Actions

Work Header

His Twenty-Eighth Life

Chapter Text

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.

Or sometimes—

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.

Chapter Text

Harry knew it was getting close to Halloween. James had hung up a few pumpkins and was telling stories of ghosts and black cats—the black cats were always the heroes—to Jonathan. He told them to Harry, too, although he didn’t think Harry was old enough to understand.

Harry had been that since he was born, but unfortunately, he wasn’t old enough to make his tongue work the way he wanted to. He had noticed after a few months that none of the other Marauders ever visited them, and after listening to a few more conversations when he was “asleep,” he’d found out why. Dumbledore was their Secret-Keeper. Even Sirius and Remus and Peter weren’t trusted with that secret.

But then James, who missed his friends, had prevailed with Dumbledore to give the secret to them one at a time. Sirius had visited and tossed Harry in the air higher than James did. He got worse scoldings from Lily, too. His eyes were only a little shadowed and they shone with joy when he changed into a dog and dragged Jonathan around the drawing room in a little sleigh.

Remus didn’t appear. Harry had tried to hint that Remus wasn’t evil by asking about him and even saying simple, child-believable things like, “Moony good!” But Sirius had just ruffled his hair and smiled sadly, and James teased Lily about her sons growing up to be half-Ravenclaws just like her, since Harry was way too smart and speaking too clearly for thirteen months old.

“Moony can’t come, pup,” Sirius said, and balanced Harry on his knee and bounced him up and down under the mistaken impression that that was what he wanted. “He just—well, never mind. Maybe we’ll see him someday.”

You suspect Remus and you trust Peter? Harry had thought the next time Pettigrew was visiting. He cringed way too much, and never took off his long-sleeved robes even when James or Lily routinely invited him to.

But there wasn’t much Harry could do about it. He did try to stumble over to Peter and “accidentally” yank his left sleeve down so that they could see the Dark Mark. But either James would swoop him up and fly him around the room when he did that, or he was so slow that Peter had plenty of time to get out of the way. He would sit Harry on his lap and talk to him, but Harry never bothered listening to a word he said. His pulse was pounding too hot with indignation.

He tried to find a scrap of parchment and a quill, too, because he would risk a suspicious note appearing before he would risk leaving his parents and his brother to Peter. But when he did find a quill, his fists were too clumsy with baby softness. The quill just broke, and James teased Lily some more about Harry’s inherited Ravenclaw tendencies.

I hate being a bloody baby, Harry thought grumpily.

He tried. How he tried. He attempted to focus his magic on Peter’s left sleeve and pull it up that way, but he was simply too bad at manipulating objects when he was this young. He could best strengthen his own body, like his eyesight, but he couldn’t even make a toy or a piece of clothing float back to him when he had dropped it.

He decided to throw all caution to the winds and talk like an adult and not a baby, but when he did, Lily just cooed at how cute he was for repeating words she seemed to think he had got out of the adult conversations, even when he was very articulate about the dangers of the Fidelius Charm. Harry decided, miserably, that she would believe he could articulate at such a young age before she would believe that one of her husband’s best friends other than Remus was evil.

His only comfort, really, was that both Sirius and Peter had the secret of the address. That might mean there wasn’t immediate blame laid on Sirius.

Not that he expected to be here to see it. He had begun to sink inwards, focusing all his magic inside himself and on the protective blaze that he would have to fling in front of Jonathan when the moment of the attack came.

I love you. I wish I could spend longer with you.

He tried to make his every action say that to his parents and brother and Sirius, every day.

*

In the silence, the stalking silence, the circling silence, Lord Voldemort came to the Potter house.

It was Halloween. Night of the darkest moments, night of the fervent and the false. Lord Voldemort was beyond such tricks as masks and costumes and frightening stories. He was the story. He was the one who had created five Horcruxes, the only surviving one, the monster of the stories, the force of the darkness. Let them fear him.

He crossed the garden slowly, ignoring his cringing Death Eater behind him. The man had his uses, his multiple uses. But he was done now. Lord Voldemort was here. There was no need for anyone else.

He listened, his senses reaching out, tuned to vibrations in the earth like a snake’s as well as in the air, tuned to worlds these fools could not even imagine. He could hear only the low, cheerful chatter of voices. There was one child’s voice in there, the voice of the one he had come to kill. He nodded, he moved his head with dreadful slowness like a glacier falling down upon mankind. He was here. There was no need for anyone else.

He drew his wand, his faithful tool. He lifted it high…

And hesitated.

There was something else in that house, something beyond hearing. Not a voice, but a circling. A silence within the silence, a gathered power. It reminded Lord Voldemort of a Hidden Fire spell, the curse that could be cast on a place and would remain alert and untriggered until someone who was not the caster walked across it. Then it would blossom in fire.

This thing could do the same. This thing could cause him trouble. This thing made him wary.

Of course, he could face and conquer it. Was he not Lord Voldemort?

But there was no need to be hasty, no need to crash through the protective spells and bring the fire to flower. Lord Voldemort paced slowly around the house, raising his own charms that would make him invisible. Was he not a genius? He had perfected ones far stronger than the Disillusionment Charm.

When he was ready, he leaned in and studied the room the voices were coming from. The weak wizard sat on the floor, telling a story to a child that made his mind surge with hatred, like cold waves in a cave and a cold diadem in an Albanian forest and cold metal of a precious Hufflepuff artifact under his hand. This was the boy prophesied to vanquish him.

But it would not happen. Was he not Lord Voldemort?

The red-haired Mudblood sat off to the side, a book open in her lap, but her voice joining in the story. The words did not matter to Lord Voldemort. Nothing mattered except that none of them was the source of the waiting magic. So the boy was not so strong after all. Of course, he could not be. But Dumbledore was. He would have placed the magic of the trap, envisioning Lord Voldemort as the weak, pathetic child he had been when Dumbledore knew him best, foreseeing nothing but stupidity, glimpsing nothing but his own doom.

Lord Voldemort nearly drew back from the window, ready to search the rest of the house for Dumbledore’s trap. Then he realized that he had overlooked one other Mudblood in the room. He turned his head. The other child, the one Pettigrew had told him was born at the end of July last year and could not be a menace to the great Lord Voldemort, sat in the chair next to the Mudblood’s and watched the story.

The magic was clustered all around him.

Lord Voldemort narrowed his eyes and used his sharp intelligence to cut through the cobwebs and surging waves and deceptions and secrets and mysteries that would have baffled someone of lesser genius in order to find the answer. The child was gathering strong magic. It was intelligent, this gathering. It was the flower of fire. It would burst out when the child decided it would. The green eyes were bright with power. No one else noticed because they were Mudbloods and idiots.

Pettigrew had not noticed. If Lord Voldemort had not come to the house and been wary and precise and intelligent, it would have gone undiscovered until he entered and had the trap burst in his face. The trap would burst, of course. The child somehow suspected. It was magic gathered against him, because who else could it be gathered against? Who else was so much a threat?

Lord Voldemort did not believe in coincidence. If the family had one child who was prophesized to destroy him, it might have another. It must have another. That gathered magic, enfolding and reaching and swirling and waiting to flower into fire, could mean nothing else. The child was not old enough to wield it through a wand, but that would not matter if it concentrated the power into a single thrust, with a single purpose.

And his servants had not heard all prophecies.

Lord Voldemort glided to the door and changed his plans.

*

Harry raised his head. He could feel the Dark magic coming towards them, swirling in between the loved voices of his family and the warmth that surrounded them. He had known tonight would probably be the night, but not exactly when Voldemort would arrive. The hour varied even in the worlds where the attack happened on Halloween.

But he retained a sensitivity to Voldemort’s magic even though he had never been a Horcrux since his first life. He seemed to keep up talents from other lives like that. He could still speak and understand Parseltongue, and he could practice necromancy if he had to after his desperate twelfth life, and he also had certain affinities left from life number nineteen—

Which I am not going to think about.

Harry turned and pulled himself up on the back of the chair. He would have to scream, to attract Voldemort’s attention to him as soon as possible. The burst of sacrificial magic would only work if Voldemort killed him. And Harry didn’t dare chance releasing a bit of it, either, because that would weaken the protection he could place on Jonathan.

I love you so much, he thought to his brother, whose head he could just see turning in what looked like slow motion as the door blew open. You deserve to grow up with both your parents. I’m sorry. Goodbye.

Voldemort stalked in, looking the way he always did in Harry’s lives at this point, with dark hair and a nose, but gleaming red eyes, his body bony and thin and white, the ravaged remnants of Tom Riddle’s beauty clinging to his face. He had his yew wand, and he started to gesture.

Harry screamed as loudly as he could, “Tom Marvolo Riddle!”

Voldemort jerked towards him. The light that had been pulsing at the tip of his wand, which wasn’t green for some reason, died. Lily and James had just started to scream themselves. But as far as Voldemort was concerned, there might have been no one in the room but him and Harry. There was clear space between them. Their eyes met.

And Voldemort dived into Harry’s mind.

Shit! Occlumency was a function of the physical body, too, dependent on more mature magic and a growth of that brain that was not the strange compartmentalization of the memories that Harry had learned to cope with being immortal. He wouldn’t be able to muster reasonable shields until he was much closer to seventeen. Voldemort blew through the fragile defenses Harry did try to lift, and he saw the plan to save Jonathan, he saw Harry’s fear and determination and love.

He saw…

He saw the death of the last Voldemort, in Harry’s life as Humphrey Longbottom, a writhing, shrinking, shadowy figure in the wake of the basilisk fang stabbing through the Hufflepuff cup.

Voldemort’s face twisted. Harry knew his rage and hatred by now, none better. He flung his head back and gathered his magic around himself. Voldemort was infuriated enough to kill by now.

Make my death count.

“What’s the matter, Tom?” Harry asked softly, ignoring the way Lily tried to snatch him up. He twisted to the side and fell out of the chair and took the steps he needed to take towards Voldemort. “Afraid that someone else might figure you out?” He didn’t dare name the Horcruxes aloud. Voldemort would kill the rest of Harry’s family if he thought they might know the secret of his immortality. “Afraid that a mere child could kill you?”

Voldemort’s red eyes flickered. Then his wand moved, and Harry tensed himself. He wished he could turn for one final look back at Lily, Jonathan, and James, but he didn’t dare. His focus on Voldemort had to be absolute for his wild magic to strike where he wanted it to.

But Voldemort said, “Accio second Potter child.”

Harry went flying head-over-heels to land against Voldemort’s legs. Voldemort promptly snatched him off his feet and bent his head towards Harry’s ear.

And he spoke in Parseltongue, proving that he’d seen far more in Harry’s mind than he’d ever anticipated.

Really, Potter? You think I would chance killing anyone in this room, when I might see the Killing Curse rebound on me?”

Harry squirmed as hard as he could, trying to focus his magic against Voldemort again. But his shock was too strong—shock that his family might live, but for the wrong reasons—and the magic had dissipated. Harry could get it back under control, but it would take moments to once again tame it and direct it to a thin point.

And within those moments, Voldemort had Stunned him and stepped out through the door again.

*

Lord Voldemort found himself well-satisfied with many things. The weight of the Potter child—who was no child—cradled in his arms, his head drooping, his mind full of the ways to avoid being defeated in the ways that other Voldemorts had been. The knowledge that he was the one Lord Voldemort, the only one intelligent enough to avoid tangling with the Potters or another prophecy-marked child or his mother. The others were simply Voldemort.

The dumbfounded expression on Pettigrew’s face as he gaped at them both, and took a step back, and wavered as if he would faint. That was satisfying. That was a thing Lord Voldemort could cause, should cause. Lord Voldemort revived him with a flash of his wand, and then they turned to leave.

The heartbroken wails rising behind them. Lord Voldemort heard their tenor and judged them good.

*

James stepped back into the house and tried to speak, but he couldn’t. Lily looked at him and then folded her arms slowly around Jonathan, feeling the shudder of her older son’s head against her chest. His mouth moved as if he was going to ask questions, but he didn’t manage to.

Her older son. Or her only son now?

Lily wanted to believe that Harry would survive, but she honestly didn’t know. James had run outside after Voldemort and had been in time to see him Apparate, along with a figure who looked an awful lot like Peter.

And Harry had tried to warn them against Peter, and he had spoken to Voldemort in that adult voice that—

Lily closed her eyes. She didn’t understand what was happening, why it was happening. She only understood that their life had smashed on the floor the minute Voldemort walked through the door.

And she didn’t know how to repair it. Not with such an essential piece missing.

Chapter Text

Harry woke up in a huge room, which seemed to be made entirely of stone. Tapestries softened the walls, but since all of them seemed to show bloody hunts and snakes devouring screaming women, they didn’t make it cheerful.

He turned himself slowly around, hating the way that his clumsy baby legs dragged. He looked straight up at Voldemort, who considered him in silence. His head was cocked to the side, and he was stroking a serpent draped across his legs. It was too small and the wrong color to be Nagini, Harry was glad to see.

I see no point in talking to you as a child,” Voldemort said, and his hand moved down the snake’s white scales with a slight rasping sound. Harry heard the same edge in his voice and realized that he was speaking in Parseltongue again. “We both know that you are anything but.” His eyes were intense as they considered Harry. “I am willing to let you live. But I might not do the same for your parents.”

It would have been better for you to have killed me,” Harry hissed back. He could always manage Parseltongue more easily than English at this age, which had been helpful when he’d been kidnapped by enemies of his family in his seventh life and convinced an anaconda in their jungle hideout to help him escape.

His parents in that particular life, Arcturus and Melania Black, had been overjoyed to receive him when he returned to England after almost a year of traveling through South America. They’d been deeply loving people, actually, probably because they had no other children in that world. Of course, that also meant Harry had barely escaped being betrothed to Walburga, but. Well. He’d avoided that, in a rather dramatic fashion.

Better for your family, of course,” Voldemort said and laughed softly. “I know that. It would have enabled you to die and use your sacrificial magic to ensure your brother defeated me. No, little Harry, I am not going to do that. But tell me how you defeated me in other lives, and your parents will live.

Harry closed his eyes for a minute. Of course he had to tell Voldemort. The thought made him sick. So many things had been done in so many worlds, and to know that Voldemort would be able to avoid them all…

But the alternative was letting his brother grow up an orphan.

Harry had made hard choices before, but this was something that thrummed through him. Still, he knew what he was going to do. No one else was here to scold him for being selfish, and he had found many ways to defeat Voldemort, including times when he didn’t know what his Horcruxes were or when there had been no Boy-Who-Lived. He could do it again.

All right,” he hissed, opening his eyes because he could hear Voldemort picking up his wand. Voldemort probably didn’t trust Harry without being able to use Legilimency on him. That was smarter than many of his incarnations were. “But what guarantee do I have that my parents are going to survive when I’ve told you everything I know?

Voldemort laughed, a sound that reminded Harry of crackling flames and crumpling paper. “You have lived twenty-seven full lives. Do you think you will tell them to me even with years’ worth of time? It is the secret of the other Voldemorts’ defeats that I wish to know most prominently, but there are so many other things that you could tell me.

Harry swallowed. He had never been in any situation half this bad. Yes, enemies had captured, tortured, killed him. But he had known he would be reborn each time, and since there was no way of knowing what had happened in the worlds he left behind, he had been able to be more at peace than otherwise. His death had always happened after he defeated Voldemort.

This time, he knew Voldemort would find a way to torture his parents and Jonathan without harming them enough for someone to be empowered with a sacrificial death.

His parents and brother balanced against the weight of the world.

But then, in his original life, how many people had died to keep him safe, believing he was more important than anything else? There was a prophecy that said Jonathan would be the one to defeat Voldemort. That had to mean he was in the position of the Boy-Who-Lived. And Harry was willing to make hard decisions based on that, too.

And when I can tell you no more?”

That will be years. You will come up with something new to tell me so that I will not butcher those you are tied to.

Harry grimaced. So it all depended on him. But of course it did. That was true of so many things, and he wasn’t going to simply lie back and give up because it was harder this time.

Of course, Voldemort knew that, too. And he would be prepared for it. Harry would have to play this particular game in spirals, always aware that Voldemort could read most of plans out of his head when he came up with them.

Yes, I can.”

Harry sighed and looked straight at Voldemort. “The bargain is over the minute I hear that you’ve done something to hurt them. And that includes killing their friends or torturing them, not just killing them.

Voldemort sneered at him. “Lord Voldemort has no need for rule-breaking. Keep your side of the bargain, and I shall keep mine.

Harry said nothing for a second. Then he asked, “How exactly are you intending to take care of me yourself? You’ll need to have Death Eaters—

In response, Voldemort flicked his wand, and the disgusting wet feeling in Harry’s nappy disappeared. Another flick, and whatever traces of it were left vanished, too. Voldemort lowered his wand and leaned forwards. “You were saying?”

I’ll get a rash if I keep wearing the same nappy all the time.

Still watching him intently, Voldemort waved his wand and cast some non-verbal magic. Harry couldn’t imagine where he would have learned the spell to Transfigure something into a nappy, but apparently he had. A piece of bloodstained cloth draped over a table turned into one.

You were saying?”

Harry sighed. All right, so there went that possible avenue of escape. He had half-hoped that Peter might be allowed to tend to him. He would feel guilty enough about betraying his friends that Harry could manipulate him—and he could manipulate with only a very little to go on, after so many lives.

That is a skill that I intend to have you teach me.

Harry stared before he could stop himself. “But you’re a good manipulator. And I know you would never accept help or a teacher.”

*

Lord Voldemort felt the ancient pieces of his mind shift with memories of Hogwarts as he laughed aloud at the expression on the child’s face, behind his eyes. In the back of his mind. All astonishment, no feigning. He did truly think that Lord Voldemort would never lower himself to accept another’s teaching. Because it would imply that the other person, his mentor or teacher, was better at something than he was.

That was the true genius of kidnapping this multifaceted being who chose to call himself Harry Potter. And it proved that no matter how long Potter had lived, how many people he had been, how many times he had defeated other Voldemorts who did not deserve the title, he was no match for the swirling depths of genius inside the true Lord.

I can accept what is needed to help me become stronger.” The child looked away, and Lord Voldemort laughed again, secure in his triumph, mind filled with even more possibilities that multiplied like snowflakes under clouds. “There was a prophecy. I evaded it. I did not attack because I thought I needed to, because offensive force is the only thing that makes me stronger. That is not true. Defensive force will do the same thing. And I will learn from you.

Potter said nothing for long moments, still as a waiting snake. Lord Voldemort watched him, and did not trouble to hide his amusement. Potter was not watching. Lord Voldemort had time to sit and let his joy and his pride dance through him.

No one is stronger. No one is more clever. The only other immortal being I have met is weaker than me—

It made Lord Voldemort remember, however, that he did not know how this being had come to be immortal, though he knew it was not through Horcruxes, because of the disgust in Potter’s mind when he thought of them, and he desired to know, so he reached out, lashing his will against Potter, bringing his head back around. “You will tell me how your first life conveyed immortality on you.”

Potter shook his head. Lord Voldemort nearly lashed again in his fury at a refusal, but Potter only said, “I think it was because I collected the Deathly Hallows. But I can’t know for sure. I’ve never found a book or anyone who could tell me that was it for sure.

Lord Voldemort had read children’s books. Of course he had. There was knowledge to be found even in such books, and in the early days of his life, the ones after the orphanage, the only childhood of his that mattered, he read such books to know what fairy tales and other substrate knowledge those around him would expect him to have.

He need no longer cater to such expectations, and so the knowledge of the tales had slumbered in his mind. But he could call all such things back to life and memory when he chose. Was he not Lord Voldemort?

How did you collect them without meaning to?” Because Lord Voldemort had seen the subtle traps in the descriptions of the Hallows, of course he had, even before he had reached the end of the tale. Lesser wizards hunted the Elder Wand to be the strongest power alive (never knowing they would only ever be second to Lord Voldemort), they hunted the Resurrection Stone to commune with the dead, and they might have hunted the Invisibility Cloak if they had known how different it was from other Cloaks or Disillusionment Charms. But the Hallows killed.

Lord Voldemort was wise. He avoided death.

The Cloak belonged to my family,” Potter replied, his eyes seeing long ago and far away and with pathetic emotions. “The Resurrection Stone was in one of your Horcruxes, and Dumbledore, after he destroyed it, left it to me. I didn’t know what it was until I was almost dead the first time—

You will explain the first time.

And the Elder Wand belonged to Dumbledore, until Draco Malfoy disarmed him. Then I disarmed Malfoy, and the Elder Wand switched its allegiance to me.” Potter watched him for a second, eyes at least returning to the room, which was only proper when he was confronted with a power as wonderful and overwhelming as that of Lord Voldemort. “I went to die because I was one of your Horcruxes.

Lord Voldemort stared. Then he controlled himself. Lord Voldemort was the target of stares. “How did that happen?”

When you attacked me—I mean, when the Voldemort of that world attacked me. His soul was so unstable that a small piece of it came loose and attached itself to me. I didn’t know for a long time. But Dumbledore left me memories that alerted me of what I was. So I walked into the Forbidden Forest and let him kill me.

Lord Voldemort sat still. The serpent in his lap stirred and hissed a question, but Lord Voldemort did not touch it. He stared at the child—not controlling himself, but it did not matter, the child was looking off into the distance, and he was only a toddler in body, he was no threat to the great and mighty Lord Voldemort.

But at that moment, Lord Voldemort found himself in the presence of a power, a might, a strength, that he did not comprehend. It was like turning around and seeing a dark ocean behind him where land had always been before.

He had found, when he had fallen into Potter’s mind in the cottage at Godric’s Hollow, a profound lack of fear. He had thought he understood why. Of course Potter would only be born again, and he had thought he would do some good by sacrificing his life for his brother and enabling Lord Voldemort to be defeated that way. That sort of sacrifice, Lord Voldemort could understand. Never commit, but understand.

But Potter had walked to his death when he had no idea that he would be reborn. The first time. When he had collected the Deathly Hallows accidentally. When he knew there was a Horcrux inside him, and if he simply evaded capture and that Voldemort’s wand, he stood a good chance of living forever.

That fearlessness was a power.

But Lord Voldemort did not know it. He could not comprehend it. It stretched before him, as alien and unknowable as—as nothing. Nothing he had faced before.

He brought his hand down hard on the side of the chair, startling the snake and bringing Potter’s gaze back to him. Potter tilted his head and looked at him with too much understanding. Lord Voldemort would bear past it. Because he was the genius and Potter was not. Experience was not the same as intelligence.

That is hundreds of years gone for you. How do I know that I can trust you to remember it?”

Ever since I started being reborn, I don’t forget anything,” Potter said simply. “When I found myself getting ready to be born after I died at the end of my first life, I suddenly remembered everything, including things that I’d been too old to recall for years. I could recite every conversation I’ve ever had.

Such memories are possible.” Lord Voldemort had found a spell in Egypt that imitated it, but he had never cast it because he had a perfect memory naturally, by right of birth. “But they would overwhelm your brain after a time.

Mine don’t. I think it has to be because I’m Master of Death—or whatever ridiculous title you feel like attaching to someone who managed to get all these artifacts together and didn’t know what he was doing,” Potter added with sudden disgust. “It’s like they’re in different parts of my brain. I have to concentrate to find them. But I know they’re always there, and that they won’t have faded the next time I look for them.

Lord Voldemort remained silent, and stroked his snake. That was another power he did not have, did not understand.

But he could have had it. If he had wanted to use the spell in Egypt. If he had not had better uses for some parts of his brain. It did not concern him as did Potter’s lack of fear of death.

And even that lack, he would come to understand in time. There was nothing in the natural world that Lord Voldemort did not understand, did not comprehend, could not master.

I wish to know when your last meal was, so that I may feed you and you will not be tiresome now.

I’m used to going hungry.” Potter shrugged. “It was a few hours before you—arrived. I’ll be fine until the morning.”

Lord Voldemort was glad enough to stand and leave. He did not see the necessity of threatening Potter a last time, because Potter understood the stakes, and because the boy was filled with the sickening belief that he needed to sacrifice his freedom for the good of his family, and because he was clever enough to have come up with the right threat the first time.

He did leave behind a blanket and pillow. Was he not a just and merciful Lord?

*

Harry leaned his head down into the pillow and sighed. Yes, he had decided after sorting through some memories of his previous lives that he usually left untouched, this was the worst single situation he had ever been in.

He had had worse lives. And even now, he could think of powers that he could use to escape from Voldemort.

But they lay unwanted and repulsive at the bottom of his soul. Harry wouldn’t touch them except for a better reason than he had now. Right now, he and Jonathan were alive, and so were Lily and James and Sirius—and presumably Remus, although Harry hadn’t had the chance to meet the one in this world. He could bear cold, mental and physical.

Harry smiled a little bitterly. If anyone should be able to, it’s me.

No, he would stay here until things either changed to become intolerable, or he was able to do something that would let him escape without endangering his family.

The one thing he thought of before he curled up under the blanket and fell asleep, the one threat that he hadn’t faced before, was a wonder as to whether Voldemort could corrupt him. If he stayed here, and Voldemort talked to him but didn’t threaten his family or torture anyone in front of him…

Hermione had told Harry in his twentieth life, when he was a Gryffindor called Zachary Bold who didn’t exist in any other world, that she was half-afraid of him. She didn’t know about any of his other lives. She just thought “Zack” was way too open-minded and tolerant, and forgave Slytherins too much, and would get betrayed someday.

Could I tolerate Voldemort? Could I start convincing myself that he’s not so bad?

But Harry didn’t truly fear that. Even if Voldemort was different here, less impulsive and insane, Harry had twenty-seven different experiences of him.

That’s the one good thing about being immortal and having such a weight of experience. They make it easy for me to forgive—but not forget.

Chapter Text

Thoughts went through Lily's head every day, looping like an old film through its reels.

If I'd done something.

If I'd thrown myself in front of Harry when I realized Voldemort was going to Summon him.

If I'd only stood up to him instead of sitting back and letting Harry defend himself and us.

Then the thoughts would turn into speculation about why Harry had spoken like that and why he seemed so much older than his age, but those thoughts had no end, either, no resting place and no answer. Her mind would return in seconds to the thoughts she knew were useless—she couldn't have anticipated that Voldemort would Summon Harry, no one could have—but couldn't get rid of.

Yet even they were better than the thoughts that came and haunted her nights, making her lie motionless beside James as they both pretended they were asleep.

What happened to Harry? Did Voldemort kill him? If he's kept him alive, what kind of tortures is he going to make him suffer before he dies? Should I wish that he was dead, because that would probably mean less suffering?

Lily hated the other thoughts that crept in, the ones that wished Voldemort had killed Harry in front of them. Not because she wanted her child dead. Not because it might have absolved her of some of her guilt, that she hadn't protected him and prevented him from being taken away.

Because anything was better than not knowing.

He's gone into silence. I can't ask him. I can't ask Voldemort. My precious baby boy...anything could have happened to him, and I wouldn't know.

Lily had believed, until it happened, that the worst possible thing in the world was watching your child die. Now she knew better. The worst possible thing in the world was watching your child swept through the door and carried away by a man in a black cloak, who you knew had already tortured and murdered countless others.

I want to know. That's all. If they find a body, that would be horrible, but at least I would have the answers. Let me know.

*

James found it so hard to continue smiling at Jonathan.

His older boy had always been serious, much more so than Harry, the baby who seemed to giggle the instant they picked him up and barely cried at all when he was born. But that just made it better for James to come up with a story or a prank or a game that would make them both laugh, or sneak around the corner and surprise Jonathan into a squeal or a smile.

Now...

Now there was only one, and James knew it would be more than worth the effort to cheer Jonathan up. But he kept looking at the spot where his second son should be, and the smile dissolved in midair.

Sirius took him to task for it, one day about two months after Harry had been taken when he came over to try and plan Lily's birthday party. James listened to whatever he said, and agreed to whatever he wanted. Sirius sat up abruptly on the other side of the dining room table and glared.

"You have two children, James." He'd never growled like that even when he was Padfoot and playing around at Hogwarts. "I know you're mourning Harry—believe me, we all know—but you have to think of Jonathan, too. He doesn't deserve it for you to just turn your back on him."

James stared at Sirius with his mouth open. Jonathan was taking a nap at the time, or he knew Sirius would never have said it. But that didn't matter. James always remembered there were two children missing from the room, not one.

"I don't treat Jonathan like that!"

"Yes, you do. You never smile at him anymore. You never turn into Prongs and play with him anymore."

"I was Prongs just last week—"

"Last week? When before Harry went it would have been last afternoon?"

James flinched. What Sirius said was true enough. He had to force himself to play with Jonathan. And it wasn't anything Jonathan had done wrong. He wasn't the same, but he was still the boy James had loved since the moment he laid eyes on him. Of course James wanted to hug him and play with him and reassure him that everything would be all right.

But the faith that everything would be all right had been brutally burned out of him. James opened his mouth and the words just weren't there. What could he say? For all he knew, Voldemort would come back tomorrow and take Jonathan with him.

"James." Sirius reached across the table and took his hand. His voice was low and rough. "God, I love you like a brother. Your parents took me in like a son. I loved Harry more than anyone but you and Lily and Jonathan. But you can't go on living as though the rest of you died when Harry did."

"Lily says it would be better if we could know he was dead." James whispered the words. He hadn't dared voice them aloud before this, just in case he accidentally said something in front of Jonathan.

Sirius sighed, let his hand go, and spent a moment looking at a picture above the mantelpiece. It had been turned so its face was to the wall. It was a moving photograph of Lily cradling Harry in her arms, James standing behind them and grinning fit to burst, and Jonathan kneeling down beside his mother, his hand entwined in Harry's, his rare smile lighting up his face. They'd taken it on Harry's first birthday, and it had been James's favorite picture. He'd wanted to take it down, but Lily absolutely forbade it, until they knew if Harry was alive or dead.

That meant it might never come down.

"I don't know about that," Sirius finally said, his voice as harsh as lye. "As long as we don't know, there's some hope. And if we could just capture Peter..."

James felt hatred surge to life in his chest. It was in him like salt was in the ocean. He wanted to curse his traitorous friend, he wanted to grab him and shake him and ask why, but most of all, he wanted to ask the bastard where his son was.

“I know,” he said instead of ranting about Peter. Sirius had already heard it all before, and done most of the same ranting himself. “But we can’t. And that means—how do we live with this, Sirius?”

He hadn’t meant to, but he sounded as if he was about to have a breakdown when he said those words. Sirius immediately got up and came around the table, wrapping his arms around James and rocking him the way he had when Lily had nearly died fighting Death Eaters.

“It’s all right, Jamie, it’s all right,” Sirius said, and his voice was feral and fierce and really what James needed to hear right then. “We’ll find him. Or we’ll avenge him. Hell, we’ll avenge him anyway, when we capture Peter and take You-Know-Who down.”

James clung back, and let himself believe in his friend’s promise, for just a little while.

*

Albus sat back behind his desk and slowly rubbed his forehead. If he did that enough, then maybe he would get rid of the throbbing ache that had taken up residence there, compounded of raw grief and rage.

And blame. He couldn’t forget that, because he hadn’t made sure that all the papers bearing the secret of the cottage’s location were burned, Tom had been able to find Lily and James after all.

And little Harry had been taken.

Albus had only seen the boy a few times, mostly when he was asleep, and he had visited to reassure himself that the little family was safe and Jonathan growing strong. He had seemed a chubby and contented baby, with accidental magic already showing. Except that he had wished him well, Albus hadn’t thought much about Harry Potter as separate from his family.

He had to now, of course. He had to do something to make it up to Lily and James.

Albus leaned back and looked at the device standing on his desk, with his hands cupped on either side of it. It was—not enough. But it was as good a first step as he could imagine. The delicate silver wires twined around each other to form a hollow sphere, and on the pedestal at the bottom, the projecting wire at the top, and the outermost strands glowed small purple jewels. Pieces of raw amethyst, Albus had bound them into the wires and then worked them with his magic, rather than his hands, chipping and cutting and carving until their magical energies aligned with the silver.

And the small hank of Harry’s hair, caught in a comb that Lily had fruitlessly used on him, that Albus had placed in the center of the globe.

Now to see if it works.

Albus waved his wand back and forth, calling on all the power that he didn’t often use with the Elder Wand, especially in the last few months, when it had started to behave erratically and not always cast the spell he wanted. Now, it responded strangely, with an eager thrum that Albus could feel all the way up his arm.

But if it meant that he could give Lily and James some reassurance about young Harry, he could only welcome the help.

Albus slashed his wand down in the last pattern and thought, as hard as he had ever incanted a nonverbal spell, Vita.

The amethysts flashed beams of purple light at each other that the silver wire caught and magnified. Then the device drank in all the magic that Albus could bring to bear on it, and pulled more from the Elder Wand when he thought he didn’t have any to give. Albus gasped and draped himself over the desk for an instant.

Behind him, he could hear the portraits of the other Headmasters muttering to each other. He managed to lift his head and give them a weak smile.

“The device is working,” he said, and sat back and watched the way the amethysts winked to each other like Muggle signal lights, and the hair in the middle of the globe began slowly, slowly, to wend itself around the wires. The magic would last until the hair was completely consumed, which would hopefully take at least a few years.

Albus clenched his jaw. Only hopefully, because my greater hope is that we find and rescue Harry before then.

But in the meantime, they would have this proof that Harry was alive. Wizard hair was a sensitive magical material. Just as Polyjuice could only be made from the hair of a living person, this device could only employ the magic of Harry’s hair if the little boy was alive.

Let him die, and it would cease functioning immediately.

Albus let himself rest five minutes to start recovering his magical strength, then sighed and stood. He would take this device to James and Lily now, and give them as many apologies and reassurances as he could.

And keep his greater fear—that by the time they saw Harry again, he might have been raised into an obedient minion by Tom—to himself.

*

“Are you all right, Augusta? You’ve been glaring at the wall for the last half-hour.”

“I know I have.”

Her daughter-in-law looked at her expectantly. After a second, when she didn’t respond to her, Alice rolled her eyes and caught up Neville, saying, “If you want to be that way.” Then she carried Neville into the next room, and cooed and clucked at him.

Augusta blinked and looked harder at the far wall. It didn’t deserve the glare, really. This was the room that her Francis had decorated for her when they first married, pale blue with silver curlicues on the walls. She had loved this room for one year and hated it ever after. But she wasn’t the sort to tell Francis that. He would have been heartbroken.

He always did like to think that love lasted.

Augusta sighed and stood. Alice was probably telling Frank at the moment how moody and unreasonable she was being. And if she stayed here much longer, Frank would start thinking it, too. He thought rocking in her chair and staring at the wall in this room was morbid, brooding on her husband’s death. Then he would come along and talk about how she was “aging before her time” and he wanted her to get out in the nice fresh air.

I’ll age as fast as I bloody well want to.

Augusta turned and stumped out of the room. Frank met her on the staircase and beamed at her. “Come have dinner, Mother. Great-Uncle Algie decided to go to Muggle London tonight, so it’s just us.”

Augusta nodded and followed her son down. If Frank had a fault, it was that he talked too much. He almost babbled now, so eager to fill the silence with talk about Neville and how quiet the Death Eaters had become and how the Ministry had almost shifted off its war footing that he never noticed her silence.

Even though that’s a much more morbid symptom than just spending time in the room Francis decorated for me.

But Augusta couldn’t keep her mind from running in hard circles. On the one hand, yes, the Death Eaters had gone quiet. That meant nothing much. It had happened before, and then You-Know-Who would come roaring back and restart the war as if he’d last attacked yesterday. It was good in that it meant more nights at home with her and Neville for Frank and Alice, and more of a chance that Neville wouldn’t be left an orphan or a half-orphan when he was so young.

On the other hand, this silence felt different to Augusta. No reason for it to. She wasn’t an Auror or a strategist or even someone who heard anything special and important about the war beyond the hints that Frank and Alice sometimes dropped accidentally.

But she trusted her gut. This silence might extend long enough to become peace.

And the only thing that was different about this from other periods in the war was that You-Know-Who had taken the Potter boy.

Augusta gave one of her hard looks at Neville, who was too busy waving his arms and babbling about corn to notice. Alice did, and chided her with a glance. She said Neville was too young to learn manners and what she called “that stuffy nonsense.” That only confirmed to Augusta that Frank hadn’t married Alice for her courtesy.

But in this case, Augusta was just trying to think of what Neville would be like if he grew up under the “care” of Death Eaters, believing everything they did was right.

The Potter boy wasn’t important or special in and of himself. But he was the potential Chosen One’s brother. Augusta had sat in on enough Order of the Phoenix meetings (under protest) that she knew that.

And if You-Know-Who made Harry Potter into a weapon against Jonathan Potter…

Augusta trusted her gut. She trusted it would be a bloodbath of the kind that no one sane wanted to go through.

*

Harry sat with his eyes closed. He was still too young for Occlumency to be much use against Voldemort—excuse him, Lord Voldemort—but he could meditate enough that some of his more excited thoughts would calm down and be far beneath the surface by the next time Voldemort went looking. And he had things he wanted to bury, now.

He sat in the small stone room that Voldemort had brought him to that first night. The snake who wasn’t Nagini—apparently Voldemort called it a hiss that translated “Death-of-Rabbits”—kept watch on him when Voldemort wasn’t there. But it couldn’t read his mind, either. And it wasn’t a Horcrux, thank fuck.

Harry carefully sorted through his memories, and buried the most recent ones in the place where he kept most of the small thoughts about his first life—Al’s first baby laugh, and the time that Jamie and Lily had got in a shouting match about who could say “certificate” better, and the myriad little grumbles and spats with Ginny. Voldemort could still find them, but it would be like diving into the ocean and striking straight for the bottom. He was more interested in the surface, and the many pieces of information Harry offered him freely.

Harry tucked the conversation he’d overheard yesterday in between Lily Luna’s first steps and a sunlit summer day when he and his first family eaten lunch outside.

Yesterday, he had heard soft voices outside the window of this room. He would have thought they were snakes, but they had a different kind of hissing quality, and he had to concentrate harder to understand them. The skill to speak their language had only been with him for eleven lifetimes, whereas Parseltongue had been with him since the beginning.

But he knew them for what they were. The voices of cats.

In his seventeenth life, he had been born as Crookshanks, and he had retained the ability to speak with Kneazles and other felines even after he died.

This might lead to an escape. Perhaps. Or a useful weapon.

He would have to wait and see.

*

He didn’t understand all the words and concerns at the time. He didn’t understand why his mum wept when she took the silver globe from Mr. Dumbledore, and he didn’t understand why his dad turned their picture to the wall, and he didn’t know why Sirius was so sad when he called him “kiddo” and ruffled his hair and carried him around on his back as Padfoot.

But he understood later. And he couldn’t forget that there used to be a little brother he could hold in his arms and laugh with, and now there was no one.

As he grew up, Jonathan Potter made his own vow: no one was ever going to steal someone from him again.

In the name of his brother, he was going to fight.

Chapter Text

I wish to understand something.”

Harry slowly opened his eyes. He’d been drifting deep on the waters of his memory, looking for things that might help him escape Voldemort, but also simply reliving some of the more pleasant parts of his lives. “What’s that?” He was almost two years old now, and he had managed to force his tongue and throat to respect the English words.

Voldemort sat on the chair across from him, the only furniture in the room. Harry slept on a blanket folded on the floor and sat cross-legged on the floor itself, and Voldemort still Vanished all the mess he made and brought him food on a plate he gave Harry directly.

The monster frowned now, and said, “Use Parseltongue.”

“You can use it, my Lord.” The words meant nothing to Harry, they flowed past him, and that only seemed to infuriate Voldemort more—but not enough that he had insisted that Harry stop calling him by his title yet. “I prefer to use English, so that I don’t forget how to speak it.”

You think you will see others you can speak to again?”

“You think that you’ll keep me from everyone forever? My Lord.”

Voldemort shifted again, frowning. Death-of-Rabbits lifted her head and looked back and forth between them as if trying to decide what to do about a conversation that she could only understand half of. Sensibly, she dealt with it by curling up and going to sleep. Harry heartily wished that was an option for him.

I have no reason to reveal you to others. You could tell them what you told me, and then the knowledge would no longer be an advantage.

Harry nodded slowly. Yes, he could see that. And he wasn’t worried about what the effect would be on him as he would have been about a normal child. He had the memories of past lives, human voices and faces and smiles and touches, to keep him company. He had already learned them. “All right. What did you want to know, my Lord?”

Voldemort leaned forwards. “I considered you my sworn enemy when I brought you here, and I laid down the conditions of you not escaping and sharing knowledge. I did not say that you must spend every day quietly, or not ask questions. Yet you rarely do. Why?”

Harry blinked. It wasn’t something he had thought Voldemort would ask questions about, but rather take as his due for being an intimidating bastard. “It’s easier for me. And you don’t need that.”

I don’t need what?”

“You don’t need me running around and asking questions. Trying to meet Death Eaters would only make you harm my family, anyway, so I won’t try. Asking questions isn’t such a hardship, you aren’t torturing me.” Harry paused. He wondered if he should say the next thing on his mind, but Jonathan might be in trouble if Voldemort read it out of his head. “And if you’re here with me, it keeps you from doing things like torturing someone else.”

Silence. Voldemort’s hand worked open and shut on the arm of the chair. Harry just watched him in silent bewilderment. He didn’t know what was wrong, but it didn’t feel like something easily settled.

Finally Voldemort said, in a hiss so low that Death-of-Rabbits woke up with a start, “You have considered yourself my implacable enemy in every world since the first one you were born into.

“Yes, my Lord,” Harry said, wondering where this was going.

You have sometimes even thought that you were born again and again to destroy me, rather than because you collected the Deathly Hallows.”

“I thought that. I don’t believe it’s the truth, now. Otherwise, I would probably have been born as the Boy-Who-Lived more often. This is the first time for centuries that I’ve even been born a Potter.”

But you had the suspicion in one of your early lives.” Voldemort used his clenched hands to push himself out of his throne. He prowled back and forth behind it, his eyes constantly on Harry as he moved.

Harry nodded. “Yes. Like I said, I don’t think that now. I’ve dedicated myself to your destruction of my own free will. And sometimes I’ve had to wait until late in my lives to accomplish it,” he added, thinking with a shudder of all the years he had spent caged up in the Magical Menagerie during his life as Crookshanks. It had taken forever before Hermione came and found him, and it had been worse because he had known all the while that Kneazles didn’t live as long as humans.

Then you can join me of your own free will.

Harry opened his mouth and found himself with nothing to say. He had never thought of such a thing. Even now, he didn’t think of himself as joining Voldemort. He had made a bargain to leave his family alone and give Voldemort knowledge.

Priceless knowledge. Knowledge that your family and Sirius and Dumbledore might think was terrible to ever give to Voldemort, because he would never have known it otherwise.

Harry shook his head firmly. He wouldn’t let his own doubting thoughts convince him to turn against his family and Voldemort’s enemies. That wasn’t the way it worked. He forgave people and let them do what they needed to do. In some of his other lives, his children had turned against him. He’d had to do abhorrent things because of who and what he was. His life as a Black heir had been absolutely no fun, but he’d slipped through it and survived. He’d had people he loved and trusted in most of his lives spit in his face in others, and he had wiped the spit off and gone on. It was—

It was so much larger than any one individual person. Harry had seen their crimes in so many places and times and lives, and known their nobility and courage in others, and that meant he understood facets of them they might not know themselves. He was the immortal being, even if he had never chosen to be so. That meant he was the one who ought to forgive and understand.

He hadn’t managed to forgive some of those he’d known in his nineteenth life, but then, he hadn’t really forgiven himself for what he’d had to do in his nineteenth life. Which was why he was not thinking about it.

Voldemort’s slithery footsteps startled him. Harry looked up and found Voldemort bending down to look him in the face, which was more courtesy than he’d shown so far.

Yes, I can be courteous,” Voldemort hissed, his voice incredibly soft. “I can be merciful to my allies and servants. Those who are stupid and weak are punished, but you are neither, Harry Potter. Can you find it in your heart to forgive Lord Voldemort?”

Harry stared at him, his mouth slightly open. Now that he thought about it, nineteenth life and horrible adventures thereof excepted, Voldemort was the only person he had never forgiven. He could lose Ron and Hermione’s friendship and accept it with equanimity, he could have his wand broken by people who didn’t understand him and still warn them of coming danger. Why was Voldemort so different?

Because he’s my enemy! He’s always been my enemy!

And following up that thought was the swift one, And how often have you made him so? He would have ignored you in most of your lives if you hadn’t forced the issue.

Harry swallowed, and swallowed again. It was ridiculous. It was a ploy on Voldemort’s part. He wanted Harry to forgive him so that Harry wouldn’t be his enemy and Voldemort could go on getting knowledge from him. Even in his first life, Harry thought, when he hadn’t known anything about the world, he wouldn’t have fallen for anything so obvious.

But he did have to answer the questions that had arisen. The ones he’d asked himself, not the one that Voldemort had asked him.

What purpose did he have in going after Voldemort? Except that it had happened in his first life, and then in his other lives he had remembered the chaos and destruction the war had caused. So he had to help in other ways, because he didn’t want the people he loved to suffer—even when they weren’t the people he remembered in that first life.

But he had never tried some method other than destroying Horcruxes or otherwise interfering in Voldemort’s attempts at immortality. He’d never tried to restore him to sanity. He’d never forgiven him.

I’m so proud of being able to understand everyone in the universe and find excuses for them. Except him.

It was a long time since Harry had run into a new fact. He hesitated, and then he said, in response to the question that Voldemort had asked him on the other side of the transformation of his world, “I don’t know.”

And it was true for him. For his family. For his friends. It had nothing to do with Voldemort’s transparent manipulation attempt. Harry wanted to know for himself.

*

Lord Voldemort felt as though clouds of crystalline confusion swirling around inside his head had parted to let even more crystalline clarity through. He had found the question that made this being pause and consider its actions.

But of course he had. Was he not Lord Voldemort?

The information he had learned had been disconcerting. As he leaned on his hands and ankles in front of the child, in a pose that another might have considered undignified but which he knew to be royal because he was adopting it, Lord Voldemort remembered that. His other selves had tried to rule with terror, and had made themselves hated because of it. Lord Voldemort would not do that. He had already ceased all but the most necessary Death Eater activities, such as having his followers with influence in the Ministry spy for him and throw the Minister and Aurors off-balance with dark hints.

He would learn. He was the most magnificent of them all, the true genius, the true lord, the destined king of darkness—

The child stirred and spoke, and Lord Voldemort refocused. He must pay attention when the child spoke, but only as he would to a rare book or grimoire that chose to converse by voice instead of letting Lord Voldemort read what was printed inside it. The child was as valuable as that.

“I think I might be able to forgive you someday. The actions that you took in this world are different from the ones that your old self took in others. But that’s only if you don’t harm my family or hurt anyone else I like.”

“Did not Lord Voldemort promise to spare your family?” Lord Voldemort asked, reaching out to draw a finger down the child’s brow. He knew from seeing this Potter’s past memories that he was susceptible to touch, that he even believed love to be the most powerful force in the universe. The mere notion amused Lord Voldemort, filled him with gales of the darkest laughter, but he would use what worked. “Why would you think he would break his promises, if you keep your side of the bargain?”

The Potter child stared at him. Lord Voldemort suppressed the rising rage that would end with limbs and broken blood. Nothing had ever been as irritating as the fearlessness with which this boy regarded him.

But he would know, in the end. He would learn that he had only defeated inferior copies of the true Lord Voldemort. And Lord Voldemort was patient enough to wait for that day, as he had already waited for his revenge for countless decades.

“You might kill them anyway,” Potter said then, his voice so soft that Lord Voldemort felt it more as breath on his eyelids than as words. “That’s what happened the last time I tried to make a bargain with one of your other selves. I woke up the next morning, and two of my best friends were dead.”

Lord Voldemort traced his forehead again, focusing all his attention on those shining eyes. Also irritating that they were so clear, but at least they made Potter’s mind easier to read than some of the murky, swamp-infested minds of his Death Eaters. “Show me.”

Potter did, more easily than he usually succumbed to orders, which Lord Voldemort took as evidence of his swelling power, of his charisma, of his magical gifts that would bind all to him, of—

He frowned and restrained his own thoughts from following him into Potter’s mind. He could have them if he chose, a different kind of Legilimency intrusion, but not when he was looking for one specific memory.

And there it was, floating like a silvery Pensieve trace on green waters. Lord Voldemort plunged into it, and felt the cool spray of unrelated memories travel past him. Then he was within the midst of a crushing weight of grief.

Lord Voldemort coolly ignored it, watching the Potter at the table. He wore a different body in this world, of course, with dark hair more tamed, blue eyes like chips of ice—and considerably older. He sat with his head bowed and his hands shaking on either side of a newspaper splashed with photographs of murder. Lord Voldemort approved the photographer’s style, and whoever had chosen to set them highest on the page, even higher than the headline, so as to be easily seen.

Those pictures showed a tasteful kind of murder, with the blood spread out in a circle. Whoever had done this had taken the time to arrange it like that, probably with a wand. Lord Voldemort knew from experience that blood didn’t usually splatter exactly as you wanted, and even the most ingenious curses would rip flesh in unpredictable ways. He might be able to pity this Voldemort less than some of the others.

The headline said something about two Weasleys dying. These were presumably Potter’s best friends in this world. Lord Voldemort turned his attention back to the boy as he rustled the paper and laid it down.

He had to stare. The Potter he was familiar with had weak affection in his eyes all the time, and horror, and compassion. Those were manipulations that Lord Voldemort wielded like whips against the susceptible and the disobedient, but he did not succumb to them himself, and he did not respect anyone who did.

From the furious fire in Potter’s eyes, he might be forced to respect him. Or at least this version of him.

There was hatred there, so thick and stinking that Lord Voldemort couldn’t help trying to breathe it in through his nostrils, even though this was a memory. But as the grief had been crushing, so the hatred could be a miasma. The memory did at least feel lighter, better, sweeter to stand in than it had been before.

“I bargained with him,” Potter whispered, and his body gave a single, long shake of rage. There was a different kind of clarity in his eyes now, one that Lord Voldemort could not help but admire. “I bargained with him, I believed him. Like an idiot.” He tossed his head, and all the shining in his eyes had been twisted to a different kind of light, tainted. Lord Voldemort drew in his breath in delight. This was better than the photographs. “I will kill him.”

The memory faded, but another one floated on the surface of Potter’s mind. Lord Voldemort grabbed it, and it popped around him and drew him onto a rainy battlefield, where Potter stood over something strange. At first Lord Voldemort thought it was an altar, made of white stone.

Then he realized it was the body of another one of his selves, but longer and leaner and paler than his. Potter had used the same curse that had been in those photographs in the paper, the one that spread the blood around in a circle.

“How does it feel to die?” Potter hissed, and bent down, slipping into Parseltongue. “At the hands of someone who wasn’t even supposed to defeat you in this world?”

There was a garbled reply that made Lord Voldemort turn his head away, because he was not the weak, pathetic thing crawling shattered on the ground. He would rather watch Potter, the conqueror.

Potter took a step back and shook his head. He was still speaking in Parseltongue, but with a cold, sharp edge to it that was different from the impassioned anger of a moment before. “I don’t need to belong to a Dark family to know Dark curses. I knew that spell the moment I saw you use it. And you broke the bargain. You doomed my best friends to death. That doomed you.

He snapped his arm down and Apparated, spinning away from the battlefield.

Lord Voldemort slid slowly out of Potter’s mind when that memory was done. And he reached out and put his hand on top of the boy’s wild mass of dark hair. Yes, it was wild in this lifetime. He had already seen how easily that could change.

You killed him that time. Who was supposed to?” He was tilting Potter’s head back, looking into the green eyes that altered from lifetime to lifetime. But not the spirit beyond them, oh, no. And that spirit was capable of more than giggles and love. He knew it. He had known it. Was he not Lord Voldemort, who saw the corners of darkness in every blaze of light?

“A Hufflepuff named Victoria Graves.” Potter sighed, his mind spinning with what Lord Voldemort suspected were actually shards of the same memories, although at the moment he didn’t care to check. He would never want to live through anything less than the full reality now that he had done so once. “No one could explain it when they found his body, but in the end, they decided that her facing him in duels and destroying one of his Horcruxes was enough to fulfill the prophecy.”

And you never wanted to claim the credit?” Lord Voldemort was sure the truth lay somewhere in the middle, that perhaps Potter would have given public credit to Graves but told a few select friends what had happened. The boy had been too proud, too Dark, in that lifetime to simply be content with letting someone else have the honors. Lord Voldemort had let someone else take the laurels for opening the Chamber of Secrets, but then, he had been sixteen. Potter’s body had looked older than that.

“No. Why would I? I only wanted to help people recover from the terror that Voldemort caused and live quietly with my friends.”

Lord Voldemort felt as though someone had splashed cold seawater into his warm fire. He withdrew and stared at the boy. Potter stared back, blinking. He was not lying. Lord Voldemort knew that very well.

But he may not know himself as well as he do. He may not be aware…of the many things that he might want…

Lord Voldemort nodded. It was like the boy’s surprise when he had asked if Potter could ever forgive Lord Voldemort. After twenty-seven lives, there must be depths in his mind and memories as black as the trenches of the sea. And Lord Voldemort would explore them all, and dredge obscure and terrible things into the light that the boy would flinch from looking at.

And he would make the boy look.

This was a challenge, at last, such as he had not had in years. The Potter boy in the prophecy had been dangerous, but more a trick, in the end; he could have defeated Lord Voldemort only if Lord Voldemort had been foolish enough to launch a curse at him without checking out all other possible perils. Since then, there had been no sign that the Potter child would grow up to be extraordinarily difficult to handle.

The elder Potter child. The younger one, of course, was Lord Voldemort’s.

