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The Necromancer

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Chapter 1

Harry cradled his arm against his chest, biting back tears, as he sat on the thin mattress in the cupboard under the stairs, surrounded by darkness. The house was quiet, his family asleep, but Harry’s arm hurt so badly that Harry couldn’t even lie down properly.

Uncle Vernon had yanked so hard on Harry’s arm when he’d caught Harry sneaking food from the rubbish bin after dinner that Harry had felt something pop on the inside. The Dursleys had enjoyed a lovely dinner of roast potatoes, pork chops and green beans, but Harry had been denied food for he second day in a row because Dudley had knocked over a vase of flowers and blamed it on Harry that afternoon.

And since Dudley refused to eat anything green and thus his green beans had ended up in the bin, Harry had tried to grab a quick handful for himself, just to have something in his aching stomach. But Uncle Vernon had gotten to him before Harry could eat even one little bean and now his arm hurt like it had never hurt before and Harry couldn’t sleep.

How Harry wanted to leave the Dursleys. They were his family, the only family he had, but Harry was already four years old and he knew that how his family treated him wasn’t right. Look at how they treated Dudley, and then compare that to Harry’s lot in life.

No, Harry was still very young, but he wasn’t stupid.

So he’d hatched a plan. A brilliant plan, if he did say so himself, to get him away from the Dursleys once and for all.

You see, Dudley’s birthday had been a month ago and one of the many presents his cousin had received had been a cassette player with a whole pile of cassette tapes, all filled with wonderful stories told by some very friendly sounding adults. Dudley had managed to break the cassette player within a week, but during that week he’d played all the stories loud enough that even Harry in his cupboard could hear them.

And one of those stories held the secret to Harry’s escape, he was sure of it.

The story of a boy names Aladdin who found a dusty old lamp which turned out to house a genie who granted him three wishes.

Harry wasn’t sure what a genie even was, but that hardly mattered when it could give you whatever you wanted.

And Harry really, really wanted to leave the Dursleys. He wasn’t actually sure where he wanted to go instead but he figured that anywhere would be better than a house where he wasn’t fed, where his aunt and uncle regularly hurt him and where he had to spend most of his time in a tiny, dark closet under the staircase.

And so ever since hearing the wonderfully inspiring story of Aladdin and the genie, Harry had taken to collecting any piece of rubbish he could find and that his family wouldn’t miss, just so he could rub it in the privacy of his cupboard to see if it housed a genie.

So far Harry had tried various rocks from the garden, and empty snail shell, some twigs, a small coin he found on the bathroom floor, and empty chewing gum wrapper, a rusty thimble and shiny piece of glass. None of those had worked, much to Harry’s disappointment, but today Harry had found something he thought might very well work.

And old key he found on the floor of the shed, half hidden behind the lawnmower. Uncle Vernon had made Harry put away some of his tools he’d used on the car and Harry had snatched the key up and quickly tucked it in his pocket before Uncle Vernon had noticed anything. He’d barely had time to examine it, but it looked old and worn, just like Aladdin’s lamp had.

Grimacing through the pain of moving his arm, Harry wormed the key out of his pocket. He’d been in so much agony he hadn’t been able to change into his pyjamas yet and no one had even noticed.

Holding the key between his small fingers, Harry started rubbing it in a steady rhythm, meanwhile muttering, “Genie, I wish for you to take me away from here,” over and over again, concentrating on those words with all his heart.

A floating ball of light appeared in front of Harry and Harry inhaled a surprised breath.

It had worked!

The light seemed to shine with all the colours of the rainbow, switching from one colour to the other very quickly and Harry watched in awe at the bright genie before him.

It had to be a genie, because what else could it be?

The pulsing light hovered right in front of Harry, who swallowed deeply and said in his most polite voice, “Genie, please take me away from here.”

The light pulsed but nothing happened and Harry bit his lip while pondering what to do. Maybe he should touch it? Rub the light like he had the key? It couldn’t hurt to try.

Harry reached out a finger and poked at the little ball of light and the next second Harry was gone from his cupboard, never to return there. The force with which he disappeared into the light was such that a small explosion rocked the house right at its centre, severing a gas line and causing a fire that burned so hot that it engulfed the house in minutes, starting with the stairs.

The Dursleys never stood a chance and died huddled together in the upstairs hallway. And no one knew what happened to the scrawny child that had lived with them.

++++++++++++

Albus sighed deeply as he looked over the unopened letters addressed to Harry Potter. It had been their last chance to find the boy, using the complex magic of the Hogwarts letters. The charms used to send out the letters had been first cast in the time of the founders and since then they’d been fed, as all of Hogwarts had, by the magic of the hundreds of thousands of students and staff which had called the castle home over the many centuries since the founding of the school.

But alas, even the astonishing magic that Hogwarts was capable of wasn’t enough to locate this one missing child, and all the owls Albus had sent out had come back within a week, every single letter unopened. Albus sighed again, chest filling with deep regret over some of the choices he’d made when it came to Harry Potter.

Albus had known, of course, that Harry probably wouldn’t have the happiest of lives with Petunia Dursley, given how she felt about magic after learning she herself would never be a witch. Petunia was the kind of petty person who would take out her own regrets in life on a child, Albus was well aware of that. But he figured that the protection the blood wards offered were more important than the boy’s happiness. And the prophecy child had to stay alive until such a time he could vanquish the Dark Lord, just like the prophecy had foretold. Besides, it would probably do the boy some good to grow up humbled instead of spoiled rotten like James had been.

Furthermore, Albus had realized early on that he needed Harry to respect authority and to want to save the wizarding world, and the best way to do that was to make sure his life at the Dursleys was one he would gladly leave behind, even if his new life in this exciting magical world proved full of dangers.

But Albus hadn’t counted on the Dursleys’ house burning down and the Dursleys themselves perishing in the process. The only reason Albus was convinced that Harry was still alive was because one of his trinkets told him so. If Harry had died, the trinket would have stopped rotating and turned black. But it hadn’t. It had slowed down significantly, though, and even if Albus was unsure what that meant exactly, he was sure that Harry was at the very least still alive somewhere. He hadn’t mentioned this to others, since it was blood magic that powered the trinket and therefore dark, and while Albus frowned upon others using such magic, he himself occasionally reached for it as long as it was for the greater good. He just didn’t want anyone to know that he did so.

What also helped to convince him was the fact that the Aurors, and later the Unspeakables, who had examined the scene of the fire had detected some traces of magic. Intriguingly, they hadn’t been able to identify what kind of magic it was exactly, but it had been there.

Albus’ current theory was that Harry had performed some form of accidental magic that caused the fire and somehow sent his body elsewhere. Of course, Albus didn’t have a clue where that might be, but after reading the reports of the Aurors who had questioned the neighbours, Albus realized Harry very well might have wished himself away.

Some of the neighbours didn’t even know a second child had been living with the Dursleys. And those that did know described a small, unkempt child in clothes far too big for him, looking constantly starved compared to the rest of that family. One neighbour had even caught the boy stealing some mouldy bread from their compost heap once. She’d literally found the boy stuffing a slice in his mouth while he ran away as fast as he could.

Yes, perhaps Albus had underestimated Petunia’s vindictiveness and Vernon’s cruelty and he certainly hadn’t wanted the boy to starve, but Arabella had never made any mention of such things and thus Albus had never bothered to check up on the boy himself. He had plenty to do in his life already, especially right after the end of the war. He had counted on Petunia being stern and perhaps slightly cold towards her nephew, but he hadn’t thought her capable of literally starving a child in her care.

And now Harry was missing and Albus was unsure what to do about Voldemort, who he knew was going to come back one day. Rumours were already everywhere and while Albus didn’t always know which rumours were true and which were mere fabrications from people such as Xenophilius Lovegood, he knew for a fact Voldemort would find a way to regain a body sooner rather than later. Voldemort had always been far too clever for his own good and Albus knew with certainty that Voldemort would have activated more than one contingency plan to prevent his own demise.

“Face it, Headmaster, the boy is dead,” Severus said, sporting an unimpressed sneer as he sat in front of Albus’ desk. Beside him, Minerva sat with her back ramrod straight, staring daggers at Albus with frosty eyes. She’d never quite forgiven him for leaving Harry with the Dursleys, especially not after the fire that killed them all.

“I know you believe that, Severus,” Albus said, trying to placate his most treasured spy. Getting Severus Snape to swear loyalty to him was one of Albus’ most important achievements when it came to Voldemort’s future demise. The problem was, of course, that Severus had sworn that loyalty through a vow to always protect Lily’s son. But with Lily’s son missing, Severus seemed to grow more and more distant from Albus. Part of it was resentment towards Albus for leaving Harry with Petunia in the first place, but Albus also sensed something else that was slowly pulling Severus away, though he didn’t have a clue what that was just yet.

“Of course I believe that,” Severus grumbled, crossing his arms tightly. “I’ve seen the burnt down husk and I’ve read the muggle firefighters’ report on what occurred. The fire burned hot enough to destroy most anything, even a small child.”

Minerva made a sound somewhere between a moan and a snarl. “I told you, Albus, not to leave the boy there. And now James and Lily’s only child is dead because of you.”

Albus held up both hands. “I know I made mistakes, and I deeply regret doing so. But trust me when I say Harry Potter is still alive. I am sure of it. We just have to find him.”

“Then do so!” Minerva all but jumped up and marched out of the office with her head held high. Severus followed her without any comment, robes swishing as he stalked out the door.

Yes, Albus would dearly love to find Harry Potter, but he’d tried anything and honestly didn’t have any more ideas. Perhaps it was time to pay more attention to the other child that might have fit the prophecy if it wasn’t for Voldemort’s choice to attack the Potters.

+++++++++

Hermione craned her neck to see the Goblet of Fire sitting on a pedestal in front of the great hall. Any moment now the names of the champions would be announced and Hermione was genuinely curious who would get chosen for Hogwarts.

Beside her sat her best friends Neville and Ron. They hadn’t always been her friends. When Hermione had first started Hogwarts she’d had no friends at all and most people seemed to avoid her or resent her for her high marks and clever mind. But when Hermione had been trapped by a mountain troll in the bathroom during Halloween in her first year, only Neville had realized she was missing and had come to her rescue. Brave Neville, who turned out to be a true Gryffindor after all, had helped her keep the troll at bay until the teachers arrived to take it out. Neither Hermione or Neville had gotten away unscathed, but spending a few days together in the hospital to heal a concussion, a few broken bones and cuts and scrapes allowed them to bond and form a genuine friendship.

Ron, who’d been the reason Hermione was crying in the bathroom in the first place, had received a few weeks of detention and had at least stopped being so rude to her. But it had still taken until the end of the year for him to really speak to them. Ron had formed a friendship with Hagrid, the groundskeeper, and one day after classes he overheard Hermione and Neville discuss the enormous three-headed dog they’d seen behind a locked door in the forbidden corridor. Ron told them Hagrid had mentioned owning a three-headed dog and from then on Ron had joined their research into what exactly was being hidden at Hogwarts and who was trying to steal it, starting with the three of them having tea and inedible biscuits at Hagrid’s.

By the time they tried stopping what turned out to be Professor Quirrell from stealing the Philosopher’s Stone, Ron had become their friend and the three of them did their very best to keep Quirrell from running off with the stone, but they were only three first year students and Quirrell was a grown up and an experienced wizard, so in the end they didn’t stand a chance and Quirrell got away.

They did get to spend another few days together in the hospital wing, though, so they could bond some more over their shared misery.

Their second year had been filled with quiet terror as something petrified students and left bloody messages on the wall. Hermione herself had been petrified and she got to spend a few months in the hospital wing until the mandrakes were ready to be harvested. When she woke up and Madam Pomfrey told her this, Hermione had asked her in genuine bafflement why they hadn’t simply purchased some mandrakes. And if the cost was an issue, Hermione knew her parents would have been happy to pay for something that would cure their daughter from a two-month coma.

But Madam Pomfrey had brushed Hermione’s questions off while mumbling that this was what Dumbledore thought best, and that was perhaps the first time in Hermione’s life she lost some respect for a few authority figures.

She’d missed months of school, and worse yet they still hadn’t figured out who or what was causing the attacks, but Ron’s younger sister Ginny had gone missing and to this day no one knew what happened to her. All that was left behind was one last bloody message on the wall that said, ‘The mudbloods have been punished and a blood-traitor is gone for good. For now I leave you but I am always watching. Until next time. The Heir of Slytherin.’

All summer long there were rumours Hogwarts wouldn’t reopen since a student had been presumably killed, but Dumbledore pulled every string he knew how to pull if rumour had it, and managed to keep the school open. Hagrid did have to spend some time in Azkaban during the schoolyear but he was eventually freed when another attack happened when he was locked away, proving it couldn’t have been him.

Third year was filled with dementors and escaped convicts and Ron who seemed to not understand that cats chased small, furry critters and took that out on Hermione more often than not. That year ended in a chaotic meeting in the Shrieking Shack of all places, where they learned that Sirius Black was innocent, Scabbers was really a man named Peter Pettigrew who had betrayed the Potter family and Professor Lupin was a werewolf who sometimes forgot to take his potion. By the end of the evening Sirius Black was on the run, Professor Lupin had lost his job, Peter Pettigrew managed to sneak away and Professor Snape saved them all from having their souls sucked out with a Patronus charm that took on the form of a doe and for some reason caused Sirius to snarl even more at Professor Snape than he already had.

During the summer Hermione was invited, along with Neville, to spend some time at the Burrow with the whole Weasley family. Mrs Weasley seemed to be a woman who had once been warm and inviting but who now shifted constantly between foolish hope that her daughter was still alive and would come home any day now, and unimaginable grief over having lost her youngest child to some unknown enemy at Hogwarts. She still made a genuine effort to look after her family and her guests, and Hermione helped her out where ever she could.

The Quidditch World Cup was far more exciting than Hermione had thought it would be, mainly because of an unexpected Death Eater attack in the middle of the night. And when they started their fourth year at Hogwarts and learned that a deadly tournament was going to be held that year, Hermione lost all hope of having a quiet year for a change.

Sometimes Hermione questioned herself why she even attended Hogwarts at all, what with all the near-death experiences she’d had so far and she was only fifteen years old! But she loved Hogwarts, she loved her friends and the classes and she wanted to learn magic and she knew with certainty that she wanted to be a witch and live in the wizarding world and that she could never go back to just being a muggle now that she knew she could be so much more.

And so she sat in anticipation, along with the rest of the students, to see who would be risking their lives that year. Hermione was secretly very happy it wouldn’t be her and her friends, again.

“Viktor Krum!” Dumbledore announced the first participant and Ron clapped and yelled extra loudly for his Quidditch idol while Hermione and Neville exchanged a look that was both fond and exasperated. Neville cared about Quidditch as much as Hermione did, which was to say, not at all.

“Fleur Delacour!”

Again Ron made a bit of a fool of himself with his far too enthusiastic response and this time Hermione felt a flare of genuine annoyance in her chest. She had started noticing Ron over the summer for some reason and while she wasn’t yet sure how she felt about this development she did know she didn’t like it one bit when Ron paid any kind of attention to another girl like he did whenever Fleur Delacour was around.

“Cedric Diggory!”

The whole hall went wild, even the Slytherins, and Hermione clapped along with everyone while hoping with all her heart Cedric would survive the tournament. Not all participants had been so lucky, after all, throughout the years. She’d read some gruesome tales about all the horrible accidents that befell a number of participants in the past.

“I told you it would be Cedric!” Neville yelled over all the noise.

“I was still hoping it would be Angelina,” Ron replied with equal volume, while offering Angelina a huge grin. Angelina rolled her eyes and went back to cheering for Cedric. It wasn’t a secret that Ron had ambitions to one day join the Quidditch team and he had supported Angelina openly and loudly as his preferred Hogwarts champion. This time, though, Hermione merely laughed at his antics, not at all jealous because she knew Ron was in it for the Quidditch this time and nothing else.

Dumbledore calmed everyone down with a lot of gesturing and eventually shooting some sparks from his wand. “Yes, now that we know who our champions are…”

Before Dumbledore could say more, the goblet flared up again and another piece of paper was ejected from it. Dumbledore caught it, his face full of surprise.

“Harry Potter.” Dumbledore seemed shocked while reading that name out loud. Immediately the whole hall burst out in loud whispers. “Harry Potter!” Dumbledore called again, this time with more confidence.

Hermione looked around the hall, as did everyone else, as if the boy who had been missing for years was hiding in the shadows of the great hall after all.

Once she started Hogwarts, Hermione had heard all about Harry Potter. She’d read about how he’d stopped the Dark Lord Voldemort when he was a baby, and how he’d gone missing when his family’s home mysteriously burned down. While he was officially presumed dead by the ministry and the majority of people believed this, there were still a lot of rumours and conspiracy theories going around that Harry was alive somewhere.

Some claimed he was being held captive in the Department of Mysteries, where he was being trained to become the best combination of Unspeakable and Auror that had ever lived, forced to serve the ministry whether he wanted to or not. Others were sure he’d been secretly shipped off to the United States where he now attended Ilvermorny under a new name to keep him out of the hands of any Death Eaters that had escaped punishment. And there were the more outlandish ideas that Harry Potter had gone to live with either the centaurs, the merpeople or the goblins. For reasons.

Personally, Hermione thought Harry had died in the fire. All the evidence pointed in that direction and she’d thought it very sad that such a small boy had been burned alive after he’d saved their whole world, but in the end she’d put it out of her mind and focused on her own life, which proved exciting enough already.

But now, at least for a moment, Harry Potter was firmly back in her mind and everyone else’s as voices were raised and people got up from their chairs to take a better look around the great hall. But after a few minutes the ruckus died down when nothing happened.

Dumbledore nodded a few times with a resigned look on his face, as though accepting that Harry Potter really wasn’t going to appear out of thin air. “Well,” Dumbledore said with a small smile. “That would have been –“

But before Dumbledore could continue speaking, lightning rolled across the ceiling, a bright beam that forked all over the hall. People screamed and jumped up but more lightning appeared, now flashing down the walls and at once people lowered themselves off their benches to take cover under the tables.

“What is happening?” Neville asked as he huddled against Hermione, Ron pressed against her other side.

“I don’t know!” Hermione yelled over the crashing noise of more lightning striking left and right. Dark smoke rose from the floor in front of the teacher’s table, engulfing Dumbledore and the Goblet of Fire, which had died out the moment it had spewed out Harry Potter’s name. Dumbledore appeared again as he all but fled towards the teacher’s table and took cover beside it in a crouch. He waved his wand around but seemed at a loss of what to do.

The smoke intensified until nothing behind it could be seen and the dark cloud grew so big that it took up most of the empty space between the student tables and the teacher’s table. More lightning flashed, some going through the dark smoke and the air pressure seemed to change, much like when one travelled in an airplane, Hermione realized when her ears popped.

Some students still screamed or called out in fear, but most people just huddled together, unsure what in Merlin’s name was going on.

Finally, the lightning stopped and the dark smoke started to dissipate, slowly revealing two figures, one human and one decidedly not.

The man that appeared was tall with long, dark hair and a dark beard. It wasn’t as wild as Hagrid’s, but it wasn’t exactly neatly trimmed either. Throughout both his hair and beard there were small braids with metal trinkets and gems hanging from them. He was dressed all in black, with high leather boots, a short leather vest that tied in the front over what appeared to be a linen shirt and trousers. Over all of this he wore a long, sleeveless fur cloak, with shorter black fur on the mantel and long, rough fur covering the wide collar, giving the man the appearance of having a lion’s black mane spread out over his shoulders. On second thought, Hermione realized as she took a good look, it might very well be fur from a lion’s mane.

The man carried a large staff that was imbedded with lots of bits and pieces of metal, gemstone and what looked to be bone. Around his waist he carried a small satchel, and on his shoulder sat a raven, which immediately took flight and soared around the great hall, cawing loudly. It was at least twice the size of any raven Hermione had ever seen in any book.

The most striking thing about the man were not the tattoos that covered every visible piece of skin. Hermione couldn’t see them very clearly from the distance, but they looked like some type of unknown runes. No, the most striking thing were the man’s eyes, which were green and shone like radium as he took his time taking in the great hall around him.

The man made an imposing figure, but the beast at his side did even more so. Hermione had never seen such an animal and knew at once it had to be magical, but it looked utterly alien even to a witch.

It was the size of a Siberian tiger, had four legs and a long tail ending in a few spikes. Its back was covered in thick scales and its belly in dark fur, both which appeared black with a green or blue sheen depending on how it caught the light. Its head was massive, with a wide mouth filled with very sharp, silver teeth. And it had four eyes, two on either side next to each other, which glowed with an eerie ultraviolet light. The most striking thing about the beast was that every time it breathed, cracks would appear alongside its whole body that glowed a fiery orange, as if the whole animal was filled with burning embers that appeared and disappeared with every breath.

The man drew himself up even more while the beast growled beside him. “Who has dared summon me across worlds?” The man bellowed, voice like a rumble of thunder, while people all around the great hall emerged from their hiding places to stare at the newcomers in both awe and fear.

Dumbledore approached the man with cautious steps, wand in hand but pointing down. “Harry Potter?”

The man whipped around while the raven cawed, “Harry, Harry,” as it circled above them. “Yes,” the man said, giving Dumbledore a onceover and obviously not finding him very impressive. “That’s my name. Who are you?”

Before Dumbledore could answer the whole hall descended into utter chaos.

Chapter Text

Chapter 2

Severus prided himself on being a man fully in control of his own faculties. He was a master of the mind-arts, the Head of Slytherin, a literal spy, and yet even he had trouble keeping his mouth from falling open and staring like a loon at the man who had appeared out of nowhere.

Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived, missing for a decade and now returned as a grown man somehow. Lily’s child he was vowed to protect, Potter’s spawn, unmistakably a magical user of great power. Severus wasn’t familiar with whatever kind of power Harry Potter was wielding, but he could feel it from across the room like a cold shiver running up and down his back.

Albus was working overtime to get those blasted cretins to calm down, and Severus entered the fray, whipping out his wand and releasing a few loud blasts around the hall. “Anyone who is still in this hall in two minutes instead of on their way to their dormitory will serve a month of detention with me!” he yelled over the cacophony of voices from overexcited students. That threat seemed to work on his Slytherins and a good chunk of the Ravenclaws. The Hufflepuffs seemed to all have gone mysteriously deaf to threats of detention, probably due to finally getting some recognition by having one of their own selected as champion of Hogwarts. They were soon to find out that miniscule victory would not make them immune to Severus’ wrath.

And the Gryffindors…well, the less said about the Gryffindors, the better, Severus usually found. Ah, but wait, at least Ms Granger was dragging her two usual compatriots with her out of the hall. Smart girl. How she ever ended up in the house of the intellectually challenged was anyone’s guess.

Minerva finally stepped up after she’d gotten over the shock of the spontaneous reappearance of the Potter boy and got her lions under control enough that they left the hall in as quick of a fashion as could be expected of a bunch of brainless twats.

And the Hufflepuffs were still convinced they now deserved special treatment because one of their own had been foolish enough to enter himself in a tournament that might very well kill him, all for some imaginary honour in the name of his school which he’d be leaving in a year anyway.

Severus loomed over the end of the Hufflepuff table. “To your dormitories now, or you will all be shovelling hippogriff shit for the rest of the schoolyear, mark my words!”

That threat, and a gentle urging from Pomona, finally got the badgers scurrying off to their little beds. Karkaroff and Maxime had ensured their own students had left at once, but they themselves stayed, couple of curious disaster tourists that they were.

Albus was looking at Potter the same way Hagrid was looking at Potter’s beast, with enormous doe eyes full of desire and awe. Severus rolled his eyes because honestly, it was just James Potter’s spawn, no need to roll out the red carpet or hand him the key to the castle.

“You still haven’t answered my question,” Potter finally said when the quiet had returned. He stood perfectly still, his beast sitting silently beside him, while they both watched the circus around them with sharp gazes.

“Ah, I do apologize, but as you could see we had to get the students to their beds first before we could have a normal conversation,” Albus replied with his most genial expression, voice full of unwanted reassurances, eyes twinkling like mad.

Severus fought the urge to puke.

“My name is Albus Dumbledore and this is Hogwarts school of witchcraft and wizardry.” Albus waited expectantly for a few seconds. “You must have heard of Hogwarts?”

Potter gave no sign of recognition of any of the names. Instead he gazed at Albus with bright green eyes. At least the blasted things had stopped glowing like they had when he’d first arrived. “Why have you brought me here? I usually don’t answer summons, but this one was so strong even I couldn’t stop the pull.”

“Well, that is a question not easily answered. I suggest we gather in my office where we can more comfortably answer your questions and hopefully you’ll answer a few of ours in return.” Albus gestured amicably towards the doors leading to the entrance hall.

“Lead the way.” Potter returned Albus’ gesture with one of his own.

“Perhaps our gamekeeper can tend to your companion,” Albus said as they started moving out of the hall.

“Aye, I’d be happy ter look after him,” Hagrid said, sounding so eager Severus was sure he was about to drop to his knees and beg to be allowed to pet the ugly beast.

“Her,” Potter said with an amused curve of his lips, though most of that stayed hidden beneath his beard. “Her name is Keket and she prefers to remain by my side.” Then he ignored Hagrid’s obvious disappointment and turned his attention back to Albus. “She is housebroken, I assure you, and she won’t cause trouble as long as others don’t start any trouble.”

“Very well then.” Albus looked so relieved to have Potter back he probably would have let him keep the beast with him even if Potter had announced it was going to take the world’s biggest dump right in Albus’ favourite bowl of sherbet lemons.

“Now Veles is not nearly as well behaved, I’m afraid,” Potter said and at hearing his name the oversized raven descended and landed on Potter’s shoulder, while cawing, “Veles is a good bird.”

“Yes, you are,” Potter agreed with a much friendlier tone of voice than he’d used so far. “But you are also a troublemaker.”

The raven didn’t disagree with that, and Severus fought the urge the hex the damned bird right off Potter’s shoulder. Of course James Potter’s spawn would have special animal companions that no one else had. Severus was not in the least bit surprised that Potter already proved as spoiled as his father always had been.

The raven pecked at one of Potter’s braids, pulling on a metal trinket, and Potter raised his hand, gesturing at the bird to stop with a resigned little sigh. Perhaps the bird would shit all over Potter’s fur cloak. One could hope. As they walked through the corridors of Hogwarts, Potter quietly observed his surroundings, face giving nothing away. Severus walked a short distance behind him, observing Potter, taking in how he moved like a seasoned warrior expecting an attack from any direction, and how he subtly turned his head in all directions, looking at as many details as he could, probably to memorize what he could.

But then the ugly beast at Potter’s side decided to climb straight up the wall until it was literally walking on the ceiling upside down as though it was the most normal thing to do in the world for whatever the fuck kind of thing it even was. Severus had never seen the like of it before and he was immensely grateful for that fact.

“Oh,” Hagrid said, sounding a little bit more in love with every word that came out of his mouth. “I didna think it could do tha’. What kind of critter is she, Harry?”

Potter looked at Hagrid over his shoulder for a moment and then gave a careless shrug. “You know, I never asked her.”

And that said exactly nothing, even when Hagrid chuckled at Potter’s non-answer and Potter offered a short grin in return.

Severus was not at all pleased with having the beast of no name literally hanging over his head, seeing as her jaws were big enough to eat said head in one generous bite if she so pleased. But Severus was practised in giving not a hint of his real feelings away and he kept his features schooled while he joined in the procession through Hogwarts.

It wasn’t until they reached the gargoyle that guarded the headmaster’s office that Albus turned around and seemed to realize that every single staff member plus all their guests had followed them in the hopes of hearing Potter’s story.

“Ah,” Albus said in his most regretful voice. “I’m afraid my office isn’t big enough to hold all of us at once.”

