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Chapter 1: A Rude Awakening
When he woke up, he didn't know where he was.
All he knew was that the room he was in smelled of death.
It was night, and he was in an unfamiliar room, in an unfamiliar bed.
A strange bed though. It seemed more like a crib. Pine bars rose on every side of the mattress. For some bizarre reason there was a life-size teddy bear on the bed with him.
Ridiculous. Whose idea of a joke was this? Pranks weren't unheard of amongst the Cadets, but this was pretty elaborate for a prank. He rose to his feet unsteadily, and was shocked to realise that not only was he wearing a nappy- a nappy!- his body felt and looked... wrong.
He looked down at his pudgy legs, at his pudgy hands gripping the... crib railing.
His eyes spied a splash of red, and he was startled to see that there was a female shape lying on the floor. Oh. That explained the smell then. She looked to be big enough to be a Titan, but she was... wearing clothes? What the hell? Since when did Titans wear clothes? He'd heard that it was only very occasionally that they were female, but where was the steam? She had bright red hair- that was what had caught his attention- and green eyes, already glazing over in death. He had seen enough dead bodies by now to be able to recognise the state. He couldn't tell what had killed her though. From what he could see, there were no marks on her body, though maybe all that red hair was hiding the kill blow at the nape of the neck... but she wasn't turning into steam or disintegrating. Titans did that. He knew, he had sat through enough classes saying so, though he had never seen one killed before.
Think, he told himself, think. How the hell had he got into this situation? What was the last thing he remembered?
Pain. Heat. He had been... swallowed? Yes. Yes! He had saved Armin, pulled him straight from the Titan's mouth, and then the Titan had bitten down. It had bitten his arm off. His arm! Then he had fallen, and then been surrounded by boiling liquid and dead and dying bodies. Bodies like the bodies of his team. He had saved Armin, but that meant only one of them had survived unscathed. Even before he had lost his arm, he had already known that this was his last mission- the Titan had leapt up and snapped his leg off when he had been flying with the 3DMG... how could he have predicted that? The liquid -stomach acid?!- was boiling him alive, and he was losing blood, fast. The girl dying next to him had cried out for her mother, he had screamed...
And then it all went black.
Eren grimaced, rubbing absently at his forehead. It felt like there was some kind of welt on it, and whatever it was, it was giving him a killer headache.
This body wasn't his. For one, it was chubby in a way he was sure he hadn't been since he was a tiny child. For another, it wasn't missing any limbs. Not that the latter was real cause for complaint, Eren admitted to himself, but the fact remained that somehow, he had ended up in a body that was not his own.
Somehow, instinctively, he knew that he had died, there in the belly of the Titan.
He screamed in rage, beating the wall of the crib with his fists.
No! No! No!
And that was when the gigantic man walked in.
Eren's rage turned to fear.
He opened his mouth to scream some more, but he saw... tears?
What? Since when did Titans have expressions other than that creepy empty grin? The stranger looked devastated. Like he had just lost all of his friends in the world.
The man might have been huge but like the large woman lying dead on the floor, he was wearing clothes.
"Lily! Oh Merlin, Lily."
Eren frowned. The man had spoken, but not words in a language he understood. But still, he had spoken!
The man knelt and closed the dead woman's eyes.
Eren might not have been the brightest in his class- that would be Armin or Mikasa- but he wasn't an idiot either.
Certain feeling that he had died, strange crib-like bed, feeling that his body wasn't his own, almost-certainly-not-Titans that were nonetheless a whole lot bigger than he was.
He swore aloud.
"Harry?" the man rose from the floor, and then suddenly he was looming over the crib.
Eren felt the urge to cower away from the huge presence, but as he had since he was a child, promptly ignored it and glared instead.
The face creased looking concerned.
"Harry? It's Uncle Padfoot, you know me. Come on, Pup. Let's get out of here."
Eren still couldn't understand the language the man was speaking, but he recognised the tone. It was a tone that some adults had adopted around him and Mikasa when they heard about his mother. Adults who cared, who felt sad for his loss. The last of them, (apart from Hannes, but he always sounded so guilty that the tone was rather different anyway,) had been marched off alongside Armin's grandfather on the suicide mission to reclaim Wall Maria, and there had been few enough of them to begin with. Doctor Jaeger's freaky kid and his freaky kid sister were not exactly popular even before Shiganshina had been lost. Something about them beating up the other kids for picking on Armin, and Eren's unhidden desire to see the outside world. Oh, and the rumours about them killing the thugs who had killed Mikasa's parents, when they were both nine...
Yeah, Eren admitted to himself, maybe there had been a few decent reasons why people steered clear of them.
Mikasa... she was right, he thought morosely, feeling a twist of nausea at the thought of her being left alone. She had tried so hard to protect him, and what had he done? Barrelled straight in and got himself killed on his first engagement. Apparently sheer guts couldn't replace skill after all. Graduating fifth in his class had meant nothing after all, since he had obviously failed his first real test. What was going to happen to her? And Armin?
Eren's shoulders shook.
How was he going to survive without them, the only people who had survived Shiganshina and stuck by him through thick and thin and hellish Cadet training?
His feelings of deep depression were rudely interrupted by the sensation of being lifted out of the crib by his armpits.
Oh. The man.
Eren squirmed in the man's grasp. This was so humiliating!
"Hey, settle down there, Pup. We've got to get out of here, and I can't carry you if I'm worried I'm going to drop you!" the man sounded half-hysterical, but was nonetheless gentle as he hugged Eren to his chest, wrapping arms securely around him.
Eren ceased struggling, despite himself, as instinct told him that he was safe and secure. Which made no sense to Eren, but suddenly he was feeling really tired. Nothing made sense. He had died, but he was alive. Alive and apparently trapped in the body of a small child. Who had been the dead woman? Nothing made sense.
"K'so," he muttered, and he could feel the man's heartbeat under his ear, and a slight rumble as the man said something.
"Bless you. That's the second time you've sneezed. I hope you're not catching cold. That would be..." the man trailed off, but Eren didn't care, he couldn't understand a word the man was saying anyway.
The man left the room, and carried him down what felt like stairs.
So weird... Eren thought hazily, and shivered slightly as they left the house. There had been another body lying just inside the entrance way, a dark-haired man with glasses that seemed to have been smashed when he had fallen, if the spider-web cracks were anything to go by. His eyes had been closed for him. Eren assumed that meant the man carrying him had found him first.
Why had he woken up, alive, and in a strange house full of dead people?
What the hell was going on?
Alarm at his situation woke him back up again, and before he fully realised it he was struggling again.
"Ha-Harry! Cut it out!" Eren stilled when the man almost dropped him. Maybe struggling was a bad idea. He still remembered what it felt like to fall. It hadn't hurt as much as losing his leg, or his arm for that matter, but it hadn't been exactly fun either.
"Sirius? That you?"
A voice boomed out of the night, and suddenly the man holding Eren spun around, to face...
No way was that a human!
He yelled for the man holding him to run, to move, to get out of there!
"Shhhh Harry, it's just Hagrid. It's alright, it's okay, please stop screaming..."
The huge face loomed closer, and reached a hand towards them.
Eren fought the man's hold- if he was too stupid to run, Eren wasn't going to stick around!
"Baka!" Eren yelled as he writhed.
"What's wrong with 'im?" the voice boomed. "Don't 'e remember me?"
"I have no idea, Hagrid. It was so strange before, when I picked him up, it was like he didn't recognise me!" the man grunted as Eren managed to kick him in the stomach. "Ugh! Hold him for a second would you? I guess he's traumatised or something- Merlin knows what he saw You-Know-Who do to his mother before he killed her..." Massive hands gripped Eren, and he started to scream with rage.
"'E's going ta do himself some damage, Sirius!"
"I know, I know, just hold him for a sec, alright, dormio!"
Abruptly, Eren felt himself falling asleep. He moaned, and tried to stay awake, but suddenly his eyelids just... felt so... heavy...
The next thing he knew, he was jerking awake to the sound of a woman shrieking.
His eyes popped open, and he struggled against the blankets that were securely wrapped around him.
He looked around, trying to ascertain his surroundings.
What the fuck!?
Why the hell had he been left on a fucking doorstep?!
Chapter 2: Living With The Dursleys
In the days that followed that first one, Eren did his best to try and understand what the hell was going on around him. Apparently his child-body had got him put in the custody of this bizarre, loud family. He might not understand what was going on, why he was alive, or how he had got into this body, but he knew for sure that he didn't like it.
Oh, sure, being alive was unexpected, and if he was honest with himself, it was a pleasant surprise.
Being reduced to being a toddler though, whilst being surrounded by people speaking a language that he didn't understand? It felt like a sick joke.
What seemed to be even more of a joke at first was how strange every thing seemed- no one seemed to ride horses around here- instead, there were strange metal contraptions called "cars" and "buses", that ran on "petrol".
Music sounded strange and occasionally atonal. The floor-coverings were made from "synthetic materials". Weird devices that lit-up and made whirring noises were "electric" - the first time he saw the television, he was half-convinced it was magical, though could magic be so common-place? It seemed that "electric" lights and devices were taken for granted around here, which Eren found very strange.
There was one thing that confused him the most though.
Where were the Titans?
There were these things called "terrorists" on the television, (and that had been a surprise when he had first learnt what the strange box in the living room was for,) that blew up buildings and cars, often injuring people, but Eren was pretty sure that they were human.
Was it possible that there were no Titans?
The idea seemed almost anathema to his world-view, but the more that Eren saw of this world, the more it seemed impossible that there could be. For one thing, when he leafed through the various books and magazines that were in the house-hold, the ones with pictures looked like the images of the outside world that Armin had had in his grandfather's forbidden book.
But unlike in that book, these pictures were all photographs, something that he understood to be real to life (the house was full of pictures of the loud family's tubby son, so he had learned pretty quickly what photographs were). Many of them had people in them, just standing out in the open spaces, in the seas of sand or rivers of ice. Some of the pictures were even of the sea, or of forests, or strange creatures the likes of which he had never seen before. But even though there were many strange creatures depicted, there were no Titans.
Eren was starting to sincerely doubt that this was the same world he had left. Was it even possible though?
No less impossible than being reborn in a new body, Eren supposed.
Though Eren had never seen any of the wonders this world seemed to offer beyond the television and a few books, the more he saw of them, the more he wanted to experience them first-hand.
But that would have to wait. Eren's body was still too small.
As soon as he got big enough to properly defend himself though? Eren was out of here.
Especially because his new... foster family, he supposed... seemed about as happy with his presence as he was with theirs. Eren didn't need to be able to speak their strange language to recognise the mixture of bewilderment and anger that was on both of their faces. If he had been in his old body, Eren would have packed up and left at the first opportunity.
Chances are that his foster-parents would send him away with smiles.
The trouble with that though, was that Eren's current body appeared to be even younger than he had first thought.
The first obvious indication of this had been the couple's child. Their son was by far the most well-fed infant that Eren had ever seen. Eren's new body might be pudgy, but it was the comparative pudginess of baby fat to his old, toned body that had been honed and hard from his time in the Cadets. When he looked at the other kid though, ("Dudders" he seemed to be called, going by one of the more repetitive words that the parents said to him in saccharine voices,) Eren felt positively delicate.
Dudders was a good half-head taller than he was, suggesting to Eren that he was most likely older, as well as better fed. And Dudders couldn't be older than 2, unless he had suffered some brain damage. (Eren would later come to wonder if this discarded theory was not in fact more accurate than he had first thought, but with no visible scar-tissue and no access to Dudders' medical records, he had to assume that the kid was just not very bright, and not given any motivation to improve himself, as opposed to someone who had suffered oxygen deprivation at an early age).
Looking at the father, Eren could only assume that he was from the merchant class. Even the lazy garrison soldiers who had half-heartedly, (and in the end, completely ineffectually,) guarded the gate had not been that fat, and as far as Eren could see, the man did not wear a uniform.
Whilst her husband and son were both well-padded, the wife on the other hand ("Pet" was what her husband called her, as she called him something that sounded like "Bernon") was bony. Eren privately wondered if she might have an eating disorder of some kind, or at best, some sort of intestinal worm, because she was able to access the same rich food as her husband for every meal, and yet her frame remained spare, her dresses hanging off her as though on a clothes-hanger.
The one thing that confused Eren the most about the couple though, was that they had apparently taken him in. He appreciated this, as his current body was distressingly not under his full control yet. This was a situation he worked hard to remedy, trying his best to improve his balance so he walked instead of toddled, his dexterity so that he could write instead of scribbling and his comprehension of the local language so that he could actually ask what the fuck was going on here.
Because the couple obviously didn't want him around. That was fine by Eren. He would endeavour to get out of their hair as quickly as possible- he, Mikasa and Armin had been the only ones looking out for themselves since he was eleven, and he was more than used to not expecting adults to look after him or have his best interests at heart. It did confuse him though that despite the fact that they evidently despised the very sight of him, the couple continued to feed him and shelter him in their house.
Sure, they seemed to have decided that the best bedroom for him was the cupboard under the stairs.
That was fine by Eren. He had slept in far worse places during his cadet training.
Sure, they dressed him in their son's cast-offs.
That was fine too. Eren's family before the fall of Shiganshina had been at least moderately well-off, but after that he had been a refugee. As Mikasa had taught him on that day with the bread roll, rejecting help because you didn't like the source was not a luxury one had if one wanted to survive.
If nothing else, Dudders' cast-offs were warm, as the extra material allowed Eren to easily layer and wrap the cloth about himself. Sure, he would have far preferred to be wearing something that fit better and reminded him more of his Cadet Uniform, but he had been a refugee, and thus had a good understanding of the waste-not want-not mentality. Even though he was fairly sure the family could have afforded to buy him clothes if they had wanted to, he didn't really feel it was worthy of complaint.
He would have liked the family a fair bit better though if they had spared just a little more food for his growing body.
It wasn't like he had not starved before. One bread roll per day being the only semi-guaranteed food before Armin's grandfather and the other 249 999 people sent off to die and lighten the load on the food-deprived populace behind Wall Rose had not exactly been a balanced diet. At the beginning of Cadet training, he had been proscribed a range of supplements to combat his two years of malnutrition and border-line starvation. It was just as well, as otherwise he would never have been able to build up the muscle mass that he had needed to survive the gruelling regime.
He had no desire to become as fat as the males in this family, but he would have liked to be able to actually eat until he was full every once in a while.
Still, ignoring hunger pangs was easy, especially once he figured out what foods would not be missed from the pantry if he stole and stashed them to eat later in the privacy of his cupboard. Tinned food was the easiest and safest- it kept for years, and Pet tended to buy it in bulk. Eren quickly learned that if he stole food from the back of the pantry, the tins that had been buried and forgotten, he could keep himself supplied without Pet even noticing that there was less to her supplies of beans and tinned tomatoes and tinned pineapple and tuna then she thought. Sometimes he would even steal fruit from the fruit bowl. Nothing that came in brightly-coloured boxes though. Dudders and Vernon were the only ones that ate food from the brightly coloured boxes and bags, and it didn't take long for Eren to figure out that it was mostly confectionery. Having come from a place where salt was worth more by weight than gold, and the only sweet foods were honey-based, Eren did not have much of a taste for overly salty or sweet things. Just a little was more than enough for him to feel decadent, and he already got that fairly regularly, because though he was never given "crisps" or "cake", "worcestershire sauce" and "jam" weren't nearly as carefully regulated.
But keeping himself fed was hardly the biggest challenge Eren had.
Learning a whole new language that had strange grammar and stranger words (it took him simply ages to figure out the difference between "very" and "berry", let alone "row" and "low") was a serious challenge. Especially as it was not as though his main informants were especially helpful with expanding his vocabulary. By the time he figured his body was about four years old, he had most house-hold items down-pat, as well as a pretty fair understanding of insults. It frustrated him though, when he often thought of things he would like to say, but did not yet know the words to express them. For this reason, and because his accent (they called it a speech impediment, and once he figured out what that was supposed to mean he knew they were wrong) tended to get him sneers, he rarely bothered to communicate with his foster family, even when he did understand what they were saying to him. The first time he saw the inside of a magazine and realised that he'd have to learn a whole new script as well nearly made him scream in frustration. Could nothing be easy in this new world?
Having to get used to this tiny, weak new body had been bad enough. That at least he knew how to fix- a combination of time and exercises he'd learnt through bootcamp had him in peak condition in no time... for a four year old. The expression on Aunt Petunia's face when she had caught him doing one-handed push-ups had been pretty funny. The fact that he'd been locked in his cupboard for two days after that had been significantly less so.
Eren was philosophical about her poor reaction. He was aware that it was pretty weird for a small child to be as driven as he was- hell, even when he'd been a kid the first time around he'd been unusually driven enough. Now that he had a second shot though, he knew what he needed to do. This time, he was going to be stronger. This time, when disaster hit (as in his experience it always did,) he was going to be ready and prepared for anything.
