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Pythonicus

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Harry Potter is getting tired of the chimes ringing from the walls.

No one else can hear them, so it’s not as if he has to deal with puzzled looks. (Just worshipful ones). But he knows that his mission to come back in time and change it so that the young Slytherins can stand independently of Voldemort and prevent the second war—and the deaths in the second war—has altered.

The problem is that he doesn’t know how far. And he neither wants to change his original intention to please Time or change what he is doing simply to spite this wearisome power of the universe.

But he does know that he’s going to do his duty as a professor, a protector, and a defeater of Voldemort.

In the end, teaching, protection, and war is what he knows best.

*

“Sometimes I think you are biased against me, Henry, my boy.”

Harry sighs and settles back into the chair near Albus’s desk. He’s had a few of these conversations over the past month, and they’ve only become more difficult since he’s realized that Time wants him to replace Dumbledore.

Sirius and James have sworn their oaths to him. Harry can see signs that Remus and Peter are drifting in that direction—although Harry has to admit, if only to himself, that he’s going to watch Peter damn carefully—and there are a few Ravenclaws who’ll probably get there before too much longer. The Hufflepuffs are taking longer, cautious about professors outside their Head of House when they’ve been put down so often, but probably when one of them comes, a whole bunch will.

Harry is pretty sure, from the way that Lily Evans narrows her eyes at him whenever she sees him, that she’ll demand an explanation from James soon, and then probably him, too.

There are Slytherins who are now fifth-years being led over by Regulus (pulled over, in some cases; Harry will have to speak to Regulus about that soon). Nearly every Slytherin student in sixth and seventh year is already sworn to him, and now some former Slytherins, like Andromeda Tonks and Lucius Malfoy. Lucius, in his last report, dropped hints that Harry is resigned to meaning that Narcissa Black will soon approach him.

This is not what he wanted. But it’s what he has, and he means to hold his oaths.

“Henry?”

Harry looks up. Albus appears genuinely concerned, and he might be. It’s just that concern is never far away from Albus’s notions of what he might have to do to win the war, and that’s what makes Harry cautious of him.

“I’m all right, sir.” Harry forces out a smile and sits up. “Just tired. It’s more challenging to keep up with NEWT students I trained myself.”

“Ah, yes. Your students are doing well in other classes, and applying the lessons that they have said you taught them to their classwork.”

Harry doubts this is the true purpose of this meeting, but it seems closer to it. He puts on a curious face. “Sir?”

“Well, for example, it seems that Mr. Prince has been telling Professor Slughorn that some of the teaching methods he uses, such as asking students to compete against each other for a potion as a prize, don’t work well. He shouldn’t make the students compete against each other, Mr. Prince says. He should have them work together.”

Harry holds back a laugh. Severus has mentioned that, but only in passing. Harry had no idea that he was carrying it further. “I haven’t observed one of Professor Slughorn’s classes myself.”

He drops back into silence. Albus’s eyebrows go higher and higher as he watches Harry. “And that’s all you have to say, my boy?”

Harry shrugs. “It does seem to me that we shouldn’t be encouraging our students to compete against each other, but to work together in the face of the war that’s coming. I have to admit that I don’t do anything to encourage the House rivalries and the like in my classes.”

“But you still split your students into teams and have them compete against each other.”

“Oh, of course. It’s the only way to learn some of the dueling procedures and what it’s like to actually face a coordinated group of enemies. But I split the teams up and switch members between each session, so that no one gets invested in feeling like part of a team fighting against the others. And team members are always from more than one House.”

“But marks—”

“I take the competitive aspect out of that as much as I can. I give exams, but they’re almost always practicals, and they take place in private. If students want to share their marks with each other, they can, but I don’t announce them.”

Albus only blinks at him. Harry shrugs a little. He hasn’t hidden what he’s doing. Students talk about it so much that he’s a little surprised Albus hasn’t heard about it before now.

Then again, does Albus listen to what students have to say, outside his own carefully-chosen group? Harry doubts it.

“I—I understand your desire to encourage both cooperation and an independent spirit in our students,” Albus says, picking his way carefully forwards, as if he doesn’t want to explain exactly what he thinks is “wrong” with the situation. Given that it would be hard to find anyone who agreed with him, at least among the Slytherins and most of the Gryffindors, Harry smiles at him. Albus sees it, and his voice firms. “But I must ask that you ask your students to desist from criticizing the other professors.”

“All right.”

Albus pauses. “Just like that?”

Harry shrugs. “I didn’t know they were doing that, and Mr. Prince, in particular, didn’t strike me as someone who would. I’ll ask them.”

Albus narrows his eyes. “Will they obey you?”

“I can’t promise that, Albus. Asking is all I can do.”

Of course, Harry could enforce obedience if he intended to be a lord like Voldemort wants to be, and like some of his people want him to be. All he’d have to do would be to slap a brand on some arms and threaten to bar them from his presence.

But he isn’t going to do that, no matter how smugly the walls are chiming at him right now and how thrilled it would make Regulus (and some other people). Time and teenagers will both have to live with what they’ll get.

*

“You want me to stop? But I thought you would approve.”

Harry leans an elbow on his desk and stares at Severus, who’s standing in front of him looking somewhere between agonized and furious. “I would have expected you to do it subtly, Mr. Prince. As befits the House you’re in and the talents I know you have.”

Severus blinks several times, hard. Then he says, “I never thought of it that way.”

Harry rolls his eyes a little. It was months before he decided that he could do that in Severus’s presence without the boy taking it the wrong way, but, well, now they have the kind of bond that means he can. “I do encourage you to use your minds. Simply not to—”

“Show other people we’re using them?”

“Irritate other people in their use,” Harry corrects, because the little smirk on Severus’s face is really too much. “Do, please, accept that Professor Slughorn has noticed and complained to the Headmaster.”

Severus nods, the smirk gone now. “I didn’t realize it would get you in trouble, my lord. I’m sorry.”

Harry stands up. He affects a tone of weary disappointment, not anger, because he knows it’ll work better. “What have I told you about using that title?”

Severus winces, but he doesn’t crumple the way he would have a year ago. He simply stares back, his chin rising a little. “With respect, Professor Salvare, we’re alone, and I think it’s time that we name the reality as what it is. Ignoring it doesn’t make it go away.”

“We can show respect to each other without ignoring reality. Just as I accepted your name change and haven’t slipped in it, I would think that you could call me what I prefer to be called.”

Severus’s face pales dramatically. “I—see. I didn’t think of it like that.”

Harry merely nods. “I didn’t think you had.” The only one who seems to call him lord on purpose while knowing perfectly well that he shouldn’t is Regulus, and Harry will simply continue having talks with him. “Now, as I said, please assert your opinion to Professor Slughorn without making him look like an idiot.”

“In private?”

“That would be a start.

Severus grins and bows his head. When he looks back up, the grin is still there, but it’s altered a bit. “What would happen if Professor Dumbledore started paying too much attention to you, sir?”

“He might decide that I’m a threat in the same way that Voldemort is.”

Severus gulps. “I see. Something else I didn’t think of.” He straightens his shoulders. “Thank you, sir. You’ve given me a great deal to consider.”

He marches out of the classroom with a determined stride. Harry wonders for a second if he should be worried about Severus trying to get back at Albus, but then dismisses the thought. Even if he tried, Albus would see him coming a mile away, and he has a lot of tolerance for people who are still students in school, Slytherins or not.

*

Two things happen on Halloween: Lily Evans comes to him to swear her oath, and Harry cracks the use of Voldemort’s blood to find the Horcruxes.

He’s in the middle of drawing a huge series of loops all over the parchment spread out in front of him when he hears a knock on the door. Harry calls “Come in!” without looking up. No one will ever see anything but a few doodles on the paper unless they know exactly what he’s doing.

Lily steps in, smiles at him, and glances curiously at the parchment. “What’s that, sir? Some work with Arithmancy?”

Harry opens his mouth to answer, then sits back and takes a long, hard look at the parchment. It plots the places that the Horcruxes were in his first world—or used to be, in the case of the locket—and the loops are his attempt to make the splatters that Voldemort’s blood creates when he uses it make sense.

But what if it wasn’t a map? What if it was a graph?

Harry cackles a little maniacally as he draws a large line down the side of the paper, and then another line along the bottom, and grins as he sees the dots begin to line up. Then he manages to put it aside, and focuses on Lily, who took a step back at the cackle.

“Thank you, Miss Evans, you’ve helped me solve a problem that I was working on. What can I do for you?”

Lily glances at the parchment as if she assumes that it must be more important than she thought it was, but in the end, shakes her head and refocuses on him. Her eyes are bright. Harry thinks he knows the question that’s going to come out of her mouth.

In the end, he doesn’t.

“Why haven’t you joined the Order of the Phoenix, Professor Salvare?”

Harry settles back in his chair and considers Lily. She flushes under his scrutiny, but keeps looking steadily at him. She has the spirit that he’s been told about, and from what Harry’s heard, she’s managed a difficult balancing act between her boyfriend and her best friend since she started dating James.

“Has the Headmaster told you what the Order’s purpose is, Miss Evans?”

“To fight You-Know-Who.”

Harry nods. “But he isn’t doing it by partnering with allies, or reinforcing the Aurors, or trying to counteract the fear that Voldemort spreads.” He ignores Lily’s flinch at the name. Not everyone has to be the same in their bravery. “Even the Order’s clashes with the Death Eaters are rare. He thinks that creeping around in the shadows, whispering dire warnings about Voldemort, is the best thing to do.”

Lily wrinkles her brow. “Well…don’t we have to be careful around him, sir?”

“Of course, but fearing him too much doesn’t do anything to stop him. In fact, it’s more likely to make people give up on the battle before it even begins.”

“Why do you think the Headmaster is doing that, then, sir?”

“I think that he’s let understandable caution and the desire to keep the Order secret overcome straightforward battle tactics. If he stood up against Voldemort openly and had the Order members do the same thing against the Death Eaters, that would inspire people more.”

“I’ve heard about the duel that you had with You-Know-Who this summer. You didn’t kill him or anything.”

“No,” Harry admits. He doesn’t think he should reveal the Horcruxes to someone who’s not even sworn to him yet. “But I did wound him, and more, I made him look ridiculous in front of a lot of people. Some of the spells I used during the duel, and the fact that I wounded him with a knife, made sure of that.”

“Huh.” Lily puckers her brow harder. Harry finds himself watching her and wondering if he does that in a mirror, and then cuts himself off. He doesn’t need to wonder that, not exactly. “I suppose that is more than the Order does.”

Harry smiles. “I won’t stop you if you want to join them, Miss Evans. It’s not my place to say how you should fight in this war.”

“But you think I should?”

“You’re a Gryffindor who’s questioning me about me joining the Order,” Harry says dryly. “I think you’ve already made your decision.”

Lily smiles. “You’re right. And the Headmaster did send me an owl about a week ago telling me some of the information about the Order, and that you hadn’t joined it, and advising me not to join you. But I disregarded it. I think I know more about you than he does, after being in class with you for more than a year.” She draws her wand and stands tall. “I want to join you, sir.”

Harry can see that she’s visibly hesitating, and smiles encouragingly at her. “Are you all right, Miss Evans? Did you have something else you wanted to say?”

“You won’t Mark me, will you? Only James and Black were joking about that, and I can never tell what’s jokes and what’s not with the pair of them.”

Harry considers and then discards the idea of saying something about how he doesn’t think James is joking when it comes to his affection for Lily. No, he did not come back in time to matchmake his parents, thank you very much.

“No marks,” he says. “It’s one of the things that Voldemort does which I’ve always disapproved of.”

Lily gives him a sly smile as she holds out her wand to him. “You don’t seem like a very proper lord so far.”

“Thank Merlin,” Harry says, and if his fervency puzzles her, at least she makes the oath with what seems to be a light heart.

*

“Thank you for inviting me to come see you, my lord.”

“There won’t be many more invitations for you if that name keeps up.”

Lucius hides his smile behind his teacup. Harry shakes his head a little. He knows that Lucius isn’t that much older than the Slytherins that he has in his sixth- and seventh-year classes, but it still feels strange to see him act so young.

To get rid of that feeling, Harry asks, “You were able to get away without anyone suspecting that you were coming to Hogwarts?’

Lucius nods and puts down the teacup. “It helps that Narcissa and I have moved out of the Manor, and my father no longer has control of my day-to-day life. I told my father that I wished to achieve some more independence to look better to the Ministry,” he adds, before Harry can voice his question about whether Lucius is taking a risk. “That way, if he gets arrested for his position at Riddle’s side, I can still funnel money and information to Riddle.”

Lucius has refused to call Voldemort anything but “Riddle” since Harry told him the truth about Voldemort’s origins. Well, at least it’s an improvement on “You-Know-Who.” “Very well. What have you learned?”

“Riddle is furious, my lord.” Harry directs a slashing look at him, and Lucius rolls his eyes a little, but adds, “Professor Salvare, sir. He hates that you made him look bad in that duel, and more, that you won. He’s recruiting heavily for the Death Eaters, but he’s concentrating on people outside the school. He doesn’t think that most of the people he might Mark here would be able to escape your notice and Dumbledore’s combined.”

Harry sighs. That’s one relief, at least. He knows from his historical research before he came back in time that Voldemort did Mark some of the people who were in the years between Lucius and Severus. “All right. Do you have any names of the recruits?”

“Yes. Bellatrix Black, Rabastan Lestrange, Elbion Shafiq…”

Harry mutters under his breath as he writes them down. He supposes there was never a chance of rescuing Bellatrix, and he would have found it hard to be around her anyway, but he would have liked to try.

“Thank you,” he says as he finishes, smoothing down the parchment and casting a charm on it that will make it impossible to read for anyone but him. “It’s valuable information, Lucius.”

“My fiancée would like to swear an oath to you, sir.”

Harry nods, not really surprised by that. Both Narcissa’s fiancé and sister are part of his ranks, so it makes sense that she would ask for it. But the tense expectation in Lucius’s face says that there’s something more to this. “Is there something wrong with the request? Do you not agree that she should be part of our efforts?”

That wins him a brief smile from Lucius. “I’d like to see someone try and stop her, sir. No, nothing like that. Simply that she’s concerned about my Dark Mark.”

“I thought you were able to step around it, as you said.” Harry stares at Lucius with open concern, and tries to silence the calculation in the back of his mind that says this might be a way to get off the path Time has decreed for him. If Lucius needs to be released from his oaths… “Are you no longer able to be a spy?”

“Nothing like that,” Lucius says, with a sharp shake of his head. “She simply worries that the Mark can be used to punish me. She would feel easier if you either altered it or gave me a Mark of your own that would replace it.”

Harry tenses. “Mr. Malfoy, I sent you that book on the requirements of declaring oneself a Lord in Britain for a reason.

Lucius blinks innocently at him. “I have no interest in declaring myself a Lord, sir.”

Harry groans and covers his face with one hand for a minute. Then he says, “I can alter the Mark. I won’t be giving you one of my own. Will that be enough to satisfy Miss Black?”

“Yes, sir. If not me.”

Lucius says the last words softly enough that Harry can pretend that he hasn’t heard them. He draws his wand and bends over the Dark Mark, studying it, figuring out the pulsing threads that lead back to Voldemort and might alert him if they’re altered, and the ones that won’t. The actual alteration will need to wait until he’s sure of what he’s seeing, but it can’t hurt to begin now.

*

Harry knew from the gleam in Regulus’s eyes when he came through the classroom door that day that he was going to try something, but he never suspected what it actually was. He asked Regulus to show off his defensive Transfiguration in a duel with another fifth-year Slytherin called Crystal Meadowes, and Regulus nodded obediently, but now he whips away from his opponent and launches a Tripping Hex at Harry.

Harry lets the edge of it catch his robe and make him stumble, although not more than that. He can’t afford to lose the respect of his classes, especially his Slytherins, but on the other hand, he thinks Regulus is trying to make him look him supernaturally competent to attract the loyalty of anyone who isn’t in Harry’s fellowship yet. Harry just wants to look a little ordinary.

Regulus grins at him, and Harry snorts. “Please direct your spells back at your opponent, Mr. Black.”

Regulus nods and does, but he sends a very obvious smirk at some of the other Slytherins, and a loud, “See?”

Ah, so that’s it, Harry decides. Regulus is securing his position among the fifth-year Slytherins by showing how powerful his spells are.

Or so Harry thinks, until he hears Regulus and Meadowes talking as they pack up their books to go to lunch. Maybe they’re only lingering because they don’t have another class to immediately run to, but Harry doubts it.

“And he really let you get away with it.” Meadows shakes her head, her frown in place. Harry knows that in his first timeline, she died among the Death Eaters in a battle two years before Voldemort’s banishing in 1981. He hasn’t approached her yet because she seems doubtful and more entrenched in blood purity than most of them. Besides, if he turns the most prominent and powerful Death Eaters, she’ll probably never get Marked anyway.

“Of course he did. I told you.”

“I mean, I know you told me. But I never expected it.”

Meadowes gives Harry one more curious glance, and then flushes when she realizes that he’s looking back at her. She leaves hastily. Harry turns to Regulus and makes his gaze go cooler.

That ceased to work on Regulus a while ago, more’s the pity. Regulus just grins at him. Harry sighs. “Mr. Black.”

“I told Meadowes that you would let me get away with tripping you in front of the class,” Regulus says. “She didn’t believe me. She didn’t think that a powerful wizard could put up with any kind of humiliation.”

“It was hardly a humiliation.”

“To someone like Meadowes, it is. And that means that she’s more likely to think of you as merciful, and someone worth following, instead of him.”

“I can actually do my own recruiting, Mr. Black. If I decide that I want to.”

“But we can help if we want to. Unless you’re going to forbid us that?”

Regulus has mastered the use of a trembling lip in a pout. It doesn’t work on Harry, but he can see the laughter in the grey eyes behind it, and that does. He rolls his eyes. “Of course I won’t forbid you, Mr. Black, and you know it. But has it occurred to you that I don’t want someone who has to be coerced into following me?”

“How is offering them persuasion and evidence coercing them?”

“Evidence of what? How much I let you get away with things?”

“Yes.”

Harry snorts before he can help himself. He has that reaction a lot around Regulus. He shakes his head. “Well, it’s true that I want to help and shelter as many people as I can. I don’t want anyone to be forced into serving Voldemort. But I don’t want to reach a particular number of followers or take Voldemort’s place.”

Regulus stops picking up his books, and gives Harry the most serious look he’s ever seen from him. “Professor Salvare, I think right now, more than most times in the last century, is a time for powerful wizards. There’s him, and there’s Dumbledore, and there’s ordinary people who don’t have a lot of protection from them. Can you blame them for seeking protection from a powerful wizard who won’t make them into slaves?”

Harry hasn’t considered it from that perspective, probably because sheltering behind a powerful wizard was never an option for him. He nods slowly. “You’re right, of course, Mr. Black. But another question occurs to me. If my value to you consists in the fact that I won’t make my followers slaves, why are you trying so hard to make me into a lord, which would ensure that that happens?”

Regulus’s jaw drops a little. Then he says, “You believe that. You really do.”

Harry frowns. “Of course I do. The requirements of becoming a magical lord or lady in Britain ensure it. That act of magic in public that will intimidate people, and the mark on their arms that would brand them—”

“There’s a middle ground,” Regulus interrupts, his eyes shining with devotion now. “Between lordship and slavery. I think your own nature would never let you become someone like him.”

Harry grimaces. He doesn’t have as much faith in himself as Regulus does. He knows what he can do. He knows what he came here to do, and even that has twisted off the path because of Time’s determination to put history back to what it used to be. He doesn’t think Regulus can confidently predict that Harry will always be a good person.

“I will still not become a lord, Mr. Black.”

“And I’ll still keep talking you up to the people who might want one but not the ones that exist, Professor Salvare. See you at lunch.” Regulus beams at him and swaggers out the door.

Harry waits until the door has closed to give a very, very long, and heartfelt, sigh.

There’s no chime from the walls, however, which is interesting. Harry wonders if that will only sound when he makes a move that is more openly towards taking Voldemort’s place.

With determination, Harry retrieves the graph he’s plotted of Horcrux locations linked by the swirls of Voldemort’s blood. It’s been difficult to work with, since the distances are relative to each other instead of absolute, but he thinks he has a lead on the first one.

Time to face the Gaunt ring.

*

Voldemort did move the ring from the shack, and now it’s located on a small, rocky island off Scotland’s coast, one that radiates a powerful Dark curse that makes anyone who approaches feel as if they’re about to come around a corner and face a man-eating predator. Harry’s impressed. It’s not subtle, but it requires more finesse than the spells that Voldemort is prone to using.

Of course, the island does have its guardians. As soon as Harry uses an incantation to turn the water between the small stepping stone he’s on and the main island to a solid floor, a tail lashes out of the sea and breaks the spell to pieces.

Harry smiles. He recognizes the gleaming green scales on that appendage, and he knows what sort of beast this is. “Will you listen to him?’ he hisses. “The one who enslaved you? Or me, the one who comes to set you free?”

There’s silence for a long moment, and then the sea serpent breaks out of the ocean in a dazzling arch, rising and rising, until the green-purple head is swaying a long way above Harry’s head.

It looks down on him, the pressure of the jade eyes overwhelming. Sea serpents actually hypnotize with their gaze more than they strangle with their bodies, which is the way that some Muggle media portrays them. But Harry isn’t affected by it, given his Parseltongue. After a long moment, the serpent tilts its head to the side and replies, “You cannot set me free. The binding goes down to the ocean floor.

Harry smiles and sits down on the little stepping stone. He brought another toy with him from the Unspeakables; he’s been visiting the Department of Mysteries here every month or so, when he has news to exchange or listen to. He holds up the crystal sculpture of a serpent and watches the real one flick a tongue in doubt.

What does that do?”

It will take your place in the binding spell, so that you may be free and your enslaver will never know that there was a switch.

The way the serpent dances in place tells Harry that his offering has been accepted. He nods and closes his eyes, holding the crystal model in his hands for a long moment, letting it absorb magic and warmth from his touch. Then he opens his eyes and casts it into the sea.

It dives and swims into the binding that coalesces around the sea serpent, and which Harry only sees then, a complex golden net anchored with something that looks like a trident; the water boils and turns transparent, and Harry sees the anchor through the model’s eyes. Then the crystal one nudges its head through the tines of the trident and swims between them, dodging back and forth, winding the net around itself.

Voldemort didn’t account for size, or the particular personality of the beast he trapped, or anything remotely similar that would tell him when someone has replaced it. There’s only an alarm spell if the guardian dies. Harry stands up, dusts his hands off, and smiles at the sea serpent.

Done.

The sea serpent turns its head slowly back and forth, reveling in its freedom. Then it shoots its body over the small rock Harry is standing on in a glittering rainbow, disappearing into the water on the other side. Harry laughs and wipes the water away, then once again turns the stretch of sea into a solid pavement.

This time, no one stops him.

He lands on the rocky island and feels the immediate pulse of the Resurrection Stone in the ring as it locks onto him. Harry shakes his head a little. The Deathly Hallows think he’s their master. Harry ignores their claim. It’s one of the reasons he became an Unspeakable in the first place, to figure out how to shed it.

The Elder Wand screamed when Harry used the Time Chamber and a jar of pickles to sever its claim on him in his first world, but that’s its problem.

He certainly isn’t about to take up the Stone now. He’s here for the Horcrux and nothing more.

Harry searches carefully, now and then letting the crystal vial of Voldemort’s blood he brought with him swing out like a pendulum, until he finds the ring, tucked in a golden box beneath an outcrop of stone. Harry snorts. Voldemort was smarter about the hiding place this time, but he still couldn’t resist the ornate box.

Harry kneels down next to it and closes his eyes. The Resurrection Stone trembles like a top in his mind, eager to obey him and destroy the Horcrux if he says so, but Harry is determined not to take up any titles, and that includes the Master of Death.

Instead, Harry draws on a pair of dragonhide gloves that he borrowed from Professor Kettleburn and modified with silk, then reaches out and flips the box open.

The ring glows at him, trying to compel him, but it’s not effective against someone who knows what the Horcrux is and about the wasting curse embedded in the ring. Harry uses his wand to Levitate the ring, and lift it up above the island until it’s a good distance from him and the box, both.

Then he stiffens his back and calls on Fiendfyre.

Confined to the small space of air between him and the Horcrux, the Fiendfyre can’t rage out of control and become large beasts the way it likes to do. It forms a thread-thin golden serpent with three heads, instead, and falls gleefully on the Horcrux.

There’s a burst of the black blood-like liquid that Harry remembers from the diary and a faint, thin scream. Then the ring disintegrates, and Harry deals with the Fiendfyre as it turns back towards him, hissing out a Parseltongue command. The three-headed serpent actually looks startled as it fades from sight.

The Resurrection Stone streaks straight towards him, seeking a bond through contact with his bare skin.

Harry holds up the dragonhide gloves. The Stone bounces off them and straight into the waves. Harry smiles a little as he watches it sink.

It calls to him, a sad tone that reminds Harry of a begging puppy, but he shakes his head. He’s not in this world to become the Master of Death. He’s here to defeat Voldemort, protect those who chose to swear to him, and make some lives happier.

“No time for your false promises,” he murmurs, and then conjures the straight path of water from the island back to his little stepping stone again. Voldemort’s spells mean that there’s no way to Apparate from the island itself.

*

“Good evening, my lord.”

Harry opens his mouth, but Lucius shakes his head from behind Narcissa’s curtseying shoulder. “She has her own sense of propriety,” he says. “And the Black family has been raised to address anyone who has a sufficient amount of power that way.”

Harry narrows his eyes. That would explain some of the problems he’s having with Regulus. On the other hand, Sirius and Andromeda don’t react that way, so he does wonder how much of that is just bollocks.

(From Lucius’s smirk, perhaps most of it).

Narcissa straightens up and stares at him. She has large blue-grey eyes and none of the expression of contempt or disgust that Harry saw most often on her face in the future—when he saw her at all. She looks tremblingly hopeful, in fact.

“You can get rid of Lucius’s Mark?” she whispers. “So that he need never regret his choices?”

“I could only get rid of it by giving him my own mark, Miss Black,” Harry says gently. “But I have come up with a different method that will protect him.”