The enemy to corrupt and conquer and pull down, until he was as Dark as he had looked in that moment destroying Lord Voldemort’s other self. And he was truly worthy of the time and skill it would take.

I shall win. Over a worthy enemy. When all know the truth, all cannot fail to honor me.

Chapter Text

“And we have no more hope than ever of retrieving Harry.”

Albus closed his eyes and winced. He hated hearing anyone’s voice sound so dead and hopeless, but especially Lily’s. He remembered the first time he had seen her, walking into the Great Hall at Hogwarts at eleven years old, looking as if all the fire of her life burned in her green eyes. The dark-haired, skinny boy at her side had given Albus less hope, but even him he had tried to save.

And now, this.

“No,” he said, opening his eyes and forcing himself to face the disaster that his carelessness had caused. If I had only insisted that Peter burn all those scraps of paper… “I’m sorry, Lily. We know that Harry’s alive, but not where he is. To make such a device, I would have to have some of his blood.”

“And I didn’t get it while I had the chance.” Lily sat with her hands dangling in her lap, her eyes fastened on the western window. The sun was descending on the sixth of August, exactly a week past Harry’s second birthday. “I’m a failure.”

“You are not, Lily.” Albus pressed her shoulder. She shivered, for a moment, and then pulled away and stood up to pace around the drawing room. Albus watched her, his chest aching. “You still have a fine son you can be very proud of. Jonathan needs you. And you cannot let your understandable grief over Harry tear you apart.”

“I thought last year that the worst thing was not to know.” Lily stopped moving, but still gave more attention to the sunset than to Albus. “That nothing could be worse, because how in the world could it? And now I know that he’s alive, I realize the worst thing is not being able to bring him home with us.” She bowed her head, then paused.

Albus waited. He had sensed on his last two visits that she wanted to discuss something with him when she hesitated, but she had always extended the hesitation and pulled herself back from the brink at the last moment when James or Sirius came in. Since they were both from home with Jonathan this time, Albus hoped she could tell him.

He did entertain the notion that this was about Remus. He hoped so. Lily and James had distanced themselves from Remus because they thought he might succumb to Tom’s reaching out to the werewolves, and then Remus had vanished on the Continent. Albus thought he might be able to find him if he searched.

Out of what he considered a misplaced sense of guilt, neither Lily nor James had asked about Remus since the attack on Halloween.

“I—how can Jonathan do what he’s meant to do when he didn’t destroy Voldemort the first time around?” Lily whispered abruptly. “I—it’s ridiculous, but I don’t know what to tell him. It would be one thing to tell him he was under the doom of a prophecy. I was always glad that he was too young to understand. But now—what do we tell him? Is the prophecy going to come true or not?”

Albus privately believed that it would, but his belief was not a substitute for the truth. He sighed and crunched one of the lemon drops he had brought along. Lily and especially James used to like them. “I don’t know.”

“So how do we get him ready? Or do we even have to get him ready?” Lily collapsed back on the couch and looked at Albus with a numb expression in her eyes that filled Albus with that helpless ache again. “Maybe he’ll never fight Voldemort at all?”

“I think it is likely that Tom will come against him again someday.”

“But then why take Harry?” Lily’s words were tumbling fast enough now that Albus became suddenly convinced that this was the real question she had wanted to ask him, not whether Jonathan would face Tom or not. “And Harry—I showed you my Pensieve memory of how he was behaving, Albus. That night. The way he was talking. How do you explain that?”

Albus frowned slowly and sat back. The truth was, he had no explanation for that. The closest he could come would be possession, but only one being in the room that night had been capable of such a thing, and there was no reason Tom would possess the boy to fight him. And things like Tom’s full name were knowledge that he wouldn’t have voiced aloud for any reason.

“I don’t know.”

“You always don’t know,” Lily said. Her voice was as low and bitter as the sheen of her eyes.

Albus took her hand and said in as soft a voice as he could when he wanted to weep, “I know, my dear. Part of this is my fault, my failure. The rest…I do not think that we can anticipate anything about Harry. Not why Tom wants to keep him alive, not what he was doing that night, not what he may do if he returns to us. It may be that Harry is something very special. I only ask that you keep an open mind.”

“But he can’t possibly be a match for Voldemort,” Lily said it with her eyes fixed on the photograph that stood with its back to the room, always. “That’s what I’m worried about. He might survive, he might live, but he only had fifteen months with us. If we ever see him again, what will Voldemort have twisted him into?”

“That is why I am asking you to keep an open mind,” said Albus, with as much calm determination as he could. “A child intelligent enough, or gifted enough, to speak as he did with Tom that night means that he might escape corruption as other children would not. More ordinary children.”

Lily only closed her eyes. “I want my little boy back.”

Albus ended up patting her shoulder, because although he could offer words of comfort, Lily obviously wasn’t ready to hear them yet. “I know, my dear. I know.”

*

“I require a potion to make a child able to use the toilet right away, Severus.”

Severus blinked in utter silence. It was the most unusual request he had ever received from the Dark Lord. He kept silent, of course, as he watched the man pace around his potions lab, because odd request or not, it would not do to question the one who held the power of life and death over him. But he did wonder.

There was the child the Dark Lord had taken from the Potters, of course, but it was nearly a year since then. Severus did not believe for an instant that the Dark Lord would keep a helpless enemy for so long, instead of growing bored and torturing him to death. And any boy old enough to talk, as Pettigrew had hinted this one was, would have reproduced Potter’s defiant attitude and got himself killed.

Lily’s son.

But although Severus’s chest squeezed shut, he did not reveal that. He had long been used to living without a heart, according to the other Death Eaters. “Yes, my Lord,” he said. “How old is the child now?”

“Does that matter?” The Dark Lord ceased to pace, but stood looking away, his hands clasped behind his back.

And this is why he keeps a brewer, instead of attempting to do it himself. Severus did not roll his eyes, either. “I must know how to attune the potion, my Lord. It would be different doing it for a toddler than it would be for an infant.”

“A toddler, then. Just past his second birthday.”

It is Lily’s son. But Severus did not wonder, because it was not his place to wonder around the Dark Lord—not if he wanted to remain alive, and he did. Perhaps his life was small and heartless and worthless, but he had his own private space to brew, a house far from Cokeworth that he went to each day, permission to wander the wildest spots of the world in search of ingredients. No one else had ever offered him the freedom and luxury that the Dark Lord did.

“Yes, my Lord. I will modify an existing potion, and it will be ready in a week.”

“Good.” The Dark Lord swept out of the room in the abrupt way he had, as if dismissals or farewells were something that happened to other people. Of course, that was true, and Severus saw no reason why the Dark Lord should artificially restrict himself for the sake of a non-existent audience.

As he began to work, jotting down lists of notes on the recipe for a potion that he often used to keep prisoners from shedding inconvenient bodily fluids during torture, Severus turned over suspicion like a black stone. It was out-of-character for the Dark Lord to keep the child, yes, especially when he had not even been the reason the Dark Lord had gone to the Potters’ home.

But then, at least to Severus’s dispassionate eye, the Dark Lord had been acting out-of-character for some time now.

He was often half-absent, not fully in the moment when discussing who next to attack and torture as he always would have been. To Severus, he seemed to be listening for some distant shout, or thinking of some plan that had not yet come to fruition. Except that the Dark Lord would never have shown such weakness in front of his Death Eaters, and he had never meditated so long over a plan before.

For that matter, withdrawing the Death Eaters from battle and ordering them to attend solely to business in the Ministry was out-of-character as well. Severus could imagine nothing that would have stopped him before this. Severus himself appreciated the quiet, appreciated that he could go on brewing his potions instead of regularly interrupting them for a distasteful killing or round of Cruciatus, but he knew the others were foaming at the leash.

Especially Bellatrix. I think she expected the Dark Lord to send her after the Longbottoms. Severus carefully jotted down the exact number of crushed lunatic-flower pods he had in his bottom drawer. She may yet break the leash and strain against the Dark Lord's orders, convinced she is doing him a favor.

Severus snorted. If that was so, she would die, and he would bid her farewell without regret. Although perhaps distracted, the Dark Lord showed no more disposition than ever to tolerate rebellion. He had already fed Quintus Crabbe--chopped up in several pieces--to his several snakes for grumbling about the lack of raids.

But Severus simply could not imagine what power the Potter child could hold over the Dark Lord. As a hostage, yes, but he could simply feed him the Draught of Living Death and bargain with the Potters for their older child. And nothing else Severus could imagine made sense. The Dark Lord was not the sort to rape the boy. Severus found it hard to think of the Dark Lord in a sexual context at all.

Severus shook his head. His only chance to getting some answer to his questions was to keep quiet, brew what he was told, and continue to impress the Dark Lord. In time, perhaps he would be invited to view the Potter child, and get some answer for the unanswerable.

*

"You never act afraid when I'm around you."

"That's because I'm not," Harry said calmly, turning to face Voldemort as he watched him come through the door. Death-of-Rabbits crawled at his heels, along with a shimmering green snake banded with gold Harry had never seen before--either individually or as a species. Harry blinked and tried not to stare. "We've had this conversation before, my Lord."

"One can have different answers to questions asked at different times," Voldemort hissed, and extended a flask of potion that shimmered like his new serpent. Flecks of red and blue danced in the green liquid along with gold, though. "Drink this. I am tired of the limitations of your child body."

"What is it?" Harry asked, his curiosity detached. Honestly, he wasn't afraid of much that could happen to his body, either. If he died, he would be reborn. He would only be saddened at leaving Jonathan and Lily and James.

"A potion to make you toilet-trained."

Harry couldn't contain the twitch of his lips, amazed that "toilet-trained" could actually translate into Parseltongue. "That might be useful, yes," he said, and took it from Voldemort's hand and gulped it down.

The tremor that passed through him made him hiss, but not recognizable words, although both snakes started and looked at him. Harry closed his eyes and listened to his body. He could feel the way the potion surged through his veins, "teaching" nerves and muscles lessons they would have needed more time to learn on their own. Harry's mental control was perfect, but his bodily control always depended on his age.

I'm sure Snape brewed this. It's like that potion I drank so much in my fifth life, but better-adapted.

Harry kept his eyes closed a moment longer than necessary, so Voldemort wouldn't use Legilimency to read his memories of the man who had been ally and enemy in so many lives, and his lover in his twenty-third. Voldemort didn’t particularly need to hear the memory of Laurence Prewitt’s father disowning him. When he glanced up again, he started. Voldemort's face, with its tatters of Tom Riddle on display, was less than an inch from Harry's nose.

You are the only one I know who would swallow a potion I gave them from my own hands, without asking what was in it.

Harry wrinkled his brow. “But I asked what was in it and you told me. My Lord. Besides, wouldn’t most of your Death Eaters obey an order without question?”

Voldemort didn’t immediately back away or fly into a rage. Harry had thought he would. Despite the title that he added and that was as meaningless as flies’ wings, Voldemort took his own power and his Death Eaters seriously.

Instead, Voldemort laughed, the sound low and his breath as foul as a grave. Harry didn’t reach up and pinch his nose shut, but he wanted to. And unlike a normal child, he would have known what the gesture meant.

Everything is different about me, Harry thought, and let the thought pass through him and away like saying the title Voldemort wanted. He’d had that thought before, countless times in countless lives, and it would turn him bitter and self-pitying if he let it. Harry never wanted to be either.

You are the only one who would dare to say anything like that to me,” Voldemort whispered, and began to circle. His eyes were intense, so deeply burning that Harry found it impossible to look away even though he had to turn in a circle and crane his neck to hold the gaze. “There is no one else like you, in all the universes.

“No, probably not,” Harry said slowly. He wondered why Voldemort was acting like this was new information. Harry had been defying him and telling him secrets and doing things that surprised him for almost a year. He’d never acted like this before.

No Voldemort had ever acted like this before. This one seemed saner than usual. Harry had to wonder if he’d made fewer Horcruxes, but it wasn’t the kind of thing one could ask about.

“That makes you unique,” Voldemort said, and a sharp shiver inundated Harry’s body, because he’d spoken in English.

“That—would be true.” Harry licked his lips and tried to ignore the way Voldemort was breathing on his forehead now, the place where the lightning bolt scar had never been but once. Hell, it hadn’t always been a lightning bolt scar in the other lifetimes, when someone else was the prophesied savior. “Is there something new that you wanted me to tell you about that? My Lord.”

Voldemort laughed, a low snarl like a prowling tiger getting ready to charge. Then he reached out and tilted Harry’s head up with one of his spider-like hands. Harry went with it, ignoring the slight pain in his neck. Pain was as intense a reminder of life as love.

“You seek to resist me,” Voldemort said. “That makes you more valuable, not less. Because you are something to measure myself against. Because I can learn things that you will tell me either to manipulate me or in a fury of passion.”

Harry tried to lean back, but Voldemort’s fingers tightened. And then they let him go, making Harry float, for a moment, in terror as deep as that which had consumed him when he first woke in his nineteenth life.

“Because when I have conquered you,” Voldemort hissed, “there shall be nothing I cannot win.”

He turned and swept out of the room in that way he had. Death-of-Rabbits followed him. The green-and-gold snake wrapped herself around the chair leg and kept a watch. Harry stared blankly at her.

A second later, as sudden as Apparition or Voldemort’s departure, a toddler-sized bed appeared in the bedroom, covered in dark blue silk sheets. And a wardrobe next to it, filled with miniature robes the right size, and heaped pillows, and a small chair, and a smaller table.

Harry recoiled. He knew house-elves had brought them; their means of arrival wasn’t the mystery. Why they were there was the problem.

Master said that you are to be using those,” the snake hissed, and slid one pair of eyelids down, and went to sleep.

Harry sat still in his place. Of course he knew why Voldemort was doing this. Of course he knew. Tools of entrapment, relaxation, to get Harry on his side and make him forget what Voldemort had always been, in all the worlds.

But the difference—the thing that caused the terror that pulsed in him like a heartbeat—was that none of the other Voldemorts would ever have done this. No matter how much sense it made or how much they would have wanted him on their side. They simply didn’t have the emotional capacity to understand why it was a good idea.

Because that required empathy.

And yet, this one doesn’t have it, either. I’ve heard him speak. I know that much.

Which left sanity.

And made Harry wonder, just as he had been reborn a Harry Potter who didn’t bear the brand of the Chosen One for the first time, if Voldemort had been born, or created himself, as the one Voldemort who could not be stopped.

Chapter Text

They held the first candlelit vigil in memory of Harry on the first Halloween after he disappeared.

Jonathan leaned his elbows on the windowsill and watched as his parents went back and forth, lighting candles that were scattered all over the field in front of their house. Their voices were soft, and now and then Jonathan could see his mum’s hair turning red as a flame came up or Dad’s weary eyes.

They were so tired all the time now. They didn’t always have time to play, and Jonathan knew it was all because Harry had disappeared. Jonathan wished he could go and find his brother. He would bring him back home.

But Mum and Dad said, when Jonathan asked that, that he was only four years old and not to be silly.

I’ll get bigger, though. They don’t think about that.

Jonathan nodded. He knew they didn’t think about that. They also thought he would forget Harry. He would talk about remembering him, and Mum would run her hand through his hair and exchange a sad smile with Dad and say it was okay, that they would get Harry back someday and make new memories with him then. They said it was okay to not remember his little brother.

“He’s only four,” Jonathan had heard Mum say to Mr. Dumbledore once. “He was only three when Harry was taken. How can he remember anything?”

But Jonathan remembered everything. The tight grip of the little finger around his hand, and the way he loved his brother, and the way Dad ran around with them both on his back when Dad turned into Prongs. His parents seemed sad about his brother all the time. Someone had to remember the way Harry had been when he was happy. When they were all happy.

Jonathan stood at the window and watched Mum light another candle and set it down in the middle of the dirt so that it would blaze on a rune she’d made out of stones. Jonathan knew the rune was to help Harry come back to them.

He’s going to come back. And I’m not going to be sad. I’m going to find him and bring him back.

*

“I am showing you an amount of trust in this, Severus. Do not betray it.

Those were the only words the Dark Lord had spoken to him before stepping aside so that Severus could move inside the little cottage where he apparently spent most of his time with the captured Potter child. Severus moved warily, every sense on high alert. It was late December now, and the cold sparkling around him melted away, literally, in the cottage’s back room. A bright fire shimmered on the hearth.

Severus blinked a little at it. Of course the Dark Lord would want to be comfortable tending the child, but he had left at least long enough to fetch Severus, Side-Along Apparate him here, and fill his ears with dire warnings. It was—amazing was not too small a word—unusual that he had left a fire burning to warm the child.

The next thing was the bed, and then the child sitting up on the bed.

Only Severus’s first thought on meeting those green eyes was This is not a child.

Of course, that was ridiculous. What else could a toddler be? He might have his father’s black hair—Severus clutched at his robe sleeve—and his eyes might look old, but of course he was a baby. Anyone taking Polyjuice to replace the Potter children would have run out of the potion long before now, and the Dark Lord’s eyes could pierce any glamour.

Still, as stupid as that thought was, it remained to Severus. He came forwards step by step, and the child didn’t start or stare at him the way most toddlers would greet a stranger. A faint smile lifted the corner of his mouth, in fact, and he nodded.

“I’m a little surprised that Lord Voldemort allowed you here,” he said, in a voice still high-pitched but with a command of inflection and diction that froze Severus in place. “But maybe he’s planning to Obliviate you afterwards.”

“That is incorrect,” the Dark Lord said behind him, as cold as a winter wind, but not as shocking as the child’s use of his name. “I wanted him to see you.”

The child looked at the Dark Lord with a small tilt of his head. “But why? I don’t think I need any more potions that he’s brewing, do I? And I hope that you can improve on the taste of that last one,” he added, suddenly talking to Severus again. Severus ended up clutching his robe sleeve for another reason as those green eyes pinned him. “You invented much sweeter potions in several worlds that I’m from.”

Severus stared blankly. So the child was from another world? But that would not explain his apparent age. Unless he had been cursed to age backwards? Severus remembered reading of such a thing in a Dark Arts book long ago.

“Yes, this is what I wanted you to see,” said the Dark Lord, and his voice was a solemn sigh. “He has been reborn many times, Severus. With all his memories.”

That would make sense, Severus supposed. But he kept in mind that even Dark Lords could be fooled. While keeping that mind carefully away from said Dark Lord, via his averted eyes.

“You knew me in other worlds,” he finally began. It seemed the only right response to that incredible revelation.

“Yes.” The child gave him a faint smile. “You’ve been many things to me. Sometimes a mentor, sometimes a professor—you’ve taught at Hogwarts in about a quarter of those worlds—and sometimes an enemy.” He paused, but then shook his head and changed whatever he had been about to say. “My name is Harry, by the way, but it isn’t usually. Strangely, you’ve almost always had the same name, except in the worlds where your mother fled from your father and moved back in with your grandparents. You usually changed your name to ‘Prince,’ there.”

Severus stared and felt his nostrils flare. He couldn’t say anything. Of course, the Dark Lord could have told Potter these details. He didn’t have to have lived through multiple worlds—ridiculous—and learned them.

But that still argued an adult intelligence somehow resided in a child’s body, if he had received and understood those details.

Severus glanced at the Dark Lord. The shining ruby eyes were fixed past him on the child. Potter sat up a little as if in response to the flick of the whip in that look, and half-shrugged before he turned to Severus.

“You’ve been so many things,” he said quietly. “So have I. I don’t know exactly what Lord Voldemort wants from you, but if he allows it, then I can tell you—well, things that you might have wondered about.”

“I want you to tell him anything that will not endanger my goals in this world.”

The Dark Lord’s voice was as soft and eager as a cat’s tongue. Severus faced the boy again. Potter. If he could think of him that way, he could calm his churning thoughts and stop mentally comparing the green eyes with Lily’s.

He needed to stop comparing the green eyes with Lily’s.

“All right,” said Potter, and he looked at Severus, considering. “Are you curious about how you became a professor at Hogwarts?”

Severus found his tongue. “Yes.” It was something he had never considered. He had known he would hate teaching—he had sometimes interacted with other students in his House that way, and it had been excruciating—and he couldn’t conceive of any universe where he would have changed his mind.

“Well, it was usually because you had something that you felt you had to atone for,” Potter said thoughtfully. “In some worlds, that was getting Lily Evans killed—”

What?”

“In some worlds, you accidentally betrayed her,” Harry said gently. “I call her Lily because although she’s my mum in this world, and she was in one other, too, she’s usually not. But you cast curses that hit her in the middle of battle, once. She’s never fought on Lord Voldemort’s side, always against him. So sometimes you decided that you had to switch sides and support what she fought for. And Dumbledore thought he could make the best use of you by turning you into the Potions professor at Hogwarts.”

Severus stared. There were so many questions that could be asked, but he dreaded asking any of them, knowing who waited behind him.

He finally chose the safest one of the many that had blossomed in his mind with Potter’s words. “You said—do you not respect the Headmaster? He’s fought against the Dark Lord, and you clearly respect your mother for doing so.” Better to call her your mother instead of Lily, because he knew how his voice would tremble on the name.

Potter gave a smile much too complex for his face. “I respect him, but not in an uncomplicated way. He hid a lot of secrets from me in my first life, and expected me to figure everything out at the last moment and do exactly as he’d planned on. I did, but it was mainly luck. And since then—well, he hasn’t always trusted me when I did try to help the side that fought against Lord Voldemort. He’s been suspicious of my intelligence, or because I was in Slytherin, or because—”

You were in Slytherin.” A Potter in that House violated Severus’s sense of the order of the universe even more than the thought that he might end up as a teacher.

Harry grinned. “I wasn’t always a Potter, I think I hinted that. Sometimes I was born into a pure-blood family where it would have been unthinkable for me to do anything but go into Slytherin. And I couldn’t always bargain with the Sorting Hat. Sometimes I was that way, not just due to my family’s pressures.”

“Bargain with the Sorting Hat?” The Dark Lord glided in front of Severus, all his attention focused on Potter. Severus stirred a little. He had never seen the Dark Lord like that, even during the initiations to the ranks of the Death Eaters when he stared so hard at the ones receiving the Dark Mark.

“That was my first life.” Potter flushed a little. “The Hat wanted me in Slytherin even then. I didn’t have any knowledge about other worlds. I just wanted to avoid a real prat named Draco Malfoy that I’d met on the train.”

“A House is more than a single person,” Severus saw the chance to remark. He had to remember that this child was a Potter. It was the only way that his sanity stood a chance of surviving.

The Dark Lord turned to look at him, but what stung more was Potter’s soft, merry laugh, and his response, “Or more than four people. It was so hard for you to remember that, when you were dealing with the Marauders. You were a horrible teacher, by the way. For Gryffindors especially.”

Severus lowered his eyes and swallowed beneath the Dark Lord’s gaze, although he longed to make a retort. It seemed that even a young Potter had the capacity to sting him beyond reason.

“I wished you to understand,” said the Dark Lord, his voice so eerily devoid of rage that Severus risked a glance up. The Dark Lord stood with his hand caressing the golden-and-green snake that had wound up his arm. His eyes were still impossible to meet. “What Harry is. What he has been in other lives.”

Why? Severus looked back and forth between Potter and the Dark Lord. It made no sense. Potter was potentially as powerful a weapon as a sentient grimoire, although he was probably only telling the Dark Lord the truth out of a noble and stupid Gryffindor self-sacrificing impulse. Why would Lord Voldemort think that he should share this knowledge with anyone?

And then it struck him. He jerked his chin down before he thought about it, and then he couldn’t look away from the sharp glint in the Dark Lord’s eyes.

The Dark Lord wanted Severus to know that this source of knowledge existed. He wanted him to think about it and dream of the questions he could ask—

All the while knowing that the true wealth inside that head rested in the Dark Lord’s possession. That he could never access it unless the Dark Lord allowed it.

It was a petty power play, and there could be nothing so calculated to drive Severus mad as to be denied this knowledge of other worlds.

Severus looked away and cleared his throat. “May I ask another question about how I ended up betraying Lily in his first life?” In truth, Severus wanted to ask far more than that, but he thought he should phrase the questions in as limited a way as possible, for now.

“No.”

Severus looked back before he could stop himself, and the Dark Lord stood there with his head bowed and a soft expression on his face. The softness was that of rotting meat. It was the satisfaction of a desire.

“No, you may not,” the Dark Lord said, and his voice sighed and shivered along Severus’s spine. “Perhaps, at some time in the future when I am particularly pleased with your work, I will let you ask.”

Severus couldn’t help himself. He turned to Potter, and Potter gave him a faint smile and said, “If I told you despite what he wants, then he might harm you.” A spasm of emotion distorted his face, for too short a time for Severus to be sure what it was. “Or my family.”

“How can they be your family when you have been born in so many lives?” Severus asked, frustration strangling his voice, and then flinched as he waited for the pain of the Cruciatus. He had asked another question of Potter without the Dark Lord’s permission.

But nothing happened, and Severus cautiously glanced over his shoulder. The Dark Lord leaned forwards and almost swayed with what seemed to be the satisfaction of another desire.

“Yes, Harry,” he said. “Tell us.”

Potter sat up a little straighter. His gaze was firm on Severus, although he seemed to divide it with a motion of his head to include the Dark Lord as well.

“I’ve lived so many lives,” Potter began, his voice hollow and strange. Severus felt the few small hairs on the back of his neck that hadn’t already stood up rise. “But that just means that I have more people to love. More people to see from different angles. I’ve never been exactly the same in any life. Even in my first life, although I had the same parents as this time around, everything else was different. And—what’s the point of holding grudges from life to life, when the same people you hated in one world might surprise you and be your best friends in another one? It would be ridiculous. I held the grudges at first, and then I found out how stupid that was.”

Severus could only stand there, and listen, and try not to sneer. But the Dark Lord asked the question he would have asked. “And why have you not grown bored and cynical because you live again and again? Why choose love—” the word was the bark of a rabid dog when he spoke it “—over power?”

“Because it’s always different,” Potter said, and gave them a puzzled look. “Choosing power over love would get boring, too, you know, if you did it all the time.”

“I would never be bored with power and immortality.”

“You haven’t tried it yet,” Potter said, and although Severus winced in instinctive anticipation of seeing the child made to writhe with pain, he also noticed how inarguable the words sounded, at least to Potter.

“How long have you lived?”

It took Severus a moment to understand the question, but Potter seemed to grasp it instinctively—yet another thing that irritated him. Potter’s eyes went cloudy, and he looked off into the distance. Then he nodded, as though he’d been counting, and he looked back at the Dark Lord and said simply, “Adding all my lives together, more than seventeen hundred years.”

There was a silence, as complex as the smile that had been on Potter’s face earlier. Severus moved a slow step away. The expression on the Dark Lord’s face as he stared at Potter was not one he wished to understand.

The Dark Lord started—started, as if he were still human—and roughly gestured Severus out the door. Severus went. He was in time to see the Dark Lord conjure a chair and sit down in front of the bed to continue questioning Potter.

Severus shuddered and said nothing. He could envision living that long, if only by casting his imagination in the direction of a phoenix. But he could not imagine choosing love and opposition to the Dark Lord in every life.

There are two inhuman beings in that room.

*

“You will tell me what it means to you to have lived that long.”

Harry tucked his hands around his knees and studied Voldemort’s face. He looked like a wolf on the verge of swallowing something delicious. And Harry had enough experience of both normal wolves and werewolves that he was an expert on that look.

It reminded him of life number nineteen, too, but life number nineteen could go hang as far as Harry was concerned.

“You don’t mean why I chose love instead of power, do you? Because that’s a choice it would take forever to explain.”

“We have forever, Harry Potter,” Voldemort murmured, but he chuckled and waved a hand before Harry could do something stupid like remind Voldemort of his own limited lifespan in this form. “No, and neither do I care to explore such a philosophy. Explain to me what it means to you to be immortal. Truly immortal. Alive forever.”

Harry examined his expression again. And there it was. The expression he had never seen on Voldemort’s face before, deeper and stronger than the wolf-hunger. A yearning towards another human being.

He thinks he’s corrupting me. And there are times I’ve been afraid of that. But I understand more about the human heart than he does.

And with triumph singing through him, Harry began to speak of things that he’d never told anyone.

What it was like to awaken with his memories, to pass through the centuries knowing he would have to let his loves and his friendships alight on his arm like a wild creature and flutter away again. How it was best to let go and remember, not take hold. How he sometimes thought that he was the oldest being in the universe, and then he would laugh and remember mountains and sequoias.

And if the Dark Lord Voldemort drank it up because he was convinced that he would someday become like Harry…

What of it? He would not do that, not unless he got the Deathly Hallows away from Harry. And there were times that Harry thought he might welcome knowing a life was his last.

There are times it would be nice to rest, he thought wistfully, and then focused his eyes on Voldemort and felt his determination congeal.

But not until he’s defeated or changed. If this is going to be my last life, then I’m going to make it count.

Chapter Text

Albus settled down at the table in the deserted room he had been carefully turning into a ritual space. Then he closed his eyes and waited until the wavering flame of the candle in front of him had calmed from its overdose of his breath.

He had a chance of finding young Harry. But he needed absolutely everything calm and gentle. The candle flame had to burn standing straight up. Albus’s body needed to remain still.

His wand had to cease its enthusiastic trembling.

Albus opened his eyes. The Elder Wand had stopped shaking, finally. And the candle was normal. Albus stared into the flame and plunged deep into his own mind, shaking aside the clinging shadows of fear and doubt and wonder.

He could not start thinking about what young Harry might be like by the time they rescued him from the Death Eaters. Nothing could possibly matter except the finding of him. The beat of that particular heart. The stirring of that particular soul.

He had already burned a strand of Lily’s hair and a strand of James’s in the candle. And he had a last strand of Harry’s laid on the table in front of him. His hand lay parallel to it in his lap. He could not touch it. He could touch nothing.

He had to detach himself from his body. He could no longer feel the cloth under his hand. He had to float away. He had to look directly into the candle. His body ached with soft feeling. His mind rejected the soft feeling.

The darkness opened up ahead of him, a speck of blackness in the center of the flame that grew larger and larger, whirling out and all-encompassing. Albus stared. His mind was falling down the tunnel, and then he landed somewhere that was shadowy around him but made of solid enough light that he could lift his head to look.

Yes.

He was in a cottage, in a bare room, with a fireplace and a bed the only notable pieces of furniture. In the bed slept a child with dark hair and the same curling eyelashes that Lily had. Albus moved a slow step nearer. He would have to check the color of the child’s eyes to be sure it was Harry. He had seen the baby only a few times before Tom came and take him away.

The boy opened his eyes with a gasp. Albus’s heart ached in response. Yes. Green eyes. The kind of green one didn’t see every day.

He began to back up, to return to his body. He could create a tether that would lead him to this place in the world, but only if he didn’t remain here too long. Otherwise, his own tether would snap and he would become a wandering soul. Albus had once counted on the Elder Wand to keep that from happening to him, but he no longer trusted the wand.

“Professor Dumbledore?”

Harry was staring at him. Albus felt himself snap fully back into the room, and the shadows of the stones and the fireplace around him became more solid. He shook his head, dazed. There should have been no way that anyone could sense his presence, which was one of the reasons he had dared to use this spell to spy on Tom at all.

But he remembered the memory that Lily had shown him of the boy speaking with an adult voice and adult knowledge when Tom had attacked a year ago. Perhaps his surprise shouldn’t be so keen.

“You can see me, Harry?” Albus tried to speak in a calm voice, a low one. Then again, Harry hadn’t shouted out, either, the way he could have if he was trying to alert Tom. Albus felt a flare of hope, as bright as the flames when Fawkes was reborn. Maybe—maybe this could work. Maybe the boy wasn’t corrupted by living among Dark wizards yet.

“Not really see you.” Harry shook his head, his eyes fixed a little to the left of Dumbledore’s face. “More sense. It’s like a scent that stirs up a memory.” He hesitated. “Why did you come looking for me?”

Albus thought about how much it might be safe to reveal, given that Tom would probably read the truth out of the boy’s eyes with Legilimency. But before he could say a thing, Harry said it himself.

“You’re looking for me, to see whether I’m alive. Whether you can take me back.” Harry took a deep breath and rested his chin on his knees. “I’m alive. I don’t know if you can take me back or not. I made a bargain with Voldemort.”

Albus gave up on thinking of Harry as a child. He might not know what was going on, but he was far more than a toddler. “What bargain was it?”

“I would tell him things I knew, in exchange for him not attacking my family.”

Albus blinked. That made sense of a number of things, including Tom’s failure to fulfill the prophecy and the falling number of Death Eater raids over the last year and three months. “You—remember them that well?”

Harry chuckled a little. “I remember everything that’s ever happened to me, professor. But if you take me out of here, then it’s possible Tom might attack them again. Especially since he still doesn’t really know if the prophecy that said Jonathan would defeat him is fake or not.” He turned and seemed to focus a little more, and this time he was looking straight at the approximation of Albus’s eyes that his projection would have. “It was a real prophecy, right?”

“Alas, Harry, I cannot tell you.”

Harry sighed. “That’s okay. I kind of reckoned you wouldn’t be able to. I still don’t have good enough Occlumency shields to keep everything from him. But, listen, you’ve got to tell Mum and Dad and Jonathan that I’m still me, okay? Still Light. Voldemort is trying to change me, but I’m—”

There was a sound from behind him, and Albus whipped around. Of course, in his mental form, that only took an effort of will, but he couldn’t prevent a chill of dread from traveling through him when he saw Tom standing in the doorway of the room, his fingers stroking his yew wand. It had been perhaps two years since he had seen Tom in person.

“Who are you talking to, Harry?” Tom advanced a step, almost prowling across the floor.

Albus was more than startled to will himself around again and see Harry shaking his head at Tom. “You didn’t think this was going to happen?” he asked, and his voice had taken on a shade of bitterness that Albus thought almost burnt. “You’re keeping me here without any company other than you and the snakes. You didn’t think I would go mad and start talking to myself?”

For a moment, Tom stopped. Albus thought he might believe it. And then he cast a spell and hissed something in Parseltongue that made a black, shimmering curse leave his wand and start towards Albus.

Albus forced himself back down the tunnel into his body. He opened his eyes, gasping, and glanced at the singed hair on the table. He hadn’t stayed long enough for it to burn up completely. That meant he could use it again in the future, to locate Harry in the new place that Tom would doubtless move him to.

And now he knew it worked.

Although I still have no idea what Harry Potter really is, or the creature living in the body that calls itself Harry Potter, Albus thought, and stroked the once-more-trembling Elder Wand.

*

Lord Voldemort was transcendent in his fury. He had treated Harry Potter as he had never treated anyone. He had made of him a guest. And the boy dared to turn and throw that lie into the face of Lord Voldemort?

You were speaking with someone. You will tell me. You are trying my patience, Harry, and that means trying the lives of your parents and your brother.

Those fearless green eyes looked at him in a way that made it clear Harry still intended on doing whatever he wanted. Lord Voldemort slipped beyond them, though, and felt that clear sense of another’s visitation that had brought Harry out of his sleep. A sense of Albus Dumbledore, whom Harry had known in so many lives.

“As an enemy? Did you ever know him as an enemy?”

Harry winced a little, as though Lord Voldemort had figured it out, had applied his towering genius to the problem and found the answer. Then Harry faced him and clasped his small hands around his knees. “No. Although sometimes he didn’t exactly trust me, because I either used Dark magic or I was—well, born into a family that espoused the Dark Arts.”

Lord Voldemort narrowed his eyes. Did he not sense evasion as well as a snake sensed a Kneazle slipping behind a tree? “You will explain to me what that hesitation means, before you began to speak of the families you were born into.

Harry stared back calmly. He was always calm. He did not understand the true power of Lord Voldemort, because the Voldemorts he had fought did not deserve their titles. But he would come to understand. He would.

Legilimens,” Lord Voldemort hissed, and glided inside the child’s mind. The being’s mind.

Now that he thought of it, he had been uncharacteristically gentle the other times that he had used this spell, not ripping through Harry’s mind the way he always ripped through the minds of his victims. He had been caught by the trap that suggested, based on the body and size of his enemy, that he was only a child, and his memories would be too damaged to read by a frontal assault.

But this was an immortal being, and Lord Voldemort always rose above such traps in the end. He ripped in brutally.

Harry cried out. He did not let that stop him. Nothing could stop Lord Voldemort, immaculate genius of immaculate geniuses, strength and glowing power incarnate, the—

But he found himself in the midst of a dark, swirling field of darting shadows. Lord Voldemort halted and looked about. The power of his Legilimency pierced the darkness, but found nothing to settle upon. There were only more shadows, more thick water, spiraling away from him, forever and ever.

Lord Voldemort paused. The wise lord always did, before he began the use of another tactic. He marshaled his immense resources and tightened his grip on the mental representation of his formidable yew wand.

The shadows swung and swam back into line. Lord Voldemort stepped forwards through the heavy water of memories.

In the minds of most, even when they did not think of them as water, he had encountered this. His own amazing will would overpower their own imaginations and twist them into the illusions of sight and sound he worked best with—and, in this case, the illusion of touch. Thinking of memories as heavy seas made sense for a number of reasons.

But he had never felt water this deep, memories so thick that it was like walking through the real sea. And Lord Voldemort knew—because he was as brilliant as a bolt of lightning breaking apart the darkness—that he could search all his life and never encounter the one memory that would clarify his question.

He wrenched himself free, content when he heard another cry from Harry, and looked at the being lying on the bed. Harry was curled around his stomach, but his hands were wrapped around his head. Lord Voldemort rejoiced in the pain that he knew would be coursing through him.

If you lie to me again,” he said, his voice soft and trickling and as deadly as undiluted Wolfsbane, “then I shall think of that as the violation of the bargain we have made. Do you understand, Harry?”

It took a long moment, but that moment passed, and the wild-haired head nodded. Lord Voldemort turned and swept out of the room. It was disappointing that the child was too consumed with pain at the moment to react with awe to the sweep.

There was something else in the back of his head, something besides disappointment, but Lord Voldemort hunted it down and crushed it to death before it could become troublesome. He was in complete control of himself, at all times. That included his emotions.

*

Harry had to pull together all the shattered memories of his many meetings with Dumbledore and rotate them around like he was swirling a healing potion in his mouth to soothe the pain Voldemort had inflicted on him.

He hadn’t anticipated that, but of course he should have, he thought as he sat up with his hand pressed to his forehead. He almost always got headaches in the exact same place the lightning bolt scar had been in his first life. He had lied without thought to protect Dumbledore, and Voldemort would pick up on that and be furious.

And now they were probably going to move. Of course, Dumbledore might be able to find them again by the same method he’d used this time—Harry was ninety percent sure it was sympathetic magic, focused on his body’s blood or hair—and would hopefully be more careful.

Harry stretched out his limbs and shook them, regarding them with a jaundiced eye until he was sure he didn’t have the shaking that often marked his encounters with Legilimency. He turned around with a sigh, and found himself face-to-snout with the green-and-gold snake who took turns watching him.

Why do you do that?

Harry cocked his head. He tended to avoid replying in Parseltongue to Voldemort too much, but it wasn’t like the snake would understand English. “Why do I do what?”

Why do you anger the master?” The snake slipped towards him over the bed, and Harry allowed her to twine around his arm. Even if she was venomous, her poison wouldn’t kill him; Voldemort wouldn’t want that. “All you must do is obey, and he would not be angry.

Harry had to smile. It was simple, being a snake. And he should know, since he’d been one once, and had them as pets more times than he could count. Being a Parselmouth was a useful skill he’d never denied after his first life.

I can’t always obey him. Sometimes he wants me to do things that I can’t do.

The snake seemed to take some time to think about this, still wrapped comfortably around his arm. Then she began nudging her head into the warm space under his armpit, saying as she did so, “Then tell him you can’t do those things. He will give you different orders, ones that you can obey.” She sounded pleased that she had solved the problem so neatly.

Harry saw no reason to trouble her with all the many, many ways that wouldn’t work. He just nodded and said, “I might try that.

*

“But then—if he’s not Harry, what is he, Albus?”

As he had suspected, the report he had brought to Lily and James had raised more questions than it answered. Albus extended his hands to warm them by the fire and shook his head. “I’m afraid I don’t know, James. But—I think we can rule out possession. Not even Tom is mad enough to possess a baby and then talk to it as if it was really something outside himself.”

Lily had one hand pressed to her mouth. She had Jonathan asleep in her lap, stroking his back. Albus eyed the boy for a moment. He wouldn’t have chosen to have a discussion like this in front of the lad, but Lily didn’t want her son far from her right now.

When he had brought such distressing news of her second son, Albus could understand that.

“Do you think Voldemort changed him somehow?” Albus had to concentrate to make out Lily’s question, it was so faint.

Notwithstanding his doubts, Albus felt able to shake his head at once. “No. I think you can lay your mind to rest on that score, Lily. I’ve watched the Pensieve memory of the night Harry was taken hundreds of times now. Tom cast no compulsion spell immediately after he entered your house, and Harry was talking like that then. He couldn’t have changed him the moment they met and later.”

“Oh.” Lily looked down at Jonathan blankly, and ran one hand through his dark hair. The boy stirred and murmured sleepily.

“Can you find him again?”

Albus nodded to James. “It’ll take some more hair, if you have more, and more of your own hair, too. I’ll try to scry a general direction, first, instead of simply appearing in the room the way I did this time. And I think Harry will cooperate with us even if we just show up out of nowhere.”

James sighed explosively and ran his hand through his own hair, the way Lily was doing to Jonathan’s. “That eases one worry I had, at least. I thought Harry might not know who we were by the time we found a way to get to him.”

“Trust me, James. I don’t think Harry forgets anything he doesn’t want to forget.”

Albus kept one eye on Lily as he spoke. James seemed more purely relieved at the news, and inclined to make plans that centered on the rescue of his son. Commendable and understandable.

But Lily…

She thought Harry was not Harry. She had asked the most questions about the way Harry had spoken and acted, and she had shivered when Albus answered. He had viewed both her and James’s memories of the night Harry was stolen, and hers was far more drenched with terror. Not all her terror was focused on Tom, either.

Albus sighed. He would have felt better able to deal with Lily’s apparent feelings if he hadn’t had his own doubts, his own concerns, his own impossible questions to answer.

Inside his sleeve, the Elder Wand trembled.

Chapter Text

“This is your new home.”

Harry looked around the secure room that Voldemort had deposited him inside. It was bigger than the stone room that he’d spent most of the year and a half in, perhaps because Voldemort knew that he was getting bigger in body. This one had tapestries on the walls, although most of them depicted bloody hunts, and the fireplace took up the majority of one wall. There was a stool and table as well as a bed, a chair that was too big for Harry to climb into and probably intended for Voldemort, and a writing desk with parchment and ink on it. There was a portable desk, too.

Harry turned to Voldemort and cocked his head.

Use your tongue, Harry,” Voldemort hissed mockingly, stalking towards him. He’d spoken in English during most of their packing and journey, probably because other Death Eaters were helping them, but he would speak Parseltongue with a vengeance now, Harry knew. “You are not a child. I find it tiresome when you act like one.

Harry nodded. “You want me to practice my writing?”

I know you remember how.

“Yes, my Lord. But I can’t always practice it well when I’m this young, for the same reason that I can’t practice much magic. My muscles are weak and not used to the motions, even if I remember how to make them.”

Then you are to practice until you can write passably,” said Voldemort indifferently, and turned away. “I intend to have you send messages to my enemies.

“Why would you want to do that?”

Voldemort turned back around, his own head cocked, his hand resting on his wand. Harry kept his eyes on the wand. He had seen more than enough of the harm that it could inflict, in every world.

Who are you to question me?”

“The person who’s going to be writing these letters, my Lord. And would understand a lot better if he knew why.”

Voldemort considered him in silence for long enough that Harry nearly gave up and turned to the writing desk. But he knew how long it had taken him to master writing the one life that he wanted to try it early: his second, when he was still invested in the notion of telling other people what he was, and not to treat him like a baby. It had taken him months to write even a passable scrawl, and by then, he had thought better of telling his parents in that life who he actually was.

It took him longer to give up the notion of him having an essential being, rather than one that flowed and changed from life to life, but he’d even conquered that delusion at last.

I wish to make the status quo clear to your parents and Dumbledore,” Voldemort said at last, and Harry started and paid attention again. “It is possible that they have not connected the lack of raids with your presence in my home. And the bargain not to harm your family will be useless if the—other side does not understand and abide by it.

Harry nodded. That had been something that had kept him awake more than one night: the notion that one of his parents might kill a Death Eater, and enrage Voldemort enough to declare open season again. “And you’ll let me send letters when I’m passable enough at writing them?”

Yes,” Voldemort hissed, giving Harry an approving, if scaly, look for the Parseltongue. Then he flowed out of the room. The green-and-golden snake went with him. Death-of-Rabbits remained to keep an eye on Harry.

Harry closed his eyes and wondered for a moment whether Voldemort would let him see the replies that his parents were sure to make. Then he sighed and turned towards the desk. Whether or not he ever saw them again, they were still people he wanted to protect.

*

Albus cursed under his breath as the hair, the last one he had from Harry’s head, burst into sparkling flames and burned up completely. He ended up sitting back and stretching the crooks out of his back and neck.

Tom had decided to ward whichever new location he’d moved Harry into against sympathetic magic. Albus found himself wondering whether he had discerned the method Albus had used right away, or whether Harry had been the one to tell him.

I do not understand…

But he had thought and thought on that strangeness, as much as he could, and he still did not understand. Therefore, Albus dismissed the notion of trying to divine what kind of being Harry was now, and turned his mind to another puzzle.

They had to accept the possibility that Harry might someday show up wielding a wand for Voldemort, no matter how much the boy seemed capable of escaping his influence for now. And that meant they needed someone who could effectively counter him, someone whose presence might make Harry hesitate at the very best, and someone as equally well-trained and guaranteed a kind of power at worst.

Albus nodded. He had not begun Jonathan’s training before this because the boy was still young, and because he didn’t know if the focus of a prophecy which had never come true would have any power against Tom. But they had few choices, and Sybill had repeated the prophecy a few midnights ago, staring sightlessly at the wall.

And there was the chance that Tom would someday come after Jonathan, under the heading of “unfinished business.”

It was time.

*

Jonathan listened quietly as Mr. Dumbledore told him about the training he wanted to give him. It was going to be hard. Mr. Dumbledore told him that. And he told him that he had to defeat Voldemort sometime, or at least Voldemort might think so.

And then, at the very end, he told Jonathan that he might have to fight Harry.

Mr. Dumbledore paused for a long time after that. Jonathan looked down and picked at a thread hanging off the couch. He could remember how Harry had never grabbed at the threads like another baby, but lain in his lap and just looked up at him when Jonathan promised to protect him.

“Do you think you can do that, Jonathan?” Mr. Dumbledore’s voice was big and slow and sad. It sounded like Mum and Dad’s voice when they talked about Harry.

Of course not. Never.

But Jonathan already knew that adults ignored things when you said them like that. Sirius just ruffled his hair. Mum and Dad sighed and smiled and might cry, at least Mum. Mr. Dumbledore would nod at him and then keep on doing whatever he was doing in the first place.

So Jonathan looked up and lied. “Yes, sir.”

And in the meantime, he held the real reason silent in the back of his head. He’d noticed that Mr. Dumbledore couldn’t really tell you’d lied if you looked away from him. And Jonathan did want to learn how to fight.

He would even fight Harry, if he had to.

But only to stop him. And then he would go and stop Voldemort so that Harry could come home with him.

He had to be trained to do that.

*

It took you long enough.”

Harry grimaced a little as he stretched out the muscles in his arm and then handed the letter to Voldemort. The man began to read it with such concentration that Harry was able to study him without him looking up for a few seconds. His scaly hands were clenched on the paper, and his brow furrowed.

He really wants me to send the letter to my parents. And it has to be me, not someone who could just write for me. Why? It’s not like Mum and Dad have seen my writing before and would know whose it is.

Voldemort glanced up at him, and his mouth moved in a slow smile. It wasn’t as lipless as Voldemort’s mouth had been in most worlds, probably because he hadn’t gone through a rebirth ritual this time. “You are still focused on your parents.

“Yes, my Lord.” Harry didn’t see the point in lying. After all, Voldemort had to know that he was only controlling Harry in the first place because of the threats he had made against his family.

Voldemort put the letter down and prowled over to him. Harry sat with the portable writing desk on his lap, soaking up the summer sunlight; it had taken him literally months to learn how to write, as he had warned Voldemort it would. Voldemort put one of those scaly hands on his cheek.

It is not your parents I am focused on,” Voldemort murmured, and withdrew his hand after a second. “When you learn what I think of, then you will understand.

He took the letter and left the room. Harry stared after him with his brow furrowed. That had to mean Voldemort was going to concentrate on Jonathan, still thinking he might be the prophecy child.

But Harry had the uneasy feeling that that wasn’t true, either.

*

“Dodge!”

Jonathan spun to the left and gasped as the curse ripped past him. He didn’t know for sure, but he thought Mr. Dumbledore was casting hard spells. Ones that could hurt him and make his nose bleed or hurt his feet instead of making them just stick to the ground.

“You have to concentrate, Jonathan,” said Mr. Dumbledore, lowering his own wand. “You want to be able to face Voldemort and defeat him, don’t you?”

“But it’s going to take longer than this,” Jonathan said softly, staring at the ground. They were in the meadow outside the cottage where he had watched his parents light candles for Harry last year.

“I know it is.” Mr. Dumbledore knelt down in front of him and put his hand on his shoulder. Jonathan stared at the hand. Mr. Dumbledore didn’t take it away. “But there’s a difference between trying and not trying, Jonathan. What would happen if you didn’t try?”

Jonathan had to think about it. It was hard. Everyone was always telling him he had to try at everything, like Sirius telling him that he would have to try and turn into an Animagus. It was hard to think past that. “We won’t get Harry back?” he finally asked.

“And Voldemort will win.”

From the slightly disappointed tone in Mr. Dumbledore’s voice, Jonathan wondered if he should have said that first. But both of them were true. So he just nodded.

“Good.” Mr. Dumbledore stood up and smiled at him. “You’re the prophecy child. I know you have stronger magic than this. This time, try to dodge and study the curse from the side at the same time. Can you see the way it makes the air around you waver? What do you think would happen if you had to raise a shield against it?”

Jonathan thought what would happen was he couldn’t raise it. But he nodded, and took up his stance again.

*

Lily stared at the letter that purported to be from her son. It had come hours ago, and other than the time she’d had to let go of it so Albus, James, and Sirius could read it, it hadn’t been out of her hands since.

She didn’t know whether to believe it came from Harry or not. On the one hand, if it did, that meant that some of her worst fears were nonsense. Harry was alive and still had enough limbs to write. He was allowed to write. Lily knew she would have recognized the subtle slant that came from using a Dicta-Quill.

On the other hand…

The content of the letter.

Dear Mum and Dad,

Lord Voldemort said that I was to write to you. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to say here, but I suppose if he lets the letter fly away with an owl and doesn’t rip it up, then it’s good enough.

So I’ll write what I think you want to know. I hope that’s enough.

Lord Voldemort doesn’t treat me all that badly. I have enough to eat, and I spend most of my time alone, but he comes and talks to me enough that I don’t get lonely or bored. I’m working on my magic, or what I can perfect of it since I don’t have a wand. Sometimes I talk with the snakes that he leaves as my guardians.

I am a Parselmouth. But I suspect you already knew it.

What else? We made a bargain that’s going to keep you safe. That’s one reason that he decided to take back all his Death Eaters and stop making raids. Sometimes I think that he can’t have stopped it that easily, but I suppose he could if they actually listen to him. I’m just not used to anyone having that amount of control over crazy people.

I can’t come home as long as that bargain is in effect.

I wish I could. I want to see all of you. I miss seeing Dad turn into Prongs, and hearing Mum tell me stories, and I miss Jonathan. Please tell my brother I miss him. I don’t know if he can read yet, but show him this letter if he can. I miss Sirius and Dumbledore, too. Please tell Sirius not to do anything reckless. I know he’s prone to it.

I don’t know yet what’s going to happen in the future. I don’t know if Lord Voldemort is ever going to let me see you again. There’s nothing much I can do at the moment to threaten him, but I know he wants me to stay here. And I would trade my life in a heartbeat for your lives if that’s what it takes. That’s what I was going to do the night he came into the house.

I love you. I wish there was something else I could say.

Harry.

Lily lowered the letter and stared at Albus. His face seemed to have aged so much that Lily could think of some people, occasional Order members, who might not recognize him.

“What is he?” Lily whispered. “I don’t mean Voldemort.”

Albus sighed. “You realize that this letter most likely did not come from Harry, Lily? Tom has many clever tricks up his sleeve. To pretend to be your beloved son and disguise his handwriting is not at all beyond him.”

Lily looked the letter. She didn’t know why, couldn’t have explained her conviction if Albus had asked her to. Or if James, who was sitting huddled on a couch on the other side of the room, asked her to.

But she knew Harry had written it.

She spread her fingers over the parchment and heard it crackle. Yes, she knew it was him.

And she just wanted to know what he was, if he was possessed by some great spirit of knowledge, or if a ghost had taken up residence inside him when he was young, or what. She could love him if he had great and terrible magic, even if he was someone else. But she needed to know.

So she could love him.

*

On Albus’s advice, they didn’t write back.

*

Lord Voldemort rejoiced. He lifted his glass of snake venom to empty skies day after day, with no owl soaring back to deliver some letter that he would, of course, have doctored before he showed it to Potter. His cleverness roared and sang in his blood. He knew he was a genius, but the world acted properly when it returned it to him as a mirror.

He was a fool to think that I cared as much about the boy who might have been the prophecy child.