Having to deal with this family with the screechy wife and the rough, loud husband and the fat, dull kid was annoying, but it was nothing that Eren couldn't handle. The verbal abuse was annoying, but once Eren understood what a "car-crash" was, he knew that his foster-parents were telling him lies for some reason. The malicious lies were supposed to sting, but the people that the foster-parents derided, calling them his parents... weren't. Eren felt no connection to them. He intellectually understood that it was them that had parented the body he had invaded, but his only memory of the Potters was of them lying dead on the floor. It was hard to summon up a connection towards someone who had been dead before you met them, especially when he had his memories of his real parents, horrifying though they were towards the end.
His lack of reaction to his foster-parents' taunts had at first come from a lack of understanding of English. Now that he was fluent, it came from them simply not knowing what his hot-buttons were. Being called stupid or unwanted didn't bother him- he felt no affection for these people, and so would leave them the moment that he could and not look back. They were not even worth his ire, so pathetic were they.
For the most part they had stopped bothering him now, as he failed to react to any of their taunts, and simply glared up at them with his "unnerving" green eyes.
(Eren had wondered about that, but then he realised that "unnerving" was probably a fair description of his thousand-yard stare coming from the visage of a small child.)
So long as he did his chores (not long after she had caught him doing push-ups, the wife had started him on polishing the furniture and dusting the shelves, and the chore-list had been slowly increasing ever since then) they pretty much left him to his own devices.
Eren liked it that way. It gave him more time to train.
This time, he would be ready.
No one and nothing were going to stop him from living free as he wished.
As soon as this body grew large enough for him to fend for himself...
Since he had woken up in this body, he had yet to meet anyone that he wanted to fight with, but he supposed that he owed it to his reluctant foster family to make sure the... terrorists never attacked them in their dozy village.
After all, Eren felt that he did owe them something for keeping him off the street. Their miserable lives would have to do.
Although Eren's body was apparently almost a year younger than Dudders' (he knew that his real name was "Dudley" now, but "Dudders" was easier to pronounce, and it annoyed his "cousin" so he saw no reason to stop) he was sent to school at the same time. Something about his Aunt Petunia not wanting to be "trapped at home taking care of the freak". Not that she really "took care of him" all that much anyway, but Eren had been pretty bored lately anyway. He wasn't allowed to watch the TV, and he'd been through all of the books in the house- most had words that he didn't understand yet, but he was starting to recognise ones that appeared more frequently. He wasn't exactly literate yet, but he was at least further along than Dudders.
(Not that he felt that was much of an achievement. After all, Eren's body might be a year younger, but his mind was telling him that he should be about 19. Dudders wasn't exactly a genius 5yo either. Eren had a feeling that if Mikasa could see him now she would either laugh at him or slap him upside the head.)
School was a strange experience. It was at school that he first learned that this body had a name other than "Freak" or "Boy".
The teacher had been more than a little appalled that he had not known to answer to "Harry Potter". Eren supposed he understood why she would think this was strange, but honestly, even after Eren learnt that he was supposed to answer to "Harry" he still thought of himself as "Eren". He promised himself that if he ever met anyone actually worth calling friend in this strange world then he would tell them his real name. Until that day, he supposed he could answer to "Harry". As far as names went, it could have been worse. He could have been called "Dudley".
Though Eren found the classes themselves to be boring and silly for the most part (well, they were supposed to be aimed at 5-year-olds, after all,) Eren quickly decided that he liked school because it gave him access to the library.
The very first thing he did, upon learning he could borrow whatever books he liked, was to ask for some books about electricity. It had been ground into him during Cadet Training that one did not get to use something that one did not understand. In order to properly use the 3DMG, he had been required to learn some basic mechanics and physics- the mechanics so that he could quickly figure out what was wrong with his device should it break down, and the physics so he could better plan his trajectories. Some people learnt to use the 3DMG through instinct and talent, (like Mikasa,) but everyone else had to brute force it. Knowing some of the relevant maths and physical laws were, if not a short cut, then at least a useful way of setting the cadet's thinking on the right track.
Those that didn't learn tended to die.
So Eren read.
Generally, he would dive straight into the reference section. Technology, science, geography, history, anything he had even a hope of comprehending, he would pick it up and devour it. Academics might have been more Armin's strong suit than his, but even before the military theory had forced him to learn good study habits, Eren had always had a strong natural curiosity.
Where else would his longing to leave the walls have come from. His anger at the Titans had started from the first time he realised his curiosity was effectively thwarted.
After a few days, the librarian noticed his reading material.
"Isn't that a little above your level?" he asked the young boy with the messy black hair who had claimed the same corner for the last three weeks.
Green eyes glared at him, and the librarian, an old man who had been at his job for a good forty years, resisted a shiver.
"...I do not understand all the words," Eren admitted.
"Would you like a dictionary?" the librarian asked.
"A what?" Eren didn't recognise the word.
The librarian suppressed his urge to roll his eyes. What were they teaching the kids these days?
"A dictionary. It is a book in which you can look up words that you don't understand."
Eren nearly slapped himself in the head. Jissho! A Dictionary! Why hadn't he thought of that? He could have been looking up words that the Dursleys used for years!
Though come to think of it, he couldn't be sure that the Dursleys actually owned a dictionary. Having read all the books in the house, he couldn't say that he had found many of them particularly cerebral in nature.
Once he had been armed with a comprehensive dictionary, Eren's self-directed studies started to go even better.
His classroom studies... not so much.
"I already know how to read," he said flatly to the teacher.
His teacher, a woman who just-so-happened to consider herself good friends with Petunia Dursley, was unimpressed by this assertion, and so told him to go and stand in the corner.
"Why?" Eren asked, confused.
"Because you're obviously telling fibs."
Eren's response had been short, to the point, and in Japanese.
The teacher, a Mrs Jenkins, might not have understood the words, but she recognised the tone and the body-language.
However, just as she drew in a breath to start shouting, Eren picked up one of the readers, and in a bored tone started to narrate the tale of a car travelling.
"'...I go, go, go away'," he finished, before dumping the book and walking straight out the classroom door whilst Mrs Jenkins was still gaping at him. The other kids in his class were flabbergasted. To be so rude to a teacher!
Dudley Dursley sat in the back of the classroom and smirked. He was going to get Harry into so much trouble!
Curiously, just as Eren had left the room, the students were amazed to note that the teacher's hair had turned blue...
That night, Eren considered the fact that maybe he should have kept his mouth shut.
"Think you're smart, do you boy?" Vernon Dursley demanded, his face purpling.
Eren shook his head. Obviously not. If he had been smart, he would have simply kept his mouth shut, no matter how bored he was in class.
Vernon however ignored the boy's silent denial.
"Think it's okay to show up my boy Dudley, do you?"
Eren's brow creased. The fat man wasn't serious was he? He seriously thought that Eren's outburst had been due to a sense of competition? The very idea was laughable. In fact, if Vernon had not been towering over him menacingly, Eren probably would have been laughing.
As it was, he was starting to wonder if he should be worried for his safety.
Well, his or the walrus's safety. Vernon was breathing rather hard and turning rather vermillion. Eren winced. That could not be healthy.
"I asked you a question, boy!"
Eren shook his head. "No sir. I didn't mean to show up your son." He hit upon an idea. "In fact, I would be willing to tutor him so that he catches up to me."
A few minutes later, Eren was locked in his cupboard, holding his aching head.
Well. That had backfired.
The foster-parents had not physically struck him before. Belittled him, neglected him, put him to work, locked him up, attempted to starve him...
Well when he put it like that, Eren didn't know why he was still sticking around. In the early days it had been because his body was not in any shape to move around much, but that was certainly not the case now. And the pattern of abuse was clearly escalating
Eren nodded to himself. Right then. Fuck this. Time to get out before they started doing him actual grievous bodily harm.
Now he had only one question.
Do this officially, or unofficially?
Eren had plenty of time to contemplate the question as he sat in the darkness of his cupboard.
By the time he was let out again, and his mild concussion had cleared up, he had a plan.
Next Up: Eren's escape.
Chapter 3: Escaping the Cage
Eren rejects some peoples' plans. With prejudice.
Chapter 3: Escaping the Cage
Eren's plan to leave the Dursleys was originally quite simple.
His class had had a lecture about what child abuse was (something Eren was well-aware of), and how to report it (this had been useful information that Eren had immediately filed away). During this, Dudley had sat in the back looking confused. Eren supposed that it was only luck that had prevented his so-called cousin from opening his mouth and getting his parents investigated for things that were fairly common around their home. Whether that luck was good or bad, Eren was unsure, but what he knew was that he was leaving that situation. It had been originally good of his foster-family to take him in, but obviously if any generosity had been involved in that impulse, it had long faded.
So he did what his teacher had told him, and reported the fact that Vernon had hit him. Not to her, but to the school counsellor. Eren wasn't stupid. He had figured out who had reported him for being a nasty little prankster smart aleck. Dudley had gleefully done so too, but from experience he knew that gaining attention from other adults engendered a worse response than Dudley tattling.
The school counsellor had been horrified, and before Eren knew it, there was a large friendly policewoman asking him questions.
Eren answered the questions calmly, showing burns on his arms from the grease that his aunt had insisted he cook with, and his rainbow of bruises from Vernon's strike and physical tossing of him into his cupboard. Then he had to explain what he meant by "his cupboard", and Eren had flatly explained. The friendly policewoman had turned rather grim at this point.
What Eren couldn't know was that it was more than the details of his explanation that were disturbing the counsellor and the policewoman. It was the fact that he was unconsciously presenting himself like he was reporting to one of his superiors- straight-backed, eyes looking through them rather that at them, tone matter-of-fact and calm. The policewoman and the counsellor were coming to the not completely inaccurate conclusion that Eren had been extremely traumatised. Of course, Eren's trauma came from the memories of his past life, not his current circumstances, but even if he had realised their concerns, it was not like Eren could tell them. Who would believe that he had memories of a past life?
An hour later, and Eren had been sat at a table with some coloured pens and paper and some biscuits and juice. As far as he was concerned, this was all going swimmingly. He didn't know where he was going to end up, but frankly, he decided he didn't care. If he didn't like wherever it was, he could always try plan B, which was to do this unofficially, and leaving under his own steam. From what he had figured out about this world, he knew that he would eventually get put back in the system if he went this way, but it would give him a lot more freedom to make up his back-story, to ensure he never ended up back under the grudging care of his "relations".
As he was thinking of this, Eren was idly scribbling ideas out onto the paper of how he would escape, taking care to write it in the script of his own world. It wouldn't do to leave evidence of his plans if he had to enact them.
"Hello young Harry."
Eren startled and jumped away from the table, brandishing the marker he had in his hand as he scrunched the paper he had been writing on and shoved it into his pocket.
"Don't sneak up on me!" Eren snapped, and then did a double take.
Because the figure who had startled him was the slightly weird, elderly cat-lady who lived around the corner, that his foster-parents occasionally left him with when they had "better things to do than keep an eye on him."
What the fuck...?!
"Mrs Figg?" he said, confused.
"What are you doing talking to coppers, Harry? Do you want to get your family in trouble?" Mrs Figg demanded.
Eren blinked and backed away slightly. What the hell was she even doing here?
"Uh, yes actually. Child abuse is a crime," he said.
"Child abuse!" Mrs Figg exclaimed.
Eren pointed at the bruise on his face. "Child abuse," he confirmed. "I'm in their custody, and they abused me, so I'm going to be put into someone else's custody whilst they get charged."
"But, but, you can't leave there!" Mrs Figg exclaimed.
Eren's brow creased. "Why not? They're hurting me. Why should I stay?"
Mrs Figg flapped her arms around ineffectually, and stammered something about it being for Eren's protection. Which made no fucking sense whatsoever, as far as Eren was concerned. Had the old bat gone completely senile?
By this point, Eren was backing towards the door. Surely the police could protect him from this madwoman.
Just then, the door opened. Eren turned, and saw a tall man dressed in odd black robes step through the door.
"Sir, help me, she's crazy," Eren said, stepping aside as the man strode forward.
The man ignored him and looked askance at Mrs Figg. "Arabella, what in Merlin's name did you tell him?"
"Nothing!" the old woman cringed. "I didn't tell him anything. But he says he doesn't want to go back to the Dursleys."
The man snorted. "They probably grounded him for a prank or something."
"They did not-" Eren started to protest, but the man spun and said an odd word.
The next thing Eren knew, he was sitting up in the darkness of his cupboard.
He tried the door.
He couldn't remember how he had ended up in here. In fact, he couldn't remember what had happened all day.
His stomach rumbled, and Eren stared down at it, confused.
Come to think of it, the last thing he remembered was...
Heat, steaming boiling heat. Pain, especially in his arm and his leg. A woman crying out for her mother... he had been eaten by a Titan!
Eren shook his head.
Wait. That wasn't right.
He knew somehow that this was his cupboard.
His cupboard? Why the hell was his room in a cupboard?
Eren looked around to take stock in his surroundings.
To his left, was a small box full of worn-looking clothing, and a few pencils and pens held in a dented tin. Behind them, he found a stash of food, and a garbage bag in which discarded tins and packets were placed.
To his right, there was a slightly ragged-looking pillow and blanket.
Everything was covered in a light layer of spider-webs.
What the fuck?!
As Eren turned, he heard a crinkling sound from his pocket. He patted it, and realised that there was a piece of scrunched-up paper inside it.
He pulled it out, and smoothed it out, using the crack of light that came out from under the cupboard door to see by.
An... escape plan? In his writing?
And this was titled the "unofficial" escape plan. Did that mean that there had been an official one?
Eren didn't wonder why he needed an escape plan. He was sitting in a small, dark, enclosed space full of dust and spiders behind a locked door, with no recollection of how he had got there.
Obviously he needed an escape plan.
So, his next question was, should he wait for his captors to reveal themselves, or try to sneak out before they came for him?
His captors were an unknown quantity. Waiting for them to show up might mean that he would get some answers, but for all he knew he had been captured by slavers or something, like the men who had tried to take Mikasa. Or worse. He didn't know what they would want with a five year old...
Eren looked down at his hands incredulously, and saw that indeed, they were five-year-old sized.
What. The. Actual...
Eren screamed his rage at the low-ceiling.
"Shut the hell up, brat! You caused us a lot of trouble today!" came the reply, but Eren wasn't listening.
Instead, he was curled in on himself, clutching his head as suddenly the memories rushed back.
Looking down at tiny infant-sized hands and seeing the dead woman on the ground.
Living with his reluctant foster-family.
Noticing the distaste slowly growing into outright abuse. Making the decision to leave, trying the official channels first, but packing a bag of food and clothes in case of the worst-case scenario in which he had to strike off on his own.
The bizarre confrontation with Mrs Figg and the hook-nosed man in black. The man in black pointing... a stick? A stick at him and ...
He remembered everything. They had somehow tried to take his memories.
Apparently whatever they had tried to do had not worked.
Eren had been upset before.
Now he was livid.
Eren screamed, hands fisted so hard that his fingernails cut into his palms.
Little did he know, but upstairs the Dursleys were cowering in their bedrooms. The Freak had never made sounds like that before, but they were nonetheless sounds that reverberated in a way that could be only described as primal. Vernon and Petunia clutched each other tightly, as their son tried to crawl under his bed, whilst the whole house shook from a force that they didn't understand.
Suddenly, the cupboard door splintered. Eren didn't question his good luck, and grabbed the bag that he had packed for his unofficial plan, and without further ado, left through the front door and started racing down the street. In the opposite direction to Mrs Figg's house, of course. Despite the "deathwish" that he had carried through the military training, Eren was no fool.
Five blocks later, and Eren slowed his pace to a walk, panting slightly from the exertion. It didn't occur to him that even with his ridiculous training regime he should really be more tired after that. He was more concerned with what he was going to do now.
His plan that went outside of official channels was simple. He was going to travel as far as he could, and then let himself get picked up by the authorities. Then he was simply going to refuse to tell them where he had come from. Originally the unofficial plan had been for in case no one believed him about the abuse. But now...
He didn't know who the man in black had been, or how Mrs Figg was connected to him, but what he did know was that he didn't want to ever be put in that position again.
How dare they attempt to take his memories.
If Eren had not had his old memories to fall back on, he felt sure he would have been left with nothing but procedural memories. He would have had no idea who these people were and why they were tormenting him, and hell, he might have started to believe their bullshit.
He might have felt convinced that there was no escape.
But no. There was always escape.
Eren was not going to be humiliated like this again.
He was going to find a new place to start out, and then he was going to start investigating about people who used stick-like weapons to attack.
He would figure out who these people were, and then, as soon as his body was old enough to strike out on his own...
He would teach them the error that they had made in trying to cage Eren Jaeger.
Chapter 4: Between Heaven and Hell
In which Eren gets a ride from an odd stranger, and runs into someone he never would have expected.
A few hours after he had left the Dursleys' domicile, and Eren's anger was no longer keeping him warm.
In fact, since it was late-November and late at night, Eren was starting to feel distinctly frozen. It occurred to him that whilst he had done well in filling his back-pack with food, he could perhaps have spared a little more room for things such as a warmer coat, or at the very least his moth-eaten blanket.
Falling back on the survival skills that he had picked up in his military training, Eren knew that he had to get out of the wind, and somewhere warm as quickly as possible, lest he wish to suffer from exposure.