“How?” And for all the hope in her eyes and the attempt to act like a young girl, Narcissa has the Black calculation down flat.

“I’m going to weave a spell around the Mark itself,” Harry says. “Isolate it from him, but not from Voldemort’s magic.” Both of them flinch, but keep looking steadily at him. Harry is just glad that the door of his quarters is firmly shut and he already told his students he would be unavailable to them this evening. He gestures for them to take the couch by the fire. “So his supposed lord will think that Lucius is still joined to him magically and nothing has changed, but the Mark will have no ability to affect his skin or anything else about him.” He nods to Lucius, who has extended his arm with (absurd) trust. “You will have to pay closer attention to the Mark, however, Mr. Malfoy. Otherwise, you could miss a summons that he’s issued to you. It’s going to dim the pain of that, too.”

“I can set up a ward that should do it,” Lucius whispers. “Thank you. Thank you.”

“How are you going to isolate the Mark, my lord?” Narcissa asks.

Harry sighs and lets it pass. “I will have to have your word after this that you will tell no one what I am about to reveal.” They nod eagerly, perhaps because of the idea that Lucius will be free and perhaps because it’s a secret. “I can bind a Mark that was created by a Parselmouth because I’m a Parselmouth myself.”

Narcissa settles back on the couch and puts her hand to her mouth for a second. Lucius bows his head, but not before Harry can see his eyes light up in a way he’s learned to dread.

“Just because both Voldemort and I are Parselmouths doesn’t make us worthy of reverence,” Harry snaps, feeling more than a little grumpy, and reaches for Lucius’s left arm.

Lucius still keeps looking at him as if that’s the case. Harry closes his eyes to escape the stare and seeks the Dark Mark out in his mind.

The heavy pressure of it on Lucius’s magic is like the smoke of a fire on a distant horizon. Harry spends a few minutes “breathing it in,” studying it from all angles, making sure that Voldemort hasn’t left some kind of a trap there that Harry isn’t familiar with. Then he exhales hard, and begins to speak in Parseltongue.

Mark of the serpent and the skull, obey me. Hear me. You will not touch the skin of the man whose arm you rest on. You will not touch his magic. You will not touch his heart…

Harry hisses out an exhaustive list of everything he doesn’t want the Mark to touch, just in case he’s forgotten something and the Mark will affect what he’s left out. When he finishes the list, he draws his wand and lays it on top of Lucius’s Mark, focusing his will through it.

There’s a long, surprised hiss from the serpent in the Mark, and then a shimmer of Dark magic that Harry wasn’t even aware of vanishes from the corners of his awareness. The Mark has gone dormant.

Harry sighs and releases his will, lifting his wand at the same time. When he opens his eyes, he nods in satisfaction. To all eyes, the Mark is the same as it was before; it hasn’t changed visibly. The connection to Voldemort’s magic should remain intact.

He glances up, and then away, uncomfortable with the open adoration on Lucius’s face. He stifles a sigh. Perhaps it’s too late once someone becomes a Death Eater and they’ll be a follower for life, but Harry does wish that Lucius would be able to stand on his own.

“Thank you, my lord.” Lucius rolls his sleeve down and tucks his arm back against his side.

“Are you too magically exhausted to take my oath?” Narcissa asked delicately.

Harry smiles. “No, it’s all right, Miss Black.” After he says that, Narcissa hands Lucius a significant glance, but Harry has not the slightest idea why. He decides to ignore it, and draws his wand for the oath.

Narcissa speaks the words fervently, staring directly into his eyes. Harry lets that pass, as well.

And he ignores the way that Time is chiming from the wall with noises that sound like a chuckle.

Chapter Text

Harry wakes in the middle of the night with the feeling that something is wrong, although he doesn’t know what. He dresses hastily and runs out into his sitting room, thinking that someone might be trying to reach him through the Floo.

But there’s no one there. Harry turns in a circle, frowning, and then conjures the sapphire dot with silver lines that represents the people who’ve sworn oaths with him.

One of them is glowing bright red, under attack. Harry touches it with his magic, and identifies it as the one representing Andromeda.

He also receives a strong picture of the location where she’s fighting, as strong an image as a really good description of Apparition coordinates.

Harry sighs to himself over the way that his bond with his oathsworn is evolving, but only for a moment. Then he spins in place and goes to her, traveling effortlessly through the school’s defenses that prevent Apparition. It’s as if he’s simply invisible to them.

He lands in a darkened clearing not far from the house that he remembers coming to in the second war in his world. Spellfire crackles and dances around the walls, and Harry can sense the weaknesses in the wards. Large cracks are spreading through them. They’ll be down in a few minutes.

Harry takes a moment to orient himself, since it seems that neither Andromeda nor anyone else in the house with her—probably Ted Tonks and toddler Nymphadora—is in immediate danger. And then he strides around the corner of the house and launches himself at the two Death Eaters who are there.

One of them, from the flash of blond hair, is Abraxas Malfoy, who stumbles back from Harry with a startled oath. The other turns at once to face him and cackles in an unsettlingly familiar way.

“Miss Black, Mr. Malfoy,” Harry says, in his best, coldest professor voice. “What exactly do you think you’re doing?”

Abraxas stares at him without a word. Bellatrix, though, swings her wand on him and fires the same curse she was using to weaken the wards.

She doesn’t come anywhere close to hitting him. Harry Apparates away from the spell and into place behind her. Then he locks his arm around her throat and wrenches hard to the side, driving her temple into his carefully-positioned wand. Bellatrix goes down, out cold.

Harry turns his attention to Abraxas. “This is the second time that you’ve been involved in an attack on one of my oathsworn, Mr. Malfoy,” he says, and lets his voice descend into a deeper register. “I find it annoying.

Abraxas backs up in front of him. Harry assumes he’ll Apparate away, but something, maybe the thought of the renown he could get if he defeats the man who dueled Voldemort, makes him cast a curse instead. It snaps open in front of Harry, a fanged net that will prevent him from casting any spells if it closes around him.

Harry raises an unimpressed eyebrow and reaches for the spell that’s so deep inside him, he could probably cast it without a wand. “Expecto Patronum.

Prongs explodes in front of him, dashing forwards with lowered antlers. They tear straight through the net, and then he surges past it and tramples Abraxas with an easy motion. Abraxas cries out and then rolls over, gasping, his elbows braced against the ground.

He goes still when Harry pushes his wand into the back of his neck. “Stay down,” Harry murmurs. “I would hate to have to tell your Lord about your death when he seems to depend on your money and Manor a lot.”

“You wouldn’t kill me.”

“Not at the moment. But press further, and try me.”

Abraxas scrambles for his wand, probably planning to Apparate now. Harry shakes his head and Stuns the bastard, then spends a few moments binding both him and Bellatrix with ropes thick enough to hold a giant. He turns around and scans the garden, but no one else is there, no matter how many revealing spells he casts. He supposes that this might have been some sort of training mission for Bellatrix, and Voldemort probably thought a senior Death Eater and one junior one were enough to handle a single pureblood and a Muggleborn.

The door of the house opens as he’s casting the last of the revealing spells, and Ted Tonks, recognizable even though he’s much younger, leans out with a lit wand. “Hello?” he calls uncertainly.

Harry keeps his opinion of the man’s battle training to himself. “Hullo,” he calls back. “Are you and Andromeda and the baby fine?”

“I knew it was Professor Salvare,” Andromeda declares, and pushes her way around Ted. “I knew the moment I felt safe that it would be you, sir.”

Harry blinks a little. Well, he supposes that makes sense of Ted’s behavior. “You felt safe? How did you do that?”

“How did you know that I was being attacked?” Andromeda folds her arms and stares challengingly at him. “It’s not as though I had a chance to get out a Patronus or a Floo call.”

Harry laughs. “True enough. I think it does come down to the oath we swore. Well, I’m glad that you’re safe.” He hesitates, looking over his shoulder at Bellatrix. He honestly doesn’t know if he should tell Andromeda that her own sister was part of the attack, if the truth is worth the pain. After all, Andromedas hasn’t even told her family about her marriage and child.

But when he glances back at Andromeda, he knows it’s too late, and she’s already seen. Andromeda lets her eyes flutter shut and stands there for a second. Then she opens her eyes.

“Maybe if she gets arrested, then she’ll learn what kind of games she’s playing,” Andromeda says harshly, and turns around and goes back into the house.

Ted shrugs helplessly at Harry, and together, they begin working to repair the wards around the house.

*

The Ministry is not really impressed that Harry brought in two “prominent citizens” as captives. In that sense, depressingly little will change no matter what period of wizarding history he goes to, Harry thinks.

“You can’t just arrest a Black and a Malfoy! What gives you the right? You aren’t an Auror!”

It’s Rufus Scrimgeour who’s bleating like that. Harry pinches his nose and wishes that he could get back to the school already. He needs his sleep. As it is, the first-year Ravenclaw-Hufflepuff class at eight-o’clock will be murder.

More than it already is. That’s a class full of children who prefer to stick to theory, many of the Ravenclaws because it fits their prejudices and many of the Hufflepuffs because it’s less scary than casting spells.

Harry rolls his eyes and stands. Scrimgeour puffs up like an irritated owl, but Harry is done with his behavior. He marches across the office—which is small and crowded with framed photographs of famous Aurors, probably all Scrimgeour has to show off when he’s this new in his career—and pulls back Bellatrix’s left sleeve.

She’s conscious now, even though bound to a chair, and she tries to bite him. Harry stares into her eyes, and she thinks better of it. Not as mad as all that, then.

“This gives me the right,” he says, and bares the Dark Mark on her arm.

Scrimgeour bolts out of his chair. He stares at the Mark, then at Harry, and then back and forth several times with the air of someone who’s coming up with a theory that he doesn’t like.

“How did you know that was there?” he whispers.

“I’m the one who dueled Voldemort this summer,” Harry says, going across the room to roll back the sleeve on Abraxas’s arm and reveal the same thing. He thinks briefly about whether he should deactivate their Marks the way he did Lucius’s, but he has neither the time nor the privacy. He also doesn’t want to reveal that he’s a Parselmouth yet, and well, these fools chose their fate. “Of course I keep track of his Death Eaters.”

“Or maybe you put it there yourself.”

Harry stares at Scrimgeour, stunned at the turn his paranoid mind has taken. He could almost believe it of Moody, although not even then. “Yes, I’m Voldemort himself, in disguise,” he says.

Scrimgeour falls back, fumbling for his wand.

“Oh, put that away before you hurt yourself, you young idiot,” Harry snaps, surreal though it feels to say something like that to Scrimgeour, and turns to Bellatrix. “Whom do you serve?”

She spits at him, but it falls far short. “The Dark Lord! The rightful Dark Lord of Brittan and Ireland! Not you, you imposter!”

“You could have told her to say that. Or spelled her.”

“I’m Henry Salvare, Professor of Defense at Hogwarts, and I’ve brought you these two idiots. Do what you will with them. I’m going home and going to sleep. If someone with the right seniority wants to interview me on a different day, I’ll be available to them.”

Scrimgeour flushes. He knows as well as Harry does that he was only there to take custody of the prisoners because it’s three in the morning and he’s on the bottom of the Auror totem pole as a new one. “Someone will contact you,” he says haughtily.

Harry nods, and heads for the lifts.

*

BELLATRIX BLACK AND ABRAXAS MALFOY, DEATH EATERS?

That’s a surprise. Harry didn’t expect it to be on the front page of the Prophet. He thought either Voldemort would use some contacts to bury the news, or other Aurors would act like Scrimgeour and assume that Bellatrix and Abraxas must be innocent.

Harry glances up from the paper and catches Dumbledore’s frustrated look and James’s pleading one. Harry raises his eyebrows. He hopes that he isn’t going to be asked to mediate a relationship conversation. As much as he hopes James and Lily work out in a way, he does not want to matchmake his once-parents while being older than they are. There are some things that should not happen.

But when he leaves the Great Hall and James falls anxiously into stride with him, it turns out not to be about that at all.

“Did I do well, Professor Salvare?”

Harry blinks, thrown, but draws James towards an alcove on the second floor, where they can talk with some privacy about marks if necessary. “Do you mean on the last exam? I told you your mark on the practical portion, and that small written one—”

“No, I didn’t mean that! Who cares about marks when there’s a war on?”

“Your professors and your girlfriend might have something to say about it.”

James flushes bright red, but he doesn’t stop jigging from one foot to another. “The story in the Prophet, sir! That’s what I meant!”

“How did—you somehow ensured they reported the story?”

James nods like an eager first-year. “Yes, sir. My father has connections among the Aurors, and some of them always contact him when an especially interesting prisoner is brought in. Well, he wants to keep an eye on the Death Eaters, too, and he’s Scrimgeour’s godfather. So of course he heard about it, and he ensured it got reported in the Prophet because he knows I follow you and he knew it would please you.”

Harry wants to clasp his hand over his face and drag it all the way down, wiping off this morning and this absurd twist. “So what you’re suggesting, Mr. Potter, is that I ought to be thanking your father, not you.”

“Well, sort of me. My father knew it would please you.”

Harry looks at James helplessly, and then laughs. James stops jigging, but still looks at him attentively.

“Yes, it’s a good thing,” Harry says, and reaches out to ruffle James’s hair before he stops himself. James looks disappointed, so Harry ends up shaking his hand instead. “You’re growing up, Mr. Potter. Although you might consider the merits of accomplishing things on your own, and not because of your father’s connections.”

“Yes, sir,” James says, in the kind of careless happy tone that Harry knows means he’s paying than less no attention to that last sentence.

Well, he’s young yet. They all are. So young. He has time to learn better.

And Harry is going to protect them while they do it.

*

Evan Rosier has been quiet for the past several days, and while he’s often quiet, Harry knows the difference between his intense, listening silence and the kind that means he’s abstracted. He asks Evan to stay behind after the sixth-year Defense class on Thursday, and Evan swallows and does.

Harry sits down at the nearest desk, which startles Evan, but that’s sort of the point, to wake him up from his mood. “What’s wrong, Mr. Rosier?” he asks gently.

Evan closes his eyes, and blurts out the worry, uncharacteristically for him. “My father owled me. Riddle is furious about the loss of Bellatrix. He wants someone to take her place, and my father volunteered me.”

Harry blows out his breath softly. “We have a few options,” he says. “You can simply ignore your father and come to Decoy House with me for the holidays this year and this summer. I know that you’ll turn seventeen in September, and that means you only have to hide from your father for a few more months.”

“I’m more concerned that he will use a curse on me or try to legally pull me out of school.”

Harry narrows his eyes. “And that neither the Board of Governors nor Dumbledore will oppose him.”

“I don’t trust the Headmaster.” Evan clenches his hand. “And at least two of the Board of Governors have voiced support for Riddle in the past few years. They might be able to convince the others.”

Harry hesitates. There is an effective way to oppose Dumbledore and the Governors, but it’ll require a public announcement of the kind that Evan might be uncomfortable with. “Would you mind making it known to them that you’re my oathsworn?”

Mind?” Evan says. He whips around to face Harry, his eyes shining. “I didn’t think you would permit me to announce it, or I would have asked you about that right away!”

“Why wouldn’t I permit you to announce it?”

“Because you don’t want to be called a lord, and all the rest.”

Harry shrugs. “An oath of the kind you swore makes me responsible for your safety and happiness. That means that I can oppose your legal guardians when they make stupid decisions that might hurt you. It has nothing to do with being a lord.”

“So you wouldn’t make an announcement about being one.”

Evan’s disappointment is palpable, and hilarious. Harry just gives him a gentle smile instead of the laughter he wants to let loose, which Evan would misunderstand. “No, Mr. Rosier. But I can promise you that I’ll be more than happy to make an announcement about your father pressuring you to become a Death Eater. Using those exact words if you want.”

Evan closes his eyes. “I felt as if I couldn’t escape. I had no idea what to do. I should have known I could count on you, Professor Salvare. Thank you.”

Harry pats his shoulder and ignores the shining look in his eyes. He’s getting good at that. “Then we’ll wait and see what happens with the Headmaster and the Board of Governors. In the meantime, don’t directly touch or open any owl your father sends you. It could be a Portkey or cursed to make you compliant.”

*

A fortnight later, a few days before the end of term when the students will leave for Christmas, Harry sits in a chair in front of the Board of Governors and smiles at them. They’re all purebloods, which isn’t a surprise. The meeting room is; it’s a large room with a flickering fire in a marble fireplace that Harry has never seen before.

Edward Selwyn, a heavyset man with dark hair that he’s probably color-charming, leans forwards. “I hope that you aren’t thinking to keep a boy from his rightful legal guardian, Mr. Salvare.”

Harry looks at him coolly. “I’m protecting someone oathsworn to me from a threat to make him into a Death Eater.”

It’s funny to see how quickly their faces pale at the name. Did they not expect him to talk about it openly? Or maybe they didn’t expect Rosier’s father to say it so openly in his letters.

Albus, who’s sitting in a big, fluffy red-and-gold chair he conjured, clears his throat noisily. “Surely, Henry, my boy, the threat isn’t that extreme. You know how teenagers exaggerate.”

“I do have a letter from Mr. Rosier’s father here, where he uses the term,” Harry says helpfully, and holds the parchment out.

It’s passed from hand to hand on the Board of Governors, and by the end, a few of them look ill, and others furious. Harry can’t be sure that either set of them are on his side, or Evan’s, but it does matter to him that they aren’t a united front and they aren’t falling into Albus’s pocket. He crosses his legs and waits patiently for the questions that he’s sure will be fired at him.

Selwyn takes the lead again. “You think that Mr. Rosier is against this desire?”

“He told me he was, very explicitly. He doesn’t like the way Riddle tortures his followers.”

Selwyn blinks. “What do you mean, Riddle?”

“Tom Marvolo Riddle,” Harry says, helpful again. “That’s Voldemort’s real name. The one he made into a ridiculous anagram when he decided that his name was too Muggle.” He draws his wand and casts the fiery letters into the air, making them swirl and dance into the I AM LORD VOLDEMORT anagram. “It’s sad. Or, at least, it would be if Riddle didn’t take out his fury at his name on innocents.”

The Board of Governors stare at it. Then Cedrella Black says, in a tone of wonder, “But that’s stupid.

“Yes, it is.” Harry shrugs and dismisses the letters with another wave of his wand. “Then again, not that many people know his real name. That means that he can get away with pretending that his pseudonym means something pretentious and impressive.”

“So you don’t think him a threat?” That’s Herbert Yaxley, the one member besides Selwyn whom Evan told Harry would probably speak in support of Voldemort.

“I think he’s powerful,” Harry says. “But I don’t think he’s so impossibly powerful that we need to bow down to him.” He watches closely, and sees Yaxley flinch as those words hit him. Good. The more people Harry can make reconsider associating with Voldemort, the easier it’ll be to defeat him.

“We are getting rather far afield from the matter that brought us here,” Albus intervenes in a strained voice. “We need to determine if Professor Salvare is allowed to interfere in a legal guardianship situation.”

“What kind of oaths did you have Evan Rosier swear to you?” demands Yaxley.

“Oaths that mean we are companions in providing for and protecting each other,” Harry says. “And that I am responsible for his safety and happiness. Allowing him to go home to his father would violate them.”

“How can you provide for him?” asks a quiet woman with the face of a Longbottom. Harry doesn’t think he got her name.

“I have a large former manor house where the members of my oathsworn order are allowed to shelter.” Harry doesn’t look at Edward Selwyn, whose family used to own the house, because he’s afraid the man might see his opinion of the house’s décor in his expression. “I have enough money to buy them food and Potions ingredients and other things that they might need. Several of them who have untenable home situations lived with me during the past summer.”

“Rather an unsavory situation,” mutters Selwyn.

“The oaths that bind me and them would also act to prevent me from taking advantage of them in the way you’re suggesting,” Harry informs him calmly. “But I’ll keep in mind that you thought about it, and keep you away from my students.”

Over the sound of Selwyn’s spluttering, Cedrella Black says, “I understand that you sheltered one of my young relatives this past summer.”

“Regulus Black. Yes.” Harry nods to her. “He’s sworn to me, and his parents were being unreasonable.”

“Unreasonable. That’s a good description of Orion and Walburga.” Cedrella sighs.

“Why are you encouraging him, Black?” Yaxley demands. “If he can just seize control of any child and disrupt any legal arrangement that he wants—”

“Don’t abuse your children, and he won’t have to,” Cedrella snaps, a moment before Harry would have said something like that himself. He sits back with a smile. It’s better if it comes from her, someone they have more reason to respect. “I’ve listened to him, and I’ve listened to Regulus, who’s been writing to me. Professor Salvare is in the business of protecting children, not—doing what you made a disgusting insinuation about. I see no reason to say that he must give Evan Rosier back to a father who would see him Marked as a Death Eater.”

“I must insist,” Albus says in a gentle voice, “that the Board of Governors think about this some more. After all, what would happen if a teenager who does not come from an abusive household convinced Henry here to stand up for him or her, just to get back at their parents?”

“Do you think Mr. Rosier’s situation is of that kind, Albus?” Cedrella asks.

“No. I am only saying that we cannot allow Henry to just adopt anyone he wants to.”

“It’s an oath, not a legal adoption. And I am a little shocked that you don’t approve of this, Headmaster.” The Longbottom Board member is frowning at Albus. “Someone who defends children from parents who would see them branded by a madman? Who would try to stand in the way of something like that?”

Someone who follows the madman, Harry thinks, and carefully doesn’t look towards Selwyn or Yaxley.

“I am concerned about the misuse of a professor’s power, that’s all,” Albus insists.

“Maybe you could be a bit more concerned about the fate of the students,” Cedrella Black says, and from there, it becomes an argument about what’s clearly an old issue between Albus and the Board, with their disagreement about some of his past decisions. Harry waits it out, and they come down as he was confident they would, in agreeing that Evan Rosier cannot be, and does not deserve to be, forced home to his father’s house against his will.

Harry is whistling jauntily as he leaves the room and steps onto the moving staircase that will take him to his office, but Albus walks up beside him and gives him a stare of heavy, silent disapproval.

“Well?” Harry asks, when the staircase has swung through most of an arc and linked up with the flight waiting below them. “Come on, Albus, tell me what you’re going to say and then leave. I’d like to reassure Mr. Rosier of his safety before the students go to bed.”

“You cannot simply interfere between students and their parents like this.”

“With the oaths that he swore to me and his utter rejection of what his father wants for him, Mr. Rosier gave me permission.”

“It is the severing of family bonds,” Albus insists, lowering his voice as if he thinks that someone is going to step out from a secret passage and tell him off. “The disruption of family love. Love is the greatest force in this world, Mr. Salvare.” I suppose I don’t rate a “Henry” when he’s upset with me, Harry thinks. “I try to foster friendships between the students and respect for the professors, but I do not step into the loving relationships between students and their families.”

“The loving ones, I don’t see a need to do anything about,” Harry admits with an easy shrug. “The non-loving ones? Those I do. The magical world gives an absurd amount of power to parents.”

“Spoken like someone not raised in the magical world.”

“Well, you knew I was a half-blood,” Harry says as easily, and starts to walk away.

Albus keeps pace with him. “It was also not wise to release the information about Tom’s true name into the world.”

“Why not?”

“It must be carefully controlled. Used when the time is proper. The Board of Governors may misuse it, or even warn Voldemort that you told them.”

Harry laughs. “It’s no secret to Riddle that I’m coming for him, Albus. He’s known that since our duel this summer. And I think the more people who know the truth about him, the better. They’ll back away from that hypocritical idiot, and he’ll be deprived of followers and the fear they generate.”

“We must fear him.”

“Why?” Harry asks, as gently as he can. “What will fear do that getting ready to face him won’t?”

Albus’s head twitches back and forth slowly. “We must face him as a united front.”

“Then it would help if you would stop telling Gryffindors that they shouldn’t take Defense and they should be afraid of me.” Harry sighs a little when Albus stares at him. “Yes, I know that you’re doing that. I haven’t said anything because, frankly, the ones who are going to listen to you aren’t the ones I would want to swear oaths to anyway. But it puzzles me why you’re doing it when, as you said, we should be united.”

“I am afraid of you, too,” Albus says quietly. “I know what you say about the oaths that you swear to your followers being mutual and the like, but you are still building an army.”

“And you fear that I’ll use it against you. Or join Riddle?” Harry sighs again when Albus hesitates. “You must know how silly that is. I just got through telling you that he knows I’m going to fight him.”

“This war needs one leader, not two.”

“And you think that leader is you?”

Albus glances at Harry, his gaze mild but firm. “Of the two of us, I am the one who has defeated a Dark Lord before.”

Harry snorts, and then holds up his hand as Albus stares at him with what looks like incredulous anger. “I’m sorry.” He can’t explain what’s funny, anyway. “I don’t think that this war has much in common with Grindlewald’s war. He was working with the Muggles, and Riddle shows no signs of that. Plus, he’s still in the stage of recruiting followers and trying to make people fear his name. We have a chance to stop him before he gets anything close to the power that Grindelwald had.”

“And can you really trust all your followers? The ones that belong to Dark families, and wield Dark Arts, and are in Slytherin House?”

“I know that you’ll alienate them with your distrust of Dark Arts and your fixation on House politics.”

“You speak as though you have used Dark Arts yourself.”

Harry thinks of the Fiendfyre scarring the air between him and the ring Horcrux, and only barely refrains from another snort. “Students don’t deserve to be alienated, Albus. They deserve someone who will put their interests in the forefront, and protect them, and not assume from the start that they’re evil.”

“I don’t think Slytherins are evil,” Albus protests. “I simply think they are more likely to be exposed to undesirable influences because of the other people in their House.”

“Am I one of those undesirable influences? What about their siblings? What about anyone who’s not in Gryffindor?’

Albus lowers his head. He sounds miserable when he says, “You see, I simply do not know who I can trust unless they are in Gryffindor.”

Harry shakes his head a little and sighs, walking away. He wonders, idly, what will happen if the day ever comes when he can tell Albus about his time travel. What will the man’s face look like when he realizes that Harry was a Gryffindor, once upon a time?

Harry hopes that the day comes. He hopes he can see the expression.

*

“Happy Christmas!”

