The stars tumbled in lazy patterns around him, more like nebulae than anything else. Harry lifted his head and shivered. Or the thing that was currently being his head, he thought. It was difficult to tell.
He hadn’t been born into another timeline yet, after all.
The stars dazzled around him and invented patterns he would never remember afterwards. The cold grew fiercer until it squeezed like a fist, and Harry drifted expectantly along. It never got like that except right before he was carried into the womb of a woman or other female in labor. That meant he would be born again any moment.
He wondered idly who he would be this time. Hermione, as he had been in his eighth life? A Gryffindor who hadn’t existed in his original timeline, as he had been the second time he was born? He hoped he had hands, at least. And that nothing like his nineteenth life ever happened again.
I promised myself I wasn’t going to think about life number nineteen.
Harry watched as the stars that sped overhead began to spin and narrow in on him. He smiled a little. Or made the thing that would be a smile when he had lips again, at least. Honestly, he had long since accepted that he’d doomed himself to this, by collecting all the Deathly Hallows. At least he had a purpose in his lives. At least he had always won every war, from the first one on, with Voldemort, and he did it with less loss of life. In his last life, when he had been Neville’s younger brother Humphrey, he had even managed to get Harry Potter to pay attention to the Horcruxes earlier, and only Quirrell had died after the first war was done. And he’d had a nice life afterwards, and children with Cho Chang who he would remember fondly.
As he remembered all his children, all his wives, all his lovers, all his parents and siblings and cousins and aunts and uncles. He forgot nothing now, apparently another “gift” of being the Master of Death.
He gasped as the stars winked out entirely and the cradling cold was warmth, and he found himself tumbling free into the grip of a pair of hands. Light struck at his eyes, and he waved his clumsy fists—he always hated this part—and wailed, more because he knew they would be anxious if he didn’t than because anything hurt.
“Oh, thank Merlin,” the woman holding him said in a hushed voice as she cradled Harry against her chest. “I thought—for a minute I thought…” She let her voice trail off.
Harry would have nodded if he could have focused his eyes or his control of his neck at the moment. That had happened more than once, too, and tended to confirm his suspicions that his soul traveled into the bodies of babies who would otherwise be born dead.
Or Kneazle kittens or snake hatchlings, sometimes. The Master of Death wasn’t confined to one species any more than he was to one gender.
I am not going to think about life number nineteen.
“Do you want to see your son, Mrs. Potter?” the woman asked then, and looked up the bed at Harry’s mother. “He looks perfect.” She used a gentle spell to remove the blood and other juices from Harry’s body, and then snipped the umbilical cord off.
Harry’s mind was reeling, meanwhile. Potter? Really? He hadn’t been born a Potter since his third life, when he’d been the daughter of a brother James hadn’t had in his original lifetime. He was still trying desperately to focus his eyes when the midwife leaned in and gently deposited him on his mother’s chest.
It was cheating, but he used a bit of his magic to make his eyes sharper. He would pay for that later, since his body was so young, but he wanted to see—
Red hair. Green eyes. Lily Potter reached down to him, murmuring lovingly, “Hello, little Harry. I can’t wait for your father to see you.”
Wow, Harry thought, and let his eyesight lapse again. Lily was getting ready to nurse him, anyway, and although he’d long since been resigned to this as the food his infant body needed, he didn’t need to look too closely, either.
He suckled gently and listened while Lily exchanged a few words with the midwife. Then there was the sound of a door opening, and small running feet, and a laughing voice that Harry knew, because he had often heard it in his past lives. “Don’t just go bouncing up and grabbing your brother now, Jonathan. Mummy’s feeding him. And he’s too little to play yet.”
Harry waved his fists again, the only gesture of welcome he could make, as Lily nursed him a moment more, and then handed him off to James. Harry could see there was a smaller blur off to the side, about the size of a toddler.
So. That’s Jonathan. My older brother? Huh. Harry spared a moment to hope that meant the Potters weren’t going to be targeted by Voldemort. The Boy-Who-Lived wasn’t always a Potter across the universes, or a boy, or in existence.
“He’s got your eyes, Lils,” said James, his voice so besotted that Harry managed to gurgle. James laughed and tickled him under the chin. “You know your dad, don’t you, little Marauder?” he asked, and then he turned and offered Harry to the boy who was rocking back and forth. “You have to stand still if you want to hold your brother, Jonathan.”
Jonathan immediately did. Harry could glimpse that he had dark hair, anyway, although his eyes were distant and Harry couldn’t make out the color. James kept his arms locked beneath Jonathan’s, gently helping him support Harry’s weight.
Jonathan just stared and gaped for a while, Harry thought. Anyway, he could see teeth. Then Jonathan looked up and blurted out, “He’s going to cry and sleep a lot, right?”
James and Lily both laughed. Harry gurgled again. James took Harry back and balanced him expertly in his own hold. “Yes, he will. But I promise he’ll be a lot more interesting in a few months.”
“I wanna show him to Fred and George!”
James cleared his throat uncomfortably, and Harry had the impression of him turning his head to exchange a glance with Lily. Lily reached out then and pulled Jonathan onto the bed, holding him close. Harry stared at his brother with interest now that he was nearer. He did have dark hair, and big, solemn dark eyes.
“I’m afraid you can’t do that yet, Jon-Jon,” Lily said softly. “We—still have to stay inside the bubble for a while longer.”
“But I don’t wanna!”
“Hush, you’ll wake up your brother,” Lily promptly scolded.
They think I’m asleep? But then Harry became aware that his eyes were closing, and his body was settling harder and heavier into his father’s arms, and he was drifting off even though he wanted to stay awake and listen to the conversation. He flicked his magic and tried to send it racing through his body to make his eyes fly open, but it didn’t work. He really had exhausted it too much earlier.