Eren gritted his teeth. He had not gone nearly far enough to be content with the distance away from his erstwhile foster-family. He blamed it on this weak body. If only he were stronger and faster, as he remembered himself being, then he would be able to get to his objective.
A sensible person at this point would no doubt have questioned Eren as to what specifically his objective was. The only coherent answer Eren would have been able to manage was "Away". Eren was a person who went by his gut instincts, and did not question them. When every fibre of his being told him that staying with his foster-family meant being caged, Eren listened to his instincts that told him that this time, flight was the best form of fighting that he could manage.
If Armin and Mikasa had been there, this would have been about the point that Armin would have suggested a better-formed strategy with actual achievable survival-oriented goals, and that Mikasa would have applied whatever force necessary to drive Eren in that general direction. The two of them had always done their best to protect Eren from himself, and Eren in turn did his best to listen to them, though he occasionally chafed under Mikasa's tight rein.
Unfortunately for Eren, neither Armin nor Mikasa were with him at this moment. So neither of them were there to tell him that travelling alongside a main road as a small child was a stupidly dangerous risk.
Fortunately for Eren, the first being to spot him was not someone who meant him specific harm, but rather someone who was intrigued by the fact that a small boy could carry so much anger in his soul.
A classic 1926 black Bentley pulled up next to Eren, and began keeping pace with him.
Eren paused, suddenly wary, and began to back away from the roadside.
The passenger-side window rolled down, and Eren heard strains of music coming from the internal radio. If Eren had been better informed about the music of this world, he would have been able to say that it sounded like something by Queen.
"Need a lift?" came a somewhat sibilant voice from inside the car.
He considered his options. On the one hand, there was possibly freezing to death. On the other hand, having to deal with a person who was an unknown quantity, who could be anything from what Aunt Petunia might call a Good Samaritan to what Uncle Vernon would call a Bloody Pervert.
A rephrase. On the one hand, almost certain death. On the other hand, only potential death or injury.
Eren decided to take his chances.
"Yes," was all he said, as he stepped closer to the car.
He was too short to see in through the window, so he did not see how the driver managed to open the car door.
Eren peered in, and saw that the driver was a man of indeterminate age, wearing a black suit, red tie, and dark sunglasses. Eren thought this last part to be rather suspicions, considering that the dashboard clock showed that it was 00:13 on a moonless night.
"How can you see with those glasses on?" Eren demanded.
"Quite well," said the driver. "Are you coming in, or should I leave you here by the side of the road?" The driver sounded as though he hardly cared one way or the other. Eren was oddly reassured by this.
He climbed onto the leather seat and clicked his seatbelt into place.
He reached for the door, but it shut on its own. The driver then pulled out abruptly, leaving a minor accident in his wake.
Eren's feeling of reassurance started to diminish.
"So. Where you headed?" the driver asked after a few minutes of silence.
Eren shrugged. "Away from where I was."
Eren saw the driver's brow raise.
Eren nodded, not planning on saying anything further, but suddenly found himself blurting out the entire story.
"Yes. My foster-family wasn't feeding me enough, and were generally neglecting me. Then one day 'Uncle Vernon' decided to hit me. So I decided to get the fuck out of there. So I go through the official channels, you know, report to the school counsellor, she calls the police, I talk to them, they're talking about moving me... then the crazy cat lady from down the street and some tall man in a black robe with some kind of stick thing turn up, and the next thing I know is, I'm sitting back in my cupboard- oh yeah, the Dursleys made me sleep in the cupboard under the stairs and gave their spoilt son a second bedroom- and I can't remember anything that's not specifically to do with how to do things and general knowledge, and why the hell am I telling you this!?" Eren demanded.
"What?" Eren glared at the driver, who simply smirked.
"Call me Crowley," the driver said, instead of giving him an answer.
Eren just glared at him. "Why did you pick me up?"
"Well, you see, I wanted to know what in the name of hell a small very angry child with an unusually mature-looking aura was doing out by the road this time of night. Call it... professional curiosity."
Now Eren was confused. "What?"
"Would you believe me if I told you that I was a demon from Hell stationed here on Earth to keep an eye on things?"
Eren silently stared.
"So, moving right along," said Crowley in conversational tones. "You going to explain to me why you have two and a bit souls in that body?"
Crowley frowned. "You seriously didn't know?"
He turned when Eren didn't answer him, and to his amusement, saw that the body of the small boy with the rather more mature soul in charge was gaping.
"How could I have- oh," Eren cut himself off, having a sudden thought.
"'Oh' what?" Crowley asked. "What unholy forces have you been playing with, kid?"
"Hey!" Eren protested. "It wasn't my fault I woke up in this body."
"Oh?" Crowley snorted. "Then whose was it?"
Eren flopped back against the backrest.
"No idea. One minute I was dying in the belly of a Titan, and the next, I was in the body of an 18-month-old baby whose parents had just been killed."
The driver hissed in sympathy. "Tough break."
Eren sighed running a hand through his hair. "You're telling me."
"Oh fuck me, you're Harry Potter!" Crowley suddenly exclaimed.
"What?" said Eren. "I mean, that's what everyone calls this body, but how would you know?"
Crowley snorted. "Because I try to keep an eye on the magic-users to check what they're getting up to every once in a while, and that scar you have on your forehead is probably the most famous curse-scar in at least four centuries... wait a second, so you're not actually him? Who the fuck are you then?"
Eren shrugged. "I'm Eren Jaeger. At least, I was before I got eaten by a Titan and woke up in this body. I thought it was a prank at first."
Crowley's eyebrows were hovering around his hairline.
"A Titan?" Crowley whistled lowly. "I wouldn't discount the prank theory just yet, kid. Though if it's any consolation, I think the prank is supposed to be more on the Wizarding World than on you."
Eren frowned. "That's the second time you've mentioned magic-users. Magic is real?"
Crowley shrugged. "'There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio/ than are dreamt of in your philosophy.'" At Eren's blank look, Crowley rolled his eyes. "Shakespeare, kid. Chances are you're going to be stuck in this world for a while yet, so you might as well try out the good stuff. But yeah. Magic is real. That body you're piggy-backing in should be able to do it, though if you care at all about the state of Harry's soul, you should probably refrain from dark magic- it'll stain the both of you."
Eren paled. "You mean that the kid whose body I'm in is trapped somewhere in here with me?"
Crowley waved a hand vaguely. "Don't sweat it, kid, Harry looks like he's just fine. If he really objected to your presence then he would have kicked you out by now. Though you might try talking to him every so often- poor kid is a bit lonely, though he thinks that you're amazing."
Eren was now thoroughly disturbed. "You mean to say that there's a five year old sharing my headspace that I've been entirely unaware of up to now?"
Crowley burst out laughing, swerving slightly on the road as he slapped his knee. "Of course not. I can't believe you just bought that load of horse-shit. Nah. Harry's soul is in there with you, but it never really got a proper shot of developing a separate consciousness before you started piggy-backing. Harry's developing mind got swamped under the weight of yours. In between getting brushed by the death spell and the psychic shock of you being shoved in there, young Harry is pretty much a vegetable. That other fragment on the other hand..."
"You mean he's dead?" Eren was starting to feel distinctly guilty.
Crowley shrugged. "Nah, just comatose. Don't worry about it kid, he probably never felt a thing. And if he did, it was the doing of that Voldemort character who killed his parents, and whatever being thought it was a good idea to shove you in there. He's basically going to be in stasis until that body dies, then he'll move on like any other person who died before their time. Better luck next time and all that jazz."
Eren scowled at that. Then he had a thought. "Wait a second. You said 'two and a bit souls' were in this body."
Crowley grinned a little too widely. "Well, I was going to tell you about that, but you so rudely interrupted me..."
Eren waited patiently in silence, not rising to the bait.
Crowley sighed. "You're no fun, you know that, kid? Well suffice to say that the one that killed little Harry's parents and tried to kill little Harry left something behind."
Eren gaped. "You mean there's a bit of Whatsisname in here with me too!"
Crowley burst out into guffaws.
"What?" Eren demanded, annoyed and confused. "What's so funny?"
Crowley just shook his head, as he thumped the steering wheel gasping for air.
Crowley tried and failed to not find that adorable.
"Don't worry about it kid," he finally gasped out. "You'll get the joke eventually."
Eren's glare intensified.
Crowley resisted the urge to ruffle his hair, and said, "actually come to think of it, it's probably not that funny anyway. Ah well. This is your stop," he said suddenly, pulling the car into the shoulder.
Eren's glare morphed into a perturbed stare.
"What do you mean this is my stop?" he demanded.
Crowley flicked his glasses to the top of his head, revealing yellow eyes with slitted pupils. Eren blanched.
"I mean kid..." Crowley drawled, "this is where you get out. Don't worry, it's a nice enough spot, so I hear. You should be able to find a better situation than the one that you came from, provided you make the right friends."
Eren considered his options. He had never been all that good at making friends. Still, he supposed that he had got a lot further than he might have had Crowley not stopped to pick him up. And whatever Crowley was, Eren was getting the distinct impression that outstaying his welcome wasn't going to be good for his health. He unclicked the seatbelt and jumped out the door, running out into the night.
"Why did you help him?" Aziraphale asked from the backseat.
Crowley didn't jump. The angel only rarely popped into the Bentley without a specific invitation, but he had the oddest instinct for knowing when Crowley was... creatively interpreting orders, and tended to turn up for the... intel. Crowley had three-quarters been expecting the angel to show up as soon as he had picked up the wildcard.
"Help is such a strong word..." he smirked.
Aziraphale snorted. "Oh please, remember for just a moment how long I've known you for. I haven't seen you this smug since you had a hand in inventing Big Brother." He sipped delicately at the cup of steaming Earl Grey in his hands as he waited for his oldest frenemy to elaborate.
Crowley shrugged. He would have bragged about it eventually anyway. "If God's ineffable Plan is robust enough to withstand someone throwing a wildcard into the mix, then I think it's robust enough to withstand the wildcard knowing what he is." Crowley grinned. "What, are you complaining? I thought you would appreciate a sense of fair play."
Aziraphale rolled his eyes. "You are of course using fair play as a cover for causing trouble."
Crowley's grin widened. "Of course. But you have to admit that the chaos is going to be entertaining to watch..."
Aziraphale sniffed, and took a sip of his tea. "I have to admit nothing, demon." But Crowley could see the smile that Aziraphale was trying and failing to hide behind his teacup. Aziraphale's brow creased. "One moment. Is this where I think it is?"
Crowley's smirk grew.
"If you think this is Lower Tadfield, then yes indeed, my fine feathery friend."
"Crowley," Aziraphale said thoughtfully.
"What?" said Crowley.
"Has it occurred to you that mixing the Not-Anti-Christ and the wildcard might be something that the powers-that-be will look a little dimly upon?"
Crowley shrugged. "Oh probably. But my end are still trying to organise themselves after that Apocalypse Later incident. How about yours?"
Aziraphale nodded. "The same." He waved his hand faux-vaguely.
Crowley cocked his head to one side.
"Alright. What the fuck did you just do?"
Aziraphale preened. "I made sure that the wildcards would not fall into despair. A most noble and heavenly cause, don't you think?" he smiled.
Crowley's brow rose.
"You mean...?" Crowley started laughing.
"Indeed." Aziraphale took a sip of his tea. "Would you believe that the other wildcard has been here since before the aborted apocalypse as the younger sister of one of the Not-Anti-Christ's friends?"
"Indeed?" Crowley's laughter trailed off. "Wait a minute. You don't think..."
This time Aziraphale shrugged. "Oh, I doubt it. I think whoever threw in these wildcards either have been playing the long game, or didn't realise that the apocalypse was scheduled for a couple of months ago." He paused thoughtfully. "Though I must say, it is most convenient for whoever they are that it didn't happen."
The angel and the demon considered this, and each other for a few moments in silence.
"Soooo," Crowley drawled. "Want to get a pint?"
Aziraphale sniffed. "Are you actually going to pay for the drinks this time?" he asked scathingly.
The two divine beings drove off, bickering.
Meanwhile, Eren was getting cold again, but he could see some lights glowing from a house nearby. He approached it, hoping that the people inside would be nice enough to let him in.
He knocked on the back door, and a child about his size opened it.
Eren blinked in the sudden light from the hallway.
"Who are you?" the child- a girl, Eren realised, he could see now that she was wearing a pink dress- demanded.
"I'm Eren Jaeger," Eren said.
The girl gasped, and sat down suddenly.
"Shimatta!" Eren swore and moved too late to catch her. Now that his eyes had adjusted, he could see that the girl had a nimbus of blonde hair about her head.
"...Eren-kun? Honto ni namae wa Eren to imasuka?" The girl asked if his name was truly Eren. The part that startled him more however, was that she was speaking in the language of his world.
"Hai, boku wa Eren desu. Anata wa?" Eren confirmed her query and then in turn, demanded who she was.
"Eren," the little girl had tears on her face, but she was smiling. "It's me. Mikasa."
Eren's jaw dropped.
Chapter 5: A Favour from the Anti-Christ
In which Eren is reunited from someone he did not expect.
Eren was in shock.
It had been crazy enough to wake up in this strange world in a foreign body in the first place.
But to find out that the same thing had happened to Mikasa?!
Eren didn't know how to feel. Horror that she must have died, and if age of bodies had any correlation to time of death, he guessed it had to have been soon after he had. Surprise that he had found her. Happiness that he had found her. Bemusement that there was apparently truly no place where he could go where Mikasa would not follow him.
"Mikasa, you're..." Eren blinked. "Blonde."
Mikasa nodded dismissively.
"And you're even scrawnier than I remember." She smiled, ignoring Eren's scowl, and apparently regaining her composure. "Come inside before you freeze."
A few minutes later, and Eren was sitting at something Mikasa called a "breakfast bar" with a mug of hot tea. Mikasa had had to stand on a chair to reach the kettle, something that Eren carefully didn't laugh at. Mostly because his legs were currently dangling comically from his perch on his high stool. Being this short sucked.
Within twenty minutes, Mikasa had managed to extract most of Eren's story about his experiences in the last few years. Eren was a little amused at how scary Mikasa's habitual "someone has threatened Eren" death-glare looked like on the visage of a 6 year old. He had almost forgotten about that glare. It was oddly comforting, as irritating as he had often found it that she always leapt to his defence as though he couldn't handle things by himself. Which admittedly was the case more often than he would ever state out loud, but that was beside the point.
Mikasa sat on a stool next to him, glaring at the wall as she absorbed what he had told her.
"So," she said finally. "What's your name?"
"Huh?" Eren''s confusion was palpable.
Mikasa shoved his shoulder. "What name are they going to be looking for when they discover you missing, baka?"
"Oh. Harry James Potter." Eren sighed. "I suppose I could have been landed with worse names than Harry Potter, but I'd like to try and leave it behind, if it's all the same." He had a thought. "Come to think of it, what do they call you here?"
Mikasa's expression was odd. "I am Mikasa, as I always have been."
"Merry Arwen Starshine!" a middle-aged woman's voice called with convenient dramatic timing.
Eren's eyes grew huge.
"I see," was all he said.
Mikasa just glared at him. "Not. One. Word." she gritted out. "It could have been worse. My elder sister got landed with Pippin Galadriel Moonchild of all things."
Eren blinked. "You're kidding."
Mikasa shook her head glumly. "She insists on being called Pepper. Better a spice than a hobbit/elf/empress hybrid I suppose. I was just glad I had my real name to fall back on, and since Pepper has set the tone, once I explained that I had a preferred name most people just took me at my word."
Eren spotted her smirk at that last and asked, "Set the tone?"
Mikasa's smirk widened. "Bit and kicked people until they called her Pepper."
Eren blinked. "So your sister is... terrifying?"
To Eren's shock, Mikasa actually laughed. "Only if you don't know how to handle her. She might be twice my size, but it didn't take me long to figure out how to keep her happy. I'm over twenty now, at least in my head. I assure you I can handle a mere child." Mikasa smiled. "It's kinda fun actually. I've been trying to not draw too much attention to myself just yet, so I've been acting this body's age. I'd forgotten how nice it is to be part of a family..." she mused.
Eren lowered his head, and studied the mug that his rapidly-cooling tea swirled in. It had a badly-drawn cat on it, he noted dully. Thanks to his recklessness, Mikasa had been left alone. Again. He was sure that he didn't want to know what had killed her in the end, but he knew he would have to ask eventually.
Still, he could not help but notice how... happy she seemed. He tried to remember a happy Mikasa from before, and try as he might, he couldn't. For so long she had been grieving for her parents, and then she had been grieving for her foster-family - his own parents. She had shut her heart off, and he, dealing with his own grief and anger and pain had done nothing to support her.
Even though she had always followed him everywhere. Even into the military, when he knew that she was only there because of him. Even here, though he had no idea how or why either of them had found themselves in this strange world in these strange bodies.
Eren felt guilt.
Mikasa seemed to notice his mood, and in line with her new attitude tried to jolly him out of it. "And I like Pepper. She sort of reminds me a little bit of you."