Lord Voldemort had read more of Divination since then. He knew about prophecies that coiled around and stung the one who thought to lift them, like adders in more than one way. He knew about hatred and bitterness and plans gone sour because of prophecies, because one listened to the Seers who supposedly gave them in the first place.

He was not a “one.” He was Lord Voldemort. He was beyond every rule, above every law and the common ways of destroying oneself.

Harry Potter, wise as he was, full of the shifting power of the fearlessness of death, did not understand what Lord Voldemort wanted, what his gambit with the letter had been. That was because he was not a genius. He was old and strong, but he had his blind spots.

He could never think that this was the outcome Lord Voldemort had hoped for. Let Harry Potter pour out his heart onto parchment. Let him write and wait. When no answer came back, he would grow older in his bitterness.

And Lord Voldemort would have what he wanted. Because Lord Voldemort always did.

He cannot see himself as the one who is my focus. He is too blinded by concentration on his parents, on his brother—on others. And that will keep him from opposing me until it is too late, until his worry over Dumbledore’s side festers and turns into hated because they did not respond to him.

Who will he have to turn to then, but me?

Was not Lord Voldemort wise?

Chapter Text

“You must let me do something to reward you, Severus.”

The Dark Lord’s voice was all around him, chilling the room. When Severus breathed out, he was more surprised not to see a cloud of his own cold breath than he should be. He turned away from the stones that felt as if they should be rimed with ice and gave a short bow. “My Lord, you have let me have my privacy and my brewing. There is nothing else I desire.”

The moment he said the words, he knew they were the wrong ones.

The Dark Lord’s shadow shifted in the flaring light of the torches. He passed close to Severus, staring at him so intently that Severus felt warning prickles and shudders run up his shoulders. “You will tell me what you mean by that,” the Dark Lord whispered. “Nothing else you desire? Then you have no desire to serve me, either?”

Severus immediately fell to his knees. He could feel the Dark Mark on his arm, shifting, ready to burst into flame. He bowed his head. “I have that desire, my Lord,” he whispered. “I thought you might be tired of me voicing it.” That had happened at the last meeting, when the Dark Lord grew bored of Bellatrix’s pronouncements of loyalty and cursed her for them.

For a moment, he thought it wouldn’t work. Then one cold white hand came down and stroked his hair back from his forehead.

“You have a wish you would not speak. Speak it.”

Severus nodded at once. “There is someone I wish vengeance on,” he said. “Someone who once came close to transforming me into a werewolf. And as far as I know, he is not hidden behind the walls of Dumbledore’s protection the way the Potters are. Or Black is,” he added. The last thing Severus had known, Black was living in one of his ancestral homes, a place Severus dared not pursue him.

“You are speaking of Remus Lupin.”

Severus shivered, but in truth, he should be used to the Dark Lord’s near-omniscience by now. “Yes, my Lord.”

The Dark Lord was silent for long enough that Severus wondered if he’d had plans of his own when it came to Lupin. But then he laughed softly, almost under his breath, and said, “It would be fitting. Tell me. How close was Lupin to the Potters? Is he still close enough that they would march to avenge him?”

“He was, at one time, James Potter’s best friend after Black,” Severus said slowly, remembering as hard as he could the news in what he now thought of as the final year of the war. The year my Lord took the Potter child. “But I know that the Potters haven’t worked with him or let him visit for a long time. I think they believed Lupin was the one who would betray them if he could at one point.”

“Based on what evidence?”

“He is a werewolf, my Lord. A Dark creature. They might have heard word that you had recruited Fenrir Greyback, and assumed other werewolves would follow in his path.”

The Dark Lord sighed with chill joy. “And that is all that it would take to persuade Light wizards and witches to turn on something Dark. Of course.” His delight made Severus shiver again, but this time, he could almost enjoy it. It sounded as though the Marauders would get the brunt of that delight. Not Lily.

“That Light wizards and witches…And you are sure that the Potters and Black are Light? There were rumors about Black, at one point.”

“I am sure, my Lord. Black was raised with Dark magic, but he rejected it and the rest of his heritage to run away and live with Potter and serve the Order of the Phoenix. I have heard Bellatrix bragging as well that no true Black could ever betray his heritage,” Severus added, and lifted his head to look the Dark Lord in the face, greatly daring. “But I think she was only boasting to soothe her hurt ego. Black trounced her in the last battle they fought against each other.”

“I had forgotten that detail. Yes, Light.” And the Dark Lord laughed again, and this time Severus lowered his eyes, but he was certain he had glimpsed something, perhaps even through his master’s Occlumency shields. He was happy that they were Light because that made them less likely to try and redeem a Dark wizard.

Or believe one.

And the Dark Lord has a child that he is trying to turn to the Dark—and that a Light family might not be so eager to reclaim.

“Tell me, Severus,” the Dark Lord said, in another of those abrupt changes of mood that made Severus shudder. “What would you do with Remus Lupin if you had him in front of you?”

“My Lord knows that I have experimented with ways to make the Wolfsbane Potion more potent.”

“Yes, Severus?”

“And I have wondered,” Severus said, his body aching again with the terror he had felt when he saw yellow eyes open at the end of a dark tunnel, “what might happen if one made the potion strong enough to kill a wolf—but only a wolf. Without easing the compulsion to transform. What the human body might do if it found itself wracked with tremors each month, with nowhere to go and no extra body to assume.”

The Dark Lord’s hand fell on his shoulder like a blessing. “My Severus. You shall have the opportunity to find out.”

*

Harry’s eyes snapped open.

He’d been trying to meditate more often lately, to form his memories into defenses that would protect some of the more vulnerable areas of his mind without letting on to Voldemort what he was doing. Thank Merlin they didn’t have the Horcrux connection they’d had in his first life. He couldn’t have hidden even his intentions then, but now there was long enough between visits that he could.

But now, something else had happened. And Harry had so many experiences over so many lifetimes that it took him long minutes to sort through the possible sensations and arrive at the answer of what.

It came to him first as the feeling of fur, of heat. He wondered if there was another cat wandering around the house, or if for some reason Voldemort had decided to torture a Kneazle. But the sensation drifted through odd, old places in his mind, and touched a chord of Animagus memory: this was what it was like to transform himself, not be born an animal.

A werewolf.

Harry knew Greyback had sometimes come to visit Voldemort—he always did, he was foul in every world where Harry had known him—but by now Harry knew the shape and scent of his magic. This was something else.

With a growing sense of dread, Harry hopped up and made for the door. He was almost five now, and he felt a pulling sense of gratitude that he could reach doorknobs easily, slide around corners without tripping, and recover most of the muscle memory that he sometimes didn’t get to use until he was older. Then again, few of his lives had had him be five years old and pushed by Voldemort, either.

Except the nineteenth—

Harry cut the thought off harshly, irritated with his own mind. Besides, years didn’t apply in the same way in his nineteenth life.

He came down the grand staircase and saw Voldemort pausing in the middle of lifting Death-of-Rabbits off his shoulder. “Did you need something, Harry?” he asked, in Parseltongue as always, but his voice was milder than usual.

Harry answered in Parseltongue because it might also make his mood milder. “I sensed a werewolf in the house.

Your magic is fascinating.” Voldemort crossed the space between them, which was mostly gleaming parquet floor, and knelt down in front of Harry, reaching out to touch his hair. It was as unruly as it had been in his first life, with a few glints of red it hadn’t had then. “Did Lord Voldemort ever tell you that?”

Harry half-smiled. “Is it one of the werewolves from Greyback’s pack?”

You are persistent when you want something.” Voldemort’s hand slid slowly down Harry’s back, and Harry stifled a shiver. It seemed Voldemort had done something to his nails to make them sharper, perhaps a spell. “It does not please you to have me compliment your magic?”

It didn’t, because Harry thought compliments based on power were mostly nonsense, but that wasn’t something he could say in front of Voldemort, either. He ended up casting his eyes down and saying softly, “My Lord honors me.

That is better, Harry. And yes, there is a werewolf in the house.” Voldemort took his hand away and sat there for long enough that Harry thought he might stand and go on, leaving Harry with no more of an answer than that. Instead, he continued, “His name is Remus Lupin.”

Harry recoiled. Voldemort grasped his shoulder. “This was someone important to you? He is not a member of your family.”

No, but he’s been one of my mentors in several lives,” Harry replied, madly glad now that he’d chosen to use Parseltongue. Any Death Eater passing by wouldn’t know what they were talking about. “He’s important to me. Please, leave him alone.”

“I might merely have summoned him as an ally.

“Please, I know you didn’t.” Harry stepped forwards and started straight into Voldemort’s eyes. He’d sometimes thought this version was saner and wiser than most of the others. It didn’t mean he had any more mercy, but he might spare someone because Harry begged and Harry was valuable to him. “He hates the Dark part of himself. Please, my Lord, if you wish to have even more of my willing service, spare him from the torture you have planned.

Voldemort let out a soft, hissing laugh, with no actual words in it. Harry should know. He stood there, heart beating madly, and not knowing what would happen, until Voldemort stood up and shook his head.

You are not Lord Voldemort’s only servant, Harry, and another of my servants, who has done great things for the Dark, has asked for vengeance on him.”

“Snape?” Harry spoke the word in English, disgusted. The man hadn’t always been on the side of the Light in all the worlds, but he’d never done something as repulsive as this. Then again, he usually wasn’t a loyal Death Eater, either.

You know I will not tell you.”

Please, my Lord,” Harry said one more time. His heart was beating as if it would erupt from his chest. He knew there were things worth more than the bargain he had made to save his family, but— “Please. Make this addition to the original bargain. I know he wasn’t there, but I do care for him.

That is even more reason for Lord Voldemort not to spare him.

Harry stared at him blankly. Voldemort’s voice sounded—strange, to put it mildly. But Harry didn’t have time to wrestle with cryptic statements. “You will not add him to the bargain?”

No.”

Harry dipped his head once. Then he turned and walked back up the stairs to his rooms. He would need to plan. If he had to dip into that disgusting part of himself, to wrestle the cold, he would at least make sure there were as few other people around as possible. Harry killed people in battle, in self-defense, in defense of others, very occasionally as revenge. He didn’t kill random Death Eaters who weren’t doing him any harm at the time.

Because I am not Voldemort.

*

Lord Voldemort watched Harry Potter climb the steps with the tread of the defeated and the broken. His chest seemed to throb and he wanted to laugh aloud. But there were some here who would think that strange.

Lord Voldemort was wise. He shielded his weapons and his sources of knowledge. Harry Potter was the most valuable source of knowledge that any Voldemort in all the worlds had ever had. He would not risk that because he wanted to laugh, and he would not risk that because Harry Potter asked.

Even an immortal being who was born again and again—who did not live forever but disrupted his body and brain as Lord Voldemort would never do—did not know everything. He had not asked what the ultimate purpose of Remus Lupin’s torture was. He did not ask what the end of it would be. He did not know that, after Severus tortured Lupin as much as Lord Voldemort wished to allow, Lord Voldemort, infinite in his wisdom, would kill the werewolf.

And use the death to create another Horcrux.

Lord Voldemort found that he missed his human one.

*

Harry settled himself on the stones and then reached out with those senses that he couldn’t have described in words if he tried, sweeping through the walls and the doors and the different rooms where people slept or ate or tortured victims.

None right now. But Harry was sure that there would be some soon, if he couldn’t stop Voldemort from beginning on Remus.

His anger at Snape burned, wanting to distract him. And there was disappointment about Voldemort, and his own rueful annoyance at himself. He supposed that this Voldemort had never really been saner or more merciful than any other. Harry had simply fooled himself. That was his fault, not Voldemort’s.

But he put them aside. He dived deep, and far beneath the surface of his mind where memories of ordinary arguments and laughter and conversations and families and Quidditch matches swarmed, he found the ones he would never willingly confront.

He remembered the world where he had tortured Voldemort to death and given the credit to the destined savior. He swam past boulders that shut off memories of the world where he had died long and slow, buried alive. He circled through a dark maelstrom that was the one world where he had ever lost his mind after being held under the Cruciatus for hours. That was the one gap in his memories. Only sensations remained. He had awakened in a pool of blood, and known he would never know for sure how many he had killed, only that he had caused the complete extinction of several Dark pure-blood families.

He might never know the number of his victims here, either. Which meant that he had to unleash carefully.

The deepest, the most buried site of memory, was a pit in the ocean floor of his mind. Harry hovered above it for a moment, staring down and feeling his heart rebound with fear. He hated what he had been in that life. He loathed it so much that it hurt to hover here and know he was even considering using it.

He had to wait for the moment when the thought of losing Remus hurt more.

It came. Harry dived.

Razor petals of memory unfolded. Harry reached out and reclaimed the power that he had hated all his nineteenth life. He reached out and wrapped it around himself, and melted to his feet and through solid stone.

He might have been able to Apparate if he had known the room where Remus was being held, but he didn’t. He simply had to flow, through the walls that could not keep him out, and restrain the cold tendrils of his presence. Otherwise, the people he passed would never wake again.

And the animals, as well. Harry didn’t really want to cause the deaths of the snakes Voldemort had set to watch him, both of them more tolerable in this world than any version of Nagini had ever been.

Harry came back to himself in the room with the spark of life he sought. He called the cold and the darkness down, let them become him again, and resumed his human form in the middle of the room. When he opened his eyes, Remus Lupin—thinner and greyer and more scarred than Harry had ever seen him—was cowering back in his chains as he stared at Harry.

“Wh—what—”

“I’m the Potters’ second son,” Harry introduced himself quietly. He knew he wouldn’t be able to reassure Remus completely, and he didn’t intend to try. He only wanted to do enough of it that Remus wouldn’t struggle when they had to move. “Harry. Voldemort kidnapped me a few years ago. As you can see, I’m no ordinary child. I can rescue you. Will you let me carry you? And put you to sleep? That’s the only safe way for me to transport someone else.”

Remus shut his jaw after long moments. He whispered, “A child couldn’t do that.”

“No,” Harry agreed. He reached out again with a tendril of the cold, and winced. As he had suspected, the others were coming, and he wouldn’t have much more time to convince Remus. “Please? I can explain everything once we’re away from here, but right now, there isn’t much time.”

“H-how could you do that?” Remus was stuttering because of the cold.

“I’ll tell you. Later. Please?”

Remus hesitated for the longest time. Harry wanted to dance with impatience, but he had come to rescue Remus and break his own bargain with Voldemort because he wanted to keep having Remus in his life. So he waited, and finally Remus nodded and murmured, “You c-can knock me out. But you’ll have to explain to me how you did that.”

Harry smiled with relief and reached out, dancing cold around Remus until he dropped into the unconsciousness that would usually precede freezing to death. Then Harry turned himself back into the darkness and swirled Remus up, and fled, away from Voldemort and his Death Eaters and the others who were coming.

There was an answer, but it wasn’t one that Remus was awake to hear.

“In my nineteenth life, I was a Dementor.”

Chapter Text

Lord Voldemort knew the touch of Dementors.

They had sometimes fought for him, but never had they come near one of his fortresses without invitation. When he felt the approaching cold and knew it for the presence of dozens of Dementors, he stood up at once. His wand was aimed. His rage was lifting like wings. Next to him, the two snakes he had begun to infuse with his magic lifted at once to rearing positions.

It was nearly not enough.

The Dementor that opened the door was the largest one Lord Voldemort had ever seen, rippling with colors of grey and silver he knew were unnatural. He aimed his wand without speaking; he could not see what good speaking would do at the moment. The magic was already dancing through him, crackling and arching.

The fools of the Light thought that only a Patronus would drive a Dementor away. They did not know the mastery of soul magic. No one but Lord Voldemort had ventured so far into those waters.

Animam torque.

The magic traveled out from him in a cone of darkness so intense that no other would dare withstand it. Lord Voldemort opened his mouth in a silent laugh, as silent as the spell, as he watched his power seize the bits of the last soul that the creature had eaten and twist them, creating a whirlwind of pure enchantment that wrenched the Dementor apart.

Then he began to run. He knew that Harry must have summoned these Dementors for a reason. They would have no other reason to show up, and there was much magic still hidden in the depths of Harry’s mind that he had not discovered yet. Summoning Dementors as a distraction could easily be among them.

He questioned himself, for the first time, as to why he had not simply plundered the child’s mind for the secrets. And the answer came back to him, damning, but Lord Voldemort always saw himself clearly and understood the secrets of the soul as he did the secrets of soul magic.

He had wanted to take his time. He had wanted to draw them out little by little, and have the child succumb to him, so all that power would be drawn into his service, not forced.

That ends now.

He reached Remus Lupin’s room first. He knew better than to seek in Harry’s. He gestured with his wand hard enough that the door flew off the hinges and disintegrated into dust particles as it flew. When he paced inside, he was not entirely surprised to find the werewolf gone and the chains empty.

But it did not lessen his rage, which filled his head enough to make it seem light. He spun around and drew a wavy line in the air with his wand, while thinking the incantation for the Snake Messenger spell. Another thing that fools thought only a Patronus could do, and they were wrong.

They are always wrong about Lord Voldemort.

The air solidified into a snake of purple and black. Lord Voldemort spoke directly to it. “Severus Snape. Seek for the escaped prisoner Remus Lupin. The Potter child will be with him.” He slashed his wand down, and the snake arrowed away as if all the air were water.

Someone screamed from down a side corridor. Lord Voldemort turned slowly. Of course some of the Death Eaters were Dark wizards and would have trouble casting a Patronus, but that did not mean they would die in front of them.

But when he paced down the corridor, it was to see a soul-drained body on the floor and another Dementor rippling towards him. Dolohov. The man had been a useful servant. Lord Voldemort again raised his wand and destroyed the Dementor that dared to stand against him.

Then he turned to face the rest of the building and began to trace a circle on the floor around him, creating a ritual space that would enable him to dismiss all the Dementors in the manor at once. His breathing was tight and controlled. His eyes were narrow and focused. He could only imagine how lesser beings would tremble at the moment in front of his ruby rage.

Potter will pay for this. I will catch him first, and then his family, and make him watch as I torture them one by one. And then I will make him a Horcrux, bind him indissolubly to me, and rip all the secrets from his mind. He shall not escape by my kindness again.

*

Harry traveled through the shadowy world of the Dementors as long as he could, until he grew worried that Remus might get too cold or not get enough air to breathe. He reformed slowly in the middle of a grove that he recognized; it wasn’t that far from Godric’s Hollow. He’d been here more than once in many lives.

When he came back to himself, he listened and “felt” intently, but didn’t sense any Dementors following them. He relaxed slowly. Yes, very well, that was done with, then. One of the main reasons he hadn’t used this power more often was because he hated it, but he would also, always, draw other Dementors—the perils of being a sort of leader of theirs in his nineteenth life. He could never use it somewhere there were innocents about.

He turned to Remus.

Remus lay on the ground, still pale, his breathing slow. Harry knelt down next to him and wished, not for the first time in this life, that he was older. He could use more magic without a wand then, and more safely, too.

But he spared a little spark of it now to wake Remus up. He got a slow groan and Remus rolling over for his efforts, but the next second, he bolted up and stared around wildly.

“It’s okay, Remus,” Harry said quietly. “We’ve left them a long way behind. The Dementors can’t follow me when I travel like that. They just come to the place where I first reformed myself.”

Remus stared at him. He opened his mouth and then closed it. His throat seemed to be too dry to ask a question.

Moving carefully, Harry conjured a glass and filled it with water, then held it out. As Remus sipped, he tried to find the words. He had never told anyone but Voldemort about his lives before. He just wanted to be normal when he was living them. He wanted the people he loved to love him in return, not quiver in terror.

From the way Remus cringed away from him, that second goal was already shot. Harry swallowed and tried to speak as calmly as he could.

“I’m not really a child, Remus. This is the twenty-eighth life I’ve lived.” Remus spluttered into the water. Harry hastily conjured some more, ignoring the warning twinge in his back that spoke of performing too much magic. He hoped Remus could Apparate them out of here when they were done talking. “I keep reincarnating. Sometimes I’m human, sometimes I’m not. I know a lot of the same people in my lives, though. I’ve known you before. And Mum and Dad. And Snape, and—Dumbledore.” Remus looked like he might expire if Harry called Dumbledore by his first name. “And Sirius, and Voldemort. I’ve always helped fight Voldemort. In my first life, I was the one who had a prophecy about me that said only I could defeat him. So I know how to kill him.”

Remus drank and drank, enough that Harry almost used Aguamenti again. Then he said, “None of this makes any sense. I know what I felt. How in the world are you a Dementor?”

Harry tried to smile. From the way Remus flinched, he failed. Well, he’d kind of expected that. “In my nineteenth life, I was one.”

“But—Dementors aren’t human.”

“Neither are Kneazles, or snakes.” Harry had to work to keep his voice level. He told himself it was just because he’d never had this kind of conversation before, but really, he had to wonder at how good he was going to be at talking to anyone who wasn’t Voldemort or a snake. “And some people say werewolves aren’t human. The point is that they’re still sentient beings that can communicate.”

“Serpents are?”

“If you can speak Parseltongue. Which I do.”

Remus went on looking at him with round-eyed astonishment. Then he finally shook his head and latched on to something else. “But if you can do all those things, why were you with Voldemort? Why didn’t you escape long before I was captured?”

Harry grimaced again. Here it is. “Partially because turning into a Dementor calls Dementors. They always notice me and swarm wherever I am. Not now,” he added hastily as Remus tried to reach for his wand and turn around and drop the cup and scan their surroundings all at the same moment. “Not when I travel as one for a while. Only when I first use the power. That means Death Eaters are dealing with Dementors right now.”

“But—if it only hurts Death Eaters—”

“Voldemort essentially ended the war because we made a bargain to keep my parents and Jonathan safe,” Harry said. He felt strange speaking his brother’s name aloud. Voldemort never did. “We had a bargain. I tell him what he wants to know, he keeps them safe. I could have escaped any time. But besides the cost of my power, I didn’t want to break my word.”

Remus stared down into the cup for long enough that Harry checked over his shoulder. He was less worried about pursuit from Voldemort than he would have been otherwise—he doubted Voldemort knew he’d fled as a Dementor or that he could travel that fast—but you never knew.

Remus finally looked up. Harry turned to face him, and ended up recoiling. There was something he had feared to see all along in Remus’s eyes.

“The Death Eaters aren’t innocent,” Remus whispered. “Even if some of them regret taking the Dark Mark, they still did it. And they’re going around torturing innocents. Or they did, before the last four years. Voldemort himself is terrible. Why would you—you could have ended the war and you did nothing but sit there and—” He choked.

And that would be the other cost of my power, Harry thought, aching. He had never told anyone about his lives before, but he had sometimes demonstrated other abilities. And every single time, the people he showed them to had turned on him, sure as they were that powerful, offensive magic was always the best solution and should have been used at once, instead of giving people time to change their minds or Harry time to find another way. Harry would have remained Voldemort’s prisoner rather than show Remus the truth, if he had thought it at all possible that Voldemort would let Remus go.

But it was true—perhaps—that he could have ended the war. Harry swallowed and settled back on his hands. “Unfortunately, when I’m in a child’s body, there’s not much I can do,” he said quietly. “The magic I’ve already done is about the limit. I’m going to have to rely on you to Apparate us home.”

Remus completely disregarded that, still staring at him with narrowed eyes. “You’re infinitely powerful.”

“Not infinitely,” Harry said, and then wanted to writhe under the look that Remus gave him. “I mean, pretty powerful. But I’m still mortal. I can still die.”

“But you’ll just wake up somewhere else. How is that not infinite?”

Harry sighed and spent a moment casting around for the words. He knew how he’d explained it to himself, but Remus wouldn’t want to listen to metaphors. And he was out of practice even attempting to explain his own abilities. The last three or four lifetimes he’d only shown them in front of people who would either not believe what they were seeing and keep the secret, or who’d died before they could say anything.

“Every life matters to me,” he said finally. “It’s not that I hate living or find it boring. I try not to cling too deeply to any one lifetime, because I know that I will go on. But I remember everything that’s ever happened to me, Remus. I remember loving you and Mum and Dad, and I remember loving people who were born on the opposite side of the war. The way I was a few times. It makes it difficult to hate anybody.”

“So it’s infinite.”

Harry gave up on completely convincing him. He reminded himself, again, that he didn’t have to be forgiven. He just had to forgive other people. This life would be uncomfortable if he didn’t have the love of his parents and other people, but it wouldn’t be as hard as the nineteenth. “My compassion, I suppose you could call it that.”

Remus snorted and glanced away from him. Then he said, “I don’t have my wand.”

Harry nodded. “Did you master wandless Apparition?”

Remus stared at him. “I have, yes. I still want my wand.

“Sorry, I don’t know where it went,” Harry said. “I would try to go back and get it, but I really can’t transform again right now.” He couldn’t wait to be older than five. Then simple things like the use of one power and a little wandless magic wouldn’t exhaust him so much.

“That’s all right.” Remus turned his head away. “The bigger problem is that—Lily and James—they never decided that I was trustworthy again after You-Know-Who took you. They haven’t invited me back, and I don’t know where they are.”

Harry supposed he should have anticipated that difficulty, although he wondered what in the world his parents were thinking. “To Hogwarts, then,” he said. “You can Side-Along me there? And Dumbledore will know where my parents are, and he can hopefully have Madam Pomfrey help you.”

“You’re going to tell Dumbledore what you are?”

“Do you care? Of course I am.”

Remus flinched. Then he said, “It’s not—it’s not that I don’t care. But I don’t understand how you can be the way you are. Why aren’t you bitter? Why aren’t you going mad already? If you’re not mad and you’re not bitter, then you can choose a side of the war, and the right one is ours.”

Harry cocked his head to the side and said nothing, but a little hope fluttered to life in his chest. If Remus could already sound that curious about his lives, it meant that he might forgive Harry someday. Harry had heard objections like this from people who ended up accepting him, or at least accepting part of what he was.

“Being bitter is self-indulgent,” Harry told him quietly. “I wanted to kill myself in a few lives, but I knew I would only go on to something else, and it might not even have the good aspects that particular life did. And I’ve always had people I loved. That was the important thing. It was go mad or be sane and love people. I chose the second one.”

“If you love people, then don’t you have a reason to fight Voldemort? He’s incapable of love.”

Harry only nodded, because even if this version of Voldemort was more sane and self-aware than most of the ones he’d known, he had no idea what love was. “But I was resisting fighting out of love. The very first thing he threatened was to go back and kill Mum and Dad and Jonathan if I didn’t cooperate with him.”

“So you chose three people above the greater good?”

Harry felt his eyes narrow. “Didn’t you do that, when you ran around with my dad and Sirius and Pettigrew in Animagus form? Chose the good of the werewolf above the good of anyone you might have encountered in the Forest?”

Remus recoiled so hard he fell over. Harry shook his head, already sorry, but he couldn’t say it because Remus was demanding in a harsh babble, “How—how do you know about that—we never told—”

“It was true in several of my other lives, including the first one,” Harry said, holding his eyes. “True in this one as well, I see.”

Remus looked away again. This time, his breathing was rushing about, and Harry didn’t think it came from any torture Voldemort might have inflicted on him. He was probably beginning to believe, at last.

“All right,” Remus finally whispered. “If you’re telling the truth, then it’s more than I can deal with alone. And if you’re not, then Albus is the best person to unravel the lies.” He extended his arm, his eyes firmly fastened to the side, instead of on Harry.

Harry sighed soundlessly and took Remus’s arm. He supposed he could always vanish, if they absolutely refused to listen to him and wanted him to kill lots of people. He could work against Voldemort from the shadows, or outside Britain. If he could do it when he was a damned Kneazle and had to bury Horcruxes in his litter tray, then he could do it now, when he was merely a young, distrusted human.

I just hope this is going to work out, he thought, as they vanished and reappeared outside Hogwarts. Remus was staggering. Harry threw a hasty arm around his waist, but he had to sag against a tree and lean there. Harry waited, watching Remus worriedly. He didn’t know what Voldemort had done before he got there.

Later, he could only assume he hadn’t seen it coming because he was so busy watching Remus.

Something small and hard hit him in the side of the head. Harry staggered and fell. At least he knew it wasn’t a Stunner or he would already have been unconscious. He rolled and reached out—

And his hand closed on something that trembled and sang and sent a shocking amount of magic through his system. Harry stared at it.

He was holding the Elder Wand. And, looking up, he could see both the broken window high on the side of the castle and the old wizard who was leaning out of it, looking at him with both eyebrows raised.

Harry groaned a little and looked down at the Elder Wand. It snuggled against his side like a happy pet, and when Harry tried to open his fingers and let it fall, it simply clung to his palm as if it had been hit with a Sticking Charm.

“Well, shit,” Harry said.

Chapter Text

Severus landed out of the Apparition and stared around. Then he shook his head. It was nonsensical to him that one magical child and one exhausted werewolf could have got this far, even if the child possessed the totally unexplained power to summon Dementors.

But he had investigated the whole of a wide circle around the Dark Lord’s lands, using Lupin’s wand as a way to trace his magical signature. There was no sign of them. It made Severus wonder if they had met up with a prearranged rescuer, someone who could have Apparated them beyond reach.

Do you wish to go back and tell that to the Dark Lord?

Severus swallowed and ended by taking a flask out of his pocket. The potion in it shimmered and turned, an unnerving dance of colors. It was literally the shade of a mirror, and would reflect anything around it. When Severus held it up in front of his face, it mostly reflected black and pale.

He did not wish to take the potion. But even less, at the moment, did he wish to go back to the Dark Lord with a report of failure. The Dark Lord had been worse than raging since Severus’s first report that he had discovered no trace of Potter or Lupin near the Manor; he had been cold.

To survive, Severus had to take the Mirrored Sight Potion.

He tore the cork from the flask and gulped down the whole of the strange, shapeshifting liquid before he could change his mind.

At once he slumped over, his hands pressed to his chest. There was a chill spreading throughout him, up and down until it felt as if it was touching all possible points of him, from his esophagus to his arse. He writhed with feeling, with hatred, and with cold, and then his sight tore away from him and raced into the distance.

He found himself looking out from the surface of a silver instrument.

*

What an extraordinary thing.

Albus knew very well that he was striving to keep his own fear under control with the thought, but it was also true. Harry Potter was like no being he had ever seen or imagined.

It wasn’t just the adult expression on his face as he looked around Albus’s office, or the Elder Wand that hadn’t left his hand since he came into the castle—even when Harry deliberately tried to open his fingers and let it go. Even the way he sat in his chair and accepted, with a faint smile, the lemon drop that Albus offered him was adult, but it wasn’t really that, either. There was a faint shimmer in the air around him that, when Albus concentrated and tried to focus the version of the Sight he had inherited that would only detect passive wizard magic, nearly blinded him.

No one else’s aura looked like that. Albus was accustomed to seeing himself as a bright light in his own mirrors when he looked hard enough, and Gellert had been a blazing fire. Tom Riddle had been a sullen shimmer of flames underground even as a child; the only thing Albus had been able to liken it to was volcanic lava getting ready to burst free. He had seen a few other people who shone like the edge of sunrise.

But this was the sun.

If Harry was really the Master of Death, of course, it made sense. For now, they were essentially making small talk, with Remus describing how he had been captured and Albus reassuring him that James and Lily were still his friends and had been prevented from contacting him only by their misplaced sense of guilt. But they had said nothing yet of how Harry and Remus had escaped, or what Harry was.

Beyond the Master of Death. That he is something else, I know.

Remus finally stuttered to a halt, and Albus faced Harry and said softly, “My dear boy. I rejoice that you’ve escaped, of course, but you have something to tell us, don’t you?”

“You first,” Harry said, in a voice so weary that Albus’s heart ached. At least the child had a blanket behind him—because, physically, he was still a child—and the chair nearest the fire. “I think you’ll be the one who can help me decide how to tell my parents.” He sipped at the tea Albus had given him.

“Forgive my bluntness, then, but: what are you?”

“A being who’s lived dozens of lives and hundreds of years,” Harry said quietly, gazing at him. “Probably because of this.” He shook his hand, and the Elder Wand still stuck to his palm as if glued. “Well, this and the other Hallows.”

Albus nodded slowly. He had wondered if Harry would make some pretense at concealing the truth, as he had been doing, but this sounded genuine. “Have you always been on the side of the Light?”

“No. But I’ve always helped fight and defeat Voldemort. Even when I was a Kneazle or a snake.”

Albus covered his confusion with a smile. It had never occurred to him that the Master of Death might be reborn as other than human—but then again, he hadn’t thought a lot about the Master of Death being reborn at all when he had craved the Hallows. If anything, he had thought, like Gellert, that they promised immortality in this life. “What happened when you were on the side of the Dark?”

“I was born into the Black family once.” Harry stared into his cup. “They always thought I was strange, but I had to reveal my Parselmouth abilities early in that life, so it was actually easier for them to accept my Light beliefs later, because I was strange from the beginning. I converted some of my cousins and one of my parents to following me into the fight against Voldemort.” He swallowed roughly. “And once I was born into the Malfoys, and a few times I was—a Dark creature. A Dementor, in my nineteenth life.”

Albus stared, and it wasn’t fear or disgust that was uppermost in his mind, but simple curiosity. “How in the world did you manage to fight Voldemort as a Dementor?”

Harry gave him a grim smile, and oh, his eyes were haunted. “I was horrified when I realized what I actually was. But the Dementors followed me as a leader. I was able to keep them—us—from allying with Voldemort. And it took me longer than it should have to figure it out, but I had the perfect weapon to handle Voldemort, too. He has Horcruxes keeping him alive. I don’t know if you’ve discovered that.”

Albus recoiled. “He—does.” It had been a suspicion, but not concrete, and not more than one.

“Yes. Seven, or possibly six, if he’s decided to count the piece of soul still in his body as one.” Harry sighed a little. “Dementors eat souls. I found the Horcruxes, sucked all the pieces of soul out of them, and then starved myself to death.”

Albus nodded slowly. The more he heard, the more he realized that this boy, or this soul, or this Harry Potter, or whatever one wanted to call him, had never been truly on the side of the Dark. He had made even his most twisted existence as a Dark being work to the advantage of the Light. That proved, above all, that Albus could trust him.

“What other abilities do you have, Harry?” he asked, leaning forwards intently. He could guess at a few of them, knowing what he did about the Hallows. It was time to see how honest Harry would be with him.

*

Harry winced when he heard the question. He had never realized how much he guarded his secrets until someone actually asked for them. It had been different with Voldemort; he’d just ripped through Harry’s mind and taken them, not caring if Harry wanted to protect them or not.

What if I need some advantage? What if someday Dumbledore—

Harry cut himself ruthlessly off from the thought. No, he didn’t really think that he would find himself on the wrong side of the war from Albus. Look at how close he had come to being on the same side of the war with Voldemort. He could forgive any personal betrayal. And in this case…

In this case, Albus already knew so much about him. It would be a relief, in some ways, to have someone know the whole.

“I can speak Parseltongue,” he began. “I have a perfect memory, and that’s why I can speak Parseltongue, too. It was a skill from my first life when I was Voldemort’s human Horcrux. I can speak to Kneazles. I can sense Voldemort’s magic when he’s near. I have a sensitivity to Dark Arts…”

He felt more and more vulnerable as he listed his skills, a feeling he irritably pushed away. This was what he’d chosen to do. Turning his back on Albus and the rest of them now would make no more sense than his insane self-protectiveness.

*

Severus staggered back as the grip of the Mirrored Sight Potion released him. He lay on the grass for long moments, his ribs heaving, his breath coming so raspily that he thought his throat would burn. Then he raised his hand and pushed his hair out of his face.

So. Now he knew a great deal more about Potter than he had known, including the fact that he was Master of Death and that he had been a Dementor in his nineteenth life—and apparently still had the ability to take that shape. He’d managed to cling onto the reflection of the silver instrument in Dumbledore’s office until he heard that much. It explained how Potter and Lupin had been able to travel so fast and far.

Severus had the knowledge he needed to return to the Dark Lord and make sure he would be not only blamed for what had happened, but welcomed.

But he remained still, and the prickling of nervousness in his muscles was only part of the reason.

There were two parts to the nervousness. The first was that Potter was so powerful, and now joining the other side of the war. The years that the Dark Lord had kept him captive had either had no effect at all, or a negative one. Severus was not sure that he wanted to fight the Master of Death who could also, although Potter hadn’t said this, probably consume his soul.

The second was born of resentment. The Dark Lord had taunted Severus with the existence of this child, of knowledge that he could never grasp, and Severus had suffered in the past few years clinging to that anger, trying to prove himself worthy so the Dark Lord would let him speak to Potter again.

Only now did Severus suspect that the Dark Lord had had no intentions of doing so.

So.

Severus staggered up to his hands and knees, and then further up, until he was standing. He carefully brushed dirt and twigs away from his robes and hair, and faced the direction he would have to Apparate to go back to the manor.

An eye for an eye. Withheld knowledge for withheld knowledge. Severus would tell the Dark Lord some of what he had seen, but emphasize the bits that meant Potter would work against him. The Dark Lord would be irritated at the amount of wasted effort he had expended on trying to get a Potter to turn to the Dark when even being a Dark creature could not make him do that.

And Severus would have some knowledge held back that would enable him to survive. Perhaps even make an accord with the powerful being that, he suspected, would rise to lead the side of the Light. How could he not, when he was so much stronger than Dumbledore?

Severus wanted a foot on both sides.

*

Harry swallowed as Albus Apparated them to the edge of the powerful wards that concealed his parents’ house. He had been thrumming with tension since they’d finished their conversation and Albus had suggested he take both Harry and Remus home.

In the end, Remus had refused to come. He’d said he was too tired from the torture and wanted to recover under Madam Pomfrey’s expert care, but Harry suspected he knew the real reason.

And he couldn’t blame Remus. Not when his own parents’ guilt and fear had held them back from reaching out to their friend.

Is it going to do the same thing for me?

Harry had to bend over at the waist, dry-heaving with anxiety. It had been a long time since that had happened. He straightened back up and took a few slow steps forwards. Albus smiled kindly down at him.

“Harry. No matter what happened, you have maintained loyalty to the Light. Of course they will love and accept you.”

Harry nodded, but the part of him that was always thinking, the part that had a perfect memory, thought, No, that’s what you would need for you to love and accept me, old man. Lily and James are more complicated. Especially Lily. Harry shuddered as he remembered his ninth life, and the way his now-mother had stared at him with hatred and her teeth bared. She’d had reasons, since Harry couldn’t tell her the truth then, but it had still hurt.

Lily held grudges, almost as much as Snape.

Harry stepped slowly forwards. Dumbledore had cast a spell that would “knock” on the wards and tell them that he was coming, but Harry hadn’t asked if they could sense anything else, any other magical signature or human body.

It appeared they could.

The door of the house flew open, and Lily charged out, her wand aimed and ready. She probably thought some enemy had come along, Harry thought. His throat ached. He couldn’t breathe.

But then his mother’s eyes focused, and flew wide. She held a hand to her mouth, trembling, for a moment, and then slid her wand into her sleeve. She never took her eyes from Harry as she called out in a whisper.

“James.”

“What is it, Lils?”

His father stepped out, and saw him, and likewise froze. The walk across the space of grass and mud separating him from them was the longest he had taken in any of his lives.

But then a small shape launched himself from behind his parents and ran madly, silently, across the grass.

Not small, Harry had time to think before Jonathan crashed into him and bowled him over. Bigger than me. Just small relatively. And he wrapped his arms around Jonathan and clung ont the way Jonathan was clinging onto him.

“Jonathan…”

“No.”

Jonathan didn’t look up, didn’t turn his head. He just held Harry, and then he started talking, his voice low and broken.

“I knew you’d come back. I knew it. I never doubted it. You were always going to be here. I would have found you if you didn’t come back before I turned eleven…”

Harry held on. He’d never held someone like this before, he thought. There were still new experiences in all his lives, and this was one: holding an older brother who’d never given up on him after he was kidnapped. The other lives that happened to him, he’d been an only child, or once had a younger sibling born after he returned. This was new.

“Harry?”

That was Mum, coming closer. Harry tried to think of her as Mum, the teary-eyed woman of this world, not the fierce Lily Potter of other worlds she had no reason to know about. He tenderly held out his hand.

Mum took his and started weeping. It was a little uncomfortable for Harry, but he didn’t back away. They still thought he was a child. They had no reason to suppose otherwise.

“Harry, do you remember us?” That was James, his eyes so wide with wonder and fear and doubt that Harry felt a lump working its way up his throat. He would have held out his other hand, but Jonathan had an arm wrapped above his arm and showed no intention of letting Harry go any time soon.

“Yeah, Dad. I do,” he said.

James tried to scoop him up, but ended up having to lift both of them because there was no way Jonathan would let him go. Lily wrapped her arms around Harry from behind and wept against his shoulder. Harry closed his eyes and ignored the way that Albus tried to clear his throat. He would get no cooperation from Harry’s parents right now.

This was family. The way it should be. And if it shattered in the next few hours as they learned about Horcruxes and Hallows and how long Harry had lived, Harry would still carry the memory with him forever, unstained.

*

Jonathan leaned his head on Harry. He knew something was still wrong, because Mr. Dumbledore was standing there with that frown he only ever got when things went wrong. He had something to tell them about Harry.

But for right now it didn’t matter. Harry was back. Jonathan was holding onto him.

He was going to protect Harry no matter what happened.

Chapter Text

Harry sighed as he looked around the drawing room. It didn’t look that different than he remembered it, except that some of the furniture was a different color. There were the same photographs and paintings on the walls, and one that had a smear of dust across it as if Lily had just recently spun it around. And of course his memories didn’t include much of Albus sitting on the couch across from them, staring intently at him. Or Jonathan sitting with his arm around Harry’s shoulders (Harry hadn’t had shoulders big enough for that then). Or Lily trying to pour half a tray of food down his throat.

Sirius was standing next to Albus with tears shining in his eyes. He’d already picked up Harry and hugged and shaken him, and only let him go because Jonathan complained. James sat on a chair between the couch where Jonathan, Harry, and Lily were, and the one where Albus sat, and wore the weirdest mixture of a beam and apprehension Harry had ever seen.

“I want you to tell your family what you told me,” Albus said.

Harry raised his eyebrows a little. The tone in Albus’s voice was the same one he always used to get when Harry was a student at Hogwarts and had done something that attracted a little attention and Albus was trying to cajole him to tell the whole truth. It had been worst in the lives where Harry was a Slytherin, but not only there.

“All right,” he said, and faced Lily, because he thought she would take it the worst. “I’ve been reborn over and over again. This is my twenty-eighth life.”

Lily’s hand flew to her mouth. Her eyes widened and shone with the same tears as there were in Sirius’s. “Thank Merlin,” she whispered. “I just wanted to know. I always knew there was something different about you from that night, but I didn’t know what it was.”

Harry gave her a confused smile. He was glad that she was taking this so well, even if it was hard for him to go through more than once. “Well. I have a perfect memory. So I remember all of my childhood here, as well as I remember my first life. I was the Boy-Who-Lived in that life, and you were my parents.” He glanced at James.

“Boy-Who-Lived?”

Harry blinked. “Right.” That title had been in a majority of the worlds he’d lived in, but here, Voldemort had never confronted Jonathan. “It means someone who managed to survive Voldemort’s attack. Sometimes it’s a Girl-Who-Lived. Usually it ends up with the Killing Curse he tries to use being reflected back on him, and then his body’s been destroyed and he’s a wraith for a decade or so.”

“How could he survive if the Killing Curse—”

“How could someone survive the Killing Curse?”

James and Sirius spoke at the same time, and then glared at each other. Harry rolled his eyes. “He uses a method of immortality that means his spirit stays bound to the world,” he said. “And it was sacrificial love that protected me in my first life, and other children in other worlds.” He looked at Lily.

Lily nodded slowly, sadly. “Yes, of course. I was willing to die for you that night.” Her eyes became veiled. “But I couldn’t.”

“I was actually going to die for Jonathan,” Harry said, and ignored their expressions of shock and horror, and Sirius’s, “But you’re just a kid!” That only proved that the truth about his immortality hadn’t sunk in yet, even though they all seemed to accept that he could talk and reason like an adult. “I summoned up my magic and got ready to do it. But Voldemort looked into my mind and saw what I was with Legilimency. That was why he stole me.”

“But why not just kill you and then kill Jonathan later, to prevent the sacrifice?”

“Don’t even say that, James!”

Harry ignored the way Lily hugged him after that, his gaze on his father. “Because he wanted to take me away and use me as a kind of living grimoire about how I’d conquered him in other lifetimes.”

James shuddered. Sirius jumped into the gap. “But you weren’t always the Boy-Who-Lived?”

“I wasn’t. But I always fought Voldemort.”

Lily cupped his cheek and turned his head around before Harry could focus on the horror and compassion in his father’s eyes. “My poor baby,” she whispered. “It was always your war. But no one made you?”

“Only in my first life,” Harry said. He deliberately didn’t look at Albus. He wasn’t yet ready to talk about the tangled mess that had been their relationship in his first life. Of course he’d long since forgiven that Dumbledore, but he’d never had to talk about it to the living man before. “After that, I always chose.”

“Why? Why not run away and live in some place where they wouldn’t make you fight?”

“Sometimes I did that after he was defeated.”

“But why?”

Harry sighed out slowly and looked straight into the green eyes that were a mirror of his own, and more loving than he’d seen them in thousands of years. “Why did you fight with the Order of the Phoenix? You could have left. You could have run back to the Muggle world, and probably most of the pure-bloods wouldn’t have tried to follow you. But you stayed and fought. Because it’s the right thing to do.”

Lily nodded slowly, blinking a little. Harry could see the soft gleam of tears along her eyelashes. “I just—how did you avoid falling into hatred and bitterness across so many lives?”

“Because bitterness doesn’t last,” Harry said quietly. “And hatred doesn’t, either. It burns out. Love is the only thing that lasts. Believe me, I’ve seen that. And I always went and lived some other constellation of experiences later, when I might never see a person I hated in one lifetime, or they might be my best friend or my family.” He’d had to do a lot of rethinking of the Black family in particular when he’d been born their son. “I chose to feel love and compassion instead. That was my choice. Like fighting Voldemort was my choice.”

“I just don’t see how it could have been.”

Harry smiled at his mother and took her hand. “It’s okay. We’ll get along just fine and it’s—good to know that you’re not going to reject me because I’m immortal.” He wanted to say that she was mortal and that was why she didn’t understand outliving bitterness, but that would only drive a wedge between them.

Maybe later I can describe it to them as a tree. Some of those big trees are the only things that live as long as I do. Do they stop putting forth leaves just because they’ve lived a long time?

Content with that decision, Harry turned back only to see Albus studying him frowningly. “And the rest of it,” he said.

Harry grimaced. He hadn’t thought he would keep this secret, but he hadn’t wanted to tell his family all of it at once. Jonathan was the only one who didn’t look curious, though. Even Lily was watching him, and Sirius and James had the look in their eyes that Harry had come to call the “Marauder investigative glance” when he’d been born into the same time period as them.

“All right,” he said. “I’ve been lots and lots of different things in different lives. One of them was a Dementor. That was how I escaped this time. I changed into my Dementor form and breezed through the walls to rescue Remus. And other Dementors always come flocking when I do that. They distracted the Death Eaters.”

“You rescued Remus?” Sirius was the only one who asked, and he had such hope in his eyes that Harry had to smile at him. Lily and James were silent, and Jonathan just pulled Harry harder against him. Harry thought he was really going to like having a big brother.

“Yeah. I stayed with Voldemort as long as I did because he promised not to harm my family if I would.” Harry ignored the way most of them flinched. Albus didn’t, and Jonathan was probably too young. “But he didn’t extend that promise to anyone else I cared about. He captured Remus and he tortured him, and I begged him to spare him. But Voldemort just laughed and acted as if I was weak for asking. So I broke the bargain.”

He wasn’t immediately worried, since he’d felt the strength of the protections around the house when they Apparated in and they wouldn’t allow anyone to get even two miles away without screaming in protest. But he was glad that he was here now, and Voldemort hadn’t had the time to attack while Harry was talking to Albus.

“The rest of it, Harry,” Albus prompted.

Harry blinked, then sighed. “All right. I’m the Master of Death, apparently, since I collected the Deathly Hallows accidentally in my first life.” He held out his hand and shook it as hard as he could, and the Elder Wand still stuck. “The Elder Wand was Headmaster Dumbledore’s wand. Now it’s decided it’s mine.”

James opened his mouth to say something, but there was a sudden rustling down the corridor that Harry remembered as leading to their bedrooms. A door burst open, and the Potter Invisibility Cloak came rushing around the corner and dropped down behind Harry, spreading its sleeves to cuddle him like arms.

James made a choking noise. The others stared. Jonathan was the only one who didn’t move, even though Harry knew he must have become partially invisible.

“And this is another Hallow,” Harry said, pushing his face out from beneath the cloak’s hood. He knew better than to try to get it to let go of him right now. He thought it had only waited this long because it had expected him to come and get it in a while. “The only Invisibility Cloak that stays good down the years.”

“That’s true,” Lily breathed. “I never thought about it, but that one you bought me as a gift unraveled so soon, James…”

“It’s decided that it belongs to you,” James said, with a resigned glance at Harry. “Well, as long as it protects my children, it doesn’t matter.”

“You don’t have to worry,” Harry said. “I’m going to do my best to protect Jonathan.”

Everyone looked at Jonathan then. Harry thought they probably thought of him as too young to realize what was going on, but Harry wasn’t actually sure of that. Especially when Jonathan leaned harder against him, and said, “And I’m going to protect Harry.”

“What about the Resurrection Stone?”

That was Albus, and his eyes were gleaming in a way that Harry definitely didn’t like. He managed to shrug. “I don’t know where it is right now. It could be almost anywhere. I imagine it’ll find me when it’s ready.”

As a matter of fact, Voldemort had hidden his ring Horcrux in the Gaunt shack in almost all worlds. But Harry was telling the truth. There were other worlds where the ring was hidden in wild places, and he was tired right now. He didn’t want to think about confronting the Resurrection Stone until he could think of why in the world the Hallows would have come to find him now, when they never had before.

Is it just that other people know I’m their Master now?

That didn’t seem likely to Harry, and he felt uneasiness move and throb in him even as he leaned against his brother and let his parents hug him again, and Sirius shake his hand and ask questions about Remus, and kept an eye on the wards.

*

He can transform into a Dementor.

Severus had told him the results of the conversation he had spied on in Dumbledore’s office some time ago. But Lord Voldemort had not moved from the position he had taken, staring out an open window of the Manor into the grey twilight.

On the floor at his feet, Death-of-Rabbits was sleeping in a loose ball. Lord Voldemort knew that, was aware of that, and aware of all the other lives in the vast house. Who had died, who was mourning, who was shaken, who could not be trusted to face down another invasion of Dementors if it happened.

It would, at least once more. Lord Voldemort would have the Potter boy back. And the boy would doubtless transform and call the Dementors with that transformation. They would be drawn whether or not he willed it.

Lord Voldemort was certain of that. He knew there were things Severus was keeping from him. He was content to let them rest for now. He had another goal, and one that Severus’s poisoned tongue would not hinder him from accomplishing.

The boy could turn into a Dementor. He was immortal. He knew about Horcruxes, about a thousand other Dark Arts. He could speak Parseltongue. He had other skills, doubtless, that Severus had not learned about or sought to keep from him.

Lord Voldemort at last moved from the window. He strode through the room with graceful, precise steps, and opened the door so that Death-of-Rabbits could pass through it. That was only convenience for the snake, and for the way it could follow him. Lord Voldemort could turn to smoke himself and fly if he so wished.

Potter had spent months with Lord Voldemort and could still defy him, pretend to surrender and then never do so, and break the bargain that had protected his family with impunity once he found out that it did not cover non-blood family. Lord Voldemort knew others, fully adult and human individuals, who would have broken under what he had inflicted.

Lord Voldemort moved towards the ritual room in the center of the house. Behind him slithered Death-of-Rabbits, and the other serpents that he kept as spies in various corners of the manor began to follow. By the time he reached the ritual room’s door and circumvented the protections on it by pressing one hand flat into the circle of obsidian on it, he had an honor guard worthy of his status and power.

Once, all he had desired was for the population of wizarding Britain to cower at his feet. And the death of Albus Dumbledore, admittedly, but he had dreamed only of that death. He had not assumed he would get a chance to torture the old man first. He was too dangerous not to kill right away.

The door to the room opened. Lord Voldemort moved inside like the Lord he was, the one who had the right to enter here, and tuned around in the circle in the center. It formed the same shape as the circle on the door, but although smooth and black, it was not made of obsidian. This was basalt magically preserved before being dipped into the magma of an active volcano and charged, therefore, with the most potent processes of fire and earth.

The one thing he had never imagined was the desire to break a specific individual, to make that individual acknowledge him and accept that Lord Voldemort was his Lord in truth. Because there had been no one who had deserved that much of his attention.

The ritual circle around him began to glow and lift its flames in response to his will. Lord Voldemort closed his eyes. In the darkness, he could see the great volcano that had created this stone and forged it.

But now there was.

Lord Voldemort began to chant. The words welled out of his mouth, out of his perfect memory, thick as lava, toxic as a volcano’s fumes.

And his will traveled into the earth, through the bedrock that had birthed the forces this circle was made of, and through the air, through the thrumming warmth that drove the heart of the one he sought.

And touched that one, who had to walk on the earth and live with the warmth in his veins of primal fire. And pulled.

*

Harry gasped and bent over as he felt the tug begin on his heart—on his heartstrings, the literal ones. He recognized the ritual that Voldemort was using at once, of course. He’d faced it and countered it often enough in other lives.