The chorus comes from the throats of everyone in the large drawing room at Decoy House as Harry steps into it. Harry grins. Evan, Severus, Regulus, and the others staying with him have decorated the walls with swirls of silver and green—with a few stubborn splashes of red and gold from visits by Sirius, Lily, and James—and fairy lights on every surface that will hold them. A huge Yule log is burning in the fireplace, and a tree stands in the center of the room with star-shaped decorations weighing down all the branches.

Harry has a pile of gifts under the tree, too, purchased with Galleons that he’s taken from vaults held for the Unspeakables. He got a few books that he knew their recipients would like, but the main gifts are the ones that his oathsworn open this morning. There’s a wave of gasps that sweeps the room.

“Are these—” Evan is staring at the ring in his hand. “Are these platinum?”

Harry hums and nods. “The very best material for attaching protective charms and runes to,” he says smugly, when a bunch of faces turn to stare at him.

“I knew that.” Severus, sitting cross-legged next to the fire with Lily beside him, looks offended that Harry thought he wouldn’t know that. “But how did you afford them?”

“Bought a few and used the Duplication Charm on them.”

Lily’s eyes widen, as she grasps the implication before anyone else in the room. “But you could only use a permanent Duplication Charm if you were really powerful.”

Harry sweeps an extravagant bow towards them, and there’s some chuckles and some stares and some chatter as his oathsworn start talking about what they’re going to do with the rings. In the middle of all that, Harry hears the Floo chime at him.

When he steps into the room where that fireplace is, he’s beyond surprised to see Peter Pettigrew’s head floating in the flames. “Happy Christmas, Mr. Pettigrew,” he says. “Is something wrong?”

Peter licks his lips. Then he says, “Is it all right if I come over and swear the oaths today, Professor Salvare?”

“Of course, if you want to,” Harry says, and kicks the memories of another lifetime in the face to get them to stop whispering distrust of this boy to him. “But I do have to ask, what changed your mind? The last I knew, you were telling Mr. Black the elder and Mr. Potter that you didn’t think they should have sworn to me, that following me was no different than joining the Order of the Phoenix.”

“My mother lost a friend to the Death Eaters,” Peter says softly. “She doesn’t want me to go without protection against him. And I don’t know what Professor Dumbledore intends to do about it, but he’s moving too slowly for my taste.”

Harry nods, and listens hard as Peter Floos in after Harry gives him permission. No, there are no chimes from the walls. At least he can hope that history isn’t going to repeat to the extent that Peter is going to betray anyone in Decoy House right now.

And from the grim determination in Peter’s face when he hands his wand to Harry, this is one of the beneficial changes to the timeline. Peter Pettigrew has found the courage to make and stick with a decision.

*

Harry’s head shoots up. He was taking a nap on the couch in the drawing room, near the big Christmas tree, but once again, as when Bellatrix and Abraxas attacked Andromeda, the feeling of danger brings him right out of sleep.

He touches the silver line in his mind, and it blazes.

Regulus.

Harry snarls and snatches his wand. Then he subdues his homicidal urge to Apparate straight to the spot, and goes to retrieve a few of the toys that the Unspeakables in this time have been experimenting with, and want him to test.

This is a trap, he’s sure, not just an attack. Regulus was shopping in Diagon Alley today, looking for books on runes to decide what the best ones are to add to their rings, and Severus and Sirius went with him. If they were also in danger, their oaths would be jangling against Harry’s teeth, also urging him to hurry. No, Regulus has been snatched, and Harry will be walking into a situation where Voldemort’s had time to prepare his ground.

Harry’s hand clenches, and nearly destroys the delicate crystalline lion that he’s slipping into his pocket.

No. He can’t let the oath control him. He has to think.

“My lord! My lord!”

That’s Severus. He’s never sounded more frantic, even the night that Harry rescued him from Voldemort back in June. Harry comes hurrying out of the drawing room and grabs Severus’s arm as he nearly falls to the floor after his exit from the Floo. “Calm down, Severus.” He conjures a glass of water for the boy.

“No—you don’t understand—Regulus—”

“I do understand, and I’m going to find him,” Harry says firmly, forcing the water glass into Severus’s hand. “Listen to me. Where is Sirius?”

“He tried to Apparate after them, but he couldn’t. They were too fast. I think Black is still searching Diagon Alley.” Severus still sounds as if he wants to babble, but he takes a deep breath and swallows some of the water. “My lord, listen—they were saying they were going to Mark Regulus.”

Harry feels the hatred, hot and sharp, that Voldemort inspires in him rear his head. This fight will be serious in a way that their duel this summer wasn’t.

“I won’t let that happen,” he says, and he won’t. If he has to create his own mark to replace the Dark Mark, then he would. For someone Marked against their will, he would do it.

“My lord…what happens now?”

“You stay here, and I find him and save him.”

“But I want to go with you.”

Harry looks hard into Severus’s eyes, and sees that he means it. For right now, he’s as courageous as any Gryffindor. That means Harry will have to raise the wards around Decoy House, the way he would to contain a Gryffindor.

“Are you serious about claiming me as your lord?”

Severus stands straight at once. “You know I am. We’ve all been serious for months.

“Then your lord orders you to stay here, and out of the battle. Do you understand me?”

Severus’s mouth falls open. Harry taps his shoulder. “A lord isn’t only for when it’s convenient. Do you understand? I don’t need the distraction of you when I’m trying to rescue Regulus, and you’re not powerful or talented enough to assist me.”

Severus swallows and bows his head. “I understand.”

Harry can hear the hardness of resentment in his voice, and undercuts it by hugging Severus with one arm. “I know that you would do your best, but this is my battle. Stay here. If anyone else comes through the Floo—” not that they’ll be able to once Harry has raised the wards “—tell them the same thing.”

Severus cheers up a little at the prospect of essentially being made second-in-command, but he mostly looks rabid with worry. “Save him. Please.”

“Yes,” Harry says, a promise, and then he raises the wards, before leaping through them to Regulus’s location. As with the wards on Hogwarts the night he went to Andromeda’s house, they part around him like water.

This time, though, water that Harry could have heated to boiling with his temper.

I’m coming, Regulus.

*

Harry appears inside a gigantic cage. Silver bars arch overhead, above the tree in the center of the dark green field with an altar at its roots. Regulus is manacled, spread-eagled, on the altar, his left arm supported by a second block of granite. Harry is more relieved than he can say that that there’s no Mark there.

The minute after he notices that, the bars hiss and ignite with a flash of white radiance. Harry is standing inside a gigantic cage on fire now, and the flames arch down towards him, eating slowly along the bars. Then the bars shrink a little, coming closer.

Voldemort strolls into view on his right, spinning his yew wand between his fingers. Harry looks hard at him. He’s alone, or at least the other Death Eaters are maintaining a respectful distance as dark blurry figures in the distance, but at the same time, he doesn’t feel alone to Harry’s senses. It’s as if Voldemort has two invisible people moving along with him, people who radiate Dark magic .

Right next to him. And yet, Harry doesn’t see any telltale shimmer of a Disillusionment Charm, or any place where someone’s feet under an Invisibility Cloak are bending the grass.

The Horcruxes. Two of them. He has them with him.

And he’s drawing on them to fuel this spell.

Harry’s hand goes into his robe pocket, to his crystal lion. But even with that, it’s going to be hard to get out of this trap.

“At last, Professor Salvare,” Voldemort says, his red eyes alight with the closest that he can probably come to happiness. “We meet the way it should be. Not that either you or your young follower will survive long.” He nods to the fire that is coming closer and closer, down the bars of the cage as they shrink slowly inwards. “What do you have to say for yourself?”

Harry smiles. “Go fuck yourself, Riddle.”

He tosses the lion, and it pivots in the air, hitting the ground and transforming immediately into a life-sized version, still made of crystal. It bows its head and roars, and Voldemort stumbles back a step in the face of that roar.

Harry waves his hand at the lion, and it bounds forwards, passing through the burning spaces in the bars without a pause. Voldemort wants Harry’s death to be slow, which means the magical fire isn’t hot enough to burn crystal.

The lion’s heavy paw crashes into a shield that Voldemort’s raised in front of himself, and the lion roars again and rears up, drumming paw-blow after paw-blow into the shield. Voldemort is shaking with effort, and Harry can see the fire dimming a little out of the corner of his eye.

Meanwhile, Harry runs towards Regulus. If the trap falters, they have to be ready to move as soon as it comes down.

He snaps the bonds that hold Regulus’s left arm out first, and then the rest of them, freezing the chains before melting the ice. Regulus reaches for him with a sob. Harry gathers him close, casting a subtle Lightening Charm so he can handle the boy more easily.

“Did they torture you?” he whispers as he watches Voldemort staggering under the lion’s assault. The more it can weaken him, the better.

“A little.”

Harry’s mouth firms. He’s going to take revenge for that if he can, but later.

There’s a tremendous shattering sound, and Harry wheels around. Voldemort has managed to fire a Blasting Curse in the right place to break the lion, and now he stalks towards the cage with his eyes bright as volcanoes. The lion got at least one blow through, Harry sees, and Voldemort’s pale chest is bleeding.

There’s a flash of gold around his neck, which means one of the Horcruxes is the locket. And Harry can see his robe sagging a little, the pocket rounded, and thinks that probably means the other is the cup.

What do you think you are doing?” Voldemort hisses. “Do you still believe that you’ll get out alive?”

Harry rests one hand on Regulus’s forehead. “Regulus,” he says quietly. “I don’t think I’m powerful enough to fight him alone. Can you lend me some of your magic?”

Regulus swallows audibly and whispers, “How?”

“Concentrate on the memory of giving me your oath. Recall it as clearly as you can. And then imagine your oath as a conduit between the two of us, and feed your magic down that link.”

There’s a long silence—well, silent except for Voldemort raging away in Parseltongue, stupid arguments that Harry feels no need to listen to—and then the link between him and Regulus flares to life. Harry seizes the magic, which feels like a warm spring of water in the center of his chest, and hurls it, along with his own power, into the spell. He speaks the incantation in Parseltongue.

Fiendfyre!”

The spell spills forth from his wand as multiple brightly-burning snakes. A dozen, two dozen, three. Harry stops it there, even though Regulus’s magic plus his own means that he feels like he could go on and conjure others. The problem is going to be controlling them, not conjuring them.

Voldemort stares at the snakes with his eyes narrowed. He probably doesn’t know exactly what Harry intends with them, or he’s confident that they can’t get out of the cage he has Harry and Regulus trapped in.

Could be either, really. Lack of intelligence and suicidal overconfidence were both traits of Voldemort’s in the future, too.

Harry hisses, “Forwards.

One of the snakes turns back towards him and Regulus, testing his control. Harry hisses again, and the snake turns and slithers after the others. They’re turning more and more gold and red. Harry rolls his eyes and lets them.

Voldemort doesn’t seem to believe anything is wrong until the first of the snakes crawls through the burning bars of the cage. Of course, Fiendfyre is more powerful than the magical cage he’s got going, too.

This cannot be happening!” he cries out. Harry hears a murmur from the Death Eaters gathered somewhere in the distance and wishes, fiercely, that he knew what they were thinking.

Shouldn’t have left spaces between the bars, Tom,” Harry hisses mockingly. He knows full well that Voldemort thinks Harry shouldn’t be able to cast magic from within the cage, and he wouldn’t have been able to if he had been surrounded by a solid sheet of flame. But the gaps in the bars, even as the bars tighten and shrink steadily, mean that Harry can reach through them with any magic that can’t burn.

Now all the Fiendfyre snakes are out of the cage, and slithering rapidly towards Voldemort. The grass burns behind them. Voldemort retreats a step, and then seems to decide that he can’t lose face in front of his followers. He stops and lifts his chin proudly.

Not even Fiendfyre can destroy me!” he brags, extending his arms. “I am immortal!”

He doesn’t seem to realize that proclaiming that in Parseltongue lessens the impact, with Harry the only one around who can understand him. Harry doesn’t deign to tell him, though.

I’m not aiming for you,” Harry says sweetly, even as the first of the Fiendfyre snakes reaches Voldemort and lunges up his body, growing as it does so to the size of a python.

Voldemort’s flesh trembles, but doesn’t burn. The locket around his throat, however, lights up like a firework, and there’s a long, thin, dying scream that beats even the scream of the ring when Harry destroyed it.

Voldemort screams too, then, and gropes towards his robe pocket. However, he only finds more Fiendfyre snakes, who have delved into the pocket, and there’s another wail and a flying shard of twisting metal lunges into the air before a Fiendfyre snake, twisting like a tornado of flame, rises and burns that as well.

Voldemort’s pain and shock, and the sudden loss of the Horcruxes that were powering his spell, stops the shrinking of the cage. And, more to the point, it drops the spells that were preventing Apparition out of the cage.

Harry grabs Regulus close to him, focuses as hard as he can on the courtyard of Decoy House, and Apparates.

He crashes to the cobblestones outside the wards, swearing and sweating, and shuts down the conduit between him and Regulus before he drains the boy of magic entirely. Regulus lets his head loll back and stares at him.

“That was bloody brilliant,” he declares.

Harry closes his eyes and thinks, Bloody teenagers.

But listening to Regulus is better than listening to the sound that ripped through the fabric of space and time as they Apparated: an enormous, sickly-sweet, smug chime.

Chapter Text

“Are you all right, sir?”

Harry smiles a little at Severus. The boy’s eyes are wide after watching Harry limp down the stairs and into the kitchen. Harry didn’t even have a chance to make his own cup of tea. Severus shoved one at him immediately, and Harry sat down with the hot cup and drained it. He’s too tired to refuse it after last night.

“Yes, Mr. Prince. I just went through a lot in a short time. Apparating, fighting Voldemort, and rescuing Regulus.” Harry leans back in his chair, wincing. All his muscles are contributing to a chorus of protest that makes him think he might not even be able to hear the chimes if Time decided to talk to him now. “Mr. Black told you what happened?”

“Yes. He said you used his magic, sir. Is that something you could do with the rest of us? Could you have been doing it all this time?”

Harry blinks. Severus’s eyes are wide and shuttered at the same time. Unusually, Harry can’t tell what he’s feeling.

“I used it last night because I had to,” he says honestly. “Voldemort had brought help to the fight—artifacts of his own that strengthened his power—and I don’t think that I could have faced him and escaped the trap without Mr. Black’s help. But if you’re worried about me draining you dry, you don’t need to worry about that, Mr. Prince. It would need both of us to use the oath’s link like that. It’s not something just one person could do from one side or the other.”

Severus turns away from him with a sharp curse and walks to the far side of the dining room.

Okay, Harry thinks, and starts to rise to go after his next cuppa. Severus curses again and hurries over to take the cup, bringing it back full of hot tea and with a plate that has scones and butter on it. Harry grins at him before tearing into it. He’s going to need meat, too, as he knows from long experience with this kind of magical exhaustion, but that can wait.

“Of course I’m not worried about that,” Severus says, sounding as if he’s struggling to control his voice. “I would never worry about that. What I’m worried about is you, sir. You need to call on our magic, if that’s possible for you, whenever you need it. Not wait until you’re in extremis.”

Harry blinks. “Have I given you the impression that I’ve been in a situation this desperate before, Mr. Prince?”

He makes his tone lightly chiding, but Severus neither cowers nor smiles. “No, sir. But you could have used our help when you fought the duel with—Voldemort last summer.”

“I didn’t need it,” Harry says gently. “I intended all along to do what I did, and Voldemort’s arrogance overpowered him, the way it did last night.”

“Do you think he’ll be that arrogant again?”

Harry has to consider it. He does at least think that Voldemort won’t bring Horcruxes to a fight with Harry again, no matter what kind of power they might give him, but that’s not the kind of thing he can explain to Severus. “No,” he says at last. “But a different kind, yes. It’s a flaw as deep in him as his breath. He might take precautions against it, but they’ll never be enough, because he’ll continue to underestimate me.”

Severus leans an elbow on the back of his usual chair instead of sitting down in it. “I never thought to see you overpowered by the same arrogance, sir.”

“You think I am?” Harry chews his scone slowly. Good God, he’s hungry.

“Yes, because you aren’t using all your advantages.” Severus’s eyes are wide and burning now, and Harry no longer has problems reading them. “Use our magic, sir. Let us stand with you.”

Harry looks directly at him. Severus does flinch this time, but doesn’t back away. “You want me to drag fifteen-year-olds onto the battlefield? Sixteen-year-olds? You think that would make me a better man?”

“You don’t have to take all of us. You could leave some of us in a sheltered place and have them feed you their magic across a distance. That’s possible, isn’t it? The way that you managed to find Regulus at a distance and Apparate to him last night?”

Harry sighs and starts to complain that Severus is too damn smart, but Severus continues. “Sir, in a week I’ll be of age. And you know that I’m not the only one. There’s people like Andromeda and Lucius who’ve already graduated, and people like Tiberius who’ve already turned seventeen. We’re old enough to make our own decisions about who we vote for and cast magic without restriction, that’s what the magical world says. We’re old enough to make our own decisions about going to war, too.”

Harry swears under his breath. Severus smiles a little, obviously understanding the importance of the words if not hearing all of them, but his gaze remains steady.

“I wanted to protect you,” Harry says, in a voice so bitter he barely recognizes it himself. “Help you. Give you an alternative to the pressures that could have forced you to become a Death Eater. You and the others,” he adds, because he doesn’t want Severus to think that this decision is only being made for him. “And give other students a better Defense education and more of a chance to define their own futures.”

“You don’t think that fighting with you is a choice for the future? I know that we’re defending the future from him if we do this, sir.”

“I think that you don’t know what you’re asking. I think that teenagers should never be asked to fight a war.”

“But we’re the ones asking,” Severus says, with a small smile. “And we’re adults. I’ve already told you what to do about the ones who aren’t.”

“You think Mr. Black is going to appreciate that, Severus?”

“He’s not seventeen.”

Severus’s voice is so prim that Harry can’t help laughing. Severus nods to him and then disappears into the kitchen and comes back with a platter full of sausages. Harry can feel the hunger cramping at his stomach, and he reaches immediately for the large fork and knife that Severus brought along.

“You burned a lot of magic last night,” Severus says softly after Harry has eaten over half the platter.

Harry eyes him, and swallows. “I would do the same for any of you, Severus. You have to know that.”

“I do know that,” Severus says. “What I’m saying now is, my lord, you burned a lot of magic last night. What happens if the next time you have to do that, you die, because you’re so reluctant to use one of your best weapons? What if—”

You are not a weapon.

The words make the wards pop and twang, Harry’s so furious. Severus leans back in his chair, his hands braced on the table and his eyes wide. Harry turns away from him and goes back to eating. He just doesn’t trust the next words that might come out of his mouth right now.

Severus clears his throat a second later. “I think I’m beginning to understand you better now, and why you’re so bloody reluctant to use us.”

Harry grunts and continues eating.

“Someone used you,” Severus says. “Maybe many people. And that means that you can’t stand to see it happen to others. You’ll take stupid risks and do similar things so that we can’t share the burden with you. But what was it you said to Regulus last year? That we’ll make changes together.

Harry scowls at him over the top of his loaded fork.

“But don’t we deserve to stand at your side as equals?” Severus raises his eyebrows a little. “To make our own decisions? I hope that we do. I hope that you’ll see it that way.” He reaches out and puts a hand as firm as a Mark on Harry’s arm. “And what your death would do to us, the ones that you’ve tried to keep safe.”

He stands up and leaves the dining room without looking back. Only the magical exhaustion enables Harry to finish the platter of sausages, and then he leans back and looks up at the ceiling as he finishes his tea again.

The Selwyns put up bloody ugly decorations on the ceilings, too.

*

“Yes, sir?”

James’s face is innocent in a way that Harry doesn’t trust. He shakes the Prophet at James where he’s kneeling down in front of the fire. James is on the other side of the Floo, still at the Potter house. “Is this your doing, too?”

James shakes his head. “It didn’t happen at the Ministry, sir, did it? That means that it couldn’t be my dad’s contacts who got it printed.” He ducks his head, but his grin still breaks out like a wound across his face.

Harry glares at the front page of the Prophet. It has a picture of him that someone must have taken at Hogwarts, walking down a staircase with his cloak flaring behind him. He doesn’t remember it, though, or someone pointing a camera at him.

PROFESSOR HENRY SALVARE DEFIES THE DARK LORD!

Beneath it is a surprisingly accurate retelling of what happened two nights ago when he rescued Regulus. Harry drums his fingers in a long roll on the hearth. That means that it has to be one of the Death Eaters who told the reporters the story, although Harry is still a little astonished that they had the wherewithal to print a story that makes Voldemort look exceedingly silly.

And it reports that he’s a Parselmouth. Harry sighs.

“Why are you so displeased, sir? Did the story lie?”

Harry glares harder at James, who’s given up and is laughing quietly into his hand. “No, it didn’t. But it means that people will be looking harder at me as some lone hero to save them. That’s not what needs to happen, Mr. Potter. People need to stand up for themselves, or fear is still going to rule them. If they put too much faith in me and I fall—”

“Then we’re all fucked,” James says, dropping his hands from his face. He looks entirely serious.

Mr. Potter. Your language.

“You don’t get to say that to me.” James’s voice is low, intense, and Harry suffers a brief sensation of what he probably sounded like when he stood up to Voldemort in the other timeline, defending Harry and his mother. “You know very well that it’s not just us who would be fucked-over. The people who aren’t doing anything about Voldemort won’t do anything even if you try to encourage them. Headmaster Dumbledore isn’t doing enough, but some people still depend on him. You’re our choice, Professor. I don’t know how or why, or where you came from, but you need to take the lead. And you need to use any weapon at your disposal to take out that sorry bastard.”

Harry narrows his eyes, but it’s nothing more than Severus already told him, if phrased somewhat differently. “Were we at Hogwarts, Mr. Potter, I would take so many points from Gryffindor.”

“I didn’t know truth-telling was an offense, sir.”

Harry rolls his eyes, and James grins again.

*

No.”

“But—”

“I don’t take the oaths of twelve-year-olds,” Harry says, and he frankly doesn’t care how harsh his voice is right now. He needs to discourage this—this nonsense. “The youngest person I’ve allowed to swear to me was fourteen at the time. So put your wand away and get out of my classroom.”

“I’m almost thirteen!”

Harry gives in to the temptation to shut his eyes and just inhale and exhale for a moment. He supposes it’s a just punishment, for his sins, that the first Ravenclaw to decide to approach him to swear an oath is Gilderoy Bloody Lockhart.

“I could be an asset,” Lockhart adds, obviously proud of the word that he probably learned from someone else.

I hope he didn’t Obliviate that person, too, Harry thinks crossly. But he manages to open his eyes and smile at Lockhart. “That’s nice, Mr. Lockhart. But I’m not doing this for assets. I’m swearing oaths to protect people who need protection. Do you need protection?”

Lockhart takes a full minute to ponder that. Then he sighs and puts his wand away. “No, sir. But if I did, you would let me swear my oath?”

“I would protect you. But I meant what I said about not taking the oaths of twelve-year-olds.”

“I’m going to be thir—” Lockhart catches Harry’s eye and evidently decides that he doesn’t need to repeat it. “Right,” he says faintly, and then turns around and leaves.

Harry leans back in his chair and massages his temples.

“Done intimidating children for the day, Henry?”

Albus is lingering in his doorway, because of course he is. Harry is frankly a little surprised that Albus didn’t approach him right after the Christmas holiday ended, but maybe it took the man a while to decide on what he wanted to say.

“Done teaching,” Harry says, and motions Albus to a chair in front of the desk while locking the door. He doesn’t have to be available right now, and there’s still half an hour to dinner.

Harry does hope that whatever Albus wants to say to him will be finished by then, because otherwise there’s a pack of Slytherins and Gryffindors who will probably come looking for him.

“I can’t say I like what you’re turning the children at this school into,” Albus begins, conjuring a chair for himself the way he did at the Board of Governors’ meeting instead of taking a desk. Harry figures that’s a psychological ploy so that he doesn’t look like a child. It slides off Harry like water off brick. “Or what you’re turning yourself into?”

Oh, the direct approach. “Protectors? People who watch out for each other?” Harry frowns and leans forwards to look into Albus’s face without making direct eye contact that would give him some purchase for Legilimency. “I’m concerned, Headmaster. If you think that I shouldn’t be doing that, then I’m not convinced you’re the right person to hold the office that you do.”

Albus breaks out into spluttering, of course, and Harry sits back with a little smile, watching. Albus gets control of himself, and says, “I did not mean that. I mean that children should not be involved in war.”

“They are, whether or not they want to be. Mr. Rosier’s father would have Marked him as the slave of a madman. Mr. Black’s parents were similarly prepared to sacrifice him. And you didn’t seem to be singing the same tune when you were talking about having Mr. Potter and Mr. Black the elder join your Order of the Phoenix.”

Albus frowns at him. “I wouldn’t have involved them in the activities of the war while they were still underage. Only had them spy, gather intelligence—”

“How? Or were you going to ask them to become Marked Death Eaters?’

“Of course not! Mr. Potter is extraordinarily good at sneaking around the school without being seen. I would have asked him to gather some intelligence from Death Eaters’ children for me, that’s all.”

By “extraordinarily good at sneaking around the school,” you mean he has an Invisibility Cloak. Harry shakes his head. “Not all Death Eaters’ children want to become Death Eaters. I believe I just mentioned a few instances.”

“They might still have valuable things to say.”

“If they did, I would know about them. Did it occur to you to ask me?” Harry demands, thoroughly exasperated. “Or to ask someone who’s out of school and committed to resisting Voldemort?”

Albus opens his mouth, then shuts it again. “I cannot trust what you are doing,” he says. “You are building an army, and they are as loyal as any Death Eater.”

Harry rolls his eyes at the ceiling. “So you can only trust yourself to lead an army of students,” he says. “You can only trust Gryffindors. You can only trust yourself to resist Voldemort. Did I miss anything?”

“I cannot trust someone who takes so much glee in breaking up families.”

“What do you know about it?” Harry asks softly. “When did you try to get students families who would protect them, Albus? You sent Tom Riddle back to the Muggles again and again. You would have seen Mr. Rosier Marked. Were you intending to use him as a spy? Is that why you’re upset that I interfered?”

Albus looks so outraged that it takes him a long moment to find his tongue. “I would not have sacrificed someone like that!”