Eren looked up from his tea.
Mikasa opened her mouth to reply, when suddenly the kitchen door opened.
"Merry! Why didn't you come when I call- oh. Hello there." A woman that Eren assumed must be Mikasa's surrogate mother came in through the door, and frowned at him, confusion plain on her face.
"Merry, who is this?"
"This is my friend Eren," Mikasa explained in bland tones. "Eren, this is my mother, Elizabeth Smith."
The woman, who Eren was interested to note that Vernon would have immediately labelled "one of those bleeding hippies" due to her long fly-away hair and the distinct clinging smell of whatever it was the teenagers smoked down around the storm-drain at the local park. "Oh, please call me Sunflower, everyone does," she gushed at him as Mikasa rolled her eyes. Eren was mildly alarmed to see 'Sunflower''s attitude then abruptly change from air-headed to stern.
"Merry. Please explain why you let a stranger into our house without asking my permission first. Especially so late at night. Do his parents know that he's here?"
Eren decided it was better if he spoke up. "My parents are dead."
Sunflower's hands flew to clutch at her heart.
"Oh my! I am so dreadfully sorry to hear that! You poor child!"
She promptly snatched Eren up in a hug that squished him against her many elaborate necklaces. He was poked in the eye by a largish amethyst crystal, and the feathers nearly made him sneeze before he was suddenly released.
"Mummy," Mikasa said, tugging on the woman's hand, "can he stay here with us? His foster parents were capitalist pigs who were trying to turn him into a wage-slave."
Sunflower's lips pursed. "That's child abuse, and I will not have it."
Within half an hour, Sunflower had called her contacts in social services (how she had such contacts was a complete mystery to Eren, but when he asked Mikasa she just shrugged and said something about a retreat and bonding over hatred of sheep).
Within three hours, Sunflower was putting Eren to bed on the couch, and telling him not to worry, because she had everything under control.
Meanwhile, Mikasa had made contact of her own.
"Yeah, Mikki, what?" a surprisingly hard-bitten looking 12 year old had sauntered in, past her curfew and covered in dirt and pine-needles. To Eren's surprise, Sunshine just rolled her eyes exasperatedly and continued to talk to someone on the phone with the unlikely appellation of "Makepeace".
"I need a favour," Mikasa said flatly.
Pepper smirked. "Oh yeah?" Eren studied her curiously. A shock of close-cropped red hair sprouted from her head, and she was completely covered in freckles. He supposed he could see a resemblance between Mikasa's blonde child-body and this red-haired hellion, but it was only in the bone-structure.
Mikasa rolled her eyes. "Not from you specifically. I need a favour from Adam."
Pepper's eyebrows shot up into her hairline, and she whistled lowly. "You sure? You know that it'll cost you."
Mikasa shrugged. "He likes you, so he won't ask me for anything too drastic. Besides," she looked over at Eren, and Pepper noticed him for the first time, "whatever it is will be worth it."
"Riiight," Pepper said. "Whosis then? Your boyfriend?"
Eren just blinked. What. The. Fuck.
Since when did Mikasa blush?
"He's Eren," Mikasa said with a tone of firm finality.
"Isn't that a girl's name?" Pepper wondered, deciding to decipher the mystery of why her baby sister had suddenly started acting so determined about a total stranger later. When she saw the immediate irritation on Eren's face, she laughed and held up a hand. "Keep your shirt on, shorty. I'm the last person to make fun of someone for having a stupid name."
If Eren had not had a sense of dignity, he would be pouting right about now.
Little did he know that his scowl had awoken an odd desire in Pepper to pinch his cheeks. He just looked so... baleful. This Eren kid reminded her a bit of Adam when he had been younger when he scowled like that.
Which reminded her... "Do you want me to call Adam up for you, or you right to wait 'til tomorrow?"
Mikasa looked pointedly at their mother, still on the telephone.
Pepper snorted. "I never said nothing about no phones. Follow me."
Bemusedly, Eren trailed behind Mikasa as she followed the red head.
Pepper tromped upstairs, and ducked into a room that had a pink sign on it saying, "Mikasa's Room".
"Hey," said Mikasa, half-heartedly.
Pepper rolled her eyes. "It needs to be from your room, because it's the only one with a window in sight of Adam's house. Now hopefully he's in his room and paying attention, otherwise this is going to have to wait until tomorrow."
Pepper started flicking the light switch, on and off, in what was quickly apparent was some sort of pattern.
A few minutes later, and a light in one of the houses across the street started switching on and off too, again in a pattern.
Pepper flicked the lights on and off a few more times, and then turned to Mikasa and Eren. "He's coming over," she said.
"Was.. that some kinda code?" he asked.
Pepper grinned. "You're a sharp one. Prolly why little Mikki likes you, she's scary smart when she thinks no one's paying any attention."
Out the corner of his eye, Eren noticed that Mikasa was blushing slightly. He wasn't sure if it was out of embarrassment over the compliment, or because she had been caught out by a kid.
From what he knew of Mikasa, he would bank on it being the latter.
A few minutes later, and they were sneaking an ordinary-looking boy and his unimaginatively-named Dog in through the back door.
They piled into Pepper's room, and then Adam turned to look at Pepper.
"So, what'd you call me here for?" he asked her, idly scratching Dog's ears. He looked Eren up and down, "and who's the titchy one?"
"Baby Sis wants some kinda favour," Pepper said, gesturing towards Mikasa, ignoring Eren's glare at Adam. "I'm assuming it's about Eren here."
"Eren? Isn't that a girl's name?" Adam mused, turning to Mikasa. "So? What do you want?" he asked her, ignoring Eren's "hey!" completely.
"I want Eren to live with us," said Mikasa.
Both Pepper's and Adam's eyebrows raised.
"Have you two even met before?" Pepper asked. "Not that I'd mind having a little brother, but Mikki, you know we can't just take in some random kid. Mum would have a fit for starters, and for seconds, his people would prolly come looking for him."
Mikasa nodded. "Which is why I want Adam to fix it so they won't," she said.
So did Eren for that matter. He didn't know this Adam kid from... Adam... and he didn't get how Mikasa thought he could help them.
Mikasa took Eren's hand, sending him a look that told him to shut the hell up. As much as he had often ignored that look in the past, right now, he felt that would be counter-productive to figuring out what she thought she was doing, and so obliged her by clamming up.
Turning to Adam, Mikasa raised a blonde eyebrow expressively. "You mean you haven't noticed how sometimes when you say things are so, they just are?"
Pepper gaped at her little sister. "That's a secret, Mikki! You shouldn't go saying things like that in front of your little boyfriend."
Adam however looked thoughtful.
"Yeah," was all he said. And didn't elaborate on that thought. "So what do you want me to say?" he asked her.
"Say that no one can separate Eren from Mikasa, because we're family," Mikasa replied.
Pepper and Adam shared a significant look.
"Are you sure you want that?" he asked her. "Eren?" he added, and saw that both of the five-year-olds looked determined in a way that no normal five-year-old ever could. Adam thought their eyes looked rather similar to Mr. Carpenter's eyes, when he talked about back when he was in Vietnam. If he had been a different boy, he might have shivered.
As it was, he merely marked that as 'interesting', and smiled lazily at the two tiny children stubbornly holding hands in front of him.
"So Pepper, you want a little brother?" he said, making sure that his most dependable (in a scrap) friend was alright with all of this.
Pepper grinned. "Sure."
Adam nodded. "Alright then." He looked sternly at Mikasa, an expression that looked incongrous on his childish features. "But this the only favour I'll grant for free. And only because you're Pepper's little sister."
Mikasa nodded. She didn't know exactly what he was, but she knew better than to think that she could, or should exploit him. If for no other reason than she didn't know how he did what he did, just that he always seemed to manage it.
He stared off into the distance for a moment, and all in the room felt a change.
"No one separates Eren from Mikasa, because they're family," he intoned, in a strangely heavy voice that seemed almost solid in the air.
And then, without any of them in the room being able to explain why, or how things had changed exactly, they all felt that they had, irrevocably.
Precisely none of them were surprised a day later, when Sunflower declared that she had decided to take in a foster-child, and that child was Eren.
Eren and Mikasa simply held hands, and smiled.
Chapter 6: Do You Believe in Magic?
In which Mikasa receives a letter, and all that followed.
As promised by Adam's proclamation, Eren and Mikasa started to fill the same conceptual space. The separate entities of "Eren" and "Mikasa" tended to be considered as one dual entity of "Eren and Mikasa". It wasn't that Eren and Mikasa did everything together- even quasi-siblings as close as they sometimes drove one another up the wall and needed their own space every once in a while- but more that they could be depended upon to generally act as a unit.
Especially when confronted. None of the local bullies had been stupid enough to outright pick on Mikasa or Eren, (the first because they had previously encountered Pepper, the second because by that point they had encountered Pepper and Mikasa,) but the one time the new guidance counsellor had attempted to separate Eren and Mikasa from some wrong-headed idea that the two of them needed to branch out more socially was known officially as The Incident, and unofficially as "The reason why we leave those Smith kids the hell alone."
Those who had more ongoing contact with Eren and Mikasa wouldn't even dream of separating them. Together, they were unfailingly polite, albeit oddly hostile for children when interrupted from those conversations they had in that weird language of theirs.
Separate, and one couldn't help but notice the way the two of them had a tendency towards looking through people, as though they weren't really real.
The teachers at Lower Tadfield Comprehensive agreed wholeheartedly that if it wasn't for Them, Mikasa and Eren would be the most unsettling students in the school. As it was, most of them were convinced that it was a Smith kid thing, and that Pepper should have been a warning.
They couldn't be more wrong, of course, but no one in the know really felt the need to explain shit to the teachers.
In any case, the next five years that Eren and Mikasa were together were, if not idyllic, then at least extremely relaxing for the two of them. Both of them trained regularly, more out of habit than anything else, and on occasion one or the other would sneak into the other's bed to get some comfort after a screaming nightmare, but other than their slightly odd inseparableness, for the most part, they had a relatively normal second childhood.
Well, apart from the fact that when either of them got particularly emotional, especially after or during a nightmare, weird things tended to happen around them.
At first, they thought it was all Eren.
But then one day, Mikasa's scarf got caught on a branch and tore almost in half, much to Mikasa's horror (it reminded her of the one that Eren had given her another lifetime ago). Seconds later, it was completely fixed. Since Eren had been several metres ahead of Mikasa (they had been racing) and hadn't even realised that she had dropped behind until he turned around to see her staring at the scarf in surprise, they put two and two together and came up with both of them having the potential to do magic.
To the frustration of the both of them, neither were particularly good at getting any specific effects, except making their surroundings shake chaotically.
Since localised earthquakes generally weren't a desirable result, Eren and Mikasa decided that for the most part, it was worth learning some emotional control so as to avoid triggering their magic.
Oddly, it was Sunflower who helped the most with this, when she decided on a whim (Sunflower often had whims, and her children tended to roll their eyes and humour her, hoping that she would get bored,) to get the entire family into meditation.
Pepper had swiftly declared this boring and a waste of her time, and Eren had nearly done the same, but Mikasa had almost immediately grasped the implications.
Eren nearly facepalmed once she had explained it to him, and relented, joining Mikasa and Sunflower for meditation every morning before school.
Sunflower had been completely over the moon, and even when she eventually lost her interest in meditating every day, she proudly bragged amongst her circle that her two youngest were the most spiritually awakened she had ever met.
Neither Eren nor Mikasa felt the need to correct her, and Pepper teased them mercilessly about it, until Mikasa matter-of-factly pointed out how little the house had been shaking at night recently.
Pepper might not be magical herself, but she wasn't exactly blind either. She knew there was something deeply weird about her younger siblings, both natural and adopted. After the first fortnight of not being awoken by eldritch shrieking and localised tremors, she decided that Mikasa had a point, and laid off.
All in all, things were going swimmingly, when around Mikasa's birthday, a strange letter appeared.
The Pinkest Upstairs Bedroom,
9 Dante Circle,
Mikasa immediately frowned.
Most people knew better these days than to refer to her as "Merry".
And other than her mother, no one who was in a position to know where she slept would call her that.
She showed the letter to Sunflower, and Sunflower opened the letter with her, Pepper and Eren looking concernedly on.
Upon seeing the contents of the letter however, Sunflower decided that this must me some kind of a joke.
Pepper however, noticed how Eren and Mikasa had looked significantly at each other upon hearing the words "magic school".
She also noticed how the two of them had started sticking to each other even more closely than before. She had no idea about what that might be about, but it was enough for her to suggest to Sunflower that perhaps she should keep the "prank" letter, in case there was some kind of follow-up.
Three days later, and there was a knock at the door.
Pepper opened it to see a stern-looking woman wearing a rather old-fashioned-looking tartan dress.
"Good morning," the woman said, her tone as crisp and neat as her severe-bun. "I am Professor Minerva McGonagall. I was wondering if I could speak with your parents?"
Pepper looked McGonagall up and down, unimpressed. "You'd have a hard time talking to Dad, he scarpered just before Mikki was born. But Mum's about. Mu-um!" she shouted suddenly over her shoulder, "Lady at the door says she wants to talk to you!"
"Pippin! What have I told you about Jehovah's Witnesses?"
Pepper rolled her eyes. "That their lack of fun is a communicable social disease and that the correct response to 'Could you spare the time to talk about Our Lord and Saviour' is 'On ya bike!'," she said in an exasperated sing-song tone. "But Mum, she don't look like a Jehovah's to me. An' she says she's a Professor!"
That caught Sunflower's attention.
"A Professor? Oh, she must be here to talk about my submission! Pepper, don't just stand there, invite her in!"
By this point, Mikasa and Eren had wandered over to see what all the hullabaloo was about, and so they were entertained to watch as the Professor was speedily shepherded into a chair covered in Sunflower's half-hearted attempt at patchwork and handed a strong cup of herbal tea.
Ten minutes later, the Professor managed to get a word in edgewise, and interrupted Sunflower's spiel about why she thought she deserved grant money for her thesis concerning the Ethnic Bias of Tarot Cards and How to Best Counterract It.
"Actually, I am here regarding your child, Merry..."
Mikasa and Eren stood back, and watched as McGonagall proceeded to prove to Sunflower that magic existed, by conjuring an entire tea-set, and then turning into a cat and back.
Sunflower was somewhere between outright gobsmacked and strongly in denial. Pepper noticed that her mother had the expression of trying to figure out if she had accidentally sampled her special tea, and thought this was all a bit hilarious. She knew Mum was a bit of a space cadet, but the fact that she was seeing magic right in front of her and not believing in it at all made her want to laugh. After all, this was a woman who was the proud owner of "I believe in fairies" and "magic happens" bumper-stickers.
Pepper cocked her head to one side and grinned at Mikasa. "Well, you did say that you wanted to be a witch."
"Pippin!" their mother scolded.
Pepper rolled her eyes. "Mum, this McGonagall woman looks legit. Where's the conversion of mass when she does her woman to cat trick? And where did that tea-set come from? She ain't a stage-magician, she's a real witch, just like that Anathema woman who lives up the way with that Newt fella."
Ms Smith shook her head. "Now I know you children have been telling silly stories about that woman since she moved in, but she isn't a real witch," she scolded.
"Actually," McGonagall replied, "If you're talking about Anathema Device, she was actually a Hogwarts graduate. Ravenclaw, class of '79." McGonagall frowned. "Though how did you children find out that she's a witch?"
Ms Smith opened and closed her mouth like a fish, whilst Pepper shrugged, blasé.
"Well she gets a witch magazine delivered every week, doesn't she. All crystals and wicca stuff."
McGonagall, who had been looking increasingly stern, now looked somewhat amused. "Wicca?" she said with a snort. "That is ridiculous nonsense."
Pepper raised an eyebrow. "Well the way I see it lady, either Anathema is pulling a double-bluff, or there's more to the wicca than you think. Either way, I reckon since you teach, what was it, transmogrification or whatevs, at a flipping magic school named after a pig's skin disease, you don't got a leg to stand on when it comes to telling me what's flat out nonsense."
Meanwhile, Mikasa and Eren were trying (and failing) not to laugh.
McGonagall continued to explain things to Sunflower, about Hogwarts and its curriculum. Mikasa and Eren could see that she was starting to accept that this wasn't just some elaborate prank.
Pepper in the meantime continued to tease McGonagall by asking silly questions, like if warts were part of the school uniform.
McGonagall however was starting to figure her out.
"Stuff and nonsense, stop trying to wind me up girl... Merlin's Beard!" Professor McGonagall suddenly caught sight of Eren standing behind Mikasa, and went dead-white. "Harry Potter!"
Sunflower blinked. "Who?" She turned and saw only her children.
Eren carefully kept his expression blank.
Shit, shit, shit, shit, SHIT.
"You must be mistaken. This is Eren Jaeger-Smith," Mikasa said bluntly. "No one called Harry Potter lives here."
Well, strictly speaking it was true.
McGonagall ignored her, stood, and stepped towards Eren, who backed up a step.
Her expression was somewhere between desperately hopeful and devastated, and Eren wasn't sure how to handle it.