But it cost an enormous amount of magic, and had sometimes killed wizards of lesser power who had tried to use it against the Weasley or Black or Granger or Longbottom or Muggleborn wizard that Harry was. He was amazed that Voldemort would consider that worth it.

I suppose I should have thought through depriving him of his favorite plaything, and that his vengeance might be against me rather than my family, Harry thought in some annoyance. He stood up, wavering a little on his feet. There was the relentless compulsion to follow the pull, of course, but that didn’t matter right now. A day ago, he would have been hard-pressed not to obey. He was magically exhausted, and his body was still only a few years old.

But now, he had the Elder Wand, and merely touching it made a different kind of fire than the one Voldemort was relying on rise up in his chest.

He aimed the wand in the direction of the pull, said to Albus, “Sir, he’s using Fire and Earth. Keep the others out of the way,” and began to chant. The room around him was bucking and quivering with the strain, the magic trying to impose the reality of the ritual circle where Voldemort stood over the Potter family home. Harry faced down the strain. His will rose to mingle with the fire and the magic.

Not my family. Never again.

You want a battle, bastard? You have one.

Chapter Text

Harry was resisting.

Lord Voldemort stood in the middle of the ritual circle with the forces of Fire and Earth playing through him and holding him perfectly in balance, and he strove to understand. He had never encountered anyone able to resist even the smallest portion of elemental magic before. And while Harry was powerful, he could not cut his own heart or stop walking on the earth. He must come.

The resistance continued, and then the flames recoiled back on him. Nothing touched the earth part of the ritual, but the fire was being cooled and redirected. And without two elements, Fire and Earth was not strong enough to pull on anyone.

Lord Voldemort answered the dying fire with his own incandescent rage. He would win. He would know what was happening. He directed a small portion of his immense strength to bringing him a vision of Harry Potter in this moment. Perhaps he was in Hogwarts and standing in the middle of his own ritual circle. That would explain some things.

But what formed in front of his own closed eyelids was not a ritual circle or Albus Dumbledore or a vision of the boy. It was a twisting, sliding cloud of fire. In the heart of the cloud blazed a hard red center like a ruby. And all around the ruby shone stars.

What is this? Lord Voldemort hissed in mental Parseltongue, flicking out his magic again like a forked tongue. You will tell me!

This is what my soul looks like, Harry’s voice said, steady and unafraid, and so much more adult than the voice he’d used to speak aloud to Lord Voldemort in the past few years. You wanted to see what I looked like in this moment. Here I am.

Lord Voldemort did not have time to separate stars from fire or debate with himself what the ruby at the heart of it meant, because in the next moment Harry attacked.

His motions were nothing like the clumsy ones he had made with his child’s body, or the smoother ones Lord Voldemort had become used to seeing as Harry adapted to using his muscles under his Lord’s direction. They were hardly motions at all, instead lashes of pure magic, a natural force like the volcano that had created the basalt in the ritual circle. Lord Voldemort jerked his head back with a snarl when some of it sped past him.

Then he realized that he hadn’t been the target of that particular lash. Instead, Harry latched onto the side of the ritual circle and pried it apart. Now Earth and Fire were separate again, as they had been a moment before, but both belonged to Harry.

You are trying to destroy me? There was no fear in Lord Voldemort, only rage as hot as the flames.

No. I’m trying to show you something.

In the sight of the world between worlds where they fought, Lord Voldemort watched Harry Potter—or the thing that called itself Harry Potter, because what it was was greater than any single name—braid Earth and Fire together. The magic of the being’s soul danced around them, threading through them, stringing them with stars of power that Lord Voldemort knew instinctively could be left behind without weakening the being that left them there.

It was not something Lord Voldemort could have done, and simply by staring at the stars, he couldn’t tell what Harry was building, either.

The knowledge of his own weakness made him grind his teeth, but he didn’t interfere. It had been years since he caught a glimpse of magic he didn’t know the end of the moment he knew the beginning. He wanted to see what would happen next more than he wanted to destroy it, or even Harry.

The braided strands of elemental power ended up as one glittering coil, something like the coils of an enormous snake that Lord Voldemort had seen in ancient paintings in a tomb in Rome that he had broken into. When Harry sank back a little—even his immense magic wearied by the effort of such a plaiting—Lord Voldemort could not tell where one element had ended and the next began.

It is pretty, but what is it for?

Watch, Harry said, his mental Parseltongue as loud as a trumpet, and then reached out and flicked another touch of power against the coil.

It went tumbling through a space that was not inside the ritual circle and yet was, and Lord Voldemort caught a glimpse of it. It was opening a tunnel into the heart of the earth, into the shaft of a volcano. He watched as magma swelled through hidden chambers at the heart of the rock, and created new stone, and the great explosion when the volcano finally vented its wrath.

Why did you show me this?

This is the kind of view that Muggle scientists could never have, and even wizards would die of the fumes before they could get this close. Harry’s voice was soft, and not with weariness. No magic could hold up against the fire. But talk to the elements kindly enough, and they’ll tell you where they came from. Isn’t this wondrous, to see something that no one else ever will?

Lord Voldemort said nothing. He watched new rock created, and he measured the strength of the opponent who rested beside him.

Then he turned and attacked, at the moment when another explosion was swelling out of the vision and he knew he would be able to take Harry at his most off-guard.

But Harry was ready, his magic curving up and around him like tangling ropes, and Lord Voldemort found himself on his knees in the ritual circle, his head bowed and tingling with the power that Harry forced into him.

Fill a vessel with too much magic, and it will shatter, Harry’s voice said, cool behind the pounding of the headache. Will that be your fate, Lord Voldemort?

It would not be his fate.

Lord Voldemort coiled deep within himself, so deeply that no one else had ever been able to sense it. Not the serpents, not Dumbledore when he was at Hogwarts, not any enemy who had challenged him in formal duel or battle since he changed his name. There was blackness at the center of his soul, and he found it and he dived deep, deep, and he came up holding that strength in his jaws and he wielded it like a whip against the magic holding him.

There was a confusing moment of snow and fire, his body freezing and burning both at once, and an unending howl in his ears. Lord Voldemort swayed with dizziness, snarling out of habit when he felt a hand come down as if to help him. The hand was snatched away.

When he could see again, he was in the middle of the ritual circle, the black stones drained around him, and he was alone.

Lord Voldemort knelt there, patient as the predator and the genius he was, and waited. Had he destroyed Harry? Left him too weak to press the attack?

But the next second, he knew the answer to that question. A golden net reached down to him, draping around his neck and snapping his head upwards. It had no existence in the world of sight; he could see it only when he closed his eyes.

Lord Voldemort found his head forced back to the point that his neck ached, and then magic flicked him on the nose like an errant Crup.

Rage exploded through him, but the rage was weakened by the effort of that long dive and the elemental forces he had felt pressed against him, and he found himself panting while Harry’s voice spoke to him, cool as wind, flowing as water.

That was stupid of you. You ought to know that you can’t use magic like that except against someone who’s either standing right in front of you or connected to you the way that I used to be connected by the Horcrux. But I’m not in this life, so what did you think it would avail you? Why do it?

He paused. Lord Voldemort said nothing. The rage was in his throat, choking him. He wanted to hurt something, wanted to fling the door open and find a Death Eater and break his neck. But he couldn’t move at the moment, still held in the grip of Harry’s power and the trembling of his muscles from the dive and the magical contest.

I suppose there’s no answer for my question, except that you’re consumed by anger and hate and you thought it was a good idea. Harry sighed as though Lord Voldemort had disappointed him, which was ridiculous. Lord Voldemort terrified, he destroyed, he made abject, he conquered. He did not disappoint people.

For a moment, the silence continued, while Harry’s magic eddied around him in disagreeable sharp-edged streams. Then Harry spoke again, and his voice had gone cold rather than cool.

Very well. I thought maybe you would take the vision into the volcano as the peace offering it was. But you won’t. Probably you lost that ability a long time ago. I’ll say this only once: Leave me alone. Leave my family alone. That includes all of my family, the people like Remus Lupin and Sirius Black as well as my brother and my parents. And Albus Dumbledore and other professors at Hogwarts and other members of the Order of the Phoenix.

Lord Voldemort was nearly so drained that he could not respond—the way that he could not force his muscles to move, and this was intolerable—but pride gave him the spur to respond. If I hurt them?

Then I’ll dedicate myself not just to defeating you, the way I did in other worlds. I’ll destroy you.

Lord Voldemort laughed, feeling the wavering red spark of anger like a ruby on fire at the heart of the coldness. That is a distinction without a difference.

Is it? I know you. I know you better than anyone else in all the worlds. I know that what frightens you most is death, but if that was all, you would have made Horcruxes and hidden them and never set yourself up as leader of the Death Eaters, because living forever would be all that mattered to you. No, you want immortality on every level. You want your name remembered and feared. If you keep hunting me, I will destroy your Death Eaters. I’ll make sure that everyone forgets both your name and the terror of you. I’ll destroy your Horcruxes and also everything that you put into them and everything that you wanted to memorialize with them. No one will know that you existed. There’ll be no record even of poor Tom Marvolo Riddle, orphan boy, at Hogwarts. I’ll destroy the award that poor befuddled Dippet gave you for Special Services to the School. My vengeance will be that complete.

Lord Voldemort said nothing. He felt as though the words were spinning in a void inside him, and he wanted to scream. But screaming would imply that he was frightened, and that was not the truth.

He was furious. He wanted to claw Harry Potter’s eyes out and place them and the boy’s essence in a homunculus that he would force to watch the destruction of not only every person the boy was related to in this life, but every one he’d been related to in other lives. The Longbottoms, the Weasleys, the Prewitts, the Blacks, everyone. Then Harry would learn the audacity of threatening Lord Voldemort.

There was silence in response, as if Harry didn’t want to leave until he thought his message had been received. Lord Voldemort had no intention of giving him that satisfaction.

But then the magic clamped down. It tightened. And pain such as Lord Voldemort had never known flooded him, as that magic struck at the root of his own power, and began to twist, and threatened to sever it at the root.

Lord Voldemort screamed. He would never have begged for his life, as confident as he was that the Horcruxes would restore him if he someone ever managed to destroy his physical form. But for his magic, he would beg.

Mercy! Spare me!

I want you to believe me. That I can destroy your immortality, and your memory, and I will do both if you dare to strike at my family. Or anyone else that I might once have called family, simply because you want to be even with me.

Lord Voldemort drifted in pain and silence and bewilderment. What Harry was asking of him—had no end. There was nothing he could do if he could not strike for revenge and if he backed down before an enemy. His Death Eaters would notice his weakness and turn on him. And there might be those among his Death Eaters whom Harry had called family in the past.

There were no paths away from this place. It was the first time since he had been a helpless child who thought he was a Muggle that Lord Voldemort believed he had no recourse.

Harry paused for a second. Then the clamping power pulled back, and Lord Voldemort breathed in the silence of his magic.

I will make no allowance for those who have chosen to be Death Eaters in this life. If they’re still with you and they try to betray you or attack you, then discipline them all you like.

Such generous permission, Lord Voldemort murmured back, but the bewilderment had not eased. Harry could have cut off access to his magic. Why would he not? Lord Voldemort would have done it if he could have.

I cannot. The bitterness tried to overflow his mouth like the venom of a milked snake. He swallowed and did not permit it to leave, but he would not hold himself back when he next met a Death Eater.

I could have destroyed your magic only at the cost of my own, Harry said quietly. I won’t hesitate to use that weapon if I need to, but I would rather not. Refrain from attacking my family, and I won’t need to.

His presence vanished from Lord Voldemort’s mind before he could retort. He found himself kneeling in the center of the ritual circle with his head hanging down so that his chin nearly touched his chest. He shook his head and straightened up wearily. Then he closed his eyes and composed himself. He would meditate before he left the room and attacked the first Death Eater he saw like a starving animal.

He did not understand an enemy who would spare him. Most of the time, he would have thought such a foe weak, but he had felt the shimmering strength that wrapped around him, and the delicacy and finesse behind that vision of the volcano. Harry Potter was not weak.

But there was nothing that Lord Voldemort could fully fail to grasp. He would meditate on that as well, and in the end he would understand. Harry Potter was not so important or special that he was beyond the reach of the greatest mortal intellect that had ever lived.

He might be unique. And Lord Voldemort would know what to do with that knowledge once he’d decided on it.

*

Jonathan almost held his breath as he watched Harry, even though his baby brother was just standing there with his wand extended and trembling in his hand and his forehead all wrinkled. His arm shook now and then. It still looked harder than all the training that Mr. Dumbledore had made Jonathan go through.

Then Harry almost collapsed. Jonathan picked him up and put him back on the couch. Harry was near his own size, but it was still easy. Maybe just because he wanted to do it, Jonathan thought.

“What happened, Harry?”

Mum was holding onto them both again. Jonathan only wriggled and squirmed enough to make sure that he got to hold Harry, too. Uncle Sirius was watching them all with worried eyes, and then Father came up and hugged them from over the back of the couch.

“I need to know what happened,” said Mr. Dumbledore, and his voice was quiet and insistent.

Jonathan scowled at him. “Can’t you see he’s tired? Leave him alone.”

Mr. Dumbledore looked totally at a loss for words. Jonathan supposed people didn’t say things like that to him every day. But maybe he didn’t bother people like this every day. Jonathan nestled down into Harry’s hair and closed his eyes.

“We just got our son back, Albus,” Father said, his voice thin. “Leave him alone, yes. Leave us all alone, for right now. I’m sure that Harry did something so that Voldemort can’t break through the protections and can’t attack us right now. And he kept himself from being taken by Voldemort. Right, Harry?”

“Right,” Harry said, and then he actually started to snore. Jonathan blinked. Well, that just proved that he was more tired than he’d looked.

“Leave, Albus.”

Jonathan thought Mr. Dumbledore might have argued, but Uncle Sirius took his arm, shook his head, and escorted him out the door. Uncle Sirius did glance back once at Father and nod. But Jonathan didn’t know what that meant.

He didn’t think he needed to, either. His little brother was back.

Chapter Text

Lord Voldemort thought. And thought.

Harry was a being that had existed for centuries, but not in the same body or the same life. He had somehow maintained his sanity. He had maintained his magic. His perfect memories probably helped to account for that. If he had had to start over in each life, he would not have been truly immortal, only someone who could reincarnate, the way some wizards believed every being did.

Lord Voldemort thought. And thought.

Harry had somehow retained his compassion and mercy, whereas all the laws of the mind Lord Voldemort knew would have dictated those wearing away like stone with water dripping on it. He had spared Lord Voldemort. He had not turned against those who betrayed him in various lives. He seemed to believe that they were truly reborn anew or different in each life even as he maintained his continuity.

Lord Voldemort thought. And thought.

Harry’s mercy was conditional. That part was familiar. But he had not spared Lord Voldemort on the condition that he cease fighting, or turn to the Light, or serve him, all terms that Lord Voldemort could imagine Dumbledore using. He had simply done it on the condition that Lord Voldemort refrain from attacking some people who would not have been important to him in any case if not for their relation to the Potters.

Lord Voldemort thought. And thought.

There was a place somewhere in these thoughts he was striving to reach. He would find it. He would.

*

Harry leaned back and rubbed his face. It had been six months since he’d escaped from Voldemort’s custody, and the things that hadn’t changed outweighed the ones that had.

Jonathan was still everywhere he was, and only the other day had said something about not wanting to go to Hogwarts until Harry could, even though he was old enough to enter two years earlier. Harry had argued with him, but Jonathan wasn’t budging so far.

Dumbledore still wanted Harry to write to him all the time and teach him all the “secrets” he knew about various Death Eaters and kinds of magic. Harry had cautioned him that the things he knew to be true of Death Eaters in other lives might not be the case here; Voldemort’s most feared Death Eater in his life as Humphrey Longbottom didn’t appear to even exist here. Dumbledore had wanted him to write them down anyway, and Harry had just finished giving the Potter owl yet another missive.

Lily still fed him and fussed over him and thanked him for telling her the truth. If she looked at him with frightened eyes sometimes, or teary ones, or hugged him hard right after he wrote one of his letters for Dumbledore…that was still so much better than the relationship they might have had that it filled Harry with a vast relief.

James was prone to random hugs out of nowhere, and he was the one who tried to treat Harry more like a child. Sometimes he called him “Har,” and he still transformed into a stag and ran around the garden with Harry on his back. Harry accepted it and hugged him back. Even if James was laboring under a misconception, at least it was a lot nicer one than it could have been.

And Remus avoided him, and gave him strange looks when he did visit and he didn’t think Harry was looking. At least Lily and James were welcoming him into their lives again. It didn’t matter much to Harry how Remus treated him. It was worth being a little uncomfortable for Remus to be happier than he’d been in half a decade.

Sirius was the one who had changed most. Sometimes he treated Harry like a boy, sometimes like an adult, and he kept asking him trick questions to try and catch him in a lie. He really didn’t seem to believe Harry at all. Of course, it was only Sirius’s bad luck that Harry’s perfect memory made him remember everything he’d ever said to Sirius. If he had lied, he’d remember that, too.

“Harry?”

Harry glanced over at his brother with a smile. Jonathan was practicing his own handwriting; he was pretty good at reading, but not writing.

And he’d set the quill aside, anyway. He was staring at Harry with his head cocked to the side a little, as if he could see the curling coils of magic that Harry could always feel dancing around him, just out of reach.

“What is it, Jonny?”

He was the only one who called Jonathan that. As usual, his brother smiled when he did it. “Why does Mr. Dumbledore keep training me? You’re going to be the one to defeat You-Know-Who, so why doesn’t he train you?”

“Because that’s not what the prophecy says.” Harry faced Jonathan. He was so serious and intent, not much like a little boy. Then again, they hadn’t treated him much like a little boy after Harry was gone, either. “Dumbledore has faith in the prophecy. It says that you have to be the one to defeat Voldemort, so that’s what he believes.”

“But you’re stronger.”

“Strength doesn’t always mean what you think it does,” Harry said softly, his mind full of countless times when magical strength hadn’t proven effective against foes. “And it can lead you astray.”

“How?”

“Voldemort thought that I had to be important because of my magical strength. Nothing else, really. He was interested in keeping me captive and learning from me, because I was strong. Nothing about whether I actually knew things I could teach him, whether I wanted to, whether I was a good person who might not teach him something that would destroy him. People think magical power is wonderful, which is fine, but it’s not the only wonderful thing. And both Dumbledore and Voldemort think it is.”

Jonathan’s brow was furrowed, as he struggled to grasp what Harry was saying. “But what does Mr. Dumbledore think you’re going to do? If I have to be the one to fight You-Know-Who?”

“I don’t know yet,” Harry admitted with a gusty little sigh. “Sometimes I think he doesn’t know. That he’s just keeping me around to keep his options open.”

“What does that mean?”

Harry winced and shot Jonathan a guilty glance. Jonathan was leaning forwards, utterly focused on him. Harry was starting to think that wasn’t a great thing. Jonathan needed to develop his own sense of independence and be able to function separately from Harry. Harry was a leader when he had to be, but he preferred not to be, and he didn’t want to indoctrinate a six-year-old into following him.

“Um, never mind—”

“No, what did you mean?”

All right. I don’t want to indoctrinate him into following me, but I also don’t want to deny him the truth. “I mean that Dumbledore doesn’t know how he wants to defeat Voldemort yet, I think. Or doesn’t know how he can, since the prophecy didn’t work. In the other worlds I’ve lived in, the prophecy has always come true in some way, even when it wasn’t the same way as my first world. And Dumbledore, when he was involved, always went by its guidance. This time, he’s acting lost without it.”

Jonathan was nodding as though he understood everything, but Harry didn’t think he did, really. Well, he would have to hope he could explain it more clearly. Honestly, he had never dealt with a child who knew what he was. The very few times that other people had glimpsed the truth before this, they had always been adults.

And they’d never had the full truth. Just parts of it.

“Tell me what you think he’s going to do, then.”

Harry shook his head slowly. He should understand Albus better, after so many interactions with him, but the Headmaster of Hogwarts was someone who seemed to change the most internally from world to world. He was almost always Headmaster—

Well, except for my sixteenth life, but that was honestly one of the weirdest lives for everyone in the universe.

But sometimes Albus had come to peace with his regrets, and sometimes he was self-righteous in his fury against the Dark Arts, and sometimes he wasn’t, and sometimes he was the sort of man who had killed a sixteen-year-old Tom Riddle with an undetectable alchemical poison the minute he murdered someone and then didn’t know what to do with his unkillable wraith, and sometimes he was the sort of stern teacher McGonagall had been, and sometimes he had looked at Harry with pity and understanding when he got some flicker of the truth.

I don’t think that’s forthcoming this time. Albus distrusted him at the bottom of his soul, this time. Harry sighed. He knows I’m telling the truth, but that just makes him more upset.

“Harry?”

“Yes?” Harry tried to smile at his brother. He couldn’t worry about what he couldn’t change, and the twists of Albus Dumbledore’s soul were one of those things.

“Tell me a story about one of your lives.”

Harry nodded, and faced him, and began to speak about the life he’d been a Kneazle. Jonathan laughed so hard at the part where Harry had to pretend to be interested in Umbridge’s female Kneazle to get close to Salazar Slytherin’s locket that some of Harry’s fear eased, as well.

It will work out. I don’t know what Albus plans to do yet, but he’s not the only significant player in this universe.

*

Lord Voldemort meditated. And meditated.

When he sank into the dark, cool places of his own mind, truths were waiting for him. That had always been the case, but he had not visited these places in decades. He knew the hot, dark places best, where he invented deadly curses never seen before and perfected plans of vengeance.

He had earned the right to that vengeance. The world had denied him everything he wanted when he was a child, simply because he had magic and that made him a freak to Muggles, and then because he was Muggle-raised and that made him a freak to wizards. Lord Voldemort had risen from the ashes of Tom Riddle’s miserable life. He had a right to fight back, to exact a price on the world that had wronged him, one of great Slytherin’s descendants, and a right to make them suffer as he had suffered.

But the dark, cool places were the ones he had visited when he first came up with other plans. Plans to assemble the Death Eaters, to make them respect him. And ones that allowed him to track down Dark Arts tomes and artifacts long thought lost to the world.

He went there now because he knew they were what could save him. He had tried his best to conquer Harry Potter with vengeance, to break him, to find a reason or a way to attack his family that would not result in the loss of his own magic—

And it did not work. He needed something that would.

But even the haven of that part of his mind, although it quenched his fury, could not tell him immediately what kind of plan he should hatch. Lord Voldemort sat and watched the serpents of his own thoughts as though they were something separate from him, crawling sluggishly through the chill. He needed to study them, to find the flaws and heal them.

It was impossible for many long months. He would return from the cold places, and speak with coolness in his voice to the Death Eaters, and set them to searching for more Dark Arts tomes, more artifacts, and extending his influence into Europe. Most of them went along with it in silent eagerness, either glad not to be tortured or thinking that he was creating a new, gloriously dark plan.

He never would have thought of them as glad not to be tormented before.

Lord Voldemort returned to the dark cool places of his mind again and again, and there came a day when his thoughts moved faster, like serpents who had learned to ignore the cold. He listened to them.

And he realized.

A mighty being in the world who could crush him, whom he could not attack and could not ignore and could not control and could not surrender to, because surrender even now revolted him, the mighty Lord Voldemort…

He must learn to work with.

And so Lord Voldemort set to meditating ways to do that.

*

“If you could just attempt to break through the illusions that I am going to conjure, young Mr. Potter…”

Harry watched with narrowed eyes as Dumbledore drew his wand and conjured those shadows. They were the sort of spell that he hadn’t trained with, in most of his lives, before he was ten years old.

But Jonathan only nodded and gripped his wand as though this wasn’t unusual. Then he sprinted at the shadows, and flung a spell with a shout that made Harry blink and jump.

The spell didn’t splinter the shadows or send them reeling, but it did carve a path of light through them. Harry watched in interest as Jonathan got almost to Dumbledore before the shadows thickened again and Jonathan cried out.

Harry surged to his feet. He knew how piercingly cold it could be in that kind of illusion, and just because Nestor had once used it to train him—

“Please sit back down, Mr. Potter.” Dumbledore’s eyes were focused more on him than on Jonathan. “I understand you want to play the part of protective brother, but there’s truly nothing here that should hurt young Mr. Potter.”

“You realize I’m younger than him?” Harry asked as he took his seat on the bench near the front of the house again.

“Not where it counts.”

There. Dumbledore’s eyes were haunted in the moments before they flicked over to Jonathan and he let the shadows go, beginning to tell Jonathan what spell he should have used before he attacked them. Harry watched him and saw his face go calm and genial, but he couldn’t fool Harry.

The reason he didn’t know what Dumbledore intended to do next, with the failure of the prophecy, was that Dumbledore didn’t know himself. He believed in fate and destiny, not coincidence. It had to be bothering the hell out of him that Harry, with all these powers that could be used for either Dark or Light, had fallen into this universe and seemed to be too powerful to be controlled.

Harry winced. I don’t want this to be like my eighth life. He’d had such an antagonistic relationship with the Dumbledore that life that he’d avoided him in his ninth one. And it had been for the same reason. Dumbledore couldn’t fathom that Harry couldn’t be controlled, he’d tried to, it didn’t work, and he’d ended up fearing Harry.

Merlin, don’t let that happen this time.

*

Lord Voldemort looked up at the moon.

It had been almost two years now since Harry had left him. He had spent the time well, he now thought, as he leaned on the wall of the manor house and watched Death-of-Rabbits hunting for a meal in the overgrown gardens. He had thought, and meditated, and pulled his thoughts and his impulses into order.

He did not yet have the magic and the power that Harry did.

But he had the ambition to be worthy of them. To make Harry see him as a worthy ally.

He had led an internal debate with himself for the last month concerning what he would do about Dumbledore. It was unlikely the old man would let Harry simply ally himself with Lord Voldemort and look the other way. Even if Lord Voldemort requested secrecy about his messages, it would be like Harry to show them to Dumbledore, which would have the same result.

Lord Voldemort sneered, but it lacked the requisite bite. He still showed that bite to his Death Eaters. Not torturing those who could damage him was a lesson he had learned from Harry. Much more satisfying to turn upon those who could not.

But if he kept his approach lawful, if he expressed his willingness to learn, if he refrained from his attacks on anyone, if he even suggested that Harry show the messages openly to Dumbledore…

Already he had seen the articles in the Daily Prophet expressing doubts about whether he was an uncontrollable madman after all. It annoyed him, to know that Dumbledore had used his raids and attacks to cast doubt on his sanity.

Perhaps it would have been true.

But Lord Voldemort had thrown that idea away impatiently. Even if it had been true at one point, Dumbledore would never have used that as a matter of concern for him, a suggestion he should come to St. Mungo’s for healing. It would have been a tool of the war only, to urge the wizarding world to fight him to the death.

Pull back, master his impulses, ask for what he wanted—which was Harry as an ally—and it had the magnificent effect of frustrating Dumbledore far more than anything else he could do.

Lord Voldemort smiled a little. The war was losing its momentum. Soon Dumbledore would have even more trouble recruiting wizards and witches to join the Order of the Phoenix. Soon the paranoia would lessen, and people would go back to their ordinary activities full time.

And he would be learning, in the background. Appealing to that compassion he had come to see as the mainstay of Harry’s strength, and a weakness as large as the universe.

He could wait. He could reach out. He could, with his honest conviction that only Harry had the right to cast aspersions on his sanity or be annoyed with him, call down an ally who would, in the end, defend him to others as someone worth forgiving.

Lord Voldemort knew Harry’s magic would turn on him in an instant if that was a pretense. But he need only shift his desires—to frustrate Dumbledore, to rule in less obvious ways, to make that source of powerful magic come willingly back to his side—and his tactics and the likely outcomes shifted with them, to something his enemies could not successfully oppose.

Lord Voldemort smiled at the moon. He felt more like a lord than he had in decades.

Chapter Text

“Jonathan, I really want you to go to Hogwarts when your letter comes.”

“But why, Harry? I can protect you better if I’m close.”

Harry winced, as he always did when Jonathan started talking like that, but he managed to stay perched at the table, on a chair that was already taller than it had been just a few weeks ago. He’d started growing, now that he was eight, as if to make up for lost time. Meanwhile, Jonathan was staring at him.

Harry hated having to use this tactic, but he’d started to suspect there was no other way to do it. “But how can you protect me if you stay by my side with only the training that Mr. Dumbledore gave you?” he asked, and smiled when Jonathan frowned thoughtfully. “He doesn’t show you all that many spells. If you go to Hogwarts and learn more of them, then you can defend me better when the time comes.”

Jonathan tapped his fingers on the side of his cereal bowl. Lily was finally trusting both of them to fix their own meals most of the time, and she and James had both ventured out from under the wards lately. Harry approved highly. There was no sign that Voldemort had started to move, and they had to live their lives.

Dumbledore disapproved. Harry had come to fear the times they clashed more and more. This was exactly why he had never told the full truth to anyone in his lives before. They simply couldn’t handle the thought of what he was.

“I know what you’re doing.”

Harry jerked back to himself, and grinned a little at Jonathan. “Do you?”

“Yes. You just want me to go to Hogwarts. You don’t care as much about the fact that I could protect you better.”

“Well, that’s true,” Harry admitted, abandoning the attempt to manipulate Jonathan with some relief. “I do want you to go to Hogwarts. I had so much fun the times I was there.” Well, some of the times he was there, but he saw no need to burden Jonathan with trials like how hard it was to get up steps as a snake. “And I want you to be able to live your life without always staying around me.”

“Hmmm.”

Jonathan was stubborn to a fault, but that sounded encouraging. Harry ate a little more of his own cornflakes, studying his brother hopefully. Jonathan finally snorted and poured some milk into his bowl.

“We have almost a year to think about it, anyway.” Jonathan’s eleventh birthday was next June, and he’d only turned ten two months ago. Harry sighed and nodded, and waited until Jonathan left the table to go take a shower before he turned and glanced out the window.

He’d seen a black owl circling there some minutes ago, but it had only passed the window each time. Still, a wild owl wouldn’t circle obsessively like that. Harry suspected this was a message for him.

He even thought he knew who it was from.

Voldemort had been quiet for over three years. That was unprecedented in any of Harry’s lives. He thought it might mean Voldemort was setting up some dangerous Dark ritual that would take half a decade to complete, and he was going to taunt Harry now, but he still admitted to a bit of curiosity when he opened the window and the owl flew in and alighted in the middle of the table.

“Told only to find me if I was alone,” Harry muttered, and the owl gave him a haughty look. The wards would still have reacted if someone sent a letter with evil intent. That intrigued Harry more than anything else as he took the message.

Plain parchment, too, now the fancy shit that Harry thought Voldemort might have gone through to announce a real magical experiment. He raised an eyebrow as he opened it.

Just the salutation was almost enough to make him drop the letter on the floor.

Dear Harry,

I know you wouldn’t have expected to hear from me. Or perhaps you would have expected a declaration of war. But since when do I do what everyone expects?

You defeated me. I would have been stupid to approach you before now. But I have another bargain to offer you—one that you have the means of ensuring that I keep yourself.

Harry stirred with the impulse to go show the letter to his parents, but he didn’t. In the end, he did want to hear what Lord Voldemort had decided on in his overweening self-confidence.

I wish to make a bargain to learn as much of magic—ritual magic, the secrets of the past and future you have learned, and talents you derive from your many lifetimes—as you are willing to teach me. And I will labor to behave to your satisfaction. All you would have to do if I did not behave is withdraw your knowledge. I can never challenge you if I can never become as powerful as you are.

Harry rolled his eyes. There it was again, that reverence for magical power that both Dumbledore and Voldemort carried to extremes. He wondered idly if Voldemort knew how exasperated his words would make Harry. Probably not, though, or he wouldn’t have written them.

My behavior to your satisfaction will include no more raids, no more torturing of people who are not Death Eaters or do not attack me personally, and no more targeting of Muggleborns. I refuse to speak for my followers. I will not hold them back if they wish to work against Muggleborns on their own. But I will not support them or make them think I would lead them in it.

Harry stared at the letter in his hands. What the fuck. It wasn’t a word that he’d had a lot of cause to think since he’d been reborn this time, but it wasn’t like it was ever far from his thoughts. He’d done a lot of thinking of it during his sixteenth life in particular. But then, being raised by a mad necromancer would do that to him.

I want power of this kind more than I want power of the other kind.

Write to me with your answer.

Lord Voldemort.

That last line might be true, but Harry still didn’t trust the letter for a minute. No Voldemort, in any of his lives, had ever made a truce like this, with him or anyone else. They were incapable of even lying about wanting a truce—

That made him pause again. So if this Voldemort could lie about wanting a truce, he was already different than any of the others.

Harry had thought that before. None of the others had ever realized what Harry was, or managed to refrain from murdering people mindlessly for this long, or kidnapped him and made a bargain that had been even partially kept. Harry still didn’t know the number of this Voldemort’s Horcruxes, if perhaps that was the difference, or if it was yet another wrinkle in the way the worlds unfolded that had happened before he was born here. But he couldn’t deny it existed.

And if there was a way that he could keep that quietude going—that was only a good thing in the end. It would give Dumbledore and the Order of the Phoenix more time to get ready for the war when it exploded again. If Harry could make himself trustworthy enough to Voldemort, he might even be able to give them unique intelligence. Harry knew from conversations with Dumbledore that they had no spy among the Death Eaters this time. Severus was a miserable bastard in this world who had never turned.

Harry sighed. It wasn’t the first life he had had like that, but honestly, Severus led such a tiny, twisted existence when he didn’t come back to Dumbledore’s side. Harry mourned for what could have been for a moment.

Then he dismissed it and looked back at the letter. So, he would enter correspondence with Voldemort. For right now, this was nothing more than a discussion of theory, and Harry knew well how to cherry-pick what he would tell Voldemort so that any deadly spells or rituals he might try to use would be missing crucial components. And he could keep an eye on him, and perhaps weaken him.

For now, it was worth the minimal risk of a letter.

*

Lord Voldemort smiled when he saw the black owl winging down towards him. He had taken to walking more in the manor’s gardens over the last two days since he had sent the message to Harry, to give the bird a greater chance to find him in privacy. Death-of-Rabbits reared up curiously beside him as Lord Voldemort removed the message from the owl’s leg and opened it.

Dear Lord Voldemort,

I would be open to accepting your offer, if I can set a few conditions to it.

Lord Voldemort closed his eyes as bliss extended tendrils like a firework’s flaming strands through his chest. It was as he had suspected. Harry was open to this kind of trap as he would never be to brute force.

And Lord Voldemort would wind around him, as slow and subtle as the serpent. That had always been the better way, but Lord Voldemort had buried himself too much within human wisdom to see it. Now he would return to his House and his blood, and do things their way.

When he read on, for Harry’s conditions, they seemed so simple, compared to what a being of Harry’s stature would have the right to demand, that he wanted to laugh.

First, you will make an oath in blood and snake-scales on the night of a full moon that you will never harm my family. That includes the people that I think of as part of my family, like Remus Lupin. It won’t include any other active Death Eaters.

Lord Voldemort noticed the trailing dots of ink after those last words. He wondered in what strange lifetime Harry Potter had managed to harvest affection for one of his Death Eaters.

Second, you will make the same oath on the night of the next full moon that you won’t participate in the genocide, kidnapping, or torture of Muggleborns.

“How interesting, my snake,” Lord Voldemort breathed, “that you do not make the same demand of me for the safety of Muggles.”

Third, you will make the oath that you won’t use any of the magic I teach you in ways that I don’t approve of.

Lord Voldemort raised his eyebrows. Harry could have set a condition of theory only, and not practice, that he could never use any of that magic at all. And Lord Voldemort had learned better than to assume, as he once would have, that his opponent was not smart enough to have thought of that. Harry had the knowledge of constant lifetimes bristling and roiling within him. He had his reasons for reserving the approval to himself.

What he has thought can be unthought. His mind can be changed. Lord Voldemort returned to reading the letter.

Fourth, you will keep this correspondence private on your end. I know you can imagine what would happen if one of your Death Eaters saw it.

Lord Voldemort chuckled, a sound like dry scales scraping the ground.

Fifth, you will read books that I send you, and listen to me when I talk to you, about Light philosophy, and the reasons that I think your wars are a terrible idea. That is the last of my conditions.

I look forward to your reply, Lord Voldemort, and what will make you different from the Voldemorts of other worlds that I have slaughtered.

Harry Potter.

Lord Voldemort spent a moment smoothing the sharp tip of his fingernail over the inked words. Then he nodded decisively, and set the letter aside. He would do some research of his own on the oath before he made it—he had never heard of one made in blood and snake-scales at the full moon—and think about what conditions he wanted to set that Harry was likely to agree to. He would already have the motive to keep his correspondence private.

There was so much excitement, deep and dark red as the chambers of the heart, swelling inside him. This was the opponent he had been born to trick and argue to his side. He would have no other.

*

Albus stared down at his new wand. Ash with a core of thestral hair; he’d had to go to a secretive wandmaker in Sweden to get this one made. It obeyed him perfectly. He had touched it in the shop and lit the small dusty room with a white glow that meant he had to Memory Charm the wandmaker, in the end. He had been traveling in disguise, and that power would lead her to suspect too much.

It obeyed him perfectly.

He still missed the Elder Wand.

It wasn’t that the wand had ever acted around him the way it did around Harry. It didn’t quiver—except, he realized now, when he’d been using it in spells that should let him find or recover Harry. It didn’t leap to his palm the moment he casually stretched his hand out, which had happened to Harry on the last visit Albus made to the Potters’ house. He hadn’t even won a lot of duels with it.

But he had shown that he was a strong wizard, and so the wand had chosen to stay with him. Albus had been content with that. He would live out his long life, and the wand wouldn’t be used for violence again. His power would be enough to content it, too.

He had thought he understood the Elder Wand the best of all the Deathly Hallows, as the only one he had possessed. It had no concept of loyalty, the way he sometimes thought the Cloak might. It followed power. It cleaved to power.

But it was loyal to Harry.

Albus sighed and put that out of his mind. That had to do with being the Master of Death and stretching that mastery across countless lives. And he had to admit that he wouldn’t have been willing to pay that particular price, countless reincarnations. He was looking forward to resting when Tom was defeated, and seeing Ariana and his parents again. Perhaps, when Gellert died as well, they would meet in a place where they could apologize to each other.

His concern was whether the wand’s loyalty came not simply from Harry having collected the Deathly Hallows in his first lifetime, but also from core principles similar to the wand’s. Harry claimed he didn’t care about power, he cared about people, but a master manipulator would say that, wouldn’t he?

Albus wanted to rest. How badly he wanted to rest, he thought as he sat back and looked around his office, full of portraits of Headmasters who had mostly not lived to be as old as he was. But he had to keep the world safe.

And it might not be just from Tom. It might also be from a being so subtle and dangerous and powerful that Albus feared he would never understand him.

Luckily, he didn’t need to understand Harry to oppose him.

“What am I to do?” Albus quietly asked Fawkes. The phoenix cocked his head as if he didn’t understand the question. Albus smiled wanly. He could wish that he didn’t, either. “I don’t know for certain that Harry is a danger. But he’s so hard to hold onto, to grasp, with my mind or my magic. How can I ensure that he’s not a danger before I go to my reach?”

Fawkes threw back his head and trilled. Albus held his breath. Sometimes, when the phoenix sang, visions appeared in his mind, visions that were a guide to the future and could at least hint to him what he should do.

The colors in his mind shifted now. They seemed to be forming a pinwheel with eight blades, one in each of the eight House colors. The pinwheel turned slowly, in a stately fashion, about Harry in the center, who looked like he was eleven years old. And there was a snake coiled up near his feet, and a badger sitting on them, and an eagle on his arm, and a lion with a paw clasped on his shoulder.

A second snake appeared next to him and coiled on his free arm. That serpent’s eyes were red in a way that Albus knew only Tom’s were.

The vision faded. Albus closed his eyes and tilted his head forwards, his heart so heavy that he wouldn’t have been surprised to hear it fall out of his chest.

“He will ally with Tom, then,” Albus whispered. “It doesn’t matter if I can’t find a way to oppose them both yet. I will have to try.”

And he turned and left the office, ignoring the way Fawkes trilled urgently behind him. He had only ever got one vision out of any one song. He would learn nothing else from the phoenix now, and he had a war to prepare for.

No matter how long it took, or what it cost.

Chapter Text

No, you wouldn't have heard of that vow. It's one that a Parselmouth made up ages ago when there were more of us around, and I only read about it in a book that my mad mentor Erik de la Vuelta showed me once. I haven't found the book in any other world. But I've taken the oath myself, and I know it works well enough, if spoken with good intent.

Lord Voldemort stood underneath the full moon, which sparkled above him in a space between two branches curved like the antlers of a stag. He breathed out slowly, and the air around him began to shine.

It was far more than the faint light of the moon. Lord Voldemort could feel that. The subtle power curled and sang around him, and then snapped straight and tugged. He fell to his knees. His eyes were wide, and he could hear Harry's voice speaking in his head as if the words came from a conversation instead of parchment.

An oath in blood and snake-scales on the night of the full moon that you will not harm my family. And following that came the instructions for the oath.

It had to be spoken in Parseltongue, of course. Lord Voldemort opened his mouth, and the words poured forth even as he reached towards the two butchered adders that he had prepared for this moment. “I so swear…

The power that had already downed him flared brighter. Now Lord Voldemort could make out the sparks of light racing swiftly to the ground from the full moon, only here when it rose like this.

He gripped one adder, with the head hanging on by a strip, and tore off the head with his teeth. The sluggish blood that lay inside the neck did not pump, as the adder had been dead almost an hour, but that didn’t matter. The light of the moon caught and flared on the torn throat, making new white sparks leap from within it. At the same time, complementary red sparks started up from the dull scales.

Lord Voldemort bowed his head and drank the blood from the neck. He spared a stray thought for how strange Harry must have seemed doing this, during the life when he was a trained necromancer.

I so swear that I will not harm Harry Potter, his family, or those claimed by him as family, no matter what they do, except in self-defense…

The jellied, sluggish blood sliding down his throat was disgusting, but not more so than many potions he had swallowed in pursuit of less worthwhile goals. Lord Voldemort concentrated, and stood only when he had swallowed the last of it, and there was barely even an aftertaste lingering in his throat.

Then he reached out a hand until he was streaked by both sparks, the white ones springing from the blood and the red ones springing from the scales. When both were collected in his palm, he lifted his other hand, and the second dead adder, to his mouth. He tore open his palm with the adder’s fangs, followed by his own sharp teeth, the ones that he could imagine curved like fangs.

They were not. But it was a pleasing concept.

Would Harry be pleased?

The thought shot through his mind and then exploded into similar sparks and dissipated. At the moment, he did not care what the answer was. He cared about completing the oath in the right way, taking the steps in the process that would show Harry he could trust him.

That would woo Harry. Seduce him.

His blood poured out into the night, thicker and darker than human’s blood, the sign of what he was. Lord Voldemort tilted his head and poured it into the palm that still collected the dancing sparks from the first snake.

There was a silent explosion, made more of night than light. Lord Voldemort blinked his eyes open, and looked again. There was a small scar cutting across the center of the palm that had held the light, shaped like a serpent with lifted neck. The adders were gone.

At the same moment, the light from the moon winked out as though he had drawn a blind over it. Lord Voldemort gave a small smile. The oath was complete.

He stepped back and watched the far side of the clearing. Harry had said that he would know when the oath was finished, and he would—respond. Lord Voldemort suspected that would be an owl and he would not receive it for some hours, but he could not help hoping for a visit.

*

Despite knowing how stupid walking into the depths of the night on his way to visit Voldemort was, Harry was doing it anyway.

He’d had to admit to himself, slowly and with lots of fighting against the idea, that Dumbledore had become an enemy. He trained Jonathan harder than ever, and asked him questions that Harry knew were meant to break his stubborn loyalty to Harry, and had almost ceased his questions to Harry by this point. When they were together in the same gatherings with Lily, James, and Sirius, Dumbledore watched Harry all the time with sad and narrow eyes.

That was going to position Harry in a very complicated way relative to his family shortly. He didn’t think anything could make Jonathan abandon him, but his parents were both Dumbledore’s followers and his friends. They wouldn’t give up on him, but they could both be easily persuaded that Harry needed to be watched over and “protected” from doing anything Dark for his own good.

Harry had seen the same tactics work multiple times. Luckily, he’d managed to keep himself beneath Dumbledore’s piercing regard in most of those lives, so other people had been the targets.

It was a relief to melt into the darkness, to Apparate the way no one believed he could—Harry had conveniently left out that fact from the recitations of his powers—and visit the one person he knew whose manipulations would never be guided by some notion of the greater good, or Harry’s good.

That didn’t mean he walked into the clearing expecting tolerance or goodwill from Voldemort, of course. But Voldemort was so much less complex than Dumbledore, right now.

“Harry. Hello.”

Voldemort’s voice was low and seemed to vibrate the darkness in the clearing. Harry noticed the swirl of leftover power, and nodded. “You followed the instructions for the oath perfectly.”

Voldemort studied him with those devouring red eyes. His hair looked a touch darker than when Harry had seen him last, his skin paler, but those were the only changes. “You have grown taller.”

“Yes. That’s what happens over three years.”

Voldemort said nothing else for long enough that Harry wondered if this conversation would die in the water for different reasons than his and Dumbledore’s now did. Then Voldemort asked abruptly, “When my oaths are finished, what magic do you intend to teach me first?”

“Focus on elemental magic. There are ways of mastering it that most wizards don’t know. Yes,” Harry added mildly as Voldemort’s forked tongue flickered out to touch his lips, “I thought you might like that.”

“Do you not fear the destruction that I might wreak with the elements?”

“You’ll have made the oaths. I don’t fear the limits that your learning will be contained within.” Harry looked Voldemort mildly in the eye when he came a step nearer. “I’m watching you, you know. I will notice if you try to strike at me here, and I’ll use my own magic to make you regret it.”

Voldemort stilled again. Then he said, “You never mentioned the consequences for breaking this particular…oath.”

Harry wanted to ask him if he’d chosen an odd word in the sentence to pause before just to sound dramatic, but he held his words to himself. “It would unravel everything in you that’s connected to a snake. It would take your Parseltongue gift from you. Your tongue would revert to a human’s. And since I suspect that at least a few of your Horcruxes are either artifacts from Slytherin’s line or guarded with Parseltongue traps…”

Voldemort hissed, but it was wordless. “How do they treat you?”

“They believe me,” Harry said, but he knew that something must have given him away—perhaps the taut tone of his voice—because Voldemort lowered his head and flicked his tongue out again.

“Who believes you? Who does not?”

“My parents accept me for who I am. Sirius and Remus have some more trouble.” Harry shrugged. “My brother has no trouble accepting me. I think that he would have made a strong Boy-Who-Lived if you had managed to attack him, you know.”

Voldemort discarded that utterly, the first time Harry could remember him not reacting to news about Jonathan. “And what of dear Dumbledore?” He flowed off to the side, his head tilted as though he was listening for wind to come into the clearing. Harry simply turned to face him. Voldemort didn’t look put off. “Does he believe you?”

“Of course he does. He sees me mostly as a source of information, but he can’t deny what I am.”

“Is he easy with it?”

Voldemort spoke the word “easy” in Parseltongue. Harry wanted to roll his eyes. That way, the word had overtones that it didn’t if you said it in English. It meant “comfortably resting.” Harry supposed Voldemort thought he was pulling off a coup by speaking it that way and “tricking” Harry into confirming that Dumbledore couldn’t rest easy with what Harry was, and might never be able to.

“Not really,” Harry said. “But that hardly matters when we’re allies. I know how to handle Albus. He’s been exasperating in some of my lifetimes, but we never got to a point where we saw each other as enemies.”

“In this lifetime? Or does he see you as an enemy even if you do not return the favor?”

Harry only shrugged. Voldemort was good at guessing, but Harry saw no reason to reward him. “You pumped me for information the same way. There’s not much to choose between you, except that you’re less exasperating to me at the moment.”

Voldemort halted and stared at him. His eyes were still bright enough to glow in the darkness of the clearing even though the full moon didn’t shine down on them. Voldemort seemed to be holding some kind of internal debate. Harry patiently waited for him to make up his mind.

“You could come here, you know,” Voldemort said in a sliding tone that Harry didn’t trust in the slightest. He prepared to Apparate, but Voldemort didn’t make a move to get near him. He was simply speaking. “You could stay with me whenever Dumbledore becomes too much for you.”

“In this clearing? Preparing to set up camp here, Lord Voldemort?”

Voldemort’s chest swelled. He might actually breathe fire. Harry had seen it before. He Apparated to the other side of the clearing and got ready to raise the earth if that was what he needed to do.

But Voldemort let the breath go without igniting it. Perhaps he didn’t know the spells to do that in this universe. Well, Harry wasn’t about to teach him the elemental magic that would let him learn it, either. “I meant in my home. A different house than my Death Eaters currently use. I own several, legacies of old followers who trusted me more than their own children. You have already won peace for our world by forcing me to—reconsider—certain matters. You could win still more peace with your stabilizing effect on me.”

Harry stared at him, and didn’t bother concealing his dropped jaw. “Stabilizing effect? Are you listening to yourself? I would drive you mad, and you know it!”

“I do not know it.” Voldemort’s voice was incredibly soft and focused. His eyes shared the focus. “I know that I have spent the time since you left wishing you were back. And now you are here. I am content. I would be more content if you did not leave.”

Harry continued to stare. Just as no other Voldemort he had known would have been capable of taking that oath or even coming up with the lie to offer a truce, none would have been capable of speaking those words.

Does that mean…

Harry could hardly think the words, but they were there, anyway, pushing and shoving against his throat insistently.

Does that mean that he truly could be redeemed? If he is already so different?

*

Lord Voldemort waited. Harry Potter had grown, but not enough to not resemble a child. However, Lord Voldemort understood the vastness and grip of the power waiting behind that façade. He would hardly forget what had nearly severed him from his magic.

He waited as more time passed. He would have grown impatient three years ago. But those three years had passed, and he had spoken the truth. It would content him to have Harry back with him, to learn from his teacher not through letters but from his presence.

Harry finally dropped his eyes and shook his head. But Lord Voldemort, he of the keen senses, was watching, and that shake took Harry some effort.

“No,” Harry said. “I can’t. It would panic my parents, and it would make Albus absolutely certain that I’m up to something, instead of only suspecting it the way he does now.”

“Then you and Albus are more on the outs than would be wise for the old man to indulge himself in.” Lord Voldemort had an inner beast that threw back its head and hissed in joy. But he showed none of it on the outside.

“I’m not going to threaten him.”

“You would not threaten to sever him from his magic if he did something similar to what I have done?”

“But he won’t. Because he’s Albus.”

Lord Voldemort twisted his head to the side. Here was an opportunity he had not expected to have. “You do realize that he might do something as reckless, if not the exact same thing I did? We differ in degree, not in kind.”

Harry stared at him, power swirling in the depths of his green eyes. It was like looking down into an abyss stretching into the seafloor, and it delighted Lord Voldemort. “He understands what I am. He wants to use me, control me. It’s annoying, but that’s different from what you were going to do—”

He cut himself off. Lord Voldemort switched to Parseltongue, because only in that language could he express his glee, soft as the sheathing over retracted claws. “I was not going to control you? Albus was not going to control you the same way I was?

Harry blinked and replied slowly, “He wasn’t going to control me for the same reasons that you were. I know you thought of me as a kind of intelligent grimoire that could feed you all the spells you wanted. He thinks of me as…

He was quiet. Lord Voldemort waited. His throat ached with the need to supply the words, but he thought again of the reward that waited at the end of this path, and managed to keep silent. He had practice in that. He had managed to put up with Albus for seven years when he was a Hogwarts student, after all, and charm multiple people into believing him, following him, giving him the materials needed for his precious Horcruxes.

A weapon,” Harry finally said.

The apt metaphor,” Lord Voldemort replied at once. He would not make suggestions, but he had no problem with following them up and reinforcing them when they occurred to Harry. “Because a weapon can turn in the hand that holds it.

He has to know that I would never hurt Jonathan! Or my parents.

I suspect he is not thinking of them. Perhaps he fears that you would attempt to let a Death Eater go. Or collaborate with me. Or simply not do preciously as he wishes. For Albus, that kind of subtle rebellion can be more of a threat than simple opposition.

But—

“Did I tell you that he thought of me the same way? I believe at one point he cherished ambitions of using me. There are certain things he said to me during my sixth and seventh years that I cannot interpret any other way. Something about how much I could accomplish with such power if I trusted others, if I saved and defended them.” Even now, Lord Voldemort could not think of such words without sneering. “As if he was wishing for what I might become in his hand if he had molded me the right way.

Harry moved his head abruptly, not so much a motion of negation as of breaking free of a trance. “I have to leave before someone misses me.

The offer is open.

How in the world could I come to your manor without someone coming after me? And I could never abandon my family.

How did you slip away to come here? I did not say that it would have to be permanent, Harry. Only that I have the space and the desire to give you a place to escape, if you need it.

Harry stared at him again, and then said flatly, “I have to go,” and Disapparated.

Lord Voldemort stood in silence and closed his eyes, his fingers feeling gently at the snake-shaped mark on his palm.

Never before had he made a sacrifice worth so much.

Chapter Text

“Please sit down, Jonathan. I have something important to say to you.”

Jonathan sat down, but he kept looking at Mr. Dumbledore. For once, they were alone in the cottage. Mum and Dad were out running errands, and Harry was reading one of his huge books alone in the bedroom. Jonathan tried to keep up with those books, but he had to admit he didn’t understand most of them. Harry knew a lot of things he didn’t know.