Which was a load of crock, of course. The man was a wizard and a master of transfiguration to boot. He could enlarge his office if he wanted to. Severus had seen him do it at the end of the war, when the whole of the Order of the Phoenix, or what was left of it after plenty of casualties and some imprisonments, had gathered there. But Albus obviously wanted to keep his new favourite toy to himself for a while longer before he’d have to share it with the whole world.

“For now I think Minerva, Severus, Alastor and myself will be enough of a crowd for Mr Potter this evening.” All conveniently members of the Order of the Phoenix and loyal to Albus, of course.

Several people protested, some louder than others. Karkaroff and Maxime seemed to think they should be there since Potter had been named a champion of the tournament, but Albus brushed them off by pointing out they weren’t going to discuss the tournament that evening but that it could wait until the next day, when Karkaroff and Maxime could join them for that conversation. For now, Albus suggested, they should inform their champions of the rules of the tournament and Pomona should do the same for Diggory. At least it seemed the poor sods who were supposed to be the centre of attention that evening would at the very least get the instructions they needed to hear and they wouldn’t be left forgotten in a side-chamber off the great hall.

Barty Crouch seemed to believe he should be part of the Potter talk on behalf of the ministry, but Moody pointed out he was a ministry representative as well, and Albus buttered Barty up by asking him sweetly to go to the ministry to prepare things there for the return of Harry Potter, whatever that even meant. Severus hadn’t a clue, other than several horrifying visions of Fudge giving some sort of overblown speech about the return of their saviour or something unbearable like that.

Finally everyone who shouldn’t be there dispersed and their small group rode the stairs to Albus’ office, while the beast still used the ceiling because why not. Obviously it knew something about personal transportation the rest of them didn’t.

“Please, everyone, have a seat.” Albus conjured several comfortable chairs, the show off, while Minerva got a house-elf to serve them tea. Severus wondered if it would be too rude to tell the house-elf to bring him a bottle of whiskey instead, because by Merlin’s soggy underpants, he needed a drink right now.

Moody declined any tea and instead sipped his hipflask, the lucky bastard.

“Now that we’re all here, Harry, my boy, let me tell you how happy I am to have you back with us,” Albus said as he stirred three lumps of sugar in his tea.

“I am not yours, I assure you,” Potter said with real venom in his voice, causing Albus to blink in surprise. “I am a free man, paid for with blood and death, and I will do whatever it takes to keep it that way. Now, tell me why you brought me here because I have been patient enough, I believe.”

“Er…yes…I didn’t mean anything by it, my…I’m sorry, Harry, I will get to the point, I promise.” Albus looked like a damned blushing schoolboy on his first date, and he sounded like it, too. The great headmaster of Hogwarts, reduced to a bumbling fool, all over James Potter’s spawn.

“Our school is hosting a magical tournament and during the selection process for the champions your name came out of the goblet that’s enchanted to select the best possible champion, thus binding you to a magical contract,” Albus explained patiently, thankfully having regained much of his composure.

There was a bit of a ruckus behind them as the beast chased across the wall of paintings of the previous headmasters, batting at their faces like the worlds ugliest, most overgrown housecat. The headmasters complained loudly, probably because the beast kept them from peacefully pretending to be asleep while they eavesdropped on everything that was said.

“Keket, here,” Potter said, patting his thigh. The beast gave a few more headmasters a few bats of an enormous paw before slinking down the wall and coming to a halt at Potter’s feet.

“Why was my name considered as a champion in the first place?” Potter asked once the beast settled down.

“Cause someone entered it,” Moody said, his magical eye focussed on Potter entirely. “Anyone could have done it, because the only security around the goblet was designed to keep underage students from entering themselves.”

“It might even have been a misguided prank,” Minerva said, mouth pinched in a tight line. She was obviously considering who might have played such a tasteless prank but didn’t have to think long. Severus knew exactly what conclusion she reached: that the pranksters in question were identical and had red hair.

“Whatever the reason, it has brought you back home,” Albus concluded with a jovial clap of his hands. Potter seemed to not share that sentiment in the slightest. “Now, my…Harry, could you tell us where you’ve been for the last decade?”

“And how you’re suddenly an adult while you should be fourteen,” Moody added with a suspicious glance up and down the man.

“Where I have been? In Santika. And why I’m an adult? Because time is a funny thing that has a tendency to move differently in different dimensions. You say I’m supposed to be fourteen? Well, I’m easily twice that so that means time moves twice as fast in Santika as it does here,” Potter said with the air of a scholar who’d spent decades studying the subject he’d just described.

“Fascinating,” Albus said, and he genuinely seemed to find whatever Potter was sprouting interesting. Severus wasn’t sure what to think. He’d certainly never considered the question of whether or not other dimensions even existed very important when he was busy keeping himself alive in a war and later guiding hundreds of students through seven years of higher education. “What is Santika exactly?” Albus asked, and they all seemed to lean a little closer to Potter in anticipation of the answer to that question.

“Santika is a world, just a different one than this world.”

Severus had to admit that Potter had a real talent for answering every question yet saying very little at all.

“And how did you end up there?” Albus folded his hands in his lap, probably to stop them from trembling with eagerness at finally being able to solve this decade-old mystery that had kept them all awake at night more often than not.

“Master Karakas, the owner and operator of the Misty Springs school for sorcery summoned me across worlds,” Potter said calm as you please even though he just described what amounted to his own kidnapping. “That is how he gathered new students. He put out magical feelers across the multiverse for unwanted children nobody would miss with strong magical potential and then he’d pull them into Santika.”

Albus blinked a time or two, probably not having expected that answer. “And you never tried to return home?”

Severus couldn’t hold back a snort at the absurdity of that question, and Minerva stared at Albus like she’d never seen the man before.

Potter’s expression could only be described as incredulous. “Why on earth would I want to come back to a dark closet and starvation? Master Karakas was a harsh taskmaster and he firmly believed that one should not spare the rod, but he taught us and trained us and we got three meals a day and had warm beds to sleep in and clothes that fit and there were many natural springs to bathe in at the end of the day. The Dursleys certainly never provided me with any of that.”

Albus was blinking again and Severus wanted to roll his eyes so badly it physically hurt to stop himself from doing so. “Ah, yes, my…Harry, you have my deepest sympathies for how your family treated you. I had no idea Petunia would not accept you into her family when I placed you there.”

Potter’s green eyes started glowing just the tiniest smidge but other than that he didn’t give any reaction to the news that it was Albus who had placed him with his abusers. Even though Severus didn’t want to, he could at least sympathise with Potter over their shared miserable childhoods.

“I’m not sure if you know this, Harry, but your relatives passed away in a fire the night of your disappearance,” Albus said, voice full of sympathy that was about as sincere as Rita Skeeter’s desire to tell the truth.

Potter gave no reaction, just sat still as a statue as he stared at Albus, tea in front of him cold and ignored. On his shoulder, the oversized raven cawed a few times but Severus couldn’t make out any words.

Finally Albus seemed to understand that he wasn’t getting anywhere with Potter if he kept bringing up his dreadful relatives, so he cleared his throat and not so smoothly changed topics. “Now we have to decide what to do with you, Harry, since you will need to participate in the upcoming tournament.”

“And if I don’t participate?” Potter asked with not a single emotion in his voice.

“You risk losing your magic.” Albus nodded sagely, and Severus could tell that it pained the headmaster to be faced with a version of their lost saviour who simply didn’t seem to give a damn about much of anything. “You can stay here at Hogwarts during the duration of the tournament. We can also teach you magic during that time.”

“I already know magic,” Potter replied with a roll of his eyes. “And I have housing. I just need some land to put it on.”

“Housing?” Moody asked, confused.

Potter patted the satchel attached to his belt. “I have my abode stored away in here. I can put it up anywhere.”

“We can look for a place for that on the grounds perhaps,” Albus suggested at once, obviously scared to lose the man as soon as he’d found him. “For tonight, I would be honoured to have you stay in this castle, the same one your parents called home for seven years.”

No reaction. Severus had a suspicion and he decided to put it to the test. “Potter, what do you know of your parents?”

Potter frowned for a moment. “That they were a whore and a lazy drunk who got themselves killed in a car crash.”

“Mr Potter!” Minerva said, aghast, clutching a hand to her chest. “Your parents were no such thing. They were kind,” here Severus coughed in protest as he remembered James Potter’s kindness, “and smart people, who fought against the dark and who gave their life for you.”

Potter gave another one of his careless shrugs. “That’s not what the Dursleys told me. And I never gave them much thought after I moved to Santika.”

“Well, I happen to know two gentlemen who would be more than happy to tell you all about your parents,” Albus said, and Severus wanted to groan at the idea of having Black and Lupin underfoot in the castle in the near future, all so they could tell Potter stories about James Potter’s kindness and sacrifice while forgetting to mention the man was a violent bully in his youth. “I’ll make arrangements for you to meet them. One of them is your godfather and he was most distraught to learn of your disappearance.”

Potter quirked a single eyebrow in response. Well, it was something at least instead of the stoic mask they’d been looking at so far. “What is this word? Godfather. I do not know it.”

Before Albus could answer, Moody raised a hand and gestured roughly towards Potter. “Look, it’s obvious Potter knows nothing about this world and his own life in it, so maybe we should make a more organized effort to educate him instead of trading questions back and forth.”

“That is not a bad idea,” Minerva agreed at once. “We can each take a section and write down whatever information we believe Mr Potter should learn.”

“Do you even know how to read?” Severus asked a very unimpressed looking Potter, but he was damned if he was going to spend a few hours writing things down for a man who might very well turn out illiterate.

Potter ignored Minerva’s outraged harrumph at Severus bluntness and answered with a simple, “Yes. And write too.”

“Excellent!” Albus got up from his chair and everyone else did the same. The beast used this as an excuse to go hunt dead headmasters up and down the wall again. “Minerva can show you to one of our most comfortable guest quarters for the night, Harry. And tomorrow Severus can escort you to Diagon Alley to at least visit Gringotts so you can sort out your inheritance. Oh, and so you can buy your wand, of course.”

Oh joy, now Severus was being volunteered to be Potter’s personal shopper. Just what he’d always wanted. There was not enough alcohol in the world to deal with this disaster of an evening.

“Certainly,” Potter said, sounding about as enthusiastic as he’d done the whole time. “Is there anywhere here where I can get a hot bath? Being pulled forcibly through dimensions wreaks havoc on your joints as it turns out.”

“You’ll find comfortable bathing facilities in your quarters, and a house-elf will serve you a late dinner,” Minerva assured him while gesturing for Potter to follow her.

Severus, Albus and Moody watched Potter and his animal side-kicks follow Minerva out the door and the moment it closed all three of them seemed to release deep, tired breaths.

“Well,” Albus said, running a slow hand down his beard. “Well.”

“You can say that again,” Moody agreed with a grimace. “I can’t get a reading on that boy and I haven’t a clue what kind of magic he is using. Never felt the like before.”

“If you’ll excuse me,” Severus said, done for the day with polite manners. “I have an early start tomorrow if I’m to babysit the brat.” Translation: I have a hot date with a full bottle of whiskey in my quarters and no one better dare disturb me for the rest of the night. Without waiting for a reply, Severus rushed out of the room.

oooooo

Harry let Minerva give him a short tour of the guest quarters, which were indeed very comfortable, while a house-elf placed a bowl of soup and some sandwiches under a preservation charm on the dining table. The moment Minerva wished him a good night and closed the door, Harry waved his staff around, casting the strongest privacy spells he knew.

Then he plucked a necklace holding an intricate golden amulet from under his shirt and rubbed his thumb over it, concentrating on the people he wanted to see.

Two shimmering figures appeared in front of him, faces familiar and beloved.

Harry’s stoic face broke out in a wide grin while Veles cawed a soft greeting. “Mum, Dad, you’ll never guess where I am!”

Chapter Text

Chapter 3

Harry, age 4

The genie pulled Harry into a whole new world. Harry landed in a dark room in the middle of an intricate pattern painted on the grey stone floor. A tall man wearing a white dress and lots of gold jewellery spoke in a language Harry didn’t understand. Another man, wearing a shorter dress and only a leather collar with jewels in it around his neck, pulled Harry from the circle. Harry winced at the pain shooting up his arm. A woman, also wearing a collar, said something and then took over and gently guided Harry from the dark room, up a few stone stairs and to a bright hallway with open windows that showed a large courtyard full of children of all ages doing some sort of exercises in organized rows.

The woman gestured Harry into a large room that had several beds and cabinets and instruments Harry didn’t recognize. She ushered Harry up on a bed and started undressing him, and Harry let it happen, utterly overwhelmed that he was no longer stuck in the cupboard under the stairs, and that by the looks of it he had landed himself in some sort of hospital or maybe a school. Whatever it was, Harry hoped with all his heart he could stay there.

The woman pointed at her own chest and said, “Genka.”

Harry got the idea, and repeated the gesture and said, “Harry.”

Genka smiled at him and then took her time washing him with soapy water while she made Harry swallow lots of strange little drinks.

The tall man with all the gold hanging off him entered the room, holding a large staff with all sorts of trinkets hanging from it. The man ran the staff alongside Harry’s hurt arm and at once the pain disappeared. Harry blinked at him in awe and smiled in complete gratitude and didn’t protest at all when the man, who had long, dark hair, a tanned complexion and very white teeth, fastened a leather collar around Harry’s throat.

After Harry was clean and pain-free, he was given a white dress that reached his knees, with a belt to tie around his waist. He was also handed a pair of leather sandals that Genka helped him put on because there were a lot of leather straps that tied all the way up his calves.

And then Harry was clean and wearing new clothes and comfortable shoes for the first time in his life and he beamed at Genka and the man. Genka nodded at him and gestured for him to follow the man, which Harry did.

The man walked with long strides and Harry had to jog to keep up but he didn’t mind, since he was overwhelmed with happiness at being away from the Dursleys at last.

The man steered Harry into a room that looked like an office. The walls and floor were white and made from stone, and all the furniture was constructed of dark wood with a red sheen to it. Harry admired the large desk and the many cabinets, some filled with books and scrolls of paper, others with strange metal or glass trinkets.

The man ran his staff over Harry’s head a few times, muttering some words and he must have liked what he saw because he got a bright smile on his face. He rushed towards one of the cabinets, pulled a small glass ball off the shelf and handed it to Harry.

Unsure of what to do, Harry simply held the ball with both hands and slowly but surely the ball began to glow ever brighter until the light started hurting Harry’s eyes and he squeezed them shut.

The man cried out in sheer joy, quickly yanked the ball out of Harry’s hands and then crouched in front of him, speaking very quickly while he cupped Harry’s cheeks with a pair of warm hands. Harry hadn’t a clue what the man was saying but he seemed happy enough with Harry and that was all that mattered.

From there things happened very quickly. Harry was shown to a room that held six smaller beds and one larger. There were more children there, one little girl with olive skin that only stared at the floor, utterly mute, a pair of girls with dark hair that stuck together and ignored everyone else, a girl with blond hair and freckles that looked at Harry with large, hopeful eyes, and a boy who greeted Harry in perfect English.

“Wait, you can understand me?” Harry asked in astonishment.

“Yeah. I’m Roy, I’m from Singapore,” the boy said with a huge smile.

“I’m Harry, and I’m from England,” Harry said with an equally wide smile, and from that moment on he and Roy were inseparable. The small, blond girl usually tagged along with them and Harry soon learned her name was Rindyll, and just like that, for the first time in his life, Harry had friends.

Harry had been right that the place he found himself in was a school and the first lessons he and his friends got was learning to speak the local language, known as Santireen, which was the dominant language spoken in Santika, the world they now occupied.

At first their teacher simply showed them lots of drawings of items and she would tell them the Santireen word for it. The children would repeat the word many times and then learn how to write it on a piece of slate with a small chunk of chalk.

Yes, Harry was already learning how to write and he couldn’t have been more excited. Soon enough they picked up the language and were able to converse in simple sentences and they were given more diverse subjects to learn, like learning their numbers and studying runes, which were funny little symbols that had all sorts of strange meanings. They also learned about all sorts of plants and what they could do, and all the animals that lived around them.

The school was an amazing place. They were served three hot meals a day in the dining hall. In the morning and afternoon they got warm porridge made from boks, a starchy tuber that grew readily in the vast, lush forests that surrounded the city. In the mornings the porridge was usually mixed with different kinds of dried or fresh fruit and nuts, and in the afternoon it was made with bone broth and things like mushrooms, vegetables and a few times a week some meat.

In the evenings they usually had boks balls, either steamed or fried, served in a sauce that was oftentimes quite spicy but Harry learned to love that soon enough. There were many kinds of vegetables, raw and cooked, served alongside them, and a couple times a week there would be meat, usually a bit spicy as well.

And once a week they had pintas night. A pinta was a deep-fried pancake made from boks, rolled up and filled with a sweet and spicy mixture of meat and vegetables and they were just about everyone’s favourite food. No one was every late for dinner on pintas night, and Harry soon learned that the worst punishment Master Karakas could hand out was to deny you any pintas but serve you a bowl of watery porridge instead while everyone else got to enjoy them.

Harry learned that lesson quickly the first time he didn’t finish a chore on time because he got distracted playing in the springs.

Harry had never had such delicious food in his life, not to mention such regular meals, and every time he sat down to eat he felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the genie who had brought him there.

The school, which was led by Master Karakas, the man whom Harry had met the day of his arrival, was located at the top of a city built in a valley with a river running through it, surrounded by mountains and dense forests. Almost every day of the week huge thunderstorms formed near the end of the day and rain poured down for a few hours. The city was called Misty Springs because all this water caused numerous springs to run all around the valley, including several behind their school.

And every day, after they were done with their work, they were encouraged to bathe in the springs to keep themselves clean. The weather was always warm and humid and therefore it was delightful to play around in running water every afternoon. They even learned to swim properly. A few of the teachers took the time to teach them in some of the shallow pools that formed naturally beneath the springs.

Harry wasn’t allowed off school property yet, but he was curious about the city below them. Valdis assured him that one day soon he’d be allowed to accompany her on errands and Harry looked forward to that. Not that there wasn’t lots of room to play at the school, because there was. The school was made up of several two-story wings, made of white stone with a red, tiled roof. There were several courtyards, surrounded by many trees that blossomed and bore fruit. There were areas they weren’t allowed in, like the basement or the front reception rooms near the entrance, but otherwise once lessons were done they could explore to their hearts content. They were expected to do chores, like wash their own clothes and keep their own shared room clean and occasionally they had to scrub some floors or help in the kitchen with washing dishes. But all of this was reasonable, Harry figured, since they were all staying there for free while getting an education and all the amazing food they could eat.

Every bedroom in their wing housed a handful of younger children and one older student assigned to watch over them. Harry’s assigned older student was Valdis, a girl with skin so dark it looked almost black and curly hair she preferred to keep braided in intricate patterns. Valdis was usually kind and patient with them, but sometimes she would disappear for a day or two and when she returned she was usually a bit cranky and snapped at them more often than not, but they quickly learned to give her space on those days.

Harry was more than happy to have a big sister who answered his questions and who helped him tie his shoes, which he could mostly do on his own but occasionally the strings got knotted to such an extent Harry couldn’t unwind them and Valdis had to come to the rescue.

Once they all spoke Santireen fluently Rindyll, the small, blonde girl whose bed stood next to Harry’s, became a good friend of both Roy and Harry. She was a bit cautious around strangers but seemed to trust Harry and Roy completely and always stuck to their side. They learned that she was from a country called Folsnar, which neither Roy or Harry had ever heard of, but then again, neither had studied earth’s geography extensively before they were pulled into Santika.

Later, Harry would call himself rather dumb for not noticing sooner, but his entire transition to Santika had been so overwhelming that he’d simply not realized it immediately.

Master Karakas’ school was a school for magic. All the things Master Karakas could do with his staff was magic. The older students were also doing magic all the time, to help them with cleaning and cooking and mending clothes and finding books in the library. Younger children weren’t allowed in the library just yet, because books were rare and expensive, but Harry had managed to sneak a few peeks inside through the open door and he couldn’t wait until he was old enough to read all those enticing books.

What also gave the game away, Harry thought, was that not all students attending their school were necessarily human. They were humanoid, certainly, but there was one girl with green skin and small horns growing out of her forehead, and one boy who had colourful feathers growing out of his head where hair would ordinarily be. Another boy was much stronger than he had any right to be for his age and size, and there was one girl with shining silver hair who had such an extreme range of flexibility that she could fold herself into a small little package, legs bent over her own back with her head sticking out from between her feet.

“I can’t wait to do proper magic,” Harry sighed as he, Roy and Rindyll were sitting in one of the smaller pools beneath the springs behind the school.

“What are you going to do with it then?” Rindyll asked, her curly blond hair wet and plastered against her face.

“Everything,” Harry said, with a wide gesture of his hand as though indicating the whole world around himself. “How about you?”

Rindyll shrugged while staring down at the water. “I dunno. Make sure no one hurts me again.”

“Oh, that’s a good one,” Roy agreed. They hadn’t ever spoken about it in detail but Harry had picked up, through conversations like the one they were having, that both Roy and Rindyll had lived with people much like the Dursleys. That was probably why they’d found their way to Master Karakas’ school, which Harry was sure was a special place just for children who’d been hurt by adults in the past.

oooooo

Harry, age 5

“Come, child,” Master Karakas said, gesturing Harry into his office. He firmly closed the door behind them and Harry wondered if he was in trouble. Usually Master Karakas let you know at once, loudly, if you’d done something wrong. Harry himself had been punished a few times over the past year. Sometimes he got distracted and didn’t finish his chores, and one time he’d dropped a container filled with crystals, shattering a couple, when he was assigned to help clean up one of the classrooms.

Master Karakas had used a switch on Harry’s hands that time, and while it had hurt quite badly, Harry still preferred having his hands hit than miss pintas night.

Nobody in their right mind wanted to miss pintas night.

But Master Karakas sank down in a chair with a huge smile while Harry stood in front of him and didn’t seem at all mad at Harry, so Harry relaxed and waited for Master Karakas to speak.

“Harry, I have mentioned to you before how special you are, right?”

Harry nodded in agreement. Master Karakas did have a habit of saying that to Harry out of the blue every now and then.

Master Karakas pulled a golden necklace out of his pocket, with a golden amulet attached to it. “Well, child, today starts your private training to hone your very special skills.”

“Okay,” Harry said agreeably. He enjoyed learning all the lessons in the school and he assumed this would be just another topic to add to the list.

“Here, put the necklace on and hold the amulet in your hands.” Master Karakas lowered the necklace around Harry’s head and Harry obediently held onto the amulet, which felt strangely cold in his hands. It also sent a shiver up his arms, causing the tiny hairs there to stand up.

“We need just a drop of your blood.” Master Karakas pricked Harry’s thumb with a sharp little needle, and pressed the digit against the gold so Harry’s blood covered some of the swirling patterns on top of it.

“All done and ready for you to use.” Master Karakas gave Harry an encouraging smile. “Now I want you to think of your mother.”

“I don’t remember her,” Harry said while giving his teacher a dubious look.

“You don’t have to remember her,” Master Karakas quickly assured him. “Summoning souls works best if you have an image of the deceased or an item that once belonged to them, or at the very least know their full name. In your case, half of you comes from your mother, Harry, so you will have no problem summoning her as long as you concentrate.”

Harry nodded, even though he wasn’t quite sure what Master Karakas was talking about. He held the amulet tightly and closed his eyes, concentrating with all his might on his mother, or rather the internal image he’d always had of her. Harry didn’t know what she looked like, but that didn’t really matter, did it, because somehow Harry knew what she felt like. When he looked deep, deep inside of himself, Harry was sure he could remember his mum, and how she used to hold him and sing songs to him while she rocked him to sleep.

“Harry,” a voice whispered, unknown and at once also the most familiar thing he’d ever heard.

Opening his eyes, Harry saw a silvery, shimmering woman floating in front of him. She was so pretty and she smiled down at him as if he was the most amazing thing she’d ever seen.

“Mum,” Harry breathed, and at once he burst into tears, unable to stop the sudden flood of emotions from escaping him in a rush. “Mummy.”

“I am here, Harry, I am always here,” his mum assured him while she crouched down, still floating a little above the floor. She smiled at him and Harry smiled back through his tears and just like that she was gone again, nothing remaining that even hinted at her ever having been there at all.

“Well done, child,” Master Karakas all but crowed, leaning forward in his chair and placing both hands on Harry’s cheeks. He pressed a long kiss to Harry’s lips and looked at him with intense, brown eyes. “You, my child, are my little diamond. All the other children here, they are made of gold, and some perhaps even of ruby or emerald. But you, Harry, are a diamond, do you understand?”

Harry gave a stiff nod, barely hearing a word his teacher said, still feeling heartbroken that his mum had left him again so soon.

“This amulet is yours now, Harry. I want you to practice summoning your mother a few times a day. The more you practice, the longer she will be able to remain with you.”

Harry’s whole face lit up as he stared at Master Karakas with wide, disbelieving eyes. “I can call her every day? And my dad?”

Master Karakas nodded, while patting Harry on his head. “Sure, and your father. But Harry…only your mother and father, no one else, do you understand? If I learn you’ve summoned anyone else, I will take the amulet away again.”

Nodding quickly, Harry swore to himself that he would obey Master Karakas in this because he did not want to lose the amulet that would let him talk to his parents as often as he wanted to.

That night, half an hour before curfew, Harry sat down on the floor in an empty classroom and held the amulet tightly between his fingers. This time he thought of both his mother and his father as best as he could and after a few minutes of intense anticipation two shimmering figures appeared.

His father looked a bit like him, Harry thought while he smiled up at the man. His parents only had time to smile back at him before they disappeared again, but Harry didn’t feel any heartbreak at the sudden loss because he knew that from then on he could summon them as often as he wanted.

As far as Harry was concerned he was no longer an orphan. He had his parents back and all because of the amazing Master Karakas.

oooooooo

Harry, age 6

Harry put as much effort as he could into practicing summoning his parents. At first they could only appear a few seconds, but like Master Karakas had promised, the more Harry summoned them, the longer they managed to stay.

Eventually Harry could have whole talks with them, and while they were surprised to see him living in a magical school in an unknown world, they were relieved to learn Harry was whole and healthy and happy.

In turn they told Harry about what had happened leading up to their deaths, how a bad man who wanted to do bad things to everyone had come to kill them. Obviously he hadn’t managed to kill Harry like he wanted to but neither his mum or dad knew what had happened after they had both perished. The dead were unable to see what happened to the living, unless someone summoned them like Harry was now doing.

Harry told them very reluctantly about living with the Dursleys and how much he’d hated it, and his mum had seemed very upset by this because as his dad explained while his mum muttered curse word after curse word, they’d made sure plenty of nice people were available to take Harry in should they die, but for some reason that hadn’t happened, obviously, but none of them knew why.

Harry soon learned that there were different amounts of power he could use to summon his parents, like using a water tap. When he opened the tap only a little bit and used a small about of power, only he could see his parents and they remained invisible to everyone else. But if he used a lot of power he could make them visible to other as well. Harry took great delight in introducing Roy and Rindyll to his mum and dad, who in turn seemed pleased Harry had made such great friends.

Being able to summon his parents without others being the wiser was something Harry soon started taking advantage of. Every night while he was curled up on his cot, Harry summoned his mum and dad and they sat on his bed with him while Harry fell asleep listening to stories about a magical castle named Hogwarts, and a stag, dog, and wolf who had all sorts of exciting adventures there while a rat and a bat tried to make their lives difficult.