"You look so much like James. And your eyes, just like Lily's... and, you have the scar!" she exclaimed, pointing to his forehead. Eren vainly wished he had not cut his hair so short.
Fuck, fuck, fuckity, fucking, FUCK.
Who the hell were Lily and James, anyway? Was that the names of his family who had died?
Then he suddenly had an idea.
"I have no idea what, or who you're talking about," he said firmly and flatly.
She opened her mouth, but Eren interrupted her. "I don't know who those Lily and James people are."
"I have, in fact, no memories from before I was six," Eren said.
He felt Mikasa squeeze his hand in surprise.
He squeezed her hand back. He had a plan.
He figured if these wizards had anything like genetic testing, he was going to be busted soon, anyway. So he couldn't outright say that there was no possibility he was Harry Potter.
But if he was going to be forced to be some kid with a tragic past, then he was doing it on his terms.
And if he could get a number of people in deep trouble? That was just icing.
McGonagall looked stunned.
"W-what?" she sounded stunned too.
Eren scowled. "Before I came here, I was in a bad place. They hurt me, and told me my parents were dead, so no one was coming to save me. So I left." He swallowed hard, thinking that this next bit was going to be difficult to pull off. "I couldn't remember my name, so I called myself what felt natural."
Sunflower gasped, and crossed the room to hug him.
"Eren, sweetie, you never told me!"
Eren, breathing Sunflower's patchouli scent shrugged. "I don't know who they were, and I was far away, from them, and you took me in. So it was over, so I didn't want to think about them." He faked a sniffle, and Sunflower fell for it, hook, line and sinker.
Mikasa shot him a look telling him not to overdo it, as she patted his back.
She wasn't above adding fuel to the fire though.
"Now he's going to have nightmares again," she embellished, glaring at McGonagall.
McGonagall was looking distinctly unwell. "I have need to contact some people. I can prove what I've said," she insisted to Sunflower, "he is Harry Potter. And his birth parents would have wanted him to go to Hogwarts..."
Sunflower nodded, but it was not a nod of agreement, more of an acknowledgement that McGonagall had said something.
"So who were they?" she asked.
McGonagall proceeded to explain that she had taught Lily and James when they were students, and that they had been killed by a bad wizard, and that Harry had been the sole survivor, and that the wizard had seemingly died, and that he was a folk-hero.
And all that that entailed.
Sunflower was looking rather harrowed by the time the tale was through. Eren and Mikasa though were listening avidly for the details- Eren had figured out most of the shape of it from what he could remember, but the celebrity status had been a bit of a surprise.
Sunflower did not look as though she was sure she believed all of this.
"You understand that I'm going to need some time to think about this," she said. "I mean, you show up out of the blue, and tell me all these things about my children. I'm not sure I can believe all of this."
"Whether you believe or not, does not change the reality," McGonagall said in a way that suggested that she had practiced this line. "You know that..." she hesitated, "your children are special. Hogwarts can help them reach their full potential."
Mikasa could see that Sunflower needed a break, so she stepped in.
"I think you should come back later, Professor," she said politely. "Preferably with corroborating evidence of what you've said about my brother."
If McGonagall was surprised at hearing such a long word from an eleven year old, she didn't show it.
"Yes, indeed. You do have a good point young lady. Now, would tomorrow be a good time?" she asked Sunflower, and the two of them walked towards the door, talking.
"Wow," said Pepper.
Mikasa and Eren turned as one to look at their elder sister.
Pepper stared at the two of them. "I don't know what the fuck the two of you are up to, but that was masterful."
"I don't know what you mean," Eren said flatly, before grinning angelically at her.
"You know what? I'm not going to even ask. Just..." she looked at them both searchingly, "be careful, okay? This magic stuff looks like it could turn into some seriously scary shit."
Eren nodded grimly. "You have no idea," he confirmed, "but don't worry," he said, taking Mikasa by the hand.
"We're in this together," Mikasa said, and Pepper felt that that sounded suspiciously like a threat.
The magical world didn't know what was about to hit them.
Pepper found herself grinning savagely. "If you two need any help, you know I'll always do what I can."
Mikasa and Eren grinned back. "Thanks big sis. We've got this."
"That's what everyone should be afraid of."
Chapter 7: Let's Try That Again
In which some things are explained and some things aren't.
The next day, almost immediately after the Smiths had finished their usual breakfast of organic oat porridge with honey, (Sunflower thought it was appropriate soul food, Eren and Mikasa thought it tasted nostalgically of the grub they had been fed in the military, and Pepper had a "secret" stash of poptarts for when her mother's health-food kick got too irritating,) McGonagall was back, and she had two companions with her.
"I hope we aren't too early," McGonagall said, "but I thought that this might take some time, so I thought it better to start as soon as possible. I would like to introduce the Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Professor Albus Dumbledore, and my colleague, Professor Severus Snape, who is the Potions professor and Head of Slytherin."
Sunflower, suitably impressed by all of the titles, ushered them all into the sitting-room, where her children were waiting with bated breath to see what the next episode of this farce would be.
Eren and Mikasa sat closely together on the lounge, as usual presenting a united front.
Pepper was standing to one side, out of the line of fire, half-pretending to be reading a magazine. She had known Mikki and Eren long enough, she thought, to be able to see when they were plotting something, and she wanted ring-side seats.
The first that Eren saw enter was an old man, with an almost waist-length silver beard. He was wearing a red belted robe, and a blue conical hat with yellow stars on it.
Eren narrowed his eyes. That outfit, apart from being one of the least tasteful things he had seen in a while, looked oddly familiar.
(Later, when he was wandering past a video store that had a few vintage posters on the walls, he realised where he recognised it from and couldn't decide whether Dumbledore was being intentionally funny by copying the dress-sense of a certain animated rodent or not.)
And then the second man entered, his black robes billowing.
Eren went extremely still.
Mikasa, sitting to his left, immediately noticed.
"What is it?" she asked him in their language.
"That's him," Eren replied flatly in the same language. "That's the man who tried to erase my memories."
Mikasa, who had previously been willing to be at least somewhat receptive to this concept of magic school, went from politely smiling to glaring daggers in split seconds.
"The one in black?" she asked. "I'll kill him."
Eren placed a hand on her arm. Sometimes he forgot the fact that even though normally Mikasa was extremely clear-headed and logical, to the point of making him look like a hot-headed idiot, when he was threatened, she tended to get a bit... intense.
"Wait," he said, restraining her from leaping across the room and attempting to cut Snape with the knife he knew she had hidden in her sleeve. "We don't know what they can do. And they've supposedly come over here to tell us a story. So let's hear it."
Without taking her eyes off her intended prey, Mikasa nodded, and relaxed just enough that Eren knew she had heard him.
"What language is that?" the old man in the silly hat asked. "I have often thought myself to be quite the linguist, but I have never heard that one spoken."
"Our own," Mikasa snapped at him in English.
Sunflower sent her a concerned look, because she wasn't used to seeing her two youngest look so defensive, or be so rude to guests.
Perturbed, she babbled, "Oh, those two have always spoken that to each other. I think they started making it up within days of meeting one another."
"Days?" Pepper snorted. "More like minutes." Though Pepper didn't bother to correct her mother. She knew perfectly well that her two younger siblings had been speaking that language to one another from the get-go, and there had been no "making up" involved. She wasn't entirely sure where they had learned it, but she suspected that it had a lot to do with the fact that they had seemed to know each other inside-out and back-to-front even before they could have possibly met. Adam had a few theories about that, but she and the gang felt (perhaps instinctively) that Eren and Mikasa were best left to their own devices without interference, even if the motive for said interference was well-meaning or mere curiosity.
Seeing that his intended icebreaker had fallen rather flat with his intended targets, Dumbledore seated himself in the armchair that was across from them without further comment. Sunflower sat next to her children on the lounge, McGonagall quite literally drew up a chair from thin air with her wand, and Snape stood to one side, glowering like a gargoyle.
McGonagall then proceeded to pull out a photo album. It was obviously magical, because all of the pictures moved. Sunflower was slowly becoming accustomed to this whole "magic is real" idea, because she didn't look for any hidden wires or battery packs for the "screens".
After looking through the album, and looking closely at her son, Sunflower had to admit that the resemblance was a little uncanny.
"I suppose you do look a bit like this James dude," she said. "These pictures at least explain why you have permanent bedhead."
That snort that came from the man in black was enough to make Sunflower finally react to Snape's glaring. As much as Mikasa and Eren (and indeed Pepper), had concluded that their mother was normally a bit of an oblivious flake, there were moments in which Sunflower's maternal instincts seemed to pull the world into sharp clarity for her. In moments like these, Eren and Mikasa could not help but feel nostalgic for their original mothers, because whenever Sunflower detected a threat to her children, she was refreshingly blunt and protective.
"Mister... Snape, was it? Is there any particular reason that you're glaring at my son as though he's the spawn of Satan?" Sunflower's tone was diamond hard and cold.
Snape snorted, and all present heard the implied 'close enough' in his tone. "It's Professor Snape," he said, "and frankly, your son is the spawn of Potter. That's bad enough."
"Excuse me?" Sunflower sounded ropeable. She turned to McGonagall and Dumbledore. "If this man is an example of the teachers at your school, then I am finding myself questioning the wisdom of sending my children there," she said.
Dumbledore cleared his throat. "I assure you, that Professor Snape is an exemplary member of staff and considered to be a genius in his field."
Sunflower was unimpressed by this assertion. "And?" she asked. "I'm missing the part where that convinces me that he is equipped to teach my children. He has done nothing but glare at them since he came in, and I don't care what sort of person he thinks the father of my son might have been, that does not give him any right to look at him like that."
Dumbledore gave Snape a significant look. Eren got the distinct impression that the look said partly, "If you can't say anything nice, then kindly shut up," as well as, "If you blow this for us there will be words."
Snape had a look of studied indifference, but conceded, "I assure you, madam, that I would not treat your son worse than any other Gryffindor..."
"Firstly, don't call me 'madam'. It's 'Ms', because I'm not defined by my marital status. Secondly, what," Sunflower demanded flatly, "is a Gryffindor?"
McGonagall proceeded to describe the four houses of Hogwarts.
The other adults looked at her askance. Her children, adopted, natural and semi-natural, looked amused.
"You seriously think that bravery is the dominant trait of my children?" Sunflower said. She shook her head. "Brave they might be, but you're all in for a rude shock if you think that is what Eren and Merry's dominant traits are."
She refused to explain further, despite probing questions.
Dumbledore then turned towards where Mikasa and Eren were still seated together, his blue eyes twinkling.
Eren and Mikasa just smirked to one another. They weren't explaining shit either.
Chapter 8: Obligatory Diagon Alley Scene
In which the Jaeger-Smiths are introduced to Diagon Alley, and the writer tries to get this stuff out of the way so we can get on with the more interesting parts of the story.
After the conversation with the Hogwarts teachers, Sunflower reluctantly agreed that her two youngest needed to go to Hogwarts. Eren and Mikasa agreed, however added the proviso that they could choose the names that they attended under.
The Hogwarts teachers had all blinked at that.
"But why?" McGonagall asked. "Your true name is Harry James Potter."
Eren shook his head. "No, that's just the name this body was born with." If anyone thought that his wording was a little strange, they kept that thought to themselves. "I've been Eren a lot longer than I remember being Harry, and I would like to stick with it. Besides," he said, "you said that I'm some kind of folk-hero to the magical community. I'd rather not have to bother with all that, if I can avoid it. Using a different name is just sensible. If nothing else, it'll give me some time to settle in before people start assuming they know me based on the fact that they knew two people I've never met."
McGonagall winced, and Snape looked suspiciously blank. He was still reeling a little from the fact that Potter's Spawn had just come out with a sentiment that was so undeniably Slytherin. And when…Jaeger-Smith, Snape supposed he would have to refer to him, looked at him with that cold glare, so different to James Potter's self-absorbed blustering… a cold shiver ran up his spine.
McGonagall had said that Jaeger-Smith claimed to not remember the first 6 years of his life. Snape had scoffed at the time- he had never messed up an obliviation in his life, and Merlin knew that between the war and his occasional clandestine work that he conducted still for Dumbledore that he had had many occasions where the skill had been necessary.
But this strangely intense child, who clung so closely to his adoptive sister, whose eyes looked old in a way that Snape had not seen since the war… Snape was not often one for introspection, but confronted with this child, whose eyes looked so very different to how Lily's had looked in life despite the fact that they shared a colour… Snape had only seen eyes like that on the nights before he woke up gasping, sweating and still crying from half-remembered dreams where Lily's shade blamed him for her death.
Just as he blamed himself.
Eren Jaeger-Smith looked so much like a young James Potter on first glance that Snape had been unable to contain his unresolved issues.
However, if it was true that the boy could not remember the first six years of his life- more years than this child almost aged eleven could remember- then Snape had done him a terrible wrong. And even James Potter's child deserved better than that.
Another sin to add to his list of them.
"And I prefer to be known as Mikasa," interjected Mikasa, effectively derailing Snape's Hogwarts Express of depressing thoughts.
Sunflower rolled her eyes. "Honestly you girls. First Pippin insists that she's 'Pepper', then Merry insists that she's 'Mikasa'- I put a lot of thought into your names…"
Pepper snorted. "Mum, thoughts you have when you're smoking 'pipe weed'," she made air quotes, "that you later stick to out of a misplaced sense of pride don't count. Besides," and here she grinned, "we're just choosing names that express our true selves, just like you did…"
Sunflower gasped, her eyes lit up with sudden astonished pride, and Mikasa nearly face-palmed. She was nearly 15 years older than Pepper, experientially. Why hadn't she thought of that? "Why did you not say so before!?" Sunflower wailed. "I didn't know that my babies felt that I was oppressing them!" She stepped forward and hugged Pepper. "I'll call up your school and tell them to change your name on the rolls tomorrow. When you're 18, you can change it officially, just like I did!"
Pepper grinned. "Oh don't worry Mum, I've had the forms filled out and ready since I was 12."
McGonagall looked over at Snape with a perplexed expression, and he just shrugged. He might be a half-blood, but that didn't mean that he understood the ways of all muggles.
A few days later, the Smith family stood in front of a dingy pub near Charing Cross.
All of them looked at the entrance sceptically.
"Are you sure this is where that Dumblewhatsit dude said we were supposed to meet?" Pepper asked. Like hell was she going to be left behind on this little jaunt. She might not be magical herself, but that didn't mean that she couldn't be curious. And once she knew where to find where the wizards hid, she and the rest of Them were going to have themselves a bit of fun.
Blissfully unaware of the future mayhem that her eldest was plotting, Sunflower nodded. "Yes, the 'Leaky Cauldron' was what he said…"
"Hello there, sorry I'm late!" a plump woman with fly-away hair with gardening gloves half-tucked into the pocket of her dowdy brown cardigan came trotting from the inside of the pub.
"Professor Sprout?" Sunflower visibly relaxed once she had looked the woman up and down. Professors McGonagall and Snape had seemed so awfully straight-laced, but here was a woman who obviously understood the value of getting a bit of dirt under one's fingernails. Someone so obviously close to the earth… now that was the sort of person Sunflower felt that she could entrust her kids to.
"Yes, but please call me Pomona," Professor Sprout beamed, "though children," she turned to Eren and Mikasa, "I'm afraid that when school is in session, the convention is that you'll have to call me 'Professor'." Then she winked, "but, if we're behind closed doors, especially if either of you turn out to be one of my Badgers, well, we don't stand on ceremony in Hufflepuff house." She turned her smile back onto Sunflower. "I try to make the students learn that working together is the best way to achieve their goals, and it's just so nice to see siblings that are so close, why…"
Eren tuned the woman that McGonagall had explained in her letter to be the head of Hufflepuff House and the Herbology professor out in favour of paying attention to his surroundings as they entered the Leaky Cauldron. She seemed okay, he supposed. He caught Mikasa's eye, and she nodded slightly. He nodded back, and got a twitch of her lips in return. Yes, he agreed. This teacher seemed nice enough. And she and Sunflower seemed to be bonding.
"Oh, so you chose your name yourself? I do so love Sunflowers, they really brighten up a garden bed, and the seeds can be used in… oh hello Tom, yes, these are some new students, I'm just showing them around don't you know. Children, this is Tom, he owns the Leaky, if you ever run into any trouble in Diagon, he's a good port of call, good Hufflepuff family Tom's is and we 'Puffs stand together. Tom, this is Eren and Mikasa Jaeger-Smith, they're some of the new firsties this year."
Mikasa opened her mouth to mention that actually, it was only Eren that was Jaeger-Smith, she was just Smith… then she closed it, shrugging internally. If that was what ended up going on her records, well, there were worse family names to be attached to than her original adoptive family paired with her second quasi-natural one.
Eren blatantly wasn't paying attention, more interested in examining the bar and the people in it, though he did nod politely to Tom when introduced, so Mikasa didn't have to step on his foot.
A few moments later, and they had all been ushered out the back, where Professor Sprout showed them the way into the Alley, which had the rather improbable-seeming entry method of tapping a brick over the dustbins out back.
