis' primary Forward since childhood.

He shot the guy a scathing look, “You guys might be willing to enter into magically binding contracts willy nilly but I am not,” he snapped.

“Aww, c'mon, what's wrong with Cor?” Regis whined in amusement, practically draping himself over the shoulders of his youngest Forward. “Check out this prime slab of Lucian Beef Steak!” he exclaimed, slapping his palms on the swordsman's chest from behind.

Harry scowled, feeling himself beginning to flush because he had. But appreciating a view meant nothing in the grand scheme of things.

“He's housebroken, quiet, he cooks, he cleans – ” the Prince continued enthusiastically.

“You talk like a slave auctioneer,” Harry bit out unhappily, remembering the last town he passed through and the open air event that Clarus literally had to pick him up and remove him from before he started setting things on fire. Unfortunately, slavery was legal in the Magical World, it was taxed and regulated. There were Health and Safety Laws and everything. It was voluntary. Apparently.

Regis paused for a moment, and then his eyes went wide and he yanked his hands away from his young partner, “Cor – I'm sorry – I didn't mean to – ” he spluttered, distressed.

“Idiot,” the other teenager grunted, rapping his knuckles against the Prince's skull. “I know you didn't. It's fine.”

Harry rolled his eyes and returned to his potion making. Regis was right in one respect only, and that was in how having a Forward was safer for a back-line Magister Magi like Harry happened to be. A Forward would protect him while he incanted high-level spells. But Harry had been working alone as a Dark Wizard Catcher since he was ten and graduated from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and received his enchanted diploma telling him the next step in his training. The Aurors had attempted to assign him partners before, but none of them could keep up with him, or were bad fits personality wise. He had been assigned multiple potential partners, but meshed with only the one of them. Had considered only the one – and then Cedric up and died on him. He was the best fit with Harry's preferred combat, he was able to keep up, at least until.... Harry had actually been hopeful at the end of their trial period. Cedric already had a girlfriend in one of Harry's previous prospective partners, so theirs was not going to be a romantically based partnership but a familial one and, gods, he had wanted it.

Which was probably why his death cut so deep, and why Harry swore off partners forever.

He covered his own inadequacies by using tools, potions, catalysts, preprepared spells, and delayed incantations. He actually became quite famous for it in the Old World, one of the most feared Dark Wizard Catchers because by using those things, they never saw him coming. They didn't feel the build up of magic that incanted magic gave off. Sometimes if they were particularly sensitive they could sense his static magic, but he had been getting better at concealing and suppressing it – which had the unfortunate side effect of giving him an entirely different reputation here in the Magical World.

They believed he was the weak link of the Retinue. Because he never used high-level magic, they thought he had weak magic, so targeted him most during combat in the hopes of taking him hostage and negotiating with the Retinue for whatever it was they wanted. Or attempting to lay traps, trick them, etc, etc.

Joke was on them.

Harry had more magic than Regis did. He just couldn't bring it to bear because the Arcane level magic spells had incantations that went into the paragraphs. It was a lot to memorise, and an awful lot to say.

It was intensely aggravating.

But it was also why he was now incanting high-level enchantments into his 'Serious Business' magically reactive Catalysts.

Keeping the magic steady as it syphoned into the fluid was the hard part. His feet had already left the ground, along with several ingredients, tools, and several loose stones from their surroundings – thankfully the cauldron was too dense with the force of the magic flowing into it that it was actually threatening to smother the flames beneath it instead of fly off into the air.

Unlike the Magical World mages who often used Latin and Greek magic for their high-level magic, Harry had gone further and looked into old Gaelic for his spells. With Hermione as one of his research buddies, the two of them had ended up with the widest repertoire of spells in a graduating class for three hundred years just between the two of them. They were required to master only nine spells to graduate Hogwarts, the two of them had learned thirty between themselves, mastering fifteen of them each.

Hermione found her pactio partner fairly quickly when she started campaigning to end Slavery and stamp out corruption in the magical government, Ron Weasley was the youngest son of Arthur Weasley who was from a sister branch of the Aurors, the Misuse of Artefacts Office, who would go out and deal with improperly enchanted objects, or artefacts that got into the hands of non-magicals. Harry had liked the red head straight away when she nervously introduced him to the boy she ended up playing chess with in the cafeteria at the Ministry. Neither Ron nor Hermione had liked the prospective partner the Aurors pushed onto him, Draco Malfoy, and he hadn't liked them, revealing his true colours as a Purist when he insulted them both. It got him booted from the department, no matter what his daddy said or paid.