Rindyll asked Harry a short while later, when they were alone right before bedtime, if he could summon her mum for her, since Rindyll had never met her either, but Harry had to turn her down because he’d promised Master Karakas that he wouldn’t. Rindyll stared down at the floor, sadness making her shoulders slump, and Harry suggested she ask Master Karakas if Harry might summon her mother for her, and Rindyll perked up and said she would.

But before she managed to do that, Rindyll disappeared for a day.

Harry and Roy were running around the school all day looking for her until Valdis told them Rindyll had merely been sent on an errand for Master Karakas and that she’d return soon, probably the next day. That calmed the two boys down somewhat, but Harry still worried for his friend.

Rindyll did return the next day, but then had to spend a whole day in the hospital for unknown reasons, and Harry and Roy couldn’t get Valdis to explain what had happened. When Rindyll finally returned to their bedroom she was pale and bruised and the moment she saw Valdis she burst into tears. Valdis pulled Rindyll into a tight hug, her own eyes shining as she pressed her face down in Rindyll’s curls.

Harry couldn’t take it anymore, his whole body tense with anxiety. “But what happened?” he demanded as he stood in front of the crying girls.

“Not now, Harry,” Valdis all but snarled before shoving him out of the room with a firm push of magic, the door slamming shut in his face.

Rindyll refused to talk about it, and soon enough Harry and Roy decided to drop the matter because every time they brought it up, Rindyll would run off and they’d not see her again for half a day or so.

From then on, every three to four weeks, Rindyll would be missing for two days, always returning pale and bruised and needing lots of hugs from Valdis for a while.

A few months later, Roy disappeared and Harry didn’t know what to do with himself. He knew something bad happened to children who were not seen for a day or two. After this had started happening to Rindyll, Harry had paid a bit more attention to the comings and goings of other children and he started noticing that most of them did indeed briefly disappear on a regular basis.

Some never even returned. Lydia, the very shy girl assigned to their bedroom, who’d not really talked to anyone, even when Harry and Roy, and later Rindyll had made an effort to reach out to her, had just been gone one day. Harry had overheard Master Karakas say to one of the teachers that it was a pity not all children were cut out for the real work, and Harry had simply assumed this meant Lydia had been sent home. He’d felt sorry for her for not being able to stay at their amazing school but then he’d put her out of his mind, too busy adjusting to his new life.

But now Harry wondered if Lydia’s disappearance might have something to do with what was happening to Rindyll and Roy and all the other children that were sent on ‘errands’.

When Roy returned he, too, had to spend a day in the hospital, and Genka had to send Harry away more than a few times, even threatening to exclude him from the next pintas night before Harry would finally listen and leave her domain alone.

Roy also looked pale and sad when he finally was released from the hospital.

Harry gave him an inquiring look as they sat side by side on one of the stone benches in the main courtyard. “So what happened?”

Roy shrugged, not meeting Harry’s gaze, arms crossed tightly over his chest. “They hurt me.”

“Who is they?” Harry demanded, anger rushing inside of him like a small feral beast.

“Just some men.” And that was the last Roy would say about it, no matter how much Harry tried to get him to talk.

From that moment on, Roy also became a regular to do ‘errands’ for Master Karakas that lasted more than a day.

Harry finally asked his parents about it when he couldn’t figure it out himself what was happening to his two best friends.

“Perhaps they’re being given private lessons,” his mum suggested. “You receive those as well, don’t you? And magical lessons can cause injuries if people aren’t careful.”

It was true. Master Karakas still gave Harry private lessons twice a week. Usually, Harry had to demonstrate his summoning skills while Master Karakas gave him pointers and told him more about summoning souls, and other times Master Karakas made Harry learn runes that were different from the ones they all got to learn during their regular classes. And when Harry had asked Master Karakas why he had to learn even more runes when they weren’t using them at all, Master Karakas had explained that learning runes was a little bit like learning a foreign language. You might not immediately use the language in your daily life, but once you knew it you could put it to good use for the rest of your life.

His dad got a thoughtful frown on his face while he pondered the situation of the missing children. “Harry, can you send us away from you? We always stick with you, but can you give me a task to do that allows me to spend time in this word without staying near you?”

Harry widened his eyes at the implication of that. “We can try. Dad, I want you to go to the hospital and see what Genka is up to.”

His dad got a smile on his shimmering face and floated away from Harry and his mum. He returned minutes later and was able to tell them exactly what Genka had been doing, namely scrubbing bedpans. Not the most exciting news in the world, but they now knew that Harry could use his parents to gather information unseen. Because as long as Harry regulated his powers while summoning, no one else could see his mum and dad.

“The next time one of your friends disappears, call me and tell me to go with them,” his dad suggested and when Roy next went missing a few weeks later, Harry did exactly that.

His father returned quicker than Harry had thought he would and his face with drawn tight with tension. His mum, who’d stayed chatting with Harry in the empty classroom they were using, started looking equally worried when his dad wouldn’t say anything for a few long moments.

“Don’t ask,” his dad snapped when Harry opened his mouth to do exactly that. “Just know that there are people here in this world that hurt your friends. Very bad people.”

Harry swallowed audibly. “So now what do we do?”

“There is nothing we can do at this moment,” his dad said while giving Harry a stern look when Harry got ready to protest. He didn’t want anyone to hurt his friends. “You’re a child, Harry. Right now there is nothing you can do to stop this, but once you get older that might change.”

“Just be there for your friends, sweetheart,” his mum suggested while she gave Harry an encouraging smile. “If they’re hurt, they’ll need someone they can feel safe with.”

And that is what Harry did from then on. Whenever Rindyll and Roy came back pale and bruised, Harry would sit with them quietly, distract them with games, sneak them treats from the kitchen and read them stories from the books Valdis let him borrow as long as he promised to be careful with them.

Harry still wanted to do more but even he recognized that he was still very young and couldn’t do much magic yet and thus stood no chance against the full-grown warriors that occupied the city below them.

Because that was something Harry had learned over time. That the city that bore the very pleasant name of Misty Springs was a wretched hive of scum and villainy. The city and surrounding countryside was ruled by a Warlord named Bram the Red, and anyone that tried to go up against him ended up dead. Yet still plenty of people, some loners and some Warlords that commanded entire armies, tried to take over Bram the Red’s territory on a regular basis, leading to all sorts of mercenaries and other swords for hire calling Misty Springs home since there was lots of work available for someone who made a living killing other people.

And once Harry had learned all those lovely details about the city he lived in he was suddenly very glad they hadn’t been allowed to explore it on their own before.

On his parents’ insistence, Harry also started sending them out on a daily basis to explore the world around them. They started with the school buildings themselves, especially the parts Harry wasn’t allowed in like the basement and the public reception rooms in the front near the entrance.

“Harry, sweetheart, trust that we want what’s best for you,” his mum said giving him an almost pleading look. “We’ll share what we think is appropriate for you to hear at this age, okay? And in the future, when you’re older, we’ll tell you everything we discover.”

“Yeah, fine,” Harry replied, disappointed that his parents wouldn’t tell him every little detail they found.

“I can tell you Karakas is hoarding a small mountain of gold in a very well secured room down there,” his dad said with a huge grin.

“Really?” Harry’s whole face lit up at the idea that there was treasure buried beneath their school.

After his parents had thoroughly explored the school Harry sent them further away, at their own insistence. Harry’s parents seemed determined to learn everything they could about the world their only son was now living in.

His dad discovered a smuggler’s path that ran partially along the back of the school and that wound precariously up the side of the mountain and through the jungle for miles and miles until it ended in a whole different territory. It wasn’t used very often but according to his dad it was still in reasonable repair and could be used if they ever needed to make a quick escape.

His parents did urge him not to tell anyone he was sending them out to gather information, not even Roy and Rindyll. If it came out Harry was essentially using his dead parents as invisible spies, losing his precious amulet would probably be the least of his worries. So Harry kept up the charade of talking to his parents about childish things while in reality they were gathering more information about anyone and everyone than they even knew what to do with.

ooooooo

Harry age 7

Harry was finally allowed to accompany Valdis on an errand into the city. For the first time ever, Harry walked through the iron gates that kept the students in and the people of Misty Springs out and he gaped as he took in the city with his own eyes. His parents had already told him lots of interesting details but it was still an enormously amazing experience to see and hear and smell everything for himself.

Their school was located halfway up the mountain, and the only building that was higher up than that was Bram the Red’s castle and surrounding compound located half a city away. Just below their school were lots of white, stone buildings, homes mostly but also stores and some workshops, all occupied by the more affluent inhabitants of the city.

They stopped briefly on a ledge that overlooked a lot of the city below them.

“That’s Shit Creek,” Valdis told him, pointing out what looked like slums near the very lowest point of the valley, right beside the river that crossed through the city. Harry could see hundreds if not thousands of little huts built practically on top of each other, some no more than loose boards tied together to form a decrepit roof held up by a few crooked poles driven into the mud. Others seemed to be a bit sturdier, with solid wooden walls, but none looked particularly pleasant to live in.

“Why is it called that?” Harry asked with a huge grin. Imagine living in a place called Shit Creek.

“Because all our shit runs straight through them before being dumped in the river,” Valdis said with a chuckle.

It was one of Misty Spring’s advantages, that there were so many running springs found around the city. Thanks to a system of pipes and canals, running water was available pretty much everywhere up The Hill, the part of town where their school was situated. They even had flushing toilets in the form of stone ditches that had constant water running through them, while wooden boards with holes in them covered the ditches and people could sit on them to take care of business.

It had been a bit strange at first to have communal toilets, people sitting side by side while they went number 1 or 2, but Harry got used to it soon enough. There were always huge baskets of leaves available to wipe with, and those leaves were tossed in the shit streams as well. Harry wondered if the people in Shit Creek saw lots of used leaves floating by in the open sewers around them.

They continued their journey to the bakery. There was a summer holiday coming up to celebrate the sun goddess Mar and traditionally for that occasion they ate a type of pastry, marsals, made of wheat, rolled up and filled with fruit jams. Since wheat had to be imported from the plains far away, it was quite expensive, and so they rarely got bread or pastries at the school, instead using boks that grew locally in the forest as a starchy component of their meals. But occasionally, for a holiday, Karakas was willing to spend some gold on his pupils, and that’s why Valdis and Harry were sent out to order enough pastries for the whole school.

“What a pretty thing you are,” a brute of a man called out to Valdis. He stood surrounded by other gruff men outside a tavern under the ripped awning, all holding large tankards.

“No, mate, you don’t want to mess with them,” one of his companions said urgently.

“And why not? Is that scrawny kid going to stop me?” the brute demanded, face red and sweaty in the humid heat.

“No, but Lord Carcass won’t be pleased and he will curse you. And if not him, then Bram himself will have your balls. The chattel is protected unless you’ve paid for them, fool,” the other guy said with a roll of his eyes.

The brute waved them off with a rough gesture and went back to gulping down whatever was in his tankard.

Valdis didn’t say anything, though Harry had noticed her tense shoulders and narrowed eyes as they walked past the men.

“Why did they call the master Lord Carcass?” Harry asked once they were well and truly past the tavern.

Valdis snorted. “Because Karakas buys corpses and uses them for magical experiments. Karakas hates that name.”

“What?” Harry almost tripped over a small branch that someone had probably lost while carrying firewood.

“When someone in the city has to get rid of a corpse but they don’t want to properly cremate them, they can sell it to Karakas.” Valdis gave Harry an unconcerned shrug. “When you’re older you’ll use some of them to practice your magic on.”

“Ah.” Harry wasn’t sure what to make of that, but soon enough he got distracted by a troop of screeching monkeys that swarmed over the rooftops and across the street before them. They were the size of large housecats and had bright red faces and long brown tails and Harry had seen them almost every day in the trees around the school, but the school itself was warded against them because apparently they were little thieves that would steal the food right off your plate.

When they turned a corner Harry got his first good look of a panky. They were enormous beasts of burden, used mainly to pull heavy carts up and down the mountains. They vaguely resembled oxen, but they had four horns, lots of loose skin around their heads and necks and the hooves of a horse. They were about the size of a large draft horse, and Harry stared at them, utterly in awe as they walked past a pair that were hitched up to a large cart loaded with boks.

There were also plenty of regular horses around, but they were used for riding, not for pulling carts. They passed a number of men and some women on horseback, most dressed for battle, with leather gauntlets around their bare arms and long swords hanging from their belts or tied across their backs.

The bakery was a fascinating place. The part that was open to the public was fairly small, with a wooden counter and behind it two racks that held loaves of bread in several sizes. On the counter stood a few trays with different types of pastries. While Valdis got the order for the school in, Harry shuffled to the side of the bakery, so he could see around the corner of the shop. There he saw several large woodfired ovens, and piles and piles of firewood. There was a persistent smell of smoke around the whole place.

“Harry, come on!” Valdis had already left the store again and Harry hurried after her, still amazed by all he was seeing around him. Misty Springs might be a violent place, but Harry really wished he could explore it even further. He couldn’t wait to tell Roy and Rindyll all about everything he’d seen on this adventure.

Valdis led them straight back to the school, just as thunderclouds started forming in the distance. It was that time of day again and they started walking a little faster because neither had brought their cloaks and they didn’t want to get soaked by the incoming downpour.

Just inside the gates of the school, in the courtyard there, stood a small hand-pulled cart with big wooden wheels, with a stained linen sheet covering whatever was lying on top of it.

Master Karakas was yelling at the burly man who was holding a small wooden chest, and since they were blocking the entrance to the building Valdis and Harry stepped to the side to wait quietly.

“This is getting out of control! Another investment down the drain because someone couldn’t control themselves!” Master Karakas gestured wildly, face flushed with anger. “You know how long it takes to get my pupils ready for market? Years and years. In the meantime they can earn their living by servicing those willing to pay, but that does not mean they are expendable goods!”

“Lord Bram is aware of this and he sends his honest apologies and this bounty in recompense for your loss.” The burly man sounded utterly bored as he opened the small wooden chest, revealing it was filled with gold coins and many coloured gemstones. “Lord Bram also wants to assure you he’ll have words with Rylan to make sure this won’t happen again.”

“He had better because this is the umpteenth of my pupils he’s broken beyond repair!” Master Karakas all but yanked the wooden chest out of the burly man’s arms.

Meanwhile Harry looked from Master Karakas to the cart with wide eyes, realizing they were talking about a student of the school who had been seriously hurt. Without even knowing what he was doing, Harry took a step closer to the cart. From this new angle he could see a small hand sticking out from under the sheet.

Harry knew that hand, had known it for years and years, because it was the hand of his best friend. Harry’s head seemed to be caught in a daze while he stepped closer and closer to the cart while Valdis was distracted by the still arguing men.

Grabbing a corner of the sheet, Harry lifted it and stood on his tiptoes to look at the body on the cart.

Roy looked utterly pale and still, eyes wide open and glassy. His face was covered in blood and around his whole neck ran a broad line of black bruises.

Harry must have made a sound, but he wasn’t sure because around him the entire world had stopped moving and all that was left were the mangled remains of his best friend.

“Girl, get Harry away from that,” Master Karakas snapped in the distance, wooden chest clinking in his grip. “And Broi, Meeren, come and take the body downstairs and put it in the tank. At least we’ll be able to use it at a later date, so it’s not a complete loss.”

Harry barely saw or heard anything as Valdis grabbed his arm and dragged him inside the school. His best friend was dead, murdered by someone called Rylan.

oooooo

Harry, age 8

It had been a few months since Harry and Rindyll had lost Roy and ever since then they stuck together like they were joined at the hip. Rindyll had disappeared a time or two herself since losing Roy and during those days Harry had been unable to eat or sleep, sick with worry he’d lose his remaining friend as well.

His parents did their best to comfort him while they exchanged worried glances with each other. Harry’s mother, at her own request, spent a lot of time spying on Bram’s castle and its occupants. She told Harry a few things of what she discovered there, like that Rylan was apparently Bram’s second in command and had a very bad reputation, but Harry got the feeling there was a lot she still wasn’t telling him.

Meanwhile, his father had taken to keeping an eye on Master Karakas and spying on any visitor he received in the school.

And Harry applied himself to his classes, because his parents insisted he do so, even if he wasn’t nearly feeling as enthusiastic anymore as he’d once had. Master Karakas continued their private lessons, which now included learning how to apply the unique runes Harry had been studying for almost a year now.

Rindyll became rather withdrawn and Harry wished there was more he could do for her. He made sure she was comfortable and well looked after whenever she came back from an ‘errand’, but she still refused to talk about it and Harry didn’t press her to do so.

And then, one afternoon out of the blue, while Harry had just summoned his mum and dad to send them on more spying missions, Valdis found him and shoved a tray full of little bowls of dried fruit and nuts and other delicacies in his arms.

“Come with me,” Valdis ordered him, carrying a tray holding many small glasses and a large bottle of boksala, which was a popular alcoholic drink made from fermented boks and had a milky white colour. “Harry, whatever you do, you must hold your tongue, do you understand? What you’re about to see isn’t pleasant, but it’s important you see it.”

“Okay,” Harry agreed easily, his curiosity going into overdrive at the idea of learning something new and important. Harry’s parents, invisible to anyone but him, floated after him while exchanging a few tight looks between them.

Harry followed Valdis to the front of the school, towards the section normally off-limits to the students, and inside a large reception room that held a table with many comfortable chairs.

Master Karakas was there, as were a few other people, all seated around the table.

“Ah, there are the refreshments,” Master Karakas said while giving everyone a huge smile. If he was surprised to see Harry there, he didn’t show it. Valdis and Harry put their trays on the table, Valdis serving everyone drinks while Harry distributed the little bowls around the table so everyone could eat what they wanted. After they were done, Valdis grabbed Harry by the arm and led him to a empty piece of wall, where they stood side by side quietly, servants waiting for their next order.

“That is Bram the Red,” Harry’s mother whispered to him while gesturing at the biggest man in the room.

Bram the Red was huge, with the thickest arms Harry had ever seen. He had long reddish-blond hair and a wild beard, and the kind of fair skin that refused to tan properly so he always looked slightly sunburnt with lots of freckles everywhere.

“And that is Rylan Bloodstone,” his mum whispered while pointing to the man beside Bram. Rylan wasn’t nearly as huge as Bram, then again, few men were, but Rylan was tall and well-muscled in his own right. He had short, spiky hair that couldn’t seem to decide if it was brown or black and his face was marred by several deep scars crisscrossing it. His eyes were grey and piercing and around his neck hung a large gemstone set in gold, exactly the colour of fresh blood. His bare arms were covered by many swirling tattoos, and if Harry hadn’t been overcome with grief he might have recognized some of those patterns.

Harry’s throat closed as he looked at the murderer of his best friend from under his eyelids, head held down respectfully as he stood still.

“Harry, son, you have to stay calm,” his father whispered in his ear as he crouched next to him. “I swear to you, that your mother and I will do anything in our power to help you out of here and to take down Rylan if that is what you want, but right now you have to remain calm, do you understand?”

A small wave of relief washed over Harry, knowing that his parents were there for him and would help him in the future to make sure Rylan got what was coming to him, but for now Harry understood he had to keep it together otherwise things could only end badly for him. So he released a deep, silent breath and willed his own body to stop trembling with grief and fury.

“It is always a pleasure to visit the House of Chattel,” Bram said in a too loud voice. The first impression you might get from him was that he was a jovial man who enjoyed his food and drinks, but there was something hard and flinty hidden not that deeply in his pale green eyes. This wasn’t a man you wanted to cross, no matter how good-natured he might appear.

“And we are always most pleased and honoured to have you, Lord Bram,” Master Karakas said while toasting the large man with a glass full of boksala. “Ah, and here is our guest of honour.”

The door opened and in stepped Astrid, a young woman around Valdis’ age. She looked around the room in clear apprehension, especially when spotting Rylan, but Master Karakas waved her in further. Harry knew Astrid as a friend of Valdis’, and as someone who’d helped him learn his sums when he’d had trouble with them at first. She was always friendly with the younger kids, unlike some other students who ignored or even bullied those younger than them.

“Come, Astrid, let Lord Bram have a good look at you.” Turning towards Bram, Master Karakas continued in a voice that wouldn’t be out of place on a seasoned salesman. “She specializes in healing and warding, though she is also very talented in potions and curses.”

“Good, good,” Bram said while looking Astrid over a time or two. “She will do. We’re riding against Walt the Silent next week and we need all the healers we can get. The usual price?”

Master Karakas nodded politely and watched quietly as one of the other men at the table hauled a small chest up from the ground. Harry could hear it was probably filled with coins and gems and he was genuinely shocked to realize that Master Karakas had sold Astrid for a pile of gold.

“My thanks, Lord Bram. As always it is a pleasure doing business with you,” Master Karakas said smoothly while refilling everyone’s glasses until the bottle of boksala was empty.

“The pleasure was all mine, Lord Carcass,” Bram said with a booming laugh before downing his drink.

“That boy, how much for a day with him?” Rylan asked while gesturing in Harry’s direction with his full glass before sipping it.

“Oh, he’s not for sale,” Master Karakas said quickly, face paling at the thought of Rylan getting his hands on Harry. “He’s a most talented sorcerer,” he continued, now addressing Bram again. “Once I’m done with him he will probably be the most powerful one I’ve ever trained and I already have him reserved for you, Lord Bram. It would be a shame to see all that effort wasted prematurely.”

“Rylan, you need not fuck every tight hole you can find!” Bram slapped Rylan on the back while giving him a wide grin. “Keep it in your pants for a change, because your cock is costing me enough as is. Come, we must be away.”

“Then there is only the matter of adjusting the collar.” Master Karakas and Bram both got up and stepped up to Astrid, who was looking very pale with her lips pursed tightly. Bram got out a small knife and sliced his thumb, pressing it against the largest gemstone on Astrid’s leather collar, apparently familiar with whatever ritual this was.

Master Karakas had his staff in hand and pressed the tip against Bram’s hand while speaking a complicated set of words, probably a spell of sorts.

Before Harry could see what else was happening, a hand cupped his face and raised his chin up.

“Such a pretty one you are,” Rylan said with a sly smile that showed that one of his front teeth was chipped and blackened. “Too bad you are Lord Carcass’ personal little whore, but mark my words, boy, I will find a way to make you mine.”

Beside him, Harry’s mother and father both made tight noises of outrage, but Harry kept as still as possible while Rylan studied him. There was something about Rylan, not just any of the obvious matters, that made Harry’s skin prickle and his stomach roll in the most unpleasant of ways.

“Rylan, come!” Bram yelled and Rylan released Harry’s face with one last swipe of his thumb across Harry’s lips. Harry barely managed to hold back a violent shudder at that contact.

Before long the room was empty and Valdis rushed out the door and Harry hurried after her. “What was –”

“Not here,” Valdis snapped while she made her way to the classrooms that were empty that time of day. The entered the first available one they found and Valdis closed the door harder than she probably meant to.

Harry stared up at her with wide eyes. “Karakas just sold Astrid!”

Valdis crossed her arms and briefly lowered her head while releasing a loud snort. “Thanks for noticing, Harry.”

“But why?” Harry asked, feeling genuinely confused and distressed about all he had just witnessed. “Why would he do that?”

“Because we’re slaves, moron!” Valdis yanked on her own collar violently. “We’re here to be trained and sold to anyone who is willing to pay the right amount of gold.”

Harry opened and closed his mouth a few times but no sound came out. He quickly glanced to the side at his parents, but they both looked rather resigned and not at all surprised.

Had they known all along?

Harry couldn’t ask them at that moment, so he focused his attention back on Valdis who was looking at him with narrowed brown eyes. “And Rylan, he wanted to buy me for a day, right?”

“To rape you,” Valdis said without any emotion in her voice.

Harry blinked, unfamiliar with that word. “Huh?”

“To have sex with you. You know what sex is, right?”

Harry nodded. The monkeys in the trees around the school got up to all sorts of funny things and some of the older students had taken great delight in telling the younger ones what was going on, so Harry had a good idea what Rylan might want to do to him.

“Rape is when someone forces you to have sex against your will,” Valdis explained, still sounding very frosty.

“Oh.” Harry considered this and then finally, finally he realized what was really going on around him. “That is what happened to Roy! And to Rindyll!” He looked up at Valdis with wide eyes. “And to you.”

Valdis nodded before flicking her fingers against Harry’s forehead. “But not you, because you are the master’s precious little diamond.”

Harry suddenly felt deeply ashamed for reasons he couldn’t quite articulate. “I’m sorry. I had no idea.”

“How you could miss any of this, seriously.” Valdis pulled on her collar again. “Everyone here wears a slave collar, Harry.”

Shrugging, Harry stared at the floor. “I thought it was just part of the uniform.”

“You really are a blind little boy,” Valdis said, voice still full of annoyance but then she sighed and seemed to relax a little bit. “But you are a powerful little boy, so I am counting on you to get all of us out of here.”

“Now?” Harry asked, a flash of panic warming his chest.

Valdis flicked her fingers against his forehead again. “No, not now. When you are older, fool.”

“Ah, okay.” Harry nodded, and inhaled a deep breath to calm his racing heart. “Yeah, I want to get us all out of here, too. I’ll do my best, I promise.”

“Good.” And without saying anything else, Valdis turned on her heels and walked out of the room, the door falling shut behind her.

“Did you know?” Harry asked, touching the collar around his neck with trembling fingers as his parents floated closer.

“We figured it out eventually,” his mother said with a kind smile.

“Then why didn’t you ever say anything?” Harry’s voice cracked and his throat filled with a lump and he stepped towards one of the benches and sat down, shoulders hunched. For some reason he felt like his entire world had crumbled. Roy’s death had already caused quite a few cracks to appear in Harry’s peaceful existence, but now it felt like everything was gone and Harry didn’t know anymore how he was supposed to live in the world around him.

“Harry, sweetheart, you’re only eight years old.” His mum sat down beside him as best she could and placed her arm around his shoulders. It always felt a little chilly, that kind of contact, but Harry treasured it nonetheless.

“We were waiting until you were a little older,” his father added while he crouched down in front of him. “We’ve been collecting all the information we can so that when the time is right we can help you escape.”

Harry’s mum swallowed and gave his dad a considering look. “I do think the time is right now, James, especially now that Rylan has taken a personal interest in Harry.”

“Yeah, it’s probably better to get going sooner rather than later.”

“Get going with what exactly?” Harry asked, looking between his parents while hope bloomed in his chest. Maybe his parents would finally tell him everything so Harry could prepare for the worst to come.

“We’re going to help you plan to get out of here.” His mum held up a hand when Harry looked ready to burst with questions. “We’re not sure yet how you’re going to accomplish that, but we figure the more plans we make, the better.”

“Yep.” His dad gave Harry a wide smile. “And the first thing you need to do, Harry, is call in more troops.”

“Huh?” Harry blinked at his father in great confusion.

“What he means,” his mother explained with a chuckle, “Is that you should gather the extended family to help us.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 4

For a good long while after that faithful day Harry couldn’t stop feeling incredibly dumb that he hadn’t noticed any of the horrible things that were going on around him any sooner. His parents comforted him and told him it wasn’t his fault that he’d missed the horrors around him because he was still only a child.

Well, whatever it was, the veil had well and truly been lifted and once seen, the reality of the world around him couldn’t be unseen. Harry now knew that he lived in a world filled with violence and death, where children were commodities to be rented out and traded and sold, and once in a while to be fucked to death.

Most of the beautiful sheen that had covered Harry’s experiences in Santika had disappeared altogether, and the world that was left behind was bleak and unforgiving.

Nonetheless, Harry’s parents wouldn’t let him wallow in the misery he suddenly felt for very long.

“We will help you get out of here, sweetheart,” his mum told him time and again while his dad nodded with a reassuring smile. “You won’t always be a child and you have Karakas’ favour, so you’re going to use that to your advantage.”