Mikasa looked at that incredulously. "Uh… Professor Pomona," (she figured it was safer to compromise between the two modes of address,) "how are we supposed to get in if we didn't have wands with us?"
Professor Sprout frowned. "And when would that happen?" she wanted to know. "Wands are something that we'll be purchasing for the both of you today… oh I suppose you mean if you manage to break your wand or it gets stolen," she realised. "Well, I certainly hope neither of those situations happens, but if it does, then you can always ask someone in the Leaky to let you through. Tom at least is generally willing to oblige."
Pepper shot a look at her little sister, eyes narrowed. That was an awfully convenient question for her to have asked… she spotted the smirk as she looked back at her, her eyes practically daring her.
The little brat! Pepper resisted the urge to grin. Mikki knew exactly what plan was starting to form in her head.
She was distracted by her train of thought when the bricks rolled back, and what looked like a Ren Faire crossed with a special effects convention appeared before her.
Pepper only barely resisted the cackle she could feel brewing within her. This was going to be interesting.
Despite the interesting environs that it occurred in, the shopping trip after that was fairly standard. Sort of like visiting a foreign bazaar, really, Pepper thought to herself, despite the fact that she had never set foot outside of the UK before. Though she had to admit that she had been a little startled by the appearance of the goblins. Pepper had shot a look out the corner of her eye at her younger siblings, and had been interested to note that both of them had gone suspiciously blank-faced upon seeing the odd creatures. Professor Dumbledore had mentioned that Eren's birth parents had left him a vault of money, but Sunflower had insisted on leaving the money untouched. Dumbledore had protested that the 'goblins' could keep secrets, but when Sunflower had insisted that her reasoning was so that Eren would have a little money set aside for expenses when he graduated and moved out, Dumbledore had been unable to argue.
Pepper had actually been a little startled at seeing such forethought and financial planning coming from her usually fairly flaky Mum. Evidence of forward planning appeared again when Sprout suggested that Eren and Mikasa get an owl to contact home, and Sunflower snorted and said that she would be the one getting the owl, because that way she would be able to actually contact her children in an emergency, whilst they could always borrow a school owl or ask a magical adult to help them.
When they went to wandmakers' Ollivanders, Pepper was amazed at how easy and cheap it was to buy something as versatile as a wand. Apparently the only caveat (she asked Sprout) was that one had to be over 11. Apparently magic was forbidden over the school holidays, but Pepper was unimpressed by this condition. If even half of the things she could think of off the top of her head were possible with magic, then they were handing 11 year olds things that were more dangerous than pistols.
Pepper kept this thought to herself however. She had no fear that whatever mayhem her siblings were going to get up to would badly affect her. Family was family. Besides, she didn't want to worry Sunflower any more than she already was.
She was interested to note however that Ollivander seemed oddly disappointed about something when he matched Eren up with an 11-inch phoenix feather wand in alder. He muttered something about it being the wrong phoenix.
He did perk up measurably however when he matched Mikasa with a wand that apparently had a feather from the same phoenix, only 11-inches in rowan.
"An incredible connection the two of you have," he enthused. "I thought that I would see those wands go to twins."
Neither Eren nor Mikasa offered comment on this, but Pepper noted them both looking somewhere between smug and thoughtful.
The most interesting part though came at the bookstore, Flourish and Blotts.
Sunflower looked about at some of the titles, and blanched.
"What in Merlin's name is the matter?" Sprout asked her.
Pepper looked about, and saw three titles that she thought her mother might have noticed.
Lest They Remember, the Complete Guide to Memory Removal by W. Hoopsie
Curses and Countercurses (Bewitch Your Friends and Befuddle Your Enemies with the Latest Revenges: Hair Loss, Jelly-Legs,Tongue- Tying and Much, Much More) by Professor Vindictus Viridian
213 (Non-Deadly) Poisons (Featuring 6 new undetectable ones!) by Wazz Knotmie
"Is there any restriction to what books my children would be allowed to buy?" Sunflower asked Sprout.
"Oh of course," said Sprout. "They wouldn't be allowed to purchase any books on dark magic."
Pepper however, noticed that the Dark Magic section was through a door to the right of the counter, and all of the books she had seen were sitting in the front display…
She turned to see that Eren and Mikasa had noticed what she had noticed.
It looked to her that if buying wands was the equivalent of buying weapons then this bookshop…
This was where they acquired the ammo.
Chapter 9: An Unexpected Reunion
In which Eren and Mikasa ride a train and have a few interesting meetings.
Finally, the day arrived. September 1st.
Sunflower walked Eren and Mikasa to the barrier between platforms 9 and 10 (Sprout had been good enough to explain in detail to them how to get onto the platform) gave them both a hug, requested they be careful, and then left.
(Pepper had farewelled them at home, and given them what she deemed appropriate parting gifts. She had also told them that if they didn’t send her and Sunflower regular letters, then she would come hunt them down, unplottable magic school or not.)
The two Jaeger-Smiths (Mikasa had decided that she wanted the addition to commemorate her first adoptive family, and Eren understood) made their way towards the train, easily weaving their way through the chaos of running noisy children, exotic pets, trunks, and exasperated parents.
The two of them helped each other get their trunks onto the train, and then quickly found an empty compartment. They sat down, and pulled out the books that they were currently reading- Mikasa reading Hogwarts: A History, and Eren re-reading The Standard Book of Spells.
Neither of them felt that this truly counted as studying, as of them found their new magical textbooks fascinating. Reading about magic and magical society reminded Eren of how he had felt when he and Armin used to pore over Armin’s grandfather’s book about the world beyond the wall. The facts included were alien, seemingly illogical, but they sketched out the parameters of the unknown like a map that said, “Here be dragons”. Actually, Eren admitted, exactly like a map that said “Here be dragons”, considering what Professor Sprout had explained was the Hogwarts motto. (Mikasa had given Eren a look when he had asked Sprout if dragons were real. He had had to do some fast talking to explain to her that he had no intention of testing if it was a bad idea to tickle a sleeping dragon. He might like adrenalin, but contrary to popular opinion he wasn’t suicidal.)
Twenty minutes after the two of them had settled into reading, the door of the compartment slid open.
Eren and Mikasa looked up to see a girl with bushy brown hair and somewhat prominent front teeth poke her head in, see them reading, and smile. “Hi, can I share this compartment with you two?”
Mikasa looked at Eren, and Eren shrugged. He supposed that it would be better to get to know their classmates sooner rather than later, so he nodded.
The girl smiled, and stepped in, lugging her trunk behind her.
She stowed it, and then turned to shake their hands.
Eren decided to introduce them by their preferred names. It would inevitably get out that he was Harry Potter and that Mikasa had lost the naming lottery, but it couldn't hurt to have at least a few people calling them by what they felt to be their true names. “Hi. I'm Eren, she's Mikasa.”
To Eren's surprise, the girl's mouth dropped open.
“E-Eren? M-Mikasa?!” she seemed staggered.
Mikasa cocked her head. “What?”
The bushy-haired girl looked up with tears rolling down her cheeks.
“Please tell me this isn't some kind of sick joke.”
Eren looked to Mikasa, silently asking her if she had any idea what was up with this girl.
A dawning light of an idea appeared behind Mikasa's eyes.
“What is your name?” she asked the girl's name in the language of their world.
“Guys!” the girl replied in the same language. “Is it really you?! I never thought I was going to see you again!” She rushed forward and hugged them both.
Eren returned the hug, but blinked.
“Sorry, but who-?”
The girl blushed.
“Ah. Um. Heh.” She scratched the back of her head. “I forgot for a moment. I've had about a decade to get used to the idea, but I suppose that this might come as a shock. For the record, I've come to accept that everyone is going to refer to me as 'she', but I'm still me.”
Mikasa and Eren shared a confused look.
The bushy-haired girl scratched the back of her head sheepishly.
“Guys, it's me. Armin.”
Before Eren could do more than gape, Mikasa had shot across the carriage, and was hugging the girl who was apparently Armin tightly.
“I missed you so much,” came Mikasa's voice, muffled slightly by Armin's large quantities of bushy brown hair. Eren stood back, smiling. The Shiganshina Three (as they used to be called back in training camp,) reunited again. He could not have hoped for this in his wildest dreams.
Armin hugged Mikasa back just as tightly. “Me too. I'm so sorry, I really thought that I'd be able to make it out of that ambush...”
Mikasa snorted. “Liar. We both knew what was going to happen when you sent me away for reinforcements. I knew that me moving fast enough was our only hope, but it was a miracle we were able to save anyone at all.” She shook her head, tears glittering in her eyes. “I knew though, that if it was possible for you to save someone else, even at the risk of your own life, that you would do it. Especially at the risk of your own life. We were all channelling the Jaeger back then.” Mikasa smiled, but the expression was bitter. “If we had had any hope, it might have been different, but we knew that in death at least, we would be able to sleep without worries.”
Armin laughed. “And then we end up reincarnated as children, with all of our horrific memories. Still, I must admit that the break has been nice.”
The two of them stared dreamily into one-another's eyes, still clinched together in a tight embrace.
Eren felt that it was getting a little weird, and so decided to interject.
“Uh, guys? What the actual fuck,” he stated evenly.
Armin jumped, causing his curly hair to bounce comically.
“Oh, shit, Eren! Sorry man, how the hell have you been?” Eren found himself engulfed in a bear-like hug, with a mouthful of brown tresses.
Spitting out the hair, Eren returned the hug for a moment, before backing out of the embrace.
“I've been pretty fucked, actually. Things have got better since I caught up with Mikasa, but I went straight from being swallowed by a Titan to waking up as a baby whose parents had just been killed by someone who is apparently the scariest motherfucker in the recent history of these witch and wizard people. Then I lived with an abusive foster family for about four years or so, then I bailed. Either because I'm just that lucky, or there's some divine force of questionable motive directing events, I stumbled onto Mikasa's doorstep. So I just spent the last six years with her terrifying family, not especially far from some really freaky kids.”
Armin looked over at Mikasa and raised both eyebrows.
Mikasa rolled her eyes and gave a slight nod, indicating that Eren's summary was accurate, albeit a bit melodramatic by her standards.
Eren noticed the byplay.
“Okay, what's the deal, guys? I know we've always been friends, but since when could you guys read each other's minds.”
Armin sighed, and moved back to Mikasa, who pulled him close.
“Eren, I don't know how much Mikasa has told you about what happened after you died...” he trailed off.
Mikasa sighed, and Armin squeezed her shoulder.
Eren looked confused. “She said that you both stuck together, but that the human resistance against the Titans was doomed, and there was nothing to be done. She said that you were some of the last.”
“Ah,” Armin said. “That's all... accurate.” He grimaced.
Eren frowned. “What aren't you telling me?” he demanded.
Armin sighed. “What Mikasa appears to have... glossed over,” he said, leaning his head against Mikasa's, “is that though the human resistance was doomed, the destruction of our last stronghold did not happen until seven years after your death.”
“Eight,” Mikasa corrected him, and Armin looked stricken. “We somehow managed to hold them off for another year, but in the end…” She shook her head. “I was the last one from Shiganshina, and I was the last one from our graduate cohort. I lasted two days after the last wall came down. It was…” Armin clutched her closer, and held her, whispering comforting words into her ear as Mikasa shook.
Eren blinked. “What?”
Unfortunately, before the conversation could continue, they were interrupted.
The door opened, and a plump boy who looked close to tears looked in.
“Sorry,” he said, not noticing through his own distress that Mikasa was carefully composing herself, tucking away her haunted expression and slowly straightening in Armin’s arms, “but have you seen a toad at all?”
When they shook their heads, he wailed, “I've lost him! He keeps getting away from me!”
Eren, Mikasa and Armin shared looks. This conversation could be continued later, when they had assured privacy – privacy being something that they would certainly not be assured of when spending time on a train full of nosy school-children.
“What’s your name?” Armin asked kindly, stepping slightly away from Mikasa but subtly grasping her hand.
The boy sniffled. “Neville Longbottom.”
Others might have thought that a name like Longbottom was unfortunate.
Eren and Mikasa however, felt an immediate sense of kinship with the boy.
“My name is Eren Jaeger-Smith, and this is my adoptive sister, Mikasa,” Eren said. “And this is…” he looked to Armin, not sure how he wanted to introduce himself. (Herself? This was going to take some getting used to. Eren resolved to ask Armin what pronouns he (she?) preferred at the soonest opportunity.)
“I’m Hermione Granger, but friends call me Armin,” Armin inserted smoothly. “Come on Neville, we’ll help you find your toad.” Despite the fact that all of them looked to be about the same age, seeing a kid in distress was something that bothered all of them. Armin especially had always been a bit of a soft-touch, whilst Eren couldn’t help but step in when people were in trouble. After all, it was how he and Armin had originally met, when some of the other local boys had been bullying the then slightly smaller blonde.
Mikasa on the other hand had a tendency to react with occasionally excessive violence when children were in distress. Compared to threatening the lives of rich merchants or killing titans, merely finding a toad was nothing.
None of them commented on how surprised the boy looked when they offered to help him, but all noted it. The three Shiganshina survivors shared dark glances. Neville might not know it yet, but he had gained three acquaintances who were going to keep an eye on him.
Five minutes later, they encountered a red-haired boy with a shiny “P” badge on his chest and red-trimmed robes patrolling the carriage.
“Are you looking for something?” the boy asked them.
“Yes,” said Armin with a winning smile that Eren and Mikasa found eerily familiar when on the unfamiliar face of a little girl. “Neville here has lost his toad.”
“Ah,” the boy puffed up his chest slightly importantly. “I’ll solve that for you in a jiffy.” He pulled out his wand. “Accio Neville’s Toad.”
There was a slight shriek from a compartment a little down the way, and then a toad came sailing through a fortunately open door, to be caught one-handed by the red-haired boy.
Neville looked at the boy as though he had hung the moon. “Trevor! Th-thank you!” he said, beaming, as the boy handed his toad back.
“No problem,” the boy said lightly. “I’m a prefect, I’m supposed to help solve student problems.” Since he had been very helpful, the Shiganshina Three ignored how silly he looked with his chest puffed out, and merely thanked him. The boy clearly meant well, even if he might have a slight ego-problem.
“Do you have a tank to keep him in?” the prefect asked Neville, showing that he had a sensible streak to go along with his helpful one.
Neville shook his head no. “I had one, but I tripped and broke it yesterday,” he mumbled, clutching Trevor the Toad to his chest.
The prefect (who introduced himself as Percy Weasley,) continued to endear himself to the Shiganshina Three by finding another prefect, this one a girl with blue-trimmed robes, to transfigure Neville a new tank from a Chocolate Frog box.
“It’s nothing fancy,” the girl (who Percy introduced as Penelope Clearwater) said, “but at least it’s permanent.”
Neville thanked her and Percy profusely, and then he and the Shiganshina three returned to their compartment (when they realised that Neville had been sitting alone apart from a red-haired boy who had poked fun at him for having a toad, they had promptly invited him to sit with them instead).
They got settled, and soon after, they were all chatting easily.
“So you’re all muggleborn?” Neville asked them, eyes wide.
Eren shrugged. “Technically I’m not. Apparently my parents were both magical, but I’m an orphan. Originally I was living with some muggle relatives, but…” he trailed off, considering how to phrase this.
“They were a bunch of abusive pricks,” Mikasa stated bluntly, “so he ran away, and got adopted by my family instead.”
Neville’s eyes had gone wide at Mikasa’s language, but merely nodded. “W-well I’m glad you escaped then,” he said. “You’re very brave to have run away.”
Eren shook his head. “Self-preservation isn’t bravery. I just decided I’d rather try my luck elsewhere than stay with people who were trying to starve me, and who kept me locked in a cupboard.”
“Holy shit,” breathed Armin. He turned to Mikasa. “And you didn’t kill them?” he said in their language.
Mikasa snorted. “I was tempted, but I couldn’t think of a good way to make it look like an accident,” she replied in the same language.
Neville cringed a little at the tension that he could feel emanating from Mikasa, but swallowed hard and pressed on, “Well, I think you’d be a shoe-in for Gryffindor.”
Eren shrugged again. “That’s the ‘brave’ house, yeah? Sure, I could probably get in if I wanted, but if I have anything to say about it, I’d rather not.”
Armin looked entertained by this comment, if the crinkles in the corners of his eyes were anything to go by. “Oh? Where do you want to go then?”
“Hufflepuff,” Eren stated like it was obvious, ignoring how shocked Neville looked. “Nothing but bravery just gets people killed,” he said, knowing that Armin would pick on the subtext that bravery had got their team killed in the previous world. “More important than bravery is skill,” he said with a subtle nod towards Mikasa, “but the most important thing is that you know your comrades have your back. Those who cannot fight together, cannot win together. You need to be brave to enter the battlefield in the first place and to be able to risk your life for a greater cause, and cunning and skill will help keep you alive,” he said acknowledging the traits of Slytherin and Ravenclaw respectively, “but it’s being able to depend on your team to have your back that will win the day. So,” he said, leaning back in his chair, looking Neville directly in the eye, “I would rather be in a house that values Loyalty and Hard Work, especially since the latter is what you need to get your skills up to scratch so you can be useful and not dead weight. Knowledge and guts and ambition are worthless without the determination to improve oneself and stand up for your comrades. Besides,” he concluded firmly, “you get sorted based on your strongest trait, not your only one.”