Harry missed them like a toothache, he realised sadly as he tied off the last of his incantation, setting a delayed spell and a trigger release into it. And all the magic in the air suddenly cut, and he landed, having to catch several ingedients before they could drop into the cauldron and make the spell he just filled it with pop.

Clarus shook his head in disgust, “All that power, and you refuse to use it to your full potential,” he lamented in frustration.

Harry scoffed, beginning to ladle the potion out into an easy break crystal phial for use later. “Find me someone who can keep up with me and won't die like the last one, and I might consider it,” he snapped, thoroughly fed up of the conversation already.

He corked the phial – and almost stabbed it into Regis' face when the Prince promptly picked him up, ignoring the startled flailing, and shouting, and physically dropped him into Cor's lap – much to both of their embarrassed horror and surprise.

“There you go. Someone with more lives than a Melynx who can keep up with you on the field,” he announced proudly as Harry attempted to scramble away only to get his robes tabled with the swordsman's armour.

“That's not – you can't just – ” he spluttered, flailing ineffectively and only succeeding in knocking his hat off. “Don't you have anything to say about this?” he finally demanded, staring at Cor in frazzled desperation. Surely he would have objections to a pactio between them. He already had one with Regis! Which, god, Harry had some Opinions about that he didn't want to particularly think about right now.

The swordsman glanced to one side, not at Regis, before looking back at Harry with a thoughtful frown on his face as he absently untangled himself from Harry's robe, but did not push him off. “I don't fully understand the Old World's customs or culture regarding pactio arrangements. I can tell they are different just by your reaction – but not how.”

Harry groaned in frustration, of course, “I'm a little old to play the field, so to speak, when it comes to pactio,” he pointed out, red and embarrassed. “At this point it's pretty much the equivalent – fuck I can't believe I have to explain this, how the hell is it viewed here?!” he demanded, too embarrassed to finish.

Weskham rubbed his chin, “Typically, it is a business contract. Many mercenaries sign on as partners to Magister Magi during quest using a probationary contract arranged at a vendor. For others, such as myself, Clarus, and Cor, it is simply swearing fealty to a Noble, or Royal, house as only they have the permission to study magic in Lucis,” the cat-eared Retainer explained.

Clarus snorted, “the way you talk makes it sound like a marriage proposal,” he laughed, and Harry jammed his hat back on, pulling the large brim down to hide his burning face.

“It Is!” he snapped, groaning. “When you're over sixteen, it pretty much is a proposal to suggest Pactio!”

“Even better!” Regis laughed. “Cor's only been ass over tit for you since you met – ACK!”

“Your Highness!”

“HAHAHA SERVES YOU RIGHT!!”

Harry groaned as absolute bedlam erupted around him as Cor attempted to murder the Prince, Clarus tried to stop them but was laughing too much, Regis only made matters worse by exclaiming how he was only trying to help, you can barely talk to him but everyone and their dogs can see how much you want to bang that like a barn door in a hurricane – REGIS! And now Weskham was involved.

He got to his feet, finished corking his potions into phials, tucked them away in storage cards, and decided he'd had enough for the night and went to crawl into bed.

Only for Regis to bounce around him, grab his shoulders, twirl him around, and then shove him at Cor.

It resulted in the two of them crashing into each other, Harry bouncing off and landing on his back, and Cor stumbling forward, landing on top of him –

Mouth to mouth.

“YES!” Regis yelled gleefully as a bright white light burst up off the haven beneath them.

The two jerked apart with red faces as a card shimmered into existence between them. A card that Regis snatched up before either of them had a chance to see it.

“OOOH! IT'S DIFFERENT!! WESK – WESK – IT'S DIFFERENT!” he crowed, waving it around.

“You – ” Harry growled, bright red, and snapped his hand out three times, summoning a minor wind sprite to snatch the card away.

“Ah! Aww,” the Prince whined in disappointment as Harry snapped it out of the air, banishing the sprite, and then turned around, grabbing Cor's arm and dragging him away from the camp.

“We need to talk,” he growled because he had better hope that this had not been prearranged without his consent. Thankfully it looked as though they had managed to squeak through a probationary contract instead of a full one, otherwise this would be a very different conversation.

He heard Cid and Weskham stop the Royal Menace from following them, and mentally vowed to do something nice for the two of them at the first opportunity.

When they were far enough away for privacy he stopped and dropped the swordsman's hand like it burned before rounding on him, jabbing a finger into his (distressingly firm) chest, “Was that planned?” he hissed, stung and uncomfortable and hurt.