Harry’s parents insisted he start summoning extended family members, because as his parents explained, they needed more people they could trust and who could help them learn about the world and spy on all Harry’s enemies, but Harry wasn’t sure at first. “Karakas told me I couldn’t summon anyone else or he would take away my amulet.”

“Sometimes you have to take risks, Harry,” his dad said with a firm nod. “Don’t tell anyone about this, simple as that.”

“And the first thing we’ll put on the list to research is how to make such an amulet yourself, so that even if you do lose it, you can simply replace it,” Harry’s mum added, and Harry figured that was a good enough plan so he agreed.

The first person Harry summoned was his paternal grandfather, a man named Fleamont Potter.

Harry was still only eight years old and while he was really good at summoning his parents by then, adding a third soul to the mix wasn’t easy. The first time Fleamont Potter appeared alongside his parents, he only had time for a quick, excited greeting when meeting his grandson before he disappeared again.

And so the process began over the following weeks and months and years of practicing summoning more and more family members simultaneously until Harry was able to keep them all tied to the land of the living for hours on end.

Fleamont Potter and his wife Euphemia Potter-MacMillan were the first ones to join their Dream Team, as Harry’s father liked to call it. It only took a brief explanation from James to convince them to join in the operation of seeing Harry free and safe. Fleamont suggested Harry summon his younger brother Charlus Potter and his wife Dorea Potter-Black next, knowing they would want in on the adventure, which was indeed the case. Charlus was a no-nonsense man who had been a curse-breaker in his life, and Dorea had been Charms Master, and they were eager to assist their grand-nephew in any way they could.

Next to join the Dream Team were Fleamont’s parents, Henry Potter and Bernadine Potter-Smith. Henry and Bernadine had both been Ward Masters in life.

Henry beamed when he was introduced to his great-grandson. “Named after me, then?”

“Er…” Lily said while looking between Henry and Harry. “And after my grandfather Harry Evans.”

“Ah.” Henry didn’t let up any of his obvious enthusiasm. “But mostly after me, I bet.”

Lily wisely said nothing to that and Harry snickered and felt a wonderfully comforting glow inside his chest at being surrounded by so many family members. They might all be dead, but they were still his family and happy to meet him and to help him in his life. And that was all that mattered, really.

After Harry had summoned some Potters, Euphemia insisted Harry summon some MacMillans next, starting with Harry’s great-grandparents. Patroclus MacMillan was a tall man who’d been an Auror in life and his wife Charis MacMillan-Black had been a renowned Potions Master who had improved the burn salve to such an extend that even third-degree burns no longer left any scars. Charis had looked genuinely happy to learn from Lily that her version of the burn salve was still in use when Lily was alive.

Euphemia insisted that Harry also summon her favourite aunt, Patroclus’ sister, Eustice MacMillan. Eustice had been a spinster in life, insisting loudly and often that she needed neither man or woman to make her happy and that she was perfectly capable of living a successful and fulfilling life on her own. Eustice was a woman with sharp features and a tight bun, and in life she’d been a celebrated Enchantress, which was one step up from Charms Master, who travelled all over the world to study and to share her craft.

The first thing she said to Harry, after James had explained to his great-aunt why they were there, was, “Thank Merlin for you, child. Do you have any idea how dreadfully boring it is to be dead?” And after that she insisted on haunting the library, as she liked to call it, since she had an insatiable appetite for knowledge and wanted to learn as much as she could. And yes, she had been a Ravenclaw in life, why do you ask?

In the library Auntie Eustice, as she insisted Harry call her, simply hovered behind people sitting so she could read whatever book they had open over their shoulders. This quickly made Auntie Eustice an expert in many Santikan subjects, from trivial things like 101 recipes for boks, to how to use the local runes to construct the most amazing wards. She also soon became an unofficial librarian, knowing exactly where to find what book anywhere in the library.

All the other family members insisted Harry address them by their first names, because otherwise it got a little confusing with all the grand-parents and great-grandparents milling about.

The last person Harry summoned was Rigel Potter, his second cousin and son of Charlus and Dorea. Rigel had suffered from a magical wasting disease, brought on by many centuries of inbreeding in the Black family, according to Dorea. Rigel had been able to attend Hogwarts for a year and a half, before he became too ill and had to go home. He was a proud Gryffindor who’d sadly passed away a little after his fifteenth birthday.

But since he’d missed out so much in life, Rigel was more than happy to help Harry out, and Harry had a special mission for him.

“I want you to keep an eye on Rindyll whenever I’m not around,” Harry said, giving Rigel a serious look. “I’ve already lost one friend, I don’t want to lose another one.”

“I’ll stick to her like a niffler on gold, promise,” Rigel said with a little salute and then he’d floated off to find Rindyll while Harry wondered what on earth a niffler was and why it would stick on gold.

The rest of the Dream Team soon came up with tasks for themselves as well. Both Dorea and Charis insisted that Harry learn occlumency, a type of magic that would protect his mind and help him think and learn. Charis appointed herself Harry’s teacher, since she had more patience than Dorea, and from that moment on every night while lying in his cot, Harry no longer had his parents there to tell him stories, but Charis to lead him through guided meditation.

Dorea, meanwhile, decided she was going to spy on the taverns in Misty Springs. “It is important to know what is going on in the city around you, Harry, and the best way to learn about any news or rumours is from the inebriated, since they cannot control their tongues.”

Patroclus the Auror appointed himself as the official spy of Bram the Red and his castle, taking over from a relieved Lily, and Charlus decided to stick himself to Karakas, freeing up James.

Henry and Bernadine Potter, meanwhile, went about exploring the whole of Misty Springs and beyond, going much further than James had been to see what lay beyond the city and how best to navigate it when dealing with all sorts of scenarios, from sneaking out in the dead of night, to evacuating in a hurry during a natural disaster.

That left James, Lily, Fleamont and Euphemia to teach Harry and guide him in his research.

And there was a lot of research to be done.

The first thing Lily did was have a serious talk with Harry, while his dad and grandparents hovered around him. “Harry, sweetheart, if I could give you a carefree childhood, I would, but you’ve seen for yourself the kind of world you now live in. That means that from now on, you have to grow up, and you have to do it quickly. You have to learn as much as you can, and you have to do that quickly as well.”

Harry nodded, understanding that playtime was over and from then on learning new things was a matter of life and death for him. And so he quit messing about and applied himself to his studies as best as he could.

And there was plenty to study. Harry made sure he learned all the official lessons they got in the classes that the school taught, everything from potions and spells, runes and warding and healing and curses. They weren’t doing much real magic yet at their young ages, but they were learning more and more theory the older they got. The only real magic Harry got to do so far were small things, like drawing a runic circle to size of a saucer to summon a bright little light, and to use certain crystals, charge them with magic in a runic circle, and then stick them in the earth to help plants grow.

His parents and grandparents put together a detailed extracurricular study-plan for him.

“First things first,” Lily said with a determined frown. “You have to get access to the library.”

“That would be the perfect moment to start buttering up Karakas,” James added. Harry looked between his parents dubiously, but he heard them out and during his next private lesson Harry executed their plan.

“Master,” Harry said innocently while he’d finished translating some runes Karakas had written down for him on a piece of slate. “You said to Lord Bram that I had the makings of a great sorcerer. Is that true?”

“Oh yes, my precious little diamond,” Karakas said with a wide smile, showing off all of his very white teeth. “You are going to be great.”

“Is that why you gave me this amulet?” Harry asked, still staring at Karakas with wide eyes to emphasize his youth and ignorance. “I’m really happy I can talk to my parents every day.”

Karakas’ face shut down for a moment before his eyebrows drew up in a thoughtful frown. “You, child, have been touched by death. I do not know how and when, but I know that you carry death in you. And because of that, I am convinced that you can become a great necromancer, more powerful than this world has ever seen.”

“Necromancer?” Harry asked, unfamiliar with the word.

“Yes, my diamond.” Karakas rubbed his hands together and offered Harry another wide smile. “You will one day control all that is dead and there will be no one in this world who can stop you then.”

Harry definitely perked up at hearing that. “I can’t wait,” he said honestly. “But shouldn’t I be able to read books then, to learn how to do all that. You know, in the library.”

Karakas blinked for a moment. “You want access to the library? Done.”

That went much better than Harry thought it would, and he happily relayed the conversation to his parents and grandparents, but they reacted not at all as Harry expected.

“No,” Lily said, arms crossed tightly over her chest as she hovered in front of Harry. “No, Harry. Absolutely not.”

“By Merlin’s smelly underpants,” James muttered, shaking his head. “They want you to become a necromancer of all things.”

Fleamont and Euphemia just looked very, very unhappy as they stared at Harry.

Unsure of what to do with that kind of unexpected response, Harry summoned his other family members to him in the hopes that they may talk some sense into his parents because Harry desperately wanted to be so powerful that no one could stop him.

The newly arrived family members didn’t look very happy with Harry’s future career either when James and Lily informed them. Well, Dorea and Charis merely looked thoughtful, but the rest quickly joined in to loudly and vehemently voice their objections.

Well, all except for one.

“Shame on you!” Auntie Eustice snapped, while pointing a finger at each of the gathered people. “Shame on you! Harry has been summoning souls, your souls, since he was five years old, and now you suddenly have a problem with that?”

“But necromancy is forbidden,” Henry mumbled, and floated backwards a little when Auntie Eustice whipped around to glare at him.

“This isn’t Hogwarts, or the wizarding world. There isn’t a ministry here to give you fines or chuck you in the slammer. There is only our nephew, our blood, alone in this world. Brother,” Auntie Eustice turned to look at Patroclus, “You’ve seen what this world is truly like, haven’t you?”

Patroclus gave a solemn nod. “Aye, I’ve seen more than I ever wanted to see up in that blasted castle.”

“Now the MacMillans are as light as they come and I am proud of that, but I’d also like to think that the MacMillans aren’t stupid.” Auntie Eustice gave each person gathered a long, intense look. “If the only way our nephew, our blood, can survive in this world is by becoming a necromancer, then by Hecate and Isis, we will help him become the best necromancer that has ever lived. And if you don’t like that, you can all bloody well scuttle back to the afterlife, you bunch of cowardly ghosts.”

A few long moments of silence followed as everyone stared at everyone else, until Patroclus cleared his throat. “I believe my sister has the right of it. If we want our kin to survive, we have to be willing to help him, even if that means resorting to magics that might seem unsavoury.”

“I agree,” Charis said at once. “I’ll help you Harry, as much as I possibly can.”

“And so will I,” Dorea chimed in. This caused Charlus to sigh, look between his wife and Harry and then nod as well.

Bernadine folded her hands and frowned for a moment. “We’ve all been working towards Harry’s eventual escape, but we don’t know where he will go from here. We don’t know what the rest of this world is like and we certainly don’t know if he can ever even return to the wizarding world.” Bernadine looked towards James and Lily. “Harry has to be able to survive in this world even beyond Misty Springs. I’ll help him with that, even if it means that he has to learn magics that are illegal elsewhere.”

Henry considered that and then nodded in agreement with his wife. “Yeah, from what we can tell, the whole of Santika is a violent place. Once we get him out of here, he’ll still be in danger. I’ll help.”

That left James, Lily, Fleamont and Euphemia as the last ones who hadn’t yet voiced their support.

“Harry, we want you to become strong and powerful,” Lily said in a pleading tone. “But you have to understand that necromancy is dangerous magic. You can lose yourself in it and become just as bad as someone like Rylan.”

Harry shivered at that thought. He didn’t want to be anything like that monster, ever.

“Not as long as he has us,” Euphemia said, much to everyone’s surprise. “Think about it, Lily. Harry has his family, dead as we are. He isn’t alone, exploring dangerous magics that can overpower him. He has us to guide him every step of the way.”

“I hadn’t looked at it like that,” Fleamont said while he gave his wife a considering look. “I do believe you make a good point, darling. We’ll help you, Harry.”

James looked from his parents to Harry and back and then crouched down in front of his son. “Promise me, Harry, that you will do everything in your power to be good, even when learning these kinds of magic.”

“I promise,” Harry whispered, feeling rather overwhelmed by everyone’s serious reactions.

“James,” Lily said, one hand rubbing across her chest in a nervous gesture. “James, do we really want this for our son?”

“They’re right,” James said, getting up and floating over to Lily. “Harry is stuck here for Merlin knowns how long, perhaps even his whole life. And this world is nothing like the wizarding world. Harry needs all the magic he can get just to make it to adulthood, but it doesn’t stop there. He’ll have to live his whole life and he needs to be powerful enough to do that. Besides, do you really think Karakas will take no for an answer if Harry were to tell him he doesn’t want to study it?”

“All right,” Lily finally sighed. She rubbed a hand over her face and then smiled down at her son. “We’ll help you, but you have to promise to follow our instructions. No running off to do any magic behind our backs. And ask for our help if you need it.”

“I promise, Mum,” Harry said solemnly and that was that. From that moment on Harry was officially a student of necromancy and he had his whole family’s support, no matter how reluctantly.

Something had dawned on a few people during that confrontation, though, and Lily urged Harry to study maps in the library, now that he finally had access to it.

“Bernadine was right,” Lily said when Harry wondered why on earth he had to learn maps when there was actual magic to be studied. “You’re too young to do much actual magic, but you’re not too young to learn about the world around you. Once you leave here, you’ll need to know where to go and what areas of Santika are safe.”

And thus Harry, with the help of Auntie Eustice, found every map in the library and every book on the subject of Santika and studied them intensely. He learned all about the different regions of Santika, which was a huge continent as it turned out. Misty Springs was located in the southwest of Santika, nestled in a mountain range that crossed from one western coastline to another in the south. The jungle ran all the way to the sea in the south. To the north, beyond the mountains, were plains that were far more arid, and to the east there were several smaller mountain ranges that housed climates that were mostly temperate with a few subtropical areas further south. All throughout these regions were cities and little towns and rivers and lakes and Lily made Harry memorize all of them. Even the rivers that ran in the far north, where it was always cold and very few people lived.

To the far south, beyond the Clear Sea, was another continent that remained largely unexplored. This was due to the fact that the continent for a large part was comprised of an area called the Grim Gorges and in it, Harry learned, lived a creature known as a barok.

It was, the books all mentioned, the most dangerous creature found anywhere in Santika. The one drawing that was provided was rather unclear but the description was not. Large, with silver teeth, four eyes, a spiked tail, an armoured back and it had the ability to walk straight up stone walls. Most importantly, it was exceedingly difficult to kill and mostly unaffected by magic, and it was a dangerous and territorial carnivore and any who crossed its path had a very difficult time getting out of there alive.

One Warlord some centuries ago had offered a king’s ransom for the head of a barok. Many warriors and other fools had set out to claim that prize but none had ever managed it. Eventually the warlord himself had travelled to the Grim Gorges, never to be seen again.

Even the name barok meant ‘death with legs’ in Santireen.

When Harry shared the discovery of this creature with Rindyll later that day, Rindyll got a thoughtful frown on her face. “I wish a barok would come and eat Bram and Ryland and Karakas and all the other evil men here.”

Harry considered that idea for a moment as they sat in the smallest courtyard, the trees around them still dripping water everywhere after the most recent rainstorm. “Yeah, that would be awesome, but I doubt a barok would just show up out of the blue one day.”

“You could catch one,” Rindyll suggested with a hopeful shine in her blue eyes. “With magic.”

“They’re resistant to magic, so I don’t know if I could,” Harry explained.

“Then you have to invent magic that can affect it,” Rindyll told him as though it was a done deal already.

“Huh.” Harry thought perhaps his friend had a promising idea there. If he could ever find a way to tame a barok then he’d be unstoppable.

Next on the list of important things to learn was how the collars they all wore worked. Before, Harry had barely noticed it, but now he saw that every single person, young and old, student and staff, that lived in the school wore a collar, save for Karakas.

Harry consulted Valdis on the workings of the collars, since she seemed very knowledgeable about these kinds of things and more importantly, she supported Harry’s quest for freedom and thus she wouldn’t tell anyone Harry was asking questions he shouldn’t.

“So many people have tried to get the collars off,” Valdis told him while they were cleaning one of the classrooms together as their daily assigned chore. “But none have managed it. As far as I know they’re tied to Karakas himself.”

“How are they tied to him?” Harry asked, sweeping the floor with a broom that was still a little too big for him.

“They’re tied to his lifeforce. As long as Karakas lives, the collars stay on.” Valdis shrugged, as if this was all old news to her. “And don’t bother trying to kill him. He controls the collar and so you can never act against him in aggression, with or without magic. In fact, you can only perform magic on people with Karakas’ approval.”

Well, that was a bit of a setback and for the umpteenth time Harry wondered why on earth he’d landed in this horrible world. “I don’t get why the genie would send me here just to become a slave.”

“The what sent you here?” Valdis looked at him with narrowed eyes.

“The genie. The night I disappeared from the Dursleys’ house, I wished for a genie to take me away from there.”

Valdis laughed, but it was a harsh and bitter sound. “You little moron. There was no genie. Karakas sends out magic to different worlds, looking for magical children without parents so they won’t be missed. Karakas brought you here, there was no genie.”

Harry stood very still, broom forgotten in his hand. For years and years he’d been convinced that he himself had wished to come here, but now it turned out that he’d had very little to do with it.

It had been Karakas all along.

Next on his to-study list was to learn how to make a soul-summoning amulet for himself, just in case he lost the one he had. As it turned out, it was necromancy, not that this was a surprise at this point, but it was also very difficult magic.

Harry found the right book with the help of Auntie Eustice, but once he started reading it he barely understood a word. It was all gibberish to him.

“Just let us read it for now, sweetheart,” his mum said as she hovered behind him, Auntie Eustice doing the same. And so Harry tried to understand how to make an amulet, but mostly he just turned the pages so the adults could memorize what he had to do.

“A pint of blood, some grave dust and a murder, that doesn’t seem too complicated,” Auntie Eustice said with a small chuckle after they’d finished reading the book. His mum sighed and shook her head and Harry wondered if Auntie Eustice had been joking or not about the murder. He was too afraid to ask.

Meanwhile his parents and grandparents taught him lots and lots of theory about wizarding magic, like charms and transfiguration and defensive magic.

“You have that kind of magic inside of you, Harry,” his mum said when Harry wondered why he had to learn all of that. “All we need to find is a focus that can help you cast it. In the wizarding world we use wands, but we don’t have those here.”

“Like the staff Karakas uses?” Harry said, wondering where he could get such a staff.

“The staff is used to cast the magic from this world. I suggest using a different focus for wizarding magic, something smaller that’s easier to hide,” his dad suggested, and ever since that moment Harry went in search of a focus he could use.

One by one, he nicked crystals and gemstones from the classrooms, to try them and he always put them back when they didn’t work. Harry held the stones in his hand, pointed a finger and said, “Lumos.” His parents assured him that was a spell even a nine-year-old could do.

For the longest time none of the objects Harry tried worked, but eventually he found one that did. A beautiful round midnight opal, black but with an iridescent sheen. It fit comfortably in Harry’s palm and when Harry held it and cast the spell, a small, wavering beam of light actually appeared from between his fingers.

“Ha!” Harry cried out, jumping up from where he was sitting in a shadowy corner of an empty classroom. “I can do magic!” And Harry called all his family member together to show them what he’d accomplished.

He received many compliments and his cheeks were glowing with happiness by the time Fleamont cleared his throat.

“I know that Harry is almost ten and that it’s custom to wait until the child is eleven to start their magical education, but I suggest we move that up a year,” Fleamont said with a solemn look around the gathered adults. “We teach him all the most useful spells first, no matter the official Hogwarts curriculum. No changing buttons into beetles.”

“Agreed,” Patroclus said at once. “I can take defensive spells. I’ll also teach him some combat moves.”

“I’ll take charms,” Dorea said and no one objected to that.

“I can do transfiguration,” James offered.

Charlus raised a hand. “Curses and curse-breaking.”

“He will learn enchanting from me, naturally,” Auntie Eustice chimed in.

“I’ll teach him household spells,” Euphemia suggested and when Henry snorted at that, she narrowed her eyes at him. “You never know when they come in handy. Being able to keep your surroundings clean with some quick spells goes a long way in preventing lots of diseases, you lout.”

“I want to learn it all,” Harry quickly said, because he did want to learn every shred of magic he could.

“I’m going to teach him a few rare curses. For special occasions,” Charis said with a innocent little smile. “He’s also progressing nicely with occlumency and soon I’ll be able to start him on legilimency.”

Henry gestured to his wife Bernadine. “We’ll take runes and warding, but I suggest we wait a little with that until he has a good, solid foundation of wizarding magic.”

Lily nodded. “We’ll figure the rest out as we go along. There are lots of things I want to teach him, like apparition and how to make portkeys, and some healing and other practical things.”

Harry smiled up at his family, incredibly happy they were all so eager to share their knowledge with him.

“Keep that gem safe,” his dad said, while pointing at the opal in Harry’s hand. “And find some replacements just in case you lose it.”

“I do think that one of the first charms he should learn is the undetectable expansion charm,” Dorea said as she gestured at the satchel hanging from Harry’s belt. They weren’t allowed to mess with their uniforms but everyone was allowed to carry a small satchel to keep a few personal things in. They lived in a very hot and humid climate, so everyone carried around at least one handkerchief to wipe away sweat every once in a while.

And that is how Harry learned that you could turn a very small satchel into a very big storage space. It took him a while to master the charm, but once he did a whole new world opened up for him, namely the world of contraband.

From now on he had places to hide things he wanted to keep to himself or that he wasn’t allowed to have.

One thing bothered Harry as time moved on and they all got older. So one day when he found himself alone with Valdis in their bedroom, Harry decided to just ask her.

“Do you know when you’ll be sold?” Harry had noticed that the older students, once they reached the age of eighteen or nineteen, disappeared one by one. But Valdis, who was at least twenty at this point was still there, much to Harry’s relief.

“Hopefully, never,” Valdis told him and then smiled while she winked at him. “Karakas seems to like the way I suck his cock enough to keep me around.”

Harry blinked. That was certainly not the answer he was expecting.

Valdis laughed at his expression of shock. “Karakas prefers women and he likes them at least old enough to look like women, so I’m taking advantage of that. I’ve applied to become a healer, be Genka’s apprentice and Karakas agreed. For a price. It’s better than being sold off to some Warlord.”

“Yeah, all right,” Harry eventually agreed once the shock wore off. Rindyll still was sent on ‘errands’ once a month or so, and Harry was still protected by Karakas, but apparently Valdis had been busy as well finding a way to control her own life as much as she could. Well, Harry figured, good for her. He certainly enjoyed having her around and considered her a good friend at this point.

And so life carried on, and Harry spent most of his time learning and practicing and preparing himself in every way his family thought he should be prepared. Nothing much happened that affected Harry personally. There were a few more challengers for Bram’s position, but those battles mostly took place outside of the city. One year, after a particularly wet spring, there was a landslide that took out a third of Shit Creek. Lots of people died, but since they were the poor living in slums no one really cared in the end. Bram had workers clear the area of debris and bodies and commanded new sturdy homes be built there, with strong retaining walls in between them to prevent more of such disasters.

Karakas filled his basement with many of the unwanted corpses and that year Harry got to work with some of them for the first time. They used the dead to practice healing techniques and curses and Harry got private lesson on how to use human bodies in necromancy. Not the most pleasant of subjects, but Harry applied himself because he knew he had to learn it, no matter how distasteful he found it to place body parts in runic circles to power them.

Meanwhile Karakas furthered Harry’s education in necromancy and Harry learned about the deathlands. It was the place between life and death that only necromancers could thread. In fact, one could only become a true necromancer if one had walked the deathlands, but there were many dangers associated with doing just that. One could get lost and find themselves forever stuck between the living and the dead, never able to move on to the afterlife. Or one could run into one of the things that lived there. Demons of sorts that preyed on human souls.

Yeah, Harry decided that visiting the deathlands could wait for a while. He wanted to be a necromancer, he really did, but he was also still young and so he had plenty of time.

One time, when Harry was eleven, almost twelve, he found Karakas utterly drunk, an empty bottle of boksala by his side, when it was time for their twice-weekly private lesson in Karakas’ office.

“Ah, my little diamond,” Karakas slurred as he spotted Harry. “C’mere.”

Harry sat down in his usual spot opposite his teacher and waited patiently for him to speak.

“He’s done it again, that devil,” Karakas spat, his eyes bloodshot and distant.

“Who?” Harry asked, realizing he had a unique opportunity to question Karakas, ask him things he’d normally wouldn’t dare.

“Rylan. Ruined little Silmon, brought him back dead, that poor thing.” Karakas seemed genuinely upset by this as he wiped a hand over his eyes.

“Then why do you do it?” Harry asked, unable to believe he could ask his teacher these questions without being scolded or punished. “Why turn your students into child prostitutes?”

“Is the only way we’re allowed to be here.” Karakas swallowed a few times. “I was a student of magic when being a sorcerer still got you killed if you were discovered. Warlords didn’t like magical folk that could do them in with a few spells or curses. Warlords don’t like what they can’t control.”

“Ah,” Harry said with a sage nod. “So you found a way for the Warlords to control us.”

“You get it!” Karakas pointed a trembling finger at Harry. “Well done, little diamond. Yes, now the Warlords could use the sorcerers and they allowed them to live. But they wanted to control every part of them. I don’t think Bram even likes fucking little kids, but he sure likes to stick it in a few of my girls every now and then. And Rylan is a beast, a monster, simple as that. And for most of the rest of them it’s a matter of prestige, I think. Look, I fucked a little magical brat, how fucking awesome am I, that sort of thing.”

“So Bram demands that you whore us out?”

“Yeah, and I have to go along or we’ll go back to being hunted.” Karakas wiped a hand across his eyes again.

Harry nodded. That made sense. It wasn’t right and Harry hated Karakas for it, but at least now he understood why the man did what he did. “And why do you take us from other worlds?”

“Not enough magic users left here in Santika,” Karakas said with a sad little sigh. “Most of us were killed over the years. This way we get new blood and new magic.” Karakas closed his eyes, leaned his head back and in moments he was asleep.

Harry got up quietly and left, closing the door without a sound. That was some information he hadn’t known before. He wasn’t sure how he felt about it, but he now at least understood the bigger picture. It all came down to Bram and the other Warlords in the end. They were the ones who had hunted people with magic and now they were the ones that demanded total control.

Well, it looked like Harry had a few more names to add to his to-do list. Rylan no longer was the only person Harry wanted to do away with permanently.

Harry had also volunteered to run errands out in the city for Karakas, because as Charlus had pointed out at some point, Harry was a sheltered little swot who knew nothing about the real world. And even though Harry had felt a bit affronted about being called out like that, he also knew that Charlus was right.

His family was teaching him as much as they could, but even with practicing all the spells and charms and transfigurations, Harry was still severely limited by the simple fact that he couldn’t use any of the magic in real situations. He’d barely left the school ever since arriving there. And now, even with running errands in the city from time to time, Harry felt that he was visiting an alien world, not the city he actually lived in.

Yeah, Charlus was right. Harry was a sheltered little swot, but the problem was that they couldn’t change much about that thus far.

Harry had tried opening Rindyll’s collar with his opal one time, when they were practicing spells together that they’d learned in the classroom. And it was a good thing, too, because the moment Harry used an unlocking charm on Rindyll’s collar, Karakas was somehow notified and minutes later he stood before them, demanding to know what they’d done. Harry was able to play it off as accidentally having aimed a spell wrong, but Karakas narrowed his eyes at him and warned him to never aim spells wrong again like that or the consequences would be severe. Harry hadn’t dared mess with the collars again since then.

When Harry turned twelve they changed bedrooms. Girls got their own rooms, and so did the boys. He missed sleeping in the same room as Rindyll, but he understood it was more appropriate to split up the boys and girls as they got older. Harry got some new roommates, some a year or so older and some a bit younger, but they all got along eventually after a few immature attempts at establishing some kind of pecking order.