Little did Eren know, he had just created a convert.
Neville had often been teased by others for showing Hufflepuffish tendencies. For the first time, someone had put into words that spoke to him why this was not only not a bad thing, but a desirable thing. Eren’s insistence that someone could improve, could be useful by working hard especially gave him hope.
Neville had been nervous about starting Hogwarts. He knew he wasn’t especially magically strong, and that things often terrified him. People tended to look at his round face and nervous demeanour and assume that he was sort of useless. Neville had never learned that he was anything but.
But ever since he had gotten onto the train, these three had been so nice to him. They hadn’t laughed at his pet, they had helped him get his toad back, and they had invited him to sit with them, rather than leave him with that tactless Weasley boy, (who would almost certainly be in Gryffindor house with his many brothers).
If these three intended to be in Hufflepuff, then maybe, just maybe…
(Even if his Gran would be disappointed, ah well, a small part of Neville accepted, nothing new there…)
Maybe Hufflepuff would be a good place for him after all.
He looked up at Eren, and though Eren himself did not notice, there was the beginnings of hero-worship in his eyes.
Mikasa and Armin recognised this, and exchanged knowing smiles. It seemed that Eren had not lost his touch for inspiring people.
“Hufflepuff it is then,” Armin stated cheerfully, as Mikasa nodded smugly. “Let’s all do our best to pass whatever the test is to get into Hufflepuff, okay?”
The four of them shook hands, and then spent the rest of the train-ride chatting about less consequential things.
When the Hogwarts Express pulled into Hogsmeade (there was a large sign at the station), the four of them quickly disembarked. Percy had wandered by to check on them a little later, and had told them that the Hogwarts house-elves would pick up all of their things, so they left their trunks on the train and filed out onto the narrow platform, drawing their cloaks close to them as they felt the chilly September air.
“Firs' years! Firs' years over here!” came a loud booming voice. A big hairy face beamed over the sea of heads, and the Shiganshina Three froze. “C'mon, follow me -- any more firs' years? Mind yer step, now! Firs' years follow me!”
The Armin looked around, and saw how none of the other children appeared to be startled by seeing the huge man. Every instinct screamed at him to attack, to run away, to get these stupid kids out of here, but…
“He can talk,” Armin muttered, startled, milliseconds before Mikasa would have started to act.
This comment broke through Mikasa’s horror, and she paused, trying to assimilate the new information.
Neville looked at the bushy-haired girl weirdly. “…Why is that surprising?” he asked, confused as two why his three new friends (?) looked so frightened all of a sudden.
“And if he’s a Titan, he’s the smallest one I’ve ever seen,” Armin continued in their language, ignoring Neville. “He’s what, 3 and a half metres tall? That’s the smallest titan I’ve ever seen… if he’s a titan.” He glared suspiciously at the jovial figure leading the smallest children down a narrow pathway through the trees.
“Reconnoitre,” Mikasa snapped. “We gain more intel, then we decide how to act.”
Armin and Eren nodded in agreement. If nothing else, they needed to check on the wellbeing of the other children, who were calmly walking towards possible doom.
Neville wasn’t sure why the three were suddenly upset and talking in a different language (and what language was this? It sounded almost like Japanese-accented German, but he didn’t recognise any of the words) but he thought he should reassure them.
“Uh, it’s okay, he’s harmless,” Neville hurried to tell them. It was an odd feeling, being the one to reassure others. “I know he’s big, but I’ve seen him around Hogsmeade before when me and Gran have visited her friends. His name’s Hagrid, and he’s actually pretty nice…” he trailed off as the three turned to him, surprised.
“What is he?” Mikasa asked bluntly.
Neville shrugged. “I always thought it would be rude to ask.”
The three did not appear to be overly reassured by that, but at least they didn’t look like they were about to bolt anymore.
Neville continued, “H-he once told me about how he used to talk to my Mum.” Something in Neville’s eyes grew a little sad then, the three of them noticed immediately. Grief was something they all recognised.
After a moment, they came to silent agreement, and followed Neville as he decided to lead by example and started to follow after the other first years.
“Ye' all get yer firs' sight o' Hogwarts in a sec," they heard Hagrid call over his shoulder, "jus' round this bend here."
There was a loud "Oooooh!"
The narrow path had opened suddenly onto the edge of a great black lake.
Perched atop a high mountain on the other side, its windows sparkling in the starry sky, was a vast castle with many turrets and towers.
“It looks a little like Mitras,” Armin muttered, and Mikasa nodded in agreement.
Eren looked over at them. “Really?”
They silently nodded, eyes haunted by memories.
“No more'n four to a boat!” Hagrid called, pointing to a fleet of little boats sitting in the water by the shore. The Shiganshina Three plus Neville quickly made for a boat. If said boat was almost as far from Hagrid as it was possible to be, then well, Neville noticed, but decided to not comment. He wondered what it was about Hagrid’s height that had the other three so scared. Then again, he supposed that they were all from the muggle world, and thus weren’t as used to odd things that happened with magic as he was.
"Everyone in?" shouted Hagrid, who had a boat to himself. "Right then -- FORWARD!"
I’ve seen him before, Eren realised suddenly. Where have I… then Eren remembered.
Mikasa and Armin’s heads snapped around to stare at Eren, and Neville outright gaped at his language.
“What is it?” Mikasa demanded.
“I’ve seen him before,” he said, in English so that Neville could understand him.
“When?” Armin asked, concerned at his tone.
“He was one of the last people I saw before I was left on the Dursley’s doorstep,” Eren spat. “I don’t know for sure if he’s the one who left me there, but…”
“I’ll kill him.”
Neville turned to look at Mikasa, and recoiled at the look on her face. He didn’t know what she had just said, but he had a feeling that it wasn’t friendly.
“No, don’t,” said Armin grimly, placing a restraining hand on her arm. “We don’t know what his motives were. We wait,” he insisted.
“Fine,” Mikasa snapped, and subsided, somewhat.
The four of them ducked when Hagrid told them to, but were too distracted to properly appreciate the glorious view of Hogwarts.
The Shiganshina three by the fact that there was a potential enemy in their midst, Neville by how startled he was at how hostile he had seen them suddenly become.
Especially Mikasa after Eren’s revelation.
But, he realised, that reaction was in keeping with what they had said about the good parts of Hufflepuff. Standing up for one another, and coming to their defence.
Even though he was somewhat unnerved by the violence in their expressions, Neville decided that he would rather be on their side than against them.
They had already shown that they were willing to be on his side, he recalled. He now had an inkling of what that might come to mean, and it was a heady feeling.
What must it feel like to trust that people like this would stand up for you, no questions asked?
Neville screwed his courage to the sticking place (oh the irony,) and decided that he wanted to find out for himself.
Chapter 10: Everyone gets Sorted Out
The first years disembarked from the boats, and followed Hagrid to the castle door. He knocked on it, and it was opened by a tall woman whom Eren and Mikasa immediately recognised as Professor McGonagall.
“The firs' years, Professor McGonagall,” said Hagrid.
“Thank you, Hagrid. I will take them from here,” she replied, pulling the oak door open wide.
The entrance hall, like the rest of the castle, was huge. The Shiganshina Three however, having grown up in the shadow of Wall Maria were unimpressed. Though Armin did note that though the walls were lined with lit torches, the air was not unbearably smoky. It was a subtle magic, but one that Armin appreciated. When he whispered about it into Mikasa’s ear, she too nodded.
Somewhat more impressive was the magnificent marble staircase facing them, which led to the upper floors, but compared to Gringotts, it was understated.
They followed Professor McGonagall across the flagged stone floor. They could all hear the drone of hundreds of voices from a doorway to the right, and so assumed that the rest of the school must already be waiting for them. Neville seemed to be rather nervous, but Eren noticed and patted his shoulder comfortingly.
“I don’t know about you,” Eren muttered, “but I’m starving. I can’t imagine this will take too long- they wouldn’t want to cause a revolt amongst the students.”
Neville smiled weakly back at him.
Professor McGonagall showed the first years into a small, empty chamber off the hall. They crowded in, standing rather closer together than they would usually have done, peering about nervously.
"Welcome to Hogwarts," said Professor McGonagall. "The start-of-term banquet will begin shortly, but before you take your seats in the Great Hall, you will be sorted into your houses.”
“See?” Eren hissed smugly, ignoring the sharp look McGonagall shot him.
Neville’s smile grew a smidgeon stronger.
“The Sorting is a very important ceremony,” McGonagall continued, “because, while you are here, your house will be something like your family within Hogwarts. You will have classes with the rest of your house, sleep in your house dormitory, and spend free time in your house common room…” she continued on, but Eren quickly tuned her out, more interested in looking about at his future classmates. The red-haired boy who had been mean to Neville was standing nearby, glaring at a boy who had hair that was a whiter blonde than Armin’s had ever been who stood smirking between two larger and rather hefty boys with dopey looks on their faces. Twin girls with dark skin stood closely together, clearly for solidarity, beside a girl who resembled Mikasa’s appearance from their past life. Eren could not help his double-take when he saw her, and noted that Armin did the same thing.
(Mikasa took a moment to figure out their reactions, and then blinked. Huh. So that was what people meant when they said she was exotic-looking. It was somehow more obvious when it was someone else. It wasn’t that she’d never seen what people on this world called “Asians”, but Lower Tadfield wasn’t exactly a multi-cultural centre, so she’d never met one in person before.)
"The Sorting Ceremony will take place in a few minutes in front of the rest of the school. I suggest you all smarten yourselves up as much as you can while you are waiting.” She glared around at a few of the scruffier-looking first years, but the Shiganshina Three were unruffled.
(Neville on the other hand was uncomfortably reminded of his Gran.)
"I shall return when we are ready for you," said Professor McGonagall. "Please wait quietly."
She left them, and a few minutes later, pale, insubstantial beings came out of the walls.
“Holy shit,” breathed Armin. “Are they…”
“Ghosts,” said Neville, his tone steady. The Shiganshina three heard how unconcerned he was, and stared. They had yet to hear such a self-assured tone from him thus far, and the difference made when Neville wasn’t sounding nervous was stark. Neville half-squirmed under their attention, reverting to form. “What? It’s not like they’re poltergeists. They can’t hurt you. They’re dead,” the side of his mouth quirked a little. “Some of them are even friendly- my Great-great Uncle Bertie haunts one of my family greenhouses, and he’s tried to teach me everything he knows.”
As though to confirm what Neville just said, a few of the ghosts smiled at the gathered children.
"New students!" exclaimed a rather rotund ghost wearing some sort of robe. True to "About to be Sorted, I suppose?"
A few people nodded mutely.
"Hope to see you in Hufflepuff!" the ghost continued. "My old house, you know."
"Move along now," said a sharp voice. "The Sorting Ceremony's about to start.”
One by one, the ghosts floated away through the opposite wall. Armin couldn’t help but notice how most of them looked somewhat offended at her tone. He exchanged a glance with Mikasa, and saw that she had noticed the barely-veiled hostility too. Interesting.
Not something that they had time to worry about just now though.
"Now, form a line," Professor McGonagall told the first years, "and follow me."
Wordlessly, Mikasa nudged Neville into line between Armin and Eren, and then followed behind them. Armin noticed what she was doing, but didn’t protest. He was well-used to her over-protective instincts from their first life, and it was nostalgic for him for her to be looking out for him again already. A large part of him just wanted to find a quiet corner and hold his partner for a few more hours, but he knew it would have to wait for now. He hoped they ended up in the same house. The alternative didn’t bear thinking about.
Eren also noticed Mikasa’s mother-henning, but chose to pretend that it was entirely for Armin and Neville’s sakes. (Also, if he protested, then Mikasa would kick his arse. If there was one thing he had finally admitted to himself, it was that his Sister was able to out-hardcore him without even breaking a sweat, and she was not above making painful public points should he make her feel underappreciated. (He did appreciate her. Of course he did. The fact that she was his Sister aside, he wasn’t suicidal.))
They stepped through the double-doors that entered the great hall, and the Shiganshina three were impressed by the spectacle.
“If I didn’t already believe in magic,” Armin murmured to Eren, “the sight of hundreds of candles floating in the air and not dripping wax on the heads of everyone below would have probably sold it to me.”
“Have you looked at the ceiling?” Eren muttered back. “I skimmed Hogwarts A History, and I didn’t think it would look that amazing.”
Neville, seeing the mildly-impatient, mildly-anticipatory crowd of students below, gulped, but Mikasa elbowed him and pointed towards the battered and dirty-looking hat that Professor McGonagall was placing on a four-legged stool in between them and the audience.
“What, exactly,” Mikasa questioned him under her breath, “is that for?”
It was at that point that the hat started to sing.
Mikasa blinked. “Never mind,” she muttered to Neville.
A hat that sang blatant propaganda. Now she’d seen everything. And what was that it said about being able to see inside their heads?
Mikasa shared an uneasy glance with Armin, who naturally was on the same wavelength as she was (oh how much she had missed that… Eren tried, and she loved him dearly, and always would, but he was about as subtle as a singing hat painted purple and on fire) and who wrinkled his nose in the sign that they had made between themselves meaning, “hold formation until further intel has been gathered.” Mikasa sincerely hoped that that hat could keep its brim shut, otherwise there might be… trouble.
Professor McGonagall now stepped forward holding a long roll of parchment.
"When I call your name, you will put on the hat and sit on the stool to be sorted," she said. "Abbott, Hannah!"
A pink-faced girl with blonde pigtails stumbled out of line, put on the hat, which fell right down over her eyes, and sat down. A moments pause—
"HUFFLEPUFF!" shouted the hat.
Mikasa took it back. Now she had seen everything. These magic people were, as Pepper would say, completely fucking bonkers. Who the hell thought it would be a good idea to give a telepathic hat the job of deciding their futures?
Then again, she supposed that it wasn’t really any more backwards than anything else she had seen in the wizarding world in regards to decision-making processes.
At least the process was simple. Children sat on the stool, put the drab hat on their heads, waited for some varying period of time, and then proceeded to their house table, whilst people clapped politely.
Mikasa blinked as Armin stepped forward, and then remembered that that was his name in this world. This might take a little getting used to.
Armin put the hat on his head, and waited.
“No need to be so nervous,” said a small voice in his ear, “I don’t bite, wait, what the blazes!?”
“Any chance we can keep that between ourselves?” Armin muttered under his breath.
“You’re mentally 34, male, and in the body of a 12 year old girl. And you’re in love with an – according to you – older woman who is in the body of an eleven year old girl,” the hat said sternly. “Give me one good reason- oh.” The hat was silent for a moment. “So you’re a reincarnation, not some kind of creeper,” it said in a much friendlier tone.
Armin nodded slightly, ignoring the whispers he could hear in the hall. “I’m trying to make the best of a bad situation here. I have to look out for Eren, because otherwise he’s going to get his fool-self killed, again and Mikasa, because otherwise she’s going to get herself killed trying to prevent that. I, I… I can’t let her lose Eren again, that nearly broke her last time. And more than that, I can’t lose her…” he murmured as softly as he could.
Armin had the disconcerting feeling that his memories were being rifled through like records in a discount bin. “Merlin’s beard, kid, your past life reads like something out of a horror story, and… oh my tattered brim.” The hat whistled lowly. “If this friend of yours you call Eren is in the body of Harry Potter, you’re going to have your work cut out for you. Especially if I sort him into Gryffindor like everyone is expecting me to.”
Armin shook his head, composing himself. “Bravery isn’t the strongest part of Eren’s personality. I mean, it’s not that he isn’t brave, or chivalric, it’s just that he’s mostly just angry.”
“Well there isn’t exactly an ‘angry’ house,” the hat pointed out.
“Not the point I’m making,” Armin insisted. “You’ll get a look at the inside of his head in a minute, and then you’ll see what I mean. Look at why he gets so angry.”
The hat made a dubious noise, but instead of arguing, it replied, “well, I can see where you at least are going. You’ve got the brains to do extremely well in Ravenclaw, but we’ve been talking long enough, and with that kind of loyalty, better be HUFFLEPUFF!” it said, shouting the last word for the rest of the Great Hall to hear.
Armin took the hat off his head, and smiled back at his friends, offering a thumbs-up before he walked over to a table full of students with yellow ties and welcoming beams.
A couple more kids were sorted, and then, “Eren Jaeger-Smith!”
Eren stepped forward, and put the hat on his head.
“…and I thought that other kid’s head had some shit in it,” the hat mumbled.
“What?” Eren demanded, offended.
“You’re practically a berserker in the body of an eleven year old kid. I haven’t seen anything like this since the Middle Ages, and from what I can see you’ve been like this since before you were this old in your previous life. Merlin. If I hadn’t come across that man in a girl’s body first, you’d be the weirdest kid I’ve sorted this century.”
“Hey!” Eren protested, loud enough to get some bewildered and interested looks from his audience.