That didn’t matter as much when Jonathan had to protect him, of course. It just made things a little harder.

“You know that you would have been the one prophesied to defeat Voldemort.”

“Yes, sir. Mum and Dad told me all about it.” And Harry, but Jonathan already knew that mentioning Harry in front of Mr. Dumbledore usually led to bad things.

“Yes.” Mr. Dumbledore sighed and spent a moment touching his beard as if he was going to comb it. “But since the prophecy didn’t come to pass, we find ourselves in a bit of a limbo. I’ve been training you under the assumption that Tom would come after you at some point. I find myself unsure what his game is at the moment, though.”

Why don’t you ask Harry? Jonathan didn’t need to be told that Harry knew more about Voldemort than any of them. But again, it wasn’t something he could mention in front of Mr. Dumbledore. He settled for looking serious.

“I have never heard of a situation like this, where the prophecy did not come true when it was supposed to. I want to know if you desire to continue this extra training, Jonathan, or if you’d like to be left alone. Merlin knows I’ve demanded more of you than any ordinary ten-year-old should—”

“I’d like to continue it. Please, sir.”

“Why?”

“Because I think you’re right and someday Voldemort will come after me. Just because the prophecy didn’t happen right when we thought it might doesn’t mean it won’t. What if he attacks me someday and I’m not ready because I stopped my training too young? I don’t want someone to get hurt.”

“Well.” Mr. Dumbledore stroked his beard again. “That’s very mature of you, Jonathan. I thought I was putting a burden on your shoulders that no child should be asked to bear, but perhaps if you can handle it...”

Jonathan nodded solemnly back to him. What he said was true. You had to speak the truth around Mr. Dumbledore, because he was a Legilimens and he would notice if you lied. Someday, Voldemort would want to attack him and the prophecy could come true. And Jonathan winced at the thought of someone innocent dying because they got in the way.

But Jonathan just wouldn’t mention the other reasons, like protecting Harry, that he wanted to continue his training, and then Mr. Dumbledore didn’t have to know about them. And he wouldn’t mention that he thought Voldemort would probably come after him because Voldemort would really want Harry.

And Jonathan wouldn’t let Voldemort have him.

“Then we’ll begin with elemental magic, which we haven’t been studying as a separate branch before, although I know that you know some spells of fire and water...”

Jonathan got his parchment and quill out and began to scribble notes. Mr. Dumbledore puffed up importantly. Jonathan pretended not to notice. If he could learn things, what did it matter whether people were puffed up or strutting or shouting?

*

Lord Voldemort looked coolly out the window at the full moon. He had made the oath to not participate in the genocide, killing, or torture of Muggleborns that night, and had assumed Harry would join him in the clearing when he felt the power of the blood and snake scales. But he had not, and neither had he sent a letter.

Lord Voldemort did not like waiting.

In the end, he stirred himself away from the window and moved towards the library that contained the Dark Arts books and artifacts his busy Death Eaters had been fetching him. He walked as silently as he always did, but then he had no reason to suspect anyone except his serpents here.

He and Severus Snape startled each other.

Severus went pale when he saw him. Lord Voldemort halted and watched. He had found more and more, since he had begun his new game, that doing nothing and maintaining silence would bring out more entertaining aspects of his Death Eaters’ personalities than screaming accusations at them or using the Cruciatus Curse. For now, he had little reason to assume that Severus was different.

But it seemed Severus had decided to be different, and he stood with his eyes slightly lowered and his body motionless. Lord Voldemort finally gave a shrug and moved to the right, aiming for the study doorway. He had no need of Severus’s particular skills at the moment, and wished to contemplate either Dark Arts or Harry.

Then he noticed the soft, feral tingle of power.

He turned his head, and focused on Severus’s left hand. It had no potion stains or dust on it—nothing obvious. Still, he knew that Severus had touched something not only Dark in the last hour, but something that Lord Voldemort had marked with possession spells as belonging to himself alone.

Yet still the Cruciatus Curse held no appeal. Instead, Lord Voldemort swung open the door of his study with a touch of his own power, projected around his body like hands, and smiled at his Death Eater.

“I find myself in need of company this night, Severus. Join me.”

The man’s face went that much tenser, that much paler. Not much by either measure, but Lord Voldemort had learned to watch his Death Eaters’ eyes and faces and voices and souls in the last three years. Severus bowed, as he must, and moved into the study first, while Lord Voldemort followed and analyzed the reaction of the tingle of power around Severus’s left hand to the other spells in the study.

When Severus passed by a small black book with blue binding, the power flared. Lord Voldemort gestured for Severus to take a chair near the fire and bowed his head a little so that he could see the book’s title from the corner of his eye.

The Deathly Hallows and the Master of Death.

Lord Voldemort reached out and casually strangled his own rage. He took the chair across from Severus and studied the fire instead of him, eyes unblinking. This time, he kept his silence and let Severus think and do what he would. He bore the motionless wait in patience for far longer than Lord Voldemort had reckoned.

But in the end, perhaps because he didn’t know that he might walk out of here alive, Severus cracked. He leaned forwards and lowered his voice in the way someone must once have told him was impressive. “Why am I here, my Lord?”

“I wished for company,” Lord Voldemort said, and then watched the small cascade of twitching motions make their way through Severus’s face. He rested his hands flat on the arms of the chair, but his eyes and cheeks would always give him away.

“Why, my Lord? If I may make so bold,” Severus added quickly, apparently thinking that this particular question might be what drove his Lord back to torturing him.

“I have placed spells on all the possessions in this room that mark them as belonging to me. A simple anti-theft measure, in some respects, and practical considering how Bellatrix and the rest acquired them in the first place.” Lord Voldemort leaned back in his seat and pinned Severus with his eyes. “They also tell me when someone has touched them.”

Severus’s left hand twitched and curled in on itself. Lord Voldemort could have placed a jinx that would make his hand assume a twisted position and not release until he gave permission, but he saw no reason to do that. Let Severus feel the stabs of his own panic and mistake it for magic. “I am not sure why you would accuse me of touching a possession of yours, my Lord. It would be foolish to do that without permission.”

“Not so foolish as to use the word ‘accuse’ to my face, Severus.”

“I—apologize, my Lord.”

More silence. Severus did not wish to lie to him, which Lord Voldemort would keep in mind. But he also didn’t wish to admit to touching that book. A fascinating combination of desires. Lord Voldemort kept his hands folded and his eyes alert.

“I wish to know as much about Harry Potter as I can,” Severus finally said, every word as soft and neutral as silk wrapped around a blade. “Ever since you first permitted me the knowledge of his existence, I have thought of him as a dangerous enemy.”

It was easier to strangle the rage this time. Severus had no way of harming Harry; the knowledge of what he was was not sufficient, not when Severus did not rival him in power. “Why?”

Severus blinked and uncurled his hands. “Because he has so much knowledge of the past and future and other worlds, my Lord. He could know of weaknesses that we might think guarded from everyone else. He could figure out secrets based on them being true in other universes.”

“Why would you think me incapable of dealing with the threat he presents on my own, Severus?”

“I—my Lord, forgive me. I was thinking more of my own future and not yours. I thought he would be a danger to me because he appeared to know me so well.”

“And you did not trust me to protect you?”

Severus remained still. It was as entertaining in him as writhing would be in another. Lord Voldemort maintained his steady silence, his expression bland. No matter what Severus admitted, he would think himself headed for pain. He trusted Lord Voldemort to have changed even less than Dumbledore did, in certain ways.

“Forgive me, my Lord.” Severus sank from the chair into a kneeling posture, his head canted forwards and his hair giving off a slight sheen in the firelight. “I am asking for your forgiveness too much, but there is nothing else I can ask.”

“You can offer me something else than questions or pleas.”

“My Lord?”

“The truth.”

As Severus looked back up, Lord Voldemort coiled himself and slipped his power forwards with a hiss of Parseltongue. It was a technique he would never have thought to employ before Harry. He would have smashed at Severus’s Occlumency with brute force, and if he did not break through it, he would conclude there was no Occlumency to break through.

Now, he was as subtle and cunning as he should have been when he found out he was a descendant of Slytherin himself. The trickling nature of the power made it harder for someone to keep out with Occlumency, and the Parseltongue focused his mind on the image of the serpent, feeding even more of his desired qualities into his magic.

He slipped through a crack in Severus’s Occlumency, and found the truth.

Lord Voldemort called up his magic with another flick of his hand, and pinned Severus to the floor with coils that he summoned out of the stone itself. Then he stood and paced towards him. His hands were not still. He folded them behind his back, and then they were.

That Severus would seek to hold something he had learned about Harry back, that he would plot how to use that knowledge against Harry, perhaps to control him, perhaps to make some sort of bargain with him…

Lord Voldemort wanted, badly, to kill.

But he restrained himself. Even if Harry had all but given him permission to attack his own Death Eaters, he did not want to spend the coin of Harry’s tolerance too freely. He could not bear to have that powerful being look at him with disgust in his eyes, or refuse to teach him certain kinds of magic because he wouldn’t use it “properly.”

“So,” Lord Voldemort said, and he knew from the sibilance on the word that he was already most of the way to Parseltongue. He paused and tamed himself. He could not ask questions in Parseltongue of Severus Snape. “I do not think that even you knew exactly what you meant to achieve by retaining these secrets.”

Severus remained pale and silent, but his mask had cracked along with his walls. Lord Voldemort could see the terror simmering behind his eyes now. His fingers curled into the rug and then stopped as if he’d realized only then that Lord Voldemort had formed his chains from the stone of the manor floor itself. He would not break free.

“To join both sides of the war? To manipulate me? To make Harry pay attention to you and somehow hold something over his head?” Lord Voldemort calmed further as he spoke the words. Yes, they were all true from the memories that had sliced past him. “All of those and none.”

He stepped off to the side and spent a moment admiring the smooth stone chains that held Severus captive. He couldn’t have summoned anything like them three years ago, before Harry’s escape. He had been forced to focus on finesse and his own lust to match Harry’s power and control.

Another thing he had to thank Harry for. Another thing Severus would have taken away, if his own plot to incense Lord Voldemort against Harry had succeeded.

Rage stirred in him, but it was lazy and cold this time. Lord Voldemort paused, and smiled.

He had the perfect punishment, one that would satisfy him far more than the Cruciatus Curse would.

“You hid memories from me,” he told Severus, whose fingers clenched in the rug again. “You envied Harry’s memories of other worlds, and feared what he might know about you and use against you someday. I therefore find this more than fitting.” He drew his wand and caressed it, mourning, for a moment, that he did not yet have the tutoring from Harry to dispense with it. Then he pointed the wand at Severus. “Finis memoriae.

Severus arched with a silent cry of despair under the manacles as the spell struck him and spread a spiderweb of green and purple lines over the top of his skull. Lord Voldemort watched impassively as the web sank strands into his Death Eater’s ears and wormed deep into the brain. When the spell faded, he nodded.

“You—you have not taken all my memories, my Lord,” Severus whispered when he appeared to find his voice.

“No. I do think that some potions you have brewed are useful, and even your Occlumency skills could be. If used by the right person.” Lord Voldemort smiled with gentle brutality when Severus looked up at him. “But this particular variation of the spell will allow me to touch your memories on a regular basis, and see in an instant anything you have hidden from me.”

Severus blinked and shifted. “That—you are generous, my Lord.”

“I am.” Lord Voldemort snapped the stone chains with a thought and walked from the library. He wondered when Severus would notice the other dimensions of the spell, the ones that Lord Voldemort had not seen fit to identify for an errant Death Eater.

Severus might read new books. He might study all he liked. But he would learn nothing new from reading again. New spells, potions, history, and daily news would trickle through Severus’s fingers and escape him forever. He could learn new information now only by hearing it—or overhearing it. If he fancied himself a spy, he would do much more listening than he had before.

And now Lord Voldemort had a permanent doorway through Severus’s Occlumency walls.

He was pleased enough that when he returned to his room, he wrote a letter to Harry about it. No need to sit back and wait for his equal to reach out to him, after all.

*

Harry closed his eyes and listened as Remus beat a hasty retreat into the house. He was standing in the back garden, a small portion of which Lily had given him when Harry asked for it. His clustered flowers and Potions ingredients nodded around him.

It was soothing. It helped lessen the hurt that flared in his chest whenever he tried to speak to Remus.

His understanding was as vast as always. Remus had such a hard time speaking and looking at Harry because almost his first introduction to him had been as a Dementor. Remus’s self-loathing meant he also loathed Dark creatures. In some worlds, he had overcome that loathing enough to befriend other werewolves, or at least use some of those creatures in his teaching demonstrations, the way he had in Harry’s first life.

Not here. Not now.

Harry sighed and leaned back against the stone wall that surrounded the garden. A light rain was falling. He tilted his head up to it and let the soft mist soak his face. Jonathan was away from home today, learning elemental magic with Dumbledore, or he would have demanded to know what was wrong.

Harry had to remember that he couldn’t force people to be his friends or his family. Remus was entitled to his opinion. And it wasn’t like Harry was fond of the Dementor part of himself. It had taken him over three years to use it to escape Voldemort.

But sometimes….it did hurt.

Voldemort’s black owl slanted towards him. Harry raised an eyebrow and snorted. He’d felt the second oath take effect last night. He simply hadn’t expected a letter about it when he failed to visit. Voldemort would grow angry at him eventually, and give up this notion he had of—what? Doing more than learning from Harry?

Harry took the parchment from the owl and unfolded it. Voldemort immediately launched into a description of what he’d done to Snape.

Harry bowed his head and rubbed his head over his brow, which sometimes still felt bare without that lightning-bolt scar. Voldemort wasn’t the same kind of arrogant and evil as before, but there was no denying he still had those traits.

So what did it say about Harry that he found this letter from Voldemort comforting in a way that his interactions with Remus and Dumbledore were never going to be in this life?

The black owl fluttered and hooted at him. Apparently it wanted a response. Harry turned the parchment over and wrote a short condemnation of Voldemort’s actions, then lifted it high. The owl grabbed it and swooped away.

He’ll take even that condemnation well, because I’m deigning to notice him.

Harry closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and went back to weeding the flowers. People were all kinds of strange, but plants still needed to be cared for and fed and watered. At the moment, their constancy seemed like the best thing in all the worlds.

Chapter Text

I have made the oaths you demanded. It is time for you to fulfill your promise.

Harry swallowed and put the parchment down on top of the chair that he’d moved into his room when he decided that the other one was really too small. He could have used the Elder Wand to Transfigure the smaller chair, but he tried to avoid doing that around his parents. And Lily had looked so happy when he asked for something.

And you’re trying to think about a subject that doesn’t matter to avoid dealing with the one that does.

Harry grimaced, nodded to himself, and picked up the quill that was always lying ready next to an inkwell. His parents thought he wrote to the other children he’d met at carefully supervised parties.

Yes, I owe you the secrets that I promised you. I thought about sending you reading material, but the grimoire I wanted apparently doesn’t exist in this world, or else only in private collections. So I’ll come to you and start instructing you in the blending of the elements. On the new moon, the clearing that we met in when you gave you first oath in blood and snake scales.

Harry held the letter out to Voldemort’s black owl before he could change his mind. The owl promptly winged through the window and out of sight. Harry swallowed as he watched it go.

He did believe the conclusions he’d come to before. Whether it was his lesser number of Horcruxes or for some other reason, this world’s Voldemort really was different from the others Harry had known.

It didn’t make helping him feel any less strange.

*

Lord Voldemort stood waiting in the clearing at sunset. They hadn’t specified an exact meeting time, but the hour when the light drained from the world seemed most relevant to him.

And then he heard the crack of Apparition, and knew he had judged correctly. He smiled with thin lips as he watched Harry stride towards him across the clearing. And it was striding, despite the child’s body he was imprisoned in.

He will not be so imprisoned forever.

Time must pass. For now, Lord Voldemort intended to enjoy the present moment. He nodded and said, “You will teach me how the elements interact with each other in magic? As the fire and stone you showed me interacted?”

“Yes, but more than that.” Harry waved the Elder Wand absently, and a pair of roots rose above the ground and Transfigured into two benches of smooth wood. Lord Voldemort sat slowly on the one nearest him. The Transfiguration was a feat he could have matched himself, which made the rioting feelings in his chest as he watched it strange.

Perhaps I simply admire the smoothness of the movements with which he brought the benches into being. Perhaps that is something he will also teach me.

“Elemental magic theory tends to concentrate on how different the elements are from one another, which makes weaving them together difficult. But it doesn’t concentrate much on the spaces in between, the places where the elements are already blended.”

“I have not heard of such theory. Perhaps you will show me?”

Harry looked at him with those green eyes that Lord Voldemort could watch gleam forever, and then nodded and waved the Elder Wand again. The air in front of him congealed and spun slowly. In seconds, a wheel had taken its place, divided into four large blades like a windmill. Lord Voldemort stared. Even after several moments of study, he could not figure out what the wheel was made of.

“The four elements,” Harry said, and snapped the wand out again, although Lord Voldemort had the sneaking suspicion that he could have used wandless power if he wanted to. Different symbols formed on the blades: a long snag of flowing flames, a curling drop of water, a tumble of stones, and a cloud with a face blowing the wind forth. “You can move the elements around and pair them in different ways.” The symbols began to jump, so that now fire and water were directly across from each other on the wheel, then earth and fire, then air and fire. “But what about the spaces in between?”

The air between the blades flickered with green light. Lord Voldemort felt his mouth open and his tongue dart out before he could stop it, before he could think that Harry might not appreciate it. “Is this a gift for me, Harry?”

“A gift? What do you mean?”

“The light is the exact green of my favorite spell.”

Harry jerked his head back. Then he curled his fingers more tightly around the Elder Wand and said, “You can take it that way, if you want.”

“I so want.”

“But to return to the subject—what about the space between fire and water? What’s there in the space where they overlap?”

Lord Voldemort half-closed his eyes, something he had heard when young returning to him. “That theory is not so esoteric. I have heard speculations. That the mingling of fire and water is steam, for example, and that steam therefore represents an elemental power.”

“Yes, but that simplifies matters. Then people start thinking things like, ‘Oh, air and fire together make lightning!’, and then they think they’re doing elemental magic when they conjure lightning to cast at someone.” Harry rolled his eyes. “The reason that doesn’t work so well and the theory never got off the ground is because it’s too simple.”

He swirled his wand, and new conjurations of light leaped into place between the blades. Only one was green this time, and this one not the shade of the Killing Curse. Lord Voldemort watched beneath lowered lids as the others—blue, red, and gold—mingled with the green and infused it with sparks of radiance.

“So what is the true theory?”

“That if you want to blend elements and come up with forces that are half-fire and half-water, or any other combination, you have to keep all the gaps in mind all the time. And that ultimately, this way of thinking about them—symbolizing them—whatever—is just a human contrivance. The real realm of elemental magic is continually blended, the same way ores and minerals are blended most of the time, and you almost never get a pure vein of gold or silver. If you can’t hold that in mind, you can’t command the blended elements.”

“There are some forces that are pure. A fire is only fire—”

“But it feeds from the air and kindling that probably grew in the earth, and water doesn’t always douse it. Sand can douse it, too. Is fire antagonistic to water? Or does it cooperate with earth or air more?”

Lord Voldemort paused. Possibly this was more complicated than he had thought. “How do you keep all the forces in mind at once?”

Harry grinned. “Constant practice.”

Lord Voldemort did not return the smile. “How long did it take you to master it?”

“Several lifetimes, all told. But I never lived in a world where all the lore was gathered together. It was always scattered across books and different cultures and sometimes intuitive leaps that certain wizards made but never recorded. The only way that I could put it together was remembering my lives. If I forgot until each time I died, I would never have had the chance.”

Lord Voldemort paused. He wanted to hear more about the techniques that Harry used to keep all the elements in mind at once, but there was something else he wanted to know more. “You are softening the blow for me?”

“What?”

“You’re making excuses. Telling me why I have not learned it already.”

“I am not! I’m telling you why no one except someone immortal who reincarnates all the time and remembers his lives could know it! That’s not just you, that’s anybody!”

“I think you are, in fact, softening the blow.” Lord Voldemort lowered his voice. It would not do to speak this truth too loudly, not because he feared listeners here but because he would break the atmosphere and perhaps send Harry fleeing despite his promise. “I think you—care for my pride and ego more than you would admit.”

Harry stared at him with eyes so wide Lord Voldemort could not read them. He settled back and waited for the reaction that should tell him more.

*

I am not softening it! He’s absurd! He’s an idiot! He’s—

But Harry had to admit that he’d been teaching Voldemort like he was one of his students. And he’d always gone out of his way to encourage his students, in the lives when he’d taught, not to worry about being ignorant, not to doubt their intelligence because they had never heard of something. It was—

It’s only the way that I’ve always tried to help students. And that’s what he is for me right now, no matter how strange it may be. If he can forget that I threatened to take his magic from him, then I can forget that he’s Voldemort.

Harry took a breath deep enough to make his cheeks ache, and then said, “Fine. I do. But only because you did actually go through with those oaths.”

“You thought I would not?”

“Of course. I set the price that I needed to be comfortable with teaching you the magic, but also a price I didn’t think you could actually meet because of your pride and ego.”

Voldemort laughed softly, his glance locked on Harry. Harry just stared back. At this point, he genuinely had no idea what Voldemort was thinking, or what he wanted, besides more magic.

“You are more devious than I ever imagined. I adore it.”

Harry stared at him again. Then he moved on from the moment. “You can’t keep all the elements in mind with an ordinary meditative technique. You need to start out with meditation, but that’s not enough.”

“I did not think it was. Tell me what else is needed. And what happens once you master the art of keeping these—spaces between clear in your mind?”

“Then you can use elements in any combination. Do you want to conjure water that, when it strikes an enemy, causes actual burns, but is still cold enough to put out fires? You can do that. Its nature shifts as your conception of it changes. You have to focus sharply sometimes, but then you can pull your mind back. It’s one of the reasons I like this art. It mimics the pattern of human thoughts. It suits us better than some of the magic where you have to keep such a firm conception in mind at all times.”

“Listening to you speak on magic is a revelation.”

Voldemort was staring at him with those motionless red eyes. Harry forced himself to ignore his uneasiness. “Good. I hope it’s a revelation that means you can learn what I teach you.”

“I will give it my utmost effort.”

“Good,” Harry repeated, a little lamely. He coughed and added, “It’s easier to start with an actual representation of one element in front of you. A natural one, not one that you created or conjured.”

“And you wish to begin with earth? As there is no water or fire here.”

Harry smiled a little. Voldemort was reminding him right now of some of the Hogwarts students he’d taught in his twenty-second life, after he’d escaped the terrible circumstances that began it and reinvented himself as an expert in obscure magic. “You’re overlooking the air.” He breathed out, and then focused on the dancing puff of breath. He could feel its difference from the rest of the air around them. “The focusing spell is easy enough, especially if you’re practiced in meditation. Spiro carminem.

The breath of air picked up the spell and turned glittering and ruby-like. Harry looked at it and fell easily into the facets that blazed at the edges with golden light, given his long practice. He tugged at the gaps that separated air and water and the wood of the trees around them.

Voldemort hissed in shock as the air parted in front of him and a small cascade leaped from nowhere to nowhere, stopping easily far above the ground. Its branches flowed and draped. Voldemort reached out and prodded one with his finger. It didn’t break apart, but bent, like the surface of a firm bubble.

Harry changed his mind, and the whole of the apparition turned back into the shimmer of ruby-colored air.

“You’re holding onto the force right now?”

“Yes.” Harry made his thoughts and the air zigzag at the same time. “That particular combination was wood, water, and air. Air to make it hover, water to give it form, wood to handle a few of the physical properties. You’ll notice that it didn’t break before your touch like water. What did it feel like it?”

“Silken, billowing wood.”

Harry smiled. “Yes, that’s a good description.” He stretched and snapped the ruby-colored air, and made flames dance for a second before they melted into steam, which became a darting wind, which became a shimmering bolt of lightning, which faded altogether. “One of the things you’ll learn is that you can conjure those supposedly blended elemental forces, like steam, or mud, which some people think of as the blending of water and earth. But different people have different ideas about what they are. Is the blending of water and earth actually mud? Or is it swamp water?”

“You have drowned at least one enemy in a swamp.”

“You can read me well.”

“Tell me.” And Voldemort’s voice abruptly hovered on the edge of Parseltongue, and even though that wasn’t unusual, Harry found all his muscles stiffening. “Are you happy where you are, living with people who can never understand you, hiding skills such as these? Or were you not happier with me?”

“You tried to kill my brother. You kidnapped from my family and held me hostage under threat of harming them for three years. You don’t get an opinion.”

Voldemort sat back and blinked at him as if honestly surprised. Then he said slowly, “I do not think you are happy concealing your true self.”

“I told them exactly what I was, and how long I’ve lived—”

“And they don’t believe you in the traditional sense of believing, do they? Otherwise, they would avoid treating you like a child.”

Harry felt a shiver of loneliness travel through him. But he had endured so much worse in his lives. This one was shaping up to be the strangest one, perhaps, but not the hardest. He shook his head a little. “It doesn’t matter.”

“It does. Would you not want to be with people who you can freely show your magic to? Whom you can teach?”

“I can show my magic in front of my brother. He would never betray me.”

“You could do it. I believe that. But you have not done it. I am the first one you have told of this branch of magic since you have come to this life.” Voldemort reached out and seized his hand. “Harry. Listen to me. When Lord Voldemort was young—”

“I’m not going to listen if you insist on talking about yourself in the third person.”

That rocked Voldemort enough to make him blink, but still he went on. “When I was young, I did not realize that other people are envious of the magic that we are capable of wielding.”

We?”

The force Harry had sunk into that word should have made him stop, but instead, Voldemort nodded raptly, gaze focused on him. “The extraordinary ones. The ones of power. I thought I could show off and expect no consequences. And of course there were. Dumbledore distrusted me. Some Slytherins, who thought that power rightfully belonged only to their families and those they intermarried with, hated me. Some thought my power the result of an artifact I possessed instead of a natural gift and sought to take it from me. I learned, in the end, how precious confidants were. And those I could dominate, but confidants, more. Those who would not envy me because they had power of their own.”

“You don’t have one of those, either.”

“No, unfortunately I was forced to kill the last one,” Voldemort agreed, with a lack of emotion that made Harry stare, speechless. “But now I have found one. We could be that for each other. We already are, in a sense. Those we can trust above all others. The ones who can look at our magic, at our selves, and not flinch or blink.”

Harry stood up. “This lesson is over.”

“Harry—”

“I showed you the spell. I can recreate that grimoire from memory, since my memory’s perfect. We’ll do that instead. This meeting is getting into territory that’s too much about personal lives and not about magic.”

Voldemort stood up, his eyes probing Harry. “You will send me the grimoire. And your presence, again? When might I expect it?”

“Hopefully not until you get past this delusion that we’re friends,” Harry snapped, and Apparated.

*

Lord Voldemort stood in silence, his eyes half-closed, waiting. Waiting for the rage to slam into him and take him from his feet. Waiting for the moment he would snarl and bellow and condemn one of the trees to a fiery death.

It did not happen.

Harry is too different not to be fascinating. Too different to stay away from me forever. Too different from other people—too similar to me.

Lord Voldemort smiled slightly. He had indeed had a confidant before. He had killed him almost forty years ago. But it did not matter. He had something better than a confidant, or a Death Eater, or even a teacher who could lesson him in obscure magic.

It would take Harry some time to see it. But time was an endless resource.

Lord Voldemort drew his wand and concentrated on the air. He murmured, “Spiro carminem.

For a moment, the air flickered with a spark of ruby. Then it vanished. And he could not draw it back again, no matter how many times he cast.

Lord Voldemort nodded. So it was. He would practice, with the spells in the grimoire that Harry would send him as well as the one he had seen, and some of the more esoteric branches of meditation.

And he would wait, for the ultimate prize. Which was not the magic.

Chapter Text

“You just never are going to get used to him, are you?”

Remus folded his arms. “Don’t tell me you’re used to him. Because I don’t believe that, Black.”

Sirius sighed a little. Things were really bad when Remus called him by his last name. “I don’t know if I can just wake up every day and say to myself, ‘Hey, one of my best friends’ kids is actually an immortal being who’s also a Dementor!’ But I’m trying, you know, Remus? He’s not so bad once you get to know him.”

Remus looked away. His nostrils were flaring, which made Sirius wonder if Harry somehow smelled wrong to him and that was a factor in how Remus treated him. But he honestly had no idea, so he kept quiet, and Remus finally sighed and got up to wander around the room.

Sirius watched him. When he’d inherited Grimmauld Place because Reggie had vanished somewhere unknown, he’d changed the décor completely. Gone were the house-elf heads, gone was every gloomy piece of black paneling, gone were the huge heavy frowning dark bookshelves packed with Dark Arts books. Sirius had bought furniture in shades of white and gold and rich cream and painted all the walls either red, gold, or robin’s-egg blue. Plus he had mirrors everywhere. He could see Remus’s face better in the mirror over the fireplace at the moment than he could head-on.

Remus looked incredibly unhappy.

“What is it, Moony?” Sirius made his voice gentle. “Is it just because Lily and James—and me—made that stupid mistake where we abandoned you for so long, or is it because Harry somehow smells wrong to you, or what?”

Remus let out a harsh breath and leaned his forehead against the mirror. “Something of all of those, perhaps. But worst of all, Harry seems to have accepted being a Dementor.”

“I don’t think he really has. I mean, he’s told me how much he hates that life, and he could have escaped You-Know-Who any time he chose but he hates it so much he didn’t want to use that power—”

“But he did accept it, Sirius! He embraced the power enough to use it!”

“So. This is about you never having really accepted that you’re a werewolf, right?”

Remus cringed, and didn’t answer. Sirius got up and crossed the room to put his hand on Remus’s shoulder. His own reflection in the mirror looked determined. Well, good. Sirius really wanted Remus to be able to get past this. Sirius didn’t think he was on perfect terms with Harry yet, but he wanted to be.

“We made a stupid, idiotic mistake thinking we couldn’t trust you just because you were a werewolf. We were all idiots, and I’m sorry. But I don’t think you can decide because of that you can’t trust Harry.”

“He knows so much,” Remus replied, his voice a soft rumble that made Sirius squeeze his shoulder again. “He could do so much. And yet he hasn’t made one move to rid the world of Voldemort.”

Sirius blinked. “Er. Should he?”

“Of course! That monster took him away from his family!” Remus turned around and glared at him. “He fought him when he barely had the Elder Wand in his possession, and now he’s had it for years. Why doesn’t he go over there and obliterate him? I don’t think he’s frightened of the bloody pretentious Dark Lord! The only reason that makes sense to me why he hasn’t defeated him yet is if he likes him. Or pities him. Or is secretly on his side.”

Sirius opened his mouth, then closed it. He had to admit, Remus’s words made a certain kind of sense.

Except it didn’t seem right to him to put the whole burden of winning the war on a kid’s shoulders.

“Well, maybe,” was what he finally said. “When the war begins again—”

“It never ended.”

“But Voldemort and the Death Eaters aren’t actually attacking anymore.”

“And people are fools to let that lull them into thinking it means they’ll never need to fight again.” Remus shook his head, and although Sirius wouldn’t say it because it would hurt his feelings, his eyes were vividly green for a few seconds, the legacy of the wolf inside him. “I want to know why Harry hasn’t ended it yet. No one can give me a good reason.”

“Come have breakfast,” Sirius begged, wanting a distraction from this conversation that had his thoughts whirling around in his head like giggling children. “We can talk about it some more over breakfast.”

“I can’t, Sirius. I can’t eat the morning after a full moon, you know that.” Remus gave him an exhausted, embarrassed smile. “Besides, I have an appointment that I’ve been putting off for a while. I should go and just do it.”

Sirius blinked as he watched him leave. Remus hadn’t mentioned an appointment the night before, but then again, it was hard for him to concentrate on anything but the transformation when it was the night before a full moon. And Sirius hadn’t got a lot of sleep last night, either, what with transforming as Padfoot so Remus could have the company, even if they mostly just lay side-by-side in a locked room.

But Sirius didn’t think he was mistaken. He heard the echo of someone else’s words in Remus’s voice. He thought Remus sounded an awful lot like Albus instead of himself.

But then again, why is that a problem?

Sirius went to breakfast by himself, ignoring Kreacher’s muttering about his dead mistress, and worried at the problem he couldn’t solve or ignore.

*

“I just don’t see what’s wrong with Harry.”

Augusta frowned down her nose at her daughter-in-law. Alice was all right, but sometimes she did wish that Frank could have chosen someone different. They clashed a lot on the right way to raise Neville, as the heir to the impressive Longbottom legacy. “I didn’t say anything was wrong with him. I just think that Neville should associate more with Jonathan Potter.”

“Because he would have been the one to defeat You-Know-Who if the prophecy had worked out?” Alice gave her that exasperated, sidelong look that exasperated Augusta in turn, and glanced out the window of the drawing room. She could see the greenhouses from there—the greenhouses where Neville spent so much of his time. Augusta was about ready to give up in despair sometimes, she really was. What kind of talent was Herbology for a boy who was the son of an Auror and came from a family of battle mages?

“No, because he’s the stronger and more normal child.” Augusta watched Alice clench her hands. “You saw how quiet and tense Harry was at that party. We don’t know anything about what happened when You-Know-Who kidnapped him.”

“You think James and Lily should be eager to share details?” Alice’s glance slashed, this time. “I wouldn’t be eager if it had been Neville it happened to.”

Augusta folded her arms. “I think that most children would have been affected more than just being quiet and tense.”

“Make up your mind, Augusta. He’s too strange, or he’s not strange enough?”

“I don’t think he’ll be a good influence on Neville. Encourage him to spend more time with Jonathan.”

“Jonathan’s two years older. He’ll be off to Hogwarts by next autumn. What kind of friendship would it be if the boy had to desert Neville through no fault of his own? Besides, Neville likes Harry better.” Alice said that as if it decided matters, and then turned and smiled as she watched Neville come out of the greenhouse.

“How can you tell that?”

“Because he told me, Augusta.”

Augusta sat back with a frown. Neville hadn’t mentioned anything like that to her after those parties where they’d introduced the children to the Potters. And watching him walk out of the greenhouse and pet a tendril that seemed to be climbing his shoulder towards his hair, she couldn’t imagine why he might like the quiet boy better. Neville was quiet himself—not the sort of temperament that needed other people like it. He ought to be drawn to power, emulate power.

She watched Alice get up and hurry out of the room. She knew she was on her way to coddle the child.

Augusta sighed. Perhaps it was time to acknowledge that her own influence over her grandchild would be limited. Alice was his mother, and spent more time with him and had more of his confidence than she did.

That meant she had to do something else to prepare for the war that would come. She never doubted for a minute that You-Know-Who would come out of hiding when it suited him to do so. And probably half the population of the bloody islands would have forgotten how to fight a Dark wizard.

So she would contribute energy to handling the problem.

She went, found parchment, ink, and quill, and began to frown over the letter that she would send to that meddler called Albus Dumbledore. He was one of the few who had maintained the caution necessary to a war.

It didn’t mean Augusta intended to work under him, though. She would be making her own path, thank you.

*

Albus backed slowly away from the tomb, and resealed the door with an absent wave of his wand. Then he stood staring at the glittering golden stones that made it up. The name on the door, a fiction, said Gilbert Goldenhair in scarlet letters.

The letters would have dulled in a second if they’d been disturbed by Dark magic. And Tom carried such magic around him at all times now, a shivering, ashy cloak that hovered about his body. There was no way that he could have hidden a trip into that tomb.

Besides, Albus had just made one himself. The vast stack of books on Light magic and valuable Founders’ artifacts hadn’t been disturbed. He’d cast every detection spell he could think of, put his memories in a Pensieve in the tomb so that he could view the hoard from years ago, and finally resorted to counting the objects. But it seemed that either Tom had not been here, or he was so subtle that there was no way Albus could catch him at it.

Or he doesn’t know about it.

But that couldn’t be with the rumors Albus had been spreading. The Tom he knew would have jumped at the chance to raid Godric Gryffindor’s tomb, not so much from House hatred as simply to get his hands on more Founders’ artifacts.

No sign, though. That meant Tom was no longer focused on acquiring the objects that he would turn into Horcruxes. What was his plan? Albus had tried to guess, and other guesses had proven wrong as well.

Albus walked slowly away from the side of the green hill that the tomb was built into, and Apparated back to Hogsmeade. He was making his way down the road that led to the Three Broomsticks when a scratchy voice called his name from behind.

Albus turned around, and blinked. He honestly couldn’t remember the last time he’d spoken with Aberforth. “Yes, brother?”

Aberforth straightened up from his slouch against the door of the Hog’s Head and gave him a level blue glare. “Be careful, Albus.”

“I’m trying to be.”

“Not careful enough. I know what you’re trying to do with all your rumors and tricks and traps, and you’re not going to get what you want that way. I suppose I could tell you ‘Be honest,’ but that would require you to be honest with yourself, too.” Aberforth shook his head in disgust and ducked back into his pub.

Albus stared after him, then sighed. Aberforth was worse than him for dispensing cryptic bits of advice, even though he knew most people wouldn’t have believed that. It was just that Aberforth tended to stay in Hogsmeade instead of venturing forth to dispense them.

What does he mean, I can’t be honest with myself? Albus wondered as he went back up the path. I know exactly what has to be done. Stop Tom, stop Harry, make sure that no alliance of Dark wizards threatens this island by the time I go to my rest. Protect Hogwarts. I don’t know how to do that yet, that’s the problem.

A scrawny figure was waiting for him by the gates of the castle. Albus found himself walking more slowly on instinct and reaching for his wand, but he paused in surprise when he saw who it was. “Remus.”

Remus stepped forwards. “Albus, I want to help.”

Albus nodded slowly. “I always thought you did. Since you never formally resigned membership in the Order of the Phoenix—”

“No. I mean—I know that the war against Voldemort is important, and I do want to help with that, too. But I want to help specifically in the war against Harry. Because I know it’s going to be war, and Sirius and Lily and James aren’t going to listen to me about that child.”

Albus reached out and slowly put a hand on Remus’s shoulder. “Yes, I know. They’re too glad to have him back. Sirius had his suspicions, but he seems to be getting over them. Which might mean disaster if Harry can be persuaded to give Tom a chance.”

“So you know that he’s going to ally with him?”

“Fawkes showed me a frankly disturbing vision that seemed to indicate Tom will even submit to him.” Albus shook his head. “We don’t know how they’re going to move yet, but we have to be prepared for anything.”

“I just want to be doing something.” Remus’s voice was low. “And maybe be able to protect my best friends when it turns out that their son isn’t—what they thought he was.”

“I believe I may have just the task for you…”

*

Jonathan kept waiting for Harry to tell him the truth, but Harry never mentioned it, so finally Jonathan had to, on a day when they were outside in the back garden and Harry was showing him spells that could help pull weeds and water the flowers without using hands.

“You’re writing letters to Voldemort, right?”

Harry blinked at him. “How did you figure that out?”

Jonathan did have to roll his eyes. “Huge black owl comes to the house every so often, no one we regularly write to has one, owl snaps his beak at me like I’m an enemy whenever he sees me…it wasn’t hard to figure out.”

“Well, but Mum and Dad never seemed to notice.”

“Dad isn’t around half the time now that the Aurors have him again. And Mum is involved in raising those defenses for the next time Voldemort tries to hunt me. And I think they’re just glad that you’re—settling in and not traumatized.”

“It would take a lot more than three years with Voldemort to make me traumatized.”

Jonathan grinned. “Yeah, that was easy to figure out, too.” He knew that half the time, when Harry showed him a brilliant spell or told him things, he was the one doing the protecting, not Jonathan, and he was a lot stronger in some ways. That didn’t mean Jonathan would stop figuring things out and knowing Harry and protecting him. “But Mum and Dad don’t know you the way I do.”

“I know. They keep thinking that I can’t possibly be real.”

“Yeah. Like you’re a kid on the inside just because you’re a kid on the outside.”

Harry nodded silently. Then he said, “I really think I can stop the war this way, Jonathan.”

“By killing him?”

“No. By persuading him to agree to a treaty, or just keeping him so interested in magic he doesn’t know that he sort of—forgets about the war. He hasn’t mentioned taking over the wizarding world once in months.”

Jonathan made a thoughtful face. He knew, from everything he’d heard about Voldemort from Mr. Dumbledore and Mum and Dad and Remus and Sirius, that that wasn’t possible. But then again, he’d also heard that Harry was Dark and dangerous and a child and traumatized from them. So they didn’t know everything. “What do you think makes him so different from the others you’ve dealt with?”

“I’ve got theories, but no substance. It could be something that happened a long time ago and I have no way of finding out. Even in worlds where I was born closer to the time Voldemort started his rise, I never knew everything about his life. And I was mostly focused on helping people kill him so I could live the rest of my life.”

“Okay. So what’s changed with you? He did kidnap you for three years.”

Harry waved a hand like he was brushing away a fly. Jonathan narrowed his eyes. He loved his brother, but that was one thing that irritated him. Harry was powerful and brilliant and all, but he could still be hurt. He just acted like things that happened only to him didn’t matter.

“I just realized—I forgive people a lot,” Harry whispered. “There were times that Dumbledore did horrible things in the name of the greater good, but I always forgave him because of who he’d been in other worlds. And there was one world where Sirius—God, he was horrible, Jonathan. I had to kill him. I was crying the entire time, but what remained really wasn’t Sirius anymore. Nothing of him was left. That was hard to think about in other worlds, but I always managed it. I always accepted that he was different there.”

“Okay, but—”

“And Voldemort is the only person I never bothered to try and forgive. I just killed him or helped other people kill him.” Harry gave him a haunted glance. “Why is that? Why didn’t I try? It’s possible that this one will turn out to be thoroughly evil and lying to me and I’ll have to kill him, too. But I never gave him the chance I gave everyone else. And this one seems like someone I can give a chance.”

Jonathan shifted a little. “You can’t blame yourself for killing him in other worlds. You don’t, do you?”

“It’s not blame. It’s just wondering why I made up my mind up about him in my first life, but no one else. Why he was always the exception, while I walked around priding myself on how forgiving and tolerant I was.” Harry sighed. “Don’t worry. I still know he’s dangerous and he could be preparing for a war that’ll explode on some predetermined date. But I also know that none of the others could have pursued that tactic even if they thought about it. His intelligence already makes him different.”

Jonathan made a face. He hated the thought of forgiving Voldemort.

Then again, sometimes he looked into Mr. Dumbledore’s eyes and saw a man he thought he might not be able to forgive someday.

“I’ll support you, Harry. You know that. Just be careful.”

Harry grinned and hugged him. “Thanks, Jonathan. Honestly, with all the lives I’ve lived, you’re still the best big brother I’ve had.”

Jonathan wrapped his arms back around him, and hung on.

He always would.

Chapter Text

“Watch this, Harry.”

Voldemort’s low voice was compelling when he wanted it to be, Harry admitted. He tilted his head back and watched as Voldemort’s wand flickered in and out of the branches of the small tree they stood next to. There was a twist on the end that Harry never remembered seeing before. He leaned forwards, attention sharpened.

Voldemort visibly preened. Harry didn’t have the time to say anything about that, though, because he was too busy watching the stream of mixed elements that trailed into being through the branches of the tree.

Some of it was dirt, some of it steam, and some of it packed and gleaming rock. Harry tried to touch the place in the braid where the stone and the steam blended, and couldn’t feel a join or a seam. He shook his head in wonder.

“It’s rare to be able to join air and earth and water like that. Especially since most people think of earth as more yielding, either wood or dirt or mud.” He turned around to smile at Voldemort. “Congratulations.”

Voldemort’s eyes were so bright that Harry thought he might have been able to read by their light. “Good. It would not do for Lord Voldemort to only imitate lesser beings.”

Harry turned and began to walk away. Voldemort hissed behind him, but it wasn’t even in Parseltongue, so Harry didn’t have to respond.

Abruptly, Voldemort Apparated in front of him. Harry held up a hand instinctively, light gathering around his fingers. Then he forced himself to calm down. He didn’t need a repeat of his fifteenth life when he’d hurled fire at Rodolphus and it turned out to be fire from the heart of a star.

“I—apologize,” Voldemort said, forcing the word out as if it was in a foreign language completely different from English. “For speaking of myself in the third person and denigrating your—associates by contrast.”

Harry folded his arms and eyed Voldemort cautiously. He didn’t move, and the glow in his eyes had dimmed. That was one thing Harry regretted. A Voldemort who could learn joy and triumph in something other than death and torture was one who was less likely to go back to his murdering and torturing ways.

“It’s all right,” Harry said, when enough moments had passed that he knew he should have Apparated away if he was going to. “I just find it intensely creepy and disorienting. It’s like you’re talking about someone else. Like you’ve left this place and time and gone somewhere else. Instead of being here with me.”

Voldemort continued to stare at him. Harry refused to back down or look away. And finally Voldemort nodded, although his stare was still pensive. “No one has ever made that particular complaint. If anything, they have been glad not to share a time and space with Lord—”

Harry felt his eye twitch.

“Not to share it with—me.” Voldemort was audibly gritting his teeth, but that was hardly Harry’s problem. For a moment, his hand twitched as if he was going to reach out and touch Harry. Then he pulled it back. “Do not leave.”

And that’s as close as he can come to asking politely, right now. Harry nodded and turned back to the hovering stream of mingled elements, which hadn’t dissipated even when Voldemort’s attention was elsewhere. That was impressive, too. Most people had too little experience in controlling elements like this to maintain them except if they were glaring directly at them. “All right. What do you intend to use these for?”

“To reinforce the wards on the manor.” Voldemort was still watching him rather than the elements, but that was something that no longer bothered Harry after lifetimes of staring—although most of the time it was people staring at him for unexpected magic or being an unexpectedly smart animal or seemingly foreseeing the future rather than being the Boy-Who-Lived. “This will be a protection that few people can force their way through. They would have to know how to do it.”

“That’s true—”

“Do you intend to show Albus how to do this, Harry?”

Harry remained silent for some time. Then he said, “I intend to show my brother. I have no secrets from him.”

“Does your brother intend to fight against me?”

“He would fight against you with everything he has if you threatened me.”

“Then he need never fear. Do you understand how far I am from threatening you, Harry? I would protect you with everything I have.”

Harry met Voldemort’s eyes, and nodded. “I know. I don’t question that. Jonathan doesn’t, either, I think. He managed to figure out that I was still writing to you when no one else in our house did. But he would still fight against you if you did turn into a threat.”

“Tell me how I could do that.” Voldemort seemed to have come closer without moving.

“You want me to give you ideas?”

“Not precisely. I want to know what would make you feel trapped or threatened, so I will know not to do it.”

“You know, at some point you should try being good for the sake of—I don’t know. Principles. Ideals. Not because you think it’s what I want you to do.”

Voldemort only watched him, eyes as vivid as before. Harry managed not to roll his own. “All right. Trying to force me to stay with you. Putting Tracking Charms on me. Reading my mind without permission. Using the magic I taught you to hurt someone I care about—”

“My oaths prevent that,” Voldemort said, as soft as the sound of a serpent sliding through grass. “I will never do any of the others unless you give me permission.”

“Permission to try and force me to stay with you? What the hell.”

“I meant that there may come a day when you welcome me monitoring your welfare and seeing into your mind.”

Harry only sighed, because that was his best defense when Voldemort started being ridiculous. “I think I’ve had enough for tonight. Unless there was some other magic made with blended elements that you wanted to show me?”

“No. I wanted only to bask in your presence. Harry.”

And I could do without that, too. Voldemort mouthed his name as if he was eating a toffee sometimes. “Good night, then.” Harry Disapparated before Voldemort finished the creepy inclination of his head that he was doing.

Was it a bow? Meant to be a bow?

Harry honestly thought it was better if he never found that out for certain.

*

Lord Voldemort stood watching the place where Harry had Disapparated, with a faint frown. Then he cast several charms and curses that would tell him the presence of any magic in the clearing. Faint traces gleamed where he had Disapparated to get in front of Harry, where Harry had used the same talent, and where his stream of blended elements had coiled.

Nothing else.

He is not using a spell to make me feel like this, then.

In truth, Lord Voldemort had not suspected otherwise. Harry had his reasons for behaving as he did, and Lord Voldemort understood him even though no one else in Albus’s grasping clutches could. Harry did as he did to Lord Voldemort’s mind by being himself, and coming and teaching him magic, and speaking his approval, and asserting his will. There was no one else in the world—in all the worlds—that Lord Voldemort could have thought of as an equal, or wanted to spend time around, or tolerated this level of insolence from.

Which meant that this longing to be around him more often was a natural consequence of being around Harry.

Lord Voldemort Apparated back to the manor and to his room, spending some time thinking deeply. He could not implant desires for his presence in Harry’s mind. He could not charm him with a Dark spell. He could not use a love potion. Harry would notice all of those at once, and he would disappear forever.

That left—

Lord Voldemort grimaced. That left making his company pleasant in return, and offering a refuge, as he already was, from the stupid things Albus had done. Asking questions. Charming Harry with the charisma that he had once relied on above all other weapons.

You relied on that when you were a powerless child, without blood and the knowledge of the magic that you would someday wield, said a sharp voice into the back of his mind.

Lord Voldemort tilted his head. Outside the window, a white snake coiled in the garden. Lord Voldemort watched it idly. He had bought several exotics and was letting them roam free around the manor and breed as they chose. He was interested to see what kind of talents would emerge from them that he had not planned for.

Well, was he not in a position of limited power again? Harry was greater than he was. And there was no shame in admitting that. It was a matter of survival. Lord Voldemort would have died as a child if he had not only thought himself the equal of wizards like Albus, but tried to demonstrate it.

He would bide his time. Offer his presence. Offer an escape. Offer what might be most valuable, the knowledge of who Harry really was and his acceptance of that, instead of rejection as he thought Harry was most likely encountering from the Light.

But there was one more thing he could do, and he stood and walked out of the manor to see whether he had the means to do it as yet.

*

Severus leaned his head against the useless bookshelf and closed his eyes. He had only his words left now, and he picked through them carefully, projecting a façade of insouciance, much as it went against his instincts not to look at the powerful, dangerous witch in the room.

“You must have seen that the Dark Lord has changed, Bellatrix. He no longer cares about the goals that drew the Death Eaters together. He permits Mudbloods to flourish unchecked in our world, and does not harm even Muggles who stumble dangerously close to us. He does not care for pure blood. He gathers obscure research that might gratify his curiosity, but will not be useful in battle. What do you think has happened to him?”

“I know that the Dark Lord has goals that neither of us could understand, Severus, and your attempt to turn me against him is pitiful.”

“Then why not explain those goals? He certainly never had trouble doing that before. Why does he keep silent and laugh and sometimes torture us—us, his most faithful, instead of the Mudbloods? Why, Bella?”

“It’s not for you or me to question.”

But at least she sounded more pensive than she had, which Severus was prepared to claim as a victory at the moment. He forced his eyes open and straightened up from the bookshelf. Bellatrix was turning her wand in her hand and glaring at the books as if she couldn’t read them, either.

Severus carefully turned his thoughts away from the curse he labored under. He would become breathless with fear and rage if he persisted, and neither was a good mindset for undermining the Dark Lord. “But he no longer makes inspiring speeches, does he? He no longer sends us on raids? He no longer acts as he did before this cursed influence came into his life.”

“What cursed influence?”

“He didn’t tell you? He spared young Harry Potter. He never tried to kill the boy, and he hasn’t gone after the Potters for defying him, either, even though they’re some of Dumbledore’s closest associates and they’re the only family that survived one of his visits. Haven’t you wondered why?”

“It wasn’t my place to wonder.” But Bellatrix only waited a moment before she added, “Why?”

“Because he believes that their youngest son has some sort of important, special magic that no wizard has ever possessed before.” Severus sneered. He had no intention of telling Bella the truth of Harry Potter. She would make some attempt to capture the boy and bring him to the Dark Lord as a “cure.”

Severus didn’t want Harry Potter here. He wanted him dead, and the Dark Lord’s world on fire.

“That’s stupid. How can a child have that kind of magic?”

Severus only watched her. A second later, Bellatrix paled as she realized that she had indirectly called her lord stupid. She licked her lips and looked around as if she expected the Dark Lord to materialize out of the walls and kill her for her insolence.

But nothing happened, as Severus had known it would not. The Dark Lord had changed.

But not enough. Not to someone I can be loyal to, not when he laid this curse on me.

“How can a child have that kind of magic?” Bella repeated.

“He can’t. I don’t know why the Dark Lord is so deluded. Either it is the child’s fault, or it is the result of a plan of Dumbledore’s, or…”

Severus let his voice trail off, and Bellatrix’s imagination suggest the other possibilities. Her imagination was good at that. A second later, she closed her eyes and nodded.

“And the simplest solution would be to kill the child.”

Severus pretended to think about it, although that had been the conclusion he had always intended to lead her towards. “I suppose. We might try to speak to the Dark Lord and ask him the true source of his fascination. It is possible that this is a clever plan on his part and not the child’s fault at all.”

“If he is cursed or under the influence of a potion, then he would not respond to us. Yes, yes, I see it now. Something happened when he became obsessed with the child. Perhaps Dumbledore implanted a curse in the boy’s flesh. And that is the source of the Dark Lord’s difference, and that is what we must remove!”

Severus bowed his head, and watched from beneath lowered eyelids as Bellatrix swept out of the room. This was only one of the plans he had in motion. He did not truly think that Bellatrix would manage to harm someone as powerful as the Potter being. But there was the chance.

He would not rest until he had taken from the Dark Lord what he valued as much as Severus had valued the knowledge that came from books.