“And Tom Riddle?”

“I was not Headmaster when Mr. Riddle was a student here. I had no power to allow him to stay in the school.”

“You had the same power I have now. I’m not Headmaster, either. You could have sworn an oath to him, or even just checked up on him. Instead, you denied him the ability to get to safety. In the middle of a war.

Albus flinches, which Harry would take as a victory if he didn’t think that Albus flinched more because he was thinking about the man who had led part of that war rather than the child Tom Riddle. “You do not know what he was like, even as a child…”

“I know some.” Harry raises his eyebrows at Albus. “I know that you seem to have decided he needed to be punished for stealing the belongings of others. I agree that that doesn’t promise a good future, but why was punishment the first thought in your head, instead of trying to guide him onto a moral path?”

“How do you know these things?” Albus sounds horrified, subdued.

“That doesn’t matter as much as your answer to my question.’

Albus looks away. Harry waits. Albus finally says, “I thought that punishment would set him on the moral path. No one among the Muggles in that orphanage could stand up to him. He needed to be shown the errors of his ways, and that there were people in the world stronger than he was.”

“Wow,” Harry says, with a long sigh. “Now I think I understand the basis of so much of your reasoning, and it’s not reasoning that I would want to expose my own students to.”

“Do you intend to challenge me to a duel, then?”

Albus’s voice is soft, but his hand tightens at his side, and Harry knows that he’s an inch away from grasping his wand. Harry laughs loudly in response. Albus blinks and sits back in his conjured chair.

“Of course not. I’m focused on my students and on Voldemort. That’s enough challenges for any man.”

“What do you want, then?”

“I want you to understand that I’m not your bloody enemy, Albus. It’s just that I’m not your bloody follower or rival, either. I’ve told you what my goals are. If you have to distrust me because of that…what, why? Because I don’t do exactly what you want when you want it? I’ll tell you something, neither does the army of students you think I’m building.”

Albus hesitates for a long time. Finally, he speaks. “At one point I made a horrible mistake by trusting someone who was charming and seemed aligned with my goals on the surface, and I’m not the one who paid the price for that mistake. It was other people.”

“I should have known that this would go back to your guilt complex over Grindelwald,” Harry murmurs. “Don’t worry. I have no intention of falling in love with you and trying to kill your sister. Or, well, it would have to be your brother, now.”

Albus rises to his feet. “I want to know how you know this!”

“You haven’t covered your tracks as well as you thought you did,” Harry says gently, and watches Albus turn and stalk out of the room. Then he permits himself to sigh.

This goes back to Albus’s fear of making another mistake, of trusting the wrong person and getting some other innocent killed. At least Harry knows it’s not going to crop up as a personal animosity in the future. Albus will just do his best to sabotage Harry in other ways.

And that probably shouldn’t be comforting, but hey, he always feels better when he understands something.

*

“Riddle wants me to serve in place of my father.”

“I assume you mean as more than just someone who’s Marked.”

Lucius grimaces and nods, picking up the glass of Firewhisky Harry poured when Harry nudges it pointedly towards him. “Yes. He—well, he got the idea that my father won’t be released from Ministry custody any time soon. I personally believe that Father is prolonging his stay in the holding cells so that he doesn’t have to face Riddle and pay for his failure.” He throws back some of the Firewhisky, and then chokes and coughs.

“Slowly, Mr. Malfoy. I think your fiancée would pay someone to murder me if I killed you, or perhaps just come do the deed herself.” Harry smiles a little when Lucius does, although Lucius’s expression fades almost at once. “Now. How did the other Death Eaters take the revelation of my Parseltongue?”

“Several of them have quietly disappeared,” Lucius says with satisfaction. “Others are claiming increased family duties at the meetings we have, and thus lack of general ability to respond to the call. I don’t think any of them are the kind who will come to you and ask to have their Marks made inactive or replaced, but at least we’re depriving him of followers.”

Harry nods. “They wouldn’t even know that I could render their Marks inactive, so there’s no reason for them to come to me.” And that’s the way he likes it. He wants to maintain the lives of innocents, but he sees no reason to take committed Death Eaters under his protection, so he’ll protect innocents by removing them from the killing field. “And Riddle himself?”

“He’s gone quiet, my lord, which I don’t like. I think he’s planning a more involved trap than the one that snared Regulus.”

“Probably,” Harry says grimly. “Listen, Lucius. There’s something I wanted you to look for, if you can do it without danger to yourself, in the Malfoy library.”

“A book that you need to defeat him, my lord?” Lucius puts down the Firewhisky and sits up. “I’ll be honored to do whatever I can.”

“Two things. First, stop calling me ‘my lord.’” Harry waits until he gets a nod, although an unconvinced one, and then goes on. “And it’s a book, yes, but not a book of lore. It’s an artifact that Riddle might have given your father. A small black book with the initials T. M. R. stamped on the front.”

“Only might have given my father, my l—sir?”

“I don’t know if he has or not. It’s possible that Riddle moved it. It’s a precious artifact to him, something he can use to strengthen his power as he did during the trap when he built the fire-cage. Don’t touch it with your bare skin, whatever you do. You might find yourself compelled to open it and write in it.”

“And that would be disastrous.” Lucius nods without asking for any more verification. “I can look for it, sir. I’ve moved out of the house, but it wouldn’t be unusual for me to come back and search for something I needed.”

Harry relaxes with a loud sigh. “Good.” This is both a way to let Lucius feel like he’s doing something useful and the easiest way to get the Horcrux, if it is there. Riddle might or might not know that Harry is hunting the Horcruxes specifically. He will if he’s gone to the island and found the ring missing, but on the other hand, he might think that Harry used the Fiendfyre snakes just to destroy a pair of power-boosting artifacts, not destroy pieces of his soul.

“Yes.” Lucius hesitates, and Harry makes an impatient little twirling motion of his hand at him.

“Ask.”

“I’m that obvious, am I?” Lucius smiles, but it’s largely without humor. “Severus told me about how you drew on Regulus’s power to save him from the trap, and suggested that you might be able to do the same thing with any of the people you swore oaths with.”

“Yes, I think so,” Harry says, as calmly and neutrally as he can. “I would only do it if I had to, though, or if we managed to set up a trap for Voldemort where it would be useful. It’s not a pleasant experience for either one of the people in the link.”

“Regulus says that he was thrilled to be able to do something to help in his own escape.”

“I’ve laid out my conditions clearly, Mr. Malfoy.”

Lucius shakes his head a little sadly. “All right.” He drains the last of the Firewhisky and stands. “If you change your mind, please realize that Narcissa and I will both be honored to stand with you.”

Harry nods to him, and escorts him to the Floo. Then he goes back to his chair and stares, brooding, into the fire.

Ravenclaw’s diadem isn’t in the Room of Requirement, and Harry has checked, thoroughly. He doesn’t know how Voldemort could have got in and removed it, but then again, he moved his locket before last summer. Perhaps he came to the castle in some kind of disguise during the holidays and took it.

And the blood splatters on the page that Harry is trying to get the location of the Horcruxes from aren’t cooperating.

Harry sighs, and goes to bed.

*

“Please come with me, Mr. Salvare.”

Harry nods and falls into step with his fellow Unspeakable. They sent him an owl yesterday to tell him that they’ve made some progress on the research into what happens when a prophecy is disrupted by someone coming back to before the birth of one of the participants in it, and where that person might not be born again in a different form, either. Harry thinks that they’ll go to the Time Chamber.

Instead, they go to the room that contains the prophecy orbs. Harry pauses a moment in deference to his own memories, and to let the humming fill something in his head.

He feels wistful. This was the room where he spent a few months studying before he came back through time, although he didn’t find a definitive answer to the question that he asked his colleagues to research, either (not a surprise when he was studying the shards of the orbs instead of the orbs themselves). He can think of Ron and Hermione and Sirius as he used to be as he stands here.

But he puts the thoughts aside as he did years ago. When he decided that the second war had wrought too much harm to their world—and he did—then he put aside all thought of remaining with his friends. He’s lost them. He’s lost the life he was living. A decade of research preparing to go back in time has reconciled him to that loss as much as he can be.

“This way, Mr. Salvare.”

Harry pauses when he comes to a mostly empty shelf. It’s not the one that held the old prophecy about him and Riddle, at least as far as he can remember. In fact, there’s only a tiny spark of light on the shelf that doesn’t look like a prophecy orb at all. He wonders if this is some experimental spell that the Unspeakables need him to interact with.

Then he gets closer, and catches his breath.

It’s a tiny prophecy orb, one that is growing like a plant from a seed.

He stares at the cloaked figure next to him, and the man, or woman, nods. “Yes, Mr. Salvare,” they say. “A new prophecy is forming. It’s too small to hear yet, and I don’t think that even you could truly touch it. But you are welcome to try.”

Harry reaches out and passes his hand through the orb. He can feel a little warmth, but nothing solid. He settles back with a sigh. “This is—does this happen? I thought that prophecy orbs could only form after a prophecy has actually been spoken.”

“Few people who are the subject of prophecies have traveled in time,” the Unspeakable says simply. “And fewer have caused such enormous changes that are close to their original role once they have gone back in time.” They tilt their head a little, and Harry does, too, to listen to the chimes ringing out.

“Yes, well,” Harry says, as he stares at the orb. It’s too small to make out the writing on it, either, only that there is some. That surprises him, but if a prophecy can come into being by itself, why can’t it label itself, too? “Thank you for telling me.”

*

“Can I come through? Please?”

Lucius’s midnight Floo call is a surprise, and so is his hurried whisper through the fire. Then again, if he has the diary, he might not have much time before Voldemort realizes it’s missing, or he might be wary of holding onto it when he knows that it can corrupt him.

“Of course.” Harry gestures with his wand, and the protections on the Floo dissipate. He was already awake. His oath-bond to Lucius has been jangling and ringing for the last hour. He longed to go to Lucius’s side, but he held still because of how faint the warning was. Lucius might only have been in danger because he was picking up the diary or had to spin some tale to Voldemort about why he was in Malfoy Manor’s library. Harry showing up could have done more harm than good.

Lucius sighs and steps through the Floo, dusting himself off thoroughly. He glances around and swallows. “You—you promise that we’ll be alone?”

“Yes, we will.” Maybe Harry was wrong and the danger related to some Death Eater meeting Lucius was at, rather than the diary. “Do you have the book I asked you to find?”

Lucius shakes his head. “This is something else. I have to make sure that we won’t be disturbed, though. The consequences if this gets out…” He shudders.

“I promise that we won’t be.” Harry raises a few extra wards on the door to make sure, although it’s rare for even his oathsworn to disturb him in his quarters. They’re more likely to come to him in his office. “Now, what is it?”

He turns straight into a powerful Stunner. Harry collapses to the floor, fighting for breath, not quite unconscious. It’s difficult for the wands of his oathsworn to hurt him.

But not impossible, Harry thinks as he watches the Polyjuice disguise melt and shift from Lucius’s face, if they’re wielded by someone else.

He feels like he should have known that it wasn’t Lucius. The bastard never once tried to call him by a title.

Voldemort bends down towards Harry and laughs once, a sibilant dark sound. “I think it will be difficult for anyone else to find you, where I am taking you,” he says, and a Portkey grabs Harry as it did once, long ago.

The chimes as he flies through space are muted, but insistent, there.

If history is repeating itself, that means I live, Harry thinks grimly, and readies himself as best he can for what’s to come.

Chapter Text

They land in an oddly-shaped cell, or rather, Voldemort lands on the lip of a ledge above him, and Harry crashes down into a capsule-shaped lower stone chamber. He groans as his head bounces off the wall. The stone is so tight around his body, made to fit him, that he can’t even move his arms to draw his wand or get a surprise out of his robes.

“Made to fit you, Professor Salvare.” Voldemort cackles at him and leans against the wall behind him. They appear to be at the bottom of a giant stone well, since Harry can see a glimpse of daylight far above him. “You did me more favors than you knew by taking Lucius Malfoy’s allegiance from me. I ripped all sorts of information out of his head, including detailed memories.”

Legilimency. Damn it. I thought Lucius’s Occlumency was strong enough, but it wouldn’t have been able to stand up to a determined assault from someone so strong.

Harry ignores Voldemort and concentrates on his bond to Lucius. It’s quiescent, which probably means Lucius is unconscious, but still there. He sighs. The muted jangling from earlier makes sense now. Voldemort probably learned about some of the effects of the oaths from Lucius’s memories, so he acted carefully to avoid putting Lucius in danger that would have alerted Harry.

At least that means that Lucius is probably wounded in a way he can recover from.

Pay attention to me.

I don’t see a reason to,” Harry says honestly. “I know that you brought me here to kill me or torture me. Or kill me after torturing me. You’re not going to say anything interesting.

Voldemort stares at him with his eyes widening further and further, and then he grips his wand and points it at him. Harry braces himself for the Cruciatus.

Instead, Voldemort lowers his wand. “I wish you to tell me where you learned Parseltongue.

No.

Voldemort nods as if he expected the answer, and then turns and gestures with his wand towards the stone wall. Harry expects the alcove that opens to reveal some kind of gleaming torture instruments.

It doesn’t. Instead, it shows Lucius on a flat pallet, his arms and legs bound to the point that he won’t be able to move any more than Harry can and his hand bare of his ring. Harry tenses and instinctively lunges for him, but the press of the stone trap around his body holds him in place.

“Yes, I thought that would get you,” Voldemort says, in English this time. “Such a weakness, to be bound to the ones who follow you.” His eyes glint, and he smiles. “My way is a much better one of handling it.”

“When it makes your followers as eager to turn on you as Lucius was? When it makes people fight to swear to me instead of going to you?” Harry laughs. He doesn’t mind saying this, now that Voldemort definitely knows that Lucius is no longer a Death Eater. “No, I don’t see it as a weakness at all.”

Voldemort’s humor flees. He stalks forwards to the edge of the stone he stands on, and hisses threateningly, “You will tell me where you learned Parseltongue, or I will torture him.

The oath leaps between Harry and Lucius like a living thing, anticipating pain. Harry bites his tongue to curb the words he wants to say to Voldemort, and instead simply says, “I’ve had Parseltongue ever since I can remember. I didn’t learn it. I can just speak it.” There, that’s all true, and will sound so to Voldemort’s Legilimency.

Voldemort stares at him in silence, eyes tracing back and forth as if thinks there’s a secret map to another answer behind Harry’s face. Harry, meanwhile, relaxes as much as he can and reaches out for his other followers.

It’s going to be hard, from a distance, and with so many of them asleep. But he has to. He has to rescue Lucius, and he has to get out of here, and he can’t use Lucius’s magic when he’s unconscious and can’t willingly open the bond from his side.

Are you another descendant of Slytherin?

Voldemort sounds uncertain, as if he hates having his claim to being “special” challenged. Harry gives him a faint smile. “If I am, it’s from a much less direct line than you are. Somewhere far back and tangled.” That’s also true.

Voldemort nods, and his arrogant smile comes back. “I want you to tell me what you did with my ring.

Shit, he does know. Harry forces himself to return Voldemort’s gaze as calmly as he can, and keep reaching for the magic. Regulus is awake now, and feeding him magic, and Severus and Evan are coming awake. James is stirring. Sirius has snapped awake and is wondering what’s going on. Lily has lifted her head. She’ll probably figure it out in a minute, if only because drawing on the oath-link between them will make her remember the moment she swore to him, and that can begin opening it. “I destroyed it.

Voldemort’s eyes flare with madness, and he turns and unleashes the Cruciatus Curse on Lucius without breaking stride.

Harry screams in fury, and a distant echo of Lucius’s pain, and recklessly seizes the magic coming from his followers. Five links are fully open now, between him and Regulus, Severus, Evan, Sirius, and Lily, and then there comes another flood of cool magic that seems to have just been waiting for him to access it. Narcissa, says a voice in his head like a sigh of her name.

And Lucius, incredibly, awake and screaming now, concentrates enough to open the link between him and Harry.

Seven is the most powerful magical number.

Harry grabs the power and lashes out with it as hard as he can, and the capsule-shaped tomb explodes around him. Voldemort lets Lucius go from the Cruciatus Curse in his shock, and Harry scrambles up and reaches for his wand.

It’s not there.

Voldemort levels his yew wand at Harry, but Harry doesn’t have time for a complicated game of duels and shields and the like. He clenches his fingers and yanks down, and the ledge beneath Voldemort crumbles and falls.

Lucius is forcing himself up on his elbows and knees, or trying to, but the ropes get in the way. Harry glances at him and flicks a single, precise blade of magic, composed mostly of Lucius’s power and Narcissa’s, and the ropes are severed. Lucius gasps and manages to stagger up, although he’s bracing himself with a hand on the side of the alcove Voldemort had him imprisoned in.

Voldemort, meanwhile, fell several feet when the ledge crumbled beneath him, but now he’s hovering in midair, the same way he flew when he came after Harry and other people disguised as him so long ago. He snarls at Harry and points his wand at the jagged shards of rock Harry is still standing among.

Harry lifts the shards before Voldemort can and spins them into a temporary, floating shield, then shouts, “Accio holly wand!”

The wand tears Voldemort’s robe pocket open as it flies towards him, and stings Harry’s palm when it smacks into it. But Harry can’t pay that much attention to the slight pain, not when Voldemort’s first curse is reverberating off the shards of stone and Harry knows he’s going to get another one any second.

He casts a Cushioning Charm beneath him and uses the warm magic flowing through his chest to make it flexible. As Voldemort again tries to curse him, Harry bends down and then leaps as high as he can.

He comes down and bounces off the flexible Cushioning Charm as if it’s a giant invisible trampoline, meaning Voldemort’s curse once again misses him. Harry lands on a broken piece in the rock wall beneath Lucius’s alcove, and lifts his glance to him.

Lucius understands what he wants, and scrambles to the edge of the alcove. Harry conjures a rope and flings it to him. Lucius grabs the other end as Harry touches the rope with his wand and begins the spell to make it into a Portkey.

Voldemort screams and flies straight towards them.

Harry spins to face him, but doesn’t take his wand off the rope. Instead, he uses the same invisible force of wild magic that broke the rock around him to raise a shield of ice, and Voldemort slams into it, going too fast to stop. That leave shards of ice all over the floor of the well, but it leaves a stunned Voldemort, too.

Just in case, Harry takes a chance and calls, “Accio Tom Riddle’s diary!” as he lifts his wand from the rope.

But nothing happens. It seems that Voldemort was smart enough not to bring a Horcrux with him to this confrontation.

Voldemort screams at him again. Harry decides that he and Lucius need to leave right now, and clenches his hand around the rope.

One more spell tears towards him as they Portkey away, and Harry grimaces as he feels it clip his shoulder. He would have to see a Healer anyway after being dropped on stone like that and draining people’s magic.

As they slump to the floor in his quarters and Lucius starts shaking beside him, however, Harry forces that thought away, and tamps down his pressure on the links with his oathsworn until he’s taking only a small bit of their magic. He needs to get Lucius to the infirmary, and he needs to make sure that he’s in a safe place before he falls apart. He’ll need a bit of power for that, but nothing like the enormous surge that got him out of trouble with Voldemort.

In the meantime, however, he sends thanks down the links as best as he can. He thinks he gets a few exhausted assents, before some of his people drop into sleep right where they stand.

They’ve escaped. They’ve survived.

And from now on, Harry is going to have to be more vigilant than ever that Voldemort can’t grab any of his people.

*

“I really do need your full report, Professor Salvare.”

“And I told you before that I don’t give reports, sir.”

Harry doesn’t look away from the Healer that a young Madam Pomfrey summoned from St. Mungo’s to attend to him. Apparently Lucius is going to be all right other than a few pulled muscles and bones. Voldemort didn’t hold him under the curse long enough to cause permanent damage. Still, he’ll need to rest in the infirmary.

And the Healer is for him. Harry tried to tell Madam Pomfrey that he would be all right, that it was mostly magical exhaustion and the like, but she pointed her wand at him and gave him a huge frown.

“I know that you’re barely on your feet, professor, and that mostly because of the way your vassals’ magic is cradling you. When you let it go, you’re going to collapse. And I wager that you’ll let it go sooner instead of later.”

Harry did. But at least with the Healer there, he got a Pepper-Up Potion and a pain-killing potion right away. Right now the Healer is casting general diagnostic spells and shaking his head as he watches the numbers and runes pile up in the air. He’s a young man with dark hair that’s pulled back into a tail and intense blue eyes, called Isaac Hawken.

“You’re lucky that you don’t have a concussion,” says Hawken, with a sharp glance Harry’s way. “If you’re right and he dropped you onto stone.”

“He did. But I didn’t fall that far, maybe a meter or so.”

“There is no good distance from which to fall onto stone. Professor Salvare.”

Harry grins. It’s kind of refreshing that Healer Hawken is showing so clearly that he’s unimpressed with him. He can just guess the response that he’s going to get from some of his oathsworn. Regulus, in particular, is going to be a combination of reverent and smug.

(Harry can just hear him now: “Didn’t I tell you it was a good idea to have Lucius Malfoy serve you? Didn’t I?”)

“But you should be all right with a few more pain potions and some rest and food.” Healer Hawken stresses the words as if he doesn’t think Harry knows what they mean, gives him one more deeply unimpressed look, and then closes the small book he’s been writing in and departs with a shake of his head. Harry lies back on the hospital bed and sighs as Madam Pomfrey waves her wand over him and goes to get some potions for his shoulder.

“I must insist.”

Harry rolls his eyes at Albus. “Voldemort thought that he could get to me by capturing and torturing one of my people. I broke free of the trap, and luckily rescued Mr. Malfoy before he could be hurt too badly.” He shoots Lucius a concerned look, but he’s deeply asleep and shows no sign, at the moment, of whether he’s in pain or not. Narcissa is sitting beside Lucius’s bed, her hand clasped around his and her other arm wrapped around her chest as if she’s trying to prevent her heart from escaping. She watches Harry and Albus with cool, curious eyes.

“But how did you break free?” Albus asks.

“Magic.”

Albus gives him a deeply disappointed look, but that kind of thing ceased to be effective on Harry some time ago. He stares back evenly, and Albus gets up and does the next thing to storming out of the hospital wing.

“Thank you for saving his life.”

Harry turns back to Narcissa. “You’re welcome. I’m sorry that he was caught up in this in the first place. You’re welcome to move to Decoy House, if you want to, to stay safe from Voldemort.”

Narcissa bites her lip. “Yes. We’re going to do that.” She turns to stare at Lucius, and her hand clenches until Harry can see her knuckles turning white. “I do not know what I can say to thank you enough.”

Harry shakes his head. “Without you and the others, I never would have escaped that trap. That’s enough thanks, or, if you like, you can say that people who swear oaths to each other and mutually save one another’s lives don’t owe each other debts.”

“I owe you for more than simply saving my fiancé, however,” Narcissa murmurs. “I owe you for saving the father of my child.”

Harry can’t help his mouth dropping open. He had no idea that Narcissa was pregnant. She certainly never had any child but Draco in the first timeline.

Or perhaps she had one and miscarried, or they died young. It’s not as though Harry would have been close enough to that version of Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy to ask.

“I—see. I hope, then, that the magic I used from you didn’t endanger you or the child?” Harry isn’t going to apologize for using it at all, even though he would have preferred to call on someone else if he’d known that Narcissa was pregnant. She would probably get angry that he was apologizing for something she just said she owed him a debt for.

“No. We are well.” Narcissa smiles him and glances at Lucius. “And I am going to marry him as soon as he rises up from this bed.” She hesitates, and Harry waits through Madam Pomfrey coming back and casting some more diagnostic spells. Narcissa only continues once the matron’s office door continues. “We would like your name to be part of his, if it is a son. Or even if it is a daughter. I think Henrietta is a lovely name.”

Harry bites his lip fiercely to keep from bursting into hysterical laughter that might wake Lucius up. Instead, he nods. “I would be honored.” What else can he say?

Narcissa turns back to Lucius with a final, pallid smile in his direction, and Harry closes his eyes. He should rest, and not just because of the magical exhaustion that is going to fall on him like a mudslide soon. He can’t take any more surprises this evening, he really can’t.

*

He doesn’t much like walking into the Great Hall to a torrent of applause, either, but he knew he couldn’t count on his oathsworn to keep this quiet.

Harry bows the way he did when he gave his people their rings for Christmas, deliberately showy and comical to undercut what might be burgeoning hero-worship as much as he can, and walks towards the Head Table. A few people rise from the Slytherin table as if they’re going to either escort him or guard him in some absurd way, and Harry narrows his eyes. They sit down again, hastily.

But they’re all grinning, which he knows means they know the limits of his tolerance.

Harry shakes his head, snorts, and takes his seat at the Head Table. Professor Slughorn immediately leans over to him. He’s acted unsure about Harry before this, especially since Harry seems to have more influence among the students of his House than he does, but now he’s no doubt decided Harry is someone to be cultivated. Harry can welcome that. At least someone is acting the way he expects them to act.

“I would like to invite you to the next Slug Club party,” Slughorn burbles, his eyes bright. “Just a little gathering of eighty or so of my closest friends…”

Harry lets him go on and on, only nodding or making appropriate noises in the right places. He’s watching Sirius, who seems to be arguing with Remus about something. When Sirius jumps to his feet and stomps dramatically out of the Great Hall, Harry decides to investigate.

“Put me down as an attendee,” he says, and stands up, smiling at Slughorn. “But right now, I really must go and get some marking done before classes start.”

“You barely ate anything.” No one does a disapproving stare like Minerva McGonagall, no matter the timeline or how old Harry is.

Harry scoops up his plate, winks at her, and sets off after Sirius.

He runs him to ground on the staircase that leads up to the Defense classroom. Sirius whips around and then relaxes. “Oh, it’s you, Professor Salvare,” he says, running his hand through his hair and then staring at it as if he doesn’t know where it came from.

It’s not the warmest welcome ever, but Harry will take it. He gives Sirius a small smile. “Did you have an argument with Mr. Lupin, Mr. Black?” he asks, guiding both of them towards the classroom and taking a large bite of the eggs on his plate. He really is still hungry, just not enough to ignore someone in need.

“I—Remus was giving me a line of bollocks about why he has to join Dumbledore’s Order instead of you.”

