Harry sat uncomfortably on a hard wooden chair across from Renato– from his grandfather, who looked barely five years older than himself. He squirmed a bit, bringing up the cup of coffee – Renato had sneered when he asked for tea – in his hands to breathe in the aromatic steam. It was a bit too hot yet to drink, especially given the way his throat ached from the press of metal, but holding it was calming.
Renato, meanwhile, looked entirely at ease, relaxing across a dark blue sofa with one arm holding his own coffee at chest level, while the other was thrown with indolent grace across the back. Harry was not fooled by the posture, however; although he couldn't see it, the hand behind the couch still held that gun.
Harry licked his lips, took a tentative sip of his coffee – too dark, too bitter, too hot – and licked his lips once more before finally speaking.
"Why do you look like that?"
"A curse." The answer was short and clipped; Renato would obviously not elaborate on this.
"And stop calling me that," the man continued. Harry startled; he had not spoken aloud, he thought. Renato looked darkly amused.
"You did it again. You don't need to speak aloud for me to know what you're thinking. And my name is Reborn, now; Renato is long dead." Harry only vaguely registered the last part; he had startled and directed his gaze to the floor immediately upon the implication of mind reading. Stupid, I should have realized before, with the way his eyes probed like that!
Ren– Reborn snorted. "Stop that. It's not like I can tell what you jerked off to last night. Your private, dirty little thoughts are safe."
Harry flushed with anger and embarrassment and jerked up his head to glare at the man. "Well sorry for being cautious of a Legilimens," he hissed. His anger abated when Reborn paused at the term.
"Ah. Is that what you wizards call it?"
"Why do you say that? 'You wizards,' like you aren't one?"
"Because I'm not." Flat, bland, incongruously terrifying. Harry swallowed nervously at the deadly tone, and Reborn eyed him speculatively. "How about a trade? I'll tell you a little story, and you tell me what you were so eager not to before: how you were able to exchange 'personal favors' with the heads of governments."
At Harry's tentative nod, Reborn took a long, slow drink, watching him darkly over the rim, and began.
"The story goes something like this: the only heiress to a prominent pureblood family had a child out of wedlock and refused to disclose the father's identity. She was thoroughly disgraced, of course," Reborn sneered sardonically, "but the family could not be without an heir. Why blame the child for the crime of his mother? And so the boy was raised for ten years, until he was discovered to have no magical abilities."
He paused and glanced at Harry, whose eyes were wide with understanding.
"The disgrace was unbearable, and rather than live with the shame of claiming a bastard squib, the child and his mother were ejected from the family, touted as deceased before the family's contemporaries. It is fortunate, at least, that the two were not truly murdered." Reborn gestured with his coffee in Harry's direction, who shivered at the thought of never having been born.
"The mother, as a pureblood heiress, had no will or ability to work, particularly in the muggle world. The boy was young and flexible and was able to adapt to the change, was able to find work where his mother could not. Upon the mother's death of pneumonia two years later, the boy took a new name, fully embraced the…unsavory society unique to Italy, and the rest is history."
The rest is history. How, how could this man sum up his entire life in so few words? A lifetime's worth of experience rolled off him like a miasma. He had seen the light, seen the gray, seen the dark – probably lived the dark, given the way he had shot first and asked later.
"What was her name?" Reborn asked quietly, suddenly. Harry stared blankly for a moment, shaken from his thoughts and thrown by the non-sequitor, then scrambled into his pocket to pull out a miniature photo album.
"Ah, my wand…?" he asked tentatively. Reborn stared at him piercingly for a moment, before acquiescing. Harry caught the old holly wand with a grateful nod and hurriedly restored the album to its full size, flipping to the first page.
"Violet. Violet Katharine Evans nee Livingston. She's in her thirties here, older than when you knew her, but…"
"This is unbelievable," Reborn muttered, but the evidence was staring him in the face. There, in the picture before him, was the woman he vaguely remembered from all those years ago. She had been out with a friend at a popular evening club, he recalled, and it had seemed a terrible shame to leave those lovely green eyes looking so lonely. So he had approached her, spoken to her soft and quiet and wicked and she had followed him into a back room to be tended to.