Bellatrix bowling down the rails, Severus turned his attention to the next of those plans.

*

Harry closed his eyes. He couldn’t believe that James had just told him he would have to keep his powers a secret from Neville and the other children his own age.

“Yes, of course,” he said, for the fourth time in this conversation. “I know that.”

“Do you? Because you confessed them so openly to Albus that I have to admit I assumed…”

“I only told him as much as I did because I’d rescued Remus, and that meant a few of my secrets were out. I never would have if I’d been able to keep my Dementor powers secret.”

James shifted uneasily. Harry opened his eyes and looked hard at his father. They were in the back garden where Harry had spent so much of his time weeding and tending flowers, and James looked as though he was much older than Harry knew he was, with the sunlight catching on subtle lines around his eyes.

“But don’t you think that’s lying? Keeping magic that could do a lot of good in the war from the leader of the war?”

“What do you want me to do, Dad? You get upset when I keep them a secret and when I tell someone. What do you want?”

James flinched, and Harry tried to rein in his irritation. He told himself again that James Potter was only twenty-nine and couldn’t be expected to accept that his child was an immortal being with seventeen hundred years and more of life behind him and magic that he could hardly understand if it was explained to him.

A treacherous voice in the back of his head asked, But why not? He’s had three years to accept it.

Harry intended to ignore that voice. It sounded way too much like Voldemort for comfort.

“I just want to know what you want me to do. I want to be a good son, Dad. Please.”

“Well—tell them to the appropriate people, of course. And Albus is an appropriate person. I don’t want to make you think he isn’t.” James was visibly floundering. “But keep them from other children. And honestly, Harry, that should include your brother. He’s still a child.”

“Unless you’re going to Obliviate Jonathan, then you can’t take the knowledge away from him now.”

“I won’t do that!”

Harry nodded and managed to smile. He could see the generous, great-hearted person James was in his responses when he said things like that. It was just—it just made it hard, sometimes, when he felt like the only people who understood him were Jonathan and Voldemort.

“I know, Dad. And I’ll keep the knowledge from all the rest of the children.”

James relaxed, and ruffled his hair. “I knew you would, Harry. You’re a good kid.”

Then why did you bother asking me if I would or not? And am I a child, who has to be coaxed and asked and given promises and lectured to, or an adult, who can be trusted to fight in the war and know what’s right and have knowledge that’s forbidden to the rest of the children?

Harry dismissed that thought, again. James wasn’t him. He was a wonderful father, a father who had literally died for him in Harry’s first life, and someone who had been patient and a prankster and shallow and manipulative and a valiant fighter and so much more in other lives. Sometimes Harry thought the people who knew felt uneasy around him because they felt lesser next to him, but they shouldn’t. They had existed in as many worlds as he had. They had lives as rich as his. They just didn’t remember them. That was the only difference.

He thought that. He told himself that. But there was still a deep ache in his chest, and a determination never to tell anyone in his next life who he was. It caused too many problems.

Voldemort would understand.

That thought was far more horrifying than James’s lack of understanding. Harry condemned himself for thinking it, and bowed his head, and let his father’s hand travel through his hair.

They don’t remember. But I do. I have no right to complain.

Chapter Text

“I can’t wait until you can come to Hogwarts.”

Jonathan’s arms were tight around him, and Harry leaned into his brother. Jonathan was ruffling his hair, his hand trembling as he did it. Harry sighed. He wished there was something he could say to reassure Jonathan, but there was probably nothing. Even when Harry told him that he understood the way James and Lily reacted and that he was being careful with what he told Dumbledore and Voldemort, Jonathan worried.

“I want you to go and have fun,” Harry said. “Write to me as often as you want, but don’t live for the holidays and coming home. Make friends. Please, Jonathan,” he added softly, when Jonathan opened his mouth. “I want you to grow to become the best friend you can be. You’re already the best brother.”

Jonathan closed his mouth and looked at him with troubled eyes. Then he nodded. He’d grown taller than Harry was at eleven, and his dark hair and eyes made him look even more serious. “Okay.”

“I mean it. Try, okay?”

“Jonathan—”

“Potter! Come on—”

“The train’s leaving!”

Harry grinned as he watched Fred and George rush up behind Jonathan. He didn’t really know some of the other children Jonathan had played with, since Lily and James tended to herd them apart when they visited. But he had always known and liked the Weasley twins. They were the only ones who didn’t change that much from life to life Harry lived, unless they just weren’t in that world at all. They were always pranksters, always a little vicious, and always together.

Jonathan gave him a final desperate glance. Harry just waved as the twins pulled Jonathan towards the Hogwarts Express. His brother really needed to get away and live at least some of his own life. Harry didn’t want him being in his little brother’s shadow for years. At Hogwarts, he would have to think about other things.

Harry leaned on the stone wall and watched the kids pile into the Hogwarts Express, some he knew and some he didn’t. He did spy Angelina Johnson hugging her parents, and Marcus Flint sneering disdainfully at the first-years. He suppressed the impulse to duck out of sight when he saw Oliver Wood with a broom over his shoulder. Oliver knew nothing about how he could fly in this universe and wouldn’t be looking to recruit him for the Quidditch team.

Probably won’t be looking to recruit me when I go to Hogwarts, either. The Sorting Hat knew perfectly well who Harry was whenever it dropped on his head, but it always Sorted him based on his personality and circumstances in this life. It said he gave it a headache, and trying to Sort him as the sum of all his lives was too hard. And Harry was pretty sure he wouldn’t be Gryffindor, this world.

“Harry, love? It’s time to go.”

Harry turned around, alert in a way that he hated. Because Lily had said those words in a soft, resigned voice that didn’t have tears in it. It would just have been tears if she had been upset about Jonathan leaving. And she didn’t say that they were going home.

“Where, Mum?” Harry held his hand up so that Lily could take it and lead him away. He behaved like a child in public.

“Albus wants to talk to you.”

“About what? Honest, Mum, I’ve told him everything I can think of!” A lie, but it was unlikely that Lily would sense it. She did believe, more than James, that he was a kid in her heart of hearts, and if he showed an emotion, that was everything he felt.

Lily bent down and hugged him so fiercely that Harry felt a thrum of uneasiness. “I promise that it’s nothing bad, sweetheart,” she breathed into his hair. “Albus—he found some magic recently that only powerful wizards can do. He wants to see if you can do it. It would help us immensely in the war.”

“The war that’s not happening?”

Lily flinched and backed away to look at him with huge eyes, ones that already looked as if they were about to swim with tears. Harry sighed. He hated when his mother looked like that. He always had, even when she wasn’t his mother.

“I didn’t say I wouldn’t talk with him. I just think it’s a little strange to call what’s not happening a war.”

“That’s what Albus called it.” Lily didn’t look entirely reassured, but she gave Harry a timid smile. “If you’ll talk with him? It could mean peace in the end, you know. Not the kind of half-peace we have now, never knowing if Voldemort is going to come back and attack any day.”

He wouldn’t do that unless I stopped talking to him and coming to see him. It was strange to Harry to know that, once again, as in a few other lives, he was the guarantee of peace with Voldemort, but only because he was writing letters and answering strange invitations to bloody clearings in the middle of the night.

This war can’t be won through normal means.

But for now, he nodded and smiled back at Lily, and let her lead him to the Apparition spot. The meeting was going to be at Hogwarts, apparently. Harry pretended he couldn’t Apparate himself, or that he couldn’t see through the transparent kind of manipulation that this meant. It made his mother happy.

*

“Are you a hero or not?”

Jonathan looked at the dark-haired girl who had invaded his compartment. She had a look on her face as though she didn’t know how to meet someone’s eyes, because she’d rather tilt her nose and look down on them. Her hands were clenched next to her sides. Jonathan couldn’t see her wand.

That didn’t matter, though, not after some of the things he’d seen Harry do without a wand. Jonathan planned on being cautious.

“No,” he said. “I’m not. Voldemort never actually attacked me. He took my little brother away for three years, though.”

The girl gaped at him. Then she whispered, “You said his name.”

“Yes. I think it’s stupid to live in fear.”

“My parents aren’t stupid. But they would never say his name.”

All Jonathan could do was shrug. He still didn’t know who this girl was, so he didn’t have the slightest idea who her parents were and whether or not they were stupid. He thought they probably were if they were Death Eaters, though.

The girl sat on the bench across from him. “My name is Acanthus Parkinson. I know you’re Jonathan Potter. I have a little sister named Pansy who will be coming to school in two years. Along with your brother, right?”

Jonathan blinked a little at her flood of words. Despite being at parties with his friends like the Weasley twins in the past few years, he was still more used to his family and silence and few words. But he nodded. “Yeah. His name is Harry and he’s two years younger than me. What House do you think you’ll be Sorted into?”

“Slytherin, of course. All the best people are. Well, maybe not you.”

“No, probably Gryffindor or Hufflepuff for me,” Jonathan agreed.

“Hufflepuff? Wouldn’t you want to go home if you were Sorted there?”

“Why?”

“It’s the duffer House! The lowest of the low! The House of leftovers! My older cousin was at Hogwarts a few years ago, and she said the Hat sang this song about how Helga Hufflepuff just taught everyone no one else wanted to teach.”

“Then she probably had the biggest House, right?”

Acanthus paused as if she hadn’t thought of that before. Then she tossed her head. “My cousin also said that the Hat tries to Sort people evenly. You don’t have a huge number of students in Slytherin and none in Ravenclaw, for instance.”

“Then maybe the Hat just puts some people in some places. Not the best-suited ones. I could end up in Hufflepuff if Gryffindor already has enough students.”

“That shouldn’t work that way!”

“But it apparently does.”

Acanthus argued fiercely with him for most of the way about the Sorting Hat. Jonathan only answered vaguely. His thoughts were far away, with Harry, sometimes worrying how he would handle Mr. Dumbledore and his parents without Jonathan there to protect him, sometimes wishing he was here, sometimes wondering what Hogwarts House he would be Sorted into.

He smiled. He thought the Hat would be really puzzled by Harry.

“Are you even listening to me, Potter?”

“I don’t know, Parkinson. Have you said anything interesting yet?”

Acanthus glared at him and began her argument over again. Jonathan did listen a little more this time, but only because he knew Mum would have told him it was polite. He would take Harry’s advice and try to have fun and make friends at Hogwarts.

But it would be hard, knowing his real life was so far behind him.

*

“You know what I am going to ask you already, I suspect, Harry.”

Harry shivered a little as he halted in front of Dumbledore. Lily had brought him straight to the gates and then walked with him to the castle, pointing out Gryffindor Tower before she faltered and fell silent. Harry knew she was thinking of his other lives and how he probably knew the castle better than she did.

And it was true that Harry did. But he didn’t want that burden to weigh on her mind. Any more than he wanted Dumbledore to be consumed by thoughts of his magical strength, as if that mattered, and think of him as a weapon to win the war.

There was more than one reason that Harry had preferred to keep the knowledge of his past lives from everyone for so long.

Now he stood in front of Albus, and he felt a great weariness moving up through him, cresting near the top of his head. He sighed. “You’re going to ask me to make an attack on Voldemort. Or lead one. Even though he hasn’t done anything for four years now.”

“You know he’s gathering his forces. Getting ready to attack again.”

“I don’t know that. I think the last time he tried to attack me traumatized him. He’s not going to try again until he’s sure he can win.”

Albus seemed to pause and think about that. Harry watched him. It was true. If Voldemort had been anything like the ones in his other worlds, he would never have admitted fear, but driven himself mad trying to gain the magical knowledge to take down his enemy.

But this version of Voldemort wasn’t shivering in fear. He was staring in fascination. Harry knew it, as much as he tried to push himself away from knowing it.

Still. He had made worse sacrifices. All he had to do was keep Albus from tipping the balance and turning them back into full-out enemies, or making Voldemort think he had to make another Horcrux, or something.

“You cannot trust him,” Albus said at last. “No words of true. No promise of peace.”

“What would you trust from him?” Harry asked wearily. “He did keep that bargain not to attack my family for three years, you know. I don’t think he actually realized that Remus would count as someone I was fond of.”

“I will trust death. Nothing more. Voldemort cannot be trusted.”

Harry closed his eyes. If he refused outright, then he was sure Albus would do something that would fracture the balance and tip everything over.

But there was always deception.

“Let me try one thing first,” he said. “If it doesn’t work—and it probably wouldn’t, because I don’t think he trusts you, either—then I’ll become your weapon. But grant me this much. I have to have some time. If only to minimize the casualties.”

“You could use your magic and kill him right now.”

“If I wanted to become a murderer, of course I could.”

There was silence. Harry held Albus’s eyes. He knew him well enough to look away the moment he felt a sting of Legilimency, but there was nothing. It seemed Albus, in turn, knew him well enough to know when he was being sincere.

Albus sighed a little. “We may not have as long as you wish, Harry. Voldemort might murder more innocents.”

“Why would he suddenly break this calm that he’s maintained for the last few years?”

“Why would he preserve it?”

God, what’s made us enemies? Harry felt sadness pulse through his chest as he realized the truth. It was the knowledge of his past lives, nothing more. Albus had never reacted like this in other worlds, even ones where he’d been just as driven and had just as blind a faith in Voldemort’s evil and the prophecy being right.

I’m never telling anyone else about this ever again. Maybe next life I’ll go and hide away if I can, until the time comes when I’m needed to win the war…

Harry took a sharp breath as he realized he didn’t even know if that time would come. Now that he knew the truth about one Voldemort, he would probably look on the next one in the next world he was born into more kindly. Perhaps he could find ways to engineer a truce there, too.

Hopefully one that doesn’t depend on Voldemort’s obsession with me.

“I will give you one month.”

Harry came back to the present, the world where he was still Harry and Albus was—not with him. He nodded. “All right. I promise that I’ll do as you say if I can’t get my plan in motion.”

“Thank you, Harry.”

The tension in the room didn’t ease, and Harry felt the Elder Wand, in his sleeve as it always was, shiver abruptly. He sighed and backed up. It would leap into his grasp if it thought it had to defend him. It had happened before when Harry was trying to demonstrate a spell to Jonathan using just hand motions. The Hallows were too bloody eager.

“I promise,” Harry repeated, and hoped that his fake smile was more convincing than it felt. “But just let me try this first. I don’t want to become a murderer after my years of doing exactly that.”

Albus smiled and nodded. He was lying about being happy about this. Harry knew it. And Albus knew Harry knew it.

Harry fled the office before he had to confront the thought of what else he didn’t know. And although he made his way obediently to the front of the castle where Lily was waiting for him, he already intended to Apparate back later.

He had a Sorting to watch.

*

“Potter, Jonathan!”

Jonathan squared his shoulders and stepped forwards as he heard the murmurs travel around the Great Hall. He knew some people were confused about how to react to him. The Potters hid away because they were in danger, and then they returned and never confirmed exactly what that danger had been. They were under attack from Voldemort’s forces, then they weren’t. Some people had heard a hint of prophecy or specialness, and others had heard rumors of rumors. No one really knew what to say to him.

He moved under the Sorting Hat. It seemed to sigh softly into his ear as it touched his hair.

You know what you are. You know what you want.

Jonathan just nodded. Harry had told him about the Hat and that he could argue with it, but so far, he hadn’t heard anything to argue with. It was the truth. “To protect my brother.

There are many ways you could do that. By building walls of knowledge. By becoming good at the dueling spells that Albus has tried to teach you. By hiding in the shadows and barely letting anyone know about you. By gathering followers around you. By becoming his bodyguard. Which one do you want?”

I thought there were only four Houses?”

The Hat laughed into his ear. Jonathan could feel the crowd around him shifting and murmuring. This was already taking longer than most students’ Sortings had. He thought he could feel Acanthus Parkinson watching him from the Slytherin table, her eyes narrowed shrewdly as she pondered where the Hat would place him.

Your choice will still tell me much about you.

I want to protect him by learning how to protect him, a bunch of magic and dueling spells, but also—I just want to be there for him. I don’t think our parents know how to deal with him, and neither does Mr. Dumbledore. And he doesn’t really have that many friends his own age. They don’t know what to think of him, either.”

Do you?”

I know he’s my little brother.

To you, that’s enough.

It’ll have to be.

Do you think that will ever change?”

No.”

“HUFFLEPUFF!”

The applause was loud from the Hufflepuff table. Jonathan took off the Hat and handed it back to Professor McGonagall, then hurried over to his fellow Housemates. There were already some older students shaking his hand and introducing themselves.

“Adrienne Richland, tremendous to see you, Potter…”

“Lyall Walker, same…”

“I’m Cedric Diggory! I’m a first-year like you!”

Jonathan turned around and watched the rest of the Sorting—in a way. He did hear the silence and then the roar of protest from the Gryffindor table when first Fred and then George Weasley were Sorted into Slytherin. He heard Mr. Dumbledore’s voice announcing the beginning of the feast. He saw the food appear on the plates; he even felt the hum of magic around his hands when it did.

But his attention was focused on the shadows of the corridor past the doors where they’d entered.

He could see Harry’s face there, his eyes bright and gleaming as he waved before he silently turned and headed away.

Jonathan took a helping of potatoes and began talking to Cedric with a healthy dose of satisfaction that filled him more than the food could have. He didn’t have to worry about his life being in two different places. Harry would always be with him.

Chapter Text

“Harry.”

I wish someone else besides Jonathan was that happy to see me, Harry thought, before he cut himself off. He had accepted the circumstances of this life. He could adapt further, and ignore the nagging problems. He had the power to leave if he wanted.

I need to stop whining, even to myself.

“Voldemort.” Harry nodded to him. They were in their usual meeting place, the clearing where Voldemort had performed his oaths and also his elemental magic. “I have a plan I need to suggest to you. Let me know if you agree to it.”

“This has something to do with Dumbledore?”

“How did you know that?”

“There’s a particular way that you stand when you’re exasperated with him,” Voldemort murmured, his gaze focused enough that Harry could almost feel its light on his skin. “I know that you must have an urgent message for me if it makes you seek me out instead of waiting for my invitation.”

Harry stared at him, then shuddered the wish that someone else knew him that well away. He wasn’t going to complain. “Yes. He’s convinced that you need to die. That this truce that you’ve set up isn’t real, and that you’ll start attacking again any minute. And he wants me to murder you.”

He found himself bracing his back against one of the small and now-almost-leafless trees. Voldemort in any other world would still have withered the air with rage. But this one, although he came a step forwards, only watched him thoughtfully.

“Why you?”

“He’s convinced that I have the power to do so, and he knows he doesn’t.”

“You do have the power to do so.”

“Um. Let me understand you. Are you saying that you don’t mind that? Or is it something that you only recently figured out?”

“I’ve known since our confrontation after you escaped.” Voldemort flicked his fingers as if conjuring and throwing away a miniature flower. “What is your plan for handling this? Do you intend to create a replica of my head and bring it to Albus?”

“He wouldn’t be convinced by that,” Harry said, while his mind grabbed that idea and gibbered about it a while. “No. What I’m going to do is convince him that you’re so obsessed with me you have no idea about starting a war.”

Voldemort laughed. Harry put a hand to his ears. That sound still seemed to ring some dark bell at the heart of the world.

“In other words,” Voldemort said, “you would tell him the truth.”

“I—”

Harry had no idea what to say. Put all the other differences aside and he still wasn’t used to a Voldemort that had this much self-awareness.

Voldemort had prowled towards him while he was standing there thinking about it, and now he was bending over at an odd angle so he could stare further into Harry’s eyes. Harry looked back. He couldn’t wait to be taller.

“You could do so much,” Voldemort said. “If you would. Conquer me. Destroy me. Albus is not wrong to think that. You could take over the world. You could imprison me somewhere I could never escape.”

“I—”

“Do not lie to me, Harry. You are an immortal being with gifts that you do not use only because of the constraints of your own strange morality. That does not mean that you could not use them. You used the gifts of a Dementor to escape me. You hate them, but you used them to save someone else. I have no doubt that you would murder me or imprison me if necessary to save the world.”

“But you’re not acting like you mind it!”

“Should I?” Voldemort bent a little nearer, and this time Harry was certain: the skin where the light of his red eyes fell was warmer than the rest of Harry’s face. “When the being that could do so is not Albus or a member of the Order of the Phoenix, but you? My equal?”

Harry’s brain gibbered again. The first thing he thought of was the original prophecy and the “mark him as his equal” line. His Voldemort, if he could think of him that way, his first Voldemort, had indeed been obsessed with Harry, but with hunting him down and destroying him. He wouldn’t have allowed anything like his equal to exist. He wouldn’t have been thrilled about it.

“Can you not act like a normal Voldemort?” Harry found himself demanding before he thought about the words and how ridiculous they sounded.

*

He is uneasy.

Part of Lord Voldemort thrilled to that, vibrated with the beginning of Harry’s terror, but the rest of him was thrilled only because it meant Harry was responding to him instead of locking his emotions away, the way he had tried more than once. He wished for other emotions. He stepped back, because perhaps his closeness was confusing Harry, but spoke on in the same soft voice, and did not look away from Harry’s eyes.

“Of course not. The others were defeated, broken, pathetic creatures. Why would I want to act like them?”

Harry continued staring at him for a second. Then his jaw firmed, and the emotions that Lord Voldemort suspected from him did the same thing. Lord Voldemort approved. Harry was not a child. He deserved to remember that and continue to display his power, that fine power that Albus feared so much.

Albus would drown the light of the future with his fear.

“All right,” Harry said. “So we use the truth. But we have to be able to explain to Albus why it’s true in a way that doesn’t put you in danger.”

“And you?”

“I’ll be fine.”

Lord Voldemort sighed. “You told me you were a Gryffindor in your first life? And the majority of your subsequent lives thereafter?”

“Well, when I wasn’t born a snake or a Kneazle.”

Lord Voldemort paused, but this was too important a conversation to try and imagine Harry with scales or paws. “The traits still show through. I know you have the ability to defend yourself. Will you make the plans? What would you do if Albus tried to use your brother against you, or put you into a situation where you would die in that child’s body even if your magic was free?”

Harry blinked. “Then I’d die. I’d hate to think of leaving this world with everything unfinished, and leaving Jonathan like that. But at least it would mean Albus couldn’t use me as a weapon against anyone else, and I know I’d be reborn. Hopefully into a world that’s less insane.”

Lord Voldemort moved. Harry seemed to relax as he was pressed against the tree he’d been standing in front of. Perhaps he thought Lord Voldemort was breaking and falling apart like the others, that his soul was leaking, that the hostility on the air was for the thought of Harry Potter existing instead of not existing.

“And have you not thought of what else you will be leaving behind? A war that will start again when you are no longer here? Magic that can be shared and is not being shared? Me?”

Lord Voldemort had given Harry Potter a gift he had not acknowledged. The thought of being his equal, of the obsession that Lord Voldemort could feel turning the iron of his mind to steel—it would be acknowledged. It would be accepted as the gift it was.

Harry hung where he was. He looked patiently into Lord Voldemort’s eyes, and although Lord Voldemort did not use Legilimency on him, dared not use it, he could see ancient seas, blowing winds, wheeling stars. Harry spoke, and his voice had an echo to it. “I’m truly immortal. That means I’ve accepted death. It doesn’t mean trying to defy or cheat it. That’s where you’re still like the others. You want to live forever.”

“There is one way I am different,” Lord Voldemort said, and his voice scrabbled like a scorpion’s claws. “I wish for the one who can share my immortality.”

Harry blinked, once, and the glimpse of the lives he had lived was once again in the background. “I can’t do that. I can’t,” he repeated, when Lord Voldemort leaned closer to him, until their chins almost touched. “I always die of old age, or in battle, or something. I’m not physically immortal, the way you are. I don’t have Horcruxes.”

“But your magic is vast enough to figure out a way. You know of means of immortality aside from Horcruxes. Don’t you.”

Harry’s face mottled pale. The shifting branches of the tree above him cast down enough shadows to make it dark still. “I would never use them.”

“But you know of them. And if I told you that I would unleash war on the world otherwise, that I would decay and turn back into the kind of Voldemort that you always defeated—what would you do then?”

“Say that you’ve given me as much power over you as you have over me. I would defeat you, and then I would die. That’s the way it’s always been. That’s the way it has to be. It’s always—”

Harry stopped speaking, but Lord Voldemort was there already, as simple and pure as the strike of a snake. “Because it has always been that way, that means it must always be that way?”

*

Harry hated the feeling that the universe was punching him in the face and laughing at him. It could stop any time now.

He bit down against the impulse to say that, and nodded to Voldemort. “All right. So I’ve already changed my mind about that. But I’m not going to live forever, and I’m not going to use the methods I’ve read about.” Yes, he’d been a necromancer’s apprentice, and there were books waiting under the earth, written in salt and rock, that would mean he could stay in any body he chose. He’d never chosen. He wanted to die, wanted to go on. He wanted to live a normal life.

A cold talon seemed to stroke the back of his neck. The way that you wanted to be normal and get Albus to leave you alone, so you told him almost everything? Because that was normal, to trust him and be on the side of the Order of the Phoenix.

Harry closed his eyes to acknowledge the next bitter thought. The knowledge of twenty-seven lives should have taught you that you’d never be normal once you confessed your powers.

“If I threatened your brother—”

“Do that, and I am gone.”

“Gone?”

“I know magic that would make me immortal. I also know magic that would snuff my soul out forever in this world. I don’t know for sure if it would stop me from being reborn, but it would mean that I never would have existed in this world. It would erase all my past actions. It will happen if you threaten Jonathan again.”

For a moment, the possibility hung between them, twanging like a plucked spiderweb. Voldemort’s eyes were so wide that Harry thought he could see all the way to the bottom of his soul, to the fractures in it. Then he let go of Harry, and stepped away, and bowed.

“You are lord of more magic than I can comprehend,” he murmured. Harry heard the crackling greed in his voice, but it was a little muted. A little. “You are incredible. I will not threaten your brother again. I will use a different tactic.”

“What?”

“Akin to the plan that you intend to show Albus. You will tell him the truth. I will tell you the truth. I must make you want to live.”

Harry swallowed against a sharp dryness in the back of his throat. He didn’t nod. “I think that the plan should include false memories I can show to Albus in the Pensieve, but they have to be based on something real. Do I have your permission to take part of this conversation and alter it so that he has something to look at?”

*

Only Harry would ask something like that. Only Harry would be able to have this conversation with me.

It reminded Lord Voldemort of the first time he had tasted chocolate, when he was five and one of the other children at the orphanage had found some somewhere, or been given it. At this height above the mists of the past, which one it was seemed unimportant. The sudden sweetness in his mouth and the awareness of possibilities opening around him was like that.

How long had it been since he remembered the orphanage?

He shrugged that aside, and paid attention to Harry instead. “You may use memories of this conversation. It would be strange for you to mention the Horcruxes without me getting angry. You should leave the parts about me wishing for you to be immortal and share that immortality with me.” Although it is the deepest desire of Lord Voldemort’s will. “You should leave the part about me threatening your brother, as well, but change your answer.”

“Why?”

“It will convince Albus that I have not changed, and show the depths of my obsession with you. But if he knew that you had the power to either become truly immortal or change the past of this world, then he would be more paranoid than he is now.”

“You think he’d try to kill me.”

“Of course he would.” Lord Voldemort sneered. “Do still think so well of him, or his incarnations in other worlds, that you do not think that is true?”

“No. I meant—I knew that already. I just didn’t know if you’d be upset about it.” Harry sighed. “How has the world managed to change this much?”

Lord Voldemort wished to say that it was his own genius, that he had outlived the other Voldemorts Harry had faced with the power of his genius, but bragging might have the same result as talking about himself in the third person. He laid a hand on the tree trunk above Harry’s head instead. “We cannot know. We can only plan to counter the insanity that Albus would lay down.”

“Yeah.” Harry’s hands curled for a moment. “And this way would at least let him know that if he threatens Jonathan, then he’ll pay for it.”

Lord Voldemort had no objection to that knowledge passing into Albus’s hands. As they worked out which parts of the conversation would be tampered with and which wouldn’t, he watched Harry’s face under half-lidded eyes. He seemed to have calmed down, though now and then he would shake his head in exasperation about something, usually when describing Albus’s choices.

You have lost him, Albus. Lost him so thoroughly that I wonder if he realizes it himself. He allows his brother to tether him to the side of the Order of the Phoenix, but that is the only thing that does. And if his brother left…

I shall have to know more about the loyalties of Jonathan Potter before I can change the status quo. I shall have to know what would lure him to the Dark. Perhaps he knows some of the Dark Arts already, in his training. There may be a way for Harry to find out and for me to question Harry.

Yes, that was the best way. Lord Voldemort would find out the way to tempt Jonathan Potter, and when he was at Lord Voldemort’s side, Harry would follow.

And then they would not be parted.

That mattered more than Horcruxes.

*

Harry started as he Apparated into his bedroom and found the walls lit with fire. His first thought was that Lily and James had noticed he was missing and were waiting by the fireplace for him to come back. He turned around. “Mum, Dad, I can explain—”

And his voice died, because it wasn’t his parents. Instead, Fawkes perched on the mantel above his fireplace. The phoenix gave him a sad croon and swooped towards the arm that Harry instinctively held up. It was a long time since he’d needed to give a phoenix a place to perch, but he still remembered how. One didn’t have five lives in a phoenix’s company and forget.

“All right,” Harry said, when Fawkes had done nothing but rub his cheek against Harry’s for a minute. “You came to show me something, right?” He knew about a phoenix’s ability to show visions in flames, too. They were ambiguous, but Harry had plenty of experience interpreting them. “What is it?”

Fawkes turned and gave him a mournful look. Harry sighed. “I know that I’ve lived through hard things, and you probably know something about that. But I won’t be angry at you. Just show me. I’m anticipating terrible things sitting here.” He tried to smile, but he felt his mouth tremble, and had to stop.

Fawkes gave a low, troubled croon, and then began to sing. Harry watched the flames coalesce in front of him, and saw the vision of Jonathan’s first days at Hogwarts.

Chapter Text

Jonathan laughed as he looked over his shoulder at George. “You mean no one in your House can tell you apart yet?”

“Nope.” George pulled back the long streamer with a honking dragon’s head on the end that he’d been pointing at Jonathan’s shoulder and swung into step beside him. On the other side, Cedric looked interested. “They just keep not dealing with the fact that we’re Weasleys. That confuses them more than anything else.”

“It didn’t surprise me.”

“It was the Howler from our mum that surprised me. She sent two to the both of us. She knows that we always share!”

“Right on, George.” Fred was there next, putting away a bucket of little round brown balls that Jonathan thought were probably Dungbombs. “I’m going to write a letter to her and tell her that we’re very, very disappointed. Also disappointed that they tore themselves up so fast—”

“We didn’t get to keep any pieces for our collection.” George nodded and smiled a little, although Jonathan could see the pain in his face. “That would have impressed the Slytherins more than just the Howler, y’know—”

“Because our whole life’s goal is impressing our fellow Slytherins.” Fred’s eyes were glittering.

Jonathan sighed. “Do you want me to write to my parents and ask them to write to your mum? I know she would stop sending you Howlers if I asked.” He didn’t know Molly Weasley that well, but he knew she adored his mum and looked up to his dad. Probably because Dad was an Auror. She thought Harry was strange, but Jonathan preferred that when he knew the person would never understand Harry.

“No. We’ll deal with Mum ourselves. And—”

“We have even more revenge to work out.” The twins were looking past him, and Jonathan glanced up and saw Percy Weasley striding towards them.

“Come on,” Cedric muttered next to him. “We’re going to be late for Potions if we keep lingering in the corridor.”

“But I want to help the twins with Percy.” Jonathan had never disliked Percy when he was still younger and at their children’s parties, but he thought he was a pompous twit now.

“We don’t want you to help, mate. No—”

“Offense, but it’s kind of offensive to suggest we can’t take on our dear brother Percy.” The twins nodded to him and went to meet their brother. Jonathan could hear Percy shouting, even though he didn’t know what it was about because Cedric was hustling him around the corner. He winced as they went down the stairs into the dungeons. He felt sorry for Fred and George. He might get a disappointed letter from Mum or Dad about his House placement, but never a Howler.

“I don’t think their parents like the twins much, sometimes,” he confessed to Cedric, who only thought about it and then shrugged a little.

“They’ll need to do well in Slytherin to win attention. And I’m sure their parents love them in their own way.”

“I’m sure you’re right,” Jonathan said, a bit uneasy. And then they stepped into the Potions classroom and he promptly started sneezing, so hard that he sent bogies flying everywhere. Cedric cast some kind of cantrip, but it didn’t work, and Jonathan couldn’t get his breath to tell him what was wrong. He kept sneezing.

“Oh dear, allergic to the ingredients of the Boil Cure Potion?” A smiling professor in glittering lime-green robes swept towards them. “Well, we’ll soon fix that. Nasum commuto!”

Jonathan felt a sharp tingle in his nose, which ended just when he was getting concerned that it might actually make his nose fall off. He glanced up and blinked at his Potions professor. He’d heard Mum talk about Professor Slughorn, but he’d thought the man was going to retire last year. “Um, hello.”

“Mr. Potter! No need to ask who you are, not with that hair! I remember your father playing Chaser on the Gryffindor team as if it was yesterday.” Slughorn chuckled and turned to look at Cedric. “And this is our year’s Mr. Diggory, is it? Very well, very well, sir! You look a great deal like your father.”

“Er, thank you, sir.” Cedric looked as cautious as Jonathan felt. Sometimes people tried to suck up to him as if he was really a hero like Harry, but this felt different, as though Slughorn was trying to flatter everyone he met.

“Yes, yes, your mother was brilliant at Potions when I had her in class,” Slughorn went on, shaking his head. “Amy Shoehorn! Brilliant, brilliant. And I hear that she makes her living at Charms now. So talented in two fields! Do you think you can echo her, Mr. Diggory? Or your father? Amos had the most instinctive brewing process I’ve ever seen.”

“Er, my father hasn’t brewed potions in years, sir. He mostly leaves that to my mother.”

And wise, to know when something’s beyond him!” Slughorn winked at Cedric, and then turned abruptly and waved them towards the tables in the front of the room. “You’ll probably want to sit there, Mr. Potter. I know that your lovely mother had no trouble seeing my handwriting, but your father had a few problems with his eyes, as I recall. Would it be right to say that you’ve inherited them?”

“Er, my brother more than me,” Jonathan said as he took his seat. He hoped that Slughorn would do something that would make him more comfortable to be around and Jonathan wouldn’t need to say “er” all the time. He exchanged a look with Cedric, but he only shrugged.

“Well, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was…”

In the end, Jonathan tuned out most of Slughorn’s chatter and let it flow over him, while he glanced over his shoulder as the Ravenclaws who shared this class came in. There was a tall girl in the lead, who had black hair tied severely back from her face; Jonathan mostly noticed her because she had a silver torque around her throat.

And because she was giving him a hateful look.

Jonathan blinked at her and turned to Cedric, waiting until Slughorn was thoroughly distracted welcoming the Ravenclaws and the other Hufflepuffs, who were tumbling in behind them. “Do you know her?”

“Who?” Cedric followed the line of his pointing chin, and snorted a little. “Oh, her. Her name’s Jane Kenbrook.”

“Why would she hate me?”

“Because her uncle was a Death Eater who got killed during the war. Evan Rosier, from what I remember.”

Jonathan kept facing the front, but he wanted to laugh. He also wanted to know what Kenbrook would say if she knew how close Harry was to her precious Dark Lord, and how that Dark Lord would do anything to avoid harming him.

Or his brother. Jonathan wasn’t stupid. He knew that Voldemort would have to earn his loyalty or do something about him to get Harry on his side, because Harry would never abandon Jonathan. So that probably meant Voldemort would hold back on anything that would hurt Jonathan, at least if he had as good control of himself as Harry implied he did.

Slughorn wasn’t nearly as fascinating a teacher as Mr. Dumbledore, but he did slip a lot of information in with his jokes and his bragging about the famous people he knew, so Jonathan had to pay close attention. He did, and wrote down his notes, and then went to get ingredients for the Boil Cure potion when Cedric asked him if he wanted to partner up, which of course he did.

On the whole, Jonathan forgot all about Jane Kenbrook until something sailed over his shoulder and plopped into the cauldron. It was a little silver bag. And that was all Jonathan had time to see before his world exploded in blinding pain.

The potion shot straight out of the cauldron and into his eyes. Jonathan slammed his hands over them and screamed. He tried to use his magic to clean his eyes, but he couldn’t find his wand and he couldn’t see and it felt as though someone was trying to rip his eyeballs out of his head.

“Mr. Potter, move your hands—you have to move your hands—that’s it—”

Someone moved Jonathan’s hands for him, because he wasn’t about to let go of his face. And then there was something cool washing over his eyes, and he sighed. The pain lessened at once. He dropped his hands and blinked up at Professor Slughorn. He wasn’t smiling now.

“A good job that I had the antidote for the Blinding Potion on hand, because this has happened before,” Slughorn said. He turned and stared around the room. “Who did that? Who dared to endanger a fellow student that badly? Reveal yourself!”

Of course no one said anything. Jonathan looked carefully around, mostly to make sure his eyes worked. It looked like they did and he was going to be okay. He sighed and opened his mouth.

But Cedric beat him to it.

“The ingredients were in a little silver bag and they came from behind us,” Cedric said. “It was aimed straight for Jonathan’s cauldron. Jane Kenbrook from Ravenclaw was glaring at Jonathan earlier. Sir,” he added, as though he thought there was a chance Slughorn might not believe him without the word.

“Miss Kenbrook. Did you do this?”

“There’s no proof.” Kenbrook’s voice was as haughty as the rest of her.

“That’s not the same thing as saying no, Miss Kenbrook.” Slughorn sounded unhappy. He waved his wand above Jonathan’s cauldron and peered at the result, which was a red mist Jonathan didn’t know. “Of course, if the bag was made of bicorn hide the way it sounds, it would have dissolved the instant it hit the potion. And what is your family known for, Miss Kenbrook?”

“I’m sure I don’t know, sir.”

“Importing bicorn hide.” Slughorn sighed and made his way to the back of the room. “Come with me, Miss Kenbrook. Class is dismissed. Mr. Potter, please go to the hospital wing and have Madam Pomfrey check your eyes and make sure none of the potion remains in them. And come back tonight at seven-o’clock to finish brewing your potion.”

“Yes, sir,” Jonathan said to his back, but he didn’t think Slughorn heard; the classroom had broken out in chatter. He glanced at Cedric. “Thanks, mate. I thought it was her, but I had no idea.”

“It had to be her.” Cedric sounded fierce. “No one in the class but her was glaring at you like that! And it’s stupid! It’s not like you had anything to do with her uncle’s death!”

“I know, but some people will blame you for anything,” Jonathan said, and tried to smile. Cedric didn’t look convinced. “Come on, I need to go to the hospital wing and then hurry so we’re not late for Herbology. Professor Sprout’s probably murder on Hufflepuffs who miss her class.”

“I don’t think Professor Sprout could be murder on anybody if she tried,” Cedric muttered, but he turned and followed Jonathan obediently out of the classroom. “Are you sure you’re all right, mate? Whatever was in that bag—”

“We’re not going to know until Professor Slughorn finishes talking to Kenbrook,” Jonathan told him, and walked out through the door with his shoulders held back and his head held high. He heard more chatter follow him, but he ignored it.

I have to show that I can be tough. Otherwise people are just going to keep on attacking me. And Harry might be disappointed.

*

Things did just seem to get worse from there.

Apparently Kenbrook had friends or cousins or something who were older Ravenclaws. They got angry at Jonathan for “getting her in trouble when there was no proof,” and tried to corner him as he went back to the Hufflepuff common room with Cedric the next night. When that didn’t work—because Cedric had friends in Hufflepuff and no concern about yelling for them—they tried to trip him down the stairs.

Jonathan wound up hanging from the banister while they threw hexes and jinxes at him.

And then Mr. Dumbledore showed up.

He was quietly angry at everybody, and the Ravenclaws gulped and backed down. But then Dumbledore gave a speech at dinner about how Jonathan was a great hero and they shouldn’t touch him, and he might be the only hope that anybody had of surviving Voldemort. That just made everyone flinch and glare at him harder, and then try harder to trip him down the stairs or cast hexes at him in the corridor without getting caught.

Or mock him.

That was the real problem. Jonathan had never known how sensitive he was to words. It wasn’t like Harry or his parents or his friends or Mum and Dad and Sirius mocked him. They understood how he was.

But people muttering behind their hands, “Bet he was too much of a coward to finish You-Know-Who the way he was supposed to,” or, “I heard he was too much of a coward for Gryffindor, even,” or “What kind of soft-bellied Potter ends up as a Hufflepuff?” jabbed at him like Cutting Curses. Jonathan took to running through the corridors on the way to class, and Cedric and the twins talked to him and couldn’t make it hurt less.

It was stupid. Jonathan knew that. They hadn’t been trained by Mr. Dumbledore and they didn’t have Harry for a brother. But it still hurt.

The twins tried to help him by pranking people, but they were busy fighting their own battles in Slytherin. And they thought some of the insults that got hurled at Jonathan were so stupid they were pathetic. They would have laughed back at people and mocked them, Jonathan knew. He wished he could do that.

In the end, the best help came from an unexpected direction. Jonathan was throwing stones into the lake while Cedric did homework next to him and dreading the walk to the Great Hall when someone above him said, “The way you react only gives them more fuel.”

Jonathan turned around, blinking. Acanthus Parkinson stood there. She gave him a disappointed look and said, “You should have been in Slytherin. Then they wouldn’t dare taunt you like this, because they would be afraid you knew Dark magic. Budge over.”

Jonathan budged over, ignoring the suspicious look from Cedric. At least Acanthus wasn’t one of the Slytherins who had been taunting him. “They’re probably going to say I know Dark magic next.”

“Why?”

“Because some of them still don’t know why I knew to accuse Kenbrook of putting that bag in my cauldron. They’re wavering back and forth between Divination and Dark Arts, last I knew.”

“Yet another reason to have you in Slytherin,” said Acanthus. “You want to ask the Hat? It might reconsider.”

Jonathan shook his head. He wasn’t about to tell someone who seemed cheerful at the thought of Dark Arts that he’d been put into Hufflepuff because of his loyalty to Harry. “I can’t. Just—Acanthus, what are you doing here? Don’t you have somewhere that you want to go?”

“You think I don’t want to be here?”

“I think you want to hear the gossip,” Cedric said, popping his head up from the other side of Jonathan and giving Acanthus an unfriendly look.

Acanthus flattened her hand over her heart. “And here I was going to tell you what some of my Housemates had planned for tonight. But if you don’t want to hear about it, that’s fine.”

“Another ambush as we’re going down into the dungeons?” Jonathan had been grateful for a while that Ravenclaw Tower and the Hufflepuff common room were so far apart, but given the proximity of the Slytherins in the dungeons, he was starting to regret where he lived.

“No. Worse. They’re going to steal your wand and hex someone so it’ll look like you did it.”

Cedric puffed up like an angry badger. “No one is going to believe that.”

“If they make the hex bad enough and someone comes along to use Priori Incantatem on your wand, why wouldn’t they?”

“Who would know that spell and just be wandering around in the corridor?” Cedric asked, and his tone or maybe the question made Acanthus bristle.

“One of the prefects. I didn’t ask too closely. I only overheard this plan and carried it to you at risk of life and limb if any of the other Slytherins find out. It’s mostly the older ones who are in on this, you know. The ones who can remember their Death Eater relatives who died when the war was still going on.”

Jonathan nodded slowly. He knew he had to go to Mr. Dumbledore about this. Harry wasn’t here for him to run to with his problems. His parents couldn’t respond in time because sending them an owl would take too long. Professor Sprout would cluck her tongue and tell him that she respected him and believed in him, but she wouldn’t do anything. She hadn’t done anything about the bullying so far.

“Why do you have that expression?” Acanthus asked.

“Because I have to involve Professor Dumbledore, and I don’t want to.”

“Why not?”

“He’ll make this a bigger deal, the way he did with that announcement at breakfast.”

“That announcement at breakfast was extraordinarily ill-judged.”

“Wait a minute,” Cedric said, breaking in. “You trust this particular Slytherin, Jonathan?”

“Yeah.” Jonathan just shrugged at the look Acanthus gave him. “You can’t deny that you’ve done some things as a House that are untrustworthy.”

“What are you going to do?” Acanthus seemed to decide his concerns weren’t worth addressing.

“Go to talk to Dumbledore and hope for the best.”

It was a decision made with all the information that Jonathan had at the time. Later, he would wish he hadn’t made it. But it was the only option at the time.

Chapter Text

Harry was shivering as the visions began to fade about him. He knew they weren’t done, though, or Fawkes would have flown away, or demanded something from him. He leaned back and stared at the phoenix perched on his arm.

“Why are you doing this? Why not take the visions to Dumbledore or my parents? Some adult who would be accepted as an adult and could do something?”

Fawkes bowed his head. A single tear slipped from his eye, but only splashed hot and useless against Harry’s head. Fawkes had no strength to spare for healing tears, Harry realized abruptly. His crest drooped. His wings shivered. He might not even have been able to fly.

Stunned, Harry caressed his neck. “Do you need help?” He had studied magical healing of animals alongside other disciplines in many lifetimes, and although he’d never specialized in it, his memory made sure he never forgot anything.

Fawkes raised his head and uttered a soft, musical cry of negation. He stared into Harry’s eyes with utter misery, and Harry finally understood. The phoenix had a decision to make. He didn’t even know if he could help with making it.

“Is it Dumbledore? You’re going to stop being his companion?”

Fawkes wept again. His wings were folded tightly against his body now, which swayed. Harry brought his arm closer to his chest so Fawkes could have something to lean against. He combed his fingers slowly through the scarlet feathers, and Fawkes huddled close to him like a fledgling in a nest.

Harry sighed.

“I can’t promise it’ll be perfect if you leave him,” he whispered, knowing Fawkes was listening to every word. “But you don’t need to show me these visions to make me defend you or my brother. If you just want to explain why you’re leaving him, though, that’s okay.”

Fawkes leaned against him harder and moved his head up and down. Harry stroked the sides of his beak. Fawkes parted his bill in a silent sigh and finally lifted his head to look at Harry.

“You’re ready to show me whatever came after that point?” Harry asked quietly.

Fawkes snagged a claw into his shirt and leaned forwards, looking deeply into his eyes. As fire and song blossomed around them, Harry could only hope that this was something his brother had survived.

*

“Of course this won’t stand, Jonathan. The students should already have known better than to bother you. I will make a general announcement at dinner.”

Jonathan started out of his chair before he could help himself. “No, Headmaster,” he said forcefully. “That won’t help. It will only make them think I’m getting special treatment. Can’t you just stop the ambush and make sure they don’t do anything like this to anyone else, either?”

Mr. Dumbledore frowned a little. “Why would it be your concern what they did to anyone else, m’boy?”

Jonathan stared at him. He could hardly believe the man who had taught him all about compassion and the greater good was saying this. But Dumbledore continued to frown at him, as if he assumed that Jonathan would agree with him and was just temporarily out of his mind to not do so.

“I want other people to feel safe, too,” Jonathan said, when he could speak. “I just—I don’t want this to turn into more bullying or like you’re protecting me and keeping everyone else at a lower level.”

“I have to keep them at a lower level, when they are not the people who can save the world,” Dumbledore said gently.

“You don’t know if I can save the world either, Headmaster. With all due respect,” Jonathan added as he watched Dumbledore’s eyebrows start to rise. He had been speaking almost as he would to Harry, free and uninhibited, and he had watch to out. “The prophecy hasn’t happened. I’m happy you want me to stay safe, but everybody has to stay safe, not just me.”

“How will my making an announcement that bullying will not be tolerated make them less safe, my dear boy?”

“Well, will you say that, or will say that bullying of Jonathan Potter will not be tolerated? Because it sounded as if you were going to say that, sir. I’d rather that you not.”

“There are so many things you need to learn before you’re ready to face Voldemort, Jonathan. And one of them is that certain people take up danger so that others need not. In return, they do get certain rewards. Fame or wealth or gratitude. And you will have to face Voldemort. I gave you advanced training. That’s one of the costs or the benefits, depending on how you look at it. Here is another.”

“I—can’t you just say that you’re not going to tolerate bullying and the other professors aren’t either?” Jonathan asked weakly. He felt like that so much when he was dealing with Dumbledore. Just incapable of saying what he wanted because Dumbledore was saying it so much better.

Dumbledore gave him a kind look from under his glasses. “You’ll understand when you’re older, Jonathan.”

“When I face Voldemort?”

“Hopefully before then.” Dumbledore stood up and came around the desk to press his shoulder. Then he leaned in and said, “I believe I can entrust a secret to you, in return for you accepting that certain burdens will always be yours to bear.”

Jonathan stared up at him. He thought, A second ago he was talking about good things I’m entitled to, and now it’s burdens?

But he knew he would only get mixed up again if he had to contradict Dumbledore, so he just asked, “Yes, sir?”

“I believed, at first, that your brother was the answer to our prayers, a way to fight the war without risking members of the Order of the Phoenix.” Dumbledore was almost whispering to him, leaning so close that Jonathan felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. “And then I realized he could not be. He doesn’t have your innate moral compass. You were raised by your parents all your life and you know the reasons for what we do. He was raised by Voldemort for part of this life and who knows by what kinds of Dark wizards for the others. You are the only unstained one left, Jonathan. Please embrace your status.”

Jonathan breathed through rage. He knew what it was because he’d felt the same kind of thing when he really realized what it meant for Harry to go missing. “What are you planning to do with Harry then, sir?”

“It may be there is some other use to be made of him.” Dumbledore’s face was serious. “But I don’t think that he can play the role I had in mind for him. He’s simply too committed to seeing the Dark win.”

“How can you say that? When Voldemort kidnapped him—”

“But if he truly despised the Dark, he would go ahead and destroy Voldemort of his own free will. Has that happened? It has not. He’s too sympathetic to them. I don’t know if he’s uncertain about what he should do or actively plotting to overthrow the Order of the Phoenix, but either way, it’s not something I can trust.”

“Then you shouldn’t trust me, either,” Jonathan spat at him. He could feel himself vibrating. He knew that Harry would say that he had to calm down, that it was no good letting Dumbledore and the other adults suspect what he really thought, but this time, he had to say it. It had to come out. “Because I love Harry, and I trust what he tells me.”

Dumbledore sighed a little. “Then you want the Dark to win, too?”

“I don’t want anyone to die!”

“But that would mean that you don’t want Death Eaters or Voldemort to die, either. And don’t you see that he must die for our world to be at peace forever, Mr. Potter?”

“It won’t be at peace forever. There was Grindelwald, and now there’s him, and I read that history book you gave me about the nineteenth century and there were Dark Lords then, too. I just don’t want this war to happen. It’s the only one I care about!”

Dumbledore shook his head. “I see that I have not explained the history and the stance of the Order of the Phoenix clearly enough. And I see that I must not have demonstrated what makes this war different from all the others.” He moved his wand a little.

Jonathan blinked and touched his forehead. It seemed as though his sight had blurred, or maybe his mind. What had he and Mr. Dumbledore been arguing about?

“Are you all right, Mr. Potter?”

“Um, I think so, sir,” Jonathan said. “But I don’t really remember most of the last few minutes. What happened?”

“I was telling you that I received a threat from Voldemort against your brother,” Dumbledore said. “And you were telling me about the threat that you received from the Slytherins. Or the threat that is purported to come from them, perhaps it would be more accurate to say.”

“Voldemort threatened Harry?” That seemed strange to Jonathan, because Voldemort was close to Harry—or something. But then, could you ever completely trust a Dark Lord? Voldemort might have been plotting something like this all along and only tricked Harry.

“Yes. I can show you the letter if you wish?”

Jonathan nodded, and then read the letter that Dumbledore handed him with growing horror. Voldemort was threatening to take Harry back and keep him forever, and he said that he would torture all the members of the Order of the Phoenix to do it, even people like Sirius that Jonathan knew Harry considered family.

“This is horrible.”

“I know, my boy. And that’s why I’d like to start your training again as soon as possible. Keeping you away from the other students and building up your magical strength have to be our priorities right now.”

“Of course,” Jonathan said numbly. He put down the letter and looked up at Dumbledore. “What do you think we ought to practice first?”

*

Harry’s hands had become too hot for Fawkes, that was obvious. The phoenix had hopped up onto the mantel above the fireplace and was watching him a bit reproachfully.

Harry closed his eyes and willed his magic to leave his hands, not manifest as sparks that might burn the carpet. Dumbledore hadn’t used a complete Memory Charm on Jonathan, but a combination of a modified Memory Charm and a Confundus Charm. Jonathan would still remember most of what they’d discussed, but the details would blur.

More insidiously, his attitude would change. He would think of certain events from a different perspective than his first one, and while Harry was confident that nothing could make his brother’s loyalty to him waver, he might do evil under the perception that he was doing good.

Just like Albus.

Harry looked up wearily at Fawkes. “No wonder you want to leave him. He’s not capable of drawing lines that he won’t cross anymore.”

Fawkes gave a low, worried croon. Harry sat down on the couch and stared into the flames.

He could undo the damage to his brother’s mind, but only by taking him from Hogwarts and keeping Jonathan with him for a month or so—away from the ordinary life that Harry wanted him to have. And that would reveal to Dumbledore that he knew about the spell, which could put Jonathan and Fawkes and other people in danger.

And that would mean dealing with his parents, too. Or running away from them altogether, and Jonathan, although he was a resilient young man, wasn’t ready to abandon people who could care for him. Harry had lived all sorts of lives, including his first one, where parental care was something he had to dispense with.

The more he sat there and thought, the more tangled his thoughts became.