Cor shook his head, “Absolutely not. I – ” He grimaced and tipped his head to the side a little. “I can't speak for the others, but I had no knowledge or intention of doing this without your permission.”

He frowned, “Permission?”

The swordsman went pink and looked down to the side, “Only if you were willing,” he muttered in embarrassment.

Harry flushed, “Well. I wasn't willing. And your friends are assholes,” he snapped, flicking the card at him. To have his first kiss like that, to form a Pactio like that. Ginny would never let him live it down when she found out. When she wasn't flirting with the both of them.

Cor caught the card and peered at it with mild curiosity. “....Immortal Lion.... that's new,” he read in annoyance, pulling a face.

Despite himself, Harry couldn't help but look. He knew very little about Pactio cards. But he knew that 'Gold/Aurum' was considered insanely rare and valuable. Cor had a red and gold card. Meaning that it was rare, and combat focused. He had the number three in numerals in the corner of his card, the Shiva star-sign, and the Messenger Odin. His picture was an action pose, wearing his Royal Guard uniform without the veil and hood, with – oh hell. The sword of Gryffindor in one hand, and the scabbard of Excalibur in the other. 'Immortal Lion' indeed. With that fucking scabbard he literally was immortal. It prevented the wielder from coming to harm. And why the ever loving fuck did he have the Sword of Gryffindor?! Harry didn't remember marrying the bast-

oh no

Cor didn't noticed as he pulled two cards from his breast pocket. Both Pactio cards. Both different.

The first was a similar red and gold card with the same numbers and astrology, but the figure was a scowling thirteen year old in army fatigues wielding the familiar Genji blade. The other was of a slightly older boy, in a Crownsguard uniform, wielding – oh heck, the crystalline Katana of the Warrior, a Royal Armiger Weapon and, Harry was going to take the secret to his fucking grave, but the weapon of the Lucis Caelum that birthed the bastard line that married into the Old World Peverell family that eventually became the Potters.

“I don't recognise this sword,” the teenager admitted, before looking up at him and pausing. “....You do.”

Harry coughed awkwardly, “Ahh, yeah. It's the – well, the scabbard is the – look, don't let anyone from the Old World see that card, okay?” he pleaded with a grimace, “Don't even use it. Ever.”

Cor frowned at him before looking a little closer at the shining silver scabbard encrusted with rubies, gold, and yellow topaz, wrapped in what looked like soft scarlet leather, or velvet. “....Why?” he asked suspiciously.

He laughed semi hysterically, “Because everyone and their fucking mothers will try to enslave you for it?” he pointed out, voice going a little high. He gestured the guy closer and leaned in close, cupping hands around his ear to make sure no one heard, “You got the fucking scabbard of Excalibur. It literally makes you immortal. Can you imagine what people will do to get hold of that?” he whispered.

He drew back slowly, obviously understanding by how wide his eyes had gone. “Right. And the sword?”

Harry pressed his lips together, “Yes. It's the Sword of Gryffindor. One of the four founders of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. He was a very famous Minister Magi,” he explained. The fable of how the Founders fell out was famous in the Old World, not so in the Magical one, and Harry didn't particularly feel like explaining it. He pulled his hat off to drag a hand through his hair, he wanted to cancel the contract, however, the quest Cor was on with Regis was incredibly dangerous. He.... didn't really want to take away the scabbard from him now that there was a guaranteed 'no dying' failsafe. He knew the idiot would shove it at Regis in a heartbeat if the shit hit the fan but.... the Sword of Gryffindor was Goblin forged, Old World Goblin forged. It was unbreakable and would take the strength of whatever it slayed and make it its own.

“We aren't married,” Cor suddenly stated.

“What?” Harry blurted, surprised.

The swordsman tucked the two original cards away and muttered a short incantation that made the third split into two, the original he returned to Harry. “You said Pactio was akin to marriage in the Old World for people our age. This doesn't mean we're married, and we don't have to do anything you aren't comfortable with,” he promised firmly, blue eyes boring into green intensely. “With the way the Bounty Hunters have been targeting you lately, it would have only been a matter of time. You're good, you're incredible. But they only have to be lucky once. I'd like to keep the Pactio, at least until this quest is over, or you decide to leave our group. Some protection is better than none,” he explained.

Harry's heart gave a hard thump in his chest and he folded his arms, turning away with a scowl even as he felt his face begin to heat up again. Smooth fucking bastard.

“Fine. But don't come crying to me when you get your fool-self killed,” he grumbled.

Cor smiled, “I'll take my chances.”