“Well, he doesn’t have to join either,” Harry says judiciously as they get to the classroom and he motions Sirius inside. Sirius slumps miserably over his desk, and Harry sits down next to him instead of going to the front of the classroom. He doesn’t think it’s time for that right now. “I’d hate to see him pressured into doing either one.”

“He doesn’t think that the Slytherins will be happy if he joins you.”

Harry blinks. “If you and Mr. Potter can be on your best behavior, I don’t see why it would be impossible for Mr. Lupin. I would have the same rules for him as for the rest of you, no pranks or fights against—”

“No.” Sirius gives him an agonized look, then breathes in like someone jumping off a cliff. “He doesn’t think they’ll accept him because it might come out that he’s a werewolf. It would be harder to hide that he’s sick on the full moons if they were around him more.”

Now Sirius is imitating someone who doesn’t breathe at all. Harry just shakes his head and spears another bite of egg. “He should tell me if anyone has concerns about that. I’ll explain how it’s none of their business as long as Mr. Lupin isn’t loose in his transformed state around them.”

“You’re not worried.”

Sirius’s voice is a little faint. Harry winks at him. “No, I already trusted him.” He studies Sirius’s face and then calls a house-elf named Irry from the kitchens whose specialty is shoving food in people. Sirius jumps when she appears, and more so when the plate of scones and marmalade appears in front of him, despite having heard what Harry asked Irry for. “Now, you can tell him that, or I can talk to him if you think that would make it better.”

Sirius attacks the scones with the knife that appears next to his plate a second later. “I’ll talk to him. He’s intimidated by you.”

Harry frowns. “Really?” Remus is a quiet student in class, but from what Harry’s heard the other professors saying, he’s that way naturally.

“Yes.” Sirius swallows with an absurd smacking noise that makes Harry narrow his eyes at him, which makes Sirius just grin. “He says that he doesn’t understand you, that you smell older than you look, that you smell like James and you don’t, and that your magic is too complex.”

“Huh.” Harry shrugs. He supposes that his scent might confuse a werewolf, yes. He probably smells a little like James and a little like Lily and not enough like either. “Well, talk to him, but I want you to promise me that you won’t pressure him to swear an oath to me, either. He has to make his own choices.”

“Half the reason he wants to join the Order of the Phoenix is that he wants to make a difference and doesn’t know how else he can. But he thinks that even that depends on keeping his secret, and he’s terrified of doing something that’ll betray him.” Sirius gestures with his scone, and sends marmalade flipping onto another desk. “Um. Oops?”

“You have a wand, Mr. Black, clean it up,” Harry says in some amusement, and rises to go to his desk and start setting up for his first-year class.

“Professor Salvare?”

Harry glances over his shoulder, because Sirius sounds as grave as his name. “Yes, Mr. Black?”

“Thank you.”

Harry smiles at him. “And thank you, Mr. Black, for your timely assistance last night. That you responded so quickly and that your brother was also in the sharing made it more powerful.”

Sirius’s chest expands enough to make him look as if he’s about to float right off the floor. Harry snorts and watches him strut out the door. Sirius strutting isn’t a bad thing, as long as he doesn’t take his humor out on someone. And Harry really does think that having to refrain from pranks for a month last term has set him and James on a more adult, thoughtful path.

The first-years start to filter in, and give him awed looks. Harry sighs a little. That is one thing that could stand to calm down.

*

Harry settles back in his chair and scowls at the parchment with the blood splatters. It isn’t making sense. He can see the places where the Horcruxes ought to be, but nothing shows up in those empty spaces on the graph.

He drums his fingers on the desk and growls under his breath.

“Do you have a minute, my lord?”

Harry flips Severus off without looking up from the parchment, which makes Severus pause and stare at him. Harry knows that without meeting his eyes. “Always,” he says. “But not for people who call me lord.”

Severus audibly rolls his eyes, and takes a seat hesitantly at one of the desks. It’s late, later than Harry would usually stay in his office even if students needed him, but he can afford a little lingering now. He has been trying to patiently answer questions from students who seem to hold him in awe, and who he would prefer see him as just a regular person.

He might not be a regular person, but they shouldn’t feel awe towards him. That’s where Harry draws the line. Wanting to follow him, wanting his protection, wanting to know how to cast spells better in his class…sure, he can see all that. But awe and worship make a part of him spit like a cobra.

Harry tries to triangulate the position of the diary and the diadem again, and finally gives up, shaking his head in disgust. He sits back, throwing down his quill, and smiles wearily at Severus. “What can I do for you, Mr. Prince?”

“We want to help you.”

“I know you do,” Harry says. “But did you forget that you helped me a lot, not a fortnight past?”

Severus smiles, which seems to be against his will, considering the dark look he immediately tries to marshal after that. “I mean that we want to help you with whatever quest you’re on to defeat the Dark Lord. Lily told me that she thought it involved Arithmancy, and I can see it does.” He nods at the parchment spread across Harry’s desk.

“I would let you help if it wouldn’t involve you knowing things the Dark Lord would kill you for.”

“He wants to kill us anyway.”

Harry grimaces. That’s probably true, considering Voldemort’s frantic attacks on the followers Harry has outside of school. Andromeda and her family have moved to Decoy House to join Narcissa and Lucius, and a few people who haven’t sworn oaths to Harry but have spoken up in his favor are sheltering behind wards somewhere.

Honestly, Harry is expecting Voldemort to work up the nerve for an attack on Hogwarts sooner or later, probably before this school year is over.

Time hums at him from the walls, soft and yearning. Harry gives them a dark look. If Time intends to repeat the Battle of Hogwarts, then Harry intends to kick Time’s arse.

“Are you all right, sir? Only…I don’t see what the walls have done to deserve the way you look at them.”

Harry chuckles reluctantly and turns back to Severus. “It’s all right, Mr. Prince. One of my peculiarities.”

Severus clenches his fists. “Please let us help.”

“Is this your idea, or everyone’s?”

“They asked me to come and speak to you, but I was already thinking about it.” Severus’s eyes have a sharp, impatient spark in them that reminds Harry, a little, of the way that he once looked at Potions students, in a world that is no more. “I’m good at Arithmancy. Lily is a genius at it. And even Lucius wasn’t bad in his day. There are a few other Slytherins who could help, too. If you need us to contribute magical strength, or just research time, we can do that.”

“On top of your studies?”

“It’s not our NEWT year,” Severus says, as if that really makes a difference. “Regulus hasn’t done as much as he did last term because of his OWLS, but you have a whole host of people who want to follow you, sir.”

“Is this just because you fear Voldemort? Or for some other reason?”

“Maybe some people are blinded by their hero-worship of you, but I have eyes,” Severus says sharply. “I know damn well how close to exhaustion you were when you came into the Great Hall after rescuing Lucius. And you haven’t cast your spells as strongly since. And you rub your head and legs sometimes when you think someone isn’t looking.”

Harry grimaces. It’s true that he didn’t have a concussion, but Healer Hawken came back a week ago because Harry had what amounted to a magical concussion, a disturbance in his power that’s localized in his brain. It shows up as headaches whenever he concentrates too intently on casting. And the same thing has spread to his knees, for some reason, but those were already creaky.

“He nearly took you from us,” Severus whispers. “Please, sir, aren’t you the one who always says that no one can stand alone and we have to be ready to help each other in teams if we fight a real battle? Let us help.

Harry considers it for long moments, weighing various memories and bits of knowledge against each other. How he felt when he saw Lucius arching against the Cruciatus against the desperation in Severus’s eyes now. How much he can accomplish with his students’ magic against how drained he felt the morning after.

How much he needs to find the stupid Horcruxes against his utter inability to make any headway in the last two weeks, and the undeniable fact that the diadem of Ravenclaw isn’t in the hiding place Harry was sure it was in. He put off dealing with it because he was so sure he could deal with it any time he wanted.

Maybe someone like Lily or Evan or Severus will have fresh ideas.

“All right,” Harry says at last, and raises his hand when he sees Severus’s fierce grin. “But I want you to consider the fact that anyone who gets recruited to this thing should be willing. I can’t overstate the danger that Voldemort poses to anyone who joins in this particular effort, as opposed to in general.”

“I don’t set out to persuade people, my lord. I’m not Black.”

“Which one?’

“Either one.”

“And no calling me ‘my lord,’ either.”

This time, Severus only smirks as if he’s won a concession.

Chapter Text

“I’ve been wanting to meet you, Professor Salvare. Fleamont Potter.”

Steadying himself against the dizzying knowledge that this would have been his own grandfather—or is, or will be—Harry smiles politely and holds out his hand. James gave him about five minutes’ warning that he was bringing his father to Harry’s quarters. Harry will just have to live with the consequences.

Fleamont Potter is taller than Harry thought he would be, for some reason, with untamed grey hair and bright brown eyes that his silver glasses seem to highlight. He turns his head like a curious owl to look around Harry’s sitting room.

“Don’t remember seeing the private quarters of a Hogwarts professor when I was a student here,” Fleamont observes in a reminiscent voice. “Must say that you don’t seem to favor any particular House in your decoration.”

Harry shrugs a little. He kept the neutral colors of brown and white that were there when he moved in, and while the sitting room isn’t as clean as it would be if he knew he was having guests over, he doesn’t need to blush for it, either. The several chairs aren’t dusty, and the mantel is clean, and the fire is bright and warm.

“I don’t think favoring any House in a good idea,” Harry says. “I’ve tried to make common cause with students from all Houses, although it’s true that most of the ones I’ve sworn oaths to are Slytherins and Gryffindors.”

“What an odd combination, eh?” Fleamont chuckles as he takes the chair in front of the fire. Harry looks around for James, but he’s already left. Harry frowns a little. So it seems they’re to be in private for this meeting. “Never heard that anyone could get them to cooperate as well as you did, either.”

Harry smiles, shrugs again, and takes the chair that stands across from Fleamont. His head gives a throb, and he conceals a sigh. Healer Hawken warned him that staring too long at one particular thing, like the essays he was marking, would stir up his magical concussion. But some staring is necessary if Harry wants to get the bloody essays done. “I think other professors got caught up in the House rivalry themselves, based on the Houses they were in when they were students, or the Houses they were rivals with.”

“Also heard that you destroyed the curse on the Defense position last year.”

Harry blinks a little, disconcerted by the jump in topic, but it’s an innocuous one enough. “Yes. It was on the banister in the main staircase. Clever. Few people would have looked for it there, and it was free to influence the Defense professors in any number of ways as they walked past it.”

“Huh.” Fleamont strokes the small grey beard that hangs only halfway down his neck. “Why do you think no one else ever spotted it before?”

Harry shrugs. “From what I can tell, sir—sorry, what’s wrong?”

Fleamont pulls his hand back from a huge gesture through the air as though to brush away an annoying fly. “As if I would accept such a title from my son’s lord.”

Harry feels his eyebrow twitch, but he nods. “From what I can tell, Mr. Potter, half my predecessors didn’t even think there was a curse. Or they didn’t plan to stay more than a year in any case, or they had other goals than finding and locating the curse. Sometimes just trying to survive was enough.”

Fleamont gives a hard, dry chuckle. “Yes, I remember some of the Defense professors before this, and especially the ones James had his first four years. You’re right about that. Now. Why did you accept the oaths of your first followers?”

The questions seem random. Maybe Fleamont is just trying to get a better picture of the man that James has sworn himself to, though. Merlin knows Harry would want to do the same, if he had children.

“They were under enormous pressure. Some of them might have become Death Eaters. Others might have turned down one dark path or another, and some of them would have become petty and cruel, if not worse. I wanted to do what I could to spare them that fate.”

“Caring, aren’t you, Professor Salvare?”

“I wasn’t always so,” Harry admits quietly. “But I’m a better person than I was twenty years ago, I like to think.”

Fleamont’s eyebrows go up for some reason. He considers Harry in silence for perhaps a minute, then says, “Noticed an immediate change in James when he came home last summer.”

“Not an unwelcome one, I hope.”

Fleamont laughs dryly again. “No. I have to admit, Euphemia and I have spoiled him. We’d given up hope that we’d ever have children by the time James came along. So we gave him free rein to do pretty much as he liked, and paid for everything he wanted.” He sighs. “And then we gave his friends some of the same attention. James eventually told me that you discouraged him and his friends away from some bloody nasty pranks they might have played last year.”

Harry blinks, surprised that James told his parents that at all. “Yes, Mr. Potter, I did.”

“So it’s not only future Death Eaters that you accepted the oaths from. Since I hope you’d never think that we would raise James in that direction.”

“No, that’s true,” Harry agrees. “Although my first priority was Slytherin students who I didn’t think were being particularly well-served by their current Head of House or the current Headmaster. But after that, I was happy to fight for and beside anyone who would swear to me and accept the other comrades I’ve managed to…amass.”

Fleamont chuckles for almost thirty seconds, although Harry doesn’t see what he’s said that’s funny. Then he jumps into another subject change. “But my James also told us that you don’t want to call yourself a lord.”

“I don’t see the point of it,” Harry says, maybe more honestly than he should. “I don’t want to go through the specific requirements of becoming a magical Lord in Britain, and I don’t want to claim the kind of power that would go along with it. I need to stay humble and close to the people who depend on me. I’m content being Hogwarts’s Defense Against the Dark Arts professor.”

Fleamont leans back in his chair and moves on to irrelevant revelations about himself. “Did you know that I sit on the Hogwarts Board of Governors?”

“You weren’t with them when I made my presentation to them about Evan Rosier’s situation a few months ago.”

“No, but it was, ah, mutually decided that Edward Selwyn had served as much time on the Board as he really should, and I was selected to replace him.”

“All right?” Harry offers, not sure what else he can say.

“I think big changes are coming, Mr. Salvare,” says Fleamont while he stares intently at him. “We must all fit in the places that suit us best, and if someone else is needed to help us recognize that…well, I hope that you wouldn’t reject any advice merely because it comes from an unexpected place.”

Harry has to snort. “I get unexpected advice from my students all the time, Mr. Potter. Let alone my oathsworn.”

“Simply remain open to it.” Then Fleamont abruptly rises and holds out his hand. “Well, I’m glad to know that James’s future is in such good hands.”

“He’ll have to do a lot to define his own future,” Harry says, even as he shakes hands with Fleamont. “I can’t guide him in every step he’ll take.”

Fleamont smiles, and walks out the door, making Harry feel baffled, but also glad that this was one meeting that didn’t end with someone else swearing to him.

*

“It doesn’t make any sense!”

“Yes, it does! You just have to assume a null value!”

Harry leans on the bookshelf in the library and smiles at the table where Lily and Severus are sitting as they argue, waving their arms in the air. Someone wouldn’t have to be right next to them to know how much they were enjoying it, not if you know them well. Lily’s eyes are sparkling, and Severus leans forwards slightly as he pounds a fist on the table.

And they get to do that because he came back in time. This would never have happened in their original sixth year.

“It doesn’t make any sense to assume a null value! The graph doesn’t work!”

“You assume a null value for one of the points!”

Severus opens his mouth to respond, but Harry clears his throat, and they jump and spin around to face him. “Sorry to interrupt you, Miss Evans, Mr. Prince,” he says. “But I think Madam Pince will get a bit irritated if you don’t lower your voices.”

Lily blushes and ducks her head in a way that reminds Harry strongly enough of Hermione to sting a little. But he reminds himself, again, of why he came here. When Hermione is born, then she ought to have a better life than she did before, even.

“Sorry, sir,” Severus says, in something closer to a normal voice.

Harry waves his hand and settles down in a chair he pulls out from the table. “It’s no great matter. I simply didn’t want to see you go to the trouble of picking up your books and moving them. And the parchments?” He peers at the parchment in front of Lily, but it’s at the wrong angle and he can’t make out anything on it. “You said you had a solution to the problem?”

“Only if you make a wrong assumption.” Severus glares at Lily.

“Certain people who weren’t even considered for Ravenclaw should shut their mouths,” Lily retorts, and turns around the parchment so that Harry can see it. “You were right that your original graph didn’t make much sense, sir. So I started calculating other values for the two points you were trying to plot. And I realized that if you assumed a null value for one of them, then the rest of the graph fell into place, and it was easy to plot the other point.”

Harry stares at the graph for almost a full minute before what she’s saying hits him. “So you think you can find one of these objects, but—only if you assume the other doesn’t exist?”

Lily nods and tucks a piece of hair behind her ear. “That’s it exactly, sir.”

“Does it work in reverse?” Harry asks intently, his mind jolting into action. “That is, can you find the other one if you assume a null value for this one?” He taps his finger against the small dot Lily has plotted on the graph.

“No,” Lily says, with a proud smile. “Or, at least, it doesn’t give you any usable values. The swirls that you showed us just go off in random directions then.”

Harry nods intently, staring at the graph. It never occurred to him that he couldn’t find the diadem because someone had already discovered and destroyed it.

Now he just has to find out who.

“Sterling work, Miss Evans,” he says, when he realizes that he’s been staring at the graph like a fool and his students have been waiting patiently on him. He smiles at her, and she smiles back. “I think you have a future as an Arithmancer if you want it.”

Lily blushes with pride, and then shakes her head a little. “I’ve already decided to make my career in Charms, sir. But thank you.”

Severus leans forwards a little. “He’s only saying if you want it, Evans.”

“Don’t get snappish with me, Prince.”

Harry smiles at them both and resists the urge to ruffle their hair or something equally ridiculous. They’re both so cute.

And they’ve helped. Now he can search for the traces that a destroyed Horcrux would leave, instead of the object itself.

*

“I would be very careful what kinds of choices you make around Professor Salvare, Mr. Lupin.”

Harry pauses. He was going to talk to Albus, but he seems to have stumbled into something he wasn’t meant to overhear. Of course, he raises a Disillusionment Charm at once, and a charm that will hopefully mask his scent, before he peers around the corner.

Albus is standing in front of a pale, sweating Remus Lupin. Harry makes the automatic calculation, and then shakes his head a little. It’s been long enough since the full moon that the strain should have faded away. Once again, Harry wonders how soon he can “encourage” the discovery of the Wolfsbane Potion.

“I know, sir,” Remus whispers, sounding defeated. “But it’s hard when all my best friends are sworn to him and I’m not. When it was just Slytherins, it was easier.”

“You cannot make this decision on the basis of what your friends do, as easy as it might be.” Albus pats Remus’s shoulder with a heavy hand. “You have to look at what you know of Professor Salvare’s goals, and then the Order of the Phoenix’s goals. Is he actually fighting Voldemort? Or is he fighting to take his place?”

Harry rolls his eyes. He doesn’t think Albus actually believes that. But it makes a convenient idea to manipulate Remus with.

Or maybe he does. Harry has his suspicions about the reasons Albus is so concerned about Harry’s oathsworn, but he’ll have to talk to Albus directly to confirm them.

“I’ll think about it, sir,” Remus says in a small, wretched voice. “I just—I don’t really want to fight in this war.”

“I’m afraid that that choice is not left open for people of good heart, Mr. Lupin. It is fight in this war or fall before Voldemort.”

Harry has to cover his mouth with his hand so he doesn’t snort aloud. That kind of choice is always open to most people in the magical world. The number of Voldemort collaborators and people who did their best to keep their heads down in the future argues for it.

Albus glances around as if he hears something, though, and Remus backs away with an uncomfortable swallow. “I’ll think about it, sir. Really. But right now I need to get to dinner. Sirius is already concerned about me,” he adds, in an obvious, pathetic defense. “I don’t want to give him more reason to pressure me about swearing to Professor Salvare.”

Albus nods. “Of course, my boy, of course. Take at least another week to make the decision. I don’t want you to feel urged against your will.”

Another week. For something as profound as this. Harry fumes a little as he watches Remus practically run away. When most of the people who swore to me probably did it too quickly.

Albus turns back towards his office, and Harry backs up a corridor, then drops the charms and walks towards his destination again with deliberately loud footfalls. When he reaches the gargoyle, Albus is standing there with a weary, patient expression.

Or rather, his best try at a weary, patient expression. This close, Harry can see the tight lines around Albus’s eyes, and the way his body cants away from Harry as though he thinks he’ll have to go for his wand at any second.

And something else, too.

“Can I talk with you, Headmaster?” Harry asks, with as much of an open, earnest expression as he can muster himself. “There’s an important question I need to ask you.”

Albus’s eyes narrow a little, but he nods. They go up the moving staircase together, and Albus fusses with his robes as he sits down behind the desk. Harry takes his own seat and starts to open his mouth, but a streak of fiery light interrupts him.

Harry draws his wand and makes to leap up from the chair, stunned despite himself that Albus is going to attack him right in the school. But then he realizes that the streak of fiery light is a crooning, singing phoenix, who’s sitting on Harry’s lap and stretching up his beak to bill gently at Harry’s chin and nose.

Harry puts his wand down and blinks at Fawkes. The phoenix welcomed him the day he came to apply for the Defense post, but Harry hasn’t really interacted with him since then.

Fawkes gives a harder and more insistent croon, and Harry finds himself scratching his crest. Fawkes promptly chirps and turns around so that he’s sitting with his face pointed towards the Headmaster’s desk, and tilts his neck to be available for more scratching.

“Well.”

Harry looks up at Albus. His expression is notably softer. He clears his throat and says, “I may have misjudged you, Henry, my boy. No Dark wizard would find the touch of a phoenix so comforting. My apologies.”

Harry nods slowly. “I came to make a similar sort of apology.”

“You did?” Albus sounds more curious than anything else now. “Why is that?”

“I thought you distrusted me for no reason and seemed to concentrate more of your energy on opposing me than Voldemort. But—now I think I know why. I’m sorry for doubting you.” Harry sighs. “And you can remove the glamour.”

Albus goes very still. Then he says, “I will request an explanation of how you knew that,” and raises his wand to trace in a circle around the top of his head.

Harry doesn’t need the chiming from the walls to know what he’ll see. The glamours fade, and now Harry can see the circle of charred skin at Albus’s temples, the darkening of his hair, the marks like burns on his scalp. Albus put on Rowena Ravenclaw’s diadem, and he’s paying with his life for it.

Some things don’t change, Harry thinks, as anticipatory grief settles into his heart.

“How did you find it?” Harry asks quietly.

Albus stares at him in a way that says he’s going along with this for now, but he does expect his own answers soon. “I have known there was a disturbance, a magical weight, if you will, on the school for a few months now. I could only sense it once you dissipated the curse on the Defense post. The resonance of that magic concealed it before. I tracked it down and couldn’t believe it when I found it. I removed two curses from it, and—I thought it was safe.” Albus closes his eyes. “I had come to realize that my wisdom was not as great as I thought it was, and that meant that I needed more.”

Harry swallows against his emotions. “But you destroyed it?”

Albus gives a small smile. “Yes. I felt the curse begin to affect me, and I removed the diadem. Then I blasted it with Fiendfyre, the one curse I had always read could destroy anything. What was it?”

“A Horcrux. One of Voldemort’s.”

Albus’s face pales so dramatically that Harry thinks he might fall over if he wasn’t already sitting down. “He made more than one?”

“Five, as near as I can tell,” Harry says. “The diadem you found, Slytherin’s locket, a cup that belonged to Helga Hufflepuff, and a ring that belonged to his Slytherin ancestors. And a fifth object that I’m having a hard time locating.”

Albus is blinking, slowly, as if it’s going to take him that long to absorb Voldemort’s monumental stupidity. Harry knows the feeling.

“Why five?”

“He intends to create a total of six,” Harry says. “To create—”

“Seven pieces of soul, yes.” Albus slaps his desk with one hand. “I always did think Tom was too interested in that particular magical number.”

Harry privately suspects that Albus thought Tom Riddle was too interested in everything Dark, but he lets that pass. “It’s taken him since his Hogwarts years to create this many. I think it’s partially the fact that the process itself is taxing and that he wants to use objects that mean something to him. He might not have that sixth object yet.”

“Does he know that the diadem has been destroyed?”

“I doubt it. He didn’t know that the ring had been destroyed until he went searching for it and didn’t find it. And he only knows about the locket and the cup because my Fiendfyre destroyed them right in front of him.”

“How did you know about them?” Albus asks quietly. “Why are you hunting them?”

Harry sighs. He wants to tell Albus, yes, but he honestly doesn’t trust him with the full truth, even granted that the diadem might have influenced his behavior. But he can tell him part of the truth which will contain the essential shards of it.

“I want Voldemort dead to protect my students. I knew that the students in Slytherin House, but others, too, would be pressured to join him. Maybe even drawn towards him, if they thought he would promise them power and protection. So I wanted to make sure that he wasn’t a threat. Some of that I did by teaching them to think for themselves—well, I thought.” Harry sighs. The results of that experiment still disappoint him. “And some of that by offering a viable alternative. But the rest of it has to go towards removing Tom Riddle from the board.”

“That answers the second question, but not the first.”

“I used to be an Unspeakable, Albus,” Harry says, meeting his eyes. “I can’t speak about the secrets I learn in the Department of Mysteries to anyone outside it.”

And that is also true. Just not the whole.

Albus catches his breath sharply. “I wondered, when I heard about some of the spells and devices you had used against Tom. But I didn’t think I would get confirmation.”

“I didn’t think I would get such opposition,” Harry says calmly. “Or I might have told you the truth before now.”

Albus flushes and averts his eyes. “I thought—the diadem showed me that you had more knowledge and intelligence than you should have had. That you had some great determination. But it neglected to show me anything else.”

“The diadem promised wit, not wisdom, according to the legends of the inscription on it.” Harry keeps his voice calm, still. Yes, a lot is explained, now.

Including the reason why Albus is still alive, despite the advancing curse. It can’t be the same curse that was on the ring. That one, Voldemort seems to have viciously protected in both timelines, maybe because it was a family heirloom instead of one that belonged to someone else.

“I can try to save your life,” Harry offers quietly. “I don’t know what this curse is, but I can try.”

“I would—appreciate that, Henry, my boy.” Albus’s gaze drifts from Fawkes, who is still snuggled in Harry’s lap, to Harry’s face. “I have made hasty judgments about you, and ones I had no right to make. Please accept my apology.”

Harry nods and keeps to himself that Albus probably only changed his mind because of the phoenix’s welcome of him. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that Harry isn’t going to have two opponents as he hunts down the diary, wherever Voldemort’s put it, and he can maybe save Albus the way he didn’t manage to in his original timeline.