“I wish that I’d never told anyone about my power,” he whispered. “Rescued Remus and kept it secret somehow—maybe left after I’d brought him to Hogwarts. Gone off and drawn Voldemort after me, so that he could hunt me and leave my family alone. I can’t Obliviate them. I can’t violate their free will like that. But what can I do…”

He hesitated. There was always the chance that he could kill himself. He knew he would survive, that he would wake up in another world, and the problems of this one would be lessened, if not solved, by his vanishing.

But Jonathan would miss him. The war would continue, and his brother would still be Confounded and not acting in his own best interests. Maybe Harry should have been smarter in the past, but he couldn’t abandon the people who leaned on him now.

Fawkes flew down to his shoulder with a low, concerned sound, and rubbed his beak against Harry’s hair. Harry reached up and leaned his hand on him, letting the ordinary warmth of a phoenix cheer him up.

“Can you stand to stay there longer?” he asked. “Because if you leave him now, then he’ll probably know something’s changed.”

Fawkes turned his head. Harry met the horrified look in those shining eyes and shook his head.

“No, you’re right. That would corrupt you.” Phoenixes were pure creatures. Fawkes had probably stayed this long only because he believed that there were some actions Albus would never take. And then he’d taken them.

Fawkes crooned in relief. Then he pointed his beak at the far side of the room and waited, immobile, until Harry had conjured a perch. When he flew over to it, Fawkes wasted no time in tucking his head under his wing.

Harry shook his head in slight exasperation. “So you brought me this problem and now it’s my problem? Thanks ever so.”

But Fawkes didn’t wake up. Harry turned back to the fire and stared into it.

He would have to start a resistance movement against Albus bloody Dumbledore, the man who had led most of the resistance movements in the worlds he had been born into.

Harry shut his eyes. He would have to go up against Sirius and his parents and Remus, without letting them know he was going against them.

It hurt like a hand had reached into his chest and curled around his heart. But his first loyalty was to Jonathan. Perhaps that was his own fault, perhaps there would never have been strangeness with the adults in his life if he hadn’t told them the truth, but not even he could change the past.

Harry shuddered a little. Well, he could, but the price for such magic was more than he was willing to pay.

His first step would have to be freeing Jonathan. Since he couldn’t simply snatch him away from Hogwarts and bring him to live with Harry by themselves for a month, he would have to pursue a longer and more complicated route that would involve potions. Harry would begin brewing them in the morning.

His second step…

Harry rolled his eyes. It was time for another letter to Voldemort, explaining the circumstances and changing their plan. They would still have to fool Dumbledore, but it would take even more time and lies.

I’ve done harder things. I know that. Taking down an insane Voldemort. Convincing Snape to be my lover. Burning my own magic while holding open that portal to—honestly, whatever that place was—while phantom cheetahs ran past me. Merlin, that was weird.

Why does this bow me down so much?

Harry sighed. Because I know that I’m making enemies of some people who wouldn’t have to be my enemies. Because it turns out I was right, all the times that I thought revealing my power would cause more problems than it solves.

Harry stood up. There was something else he had to do before the war, or the not-war, began in earnest. He stepped out of the house again, leaving Fawkes sleeping on his perch, and sent out a pulsing tendril of magic to make sure Lily and James were still asleep. They were.

He Apparated, following the formless tug in the back of his mind. He opened his eyes to a black-walled tomb, and stared. This wasn’t the place that Voldemort had ever hidden the ring Horcrux in any of his lives.

Then he shook his head. Of course, there was no guarantee that it would be with the ring Horcrux in this world, either.

Harry held out his hand and called. The sides of the tomb seemed to bounce and waver in his vision for a second. Then the door flew open, and the Resurrection Stone shot out of it and into his hand.

Harry felt the bolt of power that soared through him. He swallowed. Now the three Deathly Hallows were joined again, and he would have to take up the power that he had never wielded except in his first life, and that unwittingly.

Now he had to be the Master of Death.

Chapter Text

“Have you noticed something’s—”

“Wrong with Jonathan lately? Yeah.” Fred ran a hand through his hair and leaned back harder against the green couch that he and George had taken over. They’d charmed it red and made it so that the red color would stick to the robes of anyone else who sat on it. “He’s detached. Keeps talking about the greater good and vanishing off with Dumbledore and—”

“Not even talking to that Hufflepuff bloke. Right.” George propped up a foot so it dangled off the arm of the couch and waved it back and forth. Other Slytherins glared at him, but no one made a move to hurt him. They’d learned better. “We have to do something.”

“You do.”

Fred blinked and turned his head. He could hardly believe there was a Slytherin next to them, and he dramatically clutched his chest. “Am I seeing things, George? Am I still alive?”

George cast a charm that floated colored bubbles in front of him. “Still paying attention to the colors, Fred. I think she has to be real.”

“You know me. My name is Acanthus Parkinson.”

“Yes, but we don’t know—”

“Why you’re approaching us. No offense.” Fred swept the kind of bow that he’d seen illustrations of in old books. “My lady.”

Parkinson sat down on a stool in front of them, looking from one of them to the other. “I’ve invested too much in Potter to let him go without a fight.”

“A few conversations—”

“Is an investment?”

“I can see how great he’ll become,” Parkinson said impatiently, as if they were being the stupid ones by not taking her at her word. Fred felt a little offended himself. Everyone knew that you didn’t take a Slytherin at their word, a fact that he and George were already exploiting to their fullest. “It would be stupid to ignore him. But at the moment, he’s ignoring me. I think that’s foolish of him. And he wouldn’t start without a good reason. But he can’t explain the reason when I talk to him. He must be under some kind of enchantment.”

Fred scratched the tip of his nose thoughtfully. That was a thought he and George had shared, but no one else seemed to believe them. Jonathan was still concentrating in his classes and doing well. That was all the professors cared about. And Jonathan’s Hufflepuff friend Diggory stuck close to him and talked to him even though Jonathan barely talked to him in return. He didn’t really believe anything bad could happen in Hogwarts, either.

“Do you have any idea—”

“How to find out what kind of enchantment it is?”

“I know a few ways, but all the spells are beyond the level I can cast.” Parkinson flushed a furious pink. Fred made a mental note to find a potion that could make someone turn that color. It would embarrass some of the Slytherins who kept sneering at them about being blood traitors. “I was hoping you might…?”

“Without knowing what the spells are—”

“We can’t know.”

“Right.” Parkinson glanced around the common room, and glared down a few people who seemed to look at her as if she ought not to be talking to them. “I do know a private place we can talk and practice them. Come on.”

*

Jonathan floated through his days.

It was a strange feeling, sometimes, as though he had emptied half the thoughts out of his head and replaced them with water. But when he really looked at those thoughts, he couldn’t tell what was missing. He had to train, right? Because Voldemort had sent a threat, and that meant someday he would try to kill Harry.

Jonathan had to protect Harry.

So he trained with Dumbledore, and he did the extra homework, and he spent time with his friends when he could. Cedric was all right. He was as happy to make jokes and play Gobstones over homework as he was any other time, and he didn’t care if Jonathan took forever to make a move on the Gobstones.

Acanthus was more of a problem. She kept trying to talk to him about magic that Jonathan didn’t know and wasn’t interested in learning. And the twins gave him worried glances and muttered. Jonathan just had to shrug, in the end. He didn’t want to disappoint them, but Harry was more important.

Maybe he could come back and let them talk to him and play pranks on him once Harry was safe.

He went to Dumbledore’s office every afternoon and practiced extra spells. He wrote essays discussing what he would do in battle situations, and heard lectures on dueling from Professor Flitwick. Sometimes the little professor gave him strange glances, like he didn’t know why Jonathan was learning this.

But it would come down to stopping Voldemort so that he couldn’t hurt Jonathan’s little brother. Jonathan knew that. And he was willing to do anything in pursuit of that goal.

*

“Voldemort.”

Lord Voldemort had already known something was different. For the first time since they had begun meeting, the invitation to the glade didn’t come from an owl Harry sent to him. Instead, a brilliant, glowing silver stag had bounded through the wall of his bedroom, bowed its antlers to him, and spoken in Harry’s voice.

The glade. As soon after moonrise as you can.

Lord Voldemort let his power range behind and in front of him as he moved into the glade. There was no obvious danger, no hidden figure, no sign of Light magic, no disturbance in the moonlight that might have hinted at a spell-trap waiting in silence. Only when he saw Harry standing with his back to him did he realize one thing that was odd about those absences.

No sign of Light magic.

Harry always had some sort of Light power about him. He was balanced between Light and Dark much of the time, or shrouded in magic too pure for Lord Voldemort to bother questioning where it had come from.

Now, the air around him, the ground, the very atmosphere, was saturated with darkness.

Lord Voldemort’s tongue flickered, although he could not smell through it as a serpent would. He felt as though someone had reached out and passed a hand gently along the skin above his heart.

Harry turned to face him. There was a shimmer around his shoulders, another in each hand. Lord Voldemort turned his head, and Harry extended his hands at the same moment as he tilted forwards in what was unmistakably not a bow.

A silvery Cloak on his shoulders. A wand carved with elderberries in his right hand. A dark stone in his left.

“You have taken up the power of the Master of Death.” Lord Voldemort spoke the words in English, reverting to his native human tongue in wonder.

“Yes.” Harry straightened back up and settled the Cloak with another twist that somehow didn’t make him invisible. Then again, when the world around him was singing with power, Lord Voldemort could not imagine something that was not his will happening near Harry. “Dumbledore crossed a line that he has—he may have crossed it in other worlds, but never with someone as dear to me.”

“Something happened to your brother.”

“Yes. You know the World-Blurring Curse?”

Lord Voldemort paused. He did indeed know it. He also knew that there was little Albus would have abhorred more, at one point. “He used that on your brother?”

“Yes. Because Jonathan was catching on to the fact that, when other students bullied him and Dumbledore told them to stop, he was doing it in such a way as to make it worse. And that Dumbledore treated students differently based on House. And that he might have had plans for me that Jonathan couldn’t go along with.” Harry bared his teeth. “Dumbledore used it at first just to blur a conversation they’d had in Jonathan’s mind, but he also made him believe that a letter Dumbledore must have written himself was a threat from you.”

Lord Voldemort laughed. It was the low, hissing sound that no one else living had ever heard, because they all died right after they heard it. But Harry only watched him with fearless eyes and magic curling all around him.

Master of Death. Master of the worlds!

Lord Voldemort had once thought that he would never have respected the titles of another, let alone thought of them with such exultation. But that was what they were, titles, signs and symbols of his equal.

Yes, my equal. I must have him by my side.

And it seemed that Harry had agreed, if he had come to Lord Voldemort instead of trying to do something about Albus on his own.

“You cannot get your brother away from Hogwarts for the month that it would take to remove the World-Blurring Curse,” Lord Voldemort stated more than asked.

“No. I know a magic that can remove the curse from a distance. But it takes—well, it takes someone to act as anchor and someone to reach through space. And I have to ask you to act as the anchor.”

Harry had his arms folded and his doubtful glance fixed on Lord Voldemort. And Lord Voldemort knew without asking why. The anchor was a passive role, like drawing the circle in a ritual and then doing nothing else. Harry was sure he would not accept it.

Lord Voldemort dropped to one knee in front of Harry and held out his hand. It gleamed long and unnaturally pale in the moonlight, but the way Harry stared at it made it clear the color did not matter to him.

“Let me be your anchor,” Lord Voldemort said softly.

Harry opened his mouth, then shut it again. Those green eyes, full of intelligence that could only come from many lives, focused on him. Lord Voldemort did not doubt they would see a deception in an instant.

There was no deception.

Permit me. Please.” And Lord Voldemort bowed his head.

*

I need him. I would have had to convince him if he didn’t want to do this. I should be happy that he’s agreed, grateful. I just…

Worry echoed through Harry as he stared at the kneeling man—or Dark Lord, or serpent-being, or whatever he was. Had he gone too far? Had he forced Voldemort into a role that was wrong, because never before in any of the worlds Harry had lived in had he seen him bow?

Harry didn’t want to make people into something other than they were. It was yet another reason to conceal his power. Look how knowledge of it had warped Dumbledore’s path. Look at how his parents feared him. And look at Voldemort, on the ground.

In the end, Harry sighed and resolved that he would just have to live with it. He couldn’t change the past. He couldn’t leave Jonathan to suffer. And although he could technically have made the reach to Jonathan’s mind without the anchor now, there was too much chance that he would affect the wrong thing—Jonathan’s actual thought processes, instead of the curse.

“Be my anchor, then,” he said softly, knowing that he strengthened their ability to do the reach with his formal acceptance. He reached out and laid his left hand, the one that held the Resurrection Stone, in Lord Voldemort’s.

There was a blaze of cold power between their fingers, and for an instant, icy spirit shapes whirled out of the Stone. Harry stared. He had never used the power of the Stone by itself since his first life. In most worlds, he didn’t use it at all.

But here it was, and the icy shapes surged up. Harry watched them. They must be Voldemort’s dead, since Harry hadn’t had anyone close to him in this life who had died, and he didn’t think the Resurrection Stone could reach between worlds.

The shapes were far more familiar than the dead Riddles or dead Death Eaters, though. They formed him, older than he was now, and Voldemort standing behind him. They writhed and danced as if they were tongues of flame, or both snakes. The older Harry tossed his head back and gave Voldemort a brilliant smile, furiously shining.

The shapes dissolved before Harry could catch his breath. But from the silent gleam in Voldemort’s eyes, he knew he must have seen them.

“You—you don’t want me bowing down to you,” Harry said weakly. “Or Marked.”

“I want you to smile at me like that.”

The charge in the air between their eyes was thick and deep and rich, and Harry faced sharply away from it. He couldn’t think about it right now. He turned, with the Cloak billowing around him and rising above his shoulders, and streaming like a tide of stardark against the stars. The Wand throbbed in his hand. The Stone sang, a chant of squeals and whispers rather than words that he had never heard before.

Harry hadn’t done this particular action before. He had read about it in his studies of necromancy. A necromancer might accomplish it who had an anchor as powerful as Voldemort and was also a powerful Legilimens. Might.

Harry would do it.

He rose, his mind and power flowing with the Cloak, dancing through the invisible world of the dead that intertwined with the world of the living. There was death everywhere, nibbling at the edges of life, caressing the petals of the newest flower, waiting in the heartbeats of the youngest child. Harry embraced it and whirled with it, and there were no defenses that could keep him out. In the world he traveled through, all such defenses were dead.

He was aware of the steadily beating power behind him, the thunder of Voldemort’s heart.

On his eyes was nothingness, neither dark nor light. Where death was, there was nothing. Not the distant stars Harry saw when he was reborn. He had never worked out yet what they were. But they were not here.

Harry stepped through stone and magic, and found himself in Jonathan’s mind, connected by love, supported by Voldemort’s magic and the fact that they were holding hands and the Deathly Hallows and even the prophecy that had driven Voldemort to attack his family. It was one shimmering cord among many, as everything around him burst into light while Harry shifted into a living world, the wildest world, the world of the human mind.

Jonathan had no grasp on even beginning Occlumency, not under the effects of the curse. The curse was everywhere. It clung to every thought, and distorted Jonathan’s normal ideas and wishes and interactions with his friends. Harry turned to face it.

It was everywhere, but so were his eyes. So was his magic. So was Voldemort’s magic, threaded and pounding with him and behind him and in him and through him.

Harry looked with the eyes of the Master of Death, and he saw the curse. He separated it, with his eyes, from Jonathan’s thoughts.

He held out approximations of his hands. On an approximation of his shoulders formed of thought, the Invisibility Cloak snapped into being. The Elder Wand was there, and worked with him, obeyed him. The Resurrection Stone sang to him.

Harry looked one more time with the eyes of the Master of Death.

With the voice of the Master of Death, he said to Dumbledore’s curse, Die.

There was a shriek of agony, because the curse was a living thing when given life by Jonathan’s mind. But Harry’s will bore down, and death was here, death that won all, that waited unwearying, that conquered because it did nothing but was.

And the curse…was not.

The strands of it unraveled, and could have done damage to Jonathan’s mind. This was yet another reason, other than not wanting to take up the Hallows and their full power, that Harry had never dared try this. The World-Blurring Curse had lived here. It could take the living thoughts with it. No necromancer could have enough power to gather every scrap. It would be luck rather than power that either let him find most of them, or that kept the damage to the target’s mind from being too extensive.

But not when the Master of Death gathered the scraps. Death missed nothing. Nothing was immortal, not in the end.

Except me.

And Harry breathed out softly through the lattice of his brother’s clear thoughts, which would slowly clear, and then stepped back through stone and magic and the worlds of the dead and the living and the waiting and the existing, back to the glade where he released Voldemort’s hand and flexed his fingers.

The Cloak settled on his shoulders again. The Wand ceased to throb. Last of all, the Stone ceased to sing.

Harry opened his eyes.

Voldemort watched him, still on his knee, his hand extended.

And Harry knew, with a whirling of his heart that he had never felt before, that he could not withdraw from what had opened between them any more than he could withdraw from claiming the power of the Master of Death. Voldemort would never allow it. And part of Harry himself, although certain dimensions of it would have to wait years…

A part of Harry wouldn’t allow it, either.

Chapter Text

Jonathan frowned at the parchment in front of him. He knew he’d been working on an essay for Transfiguration, but at the moment, he couldn’t remember exactly what he had written. Or why he’d been scribbling away on it like it was life and death. He sat back and carefully read the essay again.

It seemed correct. He knew Professor McGonagall would probably like it. But it was already three inches longer than the required length. Jonathan wrote a hasty conclusion and looked around.

Cedric sat on one side of him. It seemed strange that the twins and Acanthus weren’t there, but then Jonathan looked up and saw them marching towards him. Their faces looked like Harry’s when he read Voldemort’s letters, sometimes.

“Hey, you lot,” he said, wondering what was wrong.

Acanthus raised her eyebrows. The twins stopped walking and looked at each other. Even Cedric turned around and stared. Jonathan scowled at them all. “What’s wrong?” he asked, while Acanthus sat down across from him and the twins took positions on either side of her.

“This is the first time all week that you’ve deigned to notice us,” Acanthus said.

Jonathan blinked and sought in his head for some reason why that would be true. He remembered seeing his friends in the corridors. And Cedric in the common room, of course. He knew he’d spoken to them about essays and homework. Had there been times he ignored them without meaning to? “What do you mean?”

Acanthus began to cast spells. They were privacy charms, Jonathan realized with a little start. He thought that was strange, but maybe she had some reason for wanting to have them.

When they were all around the library table, Acanthus leaned forwards and murmured, “You’ve acted enchanted all week before this.”

Jonathan gripped the sides of the table. For a minute, he felt sick, like he had the one time he ate too much ice cream when he was nine. Then he swallowed and asked, “I was ignoring you?”

“Yeah, mate. It was—”

“Weird, and not like you. Do you think you could—”

“Refrain from doing that in the future? It would help us—”

“Play better pranks. Hard to play them when you’re scared for a friend.”

Jonathan swallowed again. Then he said, “I promise I’ll try to be better.”

“Do you have any idea who cast the enchantment on you?” Acanthus asked.

“Was there even an enchantment?” That was Cedric, who Jonathan had noticed liked to try to find explanations that meant nobody got blamed.

“I think there had to be an enchantment,” said Jonathan. “I feel better now. My mind is clearer. I suddenly realized I don’t remember how I got here or when we left the common room.” He stretched his arms above his head. “And I have my suspicions.”

“Who? Have to—”

“Share, mate, so we can punish them.”

“If I tell you, then you’re going to be in danger,” Jonathan told them quietly. “We maybe shouldn’t even be meeting like this, because it would mean that the spell has ended and he might be able to figure it out.”

“He? That narrows it down.”

“It does indeed, George.”

Acanthus gave the twins an impatient glance and turned back to Jonathan. “What if we choose to risk this danger alongside you?”

Jonathan gaped at her. He thought Slytherins were fine, unlike the way Dad and Sirius talked sometimes, but he had no idea why a Slytherin from a family who was usually Dark and fought on Voldemort’s side would want to run a risk alongside him. “What if he used the same spell on you?” he asked, when Acanthus just sat there with the same look on her face.

“Then he would have a nasty surprise.” Acanthus smiled, but she didn’t say why. “Tell us, Jonathan. You’re important. If you have enemies, then they might eventually threaten the wizarding world. Sitting here and refusing to say anything is ridiculous.”

Jonathan hesitated once more. Then he said, “I’ll tell you, but it has to be later. For right now, I have to act like I didn’t wake up. So you stay with me and work on essays and we’ll play Gobstones, and it’ll look natural.” He picked up his book and went back to looking at as if he’d never had the conversation.

His belly was churning, meanwhile. He knew it was Dumbledore. It had to be. There was no reason for him to not remember their conversation right and for him to suddenly trust Dumbledore when he hadn’t fully done that for months. And he knew Harry had probably freed him from the spell somehow.

Jonathan always wrote to Harry, but he’d neglected that for the last week. He’d just sent short notes saying he was all right. So he would slowly, gradually change the notes, and he would try to meet Harry away from the castle. Or come up with a code if he had to, so they could still talk in the short letters.

Did Mum and Dad notice anything wrong?

Then Jonathan remembered how Dad had ruffled his hair when he’d said he would write every week, and shaken his head. “I want you to have fun at Hogwarts, Jonathan. Writing to my parents was never much fun.”

They’re so different from me, Jonathan thought wistfully. They didn’t ask for me to be different. I’ll try to protect them.

But he really had to talk to Harry as soon as he could.

*

Lord Voldemort paced slowly through the corridors of his manor. He was aware of the glances that followed him, the wary ones as well as the covetous ones. He had come back from the encounter with Harry a week ago, and none of his Death Eaters had known what to make of the—

It was pleasure. Of course it was. But Lord Voldemort, genius that he was, recognized the quiet shine of this pleasure that was as different from the other kinds he’d experienced as Harry’s eyes were from emeralds.

He had enjoyed what they had achieved together.

Lord Voldemort could not remember the last time he had worked with someone on more than a single ritual or an attack. It was strange to consider that he might want to do it again.

He came around a corner, and Bellatrix threw herself on her knees before him with a wail. “Forgive me, my Lord! Forgive me! I tried, and I tried, and I couldn’t do it! They have him too well-protected!”

Lord Voldemort paused to study her. He could feel something rippling and waking as slowly as new-kindled flame inside him. He suspected that he might know what Bellatrix was talking about, and if he did…

“Rise, Bella,” he said, in the same kind of cold voice she would expect from him. She stood and stared at him in cringing adoration. “I require you to give me access to your mind that I might view your efforts and decide on the punishment for your failure.”

“Of course, my Lord, of course. Only allow me to continue to serve you.” Her eyes shone with tears that reminded Lord Voldemort of the glitter of venom. He reached out and held her chin still, steadying it so that he could plunge within.

“That depends on what I find,” he said, and dived.

Bellatrix’s thoughts whirled past him, as chaotic as usual. The Black family madness had gripped her the moment she slid out of the womb. Lord Voldemort discarded memories of training, of duels with other Death Eaters, of lovemaking with her husband that Bellatrix got through by fantasizing his face in place of Rodolphus’s—Lord Voldemort was coldly amused—and into the memories she was all but shoving at him.

He saw the conversation with Severus. He saw Bellatrix lurking outside the wards of the Potter house, poking and testing them for some quest on the way through. He saw her follow Jonathan Potter when he went to the Longbottoms’ house or the Weasleys’ or some other, but he always had adult wizards around him, and she didn’t dare to attack. Then he went to Hogwarts, and it tipped the fragile balance of Bellatrix’s mind. She knew she would never be able to get to him through the stronger defenses there and the presence of Albus Dumbledore himself.

Lord Voldemort snapped free and said, “Crucio,” in a voice so calm that it didn’t sound as if it was coming out of his own mouth.

Bella screamed in agony as she writhed on the floor. She was the only person he knew who could speak coherently through the pain curse. “Yes, yes, Master! Punish your Bella! Give her what she deserves! Kill her if you wish! But I beg to stay alive to serve you only! My life is yours!”

It would have been, if he had willed it so. But Lord Voldemort ended the torture curse and stared down at her in thought. He would deal with Severus later, when he had thought of some other punishment that would make death seem like heaven. But Bella’s mind could be twisted and bent in entertaining ways, and he had a thought that pleased him deeply.

“Rise, Bella.”

She did at once, even though her legs were still trembling and her hands shivered too much to hold a wand. And still her eyes stared at him with mad devotion, which he prized only less than Harry’s kind of devotion.

Lord Voldemort let his own pleasure shine through again at the thought, and Bella swayed. “The Potter boys are mine,” he told her. “As much mine as the artifacts that the Death Eaters have collected and brought here. As much mine as the books in the library. As much mine as the brand on your arm marks you mine.” He fed pain through the Dark Mark, and Bella didn’t even scream this time, but panted in ecstasy. “So. You will protect them. Not kill them. I will decide what to do with them. Do you understand?”

“I understand.” Bella stared at him as if her eyes had the power to reach the piece of soul he had left. “I should have come to you before, my Lord. When Severus began to say such strange things.”

“Severus has suffered the side-effects of a curse that leave him unable to comprehend many things anymore,” Lord Voldemort said, delighting in the intricacies of the truth as he spoke them. “Yes, you should not trust him anymore. Go back to Hogwarts. Watch over Jonathan Potter from a distance. Make sure that he comes to no harm while flying or from the beasts of the Forbidden Forest.”

“And Harry Potter, my Lord?”

“He is mine.” Lord Voldemort didn’t bother to hide the possessive lash in his words. “You will leave him to me. Now, go.”

“Yes, my Lord.” Bella walked away, her smile restored and gleaming on her mad face, perhaps thinking of all the ways that Lord Voldemort might punish Harry Potter when he spoke of him like that.

I only want him here. I want to speak to him again. I want to begin learning the magic that he has hinted exists, other ways of immortality and ways of seeing death. I want—

Lord Voldemort rose like a dark phoenix from the ashes of his obsession. He could not only think of Harry all the time. He had to monitor his Death Eaters. He had missed a plot like this one between Severus and Bellatrix that he should have seen. He had to pay attention to them.

But he needed Harry’s presence as he had once needed knowledge of the Horcruxes.

He would have to speak to Harry as soon as possible.

*

Harry held the letters in his hands and looked between them, shaking his head. If anyone had told him that at one point he would have to choose between opening a letter from his brother and one from Voldemort first, he would have assumed they were as mad as Fenrir Greyback.

But for now, he did want to know that his brother was all right, and Voldemort’s summons had to be less urgent. He opened Jonathan’s envelope.

Dear Harry,

I wanted to let you know that school is fun! I’m still friends with Cedric, and I have friends in almost all the Houses now. Even the twins are the same. Being Sorted into Slytherin hasn’t made them different at all. You remember that birthday party of mine where they stuck my ear to your ear? They’re exactly like that, all the time.

And I’m not feeling as tired and foggy as I was a while ago. I think going to sleep on time and studying with my friends has made me a better student. I think I need to be. I need to study, or how can we defeat our enemies?

Studying with my friends is a lot more fun than studying alone.

I hope you’re doing okay. I can’t wait until you’re at Hogwarts with me! And thank you for being my brother.

Then there was just Jonathan’s signature.

Harry sat down in his chair in front of the fire, staring at the letter. He wanted to whistle, but it would draw his parents’ attention, and that was…inadvisable for right now.

His brother was an incredibly accomplished liar for someone so young, although Harry mourned that he’d ever had to learn that skill. He’d written the whole letter in a kind of code that wasn’t really a code at all, so someone like Dumbledore reading it would think it was an ordinary letter.

He’d reminded Harry of the prank that the twins had pulled a few years ago because the twins had said that they wanted to be sure Harry and Jonathan could pass secrets between their brains without anyone listening. He was saying his friends had noticed his odd behavior under the spell and stuck by him. And his brain was waking up. And Jonathan had just referred to “their enemies” instead of Voldemort.

And he was asking for Harry’s presence, not in a few years when Harry would be old enough to attend Hogwarts, but now.

Harry stood, ready to go, and then noticed the letter from Voldemort lying on the table. He hesitated. Well, it didn’t look thick. He would take the time to read it before he went.

When he opened it, it was actually a single sheet of paper. And there was a single line on it, if two sentences.

You are mine. When can I see you again?

Harry dropped the letter and stood staring at it. Then he waved his hand and incinerated it in a short, controlled burst of elemental fire.

He could not believe Voldemort had sent him something like that. His skin crawled as he went upstairs to say good night to his parents and plant an illusory copy of himself in his bed, while he Apparated to Hogwarts.

You knew he was possessive. You know that he wanted to learn magic from you that he thinks no one else is powerful enough to learn.

Yes, Harry had known those things. But it was sheer madness for Voldemort to want him, to desire him, when he knew that Harry had killed him in so many worlds. And Harry wasn’t sure that Voldemort was capable of feeling bodily lust or true desire. It would only fuel his twisted obsession, which was about magic and power, not Harry.

Harry couldn’t imagine detaching himself from Voldemort completely, not when they had shared what they had while clearing Jonathan’s mind, but perhaps it would be best to stay away from him for a little while. Just long enough to let Voldemort’s obsession wane and his focus on the magic come back.

Yes, that’s likely to happen. He can’t possibly want….

Harry shook his head, sneaked outside when Lily and James went back downstairs, and Apparated to Hogwarts.

*

Jonathan strode alongside the battlements beside Harry. Harry had been able to get inside the Hufflepuff common room while invisible, of course, and then bring him out of it without alerting anyone. Then he had taken Jonathan by the arm and flown around the castle with him, until they were high on the Astronomy Tower, which wasn’t being used by any Astronomy classes tonight.

His brother knew lots of brilliant magic, but Jonathan thought flying was the one he would most like to learn. It was just fun.

“So what are we going to do?” Harry asked him softly. “You know it was Albus who did it. I plan to stand against him, but not openly, not right away. And you can do anything you want. You don’t have to follow me.”

Jonathan stared at him, and then he reached over and gently slapped Harry on the forehead.

“What are you doing?”

“Checking for fever. You’re delirious, right? If you think that I’m ever going to stop following you and protecting you, little brother.”

“But I was the one who caused this by telling Dumbledore that I’m the Master of Death. You don’t have to be involved if you don’t want to. You can just stand back and I’ll make sure that you’re well out of it.”

Jonathan smiled at him. Harry was speaking those words with wide, earnest eyes, and he looked up at Jonathan as if he thought Jonathan just needed a little convincing. As if everyone would walk away from him if he could convince them well enough.

There are some people who might, Jonathan thought sadly then, remembering how Remus avoided Harry’s eyes whenever he visited their family. But there are others who won’t. Voldemort might not even do that. That’s so weird to think about.

Jonathan shook the thought away and said, “You didn’t cause the war. Dumbledore did. He just decided to think stupid things about you being the Master of Death because he’s stupid and insecure.”

Jonathan.”

“What? I shouldn’t say those things about him because he’s my professor? I know you don’t believe that, little brother.”

“I think it might make you harder for you to act the way you need to around him.” Harry sighed. “You know that you have to pretend not to wake up all the way? He can think his curse is losing strength, a little, which it would do anyway during the times when you’re away from him. But when you’re with him and some other times, you need to act the way you did when you were under it.”

“I know. I was thinking about that. What happens when he reads my mind and sees that’s not true?”

“I can put a natural Occlumency wall in your mind. I mean, if you’ll let me. It’s a pretty intrusive thing to do to someone, and—”

“I trust you.”

Harry’s eyes widened and blinked. Jonathan felt a little sad. Harry thought everyone distrusted him and hated him. Well, he’d have to get used to his brother trusting him.

“All right. Kneel down and let me look into your eyes.”

Jonathan did. He sometimes thought he could remember the moment when Harry freed him, at least in his dreams from the past week. It felt as though someone had hugged him and held him for a while, and when they let him go, all his wounds were healed.

Now he knew. It was his brother.

It was the same way now, except that Harry was moving more delicately and now and then he rested a hand on Jonathan’s shoulder like he was trying to brace himself. Then he drew back with a gasp and shook his head. “There. It’s done. And it’s woven into the rest of your thoughts, so Dumbledore won’t realize it exists. He’ll just think that you’re really not having those thoughts at all, that they don’t happen.”

“Thank you.” Jonathan sighed and stood up. “And there’s something else I can do to help with the war.”

What? Jonathan, I don’t want you getting hurt—”

“I can bring some people to our side. My friends. They already care about me, and one of them is Acanthus Parkinson. She can bring her family over.”

Harry drew in a deep, silent breath, and muttered something that Jonathan could only make out a few words of, like “Voldemort” and “insane.” Then he nodded. “But only do that by being friends with them and being careful. I don’t want to see what Dumbledore will do to you if he figures out that you’re free.”

“Because he might do something you couldn’t reverse?”

“No. Because he might do something that would make me murder him the instant I found out about it.”

Jonathan blinked. Then he blinked again. And Harry was already looking at him with eyes full of remorse, and an open mouth.

“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said that. But I do get murderous and protective sometimes, and that means—”

Jonathan leaned over and hugged him.

Harry swallowed air, then cautiously put his arms around Jonathan. And Jonathan could feel him relaxing so deeply that it must have meant some chain snapped inside him.

“It means a lot,” Harry whispered. “To know that you can accept everything I am.”

Jonathan didn’t say anything. He just held on tighter. He could accept everything about his brother. If he killed Dumbledore. If he turned to the Dark. If he decided to stop fighting the war and be a clown for the rest of his life. If he fell in love with Voldemort.

Anything.

Chapter Text

“What you describe is an ambitious plan that may not work.”

“I know that, sir.” Harry said it wearily. He’d been thinking about the drawbacks of his own plans too much in the last little while. He’d written to Voldemort, and gone to Hogwarts to talk with Jonathan, and listened to conversations his parents had with the wide-eyed naiveté that seemed to fool them so easily. And he’d listened to the singing of the Deathly Hallows in his blood.

They wanted to be used. Freeing Jonathan had soothed them for a little while, but now that mighty magic was in the past and they would demand a higher tribute.

“Why are you willing to risk it anyway?”

“Because I would risk anything for my brother, sir. And Voldemort is turning—stranger and stranger. I think he might threaten Jonathan simply to gain my attention and make sure that he had all of it.”

Albus’s face was as open as a child’s, for a moment. Or at least it was to Harry, who had known him in so many lives, for so many centuries. He was disgusted and intrigued at the same time.

“You can wield this obsession as a weapon?”

“Yes, sir. Voldemort goes almost mental when he doesn’t have access to me. I delayed writing back to him for a few days, and the letter that arrived…” Harry shook his head and produced the letter that Voldemort had written when Harry had asked for it. He had seemed overjoyed to be doing something that would trick Dumbledore and stretch the powers of his creativity at the same time.

Of course, he had required that Harry lean against him while he wrote it, and had breathed into his ear as Harry had read it. Harry’s plans to ignore his obsession weren’t working out as well as he had hoped.

“This is—I feel as if I’m reading someone’s mind, their confession of lust, not a letter.”

“I know, sir. And he believes he can get me on his side. He wants me there willingly right now, but he’ll rape my mind if he has to. He can’t stand the thought of me spending time with anyone but him, you see.”

“Then you must be careful as you age, Harry. You can’t have friends that are too close. You cannot have a lover when you are adolescent.”

Albus spoke gravely, but his hands tightened on the letter. Harry only nodded. Albus didn’t trust him yet, not completely. He would suspect a trick probably until years had passed. That was all right.

Harry would rather fool him and wind him into a maze where he chased shadows than have to kill him, the way he would if Albus hurt Jonathan again.

“I know. I don’t think I’ll have lots of friends outside my family anyway. I’m too strange, too different. And Jonathan is all I need to have someone to love and protect. Maybe I can have a normal life someday when Voldemort is defeated.”

Albus finally smiled. “I don’t want you to feel as if you’re putting your life on hold forever. Keep the idea of his defeat in your mind, and you have something to look forward to.” He sat back in his chair and glanced at the empty perch with a frown. “I can’t think where Fawkes has got to.”

Oh, Albus. Don’t you know that he’s abandoned you? But that might be literally unthinkable for Dumbledore. Harry certainly couldn’t think of any of his own lives before where it had happened. He made his face politely neutral and ate the tea and biscuits that Albus served him, ignoring the mild potions they were laced with. Albus probably hadn’t meant to try and control him. He put those potions in the food he gave others as a matter of course.

They slid off the Master of Death like water off weeds.

Harry left as soon as he could and went home. Lily was watching for him, and her face still looked pale and tense as she pulled him into a hug.

“Do you have to fight a war like this?” she whispered, stroking his hair back from his forehead. “Do you have to have discussions with Albus like an adult? Can’t you just be my little boy?”

Harry leaned against her. He was taller than he had been a month ago, but small for his age. He always seemed to be, in a Potter body. “I’m not a little boy, though. Not in all the ways that matter, Mum.”

Her hands tightened on his back for a second. Then she sighed and stepped away. Her smile wavered. “Come inside and eat dinner with your father and me as if you were for a while, though.”

And Harry smiled, and followed her, and did. Because he could give his parents some gifts to make up for depriving them of a normal son.

*

Lord Voldemort stepped back as Harry Apparated into the glade. Harry at once created a shimmering half-dome of a shield above his head, his eyes narrowing and fixing on Lord Voldemort. “Is there something wrong? Why are you acting as if this clearing isn’t big enough for me to Apparate into?”

Lord Voldemort didn’t answer for long enough that Harry turned in a slow circle, peering into the moon-created shadows around him. That didn’t impress or faze Lord Voldemort. It gave him more time to watch Harry, who had taken to tying his shaggy black hair back with a spell that shimmered and sparkled red in the uncertain shadows. Lord Voldemort had made it clear that he could likewise cut it with a spell. Harry had snapped that he didn’t want to.

He should follow his own desires more often.

“I merely wished to see you from a different angle,” Lord Voldemort said, when Harry had turned back and pinned him with that unwavering focus that threatened to get annoying.

Harry grunted and flipped his hands in a complicated maneuver. That called forth a book bound in wrinkled red leather. Lord Voldemort moved a step closer before he could stop himself, despite his desire to gaze. He recognized wyvern hide.

“This is the book you told me of last time?”

“Yeah. It took me a while to find it. The necromancer who had it in this world was either a different one or had a very different personality. He hid it under the sea beneath a huge black rock.”

Lord Voldemort lifted his eyes from the book, something that once would have been an impossibility. “How did you find it?”

“I tracked the feeling of the runes he’d carved. Well, I think it was he. Like I said, this could have been an entirely different person, so maybe it was she. But your magic gets influenced by the touch of the book after a while. Any runes you carve will feel like the runes someone else who owned the book would carve.”

“It would imprint its personality on mine?”

“I don’t think it could affect you. You’re too strong. But it would at least flavor your magic so the runes could be tracked. Don’t use the book if you don’t want any influence from it at all.”

Lord Voldemort took the tome slowly from Harry’s hands, basking more in the compliment than the knowledge of what he held in his hands. He cast a small spell that would find every page with an instance of the word “Horcrux” on it, and began to read. He knew what he would find in general, but the specific sketches and theories were beyond what he could divine from experience.

“Every Horcrux contains a bit of the soul I murdered,” he murmured after perhaps an hour, when Harry had settled himself on the ground and conjured balls of elemental lightning to play with. “I would have thought the soul I embedded in the object would have destroyed any lingering bit of the victim’s.”

“I think that happens most of the time,” Harry said. He lowered one of the balls of lightning to the ground and rolled it along. As Lord Voldemort watched, it flared out into the darkness of the night and dissipated harmlessly. “But your magic—the murders you committed were violent enough that it split the souls of your victims, too. The shards had nowhere to go. They clung to the only other souls near them weak enough not to bat them away. Or rather, the pieces of soul.”

“My soul pieces are not weak.”

“Yes, they are. You’ve weakened yourself immensely making Horcruxes the way you did.”

“How should I have made them?”

Harry made a frustrated noise and slumped against the tree he’d been sitting beside. The balls of lightning he hadn’t dissipated swung around his head, making him look as if he wore a sort of revolving crown. “That’s not what I meant. I don’t think you should have made them at all. But even then, there are less harmful ways to make them. Not making bloody five, for example. And trying for seven.”

“I was trying for six. Seven would count the shard of soul kept within my own body.”

“You shouldn’t have been trying at all.”

“I have killed people for saying less than that to me.”

Lord Voldemort meant, in the intricately composed corridors of his mind, that he had killed others for being cheeky to his face. But Harry didn’t take it that way. He stiffened and flung his head back, and suddenly the balls of lightning were narrowed into an arrowhead aimed straight at Lord Voldemort’s heart.

“Come on, then.”

Lord Voldemort shook his head and remained sitting on the ground with the book beside him. “You misunderstand me, Harry. I would not attack you. But I do make exceptions for you. Remember that when you are being honest.”

Harry paused, but let the moment slide past. He had been doing that more and more often lately. It both intrigued and infuriated Lord Voldemort. It was as if he believed that the moment they had shared after freeing his brother’s mind could never be repeated or topped, so he would avoid all other possible intimacies.

“Anyway,” Harry said, “that book can tell you how to become immortal in a certain way. But you would have to give up your Horcruxes first. Reabsorb them and then destroy the objects bound to them, and then find a way to send the pieces of soul still hanging onto your own peacefully into death.”

“I would not do that unless—”

“That book should really make the case for me that the method of immortality I know of is better than yours,” Harry muttered, burrowing down under the tree now. He kept one wary eye on Lord Voldemort, however, and his balls of lightning hadn’t started revolving again. “Don’t make me give you an argument.”

“I would not do that unless you agreed to follow it yourself.”

“I’m already immortal.”

“You know very well what I mean, Harry.”

“Why should I be afraid of death the way you are, though?” Harry lay on the grass and stared up at him with lazy eyes and coiled muscles that, of course, could move him in the right direction at any moment. “I know what comes after it. I know I’ll live again. There’s no reason for me to adopt your method, whether that’s Horcruxes or the one that your book is going to tell you about.”

“I would share this with you,” Lord Voldemort whispered.

Harry only lay there and looked singularly unconscious of the honor Lord Voldemort had done him. “We can share lots of magic. Not this.”

“Are you afraid of remaining in this world?”

“No. I’m just not afraid of death, I told you. I mean, a few weeks ago I was even considering the possibility of killing myself because I thought it might make people’s lives less distorted around me, but I decided against that because I don’t want to leave Jonathan alone. And it would condemn you to go mad again, probably.”

Lord Voldemort seized Harry’s shoulder. “You will not kill yourself.”

“No, I was telling you that. I decided against it.”

“You will not think of killing yourself.”

Harry stared at him. Then he reached up and removed Lord Voldemort’s hand from his shoulder and said, almost gently, “You would have to find some way to go on when I died, you know. You shouldn’t depend on me for your sanity. I want you to find a way to be immortal, if that’s the only method for you to get what you want, and then use it. And that means you’ll be sane, when you finish reabsorbing your Horcruxes, and you won’t need me anymore.”

“I will always want you at my side.”

Lord Voldemort knew he was speaking the simple truth. There was no reason for Harry to freeze and stare at him as if it had been a revelation.

Then he turned his head aside and said lightly, “Well, like I said, I decided against it. Now, would you read the book and decide if you’re going to attempt the method of immortality it’s talking about? It might be more work than you’d like.”

“I have never quailed at work.”

“But the kind of work that involves compassion?”

Lord Voldemort stared in silence at him. Harry laughed and went back to juggling lightning.

*

“You’re doing very well, my boy.”

Jonathan bowed and panted a little as he felt his adrenaline crashing around inside his body. It always did after a duel with Dumbledore, but then, just having a conversation with him did that to Jonathan nowadays. He let himself appear a little brighter than he probably had when he was under the curse, and didn’t look him directly in the eye often, and spoke about training and the war and Voldemort.

“I have noticed that you’re spending more time with the Slytherins than usual.”

You mean, the same amount of time that I did before you cursed me, Jonathan thought, but he and Harry had a lie for this situation. He widened his eyes and said, “Well, the twins are feeling abandoned by their brother, Headmaster. I just want to show them that not everyone thinks they’re worthless.”

“And Miss Parkinson?”

“She won’t leave me alone,” Jonathan said, with a sigh and a shrug. That was even mostly true. “And I think maybe I can bring her family over to our side if I just talk with her some more. But if you want me to stop talking to her—”

“No, no. Converting a Dark family is always worth the effort, Jonathan.”

Jonathan beamed at him. Harry had warned him that someone who was a Legilimens could mostly detect lies, so Jonathan had to tell the truth as much as possible around Dumbledore. But that was all right. If he said “our side,” it wasn’t his fault if Dumbledore thought Jonathan meant him instead of Harry.

And Harry was really the only one Jonathan considered himself fighting beside, right now. He really valued his friends, but they couldn’t help him with anything else yet. They didn’t know enough.

“Let us begin with the Shield-Shattering Curse again.”

Jonathan obediently took his place opposite Dumbledore. They were fighting in a small version of the Room of Requirement that the Headmaster had shown him. It had padded walls so that Jonathan never got hurt when he was flung, and lots of places to hide and random shields that flickered and traveled through the air.

Jonathan did sometimes limp from the duels, but he also got to learn brilliant spells to show his friends. And he was learning how to face powerful wizards on the battlefield.

Which one it would be, Dumbledore was free to assume.

*

Sirius stared miserably down at the letter in his hands. By itself, it didn’t mean much. It just said that Dumbledore was trying to revive the Order of the Phoenix and assumed that people who had been part of the first one would want to join in.

But the way he phrased it, the fact that Remus had Flooed Sirius that afternoon to say that of course he would be in it, the way Dumbledore talked about training Jonathan to face Voldemort, the way he said that they had a “powerful weapon” and Sirius knew he meant Harry…

Sirius put the letter down firmly.

My godson’s brother is not a weapon.

What he was, exactly, Sirius didn’t know. Someone immortal, someone Dark, the Master of Fucking Death, who knew at this point? But Sirius did think that he wasn’t going to sit around and wait for Dumbledore to move at this point, even if he hadn’t chosen his course of action yet. That meant he would be doing something.

Sirius went to write to Harry, and to ask what he could do to help.

Chapter Text

Harry cautiously scanned Sirius’s letter. He’d already cast enough spells that he thought he could detect any curses Dumbledore would have put on it, or that Sirius would have put it on it at his orders, although admittedly he didn’t know the Sirius of this world as well as he had some others. There were some curses he thought not even Dumbledore would use—

No. I can’t trust that anymore, can I? Not after he used the World-Blurring Curse on Jonathan.

Harry cast some of the Darker, harsher spells, ones that made the parchment tremble on the edge of disintegration. But nothing came back. It seemed Sirius was sincere in his request to help.

Harry hesitated. Sirius already knew that Harry wasn’t an ordinary child. There could be nothing gained by hiding his powers if Sirius really wanted to help. And he had to go quickly. His mother was visiting Mrs. Longbottom and James was at the Ministry, but they would come back soon.

He made sure he had firm hold of the letter, stepped outside, and Apparated.

*

Sirius nearly fainted when he turned around and found Harry behind him. “How did you get through the wards on Grimmauld Place?” he croaked, his eyes darting around. All the other furniture and magic that normally saturated the drawing room was still there. There was only one inexplicable nine-year-old boy in the middle of the rug.

Harry smiled at him. Sirius found himself staring in awe. Harry had dropped all the masks, he realized. Now there was a light burning in him that he let shine through his eyes and mouth. “Master of Death, Sirius. And I’ve been in this house a lot of times in different lives. In one case I was actually born here. I know all the tricks to circumventing the wards.”

Sirius nodded slowly. It was true that his ancestors had left those tricks, in case one of the family needed sanctuary someday and the wards had been closed against them by a vengeful sibling or cousin. And it was equally true that no one else should have known about them. Regulus was…gone, and Sirius’s parents had never passed the knowledge on to his cousins.

It hit him then, like a punch. Not the knowledge, but the acceptance. Harry had really lived multiple lives, had been a Black in some of them, and he was the Master of Death. Sirius staggered backwards and sat down in the nearest chair, which luckily was sturdy enough to hold him instead of the stool that Remus liked to sit on.

Remus…Sirius buried his head in his hands. His best friend had put himself on the opposite side of a war from a power that was going to win. Remus was going to lose.

“Are you all right?”

Gentle hands pushed on his shoulders, and Sirius blinked up at the boy who was much more than a boy. He swallowed. “How much do you hate Dumbledore and Remus?”

“I don’t hate them,” Harry said, although his eyes darkened for a moment. “Dumbledore is causing chaos out of fear, and I’m going to ask…someone who should know to tell me why in a little while. Remus sees me so powerful and at peace with what I am, and that makes him question whether he could have been at peace with his wolf side. And he runs away from conflict. How much more does he run away from internal conflict? He’s joining the ‘right’ side of the war to keep from having to think about that question.”

Sirius snorted breathlessly. “You know him pretty well.”

“I was his daughter once,” Harry said quietly. “In my fourteenth life. He was—a good father in a lot of ways, but he could never face up to some of the consequences of having children. He didn’t tell me he was a werewolf until I was eleven, and then I had to tell him that I already knew. He’s so afraid of hurting someone with his superior strength and speed that he’s gone the opposite direction and tried to make himself less than he is.”

Sirius nodded. “Will you hurt him?”

“I don’t see any reason to. He can’t hurt me. Unless he goes after Jonathan.”

“I—take it that would be a very bad idea. For anyone, right?” Sirius glanced at the legs of the chair. No, he wasn’t imagining it. There was actual frost on them.

Harry seemed to realize the frost existed at the same time, and then Sirius got to watch the Master of Death being embarrassed. “Merlin, I am so sorry,” Harry muttered, and hastily waved his hand. The frost melted and then dissipated into soft steam without ever touching the carpet. “Um, yes. Jonathan is unquestioningly loyal to me, and he’s the best sibling I’ve ever had. No one can touch him.”

Sirius leaned slowly back in his chair. He had hated his parents, but nevertheless, they had raised him, and he could figure some things out when his instincts were fully engaged. “Including Voldemort.”

“That’s right.”

“Because—he’s—held back by you? Afraid of you?”

“Neither of those answers,” Harry said softly, and held his eyes.

Sirius swallowed. He’d been fighting Voldemort since he was old enough to accept Albus’s invitation into the war. Even these last few years, when the war had essentially paused, he had considered himself a soldier on the side of Light. This was going to take some getting used to.

“Kreacher!” he called, and the house-elf appeared and glared at him. At least it was glares only now, and not poison in the tea. “Tea and biscuits for myself and my guest.”

Kreacher turned to Harry, and screamed. Sirius leaped out of his chair with his hand on his wand. He was used to Kreacher’s piercing shrieks when he didn’t get what he wanted, but this was a new category of shrill terror.

Harry only stood there, his eyebrows a little arched but not as if he was surprised, and studied Kreacher until he clamped his hands around his mouth. Then he said, “Are you going to lose control again?”

“No. Stranger.”

Sirius blinked. That was—he’d never heard Kreacher address someone that way. Either it was an insult or it was a cringing, fawning reference to being a master—although admittedly, Sirius hadn’t heard that since his parents had died. He waited until Kreacher had disappeared before he asked Harry. “Why did he do that?”

“Some older house-elves can see me for what I really am. It doesn’t work for all of them, or I would never dare visit a house that had them.”

“What you really are?”

“He can see all my lives stretching back into the past, at once,” Harry said calmly. “An elf in my twenty-fifth life told me that it was like I was a dark star, shining out these rays, and on all the rays they could see memories dancing of the people I used to be.”

It sounded overwhelming, and reminded Sirius again that he wasn’t dealing with someone exactly mortal. He breathed out and said, “Okay. How do you know that you can trust Voldemort to fight against Dumbledore but then not turn on you somehow?”

Harry looked vaguely ill. “Um. First I’ll ask you something. Have you ever heard of Voldemort treating anyone as an equal?”

“You ought to know the answer to that question.”

“This world is so different from any one I’ve ever lived in. I’d like to know if Voldemort did do something like that before I was born here.”

Sirius gave the question some thought, ignoring the way that Kreacher cringed at Harry when he appeared in the room again and left the food, and finally said, “No. He has some confidants who are pretty close, but even those, he degraded in the end. There was one wizard who stood beside him for years—I mean, before I was born, it was Albus who told me this—and then one morning they found his burned, broken body beside the fountain in the Ministry Atrium. I think he’ll turn on everyone in the end.”

He said it firmly, but Harry only smiled at him a little. “All right. Voldemort does see me as his equal. I have stronger magic than he does.”

“Then why don’t you just end the war right now?”

Harry glanced away, his eyes veiled. “What would happen if I did that?”

“The war would end. You know, you’re kind of mentally defective for a genius who’s lived twenty-seven lives.”

Harry began to laugh, and nearly choked on the tea. He shook his head and waved off Sirius’s attempted help, and then said, “That’s such a Sirius Black thing to say. You haven’t changed much from one life to another, you know. When you were born Sirius, I mean.”

“Who else would I be born? I mean, then I would be a different person, so why would you think of me as Sirius?”

“Well, sometimes you were born at the same time and the same position in your family, but as Alcyone Black, you know. Female.”

Sirius tried to contemplate dealing with blood coming from his vagina every month, and frantically shook his head. “Never tell me any of the details.”

“Fine. But if I used my power to end the war, then I would have to keep using it, Sirius. I’d have to crush anyone who displayed the same kind of thought as Voldemort, which would be most of his Death Eaters. I’d have to use it to take down Albus, too. I would end up with most people fearing me, or else asking me to interfere in the middle of disputes they should be able to handle themselves. I was a puppet-master once before, when I had no choice, when I was born that way. I’m not doing it again.”

“What life was that?”