Slowly but surely, Harry grew up and got older. He became quite proficient at all the magic his family was teaching him. He learned all sorts of handy spells, like summoning charms, defensive shields, disarming charms, and even the Patronus charm, though that one was a difficult one and took him almost a whole year to master.

Harry wasn’t sure at first why he should learn such a difficult spell when it was meant to defend against dementors, which didn’t exist in Santika as far as Harry knew, but his mother insisted. “You never know what other creatures you might be able to ward off with it when other magic doesn’t work. Besides, you can use it to send messages very quickly over long distances.” And his mother taught him to do just that.

His Patronus was a stag, much to the everlasting pride of his father. “Now we should get you started on becoming an Animagus.” Which turned out to be even more complicated than the Patronus charm but Harry trudged on, putting all the effort into it that he could spare, given that his to-learn list was never empty.

He also progressed really well in the magic native to Santika and even in necromancy he was doing better and better. He’d been focussing on reanimating dead bodies and so far he’d managed to get it to work on a mouse and one of the little colourful birds that nested in the trees around the school. He’d tried a cat, but that hadn’t really worked just yet. He’d only made the tail and legs twitch but nothing much else. It was very draining magic, and Harry always went to bed early after he’d reanimated something.

Once Rindyll turned fourteen, she got her own room of four and five year olds to look after, just like Valdis had done with them once upon a time. Harry didn’t get any kids to mind, and when he asked Valdis about it, who’d become a healer in her own right by then, she’d laughed and told him Karakas wouldn’t trust any boys not to diddle the little kiddies so they weren’t allowed to sleep in the same room as them.

Harry thought that was rather rich coming from a guy who pimped out little kids to keep the peace.

And then Harry turned fifteen and they still hadn’t figured out a way to escape and Harry grew increasingly more frustrated about being trapped in the school.

Key was the collar, that much Harry knew. But he also knew he couldn’t experiment on getting it off without Karakas knowing.

“We could try drugging his tea,” Dorea suggested once Harry threw his frustrations in front of his family. “Some sleeping potion. Then you’d have a couple of hours or so to try a few things.”

Harry got his hands on some sleeping potion, thanks to Valdis, and then used the disillusionment charm he’d learned from Patroclus to hide himself as he snuck inside the kitchen to spike Karakas’ evening pot of herbal tea, but the moment he tried to tip the potion in the pot something stayed his hand.

Fucking hell. The magic of the collar wouldn’t even let him douse the man with a sleeping potion, registering it as an act of aggression. And no one else at the school could do it either because everyone wore those fucking collars.

Yeah, Harry really was growing ever more frustrated with being unable to actually do something about the situation. All he did was learn and learn, and listen to his family’s reports about all the things they learned around the school and the city and from inside Bram’s castle.

There was another challenger on the horizon, that was the news of the day. And it was nothing that Harry hadn’t already heard before over the years. Bram was a warlord. There were always challengers on the horizon.

Harry kicked a rock as he walked out the gates of the school to drop off an order at the distillery for more cases of boksala. He’d noticed Karakas had started drinking more and more over the years. Above him a few monkeys swung from the trees, screeching at each other. Harry watched them for a moment, amazed how they could hold on to the branches with their little hands…

Wait a minute. Monkeys had incredibly dexterous hands and could do just about anything that a human hand could do.

Like dump a small bottle of sleeping potion in a pot of tea.

If Harry reanimated a monkey, could he use it to do exactly that without the collar stopping him?

Well, there was only one way to find out. From that moment on, Harry doubled his efforts in reanimating a cat properly. The next stage after that was a dog, and then he could try a monkey probably. The more intelligent the animal, the more power it took to reanimate them.

Mood much improved and chest glowing with hope, Harry continued his journey through the city with a renewed spring in his step.

But before Harry ever got to reanimate a monkey, only barely after he’d managed one mangy cat to sit up and purr, Patroclus came flying through the wall right during one of Harry’s warding lessons where all the students were drawing a large runic circle together.

“Harry, call the family now!” Patroclus all but yelled, and Harry knew it had to be serious indeed if his great-grandfather lost his calm like that.

Harry got up and held his stomach, swallowing a few times, pretending to feel sick. “Vinka,” Harry said, already shuffling to the door. “I don’t feel so good. I need the latrine.”

Vinka waved him off without even looking at him as she walked around the room to inspect the students’ work. That was one of the advantages of being a good, hard-working student. The teachers let you get away with some things here and there as long as you didn’t overdo it.

Harry rushed towards the nearest empty room he could find, summoning all his family to him as he went. By the time they found a place to meet in the form of an empty store room filled with boks and sacks of dried fruit and nuts, Harry’s family were all there.

“Bram is dead,” Patroclus said, and immediately there were gasps and mutterings from everyone. “Aye, Rylan did him in with poison. He’s spinning it as an assassination from that new challenger, Rolf the Wretched, but he did it. I saw him do it, that cowardly scum.”

Harry’s whole body swayed as his ears started ringing. “Is Rylan in charge now?” he barely managed to ask, his voice cracking.

“Aye, that he is, lad.” Patroclus gave Harry a look that could only be described as pitying. “Rylan has sent a message to summon Karakas to the castle and he’s instructing him to bring you along.”

Harry lost all the feeling in his legs and sank to the floor while his chest tightened with an immediate sense of panic. Over the years Harry had hoped that Rylan might have forgotten about him, but obviously he hadn’t. Bram had been a buffer, supporting Karakas in keeping Harry away from that monster, but now that Bram was gone nothing stopped Rylan from doing whatever he wanted with Harry.

“I can curse him,” Harry said, though his voice quivered as he spoke. “I know magic, lots of magic.”

“You can’t, sweetheart,” his mother said as she crouched in front of him. “The collar won’t let you. Karakas won’t give you permission. He can’t risk you messing up the job and letting Rylan live. It would cost him his own life.”

“Besides, even if Karakas gave you permission, it would be a very bad idea to go up against Rylan with magic,” Patroclus said in a peculiar tone of voice that made Harry look up at him.

“Why? What can he do against my magic?” Harry fingered the opal he used as a focus.

“Because Rylan Bloodstone is a sorcerer,” Patroclus said while staring down at Harry with narrowed eyes, “and the kind of magic he uses is made up of blood and death, and you, sheltered little swot that you are don’t yet stand a chance against him.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 5

When Barty put Harry Potter’s name in the Goblet of Fire, Voldemort didn’t expect much to come of it. As far as Voldemort was concerned, Potter was dead, burned to a crisp in the house of his muggle kin. All the official reports came to this conclusion and Voldemort didn’t have any reason to think otherwise.

And yet…they’d never found the boy’s body, and that bothered Voldemort. Potter’s three relatives had left behind blackened corpses, according to the reports, so why hadn’t Potter? On top of that, Voldemort heard from several sources that Dumbledore also didn’t seem convinced that Potter had perished and was still keeping an eye out for the boy at the very least.

Then there was the prophecy to consider, even though Voldemort as of yet didn’t know what it said aside from the first line. But Dumbledore certainly had put weight behind it, urging the Potters to hide themselves away to protect the potential prophecy child.

Of course, that hadn’t worked out so very well for them in the end, but neither had it for Voldemort, and all because the killing curse bounced off the boy as though it had suddenly been transfigured into a rubber ball.

No, all things considered, Voldemort couldn’t dismiss the remote possibility that Potter was still alive somewhere in some capacity, no matter how convincing the reports of his death were. And thus he’d come up with a plan, thanks mostly to Barty, to infiltrate Hogwarts and keep a very close eye on Dumbledore to see what the old man was up to when it came to finding Harry Potter.

It was Barty’s idea to impersonate Alastor Moody. A risky gamble, because impersonating anyone for a long stretch of time was exhausting for many reasons, and it also increased the risk of being discovered. The longer one spent time around others, the more chances one had of making mistakes and being found out. But Barty had known Moody since he was a child, had grown up around the man since his father worked with him in a few capacities at the Ministry, and his mother had been Moody’s second cousin once removed. Therefore Moody had been a regular guest in the Crouch household and Barty had spent a lifetime watching the man and learning his behaviours.

If anyone could impersonate Alastor Moody right under Dumbledore’s nose and get away with it, it would be Barty Crouch Jr.

And then one night in September a week after Hogwarts had started, Barty had called him on the communication mirrors they used to keep in touch, and suggested smuggling Potter’s name into the Goblet of Fire. Barty reasoned that if someone was keeping the boy hidden away, as some of the more interesting conspiracy theories surrounding the boy suggested was the case, then the magic of this ancient goblet would force Potter out of hiding, whether he liked it or not. Voldemort had believed this an exceptionally clever plan and given Barty permission to execute it, even if he doubted anything would come of it.

Barty had managed the job thanks to an invisibility cloak and several strong confundus charms, and now was the day that the names of the champions would be selected. Voldemort reasoned if anything out of the ordinary happened, Barty would call him on the mirror, but otherwise he put it out of his mind and focused on more important matters.

Ever since Voldemort had returned he found himself faced with many difficult choices. When he’d stolen the Philosopher’s Stone right out of Hogwarts while riding on the back of Quirrell’s head, he’d still been of a mind to pick up the war where he’d left it off once he got his body back. He had realized at the last moment that perhaps he shouldn’t give the game away so soon that it was Voldemort who had taken the stone instead of just an ambitious, lone teacher in the form of Quirrell, and thus he’d let the three children who’d so valiantly tried to stop him live. He’d knocked them around a little, to make sure they understood that what they’d done was very foolish indeed, but he’d left them to be discovered by whomever eventually realized they were missing, convinced this would throw Dumbledore off his scent. After all, Voldemort was known for killing anyone who stood in his way.

Voldemort had then moved to his father’s mansion, which he’d put in his own name right after he’d finished Hogwarts since he was the legal heir of the Riddle family. He just never registered the mansion at the ministry as being a magical dwelling and he paid the muggle caretaker a continuous salary for the upkeep of the mansion out of his family’s vast wealth, even when Voldemort himself spent very little time there over the years.

While Voldemort had a real safehouse, a place no one knew about, not even his closest followers, and which was protected by every ward imaginable, he did not want to risk its discovery by bringing the Philosopher’s Stone there. After all, Voldemort knew very little about the Philosopher’s Stone, outside the general properties everyone had heard about. Any metal to gold, the elixir of life, that sort of thing. But Voldemort had no idea if the Flamels were capable of tracking their creation in some way.

And the last thing Voldemort wanted to do was provoke the Flamels more than he already had and meet them in a head on confrontation.

Nicholas and Perenelle Flamel were well over 600 years old. Voldemort did not want to test their knowledge and experience in duelling, especially when he himself was but a wraith stuck to the back of a man’s head.

And thus he had holed up in his father’s mansion for the time being, so that he could experiment with the stone as much as needed, but could also abandon it at the drop of a hat if need be. If the Flamels discovered the mansion it would be no real loss for Voldemort since his relationship to the Riddles was no great secret in certain circles. Dumbledore already know all about it, after all.

But no Flamels came breaking down his door as Voldemort, through a increasingly weakened Quirrell, spent months and months experimenting with the stone.

First getting it to give up the Elixir of Life had been challenging to say the least. While Voldemort was a very talented wizard who had studied many subjects in depth, he’d never studied alchemy beyond the basics. And getting the stone to give up its secrets required an alchemy mastery, which Voldemort had to scramble to get using second-hand books Quirrell was able to pick up in Knockturn Alley using various disguises.

Finally, by the time Voldemort got the stone to give up its precious elixir and he could now start building a ritual that would use it in his resurrection, one of his horcruxes walked through the door.

Literally walked, using a brand-new flesh and bone body.

Voldemort had been surprised, to say the least, to see his sixteen-year-old-self gazing up at him with clear judgement in his eyes. Tom Riddle wasn’t impressed with what he was seeing, his older version stuck on the back of some meaningless wizard’s head, barely hanging on to life. But having part of himself there, in a ready to use body, changed things.

They managed to merge Voldemort’s wraith into Tom Riddle’s body, melding the two soul pieces back together as one and that had been rather an eye-opener for Voldemort. Losing so much of his soul had changed him over the years, as it turned out, and not for the better. He’d become increasingly paranoid and violent and irate, and he’d lost focus on all the things he’d wanted to accomplish and instead had become obsessed with trivial matters. Gaining half of his soul back overnight certainly gave him a new perspective on pretty much everything.

Using the Elixir of Life in the ritual had also had the benefit of keeping Voldemort’s new visage human, though adding an older soul to the younger body had aged the body up a good twenty years, not that this was a problem. Looking like a mature Tom Riddle, a man approaching forty, certainly helped him blend in whenever he stepped out the door, so Voldemort didn’t see any problems with it.

Quirrell had barely survived the ritual of extracting Voldemort, and he probably would have perished if not for the elixir, which healed him. Voldemort then officially marked Quirrell, to gain magical control over him. Voldemort may have gained a new perspective on life, but he still wasn’t stupid. He wanted his followers tied to him so he could control them as needed, simple as that.

Quirrell was beyond grateful that his life had been spared and let Voldemort use his dark mark to search out his other followers, to find out who was still out there. That’s how Voldemort realized Barty was still alive and after snooping around he found him hidden away in his father’s house. A little breaking and entering later and Barty was freed and could recover from being held under the imperius curse for so long. Voldemort also discovered Wormtail was still alive, but he was hiding out in Hogwarts as Voldemort realized when he tracked him down and this made Voldemort question the man’s loyalties. Yes, hiding out as a rat in a large castle was probably a clever way to stay out of enemy hands, but how on earth didn’t Dumbledore realize there was an Animagus hiding in the castle? Voldemort knew the wards of Hogwarts were capable of revealing such things to the headmaster, so why hadn’t Dumbledore picked up on it? Perhaps he had, but chose to ignore it for whatever reason, and that was exactly the reason Voldemort hadn’t summoned Wormtail just yet. He couldn’t risk Wormtail having struck some sort of deal with Dumbledore to spare his life, and the last thing Voldemort wanted was for Dumbledore to get any kind of confirmation that Voldemort had regained a body and was back to full strength.

No, it was imperative that Voldemort stay hidden while rebuilding his army and continue his plans for domination of the wizarding world.

And therein lay the problem. Ever since regaining half of his soul, Voldemort wasn’t quite sure anymore what he wanted to do. Yes, he still wanted to rule the wizarding world and shake it up a little, do away with all those restrictive laws concerning dark magic and rituals and such, but Voldemort realized that perhaps open warfare wasn’t the way to go about accomplishing that. It had cost far to many lives on both sides in the end. So Voldemort needed a new plan but that took some time to put together.

So in the meantime Barty got to spy on Dumbledore while Voldemort figured out what he wanted out of his life now that he could live it properly again. Aside from world domination, because that was a given. It was also the reason Voldemort hadn’t yet called his followers to him. He honestly wasn’t sure yet what to say to them, how to present his current wishes and ambitions. And so for the time being Voldemort focussed on catching up with all the news, learning any new spells that had been invented over the last decade, further investigate the workings of the Philosopher’s Stone and figure out in what capacity he wanted to rule the world. The rest would come later, after they finally figured out what had happened to Harry Potter.

That faithful day, Voldemort had a simple dinner, prepared by Quirrell who had some talent with cooking spells, and afterward Voldemort decided to call it an early night, have a hot bath and then spent an hour or two reading in bed before finally succumbing to sleep. Quirrell had proven most useful, doing household chores and running errands while disguised, since he had been officially charged with the theft of the Philosopher’s Stone and most of the wizarding world would be on the lookout for him.

But before Voldemort could make it to his bathroom, the wards around the mansion flared up, indicating a known visitor. Voldemort had a good idea who it would be, and he remained in the sitting room while Quirrell answered the door like the good servant he was.

Barty came clunking into the room, still wearing Moody’s body. “Apologies, my Lord, but I had no time to wait for the potion to wear off. I’ve got a memory you’ll want to see right away.”

Voldemort gestured at Barty to follow him to his office, where he kept the small pensieve he’d retrieved from his safehouse. He still didn’t trust to bring the Philosopher’s Stone there, so he’d simply collected a few useful items from his home and put them in the mansion for the time being.

As Voldemort and Barty gathered around the pensieve that stood on a wooden pedestal in the corner of the office, Barty put the tip of his wand against his temple and quickly pulled out a silvery strand which he dumped into the pensieve without any pause.

“Enjoy, my Lord,” Barty said, Moody’s scarred face creasing up in obvious humour.

Voldemort immediately lowered his face to the pensieve and before long he found himself standing behind Barty at the teacher’s table in Hogwarts’ great hall while Dumbledore read out the names of the tournament champions.

When Harry Potter’s name was called, things suddenly got interesting. Very interesting.

Voldemort watched with bated breath as a man appeared, with a large bird and some sort of beast by his side. Dumbledore all but fell over himself once he realized Harry Potter had returned and Voldemort followed the procession through Hogwarts and watched quietly as Potter answered some questions in Dumbledore’s office before everyone called it a night.

“Well,” Voldemort said, once he straightened himself up as he pulled out of the pensieve. “That certainly is a surprise.”

Barty laughed, a particularly harsh sound coming from Moody’s throat. “My Lord, if that man is a light wizard, I’ll eat Moody’s peg leg.”

Chuckling, Voldemort gestured for Barty to sit down in front of his desk while Voldemort slowly sank down in his comfortable chair behind it. “Yes, the magic Potter used certainly didn’t feel light. Nor did he seem particularly thrilled to be back in our world.”

Barty’s eyes widened, as much as they could around the fake one Moody used. “Imagine, being pulled into a different world as a child. I wonder what that world was like, and what sort of magic Potter got to learn there. Do you think perhaps he’d be willing to share his knowledge?”

“Ravenclaw,” Voldemort said, making it sound like a fond accusation. “But I agree with you that the idea of alternate worlds, of whole new dimensions is an intriguing one. But also a slightly worrying one, considering that one of our magical children got stolen away like that. Who is to say they won’t do that again, or perhaps they have done it many times before without us noticing.”

Barty nodded with a thoughtful frown. “A child goes missing…no one would suspect it was a kidnapping across worlds.”

“Barty,” Voldemort said, sitting up a little and giving his follower a serious look. “I want you to get close to Potter. Offer to guide him, teach him, play it off as wanting to be sure people won’t end up kidnapped again.”

“Oh yeah, I can make that work,” Barty said with full confidence.

“And then find out where his loyalties lie, what sort of magic he’s learned and how he feels about the situation in the wizarding world.”

“Of course, my Lord. I’ll get to the bottom of everything concerning Harry Potter.”

“Good man.” Voldemort waved Barty off, who gave him a short bow before clunking out of Voldemort’s office.

Well, well, would wonders never cease. Harry Potter was alive, a grown man, possessed knowledge of unknown types of magic and might very well be a dark wizard. Voldemort smiled as he realized his life had just become infinitely more entertaining.

ooooooo

The first thing Severus found lying on his dining table the next morning was a note from Minerva, instructing him to write down a detailed history of the wizarding war with Voldemort, ending with the Potters’ murders. Severus snorted, downed a hangover cure, and sent a note back to Minerva that he’d simply direct Potter to the history section of the school library where the man would be able to find many works detailing the war and that way Severus wouldn’t have to waste hours on writing down information that was already publicly available.

Then he had a simple breakfast in his room of oatmeal and coffee so black it made the Dark Lord seem like an apostle of the light. Severus refused to set foot in the great hall that morning and be subjected to a few hundred children all screeching about Potter’s spawn’s unexpected return.

Severus got dressed in his usual attire, ignored Minerva’s new note insisting he write down something for Potter from a more personal perspective instead of subjecting the poor boy to those impersonal history texts, and left his quarters in search of the wayward man.

Thankfully, he didn’t have to look long or far, and he found Potter standing in the entrance hall, practically cornered by Moody who was probably trying to subject the man to a strip search at the very least.

“I see your point,” Potter said to Moody, just as Severus stepped up to them. “But I assure you the ritual used to summon children across dimensions has been destroyed.”

“Well, that’s good to hear, laddie, but I would still appreciate a more in depth talk about any more potential security concerns.” Moody’s fake eye briefly spun in its socket to focus on Severus, but before long it settled back on Potter. Well, apparently Severus wasn’t considered much of a threat anymore to the crazed Auror now that a mystery man had fallen into their school from an entirely different world. Severus supposed that having to put up with Potter’s spawn might actually have an upside after all. Would wonders never seize?

“I would be happy to have a meeting with you at a later date. But for now my escort has arrived to accompany me to the bank.” Potter gave Severus a brief nod, which Severus staunchly ignored.

“Then come find me when you’re back in the castle.” And with that, Moody limped away in the direction of the great hall. A whole gaggle of children had gathered on the periphery of the entrance hall, kept back probably by the luminous stares of Potter’s beast. Whispers echoed around them and before Severus could hurry Potter out of the castle, one brave student came forward, a copy of the Daily Prophet clutched firmly in her hand.

It was Hermione Granger. Severus doubted anyone would be surprised by this, seeing as Granger seemed to have made sticking her nose in other people’s business into an artform.

“Mr Potter,” Granger said, taking a few very cautious steps towards Potter’s spawn. Potter’s beast shifted positions where it sat beside the man but made no sound. Still, Granger stopped approaching at once. Smart girl.

“Call me Harry,” Potter said, because naturally he was the type to do away with any form of formal boundaries between students and the adult staff around them.

Granger’s smile was huge. “Okay, Harry. Hi, I’m Hermione Granger. Is it true you’ve been stuck in a different world altogether?” As though it were a piece of evidence, Granger raised the paper in her hand and held it up to Potter’s face. Big black letters on the front page announced Potter’s return, though how they’d gotten the information about Potters whereabouts was anyone’s guess. Either it was the portraits in Dumbledore’s office or Moody had contacted the ministry with Potter’s story as soon as their meeting ended the previous night.

“Yes, it is true. I attended a school for sorcerers there in my younger years.” Potter seemed perfectly happy and willing to indulge the riffraff around him, but Severus certainly wasn’t.

Granger perked up. “A school? What subjects did they teach there?”

“We must be off,” Severus interrupted without apology. “Potter, this way.” And without waiting on either one of them, Severus swept out of the entrance hall and onto the castle grounds. The weather was crisp in early November and Severus pulled the collar of his cloak closed. Potter was indeed not far behind him, but he did halt as soon as he made it to the path leading off school grounds.

“Keket,” Potter said while giving the beast beside him a small stroke across its massive head. “Why don’t you go find a location for our home in there.” Potter gestured towards the Forbidden Forest in the distance. “And I’m sure you’ll be able to find something to eat in there as well.”

“The unicorns are off-limits,” Severus said before he could stop himself, but he would be damned if Potter’s beast decimated their unicorn herds. Severus needed them for potions. “And the centaurs will not go down without a very vicious fight. But there are giant spiders in there you can eat, as many as you like.” All the while that Severus was talking the beast had appeared the listen to him very carefully, its head tilted, and the moment Severus was done it released an excited clicking sound that ended in a rumble before it loped off towards the tree line.

“I’m glad there is something in there for her to eat. She prefers to hunt instead of accepting dead meat, I’m afraid.” Potter gazed after the beast for a few moments before falling into step with Severus. He was missing his staff and his bird, but he was wearing his ridiculous fur cloak, as though he were some medieval king. Then again, this was Potter’s spawn. It was expected the man was conceited at the very least.

Severus nodded in reply but held his tongue, not in the mood to make small-talk with Potter. He was here to do Albus’ bidding and he could be polite up to a point, but he wasn’t interested in more than that. Well, perhaps he also appreciated the opportunity to satiate his own curiosity when it came to this mystery man.

For example, Potter spoke with a strange accent. It was faint and unplaceable, but it was there. That suggested that Potter perhaps hadn’t spoken English a lot of the time he was in the other world. In fact, it made sense that the dominant language in the other world hadn’t been English at all. So how did Potter still speak it so well, and even claimed to know how to read and write in it when he’d been kidnapped when he was only four and hadn’t attended any formal schools yet?

Severus decided to put this little discovery to the test. “Your English is very good for someone who hasn’t spoken it in so long.”

Potter blinked while glancing at Severus and then his lips curled up in the tiniest smile, as though he was terribly amused by Severus’ question. “The dominant language we spoke was Santireen, yes, but I was not the only English speaker there. Others taught me to read and write and we kept our native language alive by speaking in it while in private.”

Severus could detect no lie from the way Potter spoke and it did make sense that more children who spoke English might have ended up in that place.

“How will we travel to the bank?” Potter asked when Severus didn’t say anything else.

“Apparition.”

“Ah. Am I to assume it resembles teleportation?” Potter asked with a slight frown that made him almost look worried.

Severus kept his face straight while he was smirking on the inside. It seemed Potter wasn’t much of a brave Gryffindor after all. James Potter must be rolling in his grave. And just like that, Severus’ whole day was already made and it wasn’t even nine yet. “It resembles teleportation, yes. I will apparate you. Did you not have any kind of magical transportation in your previous world?”

“Oh, we did,” Potter said with a smile that was both fond and distant. “Mostly we travelled through portals, but they were quite time-consuming to set up with runic circles. A great option though for transporting larger groups of people. We also used teleportation, which was quicker than a portal, but also several times more uncomfortable.”

Severus nodded in understanding, unable to supress his curiosity about those portals. He refused to ask Potter any questions, though. The sooner he was rid of Potter’s spawn, the better. “I’ll be gentle, I promise,” Severus said in his smoothest tone, lying through his teeth. He was going to give Potter a ride to remember, naturally.

“Oh, don’t bother,” Potter said with a hoarse chuckle. “I don’t mind it rough once in a while.”

And just like that Severus was blinking and wondering if he’d just heard Potter right. When he glanced at Potter he received a wink in return and Severus’ good mood soured instantly. He was not going to flirt with Potter’s spawn, no matter he had Lily’s eyes. The man looked like Hagrid who’d been washed at too high a temperature and had shrunk in the process, and Severus was not at all attracted to facial hair of any kind and none of that even mattered, because this was James Potter’s brood and Severus would cut off his own cock and eat it before he ever even considered touching the man.

Of course, a few minutes of loaded silence later they arrived at the gates and once they stepped through them Severus was forced to place his hand on Potter’s furry shoulder right in the lion’s mane.

Had anyone even thought to delouse the man? Perhaps they should send him to Poppy at the first opportunity. Deworming him probably wouldn’t be a bad idea either.

Severus didn’t bother giving Potter a warning, but simply apparated them to the apparition point just inside Diagon Alley. Potter stayed on his feet, Severus had to at least give him that, and only shook his head a time or two before gawping at their new surroundings.

“Thanks for going easy on me,” Potter said with another wink, while Severus had done no such thing. “That wasn’t bad at all.” Potter started walking without even waiting for a silently fuming Severus. “What a quaint shopping street. Where is the bank exactly?”

“That large white building at the end of the street,” Severus said with a faint sneer. “With the huge letters spelling out Gringotts Bank on the side.”

“Ah! There it is indeed.” Potter’s grin was huge and infuriating. “Afterwards, I think I will visit some bookstores. I am aware I have lots of catching up to do.”

Severus wanted to deny the man as they marched through Diagon Alley, but couldn’t really come up with any reason to forbid Potter from doing some shopping. Besides, Albus would probably burst into bitter tears if Severus denied his precious Potter anything. “As long as you also visit Ollivander’s for a wand,” Severus finally said as they reached the bottom of Gringotts’ marble stairs. “Headmaster’s orders.”

Potter shrugged as he climbed the stairs. “I doubt I need a wand, but it won’t hurt to take a look at some of them.”

“That’s the spirit,” Severus mumbled as they reached the large, wooden doors and the security goblin gave them both a long, long look. Particularly Potter was subjected to some intense scrutiny, which he underwent without any comment. Finally the goblin waved them through.