Time sings from the walls.

Harry keeps the grim smile he wants to give inside. Yes, certain things are going to go the way they did in the original timeline. Harry is still going to hunt the Horcruxes with Albus’s knowledge, and Albus is probably going to die of the curse from a Horcrux, although Harry might be able to slow it down enough to give him years of life instead of just a year. He’ll accept that those things will be the same.

Time snickers in the next chime.

Harry ignores it.

*

“I have, ah, been wanting to meet you in person for some time, Professor Salvare.”

“Funny, Mr. Malfoy.” Harry smiles at Abraxas over the glass of wine, which, to give Slughorn what little credit he deserves, is very good. Still, Harry would have avoided Slughorn’s vernal equinox party if he knew that the recently-released Abraxas Malfoy was going to be there. “I thought we already had.”

Abraxas clears his throat and looks around nervously, as though anticipating rescue from some quarter. He’s not going to get it. Everyone else in the bright, expanded, green-and-white-decorated room in the dungeons that Slughorn uses for his parties is carefully looking away from them.

“I heard that Narcissa told you about our coming surprise,” Abraxas babbles, but in a soft voice. “And that she intended to name the baby after you in some capacity.”

“She did, yes.” Harry takes another sip of wine and decides that torturing Death Eaters this way is much more fun than doing it for real. “Congratulations on becoming a grandfather. I hope that your concentration will be on that task in the future. It’s so hard to raise children properly, isn’t it, Mr. Malfoy?”

Abraxas’s face is the color of old cheese. He coughs a little, and murmurs, “I do sit on the Board of Governors, you know.”

Harry assumes it’s a plea for respect. He shrugs a little. “I met the Board of Governors once already.”

“Yes, during my unfortunate absence—”

“You know, incarceration has fewer syllables.”

Abraxas takes a step back from him. Harry gives him a merciless smile and contemplates what he should say next.

Abraxas clears his throat and repeats, “I’m on the Board of Governors.”

“Is that supposed to be a threat, Mr. Malfoy?” Harry keeps his voice as cool and uncaring as before. “I don’t think that I’ll take it as one. Luckily for you.”

This time, Abraxas hurries away. Harry shakes his head, and makes an excuse to leave the party as soon as possible. He’s had his share of baffling conversations with adults for this week.

*

Harry stares down at the point that he’s plotted on the graph. He’s sure of it now. The diary is on another small island off the coast, actually not that far from the cave that originally contained the locket.

He could go after it tonight. And by the morning, Voldemort would be mortal again.

Harry closes his hand into a fist and then closes his eyes in turn, hissing out sharply. The throb in his head is a reminder that the magical concussion, while better, isn’t completely healed. He cast a Stunner today, or he meant to, and actually set a second-year’s desk on fire as his concentration wavered and his magic snapped out of control.

He could go after it tonight. And he would be a fool if he did so.

Harry opens his eyes and scowls at the graph. He has no idea what protections Voldemort might have set up around his last Horcrux, especially if it’s a brand-new location chosen after Voldemort became aware that he only had one—or two, as he probably thinks—left. Harry doesn’t know if he would be able to handle them. He had to be prepared to handle the sea serpent, but he doesn’t know if he can risk a scouting mission on the diary. Voldemort might move it again if he does.

I have to have help.

But who? Harry’s mind turns through the possibilities. He doesn’t like any of them. Lucius and Narcissa are soon to have a child, and Andromeda has one. The last thing that Harry wants is to create more orphans. The rest of his followers are literal schoolchildren.

Someone knocks on the door of his quarters. Harry puts down the graph and stands up, concerned. For someone to come to his rooms this late, it’s probably an emergency. “Come in!” he calls, after he’s disabled a few wards.

The door opens, and reveals both Regulus and Severus. Harry’s concern deepens. Their presence together indicates a disturbance in the Slytherin common room, probably. And while technically he should send them away and make them fetch Slughorn, he knows that he’s better at handling something like this than the Slytherins’ Head of House.

“Is someone wounded?” he asks. “Do you need me to summon Madam Pomfrey?”

“No.” Regulus stares at him. “But someone could be.”

Harry pauses. Now he’s having baffling conversations with teenagers. Well, unlike with Fleamont or Abraxas, there’s no reason that he can’t cut through the bollocks to the truth. “What does that mean?” he demands, glancing back and forth between the boys.

“We both woke with the conviction that you were in danger,” Severus says. He spins his wand between his fingers and looks around Harry’s sitting room, as if assuming that danger is lurking behind the couch. He only looks marginally reassured when Harry raises an eyebrow at him. “And then it ebbed. Regulus and I had met up in the common room and were talking when we felt it again. We came here as soon as we could.”

Harry grimaces. That’s a side-effect of the oaths that he didn’t count on. Technically, he knew things like borrowing magic from his people was possible, but not their starting to sense his moods and the like.

“I was considering doing something reckless,” he says. “But you don’t need to worry about it. I’m going to think on it. I just need to make sure that I choose someone strong and experienced to go with me.”

Severus clears his throat pointedly and taps his wand against his own chest.

“You’re powerful, Mr. Prince,” Harry says. “And of age. But not experienced enough to handle something like this. I won’t risk you.”

“Why should we allow you to risk yourself?” Regulus asks, and then smiles, an unholy smile that makes Harry stare at him. “I know what I’ll do if you decide that you’re not going to take anyone with you.”

“I didn’t say I was going to do that. I said I would get—”

“But I felt it through the oaths now,” Regulus says. “The fluctuation. Thinking about taking help, and then making up your mind that it would be too dangerous for anyone to go with you when you said you wouldn’t risk Severus.” His smile widens. “I’ll send an owl to Healer Hawken and tell him that your magical injuries are getting worse, but that you didn’t want to bother him.”

Harry knows, from an extremely non-baffling conversation he had with Hawken a week ago, that the Healer won’t hesitate to tie him to the bed if that’s necessary. He sighs. “I won’t go alone.”

“Then what are you going to do about this artifact?” Severus demands.

“I don’t know yet,” Harry admits, although he doesn’t know if he should. Is he involving schoolchildren too much in his problems? He knows that he needs help, but does it have to be from people he chose to shelter and protect?

And having them research the location of the Horcruxes is a completely different thing than having them come with him to destroy one.

“Do you think that the Dark Lord is going to move or use this artifact right away?” Regulus asks.

“No. But the longer we wait, the greater the chance that he will.”

“That sill gives us at least a day to think about it,” Regulus says. “And I think I know someone who will help.” He turns away and trots up the corridor before Harry can question him. It’s too much, Harry knows, to think that he’s going back to the Slytherin common room.

Harry fondly remembers the days when Regulus did as he was told, and turns to Severus. “I promise you that I won’t go after this artifact without help and company,” he says. “Please go back to sleep, Mr. Prince.”

“You should do the same thing, my lord. You look like shit, if you’ll excuse me saying so.”

“I can excuse you for the language more than for the title,” Harry mutters. The headache is swelling until it fills his world.

Severus laughs briefly. “Do you need me to get a headache draught from my private stores, sir?”

Of course a seventeen-year-old Potions prodigy has his own private store of useful potions, Harry thinks, and shakes his head. “I think I’ll go to sleep the minute my head hits the pillow.”

“All right.” Severus’s face smooths out. “Then I’ll leave you to get some much-deserved rest, sir.” He waves, and turns and walks down the corridor. Harry watches him, and he does turn in the direction of the Slytherin common room.

Harry shuts the door, glances one more time at the dot on the graph, and then goes to keep his promise to his—

Minions? Can he think of them that way?

Time sings at him like windchimes, and Harry rolls his eyes and dismisses the thought from his mind. If he does start thinking of them like that, then probably he’ll end up taking Voldemort’s place in a way that he doesn’t want at all.

Irritants, though. That has a nice ring to it.

Chapter Text

Harry opens his bedroom door and stops at the sight of the person in the sitting room. The person stares back. Neither of them says a word. Harry has never seen this man face-to-face before, but he knows who he has to be.

Then Harry turns to the second person in his sitting room and asks, “What is your father doing here, Regulus?”

Regulus beams at him. “I know that you need someone who can help you go after the Dark Lord’s artifact. My father is powerful, and our family owes you debts because you rescued me and helped protect me and Sirius. So he’s going to help you go and retrieve that artifact, or destroy it. Whichever you need to do.”

“One could argue that I also took your father’s sons away from him,” Harry says in a low voice, his eyes on Orion Black. He looks as if he needs a stiff drink and to leave, in roughly that order. “Your mother would certainly say that. What did you really do?”

“I told him that Sirius and I would both change our last names to Salvare if he didn’t help you. Andromeda and Narcissa changed their names when they got married, and Bellatrix will do the same thing if she ever gets married. Or she’ll die in prison in the war, probably. That means no one from the most recent generation with the name ‘Black’ will be left.”

Harry turns to stare at him. “You said that? You’re serious?”

“No, of course not,” Regulus says, in such a puzzled, hurt tone that Harry is taken in for a minute. “I’m not my brother.”

Harry closes his eyes and rubs his hand over his forehead. Regulus is being too fifteen for him right now.

Orion Black softly clears his throat. Harry opens his eyes and looks at the man, who’s mostly silvery-haired rather than dark-haired and looks more like Sirius in the face. “I did in fact agree with him that we owe you debts. The Dark Lord would have killed Regulus, and Albus Dumbledore would have enslaved Sirius.”

Harry refrains from saying that he doesn’t think Dumbledore is going to brand Order of the Phoenix members any more than Harry is going to brand his oathsworn. Right now, the deception serves him. “And because of that, you’re willing to risk your life?”

Orion shakes his head, his grey eyes dull and apprehensive. “Because the Dark Lord tried to kill my younger son. And because both of them have thrived being sworn to you. It showed in the letters they wrote to me, and it showed when Regulus Flooed me last night.”

Harry sighs. “You should know that if I accept your help, there’s a good chance that you could die from this. Voldemort values that artifact about almost anything else at this point, and he’ll have powerful protections around it.”

Orion gives him a shaky smile, although he flinches when Harry speaks Voldemort’s name. “I am aware of some of those protections. He said that anyone who goes to the island will have to pass wards that require a Death Eater’s presence.”

Harry blinks at him. Keeping his movements large, smooth, and broad so that Harry won’t react as if he’s reaching for his wand, Orion tugs his left sleeve up, and reveals the Dark Mark.

Harry can’t remember if Sirius and Regulus’s father was Marked in the first timeline, but he supposes it doesn’t matter. What does is that he can bypass those protections with Orion’s presence.

He nods. “I accept your help. I’m also going to ask a few other people.”

“The more help we can have, the better. From what the Dark Lord said, the traps are…extensive.”

Harry draws his wand, and Orion tenses, although he doesn’t run. Regulus just looks bright-eyed.

“I need to ward the Dark Mark so that Voldemort can’t reach you through it,” Harry explains. “He could try to kill or cripple you with the pain otherwise, and as terrible a parent as you’ve been, I don’t want Sirius and Regulus to lose their father.”

Orion flinches a little more, but extends his left arm. Regulus doesn’t leave, and Harry doesn’t ask him to. He settles on the couch next to Orion, and begins to hiss out the litany of commands to the snake in the Mark that he used when he cut the connection Lucius’s Mark had to Voldemort.

By the end of the process, his headache fills his world, and he sits back on the couch and pants for a moment. Orion studies him as he folds his left sleeve over the Mark, but he says nothing about it. “How many other people will go with us?” he asks.

“I’ll ask for at least two.” Harry doesn’t intend to say that he’ll ask Dumbledore for a few experienced Order members. No need for Orion to worry about where their “help” will come from. “And then I have some colleagues to visit.”

*

“You’ll trust the Order members to go with you, and trust them if they offer you some unsolicited advice?”

Harry snorts and removes a clingy Fawkes from his shoulder to put him back on his perch. Fawkes croons dejectedly, but stays in place. Harry goes and flops down in the chair in front of Albus’s desk. “Yes, although you have to be aware that one of the people accompanying us will be a Death Eater. That means that they’ll need to keep advice about him to themselves.”

“A Death Eater you can trust?”

Albus is clearly skeptical, but Harry only raises his eyebrows. “Yes. As a Parselmouth myself, I can take control of the serpent that appears in the Mark when necessary.”

Albus blinks. “You might advertise that. There would be more than one Death Eater who might join you for the promise of such freedom.”

Harry shrugs. “Voldemort will die pretty soon, and then I’ll free the people who ask for it. But there’s no point in announcing it right now and having him turn on his people or try to make sure that he’s controlling them with the Imperius or the like.”

“I suppose not.” Albus considers it. Then he says, “I can give you the services of two brothers, Gideon and Fabian Prewett. They’re used to functioning as a team, and they have some Auror training. They’ll do what you ask of them.”

Harry swallows. “Thank you, sir.” Silently, he vows not to get Ron’s uncles killed by Death Eaters, no matter how much Time would like the symmetry.

“Are you sure you should be going soon?” Albus is staring at him in open concern. “You don’t look well at all, Henry.”

Harry ignores Fawkes’s croon and the softer buzz under it that he suspects is coming from the Elder Wand and its whiny neediness. “We won’t go today, sir. And I’m going to pick up some tricks before then to even the odds.”

*

Harry reads through the parchment that the Unspeakable to greet him this time produced, frowning deeply. “I appreciate the effort that went into this spell,” he says slowly. “But it doesn’t look like it would be much good in battle. It requires long preparation, and too much of the main ingredient from someone to leave them battle-ready afterwards.”

“For someone it would be too much, but not from some many,” says the Unspeakable who greeted him this time, as anonymous as ever in a grey cloak and masked glamour. They’re in the middle of the Silver Room, which is used in developing new spells. Harry doesn’t understand why the silver surroundings are conducive to that particular field, but then, he spent most of his years with the Unspeakables in the Time Chamber.

Harry flicks his eyebrows up. “I see.” And that does make sense of a notation at the end of the spell that recommended the precise number of people the caster should have around them. Harry rolls the parchment up and stores it in a scroll case on his belt. “How much do I owe you for the development of the spell?”

“Use it in battle, Mr. Salvare. That will pay us for the use.”

Harry smiles. He suspected that would be the answer. The Unspeakables rarely get to see their more theoretical spells tested in the field, not like Aurors, and this one is more theoretical than others. Among other things, it requires a Parselmouth. “Thank you. And the one that I did pay you to develop?”

“Here.”

The Unspeakable makes a complicated gesture with their hands, and a silvery baffle of light that blocks the sight of new magical developments from anyone who doesn’t work in the Silver Room draws back. Harry looks down at the device with deep curiosity. It reminds him of the Mirror of Erised, in miniature. It’s a small reflective glass surrounded by a golden frame with two small legs. The glass swings back and forth in the frame, just as Harry specified.

“You have an advanced theoretical mind, Mr. Salvare,” the Unspeakable says as they hand the small mirror to him. “We could use you again in the Department of Mysteries.”

Harry stares. He expected an invitation, but not one so blatant. Most of the time, Unspeakables allow time travelers, who are after all mostly their own people, to go their own way and do what they want.

But as much as someone can whose face is masked from sight, the Unspeakable radiates welcome.

Harry nods. “I’ll consider it.” Truly, he doesn’t know what he’ll do after Voldemort is defeated. He’ll probably remain in the position of Defense professor for a few more years to protect his students and ensure that some of them are settled on paths that benefit them, but after that, will anyone need him as much? He can’t think they will.

“And one more thing you should see, Mr. Salvare.” The Unspeakable turns and leaves the Silver Room, Harry trailing behind.

He suspects where they’re going, and sighs a little as his fears are confirmed and they walk into the Hall of Prophecy. The Unspeakable takes him straight to what Harry thinks, at first, is a different prophecy. But then he realizes it’s merely the original orb that’s grown bigger, and he can make out some of the writing on it now, words floating near the surface.

…thrice defied him…

Well, Harry has, at least if defiance counts as times Voldemort and other people both knew about it. The duel, saving Regulus from being kidnapped, and being kidnapped himself.

“Thank you for giving us a chance to research this.” The Unspeakable clasps their hands together. “In matters of prophecy that relate to time travelers, flesh triumphs over circumstance.”

Harry blinks. “What?”

“Ah, of course.” The Unspeakable leans forwards a little. “You worked in the Hall of Prophecy, but in different—ways.”

Harry nods. He doesn’t know if perhaps the Unspeakables in this time have taken measures to ensure that their prophecy records are safer than they were in the future, but then, he doesn’t expect it to concern him much.

“The debate,” the Unspeakable continues in a tone of relish, “was between those who thought that Time would continue to prefer the time traveler to fulfill a prophecy—favor the same flesh—or whether it would prefer someone who could fulfill the original prophecy whether or not they were the time traveler—favor the same circumstances. There might have been another child born in the time you left who could have done what you did.”

Harry nods, not remotely surprised. If he’s special, it’s because of the way Voldemort chose him and the wizarding world revered him, and he adapted to fit those circumstances. Someone else could become the “savior,” too, if they had to. “And you discovered that flesh triumphs over circumstances.”

“Yes. Time prefers that you fulfill a new prophecy rather than someone else fulfilling the old one.”

Harry looks at the prophecy and shakes his head. “I won’t play it for you.” He doesn’t want the prophecy to influence his circumstances and make them self-fulfilling as they were for Voldemort with Trelawney’s first prophecy.

The Unspeakable sighs, but they don’t seem surprised. “Very well. But I hope you will let us know how both the spell and your mirror do in battle.”

Harry smiles and crafts a protective bubble to go around the mirror, just to make absolutely sure that it won’t be damaged in the Apparition. “I’ll provide you the memories.”

*

“We have to work with a Death Eater?”

Gideon’s voice is low, controlled, but angry. Harry took Orion Black to the meeting with the Prewett twins in Albus’s office, because he saw no point in delaying the issue.

Gideon and Fabian are both tall men with violently red hair and no trace of Fred’s and George’s humor. Fabian has a scar on his cheek, but he isn’t the one who’s objecting to Orion’s presence, at least verbally. He hangs back near Albus’s desk and twirls his wand between his fingers instead, eyeing both Harry and Orion with intense skepticism.

“Yes,” Harry says, ignoring Gideon’s tone. It’s easy enough after ignoring Voldemort’s taunts and some of the things his students think it’s appropriate to say in classes. “Voldemort has a ward around the island so that no one except those with a Dark Mark can get in. But I’ve changed Orion’s Dark Mark so that he can’t be hurt by it. It still has the connection to Voldemort’s magic, though. He won’t notice any difference.”

Fabian straightens up when he hears that, and stares at Harry with something too intense to be called respect. Then he exchanges a glance with his brother, and nods. “Very well. We’re coming with you.”

Harry resists the temptation to snap, I hope so, and just nods to the Prewett brothers. He glances at Orion. Orion looks back at him and shrugs.

“At least they’re purebloods,” he says.

Harry settles for a long, long sigh.

*

Apparating to the island is the easy part. Harry gives the coordinates to the Prewetts, and they make the jump easily. Orion follows them, and Harry—

Lands on a shore of rock and sand that immediately crumbles beneath his feet, responding, as Harry realizes after a moment of incredulous flailing, to the feeling of his specific, individual magic.

Sometimes he’s smart, Harry thinks crossly, catching his feet at the bottom of the beach, and then casting a Lightening Charm on himself when the beach starts to crumble again. He floats up and away when he pushes off from the sand, and hovers in midair as he watches the stone and sand reassemble. When it’s most inconvenient.

“Was the ward an alarm?” Fabian asks. He has his wand out, staring around at the grey, rainy beach, where waters are swirling and churning beneath a cloudy sky. “Will he know that you’re here?”

“No,” Harry says. “It was only designed to keep me from Apparating in or easily approaching the island.” He conjures a rope and twists it around his ankle, then tosses the other end to Orion. “Here, tow me, or I won’t be able to move easily without ending the spell.”

Orion catches the rope with only a blink of surprise, but Harry has the Prewett brothers focused on him suspiciously again. “How did you know that it wasn’t an alarm?” Gideon asks. “And how did you manage to use the Lightening Charm so quickly.”

“I used to be an Unspeakable,” Harry says, which makes a convenient answer to everything, especially because it’s true. “And my students come up with the same kinds of silly tricks.”

That at least makes the Prewett brothers relax. They glance around, and Fabian asks, “So where is this artifact that we need to destroy?”

Harry takes a moment to orient on the diary. There’s an unmistakable pulse of Dark magic from the center of the island, an area that seems to be uphill and then down in the middle of what might be a hollow between the small hillocks. “To the northeast.”

They turn and trek in that direction, Orion towing Harry along on the rope. It makes Harry feel ridiculous, rather like a giant balloon, but at least they’re doing what they need to do. It’s only when they reach the top of the hill that Fabian and Gideon reel back with their hands across their faces.

“What is it?” Harry asks. He glances around, but he can’t see whatever ward or trap might have affected them.

“There’s a choking—screen of some kind.” Fabian sounds like he’s on the verge of vomiting. “Like running into a cloud of skunk scent.”

Harry nods. He must be above it. “Is this the Death Eater ward, Mr. Black?”

“I think so.” Orion bares his Mark and moves slowly forwards, waving his arm around. Harry can’t see or sense the ending of a ward, but the Prewett brothers straighten up and remove their hands from their faces a minute later, which he supposes is the best he’s going to get. “There. That should end it.”

“He’s very arrogant,” Gideon mutters as they trek forwards again, their wands out and covering as many angles as they can.

“Always a fault of his,” Harry mutters.

But his heartbeat ratchets up when he sees a hollow in the middle of the sandy hollow between the hills, containing the diary out in the open. Voldemort isn’t that arrogant. He would never leave the diary without protection, even if it was just from the elements in the kind of box that contained the ring.

“Stay back,” Harry says, and the Prewett brothers obey the snap of command in his voice, scrambling a little way up the hill they just descended. Orion freezes in place, but Harry thinks he can probably feel the waves of power coming from the diary better than any of them.

“What is it?” Gideon whispers, his wand trained on the diary now.

“Is there a Riddle family grimoire?” Fabian adds.

Harry sighs a little. So Albus told them Voldemort’s real name, but not the history of his family. That’s so typical of him that Harry can’t even get angry. “No. The Riddle family was a Muggle one. This is the artifact that we came looking for. Keep in mind that it’s resistant to destruction by everything but basilisk venom and Fiendfyre.”

“We heard you can wield Fiendfyre.” Fabian glances away from the diary to give Harry one of those judgmental looks he seems to be prone to. “Are you going to?”

“Yes, once we ascertain that there aren’t any other traps. Voldemort would never have left it just lying out like this in the open if there weren’t.”

Harry draws his wand, and in that instant, the diary stirs and snaps open.

There’s no chance to resist it. The long cone of sepia light that unfolds from the diary’s pages seizes all of them, and then draws them violently into its pages.

*

Harry lands roughly in the middle of a Hogwarts corridor, or at least it looks like one. The stones are brown and heavily outlined in black. He scrambles up, feeling the floor give beneath his feet the way it does in dreams, and severs the rope holding onto his ankle. It’s going to be a hindrance in battle.

The others materialize beside him, the Prewett brothers looking washed-out with brown hair instead of ginger, and Orion looking monochromatic. “What is this?” Fabian asks, his voice thin and high as he and his brother spin around and around, keeping their backs pressed against each other’s.

“We’re inside the diary,” Harry says grimly. Voldemort must have fed the diary some of his own power, or perhaps a victim, for it to be this active. “It’s a Horcrux.”

“A Horcrux.” Orion is gasping with horror, and although it’s hard to tell because of the way the spirit of the diary has washed out the colors, Harry thinks he’s gone pale with it, too. “I never would have…I never would have followed him if I’d known. That crosses an important line.”

Harry keeps his thoughts about how the torture and murder of innocents should have been enough of a line to himself, and just nods. The Prewett brothers have stopped turning in circles and are looking at him.

“What’s a Horcrux?” Gideon asks.

“An object with a piece of a soul attached, which means that the person who made it can’t die as long as the object exists.” Harry reaches into his robe pocket, searching for the little bubble that contains the mirror the Unspeakables gave him. It’s still intact, and he thinks he can use it in the diary. In a strange way, perhaps, but he can use it.

“We have to destroy it, then.” Gideon raises his wand and looks around as if searching for the best place to strike.

Harry opens his mouth to answer, but the corridor warps viciously around them, bending and twisting like a snake that wants to throw them off its back. Harry braces himself as the others cry out. He knows that Tom Riddle controls every sight and sensation they’ll experience in the diary. And that means that he’ll probably disorient them with tactics like this and then strike from behind.

Harry turns around, and sees a black liquid like the one that came out when he defeated the diary in his world seeping out of the walls.

Harry swishes his wand and casts Fiendfyre at it.

The flames are without color in the diary, and form only sickly-looking grey gargoyles instead of their usual beasts. But the black liquid recoils from the fire with a piercing scream, and Harry gets control of it with a vicious hauling on the reins of his magic.

Which makes a pounding pain leap through his temples.

Harry scowls. This magical concussion sucks.

He did it, though. The black liquid withdraws into the walls, and there’s a long pause that Harry can only describe as “waiting.” Then the black liquid appears again, but this time, it swirls around with the grey light and forms into the shape of a young, handsome Tom Riddle, much as he appeared when he took form in the Chamber of Secrets in Harry’s first world.

“Ah, gentlemen.” Riddle glances from face to face, as if fixing them in his memory or getting ready to chide them. Then he turns to Harry and freezes, staring at him.

Harry gives Riddle a grim smile. He has no idea what Riddle’s sensing, if it’s that he’s the one who used the Fiendfyre or that he’s a Parselmouth or even that he used to be a Horcrux. In the end, it doesn’t matter much. What does is that he can destroy Riddle, and from the way Riddle backs up a step, he might know that.

But then Riddle stops retreating, and sets his shoulders proudly. “What is this about?” he asks. “You have invaded my home, you have tried to injure me, and I should simply accept that and let you go?” His voice is injured.

“You’re a bloody Horcrux,” Gideon says.

“We don’t owe you any apologies,” Fabian adds.

Riddle’s eyes are so wide that they look like spilled puddles of ink. He glances around and ends up staring at Harry again. “What is it about you?” he demands. “Did you tell them what I was? Why are you different?”