Afterwards, she had been a regretful mess, had slapped him for seducing a married woman and had scurried home. Reborn was not bitter over her regret, but he had been vaguely disgruntled that the night had ended on such a sour note. About a year later, he was cursed into the form of an infant, and that was that, a new chapter in his life opened, erasing everything that had come before.
His finger slid across the cheekbone of the woman in the photograph – Violet, who had borne his child – in a mocking parody of the way he had once stroked her warm cheek. He flipped the page in the album and was confronted with another woman, green-eyed and red-haired like her mother, but damned if that wasn't his nose, his chin, and damn him twice if the young man sitting across from him didn't share three of those four same features as well.
His thumb brushed across her features, down her temple and over her auburn hair and then back to her eyes. His daughter, dead now, but so lovely, once, so obviously vibrant and brilliant and he never even knew she had existed. His chest tightened as staggering, inexplicable loss tore through him.
"What was she like?" he heard himself ask. His grandson shifted.
"Her name was Lily. I can only tell you what other people have told me," he said quietly. "She and my father, James, died when I was a year old. But I've heard that she was a brilliant witch, particularly at charms and potion-making, and she had strong morals. A firecracker, too, with no tolerance for arrogance. She was a fighter, and bold and brave and kind. Here, I have–" Harry reached into his pocket to pull out one more document.
"I found this letter, sent from her to my godfather. It's all I have of her, along with that album. Most of the house we were living in was destroyed when they were killed." He handed the old, torn letter to Reborn, who took it carefully, eyes tracing over the elegant handwriting, the warm and kind words, the obvious joy in the composition. It seemed his daughter had truly loved life. And had lived a dangerous one too, given the tense subtext.
Reborn smirked without humor. She was everything he might have wanted in a child, and now everything he would never have.
"I've got copies of it all, so you can keep that letter and any pictures you want," Harry offered quietly.
Reborn simply nodded, carefully folding the letter and tucking it into his breast pocket before flipping through the album and selecting a few of the photos – of Violet, of Violet and Lily, of Lily and her husband, of Lily and a newborn Harry. He carefully stowed them away, then cleared his throat.
"Now then. I'd like to know why Lily isn't here with you, and what exactly you've done to become so influential." Harry grimaced and ran a hand through his messy hair.
"Well, it's sort of the same reason for both…"
A brief tale later, and Reborn was frowning once again. How silly these wizards were, to have put such stock in a prophecy of all things. And if they wanted a boy to save their lives, they should have at least trained him properly! Reborn was faintly ashamed on their behalf, being the successful tutor of new generations that he was.
Nonetheless, it seemed to have all worked out in the end, he supposed, with the murderer of his daughter dead by her son's hand. Although he was a tad disappointed his grandson had not seen fit to torture the man a bit before hand. Or at least, had not seen fit to tell Reborn if he had.
Oh, Reborn could certainly tell that Harry had left out significant details of the story; whole months and years seemed to simply disappear, and there were so many loose ends and inconsistencies that the hitman wanted to groan aloud at the transparency of the exclusions, but he opted to hold his tongue for the moment. His most pressing questions had been answered and he could wheedle out more details in the future; he was definitely keeping the boy.
He was family, after all. Probably.
"You realize, of course," Reborn said slowly, "that if you are lying to me, I will kill you."
"If you'd like more proof," Harry said hastily, "we can do that. Most of the old Italian cities have their own magical districts with banks that provide a blood-tracing service. You can even pick the city."
"Venice, then," Reborn said, recalling that he had a meeting with a contact there in two days. Harry brightened.
"Perfect! I've always wanted to see Venice's magical district. It's entirely under the city, you know?"
"Venice is on a water-locked lagoon."
"Well, yeah. Why d'you think it hasn't sunk yet?"
Giorgio Passerini considered himself to be a relatively intelligent man. He knew the importance of discretion, when it was appropriate to ask a question, how to probe for more information, when to back off. Such things were critical for both of his jobs: pawnbroker by day, and information broker by night.
And yet he couldn't seem to keep from screwing up this meeting with the legendary Reborn.
It had all started so well, too. He had arrived at the meeting location without a hitch – the back room of a small glassware shop, far enough from the main byways that it didn't receive much tourist traffic – and had murmured the passphrase to the clerk flawlessly. Hell, he had even arrived early! Five minutes early, granted, but an auspicious start nonetheless.