“Just state your name at the counter and the goblins will do the rest,” Severus said while he moved over to the visitor chairs on the left and sat down. Hopefully this wouldn’t take hours and hours. It shouldn’t, unless this man was a very stupid imposter who thought he could fool the goblins. If that were the case, Severus would probably receive his head in a bag to take back to Dumbledore.

That thought certainly put a smile on Severus face, but as he watched Potter follow a goblin to the offices in the back he knew Potter was most likely the real thing. Unfortunately.

Many long minutes passed while Severus observed the people milling around him, waiting for Potter to return. The goblins would probably ask for some blood to verify his identity before unlocking the Potter accounts. Severus had no idea how much gold James Potter had left his only child, nor did he care all that much. The Potters had been well-off, but not outrageously rich like the Malfoys or the Blacks.

And who knew what Potter’s economical status had been in his previous home? He might have been a very rich man there and that expanded satchel hanging from his belt could be overflowing with gold. Or he might have been a pauper, who knew?

“Severus, so nice to see you here.” Narcissa Malfoy had sidled up to him without Severus even noticing. See, Potter’s spawn was already ruining Severus’ senses, distracting him when he wasn’t even in the room.

“Narcissa, lovely to see you, as always,” Severus replied with his smoothest voice, not at all surprised Narcissa had found her way to the epicentre of the most important news of the day. Severus was convinced Narcissa had bribed many people, goblins and wizards alike, to keep her abreast of any interesting news as it happened, including Harry bloody Potter visiting Gringotts.

Narcissa sat down in the chair beside his, smoothing her long, blue gown down around her thighs. “Is it true, what was written in the Prophet today? Has Potter really returned?”

“Unfortunately, yes,” Severus said with a distasteful sneer at the mere memory of the man. “He’s here, taking care of the Potter account.”

Narcissa blinked a few times while looking from Severus to the offices and back. “And what sort of man is he?”

“He resembles Hagrid a great deal, including his appreciation for violent pets.”

“Indeed,” Narcissa said, voice full of fascination. “So he’s nothing like James Potter then?”

Severus wanted to claim that Potter the younger was exactly like Potter the elder, just as arrogant and conceited, but he also knew that wasn’t really the case. No, Narcissa had come to the right conclusion. “No, he’s not. Doesn’t even resemble him much in looks, but that might also be because most of his looks are hidden by far too much hair.”

Narcissa chuckled quietly, nose wrinkled in amusement. “The story is rather interesting, isn’t it? Raised in an entirely different world. Does he even know any real magic?”

Glancing at Narcissa, Severus took the time to ponder that question. “I do believe he does, though I have not yet seen him perform much of it.”

“So he might be practically a squib?” Narcissa’s light tone betrayed that she found that notion utterly hilarious.

Severus remembered the sheer power that had rolled off Potter when he’d appeared in the great hall, how cold and foreign and unforgiving it had felt, how every hair on his body had stood on end. “As hysterically funny as that would be, I doubt it. He attended a school for sorcerers, so he must have learned something there.”

Before Narcissa could reply, the door leading to the offices opened and Potter stepped out, a huge grin on his face and his oversized raven riding on his shoulder. Where the bird had suddenly come from, Severus had no idea.

“Hello, hello,” the bird cawed, briefly flapping its wings, as Potter approached them.

“What a fun ride those carts are! I’ll be making many withdrawals here, mark my words.” Potter kept smiling as he stopped before them, even as he gave Narcissa a curious look.

“Potter, may I introduce Narcissa Malfoy,” Severus said quickly because Narcissa looked like she might hex him if he didn’t formally introduce her to his unwelcome charge. “Narcissa, this is the long, lost Potter heir.”

“A pleasure, I’m sure,” Narcissa drawled, looking Potter up and down a few times and probably reaching all sorts of condescending conclusions based solely on Potter’s rustic attire.

“Nice to meet you,” Potter said with a nod, but he never offered to shake hands. Now that Severus thought about it, at no point had Potter offered to shake anyone’s hands at any time. Perhaps this wasn’t a part of a normal greeting in the world he came from.

“What beautiful pendants,” Narcissa said with a smooth little smile, because of course she had at once noticed the chunk of decorated gold Potter had hanging around his neck. It was hard to miss. But there was another piece hanging from the same chain, something Severus had missed until just now. A red stone set in gold, a rather boring pendant compared to the vividly inscribed locket. “Do they have any special meaning?”

Potter’s face did a few interesting things. His eyes flashed briefly while his lips tightened in a line before his expression relaxed again. “Trinkets and heirlooms, that is all they are.” Then he looked at Severus and gestured towards the doors. “I have a bag full of gold coins and a desire to spend some of them. Shall we?”

Severus was left little choice but to follow Potter, who marched through the doors without pause. Potter was already halfway to Flourish and Blotts before Severus caught up with him. Neither spoke until they entered the bookshop and Potter stopped dead in his tracks, gazing around while his mouth sank open.

“Are books not rare in this world?” Potter said, genuinely shocked by what he was seeing.

“Not particularly, no,” Severus replied, terribly amused by Potter’s response for some reason.

“Merchant!” Potter bellowed out of the blue, sending one unlucky patron crashing into a stack of books as they jumped in surprise. “I am here to purchase your goods!”

The clerk behind the counter, a talentless Ravenclaw barely out of Hogwarts Severus remembered teaching up until OWL level, sprang to attention. “Yes, Sir. Er…oh, professor Snape?” The clerk swallowed a few times, staring at Severus with wide eyes. Good, he remembered exactly who he was facing. “Er…there are baskets you can use, and once you’ve made a selection I’ll ring you up.” The clerk gestured at the wicker baskets beside the door while taking Potter in.

“Books, books,” the raven on Potter’s shoulder cawed as Potter grabbed a basket.

Before he could disappear into the stacks, Severus stopped him with a quick gesture. “Buy what you want, but do remember Hogwarts has an elaborate library that you can use.”

“Ah, I’d almost forgotten.” And without further comment, Potter was gone, lost amidst a sea of books. Severus left him to it, making his way to the potions section to see if there were any new publications he hadn’t read yet.

They must have browsed for an hour before Potter resurfaced, three overflowing baskets hanging off his arms. Severus met him at the counter where he’d already paid for two new books for his own collection.

“Are these the only books you have?” Potter asked the dumbstruck clerk. “Your selection seems incomplete.”

“Er…how so?” the clerk asked carefully, a little disbelievingly.

“Well, where are your books on rituals? On summoning? Necromancy?” Potter demanded, eyes narrowed.

“Er…” the clerk glanced between Severus and Potter several times while Severus kept his face blank as he inwardly wondered what sort of sorcerer Potter truly was. “Those subjects are not exactly allowed, but you could try Knockturn Alley, I suppose.”

“I shall go there henceforth. Now tell me how many coins I owe you, merchant.” Potter dumped his baskets on the counter, books spilling everywhere. Severus watched quietly as the clerk scrambled to get Potter’s purchases taken care off and Severus mentally catalogued what kind of books Potter was buying. Runes, arithmancy, warding, potions, curses and counter-curses, duelling, charms, transfiguration, enchanting, even alchemy. And they were all newer publications, too, from what Severus could tell. It was an interesting selection of magical subjects, but none of them were beginner books.

Severus thought about pointing this out to Potter, but decided not to. It would be far more interesting to see how Potter would manage to learn any magic from books that lacked any introductions for a new wizard.

Once Potter handed over a generous stack of galleons and dumped all his new books inside his expanded satchel, Severus reminded him they had one last stop before Potter could go and explore the wonders of Knockturn Alley, which Severus would gladly pay a handful of gold for to see.

“A wand.” Severus gestured to the right, towards Ollivander’s store. “This way.”

Potter shrugged and followed him, apparently uncaring that wizards required wands to even be able to cast any of the magic found in the books Potter had just bought. Well, he’d figure that out sooner rather than later, Severus mused.

A bell rang as Potter stepped through Ollivander’s doors, Severus on his heels.

And then the most peculiar thing happened. Just as the door fell shut behind them and Potter entered the store properly, the whole of the store seemed to take a worried step back.

Severus would swear up and down, until the day he died, that every single box holding a wand slid backwards at least an inch throughout the entire store, as though terrified they should end up in Potter’s hands.

“Oh my,” Ollivander breathed, slinking around a corner and peering at Potter with wide, uncertain eyes. “It has been a long time indeed since we’ve had one of your kind in here, Mr Potter.”

“I was told I needed a wand,” Potter said with a careless shrug. “I sincerely doubt it, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to buy one”

Severus remained rooted at the spot, afraid to make even one sound, because he had no idea what Ollivander was talking about but he was desperate to find out.

“You already have a focus, don’t you?” Ollivander took a few cautious steps towards Potter, who looked around the store with interest.

“A few, yes.”

“Hmm.” Ollivander looked Potter up and down a few times before wandering off to find a wand for Potter to try. When he returned the box in his hands rattled, as though the wand inside of it was desperate to escape its destined future in Potter’s hands.

Severus had never seen wands act like this before, had never even heard of it.

“Cherry and dragon heartstring,” Ollivander said as he handed Potter the dark wand. “Well, give it a try.”

Potter whispered a few words that Severus couldn’t understand, swished the wand around and then chuckled when the wand turned to ashes in his hand, the remains falling gently to the floor.

“No, absolutely not,” Ollivander said with a harsh gesture at Potter. “I cannot sell you a wand. Leave now.”

“A good day to you,” Potter said while he turned and left the store without any protest. Severus barely dared to breathe as he followed his charge, wondering what on earth had just happened. Never in his life had he seen such a thing. The Dark Lord himself used all sorts of experimental magic, things no other wizard dared to touch, and he used a wand from Ollivander without any issues.

“Where can I find this Knockturn Alley?” Potter demanded as they stood outside in the weak November sun.

But before Severus could answer, Fawkes flashed into existence in a burst of flames. Severus jumped a foot backwards, banging against Ollivander’s door while Fawkes all but spit a note at him before flying to the roof opposite them so he could sit and silently laugh at him, Severus was sure of it. Blasted thing.

“Bad bird, bad bird,” the raven on Potter’s shoulder cawed while Severus opened the note, wondering what Albus wanted from him now. It had better not be to escort Potter to the ministry so Fudge could cover the man in medals or some such rot.

Oh no, it was so much worse than even that.

Severus,

Please escort Harry to twelve Grimmauld Place in London where two men are eagerly waiting to meet him. It will do young Harry some good to get to know the last living links to his parents.

Albus

“You will have to postpone your outing to the more seedier parts of the wizarding world to a later time,” Severus said, balling up the parchment and setting it on fire with a flick of his wand. “You have some admirers waiting for you. We’ll take the Knight Bus.” Severus was barely able to get the words out without cursing something to bits and pieces.

Lupin and Black, just what he needed on this already delightful day.

Potter looked at him with an arched eyebrow, probably noticing Severus’ suddenly souring mood, but he didn’t comment as they headed for the exit.

One very uncomfortable ride later they arrived at the dilapidated town house. Severus preceded Potter up the steps, because he did want to see Lupin and Black’s expressions when they saw Potter for the first time in all his unkempt glory, but other than that Severus vowed to leave immediately after that, done with Harry bloody Potter for the day.

The door was answered soon after Severus knocked on it, and he stepped to the side to give Lupin and Black a good look at Potter’s spawn. It was clear from their baffled expressions that they hadn’t expected Potter to look as he did.

“Hi, hi,” the raven cawed while Potter stepped closer to the opened door, gazing from Lupin and Black before his whole face lit up and he gave them a wide grin.

“Padfoot, Moony, mind telling me where the hell you were and why I ended up in Petunia’s fucking closet?”

Severus blinked, and then he blinked again. How in Salazar’s name did Potter know those childish nicknames those hooligans had used for each other in their youth? Severus sincerely doubted Petunia knew them, and if she did, that she’d shared them with her nephew.

Apparently Severus wasn’t the only one who picked up on that discrepancy.

“Hello, Harry,” Lupin said with a mild but curious look. “How on earth did you learn those names?”

Potter shrugged and ran a hand through his wild hair while the raven cawed, “Moony, Moony.”

“When I was learning to shield my mind and spent a lot of time meditating, I unlocked some early memories. You two were in some of them,” Potter said with a bright smile.

That was a lie.

Severus was sure of it. Potter had just told his first obvious lie to cover up something he shouldn’t know, and at once Severus doubted everything Potter had told them so far. Had the man even been stuck in a different world? How had he aged the way he had? And how did he know those details about his parents’ friends that he was too young to remember?

Screw his plans to get rid of Potter as soon as he could. Severus was now determined to get to the bottom of the mystery that was Harry Potter. Before anyone could stop him, Severus slipped inside the house and Potter followed him in at once. Black gave him a very sour look, eyes narrowed and filled with disgust, but Severus staunchly ignored him as he observed Potter.

While the raven on his shoulder flapped its wings in obvious excitement, Potter walked through the dusty, dark hallway of the Black family townhouse and ran his fingers along the wall while looking around with wide eyes.

“What a lovely house you have,” Potter said, and the most remarkable thing about that statement was that Potter seemed to mean every word of it.

Oh yeah, Severus was sticking with Potter and even the Dark Lord wouldn’t be able to drag him away until he knew every little thing there was to know about the man.

Chapter Text

Chapter 6

Harry’s first instinct was to run. Rylan was a sorcerer, powerful enough to remain undetected while literally spending all his time near Bram the Red for years and years, and Harry stood not a single chance against him.

Fuck, he really was a sheltered little swot, wasn’t he?

But running was not an option. Many had tried, but soon learned that the collar prevented them from moving past certain warded points in the city and that it acted like a beacon, making it easy for Karakas to find them.

A lot of students, the first time they were allowed to move about the city on their own to run some errands, attempted at least once to escape. But they never stayed out for more than a day, overwhelmed by the city, trapped by the extensive wards, and usually resigned once Karakas picked them up.

Punishment for this was usually two weeks locked in a room by themselves while only receiving water and bland porridge, so they could carefully consider their poor choices, according to Karakas. And for most of them, this was enough to ensure they never tried to escape again.

Occasionally, a student proved more stubborn. Harry well remembered one teenager named Maron, who made a sport of sneaking out of the school as often as he could. Karakas had gone easy on him at first, as he usually did with all the kids, but after the fifth time of having to haul Maron back to the school after yet another escape attempt, even Karakas got truly fed up, had Maron tied to a post in the courtyard, and had him whipped while he made every single student watch. And afterwards Genka had been forbidden to heal Maron with magic, and the boy had spent two weeks in the hospital before he could even walk a few steps again.

Harry had been nine at the time and he’d decided that simply trying to run away was a waste of time unless he could get that blasted collar off first.

Which meant that now there was no escape.

Rylan summoned him, and Harry had to go.

“Sweetheart,” his mother said as she crouched down in front of him, while Harry still sat quietly on the floor of the storage room. “You have to pull yourself together and make a plan. Rylan likes playing games, but for the most part, if you don’t fight back, he won’t hurt you too much. The more you fight, the more he will hurt you.”

“Use your occlumency to hide your emotions,” Charis said with a stern look. “You’re proficient enough to accomplish that, Harry. Put up an act. Play pretend.”

Dorea nodded her agreement. “Yes, pretend you’re curious about him. Butter him up. You’re not one of the small children he so likes to torture. You’re fifteen, practically a young man.”

“You can do this, Harry.” His father gave Harry a warm, encouraging smile. “You’ve survived Voldemort when you were a baby. You can survive this bastard as well, I just know it.”

“And what’s the worst that can happen?” Auntie Eustice mused while she barely glanced at Harry. “He kills you, and then we all lose access to the library.” When Harry whipped his head up to glare at her, she winked at him with a teasing little smile and somehow that made Harry chuckle.

Inhaling a deep breath, Harry pushed himself up to his feet and started compartmentalizing his mind. Charis was right. Harry was good at occlumency, Charis had personally seen to that. He just had to organize this mind in such a way that he could pretend to not be more terrified than he’d ever been in his life.

“There you go,” Euphemia said while beaming at him. “Remember, you come from a few long, strong lines of Gryffindors.”

Auntie Eustice obnoxiously cleared her throat.

“Yes, and a few Ravenclaws and Slytherins,” Euphemia added while glancing briefly at Eustice and Charis. “The point is, Harry, that you’re not alone in this. We’re here for you, always. We’ll be here for you once you return, just call us.”

Harry nodded, his heart beat slowly going back to normal. “Yeah, everyone else here has to deal with that monster sooner or later. Guess it’s my turn now.”

The sound of students walking through the corridors outside indicated that classes were over and Harry knew Karakas would come looking for him soon enough, so he squared his shoulders, made sure his mind was clear and snuck back out of the storage room. He brushed his thumb across the amulet, sending all his relatives back to the afterlife for now. He appreciated their support, but he didn’t need them to see any of what was to come.

Rindyll found him, took one look at his pale face and pulled him to the side.

“Bram’s dead, Rylan’s in charge and he will summon me soon,” Harry whispered, and Rindyll didn’t even bother asking how Harry knew all these things. She simply wrapped her arms around Harry’s neck and pulled him in a tight hug. They were of an equal hight, and Harry hugged her back, resting his cheek on her shoulder.

“Pretend you want to be there,” Rindyll said softly in his ear. “That makes it easier, I find.”

“Yeah, that was the plan.” Harry released her and gave her a small smile. Everyone he knew had been through this, were still going through this, being whored out, being forced to have sex. And Harry knew that if they could do it, than he could, too.

“There you are,” Karakas huffed as he hurried around the corner. “Harry, come along.”

With one last smile aimed at Rindyll, Harry followed after Karakas, who made his way to the entrance of the school.

“Dreadful news. Bram is dead, done in by an assassin sent by Rolf the Wretched. Such cowardly business. Now Rylan wants to see us both.” Karakas made it all sound as if it was business as usual, as if their whole world hadn’t just been turned upside down, but Harry noticed that he looked paler than usual and smelled strongly of boksala, as though he’d just downed a few shots before coming to find Harry. Since there was little else he could do, Harry decided to play along and pretend there was nothing amiss. His occlumency did help enormously with keeping his emotions firmly under wraps.

The carriage Rylan had sent was a small, covered two-seater, with a coachman sitting outside, while a team of stocky brown ponies pulled the whole thing. Harry climbed in it, some hidden parts of him quite excited because he’d never been in a carriage before, had never really been in any mode of transportation before, except perhaps while he was living with the Dursleys, but Harry barely had any detailed memories of that time, aside from that bloody cupboard. Just general feelings of pain and fear and hunger whenever he thought of them, which wasn’t often those days.

Karakas got in beside Harry, manoeuvring his staff just so that it fit in the cramped carriage as well, and the coachmen urged the ponies to walk as soon as Karakas closed the door. Staffs were interesting things, Harry was learning. One was expected to make their own, usually when they were in their late teens and were able to cast magic readily. Staffs were personal, made up of lots of magical items a sorcerer found and used along the way. And most peculiarly, they absorbed a tiny amount of magic every time they were used, making them stronger and more powerful the older they were. Harry had read accounts of staffs that were passed down for generations, from one sorcerer to the next, and became extraordinarily powerful tools, allowing even the weakest sorcerers to cast amazing spells.

Harry snorted quietly. So the occlumency was working, if he was able to muse about the functionality of staffs while being led to his metaphorical slaughter.

“Best remove that, child,” Karakas said, gesturing at the amulet around Harry’s neck. “It’s one of a kind.”

Harry felt a sudden rush of mild panic at the idea of Rylan stealing his amulet, and he pulled it off over his head and quickly stuffed it in his expanded satchel. He doubted Rylan would want to look in there, as most people merely kept used handkerchiefs in it. “Couldn’t you make a new one, if I lost this one?”

Karakas chuckled softly. “Ah, would that be the case I would have already. That one is the only one I have and it was a gift.”

Harry blinked at his teacher, genuinely surprised. He’d always thought Karakas had made the amulet himself.

“I’m no necromancer, Harry.” Karakas waved a hand around in a nonchalant gesture. “I dabble, more than most, I suppose, but I don’t have the talent for the real work.”

“Then who gave you this amulet?” Harry asked, unable to supress his curiosity no matter how much occlumency he was using at that moment.

“Ah, that was the only necromancer I’ve ever met, back when we were still being hunted. Arwan the Ancient. Lived up to his name, that one. Most powerful sorcerer I’ve ever met, though he looked like he already had one foot in the grave and the other wasn’t far behind. Old, grizzled, thin as a skeleton. But his power, oh by the sun goddess, he had power.” Karakas smiled while his eyes were distant, probably lost in old memories. “He was so happy I showed some talent for the deathly crafts, so he taught me what he could in the time we travelled together, and he gave me that amulet. But I could never make it work right, not like you can.”

“What became of him?” Harry asked, transfixed with the idea of a powerful necromancer who was out there somewhere. Perhaps Harry could look him up once he escaped and perhaps he could teach Harry more than Karakas could.

“That was many decades ago, child. If I had to have a guess, I’d say Arwan perished not long after I met him. He sure looked like he wasn’t long anymore for this world.”

“Ah.” Harry sighed in the mild disappointment he felt. Still, Karakas wasn’t sure Arwan was dead, so Harry filed that name way in his mind and promised himself he would find out what happened to the old necromancer.

The sun was slowly setting, but there was still plenty of light outside to see the city around them, and Harry stared out the window at the parts of the city he’d never been to before. They descended the side of the mountain through cobbled streets, filled with people and horses and carts pulled by pankies. Harry got a much better look at Shit Creek while they rode along a particular wide street just above it, but then they turned up the side of the mountain again, now on the main road that led to the castle that they could see looming over them.

It was made up of the white stone that most of Misty Springs was constructed out of, and that was quarried locally deep in the mountains. The bell tower with its mechanical clock was the highest point of the castle, but there were many other spires that were almost as tall. Different layers of walls divided the outer compound from the inner keep, with many iron gates operated by thick chains on huge wheels.

The carriage passed through them all without any problems and Harry realized they weren’t the only ones making their way into the keep. The moment they stepped out of the carriage a servant dressed in a blue tunic urged them to follow him. They moved amongst a throng of people all walking inside the great stone hall where many tables were set up to house hundreds of guests. Harry looked at everything around him with wide eyes, especially at the diverse crowd made up of warriors and ladies in fancy gowns, and portly merchants and exited craftspeople. Everyone who was anyone in Misty Springs was there, Harry thought.

The servant led them to the main table and that was when Harry got his first glimpse of
Rylan Bloodstone in a long time. From what Harry remembered the man hadn’t changed one bit as he lounged in the biggest chair at the centre of the table. He glanced up at Karakas and Harry and gave them a big smile, his scarred face creasing up in ways it probably shouldn’t, but otherwise he didn’t bother them and the servant urged Harry and Karakas to sit down a little further down the main table.

All around them people sat down as servant after servant carried more dishes of food to the many tables than Harry had ever seen before. Loaves of dark bread too numerous to count, huge chunks of roasted meat with the bones sticking out, many golden pies filled with who knows what, and baskets of cheese and bowls of olives. Harry wasn’t sure what a lot of the foods before him even were.

A servant poured a red liquid in Harry’s tin cup before he could tell the man no.

“It’s wine,” Karakas whispered straight into his ear, as all the chattering voices around them reached an impossible volume, almost overwhelming Harry to the point that his occlumency shields strained painfully. “It’s made from grapes they grow all the way in the Crescent Peaks and it costs a fortune to transport it here.”

Harry sipped his cup and found himself pleasantly surprised. This wine was alcoholic but had a pleasant, sweet taste. Nothing like the strong, dry flavour of boksala Harry had tried when Karakas had offered him a shot in celebration of Harry reanimating his first mouse recently. No, wine was much, much better.

“Drink, child,” Karakas urged him quietly. “It’ll make things easier for you later.”

Harry refused to wonder what would happen later and instead steadily sipped his cup of wine as everyone around them got settled.

“Today we have lost a great warrior and an even greater leader,” Rylan shouted as he got up, holding a tankard up high. Around them the noise died down at once as everyone looked to their new leader. “Bram was undefeated and only a cowardly assassination could do him in at the end. His likeness will never walk this world again and we are poorer for it.”

Around them many people voiced their agreement with shouts and jeers, as people raised their cups in a salute.

“But Bram was not one for regrets and would not want us to sit around moping in his name. So tonight, we feast and we remember. All that have tales to tell of Bram will be heard here this night. For now, let’s eat!”

And Rylan sat down again to a thunderous applause as everyone reached for the food and served themselves until their plates overflowed.

Harry didn’t have much of an appetite, his stomach tied up in knots, but he did manage to try some of the cheeses and cured meats which he all washed down with plenty of wine. Around them, one after the other, people got up and told loud and epic stories of Bram the warrior and his many heroic deeds on the battle field. As the night progressed and the alcohol loosened more and more tongues, others got up as well to speak. Ladies who praised the size of Bram’s manhood and his stamina, and warriors who spoke of how Bram would fuck captured enemy women one after the other in a row while their dead male relatives still lay around them.

Harry drank more wine.

As the night progressed and the organized individual storytelling had transformed into a cacophony of many stories being shared at great volume all around the hall, Harry felt a tap on his shoulder. He looked up and saw Rylan standing behind him, grey eyes obviously amused.

“Come, boy, we have a few things to settle.” And without saying another word, Rylan turned on his heels and marched out of the hall through a narrow side door.

Harry wanted to puke because he knew he couldn’t refuse. Karakas elbowed him rather harshly in his side. “Go, child. Don’t keep that man waiting, not for anything. Just do as he wishes and don’t fight him.”

Pushing himself up from his seat, Harry wobbled a little as he steadied himself with one hand on Karakas’ shoulder but eventually he found his balance and shuffled out of the hall in the direction Rylan had disappeared in.

Right as Harry wondered how he was ever going to find the man in this huge castle, he found Rylan waiting for him on the other side of the unremarkable wooden door. Harry looked up at him and blinked, trying to clear his eyesight. Rylan was almost a foot taller than him and at least twice as broad.

“Are you drunk, boy?” Rylan started walking again and Harry followed.

“I think so,” Harry said honestly, since he didn’t think there was a point in trying to deny such an obvious thing. “But that’s probably a good thing, since I’ve never done this before.”

Rylan paused for a moment and glanced at Harry over his shoulder. “You’ve never…you mean you’re a virgin, boy?”

“Yep.” Harry made an obvious gesture with his hand. “Only ever really wanked, until now, and even that hasn’t been that often. Do you know how little privacy there is at our school?”

Rylan cackled while shaking his head in obvious delight. “Oh, I am going to enjoy breaking you in, my precious boy.”

They reached a long corridor with a huge pair of wooden doors at the end. Two guards stood on either side of them, and they pushed the doors open for Rylan and Harry.

The rooms beyond were large and luxurious, with many soft, fur rugs covering the stone floors and many colourful tapestries covering the stone walls. Wooden furniture filled the rooms, with chairs and cabinets and tables and in the room adjacent to the first one, there was a large, wooden bed with four posts and white linen curtains all around them. In a room further down Harry could hear water running and it seemed that the master suite had its own bathroom with running spring water.

“Let’s take the edge of first, boy, so you stop looking like I’m about to bite off your head.” Rylan stood in the middle of the sitting room and pulled off his leather vest, leaving his scarred and tattooed chest bare save for the red stone hanging from a gold chain, and he untied his linen pants so they fell open at the crotch, revealed his hardening cock. “Kneel and suck me off.”

Harry blinked a few times, his head swimming, but he did as he was told, even though deep inside his mind, firmly behind his thickest occlumency walls, he was screaming. Inhaling a deep breath, Harry sank to his knees, thankfully on a rug, and wrapped a hand around Rylan’s cock. He swallowed, once, twice, before sucking the thing into his mouth.