Nothing could prevent him from thinking as he drifted off, though.
Bloody infant body.
His family was wonderful.
Lily was so gentle. Harry had never known her well in his original life, of course, and although sometimes he had got to know her later in his other lives, it had never been as his mother. She had been a grim warrior without children in a few of them, she had stood in front of him and given up her life for his first self, and she had killed Voldemort herself once on a rain-soaked battlefield that Harry still didn’t like to remember in his seventh life. He appreciated her fiercer qualities.
But he had never known that she could cradle him with one arm and sing soft lullabies that trailed off so slowly Harry never knew when he crossed from listening to sleeping. She would dance around the room with him, holding him so carefully that he never felt a bump. She spent minutes just sitting there and smiling down at him, teasing him with a finger under his chin.
Her voice when James took Harry away and tossed him in the air was not gentle, but Harry would laugh as loud as he could when he didn’t always have control of his voice, and in the end, Lily had to admit that Harry did seem to like it.
“You’re just lucky that both your sons are exactly like you,” she told James one day when he’d put Harry on his shoulders with a Sticking Charm, changed into Prongs, and galloped around and around the small garden that was under the Fidelius Charm.
“Yes, I am,” James agreed, and then he leaned in and kissed Lily hard enough to make Harry glance the other way.
James was wonderful, too. He was delighted, constantly, by Harry’s and Jonathan’s very existence. He played silly games with them for hours without tiring. He told them the names of spells and classes they would take at Hogwarts in such a serious voice that Harry thought he expected understanding. He was a great storyteller, and Harry heard things about the Marauders’ time at school he never had.
Of course, he had to remind himself every time he started thinking like that that this wasn’t his original life. Things were already fairly different. These might not be his Marauders, his Sirius and James and Remus.
But then he remembered that of course they were. He was the Harry Potter of this world. No, it wasn’t the same as his original one. But that didn’t matter. This was the life he would live now, his twenty-eighth life, and it was as much his as any other had been.
He did tend to think of himself as Harry and as male and as a Potter (and great Merlin, that had been uncomfortable the first time he’d been born a girl), but it was just a coincidence that he was in this timeline. He could let go. He could enjoy it.
Well, he would have been able to enjoy it unreservedly if it wasn’t for the fact that Voldemort was after Jonathan.
He had a perfect time to focus on the conversations that happened between his parents when Lily was feeding him, or when they changed his nappies or rocked him to sleep or held him when they thought he was already slumbering. Harry preferred to ignore these necessities as well as he could, and learning how to sleep through the night (Lily couldn’t believe it and kept coming to check if something was wrong with him during the first month) and resist sleep at other times was as good a distraction as any.
Jonathan, now that Harry was recovering enough mastery of his magic to sharpen his senses, was a quiet little boy, with dark hair and brown eyes and a way of listening most of the time. He missed his friends, who seemed to be mostly the Weasley twins and someone named Kelly who Harry didn’t know. He liked to talk to his little brother, and listen to stories, and fall asleep in his father’s lap.
He seemed to have been born scandalously close to the time that Lily and James were getting out of Hogwarts. Harry just laughed at that when his family could think he was laughing at something else. He’d lived so long by now that he could cheerfully accept ideas that would have shocked him about his first parents.
But they were still being hunted by Death Eaters. Neither Lily nor James had heard the full prophecy, but they knew there was one, and that it marked a boy born on “Midsummer’s Eve” as Voldemort’s doom.
Jonathan’s birthday was June 21st, 1978.
Harry’s was July 31st, as usual. Seriously, it had been that way in more than half his lifetimes, excluding the ones when he was born an animal and couldn’t exactly check (and life number nineteen)—but even then, he had usually been born during the summer. He didn’t know why. Maybe it had something to do with his first life, or maybe his soul had some natural affinity for bodies that were being birthed during July. Or it could have something to do with his astrological sign, for all he knew.
He knew it was the Deathly Hallows that had caused the whole unending reincarnation cycle in the first place, because they would show up the minute he could wield a wand and keep them concealed. But he had never met an incarnation of Death. He had never known what his title really meant. He hadn’t died the first time expecting to wake up anywhere except maybe some heaven next to Ginny.
What he did know was that it was 1980. He was going to be only fifteen months old when Voldemort attacked Jonathan, at least if he did it on Halloween.
At least it wasn’t three months. Harry hadn’t truly started sleeping through the night until his first Halloween was past.
And he supposed that he didn’t know if this life would be exactly like his first one. Voldemort had inflicted his attacks on various Boys-Who-Lived and Girls-Who-Lived and sometimes innocent animals on various days of the year. But Halloween was a favored one.
Harry didn’t know exactly what a fifteen-month-old could do when Voldemort came, especially if he was aiming for Jonathan and not Harry. But he did know one thing.
He’d known it from the first time that Lily thought Jonathan was careful enough with the new baby to hold Harry without supervision, when Harry was about five months old and it was nearly Christmas. Lily had gone to take a bath in luxurious solitude. Jonathan had sat on the couch cradling Harry and staring at him with huge eyes. He kept looking at the floor as if he thought it would leap up and snatch Harry from him.
Harry managed to reach out and grasp hold of one of Jonathan’s fingers.
Jonathan blinked and whispered, “I’ll keep you safe. I’m promising. I love you, Harry.”
Harry had known that he loved his brother.
And if he had to cut this life, as warm and wonder-filled as it had been so far, short by sacrificing his own powerful, death-enhanced magic to protect Jonathan in a blaze of love…
That’s what he would do.
I’ve always helped defeat Voldemort in every life. I’m still going to help do it.