The door had creaked open precisely on time and Giorgio had tensed with a peculiar mix of anticipation, awe, and fear – he was about to meet the greatest hitman in the world.
And then holy shit there was someone with Reborn. He had been so shocked he had missed the hitman's signature greeting and had neglected to reply with the correct passphrase. The next thing he knew, there was a green pistol in his face and a cold voice asking who the fuck he was and what the fuck he thought he was doing here.
"Giorgio the broker! The broker! For the love of God, don't shoot! Um, um– a brilliant sun shines on our meeting!"
And then – dear God, how was he still alive – he had questioned Reborn. Nothing terrible, nothing uncalled-for, just a simple 'Who's that you brought along to our clandestine meeting?'
The look he had received had chilled him to the bone. It still haunted his dreams, and would linger in the back of his mind for years to come.
"Not your concern. He doesn't speak Italian. The documents?"
If it had been anyone else, Giorgio might have contested that, insisted that the visitor wait outside regardless, but, well…
He swallowed nervously and nodded instead. He glanced at the visitor – such eyes – before lifting his briefcase onto the table. He glanced at the young man again. Really, I didn't know eyes came in that color.
When he glanced back, that pistol was in his face again.
"Do you really think you can afford to look away from me?" Giorgio hadn't realized a voice could sound like death, before. He had also never been so close to soiling himself. He whimpered out an apology, gestured to his briefcase, and then promptly dropped unconscious from sheer relief when the hitman took the packet and left, green-eyed pretty boy in tow.
"What sort of meeting was that?" Harry hissed to his grandfather as they exited the shop. "I thought you were just touching base with a business partner, not threatening some poor guy!"
Harry desperately wished he'd had his translation cuff on at the time. One of George's newest – and most expensive – inventions, the translation device took the form of a pewter ear cuff heavily inscribed with runic scrollwork paired with a small tongue piercing, which together would interpret the words he heard into meaningfulness in the chosen language, and then manipulate his tongue into replying in the same language.
Unfortunately, prolonged use would result in him forgetting his native language, so he could only wear the cuff for eight hours a day. He had maxed it out earlier, and was now forced to rely on his grandfather's dubious interpretation services.
"It's his fault for acting so suspicious."
"Why was that even a concern? What sort of meeting was it that you had to worry about a spy, or – or an enemy or something?"
Reborn went quiet, regarding him intensely for a moment with an expectant sort of silence.
"Are you sure you want me to answer that?"
Harry sucked in a breath; even under normal circumstances, such a question bore heavy weight. When his dark, mysterious grandfather said it, in that tone and with that look on his face, Harry could not help but feel that his entire future hinged on his response.
But family was family.
"Too bad," Reborn deadpanned immediately, although his black eyes glittered with…something. Amusement, maybe, or satisfaction. "Maybe I'll fill you in if the blood work comes back positive."
Harry's eyes narrowed. Bastard.
"Yes, I am, but it's not nice of you to keep pointing it out."
"How did you even learn legilimency if you're a squib?" Harry said, exasperated.
"Explain 'legilimency.'" The wizard paused, then considered.
"It's mind reading, as far as I can tell. A teacher tried to explain that it's not as…er, base as that, that it's some kind of subtle art, but I couldn't tell the difference."
Reborn nodded. "You think, as long as I've been alive and as talented as I am, that I haven't learned to read everything written on your face? That, combined with the occasional impression or flash of insight, is sufficient to tell me precisely what you're thinking."
Harry hummed thoughtfully. "I suppose you're a natural legilimens, then." It's a bloody good thing you were never actually trained in it. He shuddered at the thought.
"Ah~ I've got the sudden urge to find a legilimency instructor."
"Bugger off, grandp– OW!"
"Here we are!" Reborn's grandson exclaimed, gesturing up at the tower. The iconic St. Mark's Campanile apparently served as some sort of entrance to the magical district of Venice, functioning as an elevator to the sub-city. Harry glanced at one of the tourist pamphlets he had brought along – and of which he had a seemingly endless supply, fitted into a small hide pouch around his neck. Reborn idly wondered what else his grandson was hiding in that pouch, and resolved to find out – before withdrawing his wand and tapping the orange bricks of an alcove in an elaborate key sequence.