Harry studies him for a second. It’s possible that he can enrage him the way he would the real Voldemort, and then he’ll expose himself with dangerous lashing out. “I am your enemy,” he says in Parseltongue, and Riddle falls further back from him at the sound of the snake language. “I destroyed you in one world, and then I came to this one to do the same thing.

You—you are kin to me if you can speak this language,” Riddle says, his mind obviously racing as his voice falters. “Why would my own family turn on me?”

Harry gives a thin laugh. “That appeal doesn’t mean much, coming from someone who slaughtered and sacrificed the only living family he had left.

Riddle springs silently at Harry. He’s unwinding and dissolving even as he comes, turning into the oily black liquid again. He whips thin tendrils around Harry’s throat and flows to cover his mouth and nostrils.

Harry curves his fingers inwards and punctures the bubble that holds the little mirror.

The mirror immediately flares with brilliant light, the only color in the whole monotonous world of the diary. It turns and directs that beam of light up at the oily liquid Riddle has become. The black liquid screams and breaks apart, flowing frantically back into the walls and stones.

Harry catches the mirror by the legs and puts it on the floor. The golden frame is already turning grey, and the diary around them is peeling back in delicate swaths of brown and black and white, revealing the scribbled letters that make up reality here, and the world of the island beyond, faint as a memory.

They don’t have much time. Only until that golden frame turns completely grey.

Harry gathers up Orion and Gideon and Fabian with his eyes. “Can all of you cast Fiendfyre?” he asks.

Orion nods. Gideon grimaces. “We’ve never done it. We try to avoid Dark Arts as much as possible.”

“Then guard this mirror,” Harry says, nodding to the tiny thing. “This is the only thing guaranteeing us a way out of here. Mr. Black and I will use the curse.” He turns so that his back is to Orion’s, and the twins adopt the same posture.

The black liquid is already forming in the walls again, sometimes mingling with floating letters. Some of it looks red, and Harry imagines that he’s looking at the blood of whoever it was that Voldemort fed to the diary.

“Now,” Harry tells Orion, and they raise their wands and call the fire at the same time.

Again there’s a piercing scream as the flames lift and curl, lifeless-looking though they are. Harry ignores the way a crown of pain is tightening around his head, and the way his blood is pounding harder and harder through his veins. He shapes the grey fire into snakes and drives their heads and fangs again and again into the black liquid.

Another attack of some kind, which looks like a pseudo-basilisk, comes surging down the corridor towards the Prewetts, but they take care of it with stinging whip-like curses that impress Harry.

And which aren’t the bright color they probably should be. The little mirror trembles on the floor, on the verge of running out. Three-quarters of its frame has already turned to lead.

Harry turns and aims the grey fire straight at the little mirror.

He hopes he’s guessed right about the theoretical spells that bind the mirror, and what they’re going to do to his weak fire now. The Unspeakables built the mirror to his specifications, yes, but that doesn’t mean that something like it has ever existed before or that it’ll work now. Harry never anticipated battling inside the diary.

The Fiendfyre strikes the mirror’s glass and glances up and away from it. For a moment, it remains a grey stream with only a few heads.

And then it turns a brilliant gold, and rears up into a massive hydra with eight heads, singing with cruel joy.

Riddle screams again around them. Harry turns in a circle and sweeps the walls with his Fiendfyre. They crumble and wisp away, and Harry and Orion and the Prewett twins are standing on the ground of the island again, with the diary turning into a smoking ruin behind them and the mirror toppling over onto the sand, a powerless sculpture of lead and cracked glass.

And the Fiendfyre is still raging.

It rears above Harry, twisting back and forth, growing more and more heads and necks, crackling down at him. The ground of the island is whispering away to ash beneath it. Harry breathes harshly, struggling to control it.

The mirror was made to change whatever it shone on or which struck it into its opposite. Based on alchemy, it would only last as long as it took the frame to change from gold to lead, but that was enough to change the diary from reality to unreality.

And to change the weak Fiendfyre to a raging demon that Harry’s not sure he can control.

Harry feels blood trickling from one nostril as he forces himself up from his knees, where he didn’t even notice he’d fallen. He stares at the Fiendfyre, and determination rears up in him. He knows that he can’t call on his comrades’ magic, not when it exhausted him so badly last time. He would pass out, and the Fiendfyre would consume everything it could, including his companions. Orion isn’t strong enough to hold it, and the Prewetts have no experience with the curse.

That means that Harry is going to have to conquer this fire the way he conquers the Imperius Curse: with sure, indomitable will.

He stands, and he stares at the fire, and he says in Parseltongue, “No.

The Fiendfyre exults, dancing back and forth. Now it’s many snakes, with many bodies, and too many rapidly-multiplying heads to count. The heads are already stretching out to hungrily eye the mainland. Harry can tell from their low hissing, which imitates Parseltongue when they’re in this form, that they’re looking forwards to devouring Muggle homes and people.

No,” Harry says again, and makes it a command, a reality. “Die down.

He doesn’t reach for his wand. There’s nothing about it that would help him. He speaks in Parseltongue, and the snakes turn and look down at him haughtily. They have eyes, technically, but those eyes are nothing but pure flame.

Die down.

The snakes give an angry hiss that changes into a scream as they feel his will clamp down on them. They writhe back and forth, trying to fling off the invisible iron bands, and Harry holds them more and more fiercely, tightens them and moves them in.

He wants them to die down. He wants them to fade.

He wants it so intensely that white light blots out his vision. But not before he sees one of the snakes simply disappear in a pop of sparks.

Harry smiles, and moves a step forwards. He can hear the others calling out, but he can’t understand them over the roaring of the fire and the press of his will.

Die.

The snakes wail, and then many of them grow smaller, all at once, as though Harry’s wanting has stolen the top layer of flames from them. Harry knows that his mouth is probably locked in a crazed rictus, but he’s walking towards them again, and they’re backing away from him, and he feels the sweet burn of victory in his breast.

Die.

The snakes gather themselves together into a single tornado of fire and crash down towards him.

Harry raises his arms above his head, not to shield, but to direct the force of his will up through his muscles and his fingers and his tendons and his bones—utter rejection of everything the Fiendfyre wants to do at the moment.

Die.

The snapping, gaping mouths are inches away from him, and the fangs are lances of white fire that start to pierce his arm—

Just as they die. Harry stares at the smoke that is all that remains in the mess of superheated air, and he smiles.

His will has prevailed.

Then it’s gone, and Harry crashes to his knees again. He can hear the alarmed shouts now, feel the hands on his shoulders shaking him, but he’s unable to pay attention. There’s a soft noise echoing in his ears that he has to listen to instead.

It sounds like something tearing apart inside his brain tissue.

Healer Hawken is going to be displeased, Harry thinks a moment before pain and darkness eat him like the Fiendfyre.

Chapter Text

“You are lucky you haven’t permanently drained your ability to do magic.”

Most of Healer Hawken’s lecture hasn’t made Harry flinch, because it’s all the sort of thing he’s heard before: “Your life has value,” “You’re reckless and careless,” “You should have more care for yourself.” But the thought of not being able to keep his promises to his oathsworn and defend those who need defending from Voldemort makes Harry wince.

“But I haven’t,” Harry says, and Healer Hawken whips around to face him with such force that his own tail of hair hits him in the face.

The Healer pushes it away from his cheek with a hiss and glares at Harry. “That’s the only part of my warning you’re going to react to?”

Harry shrugs a little, deciding not to say anything about how it’s the only new part. Then he winces again. Even a shrug hurts his shoulder. He’s lying in a bed in the Hogwarts infirmary between what are essentially two huge Transfigured pillows, both of them pressing potion-soaked bandages against him. Apparently the injury to his magic means that he can’t even drink potions the normal way and trust them to work with his innate power to heal him. He has to go through the slower method of absorbing them through the skin.

“You have enough people who are worried about you,” Healer Hawken says in a low, deadly voice, “that I don’t see any reason I should stay and scold you any longer. I’m sure they’ll do it far more effectively than I will.” He pauses, apparently struggling with something, and then asks, “What was so urgent that you couldn’t wait a few more weeks until the magical concussion had gone away? It was healing. You were recovering.”

“I had to destroy a powerful artifact that could have rendered a Dark wizard more dangerous,” Harry says, and leans back to let one of the potions work more slowly into his skin. “I was afraid that he would move it somewhere else if I waited, and I would have to find it all over again.”

“Better than that to destroy your magic or kill yourself.”

Harry sighs. “I know.”

“One of those people who think everything is all right because they’re still alive,” Healer Hawken announces to the air, and then turns around and walks over to the door of Madam Pomfrey’s office. “I give up, he’s your problem,” Harry can hear him saying.

Harry, meanwhile, closes his eyes and drifts for a minute. It’s not going to last long, if only because he’s sure to have more visitors, but it’s soothing to feel the cool press of the potions. Even the blanket that’s draped over him to cover his bare skin is coated with a thin layer of soft liquid.

“Professor Salvare?”

I was right, that didn’t last long, Harry thinks, and opens his eyes to see Regulus and Severus standing in the doorway of the hospital wing. They’re staring at him with eyes so huge that Harry has to smile at them. “I’m all right,” he says.

“You are not,” Severus says, his voice a frigid snap that reminds Harry of his own future’s Severus Snape for the first time since he traveled back. “I can smell—they don’t use Amanita mushrooms for anything shore of desperate cases! What did you do?” He marches towards the bed and then stops and stares again, running his gaze up and down the bed and the blanket as if he can see every potion that Harry is taking. Well, absorbing.

“He had a hemorrhage in his brain,” Regulus says. “The cause was magical, but it did physical damage.”

While Severus gapes in silent outrage, Harry narrows his eyes at Regulus. That’s too close to the exact phrasing that Healer Hawken used to content him. In fact, it is the exact phrasing. “Where did you hear that, Regulus? Were you listening at the door when Healer Hawken talked about it?”

“No.”

Harry continues staring at him. Regulus only looks back, the picture of innocence, before he adds, “I was listening to him with an eavesdropping charm from the Slytherin common room.”

That distracts Severus enough from his fuming that he looks at Regulus. “Eavesdropping charms can’t reach that far.”

“If you attach them to two objects, one of which is an exact copy of the other, and you leave the original object in the place you want to eavesdrop on while you keep the duplicate, they can.”

Harry closes his eyes and reaches up to massage his forehead. He did think that Regulus was oddly interested in Duplicating Charms, but he never thought about why.

“You little brat,” says Severus in what sounds like wonder.

“Sure, but at least now you know what’s wrong with him,” Regulus says. “There was also something about acute magical exhaustion.”

Severus continues studying Regulus in silence for a moment, and then faces Harry. His face has gone smooth and somber. He says, “Sir, I know that you don’t want to hear it, but your death would have left us vulnerable.”

“So would not destroying the artifact that Voldemort had left on that island.”

Severus swallows. His face is pale and haggard, and it suddenly occurs to Harry that he looks not only angry, but like he hasn’t been getting enough sleep. “Sir…we would have managed to survive somehow. Even if Riddle moved that artifact and we had to track it down again. But we wouldn’t have survived the loss of you.”

“Mr. Prince,” Harry says softly. “I promise that there wouldn’t be a backlash down the conduits of the magical oaths. The ones we swore aren’t that closely binding.”

“We wouldn’t survive as an alliance,” Severus says, his eyes burning with a deeper kind of anger now. “It’s already been fractious in the days since we heard that you’d returned to the school injured. Regulus’s brother knows that his father went with you on that quest, and he was accusing Regulus of having deliberately set it up so that their father would destroy you, just like a slimy Slytherin, I believe were his words. Potter is spending all his time with Lupin, trying to persuade him to swear to you, but Lupin is reluctant to do it, and saying something about how he doesn’t want to swear to a leader who could be taken down by a single trap. Tiberius is talking about how, if you die, we don’t have a choice except to go to the Dark Lord.”

Harry’s head spins for a second. He does say to Regulus, “Tell your brother that I’d like to see him, please.”

“Yes, my lord,” Regulus says, and leaves the hospital wing before Harry’s glare can catch up with him.

“I understand what you’re worrying about,” Harry says to Severus. The thoughts in his brain move like ponies trying to canter through fudge. But it’s important that he say this. “However, it’s possible that I’ll fall in battle against Voldemort, or even die of something simple a few years from now. Dragonpox could fell me tomorrow, or I could trip down the stairs and break my neck.”

Severus’s glare intensifies. “Sir.”

“No, hear me out.” Harry has to keep his voice low as shouting would hurt his throat, but luckily, Severus listens to him with nothing more than an indignant huff. “I want to build something that can survive my death, including an alliance and a way for the students who are growing up in the midst of war to have more choices. I thought I was further along that path than I am. Well, I’ll have to work at it. But sooner or later, it does need to survive my death. I’m not immortal.”

The walls sing at him. Harry feels a violent twitch enter his left eye, but luckily Severus can’t hear the chime and ignores the twitch.

“Sir…”

Severus doesn’t speak right away, and Harry nods to him. “I know. It doesn’t need to be right away. And I’m going to do the best I can to be here as long as you need me to. I do want to emphasize, though, that I can’t be the only linchpin that binds you together. That has to be your own strength and cohesion.”

Severus closes his eyes and swallows. “Yes, sir.” He pauses for a second, then opens his eyes again and gives Harry a complex look. “Is that one reason you didn’t want to be named as a lord? Because a lord’s followers rarely reach a second generation?”

Harry smiles. “Yes. I have no interest in creating some kind of temporary political organization or social club. I have an interest in you reaching a brighter future.”

Severus looks overwhelmed, but whatever he might have said is overridden by the doors of the hospital wing flying back and Sirius running in, his hair trailing behind him like the mane of a wild horse and his eyes wide and frantic.

“Professor Salvare! You’re awake!”

Sirius looks as if he’s going to fling himself onto the conjured pillows, but Severus catches his robe and yanks him back before he can. “An injured Professor Salvare, Black, don’t jump on him,” Severus hisses.

“I know that! I wasn’t going to!”

Harry has to admit he feels as doubtful as Severus on that point, but Severus snorts and lets go of Sirius’s robe. Harry reaches out a hand and pats the edge of the bed, and Sirius comes over to lean against it, staring at him anxiously.

“What did my father do?” he whispers. Well, if it’s meant to be a confidential whisper, it fails, since it comes out more like a growl.

“He didn’t hurt me,” Harry says. “He helped me. He was one of the reason that we were able to destroy the artifact we went in search of, and he helped the others who were with us to get me back to the hospital wing.” They took him to St. Mungo’s first, but it turned out that Albus had summoned Healer Hawken to Hogwarts, anticipating that Harry would return injured, and so he ended up back inside the walls of his first home.

Sirius swallows. “But he’s a Death Eater.”

“I know. I took him with me because I needed his help to get past a ward around the artifact’s hiding place.”

“And not…” Sirius’s fingers twist into the edge of the blankets on the bed. “Not because you’re going to become his ally and make me go back home?”

Some part of Harry relaxes, although he can see Severus glaring at Sirius’s back, probably because Sirius cares more about his own personal problems than Harry’s injuries. “Of course not. I won’t make you live anywhere that you don’t want to, Sirius, even if I do become allies with your father. You should get to make that decision. And my loyalty is always going to be to the people who swore to me.”

“What would happen if he swore to you?”

“Then he would have to learn to get along, and respect you, the same way you had to learn to get along with Mr. Prince and your brother.”

Sirius bows his head and nods. His breath leaves him in a long sigh. “I knew that, I think. I just—needed to make sure.”

“I understand.” Harry pats Sirius’s back. “It’s fine. I’m going to be well, and we’ll defeat Voldemort and the Death Eaters once and for all.”

“Does that include my father?”

“I think your father is in hiding from Voldemort somewhere, if he’s wise.”

Sirius manages a wan smile, and he talks with Harry in a low voice about inconsequentialities for a few minutes, before he turns and leaves the hospital wing. He’s already walking better, with his head lifted proudly.

“I am not to be soothed by platitudes.

Harry blinks and turns to Severus. “Did I say that you were, Mr. Prince?”

I am not going to be soothed with pretty words like a child,” Severus says. His eyes are blazing now with uncomplicated fury. “I am going to keep an eye on you.” He makes it sound like a curse.

Harry shrugs. “All right.”

Severus falters to a stop at what seems to be the beginning of a fine rant and stares at him. “What?”

“If you want to keep an eye on me, then you can. Not that I’ll be in the classroom for a week or so, and it’ll mean lots of visits to the hospital wing.” Harry shifts to settle himself more comfortably in the bed. He suffered some burns despite the Fiendfyre not actually attacking him, simply from standing so close to its heat. “But after that, I could probably use someone to remind me that I’m not immortal—”

Hum, go the walls. Twitch, goes Harry’s eye.

“—and that I’ll accomplish more if I husband my magic and don’t use it all at once.”

Severus glares at him. Harry looks back with an innocent expression, and Severus finally nods and says, “Right,” but with less surety.

“I am glad I survived,” Harry says. “I promise, Mr. Prince, I never meant to die. It’s simply that sometimes, dying is worth it if you can accomplish something greater with your death.”

“Telling off Fiendfyre in Parseltongue isn’t worth dying over!”

“Somehow, I don’t think Regulus was the only one listening to that eavesdropping charm.”

Severus marches out in a version of high dudgeon that Harry knows is nothing compared with the real thing. He chuckles and closes his eyes. He has to rest.

But at least he knows that he hasn’t lost the regard of his oathsworn for the stupid risk he took, and that’s everything.

*

Harry wakes up with something silky draped over his face. He scowls and reaches up to pluck it off, wondering if Pomfrey thought he needed the blanket over his head for some reason.

But his hand touches something much softer and lighter than the blanket, and he pulls it away like a handful of nothing. Harry stares at the nothing, and then sighs as it wraps around his hand and his hand disappears.

“No,” he tells the Invisibility Cloak that’s snuggling up with him.

The Cloak curls around his hands and arms like a lost kitten.

“You belong with the Potter line, and you know it.”

The Cloak wraps closer, with a wriggle that seems to say, I know.

“Not with me!” Harry hisses, trying to pull the damn thing away from him. It’s hard when he’s wedged between potions pillows, weighed down by a blanket, and struggling with an Invisibility Cloak that’s hard to see in the faint starlight as it is. “You know that I gave up the name Potter when I came here! I’m Salvare now!”

The Cloak dives under the blanket and wraps itself around his chest, making some of the bandages disappear.

“Goddamnit,” Harry mutters, and tears the Cloak off just as someone walks softly into the hospital wing.

It’s too late to pretend to be asleep, but then Harry sees it’s not one of his students, so he doesn’t have to. Fleamont Potter walks over to his bed and blinks down at him. “I realize this is an unusual request, Professor Salvare, but you haven’t seen an Invisibility Cloak anywhere, have you?”

“It’s here, in fact,” Harry says, shaking his head as he hands the damn thing over. He thinks he hears a distant wail, the way he keeps hearing buzzing from the Elder Wand when he’s in Albus’s office, but he ignores that. “Sorry. I don’t know what attracted it. Perhaps the sheer volume of magic that’s being put out to heal me.”

“Perhaps.” Fleamont takes the Cloak back slowly, studying Harry as if to pierce his way through Harry’s skin. Harry blinks innocently at him, and Fleamont smiles a little and wraps the Cloak into a bundle that fits into his pocket. “This particular artifact has been in my family for a long time, and it’s always had somewhat of a mind of its own.”

Harry smiles. “I can see that.” If he shudders because he’s thinking of the artifact with a mind of its own that he recently fought, Fleamont probably can’t see it under the blankets, anyway.

“Hmmm.” Fleamont has his wand lit with a Lumos Charm, but that isn’t enough to let Harry really make out the expression on his face. “Well. Good night, Professor Salvare.”

“Good night, Mr. Potter,” Harry replies, and watches his grandfather, or would-be grandfather, walk out of the hospital wing again before he closes his eyes.

He has so many other things to deal with, including the Lupin situation and how he’ll get his classes caught up after the week’s enforced rest and what Voldemort will do next, but right now, his body is so focused on sleep that he would be useless for anything else anyway.

*

“And I trust that you students will be considerate of the fact that Professor Salvare has suffered intense magical exhaustion, and not make your demands on him too frequent or unreasonable.”

Those are possibly the worst words that Albus could have said at breakfast the day he came back, Harry reflects in exasperation as he leans back behind the desk. His students, even the ones who aren’t sworn to him, are falling all over themselves to try and make sure that Harry isn’t hurt or wounded or even having to perform basic magic.

“You don’t have to Summon that, Professor Salvare! Let me get it for you.”

“Let me demonstrate that charm, sir. You just sit back and rest.”

“Can I stay and help with the second-year class, sir? I have a free period now, and you know that they always wear you out.”

James and Lily didn’t even ask permission. They just showed up for his eight-o’clock class the day after he was released from the hospital wing, the one with the first-year Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws, and bracketed him and helped answer questions, and leaped to their feet every time Harry tried to stand up.

By the end of that class, Harry is wearing a fixed smile, and he turns to Lily and James and says, “Miss Evans, Mr. Potter, I appreciate your help, but I need to demonstrate the spells for the students.”

“Why, though, sir?” Lily is very good at playing faux-innocent when she wants. Harry has the oddest flash of her doing the same thing when Petunia tried to ask her something, and has to blink, hard, to get the visions of his first timeline to fade away. “We can do that. And if we make a mistake, you’re right there, and you can correct us.”

James pops around Lily and puts a glass down on the desk. Harry blinks at it. It’s full of what looks, and smells, like warm milk. “Mr. Potter? I know that you didn’t conjure that.”

“No, I brought it down under a Preservation Charm from the hospital wing.” James smiles winsomely at him. “Madam Pomfrey says that you’re supposed to drink something nutritious every two hours, and I thought you would ask for it. But you didn’t. sir. So I brought it for you.”

Harry looks around for something to bang his head against, but he knows he wouldn’t get far, with two solicitous students hovering over him.

“Professor Salvare? Aren’t you going to drink your milk?” Lily asks. “I know that it has honey and a pain-killing potion in it.”

“I don’t need a pain-killing potion.

Lily raises her eyebrows. “So I didn’t see you rubbing your head earlier, sir? As if you had a headache localized behind your forehead?”

Harry hisses out and reaches for the glass of milk. Lily watches him closely as he drinks every bit of it, and James takes the glass when he’s done, as if he thinks that Harry might try to break it in his frustration.

“You’re going to make excellent overbearing parents someday,” Harry mutters. He doesn’t mean to. It just slips out.

Lily blushes, and James shoots her a sly glance and puts an arm across her shoulders. “Well, we’ll be sure to—”

“Don’t get fresh with me, Potter,” Lily says, shoving his arm away, and stalking out of the classroom. James grins and follows her.

Harry sighs and leans back against his chair when they’re gone, staring up at the ceiling. He thinks that he’s done, and starts to stand up and get ready for his next class, which is third-year Gryffindors and Slytherins.

The door opens, and Severus and Tiberius Wilkes march in. Harry stares at them, a little appalled.

“Mr. Wilkes, I know you have Transfiguration right now.”

Tiberius smirks at him. “Professor McGonagall was happy to let me work ahead and turn in my essay early and then miss one class, sir. She says that a hero of the school deserves all the help he can get.”

“I don’t need your help with the third-years.”

“You need to take your next potions on time,” Severus says, folding his arms. “And you never know, a dragon could break through the walls and you would heroically leap into the line of fire to fight it. We’re here to make sure we fight it instead.”

Harry scowls at him. Severus stares back at him. Harry is sure that he has a glass of charmed milk under a Preservation Charm waiting somewhere nearby, too.

At least his headache is gone. Harry sighs and settles back in the chair behind his desk. This is the other side of swearing the oaths to protect and help, he reminds himself. He has to let his people help him, or it’s possible that they’ll become bitter and not achieve the future that he wants for them.

Fine,” he says.

“He sounds exactly like my little sister when she’s angry because a potion made her feel better,” Tiberius tells Severus in a loud whisper.

Harry glares at him, and Tiberius busies himself casting several of the standard safety charms that Harry uses at the beginning of every practical class. Severus stands at the side of his desk, eyeing everything in the room before he begins casting spells that stick to the desks to the floor.

“Mr. Prince, floating desks are generally not a problem in a class full of third-years.”

“I’m not underestimating how much trouble you can get into,” Severus says flatly.

Harry sighs.

*

“You think as I do, then.” Albus rubs a hand over his blackened temples. He did try some of the spells that Harry recommended to him—Harry doesn’t have the strength right now to cast them himself—and Harry can tell that the progress of the curse has slowed. But it hasn’t stopped, and the Headmaster still wears a glamour everywhere outside of his office.

“Yes” Harry leans back in his chair and folds his hands on top of his chest. “Voldemort thinks that he has only one Horcrux left if he’s learned of the destruction of the diary, and he probably felt us cross the wards there, if nothing else. He would have gone to check. He’ll come to Hogwarts for the diadem.”

Albus nods. “We must have a plan to contain him.”

“I have one,” Harry says quietly, and takes out the scroll that contains the spell the Unspeakables designed for him. He hands it over.

Albus sprawls it open and reads it. His mouth parts a little, and then his eyes shine, and he chuckles. “Yes. And it’s uniquely tailored to your strengths.” He rolls the parchment up and hands it back to Harry. “I only have two questions.”

“Yes?”

“First, it’s blood magic. Are all of your followers going to agree to that? I know that you have both those who wield the Dark Arts and those who don’t in your following, but—”

“I’ll be the one who’s using their blood,” Harry says firmly. “All of them are required to spill only a little to make the spell work. That’s the point of having so many. The Unspeakables know that I’ve sworn myself to lots of people. There won’t be a requirement for anyone who’s uncomfortable to participate. I’ll have enough no matter what.”

“And I think I’ve seen, in the last fortnight, that there are plenty of students in this school who would do anything they could to keep you from magically exhausting yourself.” Albus only smiles innocently at him when Harry scowls a little. “As to my second question, can you tell me why my wand wants to fly across the office and bond with you?”