Rylan gave him some instructions, one hand firmly gripping onto Harry’s hair as he guided Harry’s mouth up and down his cock. Harry just let it happen, blissfully drunk and barely aware what was going on.

Before long, Rylan came and shot his seed down Harry’s tongue and Harry swallowed because what else could he do.

“Take your clothes off,” Rylan said, a unexpectedly soft smile on his face. “And come stand in front of me.”

Harry did as he was told, shucking the white, knee-length tunic he always wore and untying the thin loincloth until that too dropped to the floor and he was left naked. He managed to climb to his feet without falling over and the moment he stood in front of Rylan a hand wrapped around his cock and started jacking him off.

“You see, Harry,” Rylan said softly, his hand working steadily while Harry’s cock quickly grew hard. “I’m a simple man. You do something nice for me, I do something nice for you. As long as you remember that, we’ll get along splendidly.”

“Yeah, all right,” Harry slurred, slowly falling against Rylan face first because fucking hell, he wasn’t made of stone and someone pulling on his cock with expert strokes had a very positive effect on him, okay, no matter the dire circumstances.

It took an embarrassingly sort time for Harry to come and shoot his seed all over the fur rug beneath his feet. It still felt fucking amazing, though, no matter it was a monster that just gave him his first shared orgasm.

“We’ll get you trained up a bit, my boy, so you last longer.” Rylan was grinning at him before giving him a push towards the bedroom. “Now I’m going to fuck your ass open, Harry. It’ll be uncomfortable the first few times, but you’ll learn to love it soon enough, I promise.”

Harry doubted all of this very much, but his body was slack with wine and a recent orgasm, so he shuffled into the bedroom and let Rylan push him onto the white sheets, face first so his ass was sticking up in the air while his feet remained firmly on the ground.

Rylan took his time and used lots of oil, which Harry vaguely realized was probably very nice of him. It still felt weird, to have fingers moving in and out of his ass of all places, and once Rylan replaced those with his hard cock it downright burned, but Harry held still and squeezed his eyes shut and reminded himself that so many kids had endured so much worse at the hands of this man, and that this was nothing and Harry could take it.

When Rylan approached his climax, he reached around and jerked Harry off again and that felt good, really good, Harry couldn’t deny that.

Afterwards, they lay side by side on the bed, covered in sweat and semen, while Rylan pushed a full cup of wine in Harry’s hands. “You did good, boy. We’ll do this again in a few days.”

Harry wanted to protest, but he couldn’t, so he just drank more wine because that dulled his senses to the point that even the part of him that was screaming behind his occlumency shields shut the fuck up.

“When we first met, you were wearing such a pretty necklace,” Rylan said, trailing a finger down Harry’s warm chest. “Where did it go?”

“Er…” Harry blinked and turned his head to look at a very blurry Rylan. “Karakas took it back, cause I summoned too many people.”

“Ah.” Rylan leaned up on his elbow as he licked his lips. “But you got it to work?”

“Yeah,” Harry said with a sigh. “Got to talk to my parents. They died when I was a baby, so that was nice, having them around.”

Rylan’s smile was unexpectantly sweet, even if the scars on his face belied that sentiment. “I’m glad you got to meet them. Tell Karakas to return the necklace to you. I want you to keep summoning, Harry.”

“All right,” Harry easily agreed, and then he knew no more because he fell asleep.

The next morning, Rylan woke Harry up with a hot cup of herbal tea and let him use the facilities before bending him over again for a morning fuck. This time Harry was significantly more sober and Rylan shoving his hard cock up Harry’s ass hurt a lot more somehow, but Harry endured and even got to have his own orgasm when Rylan reached around again.

“You’re doing good, Harry.” Rylan patted him on his ass while a servant came to lead Harry away after they were done. Harry scrambled to get dressed while Rylan walked around his bedroom stark naked, uncaring who saw him that way. “I will sent for you in a few days.”

And that was that. Harry had faced his boogieman, and he lived to tell the tale, even if his arse burned like crazy. Halfway out of the castle, Harry’s stomach suddenly sat up and let him know it wasn’t happy about anything anymore, and Harry bent double and threw up right in the middle of an empty hallway. The servant sniffed but waved away Harry’s apologies and simply urged him out of the castle and into the waiting carriage.

The ride back to the school was quiet and Harry stared out over the city and wondered how long he was going to have to play fuckboy to Rylan. Would Rylan grow tired of him? What would he do then? And was it wrong that Harry actually had enjoyed the orgasms Rylan gave him even when he hated the man?

By the time he arrived at the school, Harry’s head was pounding with a nasty headache and he lowered his occlumency shields and was suddenly overcome with shame and nausea. Harry didn’t bother entering the school, he just walked around the buildings, all the way to the back where the springs were, and he yanked his clothes off and sat down in shallow pool and cried.

It had been ages and ages since Harry had shed a tear for anyone, probably not since Roy had died, but now Harry couldn’t stop himself from succumbing to violent sobs.

Rindyll found him, and without saying a word she slipped out of her own clothes and sank in the water beside him. When Harry didn’t object, she wrapped an arm around his shoulders and pulled him into a hug.

“Was it very bad?” Rindyll whispered, pressing her head against Harry’s.

“No, not really,” Harry said, wiping a wet hand across his eyes. “That somehow makes it worse.”

“He got you off?” Rindyll guessed.

“Yeah. Three times. That fucker.” Harry suddenly found himself extraordinarily pissed off about this, that his rapist had given him his first orgasms like that.

Rindyll nodded in understanding. “Yeah, there’s this one guy who I see a lot, who just loves eating me out. Like, will go at it for hours. Makes me come at least three, four times. At first I hated it, but now I just enjoy it. I figure it’s the least that bastard can do for me, you know, make me feel good while he abuses me.”

“Huh.” Harry blinked and stared at Rindyll. “That is a good way to look at it. Rylan seemed to want me to enjoy it, or at least parts of it. He wasn’t overly cruel, just to the point.”

“So enjoy what you can, Harry. There’s no one going to hate you for that.”

Inhaling a deep breath, Harry decided to do just that. He was stuck in a situation without an immediate escape, and instead of just fighting everything every step of the way, he could just enjoy the bits that were enjoyable while still planning his escape and revenge.

It took Harry a day before he felt ready to summon his family, because every time he reached for his amulet he felt an odd sense of shame. But he wasn’t about to let Rylan and his rapist ways steal away Harry’s family, so eventually he pulled himself together and summoned his mother.

“How are you, Harry?” Lily said with a warm smile without drowning it in unwelcome sympathy.

“I’m alive.” Harry shrugged, barely looking at his mother. “It wasn’t too bad. He was pretty gentle, all things considered.”

“You survived, Harry,” his mum said, floating closer to him. “That’s the most important thing. Rylan will get what’s coming to him, I promise, but you have to survive in the meantime.”

His mother’s kind acceptance made Harry confident enough to summon the rest of his family, who were equally practical about the whole thing.

“Just keep buttering him up,” Dorea said with an encouraging smile. “There is no shame in manipulating him in getting what is best for you, Harry.”

“And use your occlumency, Harry. There is no shame in making this easier for yourself, either,” Charis added.

“I’m proud of you,” his father said. “You’re a survivor and you’re growing stronger by the day. You won’t always be a slave.”

Harry took his family’s words to heart and counted himself very lucky to have these people around him.

When Rylan summoned him again a few days later, Harry felt much calmer as he rode the carriage to the castle. He knew what to expect now, and he knew that it wasn’t the end of the world. He could survive this.

Rylan fucked him a few times, like before, and he made sure every time that Harry got off, too, which Harry appreciated. And while it felt unpleasant and uncomfortable to be fucked in the ass, at least it didn’t hurt anymore like it had done at first. In between rounds of fucking they lay on the bed and Rylan gazed at the amulet around Harry’s neck.

“Show me,” Rylan whispered, brushing his lips across one of Harry’s nipples. “Use it.”

Harry swallowed and brushed his thumb across the amulet to summon his mum, figuring she was the more level-headed one of his parents. Though part of him wanted to sick his Auntie Eustice on Rylan, he figured that might be a little bit too much of a good thing.

“My dear, dear boy,” Rylan said, grey eyes practically glowing, as he looked between Harry and his mum. “You do have the gift. No wonder Karakas calls you his little diamond.” Rylan placed his hand on Harry’s where it still rested on the amulet. “Make no mistake, boy, you are a diamond yet to be shaped, and I will be the one shaping you.”

And right after that Rylan had turned Harry over on the bed and fucked him hard and long, and Harry had barely enough time to dismiss his mum before Rylan rammed his cock inside Harry’s ass, because there were some things Harry didn’t want his mum to ever see.

And so started Harry’s very strange relationship with Rylan Bloodstone.

Over the next weeks and months, Harry saw the man usually twice a week for a night. Half the time Rylan was there in the morning for a quick wake-up fuck, but other times a servant gave Harry some breakfast and led him out of the castle.

And surprisingly, Harry started enjoying being fucked in the ass. Rylan always went out of his way to make sure Harry was well-prepared and he always jerked him off, and the feeling of Rylan’s cock sliding in and out of his body also became pleasurable all by itself. It surprised Harry, but he let it happen and tried not to beat himself up about it and enjoyed what he could about their encounters.

And in between all the sex, Rylan would talk to him, ask him about his magical studies. It was funny, in a way. Rylan never verbally confirmed to Harry that he was a sorcerer, but he always talked about magic in the way only a sorcerer could, from a place of vast experience. And he always answered Harry’s questions and Harry felt emboldened to ask more and more invasive questions because Rylan never shut him down.

“What are these for?” Harry asked, as they lay on the bed together and Harry trailed a finger across some of the many tattoos on Rylan’s chest.

“Can’t you read them?” Rylan curved one dark eyebrow as he glanced at Harry.

Raising himself up a little, Harry studied the runes on Rylan’s chest. “Some of them. This is connection, and that is power, and that is knowledge.” Harry frowned as he looked up at Rylan. “They almost seem like wards.”

“Clever boy.” Rylan grinned and turned Harry over and fucked him until Harry begged for release and Rylan finally reached around and had him coming in three little strokes of his hand.

And just like that Harry’s visits to Rylan transformed from an unpleasant, unwanted chore he had to subject himself to with force, to something he genuinely looked forward to doing.

It was the most remarkable thing. One evening Harry sat in the carriage on the way to the castle and he realized he couldn’t wait to tell Rylan about the ward he’d made that day and that he was actually looking forward to getting fucked hard and proper.

And then, one night after many months of pretty much the same routine, everything changed.

Once more they were lying in bed after their initial fuck, which Rylan always insisted they have first thing when Harry walked into his rooms. Harry sighed in a way that conveyed a world of frustration and Rylan chuckled as he sat up to pour them both a cup of wine.

“What’s on your mind, my boy?” Rylan handed Harry one of the cups and Harry took a long, grateful sip.

“Ugh, I keep getting stuck with reanimation. I’ve managed a dog, barely, but now I’m trying a monkey and the bloody thing just stays dead no matter what I do.” Harry grumbled and drank more wine.

Rylan, the bastard, laughed in his face. “Oh, my sweet boy, to truly reanimate intelligent beings, you have to walk the deathlands first.”

Harry swallowed. Ever since he’d heard about the deathlands, he’d been worried about walking them. No, strike that, Harry was bloody terrified, all right, and he wasn’t ashamed to admit it. And then something dawned on him and he stared at Rylan who was giving him an expectant look. “Wait,” Harry said, suddenly feeling very foolish indeed that he hadn’t figured this out before. “You’re a necromancer, aren’t you.”

Rylan’s grin was enormous. “Took you long enough.”

A huge burst of warmth and dare he say it, affection rushed through Harry as he stared at the older man beside him. Rylan was a necromancer! “You have to teach me,” Harry demanded as he shot up in bed.

“What do you think I’ve been doing, you little fool,” Rylan said with a laugh, but Harry didn’t let him say anything else because he dove on top of Rylan and pressed his lips to Rylan’s mouth. They hadn’t really kissed before, but Rylan answered Harry’s attempt at once and opened his mouth and then their tongues were duelling while Harry crawled on top of Rylan. Scooting in position, Harry reached behind himself and since his ass was still slick and loose from their first round he had no trouble sliding Rylan’s cock inside his body.

They never fucked like this, never with Harry on top and kissing, but Harry couldn’t help himself, he really, truly couldn’t, because here was the answer to all his troubles, here was a man who liked him enough to be gentle with him and to teach him all about the magic Harry so desperate wanted to learn.

Their fuck was quick and dirty and Harry shot his seed all over Rylan’s tattooed chest, but it changed everything.

From then on, Rylan openly spoke about necromancy with Harry, answered all his questions, and Harry started wanting to visit Rylan every day instead of having to wait a few days between meetings.

One evening, Rylan had some tools spread out on the bed when Harry entered the room, his cock already hard in anticipation of their first fuck.

“Come, undress and lay down.” Rylan gestured towards the bed while binding a whole bunch of tiny needles together and attaching them to a wooden handle. A jar of black ink and a few pieces of cloth were the other items present. “It’s time for you first tattoo, my boy.”

Harry blinked in surprise, but then he quickly shucked his clothes and unashamed about his erection he lay down on his back, looking up at Rylan with a wide grin.

“Well, aren’t you in a good mood,” Rylan said with a chuckle, glancing at Harry’s hard cock. “Later, my dear boy. Now, I’m going to give you a personal ward of protection to help you survive the deathlands once you’re ready to walk them.”

And with that, Rylan dipped the needles in the ink and started gently pounding them into Harry’s skin, starting right over his heart and moving across his chest in a swirling pattern. And while it burned a little, the whole time Harry’s cock stayed rock hard, knowing Rylan was sharing his own magic with Harry. Drops of blood seeped up through the inked lines, and every now and then Rylan would swipe them up with his thumb and brush it across the red stone he wore around his neck. Harry wondered why that was but when he asked Rylan he simply brushed a kiss against Harry’s lips and said he would explain at a later time.

Afterwards, with the brand new tattoos still raw, Rylan fucked him hard and fast and Harry came twice, once even from Rylan pounding inside of him alone. It was their best fuck to date, Harry was sure of it, and he crawled against Rylan’s sweaty body and kissed his chest while he mumbled his thanks. Rylan trailed his fingers through Harry’s messy hair while he smiled down at Harry with glowing eyes.

But of course, things couldn’t just stay nice and peaceful and filled with physical pleasure as they had been. Something had to go and fuck it all up.

A while after Harry got his second string of tattoos, this one of his left biceps, which would give him strength to walk the deathlands, he returned to the school to see the familiar handcart standing in the entrance courtyard, sheet covering what looked to be three small bodies. That afternoon Harry had a private lesson with Karakas, but he found his teacher drunk and maudlin.

“He’s asked me to triple them,” Karakas said in an unsteady voice while Harry sat down opposite him.

“Triple what?” Harry asked, though he had a heavy suspicion that settled in the pit of his stomach.

Karakas swallowed and took a gulp from the boksala bottle in his hand. “The magical children I bring here.”

“Rylan?” Harry asked, stomach swirling until his whole body felt nauseous.

“Yes, your new best friend,” Karakas spat, voice full of venom. “While you fuck him, I am to bring him more and more magical children so he can kill them.” Karakas stared at him with dark, accusing eyes. “Are you in on this, Harry? Is this something you do with that beast? Fuck little children into their grave?”

“No, of course not!” Harry jumped up, beyond upset Karakas would think something like that of him.

Karakas shrugged as he drank more booze. “You seem so…intimate with him lately, Harry. You practically skip out of here with a spring in your step every time he summons you.”

Cheeks burning with shame and guilt, Harry glared at Karakas. He hadn’t hated the man in a long time, but he hated him now. “Fuck you. I’m trying to make the best of a very bad situation.”

“If that what you’re calling it? Playing the whore for that monster?”

Harry all but exploded, his magic bursting out of him, sending his chair and numerous scrolls of paper flying through Karakas’ office. “Who the fuck do you think you are, accusing me of playing the whore? You brought me here!”

“To save magic!” Karakas jumped to his feet as well, giving Harry a desperate look that was both pleading and riddled with pain. “To keep magic alive in our world. In the only way I knew how.”

“Yeah, but the price of that is more and more dead magical children,” Harry whispered, staring at his feet, teeth gritted. “And that’s on you.” And without waiting for a rebuke or a reply, Harry marched out the door. He was sixteen, almost seventeen. He wasn’t going to listen to such verbal abuse anymore.

Harry rubbed his hands across his face in a harsh gesture. Fuck, he wanted that collar off. But to get the collar off, he needed to spike Karakas’ tea, and in order to do that, he needed to reanimate a monkey, and in order to do that, he needed to walk the deathlands.

And after many, many talks with Rylan they had decided Harry would get a few more magical tattoos to help protect him and they would wait until he turned seventeen, which was the magical age of majority where Harry came from.

But until that time, Harry was stuck there and he was truly sick and tired of it.

The frustration carried over to his next meeting with Rylan. When Harry entered his bedroom, Rylan made to pull Harry’s tunic off, but Harry sidestepped him and turned to glare at him. “What do you need all those magical children for? Why do you keep killing them?”

Rylan slowly narrowed his eyes while he stared at Harry. “Boy, watch your tongue. Remember who you are speaking to.”

“No,” Harry snarled, utterly done with all the shit around him. “I’m sick of this –”

Harry never got to finish his tirade, because Rylan was on him in a second, one hand clenched around Harry’s throat while the other ripped Harry’s tunic and loincloth off in one fell swoop. Rylan used a flash of magic to push Harry backwards onto the table and Harry had no choice but to lay down on his back, his legs spread wide. One hand still clutched around Harry’s throat, Rylan summoned the oil with his other hand and quickly slathered his cock before ramming it inside Harry’s unprepared ass.

Harry cried out in shock and pain. Fuck, that hurt. Rylan took no note of Harry’s obvious discomfort but fucked him with hard and rough bucks of his hips, hand clenching ever tighter around Harry’s throat until the world around him became smaller and smaller and shadows invaded around the edges and Harry passed out.

When he came to, he was still lying on the table, his ass a raw and sore mess, and Rylan was busy getting his tattoo supplies ready in the bedroom.

Oh, Harry had messed up, hadn’t he? He’d well and truly pissed Rylan off. Harry did the only thing he could think of as he gingerly got to his feet and walked quietly into the bedroom.

“Master,” Harry breathed, falling onto his knees and pressing his face against Rylan’s hip. “I’m so sorry. I was so out of line, and I beg your forgiveness.”

Rylan looked down at him with a steady gaze. “Already forgiven, my boy. You’ve learned your lesson, haven’t you?”

“Yes, I won’t talk to you again like that, promise.”

“Good boy. Get on the bed. Time for your third tattoo.” Rylan helped a sore Harry to his feet and Harry lay down, a few tears of sheer gratitude forming in his eyes that Rylan had forgiven him so quickly. The thought of Rylan staying mad at him, of hurting him again, did some very unpleasant things to Harry’s chest.

Rylan placed the third tattoo on Harry’s right biceps, this one for knowledge to walk the deathlands. And afterwards, Rylan even healed Harry’s broken ass before preparing him properly this time. When Rylan spread Harry’s legs and slid into him, Harry pulled Rylan down on top of himself and kissed him with everything he had, wanting to, having to make sure Rylan knew Harry wanted to be with him, wanting to learn from him and wouldn’t be such a stupid boy again around him.

The next morning Harry was genuinely pleased to receive a gentle good-morning fuck in the bed before Rylan pressed a firm kiss to his lips and went about his day. Harry felt much, much better by the time he made it back to the school.

“Master wants to see you,” Broi said. He was their curses and spells teacher, one of the older slaves there, and utterly devoted to Karakas as far as Harry knew.

“Sure,” Harry said with a sigh. He didn’t want Karakas to spoil his good mood but he also knew it wouldn’t be smart to keep the man waiting when being summoned. Karakas may favour Harry to an absurd degree, the man still held all the power over Harry through that blasted collar and Harry didn’t want to test Karakas’ patience after he’d just received a well-deserved smackdown from Rylan.

“Harry.” Karakas seemed relieved to see Harry when he entered. Strangely, Karakas also seemed utterly sober and there was a new clarity in his eyes. “I am happy to see you. Come, I have something for you.” And without pause, Karakas pressed a few books and scrolls of paper in Harry’s hands.

“Keep these safe, my little diamond.” Karakas gave Harry an urgent look with shining eyes. “Keep these out of the monster’s hands, promise me.”

“I promise,” Harry said, because what else could he say. He would examine the texts he was given thoroughly before deciding who he was sharing it with. At the urging of his family, Harry had never shared any of his wizarding magic with Rylan, even though he’d been tempted a time or two to do so.

“Good lad.” Karakas gave Harry’s shoulder a firm pat. “You’re a good lad, Harry. You’re going to be so strong one day. I’m proud of you.” And then Karakas urged a baffled Harry out of his office.

Harry went, and saw that the teachers’ room across the hall was empty and he stepped in there so he could quietly place all the books and scrolls inside his expanded satchel so other people wouldn’t get too curious about what Harry now had in his possession. Then he summoned his family to show off his third tattoo. A few of his family were very interested in the runes Rylan used and they all gathered around Harry’s arm to study the newly inked inscriptions in Harry’s skin when a huge burst of magic literally put Harry on his ass.

One moment he was standing and the next moment he was sitting on his behind three feet further into the room.

“What the fuck was that?” Harry asked while his family looked around in confusion. A few flew out the room to investigate.

Charlus quickly came flying back into the room. “It’s Karakas.”

Before his great-uncle could say more, Harry ran out of the teachers’ room and burst into Karakas’ office, where he saw the man hanging from the rafters, a tight noose around his neck, a knocked over chair lying on the floor beneath him.

Karakas was dead and all the magic that was tied to his lifeforce had just disappeared in a literal bang.

As Harry stared at the cooling body of his teacher he was utterly unsure of what to do next.

Chapter Text

Chapter 7

 

“Harry, remember the plan,” his mother said as she floated in front of him, but Harry barely heard her. All he could do was stare up at Karakas hanging dead from the ceiling while he suddenly felt empty inside and utterly numb.

It was strange that this should affect Harry the way it did, since part of Harry hated the man, but at the same time Karakas was the closest thing Harry had to a living parent since he was four. At the very least the man had been a devoted mentor and Harry experienced a sharp stab of pain in his chest realizing Karakas was well and truly dead and wouldn’t be coming back.

“Rylan,” Harry whispered, because all his mind could come up with was to alert Rylan of what had happened.

“No!” Lily floated even closer to Harry, James not far behind. “You do not owe that monster anything. Remember the plan, Harry!”

“But Rylan – “ Harry was unable to say more because his mother had just slapped her very chilly, non-corporal hand across Harry’s face.

“Harry, snap out of it, now!” Lily looked like she was ready to slap him again if Harry didn’t start acting rationally soon.

Charis moved in front of Harry, all but elbowing James out of the way. “Harry, lower your occlumency shields. All of them.”

“Oh dear,” Dorea said from further inside the room, apparently catching on to what was happening. “Did he accidentally occlude his trauma?”

“Huh,” Harry said, looking between his mother and the rest of the family. His mind felt like it was filled with cotton balls and all it could seem to repeat was the urge to contact Rylan and ask him for help.

“Lower your occlumency shields, Harry, and afterwards we can contact Rylan,” Charis said with an utterly reasonable smile, and finally that seemed to make sense to Harry enough that he followed her orders.

The first layer of mental shields was easy enough to lower, but every layer after that became more and more difficult and painful. With every layer gone, more and more mental anguish and shame and guilt filled Harry’s head until he had to lean a hand against the wall to keep his balance while he bent over and barely refrained from puking.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck,” Harry muttered, his mind suddenly clearer than it had been in many months. “Fuck, this hurts.”

“Yes, you were right,” Charis said to Dorea. “He definitely has been occluding a little too much, but it probably did make life easier for him over the last year.”

“We’ll deal with the trauma later,” Dorea said with a nod. “Escape first.”

“Harry, sweetheart, you must now remember the plan,” Lily insisted yet again while giving Harry a desperate look.

Right. The plan. Harry knew this, because his family had hammered the many, many plans they’d come up with over the years into his head over and over again. They’d laid out plans for practically every possible scenario, from what to do when an invading army would take over the school, to Harry accidentally finding himself back home in the wizarding world without warning.

“Plan number one,” Harry said, pushing himself upright and finally looking his mum in the eyes. “And using the smuggler’s path to escape.” Plan number one had always been Karakas’ unexpected death.

“Yes,” Lily agreed with an encouraging smile. “Now it’s time to get your collar off.”

Harry inhaled a deep breath while fishing his opal from his satchel. This was it, the moment he’d been trying to make happen for pretty much a decade now. Holding the opal in his palm and pointing a finger at his collar, Harry whispered, “Alohomora.”

The leather opened at the invisible seam and the collar slipped away from Harry’s neck, landing right in his waiting hand. What followed was a woosh of sheer power that seemed to rush inside Harry so fast and hard that for a few long moments it was hard to breathe as he swayed on his feet.

Harry had never felt such magic, such power, and he now realized that this had always been his, but that the collar had prevented him from accessing it, from even knowing it was there.

Now Harry had all the magic at his fingertips that he’d ever need and he’d never felt more confident or powerful. “Right,” Harry said and turned to look at Patroclus. “Go keep an eye on Rylan. He’ll have felt that magical burst and I want to know the moment he’s heading here.” Once his great-grandfather had left he sent a wave of magic towards his remaining family, making sure they’d be visible to others. “Rigel, find Rindyll, and Bernadine, find Valdis. Bring them to me. Everybody else, go explain what is happening to the rest of the students and tell anyone who wants to come with me to pack their clothes and wait in the back courtyard near the springs.” The souls flew off while Harry reached inside his satchel to grab another, empty expanded satchel, ready to be filled. Over the years Harry had made many magically expanded satchels and always kept them on his person for an occasion just like the one he was having.

It barely took more than a thought and a wave of his hand to gather every book and piece of paper and trinket and other possession from Karakas’ office. Even a sizable chest which was filled with coins, by the sound of it, disappeared inside the bag. Lastly there was Karakas’ staff, and Harry grabbed it and held onto it, because he knew that before the day was over he’d probably need to cast many spells to aid their escape and a powerful tool like a much-used staff would certainly help with that.

Harry gave Karakas’ body one last look, his chest constricting a few times with grief and regret, but then he turned around and left the empty office without looking back.

Halfway to the library he was intercepted by Rindyll and Valdis, and he was happy to see that they’d both gotten their collars off as well. Harry handed them each a few satchels. “These are much bigger on the inside and will hold lots of stuff. Rindyll, gather all the food you can, things that will keep, and also pots and kettles and other tools for cooking and eating. Just load them full with whatever you deem useful.” Then he turned to Valdis while Rindyll took off without further questions. “Take the hospital and load up on potions and herbs and bandages. Also, any tarps, blankets, clothes and other household goods you think will be useful on the road.”

“Were are we going?” Valdis asked as she inspected the satchels.

“Far, far away from here,” Harry replied with a huge grin.

“Good, that’s all I needed to know.” And with that, Valdis ran off as well, and Harry continued his journey to the library at a clipped pace.

Inside, he found Auntie Eustice explaining the situation to a few confused students. “Ah, I am glad to see you, nephew. For a moment I thought you’d forget to pack the books.”

“Never,” Harry said as he held open a new satchel and waved his hand around, summoning every last book in the room. The library wasn’t very big, since books were rather rare and expensive in Santika, but there had to be at least a thousand books there, and Harry guided them all inside his expanded bag.

When that room was empty as well, Harry ran towards an area he’d never set foot in, even when he had a very good idea what it looked like thanks to his family giving him their detailed descriptions over the years.