The bricks became transparent, revealing a darkened space that stretched to accommodate them as the pair squeezed in. There was a sudden dropping sensation in the pit of Reborn's stomach, the rushing sound of powerful wind, and they were promptly deposited into a brightly lit square.
He heard Harry let out a low, impressed whistle and could not help but agree with the sentiment. It seemed muggle Venice was not, in fact, built upon over a hundred small, marshy islands, but rather upon numerous platforms, under which individual street blocks of Veneziarcano were housed and protected from the water by powerful barriers, the entirety of it somehow hidden from the eyes of the mundane.
All around him, the murky water of the Venetian Lagoon swirled and tumbled, grasses and sediment and schools of river fish ribboning past. The vaguely opalescent barriers that separated the district from the lagoon cast faint rainbows of light across the windows of vibrantly colored, Mediterranean-style storefronts. It was breathtaking, frankly, unlike anything Reborn had ever seen.
"I'd heard it was amazing here, but this is…" he heard Harry murmur. Reborn hummed faintly in agreement, but felt they had remained in one place for entirely too long – it was unfamiliar here, after all.
"Let's find this bank of yours."
Which was apparently not a problem in the slightest. A passing English-speaking tourist had heard him utter the word 'bank' and began gesturing excitedly to the left and down the street, seemingly eager to impart his newly found knowledge of Veneziarcano.
Reborn tipped his hat in thanks and turned down the street, letting his shoulder brush Harry's to inform him of the change in direction. They proceeded around the block, before promptly freezing at the sight before them.
A golden sandcastle. The bank was a giant golden sandcastle, its elaborately arched doorways and towering buttresses wrought of swells of gilded sand that glimmered in the multihued light of the city barriers. Reborn was torn between admiration for the sheer moxy in building a bank out of (obviously imitation) gold, and disdain for the ostentatious boasting. The irony was lost on him.
Harry gaped beside him at the sight, and Reborn was quick to rectify the undignified expression with a cuff to his head. His grandson huffed and frowned at him, then gestured to the elaborate script rendering itself over and over again across the front of the building.
"What does that say?"
"The Aegis," Reborn responded. "Fitting, that it would be named for the shield of Zeus, to protect from all harm."
"Huh," Harry said. "Doesn't really fit the appearance, though, does it?"
Inside the bank, they were met with yet more gold. This was not from the décor, however; the designers seemed to have realized that a solid gold interior would be less than pleasing to the eye and had instead schemed the lobby with duller crèmes and golden browns, cool greens, and hints of bright blue.
No, the metallic glimmer matching the exterior came instead from the tellers themselves, all females who appeared to be made of solid gold. Reborn actually blinked at the sight of them.
"Oh, those are Kourai Khryseai. They're magical automatons produced by the Hephasetus Corp. in Greece. Bronze, not gold, of course. Most banks around the Mediterranean use them, I think. Lucky them, we only get goblins back home," Harry said with a peculiarly twisted expression as they approached a free teller.
The bronze woman stared at them through blank, silvery eyes, then opened her mouth and spoke in a tinny monotone.
"Greetings, valued customers. How may The Aegis serve you this day?" Reborn sent Harry a brief glance. He appeared to have inherited some hint of Reborn's observational capabilities, for he seemed to know what Reborn wanted without having to be told.
"Ask her to do a bloodline check on me. They only go a couple generations retroactive, so we won't be able to tell from your blood sample about any descendents," Harry offered. Reborn duly repeated the request, and the Kourai Khryseai nodded mechanically. She carefully withdrew from beneath the desk a polished seashell bowl already filled with an herbal mix, took a drop of Harry's blood to blend in, and then poured ink over top. A moment later the metal woman let the ink drip out of the bowl and onto a clean sheet of parchment.
Reborn had no interest in Harry's paternal line, and instead granted the maternal branch his full attention. He stared at the paper before him, tempted to lift a finger to trace across the elegantly scripted names looping there, but he was in public and refrained from such telling behavior. Violet. Lily. Harry. Family. He had failed two of them by not being there, by not taking responsibility, but he would not make that same mistake a third time.
He swore it on his flames, with the entirety of his resolve.
"Harry, how would you like to come to another meeting with me in five days?"