Harry sighs and doesn’t bang his head on anything. “It’s not the only powerful artifact that’s attracted to me, Albus. I think it has something to do with my Parseltongue and the magic I have. One of the Horcruxes tried to approach me in much the same way. The Potters’ Invisibility Cloak tried to snuggle with me when I was still recovering from my hemorrhage. I promise that I won’t take your wand.”

Albus looks vaguely alarmed. “I wish you wouldn’t take promises like that, my dear boy.”

“Why not?”

“Because I don’t have that long to live, in any case,” Albus says gently, and gestures at the mark of the diadem around his temples. “And my wand is a powerful artifact. I suspect you know that.”

Harry meets his eyes evenly. “I recognize elder wood when I see it, yes, sir.”

Albus only nods. “I plan to retire at the end of the summer term,” he murmurs, utterly surprising Harry. He thought the man would try to stay in his role as Headmaster as long as he could, even though it wouldn’t be as long as it would have been if he’d never been cursed. “And I cannot think of anyone I trust to hold this wand more than you.”

Time snickers.

*

“P-Professor Salvare, I need to talk to you.”

Harry looks up, glad that for once his babysitters aren’t present. “Yes, please come in, Mr. Lupin. I’ve been expecting you.”

Remus freezes for a second, then sits down in his usual desk. “The others told you that I was considering swearing to you?” He licks his lips.

“Yes, or joining the Order of the Phoenix. I’m sorry if they’ve put too much pressure on you. I think everyone should be free to choose.”

Harry waits patiently. He thinks he might know what answer Remus is going to give him, or at least the answer he wants to give, if the way he avoids Harry’s eyes is any indication. It only takes a few more minutes before Remus clenches his hands on the desk and looks up.

“I might be a werewolf, but I’m not really violent,” Remus says. “And I’m not good a combat magic. I don’t want to fight in this war.”

“Then you shouldn’t have to, Mr. Lupin.”

Remus has been drawing in breath to go on, but he lets it fade now, and stares at Harry in what looks like cold shock. “What?” he finally says.

“I don’t think that everyone should fight in the war,” Harry says. “And I don’t think they should do it against their will. I would be no better than Voldemort if I encouraged someone unwilling to swear an oath to me.”

There’s also the fact that someone who’s so reluctant to engage in fighting wouldn’t be an asset on the battlefield anyway, but Harry won’t say that to Remus. It would probably sting his Gryffindor pride, and might convince him to push himself forwards and do something he regrets later.

“I—but James has been saying that no one can really stand outside the war…”

“People shouldn’t just ignore it, that’s true,” Harry says. “I think the people who refuse to believe that the Death Eaters and Voldemort are dangerous and tell the papers so are ridiculous. But you can sit it out, Mr. Lupin. With any luck, the final act of the war should happen soon, anyway. I’ve harmed Voldemort too deeply for him to let it go.”

Remus is approaching a normal color again. “And you don’t mind if I don’t fight with you?”

“No. I want you to do what makes you safe and happy, Mr. Lupin. Not stand with me just because the rest of your friends are.”

Remus looks at him with respect that’s tempered with awe. Harry just smiles at him. The awe isn’t enough to catapult Remus into being a warrior, and it shouldn’t. It’s enough if he doesn’t try to turn his friends away—not that Harry thinks much could sway Sirius and James from their dedication—and doesn’t join the Death Eaters.

“Thanks,” Remus breathes out. “I didn’t know it would be that easy. I would have come and talked to you a long time ago if I thought it was.”

Harry gets up from behind the desk and comes around it to pat Remus’s shoulder. “You’re welcome, Mr. Lupin. And I hope that you won’t let fear, or pressure from your friends, keep you from making decisions that you want to make in the future.”

“I’ll try not to, sir.”

Remus leaves his classroom with a lighter step and a lighter heart, which is all that Harry can really ask for.

*

Voldemort attacks Hogwarts with an army of Death Eaters on the second of May.

(Harry is highly not amused).

Albus is the one who knocks on the door of Harry’s quarters to summon him, but Harry was already awake, feeling the gathering and swelling pulse of Dark magic that’s rather like five or six diaries coming closer. Harry touches the parchment scroll at his belt and stands, opening the door and nodding to Albus as he finishes casting a few charms on his robes to make them more like battle armor. Fireproofing and waterproofing are the least of them.

Harry becomes aware of a small clinking sound as they walk along, and glances back once to see a round shape roll into the shadow of a suit of armor and try to hide. Harry rolls his eyes. So it took months, but the Resurrection Stone managed to leave the ocean and come to Hogwarts.

It can follow him all it likes. Harry is not going to take it up.

“Your oathsworn are ready?” Albus asks quietly as they walk down the corridor towards the Great Hall, where Harry knows his students will be waiting. The soft awareness spreading through his oaths feels like excitement and hope.

“Yes, sir.”

“How many of them agreed to give their blood for this spell?”

“All of them.”

Albus stops walking and looks at him with wide eyes. Harry gives him a gentle smile that he tries to keep from being cheeky as best he can. Albus has many fine qualities, and he did apologize for doubting and fearing Harry, but he always looks so bloody surprised whenever a group of people has loyalty to someone that isn’t him or Gryffindor House.

“Well,” Albus says at last. “Good.”

Harry nods and takes the lead, well-aware that Albus lets him. But it doesn’t matter. When he opens the doors of the Great Hall, a roar goes up from several dozen throats that he knows is for him, and he pauses and bows to his people, humbled by their trust in him.

The sixth- and seventh-years are at the forefront, with the few fifth-years behind them, and the adults in the back ranks. Well, minus Regulus, who is at the forefront and wriggling like an eager puppy. Harry directs a stern look his way, and Regulus calms and lifts his chin high.

“Thank you for standing with me,” Harry says simply. “I can’t pretend that this battle will be easy, but we’ll have a much greater chance together than apart, and with each of us giving a little blood, the easiest of all.” He waves his wand to conjure a great porcelain basin in the middle of the Great Hall. Porcelain is magically neutral, and thus, the Unspeakables who designed the spell reported, would work best to collect the blood.

Regulus bounces forwards first, of course, and Harry has to stop him from cutting his arm open to the bone, and insist that he pull back when he otherwise would have given too much. Severus is next, eyes shining, and then Evan, his head bowed, and Andromeda, striding up to the front as if daring someone to stop her, and Lucius and Narcissa right behind her…

They all look so proud, and Harry has to smile at them. He helped give that to them. He helped turn them into people they’re proud to be.

When the last fifth-year, a wide-eyed Ravenclaw named Elise Fawley, has finished depositing her blood in the basin, Harry cuts his own arm. Madam Pomfrey distributed enough Blood-Replenishing Potions to Professor Slughorn to handle everyone some time ago, and Slughorn moves through the room solemnly, giving out the potions. He doesn’t want to be involved in the battle himself, but as far as Harry’s concerned, he’s doing more than enough.

Harry scatters his own blood across the surface of the mingled liquid in the basin, and begins to hiss. The words make the blood bubble and jerk. Harry speaks the entire incantation, which is long and complex and doubles back on itself like a coiling serpent, in Parseltongue. The whole time, the blood boils and leaps up the sides of the basin.

Be a loyal servant for the duration of this battle,” Harry finishes, and steps back.

Severus is right there with a Blood-Replenishing Potion and a demanding stare. Harry swallows it, rolls his eyes at him, and turns back to the basin in time to see the blood begin braiding itself upwards.

The first curse from outside hits the wards, and the whole castle shudders. Harry remains calm, not looking away from the basin, confident that the plans he and Albus made for this eventuality are being followed. The younger students will have been herded to the Floos in the professors’ offices the minute Albus confirmed Voldemort’s approach, and the sixth- and seventh-years who can Apparate will have been taking others out down the tunnel to Honeydukes and leaving from there.

The blood boils and twists, and then the magic takes hold all at once. The liquid slams together, crimson and brilliant as if still freshly-bled, and the younger students squeal. Severus tenses with anticipation next to Harry.

A basilisk made of blood rises from the basin, twining its shimmering, thick-scaled neck in circles, horns and plume in dark scarlet rising from its smoothly-forming head.

Hello, beautiful,” Harry hisses, stepping forwards. The basilisk sways towards him, the Parselmouth whose blood it was the last to consume, and flicks out a long forked tongue that moves back and forth across the air like a scribble of ink. Harry touches the tongue, and it rasps across his palm hard enough to draw another drop of blood. The taste appears to satisfy it, and the basilisk lowers its head to the ground.

Harry leaps atop it, balancing easily. Severus is not the only person scowling at him, but Harry ignores that. The blood in the beast recognizes and embraces him, and it’s no more possible for him to fall from it than it is to fail to perform a Patronus.

Aim for the one that stinks of Dark Arts,” Harry tells the basilisk.

Yes,” the simple answer comes back, and again the serpent’s tongue darts out, like a streak of red lightning.

It glides straight out of the Great Hall, Harry ducking his head so that he can fit under the arched entrance. Behind him, he hears his oathsworn following, and Albus and the other professors who aren’t supervising the student retreat. Harry straightens up and is glad that the basilisk bends enough that he doesn’t need to duck as they leave the school.

The whole point of this is to look impressive and terrifying. Ducking rather ruins the image.

When the basilisk is beyond the doors, Harry can see the Death Eaters lined up on the road to Hogsmeade, beyond the gates of Hogwarts. There are rather fewer of them than Harry expected, which makes him smile.

Voldemort is standing alone at the front, hurling curses at the wards. He pauses when he sees Harry, and stares at the basilisk in rage. Harry wishes he could see the fear mingled in with the anger, but he doubts Voldemort would ever openly show it.

Harry commands the basilisk to halt in Parseltongue, and it does, head swaying back and forth. Harry rides the swaying easily, and smiles at Voldemort. Voldemort’s eyes dart back and forth between him and the snake.

“Hi, Tom,” Harry says.

As he hoped and suspected, the words fling Voldemort into a rage. He screams, and rushes forwards, hammering a swift assault of spells that brings down a portion of the wards. His Death Eaters follow him, although they’re conspicuously trying to avoid Harry and his blood-basilisk and aiming for the students instead.

Harry draws in a deep breath. He has to trust, he has to hope, that their fighting skills and those of the professors will hold.

He has Voldemort to worry about.

Voldemort has obviously taken the time to study the basilisk’s composition, and he flings out a charm that’s not a bad choice, one used for drying liquids quickly. Harry touches the basilisk’s head and gestures forwards, and it rushes him over and down, moving with the deadly swiftness that Harry remembers from the Chamber of Secrets.

Voldemort dodges the first strike of its fangs, and Harry flings an Entrail-Expelling Curse that makes Voldemort dash back in the other direction. He tries several lightning bolts after that, and Voldemort manages to dodge all of them, coming closer and closer to the basilisk.

“Never knew you were such a good dancer, Tom,” Harry tells him cheerfully.

Voldemort screams, “Avada Kedavra!”

The basilisk rears and takes the curse for Harry, positioning its neck in between. Harry knows that it won’t kill the creature, but the curse does make several large scales of blood fly away from it, which causes the basilisk to shrink. Harry needs to make sure that he can kill Voldemort before it’s gone altogether.

Use your gaze,” Harry tells the basilisk as quietly as he can.

The Unspeakables warned him that this spell wouldn’t create a basilisk that has all the traits of the real one; it will expend more magic to use them. But that contented Harry well enough, since he didn’t want the basilisk Petrifying all his allies anyway.

And he doesn’t think the Petrification will kill Voldemort or freeze him. But he’ll take slowing him down.

The gaze does make Voldemort slow, weaving back and forth in place for a moment, his wand uplifted. Harry places his hand on the basilisk’s head and snaps, “Now.

The basilisk plunges down, committing everything to the power of the dive.

Voldemort dashes to one side again, laughing maniacally. But he’s too focused on the basilisk to realized that along with its fangs coming closer to him, Harry, balancing sturdily on its head, is doing the same thing.

Harry hurls another lightning bolt, but this time, it takes Voldemort broadside.

Voldemort screams as he goes flying backwards, his limbs moving in odd, jerky patterns. The basilisk lifts its fangs from where they’re embedded in the grass and turns about with a snap of its tail.

Voldemort holds Harry’s gaze as the fangs come towards him. There’s no acceptance in his gaze, no peace at the thought of death. Harry didn’t think there would be. There’s hatred, and fear as hot as Fiendfyre.

This is not the end,” Voldemort says in Parseltongue.

The diadem is gone, Tom.

Voldemort’s eyes widen, and he screams in the seconds before the basilisk’s fangs pierce him.

Harry doesn’t know if the venom that a conjured blood-beast can give will be enough to kill Voldemort. He’s not going to take any chances. He jumps off the basilisk’s head as it dissolves from the effort of pouring forth the venom, and calls Fiendfyre for one, last time.

This time, it forms a gryphon which consumes Voldemort. He screams only one more time, and then his voice fades into the churning of the flames.

Harry never lets them get out of control. He calls them back with a sharp snap, and turns about, studying the battle and seeing who needs the most help.

His students are fighting magnificently, working in pairs and trios and little groups that flow and break apart as necessary to go to each other’s aid, working the way Harry taught them in class. Evan takes down a large Death Eater that Harry suspects might be his father with a kick to the groin. Lily and James are fighting side-by-side, ignoring the large bloody scratches both of them bear, and breaking the kneecaps of two witches in bone-white masks with loud snaps. Severus has blinded someone who might be Walburga Black with a spray of red potion, and is busily binding her so hard that she won’t be able to rise.

Sirius and Regulus are back-to-back, and a circle of Death Eaters are backing away from them, unnerved. Even as Harry watches, some of Voldemort’s forces turn and flee, probably overwhelmed by the death of their lord.

Harry’s heart beats with fierce pride. It looks like the Battle of Hogwarts might have few causalities aside from Voldemort himself.

But even as he thinks that, he hears a high, cackling voice that’s horribly familiar, and Bellatrix, her mask gone and her hair streaming behind her from the force of her run, heads straight towards Regulus.

Sirius gets in the way, and they begin to duel in a complicated, swirling pattern that Harry recognizes at once.

The Department of Mysteries. Part of that battle is happening again, here, on the grass in the bright morning.

Harry begins to run. He doesn’t know if he’ll get there in time, but he gives himself more speed and more energy than he has since he woke in the bed in the hospital wing, bounding along, his robes whipping his ankles.

Die, little cousin!” Bellatrix finally shrieks, when she tries a purple whip of fire that Sirius foils with an easy shield.

Harry continues running, in dread every second to see a red spell unwind from her wand.

But it doesn’t

Avada Kedavra!”

Chimes sing loudly in Harry’s ears as he flings himself in a low tackle, hitting Sirius’s legs and knocking him out of the path of the curse—

And himself into it.

*

Harry opens his eyes to white.

“Oh, come on,” Harry says, and sits up.

The whiteness swirls around him. Harry looks back and forth, wondering what happens next. A train? (Although this place isn’t solid enough to look like King’s Cross). Or Albus Dumbledore coming over to him, beaming? (Even though Albus isn’t dead in this timeline).

Maybe Death itself coming to greet him?

But instead, three shadows appear, slowly becoming firmer and more solid. Harry raises his eyebrows at the way the Cloak spreads out beneath the Elder Wand, and the Resurrection Stone lies on top of that.

“Uh-huh,” Harry says.

They all buzz at him.

“You realize that you have a family?” Harry says to the Cloak. “And you have a wielder?” he says to the Wand. “And I already rejected you?” he says to the Stone.

Soft chimes sound, and then Harry hears a deep, dreamy voice, which doesn’t really sound like Trelawney’s, reciting words that echo and reel back and forth in the still air.

The Dark Lord’s Bane, the one who has thrice defied him, thrice spoken his will with snakefire, and thrice freed a Death Eater from service, will face the choice of three.

“I did not thrice free a Death Eater from service,” Harry says crossly. “It was only two. I only changed Lucius’s Dark Mark, and Orion Black’s. That was all.”

The chimes murmur, and if Harry listens hard enough, he can hear the name Abraxas Malfoy.

“I didn’t change his Dark Mark! I just—”

Harry stops. Scared him enough that he would probably never return to Voldemort’s service.

Harry sighs as he stares at the Deathly Hallows. He gave them up in his first timeline because he never wanted to be a lord, or a title, or a Master of Death. He would have given up the title of the Boy-Who-Lived if he knew how to do it.

And in a way, didn’t he? By coming back in time, to where people might be mental about him in other ways, but no one knows him as Harry Potter, the Chosen One, the Boy-Who-Lived.

But now…

He knows that he can survive if he claims the Hallows.

And he won’t if he doesn’t.

Time likes symmetry. The Battle of Hogwarts shouldn’t have taken place on the same day as the one in his timeline except twenty-one years earlier, but it did. Bellatrix shouldn’t have been at the battle to fight Sirius the way she did in the Department of Mysteries—Harry didn’t even think she’d escaped from Ministry custody—but she was. He shouldn’t have this choice, but he does.

And he’s not fool enough to turn away from it merely because he doesn’t like being Master of Death or a Lord, not when he wants to live to see his students succeed, to see Narcissa and Lucius’s child born, to help Albus as long as he can.

To go on being Professor Henry Salvare, the person he chose to be.

The Deathly Hallows buzz at him.

Harry sighs, and stoops, and picks them up.

*

“What is wrong with you?”

Harry blinks and stares up at Healer Hawken. The man leaped back from the hospital bed when Harry opened his eyes, and swore in several creative ways that Harry never heard before. Now he’s pacing back and forth with his hands pulling at his hair.

“It’s enough to make me retire from Healing!” he’s currently ranting.

Harry clears his throat with difficulty. “Can I have a glass of water?”

Hawken conjures it for him and brings it over, but he’s still ranting. “What the fuck happened? You don’t recover from a Killing Curse! Except if you’re Oh-So-Special-Professor Henry Salvare, I suppose, look at me, riding a blood-basilisk into battle and completely disregarding my health—”

Harry sips the water and ignores him. He can hear the running feet drawing closer. He suspects that, just as his oathsworn felt the magical and emotional fluctuations through the oaths before, they can feel that he’s alive now.

Regulus flings the doors open and pounces on him in the way that Sirius managed to avoid last time. Healer Hawken starts yelling at him in turn. Regulus doesn’t seem to care or hear, and Harry doesn’t listen. Regulus is pushing his face into Harry’s robes, and Harry can feel the tears he’s shedding.

He looks up in time to see Severus leaning against the doors of the hospital wing, half-collapsed, and the way his tears aren’t shed.

Harry smiles. Hearing the contented buzz of the Deathly Hallows in his ears and the chiming from the walls and the rants of his outraged Healer is a small price to pay.

*

Harry doesn’t explain the nature of his new circumstances to everyone, using a combination of bollocks about Parseltongue and how his oaths to Sirius and Regulus, both members of the Black family, allowed him to resist a Black’s Killing Curse, but a few people are owed more than that.

The knock comes on the door of his quarters, right on time.

“Please come in, Mr. Potter.”

Harry looks up with a smile as Fleamont steps in. Fleamont nods and gives him a half-smile back. He sits down in the chair opposite Harry. “You said this had something to do with our Invisibility Cloak? That now we can’t find anywhere?”

“Yes. I’m sorry, Mr. Potter, but—did you know your Cloak was one of the Deathly Hallows?”

Fleamont’s eyes widen, but he doesn’t look overly surprised. “That would explain a lot,” he murmurs. “I did know that Albus carried the Elder Wand, but no one I knew of had ever seen the Resurrection Stone. You’re going to tell me that you’ve united the Hallows?”

Harry nods. “Yes, sir. The Resurrection Stone was in an artifact that belonged to Tom Riddle’s ancestors, and after I cleansed it of Dark magic, it became—well, attached to me. I suppose that increased the attachment the other two Hallows had.”

“Well, well, well.” Fleamont settles back in his chair, thoughtful. “I can’t pretend that James will accept the news as gracefully as I can, but I’m relieved that the Cloak is in safe hands.” His eyes abruptly pierce Harry. “And in the hands of a Potter.”

Harry chokes. “What?”

“I heard you, that night in the hospital wing.” Fleamont stares at him. “I won’t press you for explanations right now. I think that you’ve become used to keeping your secrets. But I would be honored to know you in any capacity that I can. As family.” He pauses. “My father’s name was Henry, you know.”

“Yes, sir. I’m aware.” Harry clears his throat.

“Grandson,” Fleamont breathes. “I should have seen it before. Those damn green eyes—so my James marries his Lily, does he?”

“That timeline is gone, sir,” Harry says, his voice harsher than he means it to be, colder. But he doesn’t want—maybe someday he can tell James and Lily, but for now, he doesn’t want them to look at him as they would if they knew. “They might not get married, they might never have a son, he might not look like me. Please don’t tell them.”

“I won’t,” Fleamont says. “But I meant what I said about knowing you as family, and outside a professional capacity. Consider it. We can claim you as a distant relative, but—consider it.”

The yearning in his eyes is so real that Harry has to look away for a minute. He nods. “All right. But—what did you mean outside a professional capacity, sir? Are you coming to teach here?”

Fleamont snorts. “No. I did mention that I’m on the Board of Governors?”

Harry narrows his eyes. “In that first confusing conversation, yes, sir.”

“Call me Fleamont, Henry, the ‘sir’ is ridiculous. And we’ll know each other in a professional capacity because the Board’s been told that Albus is stepping down as Headmaster. Minerva McGonagall will become Headmistress, of course. She’s more than earned it, putting up with Albus’s nonsense all these years.”

“Yes?” Harry asks suspiciously.

“She’ll need a Deputy, Henry.”

“Oh, come on,” Harry says, appalled. “I’ve only been here two years! You should appoint Professor Flitwick, or Slughorn, he’s—”

“Slughorn would be a disaster,” Fleamont says flatly. “We’ve all discussed this, Henry. You might only have been at Hogwarts two years, but you’re the one who has the qualities. Quality will reveal itself. Talent will out. And it’s nice when it actually does, and we don’t have to manufacture it, or promote someone who’s only in that position because of their family name.”

That means that someday I’ll be Headmaster, Harry thinks in horror. Probably.

Time, which wants him to take Dumbledore’s place, gives the loudest snicker he’s ever heard from it.

Harry clears his throat. “I suppose that Governors who’ve discussed it include Abraxas Malfoy?”

“Yes. He was one of the most enthusiastic, oddly enough.”

Harry sighs. He did want to stop making decisions out of spite, or just to avoid power. “All right, I accept. Keep in mind that I might be a disaster, too.”

“I don’t think so.” Fleamont stands up, looking victorious. “We look forward to your assuming the position with the beginning of the next school year.”

He hesitates, and Harry looks up at him. Fleamont takes two quick steps forwards and puts his hands on Harry’s shoulders in what’s not quite a hug, but not far away from one.

“I’m proud to welcome you to the family,” Fleamont whispers.

Harry never thought that anyone who wasn’t an Unspeakable would know he had time traveled. Now he makes another decision, and stands, and hugs his grandfather back.

*

THE MAN-WHO-CONQUERED! blares the headline on the front page of the Daily Prophet.

Harry laughs, because he has to, and lets the paper drop. He leans his elbows on the parapets of the Astronomy Tower, staring out over the grounds. There were indeed few casualties in the battle, and none of his oathsworn, and the wounds left by his Fiendfyre and his basilisk have already been healed over. The air hovers around him, soft and warm with a June-to-be. The night sky above him is bright and clear. Harry can see all the stars.

The Dark Mark will never hover over that Tower. Albus Dumbledore will never fall to his death from it. He might live only a few years longer, but he won’t die in agony and pain.

Severus Snape—Severus Prince, now—will never call his best friend a Mudblood, or become a Death Eater, or have to curse his employer to death under the weight of multiple Unbreakable Vows.

Regulus Black will never drown in a lake full of Inferi.

James Potter and Lily Evans will never die in a cottage at Godric’s Hollow under Voldemort’s wand.

Evan Rosier will never perish at the hands of Mad-Eye Moody.

Sirius Black will never go to Azkaban. He’ll never be a fugitive. He’ll never fall through the Veil in the Department of Mysteries.

Remus Lupin might never marry Nymphadora Tonks—now an adorable toddler who changes her hair to imitate Harry’s every time she sees him—but he won’t perish in the Battle of Hogwarts, either.

Peter Pettigrew will never become a traitor or spend years of his life as a rat.

Lucius Malfoy and Narcissa Malfoy will not spend months under threat in their own home, watching Nagini devour people. Maybe they won’t have Draco, either. But Harry hopes they will, and that Draco Lucius Malfoy will be a normal spoiled little prat.

(And a little brother. Narcissa told him yesterday that he will be godfather to Henrietta Andromeda Malfoy and that he’s going to like it. Harry found it much easier to accept that fait accompli than some of the others).

Andromeda Tonks might never have her grandson Teddy, but she’s not going to lose her husband, daughter, and son-in-law to a devastating war, either.

Fabian and Gideon Prewett are going to live. Molly Weasley’s children will know their uncles.

Hermione and Ron will grow up in peace.

And Harry Potter will never be the Chosen One.

He’ll never be the anonymous Defense Against the Dark Arts professor he planned on becoming, either. But he thinks he can live with that.

Footsteps sound on the stairs behind him, and Harry glances over. Regulus is standing there, staring at him with determination.

“Healer Hawken says you’re not supposed to strain yourself.”

“Tell me what’s straining myself about standing on the Astronomy Tower, Mr. Black,” Harry says, rolling his eyes. They’re not in class, he can get away with it.

“You might take it into your head to jump over the edge,” Regulus says. “We never know what mental thing you’ll do next.”

“Compared to swearing all the vows that you wanted me to, Mr. Black, nothing I do is mental,” Harry mutters, and walks over to Regulus. Regulus only relaxes when Harry is walking down the stairs next to him.

“You don’t mean that, sir, do you?”

Regulus’s voice is soft and uncertain. Harry looks at him, at his slightly averted eyes, and is reminded that, just because Regulus Black will never drown in a lake of Inferi, it doesn’t mean that he’ll have a perfect life, either.

Harry still has work to do.

“No, Regulus,” he says, and reaches out to ruffle the boy’s hair. “It was a joke.”

Regulus beams at him, and dashes down the stairs ahead of him, probably to set up some kind of ambush or warn other oathsworn that Harry is coming.

Harry shakes his head, and follows him, down to the life and the world that he chose.

Time sings like a happy child.

The End.