“Oh calm down,” the hat said. “I wasn’t disrespecting your friend. Although wow. Those eight years you missed? Not necessarily a bad thing for you to have missed, if you ask me.”
“I didn’t ask you,” Eren scowled. “And I don’t care how bad it was. I would never have left them alone if I’d known…”
“Huh,” the hat interrupted. “I see what he meant. Alright then. I can work with this. Well kid, thanks in advance for making my life more interesting for the next couple of years- considering that I sit on a shelf in the headmaster’s office all year, I’m thinking the conversations I’m going to be overhearing are going to be fascinating with you and your friends around. The proverbial fly on the wall has nothing on me, and you are definitely going to shake things up in HUFFLEPUFF!”
Eren took the hat off his head, and quickly joined Armin. As Mikasa started walking towards the hat before her name was even called (it was obviously going to be her, so why wait,) she could see the two of them whispering together, looking somewhere between smug, annoyed and freaked out. She glanced up at the staff table, and was interested to see that Dumbledore looked intrigued, McGonagall looked disappointed, and Snape looked perturbed.
Sprout on the other hand, looked downright smug.
Mikasa shot her a smile, and put the hat on her head. She didn’t bother wondering what the expressions could mean- that was more Armin’s thing. Assuming he hadn’t already noticed (she doubted this, but it never hurt to be sure,) she would tell him later, and he would analyse what the expressions could mean better than she ever could.
If the hat didn’t put her with her Brother and her Lover, then she was going to –
“BLOODY HELL!” the hat shouted.
The hall went deathly silent.
“Oh, sorry,” the had said in a somewhat chagrined tone of voice. “I didn’t mean to say that out loud.”
Mikasa rolled her eyes.
“Honestly though, that line of thought was a little uncalled for,” it sniffed. “I’m just trying to do my job. And I already saw in your Brother’s head, so I know about the vow you too made, and frankly lady, even without that, you’re the scariest pure Hufflepuff I’ve seen in centuries.”
Mikasa just waited patiently.
Like a crocodile in a billabong.
Thinking of what she would do to the hat if it didn’t keep its brim shut about her and her boys.
“Alright, alright,” the hat said in a distinctly nervous tone, “go join your boys in HUFFLEPUFF!”
Mikasa ignored the tiny sigh of relief she heard as she removed the hat from her head, and moved swiftly over to where Eren and Armin were sitting.
“That hat,” she said, “had better…”
“Shhh,” Armin said, folding her into his arms. “Don’t worry. We’ll burn that bridge if we get to it.”
Mikasa leaned her head against his shoulder, and hid a small smile in her lover’s bushy hair. (This gained them a few odd looks from the children sitting around them at the table, but most of them were more interested in the ongoing sorting, and so it was not remarked upon. Yet.)
Next, since there wasn’t anyone with a surname beginning with ‘K’, it was Neville Longbottom’s turn.
“Huh,” the hat said, its tone indecipherable to Neville when he put it on. “Well at least I won’t have to try and convince you that you wouldn’t fit in well in Gryffindor— that’s not a slight, kid,” it said sternly when Neville crumpled slightly, “you’ve got a good heart, and you crave acceptance and I’d rather put you somewhere where that’s valued and not going to be taken advantage of. And don’t forget that your mother was a Badger too. Not to mention those new friends of yours... yes, they do like you, oh Merlin, small wonder they managed to get you onside so fast, kid, with a family like that, who needs enemies? Either way, even without having met those lunatics, you’d be a good fit for the house of Loyalty and Hard Work.”
Neville’s spine straightened. That was right, and Eren had said so, and made it sound like a good thing, and so he was going to make the best of what was doubtless going to be a poor reaction from his relatives.
The hat chuckled, but not unkindly. “From what I can see of your head, you’re a good kid, so I’m going to give you some free advice. I can’t tell you what I saw in another student’s head, but from what I’ve seen, those three you met on the train are going to walk straight into trouble.”
Neville bit his lip, but didn’t protest. That was the impression he had got from them as well. Despite that…
“Oh why do I even bother,” the hat muttered. “Well, at least I know this is going to be a good match. Try not to let them get you killed in HUFFLEPUFF!”
Neville took the hat off, and looked over to see Armin, Eren and Mikasa grinning widely at him and beckoning him over.
He grinned back. Friends. The hat had confirmed it. This might be the start of the best year ever.
The rest of the students were sorted, the Headmaster made an odd little speech that wasn’t as funny as he thought it was, and then suddenly there was FOOD.
The Shiganshina Three, who remembered what famine was like, thought the emphasis was appropriate to the size of the feast that was suddenly in front of them.
“Wow,” breathed Eren.
Mikasa and Armin nodded silently.
“What, haven’t you ever seen a conjured feast before?” a red-haired girl who later introduced herself as Susan Bones asked in a somewhat surprised tone.
“Nah,” said Eren. “We’re not from magical households.”
“Oh,” said the pig-tailed girl who had been sorted first (Hannah Abbott, Armin remembered,) “so you’re all muggleborn then?”
The questions were asked in a tone of friendly curiosity, so Eren found himself more than happy to respond. “I’m technically not, but Mikasa and Armin are. Neville, your family are magical right? You seem to know about this world.”
Neville nodded. “Yes. I’m a pureblood,” he said simply, and a boy who introduced himself as Ernie Macmillan chimed in and said that he was too.
From the expression on Susan Bones’ and Ernie Macmillan’s faces (and the fact that he knew Bones and Macmillan were both Old names in the Wizarding world), when he in turn introduced himself as Neville Longbottom, he suspected that they probably knew all about his family, but to his relief, neither of them said anything.
Instead Susan asked Eren how someone could be “technically” not muggleborn.
She nodded sympathetically when Eren explained that he was an orphan, (this time forgoing the explanation about his relatives, he didn’t want to put anyone off their food). “I’m a half-blood myself. I live with Dad and Auntie Amelia though, because Mum got scared when she found out that we were all magic.”
Armin found this interesting. “When did she find out?”
Susan shrugged. “When I was four, I summoned a ball from across the room, and Auntie Amelia says it freaked Mum out good and proper. Then after she figured out what Dad and Auntie do for a living, she decided that she didn’t want to end up dead like the rest of my family, so she moved to New Zealand. I talked to her once, and she said that if it wasn’t for the fact that I was magic too, she would have taken me with, but she,” Susan made air-quotes, “‘didn’t feel equipped’ to look after a kid with ‘special needs’ like mine,” she shrugged at the mildly horrified looks she was getting from a few of the other Hufflepuffs around her. “It’s alright. Dad and Auntie are more than enough for me. She can’t help being a Muggle.”
“It’s not because she was a Muggle,” Armin said in a tone that spoke of endless patience. “My parents were frankly relieved when we found out about magic, because suddenly the weird things that kept happening around me made sense.”
“Mine too,” chimed in a boy with curly blond hair and a somewhat upper-crust accent. “Well, Father was anyway. Mother was a little disappointed that I wouldn’t be going to Eton, but magic,” he grinned. “I’m Finch-Fletchley by the way. Justin Finch-Fletchley.”
Mikasa snorted. “Our Mum flat-out didn’t believe it originally, but after a couple of the teachers showed up and showed her some things, and after Diagon Alley, she stopped thinking she’d accidentally cooked with the wrong mushrooms. Again.”
Armin’s eyebrows raised to his hairline.
Mikasa blinked, and then said in their language, “Oh wow, I haven’t told you about Sunflower yet, have I?”
Armin shook his head.
Eren grinned. “Our ‘mother’ is an interesting lady. Our big sister Pepper though, girl after Mikasa’s heart.”
“Right,” Armin muttered. He was going to have to get the low-down, and soon.
“What’s that language?” Hannah asked them.
The three of them exchanged glances, but before Armin could make something up (it wouldn’t do for someone to go and discover that there was no such language on this world as the one they spoke,) Dumbledore stood up to give another speech.
Like his first speech, a number of odd things were said, but by far the strangest was:
“And finally, I must tell you that this year, the third-floor corridor on the right-hand side is out of bounds to everyone who does not wish to die a very painful death.”
Armin blinked, appalled.
“Isn’t he supposed to be the headmaster?” he asked rhetorically, “it’s like he’s never met a kid before!”
“What do you mean?” Eren asked him.
“What was your reaction to being told that going beyond the walls was certain death? Hell, what was my reaction?”
“Point,” conceded Eren, as Mikasa rolled her eyes.
“If you two even think about it,” she warned lowly.
Eren and Armin both threw up their hands in supplication.
“Wasn’t even thinking about it, Darling,” Armin said.
Mikasa rounded on Neville and the other children sitting within earshot.
“And that goes for you lot too. Don’t. Even.”
“Yeah,” Eren said, side-eyeing Mikasa, a little warily, “take my advice, and don’t make her worry. You won’t like her when she’s worried.”
The other first-year Hufflepuffs as one observed Mikasa’s expression, gulped, and hurried to promise that none of them were going to go looking for trouble.
“Good,” was all Mikasa replied.
As the Houses were all dismissed to go to their common rooms, a few of the elder Hufflepuffs who had overheard the conversation between the firsties exchanged looks. It seemed like the new crop might be worth keeping an eye on.
(And if anyone had told them an hour ago that a short eleven-year-old girl with blonde hair and freckles could have an expression that scary, most of them would have laughed. They weren’t laughing now.)
It was only later, when the students had all been sent to their respective dormitories, (after a friendly welcoming speech from Sprout, and the firsties had been set up with mentors from the fourth year, as was traditional in Hufflepuff House,) that one of the elder students wondered aloud to his dorm-mates.
“Hey, wasn’t Harry Potter supposed to be a firstie this year? I wonder what happened to him.”
The topic was one that would be idly discussed on and off for quite a while.
Little did they know that their Defence Against the Dark Arts professor was currently asking the same question in a rather different tone of voice.
Hufflepuff, Neville quickly realised, was not really what he had expected.
On the one hand, almost every person in Hufflepuff was nice to him. This was somewhat unfamiliar in his general experience, but overall something that fit with the stereotypes he had heard- “but at least they’re nice” was the general back-handed compliment after the usual jokes. The jokes about people showing the traits that the Sorting Hat had not advertised about Hufflepuff but were generally understood to be associated with the house- not overly bright, not overly brave, and about as cunning as a rabbit.
Having actually met his fellow Hufflepuffs though, Neville had started to figure out a few things. Watching people was something he had always done, partly because he was a little shy, but mostly because he needed to know when attention was about to come his way. In his experience, attention was very rarely a good thing. Considering that Great Uncle Algie had almost killed him a number of times- falling out the window had been terrifying, and then there was that time before, at Blackpool pier, when his magic hadn’t kicked in in time…
Suffice to say, that Neville knew the value of staying below peoples’ notice.
Neville had originally thought that Hufflepuffs would understand that too, providing a kind of kinship for something that Neville was ashamed of (the small voice in his head that always whispered that he wasn’t good enough, wasn’t good enough to be a real wizard, wasn’t good enough to be a Gryffindor, wasn’t good enough to be his father’s son…) something that proved how weak he was, how unworthy of notice.
But, Neville was coming to realise, most Hufflepuffs remained below notice not because they were unworthy of it, but because when it came down to it, they didn’t see the point.
Brains might get you good grades, but focussed hard work with help from people who knew the material could do the same thing, and Hufflepuff study groups were, Neville quickly learned, intense.
Cunning might convince people to do things for you, so that you could pursue your ambitions, but friends would do the same thing, without the need to manipulate, and without the potential for hard feelings.
Bravery might allow you to do great deeds, but was it not better to go into battle with comrades that you trusted at your back?
Neville had thought before Hogwarts that (if he managed to get there at all) he would end up in Hufflepuff because that was the best he could ever be.
It wasn’t until he had spoken to Eren, and Mikasa, and Armin (but mostly Eren) that he realised that not only was that not a bad thing, but it might even be the best thing that had ever happened to him.
(Considering that the other first-year he had met on the train had been that Weasley boy, who had proceeded to make fun of Trevor, who had become a Gryffindor, Neville thought on that basis alone, he had dodged a blasting hex.)
And meeting the other ‘Puffs, who had hosted a party in the common room to welcome the first-years, who had been so kind, so nice, so welcoming, wanting to get to know him, because he was him, and not his father’s son or his grandmother’s grandson, and just because the first-years were all one of them now…
Neville had never felt like he really belonged anywhere. He had never felt like he fit.
He had never felt worthy.
Ever since he had met the Jaeger-Smiths and Armin on the train…
Neville had hoped that his life might change upon entering Hogwarts, but this was not something he would have even dreamed of.
These were the thoughts running through Neville’s head as he sat down at the Hufflepuff table the next morning, sipping pumpkin juice and eating porridge with honey and apple and pear compote.
“Mornin’ Nev,” Eren yawned as he sank down next to him, blinking drowsily.
Across the table, Armin and Mikasa were already seated, leaning into each other in a way that made Neville realise that they really must be quite close friends. He wondered how long they had known each other for.
“I would kill for some coffee right now,” Eren grouched as he poured himself pumpkin juice from the pitcher.
“Coffee will stunt your growth,” Mikasa said mildly, but in a way that expressed the likelihood of Eren ever consuming coffee without her having words to say about it.
Neville shivered slightly, but Eren merely snorted derisively.
(Neville was once again reminded that Gryffindor did not have the monopoly on bravery.)
It was at this point that Professor Sprout wandered around to them, and handed them their timetables.
“Here you all go, now, mind you ask the older students you’ve been buddied up with where to go- Hogwarts can be quite a maze, and your buddies will ensure you don’t get lost,” Professor Sprout said, beaming at them all.
Neville looked up the table, and caught the eye of his mentor, a fourth-year named Cedric Diggory. Diggory grinned at him, and flashed him a thumbs-up.
Everything was going so wel-FUCK!
Neville choked on his pumpkin juice as he looked down at the first class he had.
He had almost forgotten.
How could he have forgotten?
How could he have forgotten that the potions professor was none other than Severus Snape, convicted Death Eater?
A firm hand pounded him between the shoulder blades, and Neville started breathing properly again, and turned to see his new friend (and there was a word that Neville had rarely ever applied to another person of his acquaintance) looking at him concernedly.
“What’s the matter, Nev?”
“P-p-p-professor S-s-n-n-nape. He’s a, he’s a…” Neville trailed off, cursing how his stutter always got so much worse when he was upset.
“He’s a what, Neville?” Armin asked him softly. Patiently. Leaning across the table with her brown eyes full of concern.
“D-d-d-death Eater,” Neville whispered, feeling as though all the blood had rushed from his cheeks straight to his heart, which was beating erratically.
“Death Eater?” Armin asked, confused. “What’s a Death Eater?”
Neville shook, and opened his mouth to answer, but was interrupted by his mentor, who had seen Neville’s expression and decided to come and see what the problem was.
“A Death Eater is someone who follows You-Know-Who,” Cedric explained, concern for Neville clear on his features. Like most pureblood children, he was well-aware of the goings on in other pureblooded families, and the Longbottoms’ fates were hardly a secret. Now that he thought about it, he could see immediately why Neville would be so upset.
“Who-know-what?” Armin asked, still confused.
“No, You-Know-Who,” Cedric replied.
“But I don’t know who,” Armin insisted. “I mean, sure, I’ve seen him referred to before in a few of our texts, but who is this You-Know-Who?”
Eren rolled his eyes. “Apparently his name is Voldemort. Killed my parents,” he said bluntly, causing everyone who wasn’t a muggleborn to flinch.
“Don’t say his name!” hissed a third year Hufflepuff girl.
“Why not?” Armin asked.
“Because…” the girl trailed off. Obviously this thought had never occurred to her. “You just shouldn’t,” she insisted finally. “It makes people upset.”
“Yes, but why?” Armin asked in a reasonable tone. “I mean, of course I will call him You-Know-Who to avoid upsetting people now that you’ve explained this to me, but really, what is wrong with saying his name?”
“It’s because the Dark Lord put a Taboo on his name, meaning that he could find anyone who uttered it,” came a low-pitched drawl.
As one, the Hufflepuff table turned to stare in no little consternation at the black-clad professor who had somehow managed to approach them without alerting them to his presence.
“P-p-p-p-professor S-s-snape,” stammered Neville.
There was an uncomfortable pause.
“Well that would be right useful, and really annoying,” said Eren.
As one, the table turned to stare at him in disbelief.
“What.” Cedric appeared to have lost the ability to provide intonation in his shock.
“Well, if I knew when people were talking about me, then I could react accordingly. On the other hand, considering… well. Let’s just say that there’s probably a fair number of people who talk about me, and knowing about it all the time would probably be irritating,” Eren said.
Professor Snape appeared to want to say something about that, and Mikasa shot him a death glare that would not have looked foreign on a cobra.
The more observant students at the Hufflepuff table were extremely interested to note how this was apparently enough to cause Snape to restrain himself from commenting.
Conveniently, it was then time to go to class.
Professor Snape said as much, before sweeping away in a billow of black robes.
The Shiganshima Three exchanged looks.
This was going to be interesting.