But before Harry could enter the basement, Broi got in the way.

“You,” Broi shouted, standing his ground while Harry halted his trek. “You did this. You killed the master.”

“Oh for…” Harry inhaled a deep breath and raised his hand. “Karakas killed himself, you fool. Stupefy.” Broi went down like a sack of boks and Harry ran around him and aimed his hand at the basement door. “Alohomora.”

The door opened with a soft click and Harry took the stone stairs as fast as he could. There were several doors there and even though Harry had a good idea which door housed what items, he did summon his dad to him with a swipe of his thumb over his amulet.

“This door,” James said, and then he pointed his fingers at the runes inscribed in the massive wooden door in the correct order they needed to be activated to open it. Harry pressed the staff against the runes one after the other, releasing a small amount of magic each time, activating them until the door clicked open.

Harry’s mouth sank open and he stared for what felt like ages as he couldn’t quite comprehend what he was seeing.

Gold. Gemstones. Silver. Jewellery. Piles and piles of it, chests overflowing and baskets toppled over with it.

So much wealth that it dazzled Harry and he just couldn’t wrap his head around how much treasure was stored there. He knew Karakas made good money renting out and selling kids, but he’d never appreciated how much exactly.

“Harry, hurry,” his dad said, though there was humour in his eyes as he smiled at Harry’s response to finally laying eyes on the treasure James had been telling him about since Harry was a little kid.

“Right, Accio,” Harry said with a grin and he opened another satchel as all the coins and gemstones and other riches came flying at him. At least they’d be able to pay for food and housing once they reached their destination, Harry figured, even if he wasn’t yet sure where that destination was going to be. First they had to keep out of Rylan’s hands and make it out of Misty Springs in one piece.

Speak of the devil. Patroclus came flying through the walls. “Rylan just got on his horse and is riding to the school.”

“Time to go.” Harry ran out the now empty room and was about to hurry up the stairs, but he halted in front of another door. It wasn’t warded and simply turning the doorhandle opened the door. Inside Harry saw the runic circle painted on the floor that had brought him and countless other children to this hellhole. Without a second thought, Harry aimed his hand and said, “Incendio.” Magical flames shot out and engulfed the floor and walls, and without looking back Harry finally ran up the stairs, shot another stupefy at Broi who was just sitting up and looking around in confusion, and then he exited the building through a side door as black smoke started rising up from the basement.

When he passed by the sleeping quarters, Harry aimed his hand in the direction of his own room and summoned his personal chest, which held his clothes, cloak, extra shoes, towels, some notes and whatever trinkets he’d collected over the years. He also summoned his bedlinens because some sheets would always come in handy. It all came flying at him through one of the many open windows and Harry stuffed it all in his satchel and then rushed towards the back courtyard where lots of people were already gathered, most carrying bundles of their own bedlinens with all their belongings stuffed inside. None of them had many personal items, but that made the things they did own all the more precious.

Rindyll and Valdis were there, and so were Genka and Vinka. There were about thirty or so children gathered, mostly the younger ones, who all looked around with wide, uncertain eyes.

“Where is the other staff?” Harry asked, as he removed a few more collars from some of the smallest children until all had been freed. “And the rest of the kids?” Harry slipped the collars inside a satchel as well, not wanting to leave them behind for Rylan to find.

“They’re planning on hiding in Shit Creek for a while,” Genka said with a shrug. “And then slip out of the city on the cargo boats when they can.”

“Yeah, okay,” Harry said, looking around their group. Part of him wanted to run after the rest of the staff and children, explain things to them and bring them along, but there was no time because Rylan was on the move and Harry did not want to face him. Not now, when he only just got all his magic back after a lifetime of having it locked away by that fucking collar. “Then we shall hope that the sun goddess shines upon their journey.”

“Let her light their way,” Genka agreed and then Harry urged everyone to follow Henry and Bernadine, who were the most familiar with the smuggler’s path that started just behind the springs and that zigzagged almost straight up the mountain, a narrow, muddy path overgrown with vines and covered by surrounding trees, hiding it from view.

Rindyll and Valdis took the lead, together with most of Harry’s relatives, and Harry brought up the rear, looking over his shoulder constantly to make sure Rylan wasn’t yet gaining on them.

Patroclus had stayed behind to await Rylan, so Harry would know exactly when he’d reach the school.

“Hurry,” Harry called over the children’s heads every so often, to make sure everyone understood that this wasn’t a relaxing stroll through the countryside.

“He’s at the school and he is not happy with finding it all but deserted and on fire,” Patroclus said some thirty minutes later when he appeared beside Harry in a flash.

Harry nodded and urged everyone forward, through the wet foliage and across the muddy path, higher and higher up the side of the mountain and deeper into the jungle. Around them monkeys screeched and birds sang and children quietly cried because they had no idea what was happening, but they kept going, since whenever one of the kids was close to a meltdown, one of Harry’s relatives would speak with them, offering comfort and staying with them for a while to explain what they could.

“One of Rylan’s men who’s just arrived at the school knows about the smuggler’s path,” Patroclus said after what must have been two or three hours of steadily trekking through the wilderness. “They found your tracks and they’re in pursuit.”

“Fuck,” Harry muttered and called ahead. “Anyone who doesn’t want to die a most violent death had better get a fucking move on. Rylan Bloodstone is on our heels.”

That got people going in a hurry, at least for a while.

“Just a while longer, maybe an hour,” Bernadine came to tell Harry at some point. “There is a canyon ahead with a wooden bridge, just over the mountain top. After you cross it, you can destroy it.”

That gave Harry a brilliant idea, if he did say so himself, and from that moment on he waved his staff behind himself every minute or so and used his magic to bring down trees and break away pieces of the path, just to make it difficult for their pursuers to follow them. Rylan was a sorcerer and could probably fix it all with magic, but it would take time to do so and thus it would slow him down significantly.

And time was all they needed. Once they crossed the bridge, as Bernadine explained, there were several paths they could choose. As long as Harry erased their prints and other signs of their passage, it would be difficult for Rylan to follow them from there on out.

“Keep going, we’re almost at the bridge,” Harry shouted, just to keep everyone motivated. Some of the children were complaining that they were tired and hungry and thirsty, but Harry knew they couldn’t stop just yet. After another hour they finally summited the mountain and instead of climbing they could now walk down the other side, which helped them pick up their pace considerably. Before long they reached the canyon that cleaved the mountain in half and only a rickety hang bridge connected both sides.

“Go on!” Harry urged Valdis and Rindyll, who were eying the narrow, moss-covered bridge with suspicion. “I won’t let anyone fall, promise, but we have to cross it now!”

Finally, Rindyll stepped onto the bridge, holding onto the worn ropes with trembling hands, and crossed it with slow but steady steps. Valdis told a few of the smaller children to follow her and soon enough there was a steady stream of people walking across the bridge, which swung and creaked but held. Harry was the last to cross it, constantly looking over his shoulder, but apparently his attempts to sabotage the path had worked enough to slow down Rylan and his men that Harry never saw them once he’d crossed the bridge.

For a moment Harry was tempted to simply destroy the bridge with a Bombarda, but then he realized that would make it a lot easier for Rylan to repair the bridge if the wreckage was still there at the bottom of the canyon. Best to make sure there was nothing left to fix.

“Incendio!” Harry called and the whole bridge burst into vicious, magical flames. Harry watched it burn for a moment before hurrying after the others. From that moment on Harry made a very real effort to hide their tracks, because they were now taking one of the many paths that were available and Harry wanted to make it difficult for Rylan to figure out where they’d gone. And Harry quickly discovered that using a reparo charm worked best, since it fixed any broken branches and bent leaves and did away with any muddy footprints, leaving the jungle exactly as it had been before a few dozen people trampled through it.

A little over an hour after they’d crossed the bridge they came across a gentle stream with a small waterfall and Harry told everyone to take a rest. Rindyll dug through the satchel of food and produced bags of dried fruit and nuts so everyone could eat and keep their energy up. Harry crouched beside the stream and splashed water across his face before drinking several handfuls of it. The water was cold and sweet and perhaps the most delicious water Harry had ever tasted, but he realized that might also be because this was the first time in his life that he’d really been free. The Dursleys had already treated him like a slave and since arriving in Santika he’d been an actual slave.

But not anymore. As Harry sat beside the stream, gazing up at the many trees and vines around him, listening to a whole flock of colourful parrots squabble, he swore he would never be anyone’s slave ever again. And he was going to do whatever it took to make that happen, not just for himself but for his friends as well.

“We’ll continue until the rain comes,” Harry said after an hour. Some of the kids whined and groaned, but they all got up eventually and they resumed their trek through the jungle.

Occasionally Harry heard voices and at first he thought it was just people complaining.

”Watch where you’re going!"

”Do you have to make such a ruckus? I’m trying to sleep."

”Hey, I was tracking that rat and now you’ve chased it away!"

Harry slowed down a little as he tried to pinpoint where that last voice had come from. He didn’t think any of the kids ahead of him on the trail would complain about a missing rat, but then where were those soft voices coming from?

”Hello?” Harry finally called out as he looked around the bushes and trees, trying to make out any humanoid shapes. Had Rylan already caught up with them?

“Did you say something?” Fleamont asked as he floated closer to Harry.

“I keep hearing voices around us,” Harry said with a shrug as he picked up his pace again. “Mostly they’re complaining about us making too much noise and scaring away rats.”

“Well, I’ll have a look around,” Fleamont said and then offered Harry a dubious but kind smile. “Though perhaps it’s time to make camp for the night. And maybe get something to drink. You might be dehydrated.” And with that Fleamont floated off into the trees around them. He returned half an hour later. “I’ve checked the whole perimeter, Harry. There’s no one here, just the normal critters of the jungle.”

“All right, thanks,” Harry said and decided that maybe it would be a good idea to stop and have some rest if he was starting to hear illusionary voices. Since the bridge they’d been following a path going down the mountain and Harry kept an eye out for a patch of jungle that was reasonable flat and big enough to hold 40 people or so for the night.

They passed a stretch of jungle that seemed to fit their needs fifteen minutes later and when Harry peeked up through the thick canopy, what little he could see of the sky seemed to darken with oncoming thunderclouds, so it was time to stop and make some shelters anyway.

“All right, we’ll camp here for the night!” Harry’s announcement was met with many relieved noises from all the kids. The youngest children were tasked with collecting firewood. Really, whatever sticks they could find would do, since Harry would light the fires with magic anyway. The rest of the children were told to find the largest leaves they could reach so the adults could use magic to turn them into makeshift waterproof tents by gluing them together with magic.

Not that much later they had their camp set up and Genka and Vinka got several large cast iron pots full of boks porridge going over the fires. The smaller kids all simply sat down under the makeshift tents, exhausted from the day’s travel. Just when the porridge was done the sky opened but everyone kept dry. Harry quickly transfigured sticks and rocks into wooden spoons and bowls so everyone could have a hot bowl of porridge before they turned in for the night.

”Where is all this smoke coming from? I cannot smell a single bird anymore. Are the trees on fire? What is happening?”

Harry lowered his empty bowl and licked his spoon clean and then quickly got up to look for the person behind that voice. He’d heard it loud and clear, coming from just outside the tent. It was raining steadily, but Harry ignored it as he walked around the trees outside in the falling darkness.

”I haven’t eaten in two weeks, and now these monkeys are ruining everything."

There! Right in front of him. Harry pushed some of the leaves from the tent aside and he came face to face with a bright green snake curled around one of the thinner branches from the tree they were using as a post for their tent.

The snake raised its pointy head and stared at Harry. ”What do you want? I’m busy here."

“Er…” Harry blinked, not having expected to find a talking snake. Then again, what did he know about snakes, really? He’d never seen a real one, he didn’t think. The school and its grounds had been warded against them, since there were plenty of venomous snakes that packed truly impressive bites in the jungle around Misty Springs. And now Harry learned that there were also talking snakes to be found, apparently.

”Sorry to bother you,” Harry said, because it couldn’t hurt to be polite, even to a snake. ”But could you please tell me how it is you can talk?"

The snake didn’t seem very impressed as it looked Harry up and down. ”I was going to ask you the same thing. I’ve certainly never met a talking monkey before."

Before Harry could explain he wasn’t a monkey, a distressed sound came from behind him. As he turned around, he saw his mum and dad floating there, both looking like they’d seen a ghost, which was rather funny considering what they were.

“Harry,” Lily breathed, one hand covering her mouth in shock.

“How is this possible?” James said, shaking his head a few times before going back to staring at Harry with wide, disbelieving eyes.

“What?” Harry was genuinely confused why his parents were so obviously freaking out. “It’s just a talking snake. There’s plenty of them around here because I’ve been hearing them all day as it turns out.”

“No,” Lily said while giving Harry a smile that wavered as she tilted her head in confusion. “That’s a regular snake. You’re a parselmouth, but I don’t understand how that’s possible.”

“Could it be any of the magic he’s been learning here?” James wondered, looking at Lily. “Maybe becoming a necromancer allows him to speak parseltongue somehow?”

“I honestly don’t know. It doesn’t run in either of our families, as far as I know.” Lily floated a little closer to Harry. “It doesn’t matter, sweetheart. So you can talk to snakes. It’s bound to come in handy while trekking through the jungle.”

And his mother was right, of course. Though Harry was confused about his parents’ reactions at first, he eventually pushed it out of his mind. He had far more important things to worry about, after all. That very night a thick, constricting snake came sliding inside their tent, lured in by all the enticing scents of small children, no doubt. Harry had a firm talk with that snake and sent it on its way, and from that moment on he was the official snake wrangler of their group. Whenever someone spotted a snake anywhere, Harry was called to tell it to go away.

They continued their escape through the jungle for another three weeks, heading north, since south was just jungle all the way down to the ocean. Harry still remembered the maps he’d studied in detail. Plus Henry and Charlus scouted ahead for days to make sure they were going in the right direction and not accidentally circling back to Misty Springs or something equally horrifying. Eventually they’d leave the jungle behind and hit the plains where there were many towns and cities they could disappear in.

“Where are we going?” Rindyll asked every few days until it became something of a joke between them.

Harry shrugged and said, “We’ll know it when we see it.” And he was honestly convinced of that. Somewhere in Santika was a place where they could hide away from Rylan while living fulfilling lives. They just had to find it.

Thanks to Harry’s snake charming abilities, no one got bitten by one of them, but one little girl did receive a serious spider bite that made her hallucinate for an entire night. Thankfully, Genka and Valdis were good healers and managed to nurse the child back to health. They dealt with all sorts of minor injuries all the time. Cuts and bruises and the occasional sprained ankle. One boy got a fever that lasted for a few days, but Harry transfigured him a stretcher that he floated behind him while the boy slept so they could continue their journey.

They also started hunting, since they weren’t sure how long their journey would last and they wanted to ration their dried food as much as possible. Tree-rats were abundant. They were rodents the size of chickens with long tails and thick fur that lived in the canopy. Harry soon learned that summoning them from any direction always worked and every night they’d have four or five to clean so they could add them to the porridge. There were also lots of small deer the size of medium dogs running through the undergrowth that were delicious roasted over the fire. One time Harry spotted a large animal that resembled a wild pig but its nose was long and agile and it had white stripes on its black fur. Whatever it was, it kept them fed for a week. Boks grew plentifully around them so even when their dried stores ran out they could find enough fresh boks to keep them all well-fed.

At first Harry had been unsure how to catch and skin an animal, and none of his living companions had any idea either, but Auntie Eustice had an encyclopaedic knowledge of pretty much everything, and Henry and Bernadine had been outdoor enthusiasts and avid campers in life and knew plenty about how to survive in the wild.

There was also plenty of ripe fruit to be found. Bloodfruit, which had thick skin you had to peel to reveal the bright red, juicy fruit, and honey-eggs, a type of golden berry that grew in large clusters on abundant vines and which tasted like honey.

They washed in the many little streams and curling rivers they encountered and that’s when they also cleaned their clothes, which inevitably got muddy while trekking through the jungle.

Fires kept them warm and it also kept the larger predators away. They could hear wolves howl from time to time but they never saw them. They did see tracks of bears on the paths they traversed, and of a valter, which was a large, man-eating cat with stripes that could also climb trees. Lily said it looked a bit like a mix of a tiger and a leopard when she spotted one near their camp one night. Whatever it was, it liked to stalk them after dark and they often found tracks around their camp in the morning, but their wards kept them safe.

All throughout the weeks they travelled Harry tried his very best not to think about Rylan, though he often found his thoughts going in the direction of that man when he was lulled into a state of meditation while quietly walking for miles each day.

Thinking of Rylan filled Harry with many conflicting thoughts and feelings. He was disgusted with the man and with himself for everything he’d done. Rylan was a rapist and a murderer and yet there were times Harry missed him.

Harry was free, as he’d always wanted to be, but sometimes, in the dark at night when he was trying to sleep on the damp floor of the jungle, Harry felt an overwhelming wave of fear for having to stand on his own two feet, for having to make all the decisions for himself from then on.

What if he messed it up? What if he was leading the people around him to a much worse fate than what Karakas and his school had in store for them.

Life had been so much simpler when he’d been Rylan’s little pet project. Let the man fuck him, have a few orgasms himself, and learn magic from the man.

Simple. Nothing to think about.

Nothing to fear.

Except that wasn’t true, now was it? Harry had everything to fear from the man. Everyone had everything to fear from Rylan Bloodstone and his torturous, murderous ways.

So Harry kept walking in the opposite direction, as far away from Rylan as his feet could carry him, no matter what his treacherous mind whispered in the dead of the night.

Eventually, after weeks and weeks, the jungle made way for more temperate forests that slowly lost their density and included more meadows and grassy hills, with cool winds that swept through their camps at night. They used the furs and skins they’d kept from all the animals they’d hunted to make warm boots and scarves and gloves. All the blankets and sheets were used to create trousers, since all of them were dressed only in knee-high tunics, which were fine in a warm rainforest but far too cold in the open plains. Harry learned how to transfigure several types of natural materials into simple wool sweaters, which they could wear over their tunics, while their waterproof cloaks helped keep the wind out while they walked. The sheets of canvas Harry found inside the expandable satchel full of fabrics were used to create real tents, with thick branches used as poles, since they could no longer rely on finding enough large leaves to create makeshift shelters every night.

The rains also changed, from warm, fat drops to cool, sharp pricks that felt like it might cut their faces open from time to time.

They passed through a few small settlements, hardly large enough to even call a village. Harry bought some bread, root vegetables and salted meat for a few copper coins that kept them fed for a few days. They ran out of boks but found out that the many rivers they crossed were filled with all kinds of edible fish and crustaceans that Harry could easily summon, so from that moment on they ate a lot of fish stew.

“Where are we going?” Rindyll asked yet again with a crooked smile as she dipped a chunk of dark bread in her bowl of stew.

“We’ll know it when we see it,” Harry replied, as always, not realizing that they’d see it sooner than expected.

“Just ahead, a few miles,” Fleamont said the next morning as he and Charlus returned from scouting ahead. “Over that hill.”

“What?” Harry asked, equal parts worried and excited.

“Just go. You’ll see it,” Fleamont said with a huge smile.

Harry urged everyone on in the direction his grandfather pointed at and they trekked up the hill as quickly as they could. Over the weeks they’d all built up enough muscles and improved their physical condition, even the smaller children, that climbing a hill was hardly a challenge anymore. Once Harry crested the hill he looked out over the valley before them and gasped in surprise.

They saw a huge caravan of people, a few hundred of them at least, all moving along in a procession of people on foot, some on horseback, with many carts pulled by enormous pankies. There were flags and banners everywhere, all depicting some sort of version of the sun.

“They’re Mardigans,” Harry said, unable to hold back a smile.

“What?” Rindyll asked in confusion as she stood beside him.

“I’ve read about them,” Harry explained to the others as they joined him. “They’re ritual worshippers of the sun goddess Mar. They travel from town to town, performing rituals of blessings and prosperity and such. You can also hire them to bless a birth or marriage. They don’t accept money in payment, just things like food and clothing, whatever people can spare.”

“They’ve got potential,” Valdis said with a shrewd look.

“Exactly,” Harry agreed with a huge grin. “They’re peaceful and they’ll probably be happy to accept a bunch of kids in their midst that need a new home.”

Before they walked down the hill to join the procession, Harry and the other adults had a very serious talk with the kids.

“Tell no one where you really come from. If someone asks, tell them the orphanage burned down and that you can’t remember the name of the city. And tell no one about magic. Our lives depend on it, understood?”

Harry received many solemn nods in reply, but when he, for the first time since they’d escaped, cut off power to his relatives so they weren’t visible to others anymore, he was faced with many pouting and crying children, since Harry’s relatives had spent lots of time looking after the kids and they were well-liked by everyone.

“You’ll make new friends, meet new people who will help you,” Harry quickly said, waving towards the long line of people walking across the grassy valley. “Now we have to hurry or we’ll have a hard time catching up.”

And with a spring in his step Harry all but ran down the hill, exceptionally relieved they’d found a nice bunch of people that could look after the small children in the long run.

“Greetings, travellers. The sun goddess has shone upon your path to bring you to us,” a man with brown skin and bright blue eyes said when they reached the caravan of people.

“Yes, she has blessed us indeed,” Harry said with a friendly smile. “We were hoping to join you and help spread Mar’s blessings.”

“All are welcome here,” the man said. “I am Benko.”

“Harry. That’s Rindyll, Valdis, Genka and Vinka. Nice to meet you.” Harry felt like a huge weight had just slipped off his shoulders, now that they had found a group of friendly people to join.

“Food carts are up ahead. When we stop for the night they’ll provide us with a hot meal.” Benko spent the next hour explaining the ways of the Mardigans and it was pretty much as Harry had read. They were a peaceful, religious people who travelled to spread Mar’s blessings around and they were accepted in just about every city they visited. For most settlements it was an annual event, the arrival of the Mardigans, that was celebrated with songs and dances and some alcohol as well, of course.

It took very little time for them to fit in with the Mardigans. There were plenty of families with children there, and when word spread that Harry and friends were orphans made homeless when their orphanage burned down, plenty of people were willing to adopt one or two of the small children into their own families and before long all the small children previously in Harry’s care had found new parents.

“It’s the best possible outcome,” Valdis said one evening after they’d finished their meal of vegetable stew provided by the dozens of food carts and cooks that could be found around the busy camp.

“Yeah,” Harry agreed. The Mardigans seemed a decent people, at the very least, and Harry knew the small kids would be better off with new parents than sticking with him. They’d looked after the kids during their escape, of course, but Harry hadn’t felt any close bond with them, nor a desire to care for them for the rest of their lives. No, this was better. Harry had too much on his plate to worry about thirty small children for years to come.

Valdis then got up to flirt with Benko some more. She seemed to genuinely like the man, even if he was twenty years her senior, and Benko appeared to have a bit of a crush on her as well, if his lovesick smile was any indication. Genka and Vinka were a couple, which had become apparent during their journey, and thankfully the Mardigans had no problems with two people of the same sex in a relationship. Genka and Vinka had adopted three of the kids they were closest with and formed a new but happy family.

That left Harry and Rindyll as they odd couple out in some ways. They still planned to stay with the Mardigans for a good long while because blending in with their crowd offered them good protection.

Unfortunately, that protection wasn’t good enough when the person hunting you was a necromancer.

One night, while Harry just laid down in his small tent on the outskirts of the camp, Rylan showed up out of the blue.

Well, a translucent, non-corporal Rylan floated inside the tent, scaring the shit out of Harry.

After releasing a slightly hysterical shriek, Harry stared at his enemy in disbelief. “Are you dead?”

“No need to sound so happy with my demise, my boy,” Rylan said, his shimmering face breaking out into a sharp grin. “Sadly, though, I have to disappoint you. I’m not dead, I’m merely casting my soul towards you so we can have a little chat.”

Harry’s heart hammered in his chest, his mind going a thousand miles a minute trying to figure out what to do, all while Harry sat still and stared at Rylan.

“I’ve rounded up most of Lord Carcass’ kids that fled to Shit Creek,” Rylan said in the same kind of bored tone one might use to describe the growth rate of boks. “I’ve used up those that I could and the rest has been put to work in the castle.”

“Used up,” Harry said, narrowing his eyes. Since Rylan wasn’t there in body, Harry’s confidence returned, knowing Rylan couldn’t actually hurt him. “You mean murdered.”

“Harry,” Rylan said, looking at Harry as if he was a disobedient toddler that deserved a spanking. “Why do you care about the cattle? The sheep? Because that is what they are.” Rylan waved a translucent hand towards the encampment outside Harry’s tent. “We are better than them. Why shouldn’t we use them?”

“Because they’re just kids and it’s wrong,” Harry said with conviction. He’d never forgotten the sight of Roy’s battered dead body. Roy had deserved so much better than that. “Why do you kill them anyway? It can’t be for sex. You’ve fucked me plenty of times without any murder and you seemed to get off just fine.”

Rylan threw his head back and laughed, long and loud. “You are right, my boy. I enjoy fucking the little ones, but I don’t have to kill them to get off.” Rylan fingered the stone that hung around his neck. “I use their lives for other purposes.”

“What purposes?” Harry asked eagerly.

Rylan’s look was almost condescending. “Now why would I tell you that, you little traitor? I treated you better than anyone, I taught you all I know, and still you fled with your tail between your legs at the first opportunity.”

Harry shrugged and gave Rylan an even stare. “Better a traitor than a slave.”

“What an ignorant little fool you are, Harry.” Rylan’s twisted smile promised several things, none of them pleasant. “And once I catch up with you, I will teach you the error of your ways, mark my words. But for now I need the ritual.”

“What ritual?” Harry asked, genuinely confused. As it stood, Rylan knew a hell of a lot more rituals than Harry did.

In a flash Rylan sat almost on top of Harry, his face pressed as close to Harry’s as it could without actually touching him. “The ritual to summon magical children here, you fool!”

“Er…” Harry blinked at Rylan while his mind was working overtime trying to figure out where that ritual went. “I don’t have it,” Harry said, keep his voice as steady as he could because he’d just remembered the pile of paperwork Karakas had given him right before his suicide. On top of that, Harry had taken every book and scroll from Karakas’ office anyway. He just hadn’t examined any of the contents of that satchel yet, since he’d been a little busy surviving in the jungle.

Rylan seemed to smell Harry as he moved his face up and down as he stared into Harry’s eyes. “You lie. I know it.”

“Didn’t the school burn down?” Harry offered with smug little smile. “Whatever was kept in the school has been destroyed, I’m guessing.”

“Hear me, boy,” Rylan said, his silvery eyes blazing. “I am coming for you and I will get that ritual. For your sake, Harry, I sincerely hope you still have it because you won’t like what I’ll do to you if you don’t.”

Harry gulped before he could stop himself because that was a threat that made Harry more than a little nervous. Before he could reply, Rylan’s translucent form shimmered and dissipated, leaving Harry sitting in the darkness of his tent on the brink of hyperventilation.

“Fuck,” Harry muttered, running both hands across his face. “Fuck, fuck.”

Rylan had a way to track him, because he’d found Harry, even if it was just by casting his soul out of his own body. And who even knew Rylan could do this? How did it even work?

Harry was screwed and he knew it. He needed to flee, lead Rylan away from the others, because if Rylan found the Mardigans, he’d kill every last one of them just to weed out the magical children so he could eventually fuck them to death.

But most importantly, Harry needed to know everything he could about that ritual Rylan wanted so badly. And Harry knew just who to call.

Brushing his thumb across his amulet, Harry pictured the familiar face of his devoted mentor and focused on summoning a new soul.

“Karakas,” Harry ordered once his dead master floated in front of him. “Tell me everything you know about Rylan Bloodstone and the ritual you used to summon us here.”