“The one where I was a Dementor. I was born this kind of lord of the Dementors. It was horrible. The only way I got out of it was starving myself to death once I ate all the pieces of Voldemort’s soul.”

“Um.” Sirius had no idea what to say. Harry’s eyes were hard. “So you don’t think intervening with just a little bit of your power, once, would work?”

“No. Because of Albus. He’s already afraid of me. He would either step up his efforts to get rid of me or he would try to convince me to interfere with other things. And if I wouldn’t, then I would end up a pariah. I wish to fuck that I’d never told anyone in this life about my powers. I damage people’s free will just by existing.”

“You know it didn’t damage the love Jonathan has for you.”

Sirius watched Harry’s face soften and brighten, and thought he understood. His brother is keeping him human.

“No,” Harry said softly. “And—this goes no further than yourself, Sirius, if you want to retain our trust—Albus has interfered with Jonathan’s mind now. I’m not going to just outright kill Albus, but he is going to fall.”

He raised his head, and Sirius had to sit still in the face of the power that flared from his eyes. He swallowed. He thought he had a brief glimpse of what it had been like for Kreacher, to stare into the heart of a supernova.

“So part of the reason that you won’t just kill him is that you want him to suffer first.”

Harry blinked at him, then shrugged a little. “That, and Voldemort would go out of control if Albus simply died.”

“How are you going to keep Voldemort under control?”

“He thinks I’m his equal, I told you. And…” Harry hesitated, then reached into his pocket and pulled out a much-folded letter. He handed it to Sirius and busied himself with the biscuits that Kreacher had brought.

Sirius thought it was a generic love letter at first, maybe a fan letter that someone had written to Jonathan, although he wasn’t sure why Harry had it. Then he noticed the signature and the salutation, and choked.

“Voldemort is in love with you?”

“Yes. As much as he can be, I think. I don’t know if he’s really capable of love.”

Voldemort is fucking in love with you? Harry!”

Harry sat there eating biscuits and sipping tea as if this revelation was one that he was used to. Now that Sirius thought about it, he probably was. Maybe Voldemort had been sending him letters for bloody years. Sirius stared down at the letter in his lap again and shook his head.

“I can’t make him do exactly what I want,” Harry said into the silence, “but I can keep a kind of leash on him, as long as I let him see and interact with me. And I’m persuading him to repair the damage to his soul that caused the war in the first place. It’ll take years, but in the end, there won’t be any more war because the impetus for it will have gone.”

Sirius blinked for a few minutes. Albus had certainly never talked about ending the war that way. Then again, maybe he didn’t even have the knowledge that it was possible.

“You’re big into free will, aren’t you?” Sirius finally asked softly, at last. “You want people to do things because they choose to. And you don’t like restricting people’s choices.”

Harry grimaced and looked away.

“Harry?”

“I’m not as big on it as I should be,” Harry admitted quietly. “I’m afraid that I’ll kill Albus if he touches Jonathan’s mind again. For now, Jonathan is protected, and he’s going along with the training and making Albus think that he’s on his side, but that can’t last forever. And—I don’t want to be that kind of person. Entity. Immortal being. Whatever. But when Jonathan gets hurt, I can’t hold back. I only managed last time because I had to use really delicate magic to free Jonathan’s mind, and it took all my concentration.”

“Do Lily and James know about Albus tampering with Jonathan’s mind? I know they would be on your side!”

“Either way, they would go straight to Albus and confront him about it. And then he would know, and then he would do something else, and then he’d die.”

Sirius opened his mouth to dispute it, then closed it with a sigh. Yes, they would, at least if they were the kind of people he had always thought they were. James would charge in. Because that was the kind of thing he did. And Lily wouldn’t tolerate someone abusing her children, and she would go to confront Albus without the kind of magic that Harry had to back him up.

“I’m not a saint,” Harry broke into Sirius’s thoughts. “I honestly want to make things easy on myself, too. It’s easy to give Voldemort the research and guide him into thoughts of repairing his soul damage. It wouldn’t be easy to constantly monitor Dumbledore and make sure that he wasn’t tampering with Jonathan’s mind or Lily’s or James’s or anyone else’s. And he would probably still manage to slip around me.”

“But if you aren’t going to kill him eventually, what is going to happen?”

“I’m going to help Voldemort repair the soul damage. And then he can end the war by confronting Dumbledore himself.”

“Um,” Sirius had to point out. “I don’t see how that would end the war. Except by them killing each other, maybe.”

“It’ll end it because Voldemort will no longer want the same things when he’s sane, like conquering the world. And it’ll mean that he can come up with his own devious methods to get around Albus, and I can rest.”

The longing that shone in Harry’s eyes made Sirius feel almost embarrassed to witness it. He didn’t think Harry would ever have a normal life no matter what happened in this world. On the other hand…he coughed and offered, “Does that mean that you think a sane Voldemort wouldn’t want you anymore?”

“Yes, I think that’s probably true.”

“Why?”

“He’d find other things to occupy his time.”

“And—do you want him to?” Sirius was uncomfortable sitting here having this conversation with a nine-year-old, but then, he reminded himself sternly yet again, Harry was no ordinary nine-year-old.

“Of course!”

Sirius looked at Harry thoughtfully, but saw no reason to push that line of questioning further when it would only annoy both of them. He nodded and murmured, “I hope that you expect me to swear an oath. I do know Occlumency, but I haven’t practiced it for a long time, and an oath would be the better means against accidentally spilling something to Remus or Dumbledore.”

“Yes, I will. And Voldemort would demand it, anyway.”

Sirius waited until Harry was looking elsewhere to pull out the Elder Wand, and then let out a full-body shudder. There was a tone of fond exasperation in Harry’s voice when he spoke of Voldemort that made Sirius imagine all kinds of things he didn’t want to imagine, so, in the end, the best thing was just to keep them out of his head.

“Ready, Sirius?”

Sirius moved to kneel in front of Harry, grinning up at him. “This feels so bloody weird.”

“You have no idea how weird it feels to me.”

“Yes, but you’re two thousand years old or whatever—”

“Around seventeen hundred—”

“Plenty of time to become accustomed to it.” Sirius held out his own wand demandingly, and Harry touched it with his own and began the intricate oath that would tie any magic Sirius wielded to the Elder Wand and thus to Harry. It was a secret of the Black family, but Sirius was no longer surprised that Harry knew it.

It is weird, Sirius thought as he watched the bindings settle into place, small glowing silver ropes with bright golden sparks intertwined with them. But at last, finally, I feel like I’m doing something right.

Chapter Text

“Harry, I need to talk to you.”

Lily’s voice was soft but determined. Harry turned towards her and couldn’t help smiling. He had heard her sound like that before, but never in this life. If she was finally coming to her senses and realizing that he wasn’t a child and she couldn’t treat him like one…

“What did you need to say, Mum?” Harry followed her into the drawing room where he had confronted Voldemort a long time ago.

Lily took a sharp breath and turned around. “I want to know if you’re on the same side as Albus.”

Harry widened his eyes, partly because he wanted to hold down the twitch of his expression. “I am, Mum. Voldemort…I kind of feel sorry for him, because I know why he acts the way he does, but he kidnapped me and kept me from growing up with you and Dad and Jonathan. It’s not something I can forgive him for.”

Lily relaxed, leaning back on the chair behind her. Harry watched her and felt a gentle sorrow pulse under his breastbone. Unlike Jonathan, who knew who he was and could love him anyway, Lily wanted to treat him like a child and not like it at the same time.

And Voldemort just understands me.

Harry shoved that thought aside. Voldemort did now, with his fragmented soul fueling his obsession with Harry’s magic. He wouldn’t once he had the pieces back together and the Horcruxes melted down and forgotten.

“I wondered,” Lily said softly into her hands, cupping them across her face. “Because I know Albus is worried about your magic being Dark.”

Harry sighed. “We had a talk about this, Mum. Voldemort threatened Jonathan, too, did you know? I can’t stand for that. Some of the magic I use may be Dark sometimes, but it’s for the greater good. Albus understands. At least if I use that kind of magic, then it keeps someone else from having to do it.”

“Oh, Harry.” Lily was looking at him with those expressive green eyes now. Harry knew some people found his own eyes more expressive, even Severus in some universes, but his never looked exactly like hers. “I should have known that you’d be as strong and self-sacrificing as you were when you were a baby.”

Her face paled a little. Harry waited to see if she would say something about him standing up to Voldemort and speaking like an adult, but in the end, she shook her head, gave him a pained smile, and murmured, “You’re not going to live your life through the war, I hope. It should end soon. What’s the final point that Albus is aiming at?”

It has ended, Harry wanted to say, but it was the kind of thing he wouldn’t have been able to convince even Sirius of if Sirius hadn’t come to that conclusion on his own. “Defeating Voldemort.”

Lily laughed, and there was a light springing up into her face again. “I meant more than that. Does he think Jonathan is going to fight? Or you?”

“I think he hopes that Jonathan won’t have to, but he also has to still think about the prophecy.” Harry sat down on the couch across from her, and watched her face. She seemed to be drinking in every single word he said, which convinced him that she really didn’t know more than this. “He’s training Jonathan hard, in curses and other kinds of magic.”

“What do you think about the prophecy? Do you think it still holds true when Jonathan didn’t face down Voldemort?”

“Well, he has plenty of time to do that. And I never did hear the whole prophecy, you know.”

Lily blinked. “You never did,” she said finally. “Right. Of course. We were careful never to say the whole thing around you when you were children, even though it wasn’t like you could have understood it…”

Her voice trailed off uneasily, and Harry blinked at her and said nothing. Now she knew that he could have understood, and perhaps she was thinking back on some of the things they had done and wondering what Harry had thought of them.

But once again, Lily didn’t want to face the fact that he wasn’t an ordinary child. She was the one Harry would have Obliviated if it had been possible. “Right. This is the prophecy.” She took a deep breath and began to recite.

Born to those who have thrice defied him, born on Midsummer’s Eve, the one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches. The Dark Lord shall mark him as his equal, and he shall have the power that the Dark Lord knows not. They must meet, for neither shall be truly alive while the other survives. The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord shall be born on Midsummer’s Eve.

Harry frowned thoughtfully. The similarities and differences from the first prophecy he’d lived under were obvious. And he had to wonder if the power that Jonathan had was Harry. And that second-to-last line…no, neither Voldemort nor Jonathan might be truly alive if they were engaged in a tug-of-war over Harry.

“You see why it’s so important for you and Jonathan to stay on the right side of the war?”

Harry looked up and blinked. “Yes, I see. Mum, I’m really going to try. I don’t want to fight my own brother.”

Lily confirmed that she had no idea what the bond between him and Jonathan was really like by bending down and hugging him as hard as she could. “I know, sweet one. You’re—you’re still my son, for all that you scare me sometimes. And Jonathan is my son, too, and I know that you could never turn on him.”

I wonder why Jonathan would turn on them for me?

But it was one of those mysteries that Harry didn’t really want to solve, so he went on to asking something that he needed to know. “Does Dad know about this, too? I mean, does he want to know if I’m going to be on Albus’s side in the war?”

Lily sighed a little. “He asked me to ask you. I think he was afraid that you might be Dark and he didn’t want to face that.”

While James had never been as non-confrontational as Remus in the worlds that Harry had lived in, he had to admit that James had sometimes not been much better, either. It seemed this was another one of those lives. Harry nodded slowly. “There have been lives that are worse than others.”

“What do you mean, Harry?”

“In some lives, I have used Dark magic.” Harry didn’t want to betray his side of the war, but neither did he intend to lie to his parents. And anyway, this was something Albus would tell them and try to hinder Harry with if he didn’t confess it.

Lily put her hands over her mouth. Then she shuddered a little and asked, “And were you born into Dark families in those worlds?”

“Most of them.”

“That explains it, then.” Lily gave him another hug, her voice growing fiercer, as if she could keep his past from mattering. “You didn’t have someone to influence you in the right way. You needed to grow up around Light witches and wizards so that you knew the right thing to do.”

Harry concealed a soundless sigh. She seemed to forget that he had both done that and had a perfect memory. If it had been that simple, without his memory, then this life would have been entirely different.

“Now come on and let’s have lunch together, baby. We don’t eat by ourselves enough. And I feel like I never spend enough time with you. You’ll be off to Hogwarts in less than two years! My baby boy!”

Harry let her guide him into the dining room with a hand on his arm. She would never understand some parts of him, and right now he had to hope she wouldn’t, so that she couldn’t blab to Albus about them.

He kept his sighs to himself, and smiled and made ordinary conversation with his mother over lunch. That wasn’t a skill he thought he could ever forget even if his memory had been less extraordinary.

*

“Thank you for coming, Augusta.”

“My son and daughter-in-law are naïve fools,” Augusta said as she sat down opposite the desk from Albus and refused the cup of tea with a shake of her head. She’d been drinking it all morning, laced with Calming Draught, after another argument with Alice over whether Neville should get some dueling training now. Augusta could feel the war looming over her like a stormcloud. Alice insisted Neville was a child and didn’t need that. “You-Know-Who isn’t dead. At this point, can he even die like a normal human?”

“It’s extremely unlikely.”

For a few minutes, Albus was silent, stroking his beard with one hand. Augusta didn’t let it bother her. She knew he never made decisions on the spur of the moment the way he liked to pretend, but she would let him get away with pretending. It didn’t matter that much to her.

Finally, Albus turned to her and said, “I know something about his method of immortality.”

“And you want my help in getting rid of it?”

“Them. He’s made Horcruxes, Augusta.”

Augusta only stared, which she hated, but she’d honestly never heard of the things. Albus seemed to recognize that, as he smoothly took up the explanation a moment later. “He committed murders that split his soul, and buried the shards of his soul in different objects.”

Augusta recoiled. “And what does that actually do?”

“It means that if something destroys his physical body, his soul won’t leave the physical world. He’ll linger here until he finds some way to get his body back. But if the Horcruxes are destroyed, there will be no anchor for his spirt, and he would simply depart.”

“Then all we’d have to do is destroy his body,” Augusta muttered, mind racing.

“Yes. Which will not be a simple task. But considering the magnitude of the task before, and its ease comparatively…”

Augusta smiled, and she knew she showed all her teeth from the slightly wary look Albus gave her. She didn’t care. She finally had someone who agreed with her on the important things about this war, and that meant she could smile the way she wanted. “What information do you have on the potential locations of the Horcruxes?”

“Locations, little as yet, although I am investigating places that were important to Voldemort in his past.” Albus politely ignored her flinch. “Hogwarts is definitely one, but considering the size of the castle, it will not be easy to narrow down. But I am almost certain that some of them are Founders’ artifacts.”

“Because he was—”

“Obsessed with his Slytherin bloodline and heritage as a child, and it was one of his main recruiting tools to get Death Eaters to follow him.” Augusta bit back her irritation as Albus interrupted her. She nodded. “It connects to his obsession with Hogwarts. I haven’t been able to find any Gryffindor artifact that he might have corrupted. The only ones that are well-known are the Sorting Hat and the Sword of Gryffindor, both accounted for.”

“But Ravenclaw?”

“Surely he would have looked for Rowena’s diadem.”

“Could he find something that has been lost for a thousand years?”

Albus slowly nodded. “I wouldn’t put anything past Voldemort.” This time, Augusta straightened her shoulders and managed to stop herself from flinching. “Where he might have found the diadem or hidden it, though, I do not know. I am tracking that as the best lead, but work is going slowly.”

“And Slytherin?”

“Slytherin had more artifacts than most floating out in the world. I know that he was inquiring for them when he worked at a Dark artifacts shop in Knockturn Alley immediately after he left Hogwarts.”

“I have—someone who used to fancy me, and also used to work at that shop.” Augusta grimaced. It would mean stirring up old memories to go investigating that particular connection, but she’d been widowed for years. It would at least bring no dishonor on her husband or call that connection into question. “I hope you’ll accept information from that quarter?”

“What is his name?”

“Virgil Burke. One of the smaller branches, though, not the main family.”

“Anyone who has a connection to Tom Riddle’s childhood could be valuable.” Albus smiled at her, and unlike her own smile, Augusta knew this one was sincere. “Thank you, my dear. It’s been much more valuable than I imagined, having you as part of my side.”

Augusta reached out and patted his hand, while she vowed to remember that stab about “more valuable than I imagined.” “I’ll owl Virgil tonight. It’ll probably take him a few days to respond. It’s been years since he heard from me, and he’ll be cautious.”

“Was he a Death Eater?”

“I doubt it. You-Know-Who was only taking the battle-tested through most of his reign, right? Or at least those willing to torture. Dear Virgil is as much of a coward as my dear grandson.”

Albus’s smile turned even softer. “Take the time you need. Voldemort thinks himself immortal, but so is our cause.”

*

Lord Voldemort rose to his feet the minute Harry Apparated into the clearing. He held the locket, gleaming, in his hand. He saw the moment Harry came to a stop at the sight of it, and the way his magic coiled lazily in the air around him, ready to strike if necessary.

“What is the matter, Harry? This is harmless to you.”

“I know what Horcruxes do.”

Harry’s voice had the resonant timber that Lord Voldemort heard so seldom, since most of the time he feigned to have lived only this life. Lord Voldemort moved a step forwards and lowered his own voice, to preserve the moment. “Indeed? But did you ever face a fully-awakened Horcrux while in the presence of your other Voldemorts?”

Harry thought about that, his eyes resting now on the locket, now on Lord Voldemort’s face. Lord Voldemort watched the way they darkened and shone. He had to search through his memory, Lord Voldemort thought, and make sure that the words he spoke were accurate, because that was Harry all over.

“No,” Harry said at last.

Lord Voldemort nodded. “Then you would not know that I am the dominant soul. I have not splintered myself as far as I planned.” And that was all he could say on the matter. The weakness involved in such an admission clogged his throat, even if he knew he could trust Harry not to betray him.

He opened the locket. For a moment, dark swirling colors danced there, as if the inside of the Horcrux were made of opal. Then they snuffed out, and Lord Voldemort reached in and scooped out the shards of soul, the one he had placed there and the trailing shred of his victim’s. It, too, was dark and had traces of red. Lord Voldemort would not have looked to distinguish it from his own if Harry had not lent him that book.

He would have been able to. But he would not have looked.

“What are you doing?” Harry breathed out. He stared at the subtle, shimmering mass that stretched like jeweled silk over the center of Lord Voldemort’s palm. “I don’t think you’re supposed to—I mean, you’re not supposed to be able to—”

“I know, my dear,” Lord Voldemort said softly, testing. Harry didn’t look up at the endearment. His eyes were wide, a different color yet again from the one they’d had while he was sifting through his memory. “You may touch, if you like,” Lord Voldemort added, and held out the mingled souls on his pale palm.

Harry looked up at that, his eyes reflecting the swimming shades of the magic. “I couldn’t!”

“It will not damage anything.”

“But, I mean—it’s your soul.”

“Which I valued so little that I placed it in a locket made special only because one of my ancestors owned it.” Instead of under your guardianship. “I wish to have you touch it.” Lord Voldemort moved his hand closer with a swaying motion of his arm, watching Harry with devouring eyes all the while. Harry swallowed roughly.

“Your arm is not a snake,” he muttered, but he did reach out and skim his fingers quickly through the mass of soul.

Lord Voldemort gasped. It felt as though a hand was petting his inner organs, so intimate a touch that he swayed towards Harry. Harry pulled his hand back at once. “Did that hurt?”

“No. It only made me—feel.”

Harry promptly retreated to the damnably polite mask that he wore almost all the time when he thought Lord Voldemort was getting close to him, which was why him not looking up at being called “dear” had been such a triumph. “Ah. Well. What are you going to do to it? I’ve read that book. I know it never said anything about pulling the souls out of the Horcrux.”

“I know. I have another method.”

“Do you.”

Lord Voldemort smiled at the dark tilt to Harry’s face, the way he curled his hand at his side as if he would lash out. “Yes, I do. I am going to give your death magic something to do, as well. You told me that the Hallows were becoming restlessly. This is a task worthy of their magnificence.”

Harry stared at him with his eyes slightly narrowed, and said nothing.

“Come,” Lord Voldemort said, and stepped backwards with his hands full of the glorious shadow of his soul—of his souls. “Reintegrate me, Master of Death.”

Chapter Text

"You want me to piece your soul back together?"

Harry knew his voice sounded faint, but then, he felt that way, too. He honestly couldn't take his eyes off Voldemort and the small pieces of soul that coiled together in his palms, his and his victim's. When he did manage to look up, he encountered Voldemort's smile, and that wasn't much better.

He had never met something like this in all his lives. He had wished for excitement and change at times, thinking normality was boring, but right now, he would have given a lot to go back to a world where he knew everyone and they were nice, calm variations of the selves he'd known in his first life.

"Who better?"

"The method the book recommended--"

"Is too slow for me when I have the Master of Death by my side." Voldemort bent towards him, eyes brilliantly aglow in their sockets under the high forehead. "Who else would do it as well? Who else would do it with the care for my soul that I lacked when I broke it apart in the first place? Are you not afraid that I would once again not do as told?"

Harry scowled, because yes, that was on the list of his fears. "Your manipulating me into it is not going to work."

Voldemort slid to one knee the way he had the other night, his eyes still outshining the mass of soul in his hands. "I know I can't manipulate you into it. I can only mention the natural consequences of leaving L--me to piece my soul back together. I am impatient. I look for shortcuts. If that happens when I am attempting to disentangle part of my soul from another's, only imagine what could happen?"

"And you would go ahead and do it anyway and not wait the way the book says you're going to, all for the sake of the threat that can get me to do it."

Voldemort smiled without saying anything. Harry hissed at him in a way that had nothing to do with Parseltongue and held out his hands. The Elder Wand was between his fingers in seconds, the Cloak draped along his arms. The Resurrection Stone hovered above his palm this time, in the center of an expanding sphere of red light.

"What will you do?"

Harry was glad enough to answer that question. It might mean that Voldemort, his partner in discussing esoteric magical theory, was back, and not Voldemort, the man with the strange obsession with him. "I'm going to kill the bonds holding the victim's soul to yours first and make sure it can go on. Hush."

Voldemort opened his mouth as if to ask another question, but the Stone swooped down to hover above the brilliant shifting mass in his hands, and he shut it again. Harry focused on the Stone and reached out with it, channeling the power from the Wand and the needed finesse from the Cloak.

Harry sometimes regretted that his power was over death and not life, that he had to do things like this when weaving or binding or creating would be more beautiful and life-affirming, but not now. He fixed his eyes on the dancing colors of the souls, and they began to separate. A few that shone more scarlet shuffled off to the side and revealed themselves as wound in among, but not touching, the darker golden and purple shades of Voldemort's. Then the red strands flashed green and the golden and purple black and opalline, but Harry had marked their presence. He knew what to do.

The Stone sang in his hands, a high note that went soaring and shrilling past all normal physical ears. Harry brought the Stone down like a flint knife.

It touched and withered the bonds that kept the pieces of soul confined in the same prison; Harry had been wrong about them actually being tied together. This was more like severing the lock on a cage and watching the captive go free. Bits of scarlet motes, dancing like fireflies, scattered into the distance.

Harry watched them go with a smile, and nearly jumped when Voldemort touched his shoulder. He turned back to see Voldemort dividing his gaze between Harry and the colors cupped in his hands.

"Place them back into me. I can feel the separation now. I--do not want it."

Even knowing that Voldemort might have added some of the longing to his voice to make Harry react, Harry still drew a slow, deep breath. Then he sent the Stone to hover behind him, lifted the Wand, and stepped forwards and reached his hands into Voldemort's chest.

*

Lord Voldemort was seeing magic that no one had ever seen performed before, not in all the worlds.

He knew that because Harry had always destroyed him when he was born in his various guises, and destroyed his Horcruxes, not tried to piece them back together. He watched now, near-panting, as the flesh of his chest parted harmlessly around Harry's hands. No blood poured out. The muscles beneath moved aside, the bones shifted painlessly, at the sweep of a cloaking will.

"They know that I don't mean to harm them," Harry murmured. He was watching as the streams of soul-light swirled up and around his wrists, following the circular motions his hands were beginning to make inside Lord Voldemort's chest.

Inside. Inside him.

Lord Voldemort let his hands hover, but he did not touch. He would not interrupt this delicate, flexing beauty of magic for the world. He watched as the strands turned clear and glinting blue, the color of a sunset sky, in the moment before they reached into him and became stars of light. It looked as though Harry was placing those stars into him, and he wondered for a moment if it was so simple, if he could learn--

Then the soul-fusing began.

Sensation so intense it was neither pain nor pleasure tore through Lord Voldemort. He opened his mouth and made no sound. His mind was kicking higher, higher. He saw the dead world through which Harry had traveled when he cleared the curse from his brother's mind. He saw dark patterns swaying before him and swirling into the shapes of new souls that descended when a new life requiring them was conceived. He saw the secrets of the dead swarming and flashing before his vision, so thick he could not touch one.

The world shattered, and floating pieces stabbed at him. He saw the time of the murder that had created this, and heard the hissing of the serpent on the locket--knew it for that one's hissing and no other--and Bellatrix's voice and the sound of blood running and the crash of an ocean. Smells whipped past his nostrils, blood and dirt and rain and vegetation. Lord Voldemort gasped aloud.

The smells vanished, but he opened his eyes to the swarming world, so brilliant with purpose that he could not identify the purposes, only know they were there. And then even those vanished, down to a single thin horizon line that he sped towards, and became part of.

The murder was there, in front of him, the death of the Muggle tramp and his clutching hands and his wailing mouth and a nearby cat's teeth as it wailed too and his own young face. Young with excitement. Young with foolishness. Because he had not known there were other ways of immortality and he would discover them. He thought he had to do everything in his twenties.

If there was regret, it was for that.

Harry stood beside him, suddenly, watching the memory with ancient and compassionate eyes. He turned his head, and Lord Voldemort traveled down the road in his eyes. It melted into images of a young man playing a piano, and drinking tea, and laughing with his brothers, and concentrating as hard as he could to lift a wallet from a pocket, and running down an alley with darkness lapping at his ankles and his eyes wide as platters.

He was a thief. He deserved what he got.

And then you came and stole his life.

He deserved what he got!

Harry bowed his head, his hair rustling with a noise like thousands of leaves being crunched underfoot. As long as you really believe that, or use it as a desperate defense, then I cannot put your soul back together for you.

Lord Voldemort turned and faced the images again. His victim huddled under a coat to keep off the cold. His victim wolfing brown bread and soup that a faceless benefactor had handed to him. His victim staring up with terrified eyes at Lord Voldemort's own young form and green-flaring wand.

We were both cold. I in the orphanage and this fool on the street.

Harry made a rattling sound like bones being shaken in a caul. Lord Voldemort nearly stepped back, but that was the moment when the pieces of soul turned within his breast and fused back into one.

This time, it was as if he was a bolt of lightning striking itself. Lord Voldemort found himself trembling and rooted in place, his own hands reaching out for a succor that was not there. He gazed down and his bones shone through his skin, illuminated by a radiance much greater than any that Avada Kedavra could produce.

He saw Harry standing with his head bowed over the Cloak in his hands, stirring and sliding it back and forth.

He saw the Elder Wand aimed at him, and even in the depths of the fusing, the sensation inspired no panic.

He saw the Resurrection Stone spinning above him, enclosed with white strands like a spider encasing itself in a web, and then it melted down and seemed to become a scar on his hand before melting away and reappearing back in Harry's.

The final, ringing sensation gripped and shook his bones, and then ended.

*

Harry stood back in the clearing and studied Voldemort. He had expected some physical changes as a result of the man's acceptance of the Horcrux back into himself, but not exactly what he got.

Voldemort's skin was less pale now, and he appeared to have more hair, although it was flat and black and creeping like a mat down around his ears, while leaving the top of his head bald, like he was wearing a tonsure. His eyes had also moved a little forwards, and the sockets weren't so deep-set. His fingers appeared less spidery, with a touch of color on the palms that hadn't moved to the backs or his knuckles. His fingernails no longer looked like glass. He had a more prominent jaw and nose.

He had never looked exactly like the monster that had been resurrected in the graveyard of Little Hangleton in Harry's first life, and sometimes other lives. Now he looked--

Less like that, Harry thought, and that was all he would allow himself to think.

Voldemort opened his eyes. They still blazed ruby, a weirdly comforting fact. Harry reached down and extended his hands to help Voldemort to his feet without even thinking about what he was doing. Of course he would help someone up who still had spiderweb cracks in their soul where a piece had joined itself back into it.

Voldemort took Harry's hands and started.

"What is it?" Harry looked down. He thought he had banished the exhausted, satisfied Deathly Hallows, but sometimes they branded themselves stubbornly on the back of his hand or something like that until he needed them again.

Voldemort's eyes were burning at his. "I can feel more warmth through my fingertips than I could before this."

"Increased sensory information?" Harry smiled. "I'm not surprised. Creating a Horcrux isolates you from the world of living and dying things. You can sense them better when you've torn that cocoon."

"If you are about to compare me to a butterfly..."

"I don't think I'd care to try and break your wings."

Voldemort stood up and spent a moment examining his fingers. Harry was sure he was noticing the differences. A second later, he looked at Harry. His face was expressionless.

"No one has ever done for someone what you did for me."

"I would hope it's not fucking common to have the Master of Death piece your soul back together after you made five Horcruxes."

Voldemort shook his head. "It must be unique in all the worlds."

Harry nodded. "I'd rest for a few days if I were you. That didn't exhaust me only because the Deathly Hallows absorbed the blow for me, and they're almost drained. Thanks for suggesting that alternative to some other kind of high-energy magic they could have done. I'd also make sure that you have some story for your Death Eaters as to why you look different. Maybe cut off that hair."

Harry's voice trailed off uncertainly. No matter what he said, Voldemort kept staring at him as if he was trying to eat him alive with his eyes. "Voldemort? Are you all right?" Maybe some kind of delayed effect from reabsorbing the Horcrux was starting to happen. It wasn't as though Harry would know when he had never done this before.

"We accomplished a feat of magic that has never been done before."

"And I told you that I think you're right."

"In all the worlds that you have lived in, in all the worlds that have ever existed."

"I think you're right about that, too." Harry casually shifted his weight. Voldemort's voice was picking up speed and fervor. If he went mad and attacked Harry, then he had no worries about defending himself, but he would regret the necessity. "Why don't you sit down for a bit? I can Summon food for you. Do you need some juice?"

"I need nothing but your acknowledgment of how rare this is."

"It's rare. Of course it is. I already said that."

Voldemort captured his hands again. Harry frowned at him. His eyes really were burning with something on the edge of madness. If I made a mistake when he repaired his soul and he's about to go insane again...

"I do not need juice," Voldemort whispered, putting more contempt in the last word than Harry had heard in his Chosen One's name in some worlds. "I need your acknowledgment."

"You have it."

"You won't try to retreat. You won't try to say that this didn't happen."

Harry came near rolling his eyes, as much as he knew this moment was serious for Voldemort. "Of course I won't. I know that I stitched your soul back together as much as you do."

After another long moment of staring that made Harry flush without understanding why, Voldemort nodded and withdrew his hands from Harry's. "I will go back to the manor and make sure that my Death Eaters receive an explanation. I will take away the hair."

Harry gave him a faint smile as he moved away. "I noticed a while ago that you never speak of going home when we part here. Why?"

"A simple explanation. I do not have one," Voldemort said, and he Disapparated.

Harry stood in the clearing for a moment after he was gone, eyes closed and savoring the feeling of a world where something was new and he had used the power of the Master of Death for an unequivocally good thing. Then he Apparated to the home he was lucky enough to have.

*

Lord Voldemort sat within the largest study in the manor, the one he had appropriated for himself when he took the house over a decade ago. He sat before a roaring fire, within the embrace of a chair whose threads he felt at every touch like a breath against his skin, cradled in a body that sighed more deeply and tasted more richly.

But more than that, he sat within the reel of his mind.

The increased physical sensations made sense within Harry's explanation about an isolation from the world of living things that had partially ended when he reabsorbed the locket Horcrux.

The increased emotional ones did not.

Lord Voldemort did not imagine what Harry did when outside of his presence, except to imagine him fetching books and practicing magic and walking the long corridors of the mind of the Master of Death. He imagined it now. He saw Harry in his mind's eye--and no more than that, with no more certain knowledge--sitting at a large table with his parents and laughing. Pretending. Pretending to be the oblivious boy they somehow thought he could be, even knowing the truth about him.

And he hungered.

Not for the food in his imagination, not for the magic that Harry had shared with him. Having a piece of his soul rejoined to the rest satiated his appetite for magic for the moment.

But when he thought of Harry pretending and being as brave and isolated in his cocoon of pretense as Lord Voldemort had been in the cocoon of his Horcrux, something raised its claws and tore them down the surface of his mind.

He could not name the emotion.

He knew something else, with the same irritating certainty that his imagination of Harry lacked. He knew he could not have named his emotion long before he made his Horcrux. There was only silence when he asked his great genius what it meant.

He sat, with the silence and the whirling and the sensation of the world exhaling on him again, and besides the silence, knew only one thing with certainty.

He wished Harry was here beside him.

Chapter Text

Jonathan read the short letter from Harry with a frown on his face. He knew a little of what Harry had done, but not enough. Something to do with Voldemort. But Harry was rambling about how grateful he was to have Jonathan, and their parents, and his home, and something more must lie behind that.

I miss you.

Well, Jonathan could have written that line, and so could Harry at any time. In the end, Jonathan shook his head and put the letter away. He didn’t have time to write to Harry undetectably right now, but he would later.

“Your brother means a great deal to you, doesn’t he?”

Jonathan didn’t bother looking at Acanthus as he nodded. She made statements like this constantly, as though she was surprised to figure things like that out. Jonathan went back to working on his Astronomy essay. The movements of planets and stars seemed mundane to him after his concern about Harry and all the spells he was learning with Dumbledore, but he still had to do well in his classes. Dumbledore had spelled him to do that.

“I thought I would end up following you.”

“You can leave at any time,” Jonathan said without looking up, even though he knew Acanthus wouldn’t do so. She clung to him like a bur instead of a thorn.

“But I think now I might end up following your brother. You care so much for him that I don’t think you’d just go out and become a leader without his say-so.”

“Harry doesn’t want to control people.”

“I didn’t say that. I’m just trying to understand who you are. First I thought you were a Light wizard, and then a hero, and then someone who would be the next political leader, and then a victim, and now a brother. You’re very confusing.”

Jonathan finally cracked a smile. He had told Dumbledore that he kept his Slytherin friends around because he was trying to convert them away from following Voldemort. He didn’t kill the lie by smiling at Acanthus. “I’m just me. Just ordinary.”

“Ordinary students don’t have training sessions with the Headmaster every day.”

“Well, no.” Jonathan tried to think of what he meant while he added a last paragraph to the essay. “I mean, it’s—different for me, I reckon. I have lots of knowledge and spells and people looking up to me.”

“But?” Acanthus flipped through a book, then muttered something about “useless” and shoved it aside.

“But that doesn’t mean that I’m some hero destined to save the world or that I think I am. Like the Headmaster,” Jonathan had to add. “I don’t think of myself the way you did or the way Dumbledore thinks of himself.”

Acanthus took long enough to think about it that Jonathan finished reading the chapter in his Potions textbook. Then she said, “You’re not like that because you have someone more remarkable to follow, and I know that isn’t the Headmaster. Is it your brother?”

Jonathan’s shoulders tensed. Acanthus only shook her head at him. “I have a barrier raised around us already, silly.”

“Right. Of course. Sorry.” Jonathan sighed. “Well, you would laugh if I told you that I follow my younger brother. So I never mentioned anything about it.”

“After meeting you, I would believe almost anything of him,” Acanthus said, and she sounded serious. “I’m going to have to cancel on our dueling practice session tonight. I have an important letter to write to my mother.”

“Er. All right. What are you going to say to her?”

“That the Parkinsons need to carefully consider who they are going to follow in the next few years.” Acanthus shoved at the useless book again, like she was trying to punish it for making her waste time, and then stood up and strode out of the library.

Jonathan blinked at her back. Then he forced himself to start on the Potions essay, too, because the Headmaster would expect it.

But in the back of his mind, a soft fire burned.

*

Augusta cursed as she watched the collapse of yet another ritual circle. The small stick floating on water in the middle of it spun to a stop as the glass containing it cracked and the water drained out. Then the stick burst into flame, and took the remnants of the magic with it.

Augusta sighed as she stepped into the circle to retrieve the ritual implements; she could repair the cracked glass and use that again, although it would mean another tedious round of purifying the water and setting up the circle. She could not understand why the ritual that should easily find a source of Dark soul magic like Horcruxes wasn’t working.

It was true that other sources of it might exist, but none nearly as strong as Horcruxes. And the ritual she had chosen would account for and exclude other possibilities, such as heirlooms that might allow some of the pure-blood families to communicate with their ancestors. Or things should have been accounted for.

It is almost as if the existence of Horcruxes, or whatever the ritual is detecting, is overpowering the implements.

Augusta dismissed the concern. She must have made a mistake in putting the circle together, or perhaps the water was not sufficiently purified. She was better with spells than rituals. She would slow down, count over her steps, leave the water to steep in the presence of the sacrificial fire for longer than she had, and see what happened.

*

“Sirius? What are you doing here?”

“Well, your Dad thinks I came to see him. And I did visit him for a while.” Sirius sat down on the little bench in the garden, almost the same height as Harry when he did that, and gave him a somber look. “But I need to know more about what our side is going to be doing in this war.”

Harry brushed dirt off his hands. “What do you mean? We don’t need to move yet.”

“Of course we do. Albus isn’t including me in his plans much anymore. I think he can tell that I disapprove. But he’ll be doing something. And that means we need to be doing something to counter him.”

Harry held back an exasperated sigh. Sirius had been like this two lives ago, too, although at least there it hadn’t got anyone killed. That version of Sirius had lost his hands, though. “I really think it’s all right so far. Dumbledore isn’t being obvious, but he does believe me about Voldemort being obsessed with me. He’s counting on me keeping Voldemort occupied for a while.”

“And when that doesn’t work anymore? I mean Dumbledore believing you, not you keeping Voldemort occupied.”

“Then we’ll come up with something else. Mainly, I’m trying to buy time, for me to get a little older and more credible to people, and for people to lose faith in Dumbledore. The more time that passes without an attack, the more you know that others are going to think the war is over with.”

“It is, isn’t it?” Sirius’s eyes were gleaming, intent. “Or at least it’s shifted ground so much that Albus’s understanding of it is years out of date.”

Harry nodded slowly. He thought of telling Sirius that Voldemort had reabsorbed one of the Horcruxes, but he was sure that Voldemort wouldn’t want him to share that knowledge with anyone. “All the more reason for us to be cautious about what we reveal, though, and not act just because you feel we ought to.”

“I’m not saying that we should act just because I feel we ought to!”

“Then what are you suggesting?”

Sirius wriggled in place on the bench. “At least let me get ready. Strengthen some of the wards on Grimmauld Place, maybe other houses. Buy some house-elves that are sworn to secrecy and good at getting around in Dark places. Give you books from the Black library—”

“I probably know the contents of all those books already, Sirius.”

“Then I’ll study them myself.”

Harry narrowed his eyes. “I know how much you hate Dark Arts. I don’t want you to do this just because you want to help me. There will be plenty of chances for that without subjecting yourself to something you hate!”

He hadn’t realized he was shouting. For a moment, the air in the garden went still, and then began to tremble and beat again around the petals of the flowers. Sirius sat back and stared at him, eyes wide. Then he pointed at the ground. Harry glanced down and sighed when he realized the neat earth of the beds had leaped into the air as though someone had stabbed a fork into its heart.

“That’s the problem with being the bloody Master of Death and losing your temper,” he muttered, and bent down to use his hands rather than his magic to smooth the dirt back into place. His magic was a little too volatile at the moment to risk it.

“Why are you so sure that I shouldn’t study Dark Arts?”

“Because you hate them.”

Sirius glanced away from him. Then he started tapping his hand on his knee. Harry stared at him. “I thought that was true in every world I’ve landed in.” But I should have realized the fucking twenty-eighth one would be different, again.

“I hate some of the things the Dark Arts do,” Sirius corrected, still looking away from him. “I hated the way they twisted my parents’ minds. And even my brother was affected by them. I never used them after I ran away to live with the Potters.” He sucked in a breath that made it sound as if he was swallowing all the air in the garden and faced Harry again. “But I was good at them when my parents forced me to use them as a child. And I can still manage them.”

“How do you know for sure?” Harry was used to magical skill fading for anyone who was born without his perfect memory.

“I tried a spell on a rat just before coming here.” Sirius’s mouth twisted in a sneer. “And don’t tell me that I should be kind to animals. I’m always going to hate fucking rats, now.”

“At least tell me that you put it out of its misery.”

Sirius chopped his head down in a sharp motion without looking at Harry.

Harry sighed. “Okay. Well…” Shit. He could think of one role that Sirius would be perfect for, but he honestly didn’t want to force him into it. He didn’t move people on a board like chess pieces. That was Albus’s job.

“Let me do something,” Sirius begged quietly. “And I think it’s likely that Dark Arts will be more widespread in the world since you and Voldemort are going to win.” He gave Harry a strained smile. “I refuse to be out of practice in what will probably be the main kind of magic then.”

“I’m going to try and ensure there’s as little change as possible from a normal and healthy world when we win the war,” Harry said. Then he sighed. “I know that Jonathan needs training in Dark Arts, but the kind of magic I could show him is mostly too powerful for him yet, and I don’t trust Dumbledore to teach him anything that’s not for his own purposes. You would be perfect. Although how you’re going to meet…”

“I have to go grovel to Remus and Albus.”

“I don’t want you to have to do that, either!”

Sirius just grinned as a small puff of dirt flew up into the air. Harry smiled ruefully back. Sirius shrugged. “I never thought I’d make a good spy, but no one is going to suspect me of anything when I try to get back into my best friends’ good graces and argue with them non-stop. I would do that all the time, anyway. Can I have your permission to do that?”

“You don’t need my permission.”

“I suspect I would to teach any Dark Arts to Jonathan.”

Harry rolled his eyes. “Well, you’d need his permission, too, and you’ll need Albus’s. But try to make sure that you can talk to him in as coded a way as possible. I don’t think Albus is going to leave you alone with him.”

Sirius glanced around abruptly. “And no one is going to sense us or what we’ve been talking about here?”

“They could still see us if they look out through the windows, of course. Mum doesn’t react well when she doesn’t see me. But they won’t be able to hear anything that we said here, of course. How stupid do you think I am?”

“Do you really want me to answer that?”

Harry leaned in and hugged Sirius, something he wanted to do as well as something Lily and James would expect to see from a boy reconnecting with his godfather. “Go to Hogwarts. Or find Remus. Whichever one feels better to you. Feel free to drop all the hints you want about the Deathly Hallows and how I feel that the war is over, but you don’t think it is and you want to make sure that Jonathan stays safe.”

Sirius hugged him back, fiercely, and didn’t let go even when Harry assumed he would. “Thank you for giving me back my life,” he whispered into Harry’s ear.

“A life of spying and sneaking around and lying to your best friends? That sounds—”

“Like a hell of a good time.” Sirius stood up, keeping an arm around Harry’s shoulders, and assumed a stiff, somber expression. “Stop playing pranks, Sirius,” he scolded in a good imitation of Lily’s voice. “We’re all older than that now.” He paused, then started imitating James. “And we need to be serious—don’t say it!—and start concentrating on being adults.”

“So I’ve given you back your pranking childhood.” Harry rolled his eyes.

“Yes, you have.” Sirius grinned at him and ruffled his hair, which Harry tolerated because it wasn’t like anything could make it worse. “And I hope that you stop frowning at some point and realize that no one ever completely grows up, either. Worse than your father, right now!”

Harry finally gave in the way he’d been fighting not to do, and smiled.

*

Albus eyed Sirius with calm sureness. He had expected Sirius to come back and ask for a place in the Order of the Phoenix’s ranks, even though Remus had doubted it, but not so soon. “And why do you want to train young Jonathan?”

Sirius’s frown was deeper than Albus could ever remember seeing. “Because Harry’s powers concern me.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah. The Master of Death in the body of a child? Lily and James aren’t taking it well at all, and they’re still some of my best friends.” Sirius sighed and ran his hand through his hair. “Jonathan deserves to be free of people who might try to manipulate him. And I think the only way that’s going to happen is if his enemies get less powerful.”

Albus nodded, pleased that Sirius understood. He had thought Sirius was going over to Harry’s side, but it seemed that Harry had frightened away even his devoted godfather. Well, that only made sense; that much power should not rest in any mortal’s hands. “And you would be fully-prepared to teach Jonathan Dark Arts? It is true that I have little mastery of that branch of magic. But I know it would be a sacrifice for you.”

Sirius grimaced. “I know. But Jonathan and Harry are already making sacrifices, and so are Lily and James, who have to live with that knowledge and haven’t managed to come to terms with it. So I can make one, too.”

“One thing to remember, Sirius, is that Harry understands much about Dark Arts that no one else will know. That means I must ask you not to teach Jonathan those.”

“Huh? Oh, no, I know that. He showed me a few things that—they were shocking.”

The boy is so desperate for acceptance that he ignores the lessons of a dozen lifetimes and tries to ingratiate himself with adults when he should know better than to frighten them. Albus nodded. “Then you may begin lessons as soon as Jonathan has a free period. I will give you one of my lesson-slots for the week.”

“Thanks, Albus. I think I’ll feel a lot better as soon as I know that I’m keeping my godsons safe.”

And I will feel better for knowing that you are still in the fold.

*

Sirius leaned against the wall and closed his eyes, letting Albus’s moving staircase carry him down to the next floor without making any effort. He had done it. He had told the truth all the way through, not lying because there was no point in lying to a Legilimens, and he had managed to convince Albus he was doing the right thing.

Not that it was ever the right thing to force a child to learn the Dark Arts practically at wandpoint, but at least Jonathan would be older than Sirius had been when he was made to start, and he was a good kid. He would only use those spells to defend himself or innocents.

Or his brother. Does Albus not see the depth of the bond between them, or does he just discount it?

Sirius sighed when he remembered what Harry had told him. Albus had interfered with Jonathan’s mind. He thought he was in control. He had that paralyzing need to be in control, which would bite him in the arse in the end.

Sirius smiled as he stepped past the gargoyle at the bottom of the staircase. May some of those teeth be mine.

Chapter Text

“Are you all right, Harry?”

Harry leaned hard against his brother for a second, his eyes closed. He absorbed as much comfort as he could. Jonathan was still alive and unhurt, and he would be for as long as Harry had power in the world.

In the back of his mind, the Deathly Hallows snarled eagerly, begging him to unleash them against the people who would hurt his brother, or him, or anyone else that he wanted to bring under his protection.

But Harry forced himself to stand up and move back from Jonathan. He was older than his brother spiritually and mentally, and he had to be the one who would offer comfort. “I’m fine,” he said quietly. He added a few twists of magic to the air around him that would make everyone in the castle temporarily forget about the top of the Astronomy Tower unless they were already standing there. “But I got Voldemort to reabsorb a Horcrux.”

Jonathan stared at him. Then he abruptly gave a whoop and started dancing around the top of the Tower. Harry blinked after him.

“But that’s wonderful,” Jonathan said, and halted in front of Harry, and grinned at him until Harry thought his face might rip. “Why act as though you need to be rescued from it?” He abruptly reached for his wand. “Unless that bastard did something to you after you helped him do it?”

“Such language from an eleven-year-old,” Harry told him primly. “No, it just took a lot of power, and things have happened since then that I didn’t expect. Like Sirius coming to me and wanting to teach you Dark Arts.”

“Yeah, that was strange. But he was great last week, and I think it’ll help.”

“Oh, I know. I just think—I have to make some decisions now, and I’m still not used to making them in a world where everyone knows about my powers. I don’t want to do something that would disrupt someone’s life or warp their worldview.”

“But each life is separate from all your other lives, right? You’re not more likely to be reborn as one person than another? Or one person in the next world isn’t going to be like the person they were in the last world, just because?”

“Right,” Harry said, blinking, not sure where Jonathan was going with this.

Jonathan shrugged a little at him. “Then I don’t think you need to worry about disrupting people or warping people. This is the world we live in. You’re part of it. People will make the decisions and take the actions they will anyway. Just because they know about your powers doesn’t mean that you’re automatically doing something wrong.”

Harry blinked some more. Then he smiled, and his tone wasn’t teasing at all when he said, “So wise for an eleven-year-old.”

“Someone has to be when you start falling all over yourself with guilt.”

Harry nudged him in the ribs, and then said, “Do you think you can work with Sirius and Dumbledore in a holding pattern for a while?”

“Easier to work with Sirius. Unless you mean just put Dumbledore in a holding pattern?”

“You are wise, and I mean it,” Harry told his brother. “Yeah, that’s more of what I meant. There are things I want to do, but they’re all going to take time. Reaching out to allies and convincing Voldemort to absorb the other Horcruxes and making the war look more and more unreasonable in different people’s eyes.”

“I think I can keep things the way they are.” Jonathan hesitated. “Do we have to pretend to be at odds? I mean, he’ll ask me about you, and that Occlumency will keep my answers vague, but he probably won’t be satisfied with vague ones very long.”

“No. He probably wouldn’t believe it anyway. Just tell him that I don’t discuss the details with you. Because that’s going to be true.”

“It is? Why?”

Harry braced himself. He had known he would be making this decision, and that Jonathan wouldn’t like it, but he’d underestimated the depth of displeasure in Jonathan’s eyes. “Because even if it’s true that I can’t really warp people off their destined paths with my power, I can corrupt innocents. I’m going to be doing things that—I’m used to, but I don’t want to make you live with. I want to preserve your innocence.”

“I’m learning Dark Arts from Sirius! I’m not going to be innocent for long.”

“I know. But you don’t want to watch some of the things I’m going to do, either. Not even in your imagination. Let me keep you safe, all right?”

Jonathan stood there and fumed in silence. But then he asked, “Are you going to tell me all about it one day?”

“Yes, when you’re older and I don’t think it’ll hurt you to know,” Harry said quietly.

“Then I can live with it. But I want you to know that I’m here to protect you too. So if you feel the way you did at first tonight, come and talk to me, okay? I don’t want you to carry your burdens all alone.”

Harry smiled fiercely at Jonathan. He’d never had a sibling like this in all the worlds he’d lived in. “I promise.” He leaned forwards and hugged Jonathan one more time, absorbing the comfort that his brother’s arms locked around him gave.

Then he released the spell that caused others to forget the existence of the Astronomy Tower’s summit, and led Jonathan down towards the Hufflepuff common room. He would Apparate once he was beyond the spells that covered Hogwarts.

But he had to be sure his brother was safe, first.

*

“Ah, Severus. Join me, won’t you?”

Severus tried to hide the shaking of his hands as he put aside the book he’d been staring at uselessly for the past half-hour. He kept concentrating on words, skimming passages, opening books he’d already read, hoping for some crack in the Dark Lord’s curse. There must be one, if he could look hard enough. No curse was infallible.

But he had not found a passage yet. And now the Dark Lord stood in the doorway of the library, watching him with a comprehension more mocking than a sneer would have been.

He had made a request. Therefore, Severus stood and reluctantly followed him down the main corridor of the manor, towards a window that looked out over the gardens the Dark Lord had been more interested in lately.

Severus stood stiffly next to the windowsill, staring down at the insipid flowers and square garden beds. He avoided the Dark Lord’s gaze for as long as he was permitted. It didn’t matter, now, not with the permanent gateway that the Dark Lord had opened through his Occlumency.

“I found out that you intended to set Bellatrix against Harry.”

Severus cringed. Yes, he had suspected that, after the last time Bellatrix had sneered when he had seen her. He wondered now if it would be death at last. He might prefer that, with his mind spinning in tight circles of old knowledge and his plans for revenge all frustrated.

“I was displeased.” The Dark Lord turned to face him. For a moment, the light about his face flickered, which made Severus start. Why was the Dark Lord wearing a glamour? But he banished the thought as the heavy red eyes landed on him. “But I have thought about the plan, and found some merit in it. Particularly after some things that Harry had told me about his other worlds.”

Severus stared at the Dark Lord. If he intended to turn on the Potter boy, why did he keep calling him by his first name? “What do you mean, my lord?” he whispered, and kept his voice respectful and low only with the kind of control that had enabled him to leave the Marauders alive.

The Dark Lord lifted a hand and gestured lazily with his yew wand. A force seized Severus and crushed him to the ground. He screamed, for a moment sure that the pain meant his legs had shattered, or his elbows had turned backwards.

But the pain was entirely mental. The Dark Lord dug through his thoughts and spiraled around the most private areas of his mind, channeling all his power into a narrow rush through the doorway that he had opened in Severus’s Occlumency the last time. There seemed to be more of it, which baffled the small part of Severus still able to think clearly. How could a wizard be more powerful than ultimately powerful?

Words echoed deep in his mind, neither telepathy nor Parseltongue nor the kind of thought-trading that some powerful Legilimens could do amongst themselves, but commands that seemed to imprint themselves in his blood.

You wish to turn on me. You will go to Dumbledore. You will volunteer to tell him everything that you know about my plans. You will even reveal the curse I have placed you under with regard to gaining new knowledge.

Severus screamed again. The words were losing distinction as they tumbled through his brain, blurring, winding themselves in his own thoughts, making of him what he had most feared and despised the thought of becoming.

A puppet.

You will do exactly as I say. You will convince Dumbledore that he has a loyal spy in the Death Eater camp, even if that spy has only turned to him out of anger and bitterness over the curse infecting his brain.

Severus tried to fight, calling up his own distaste for the Headmaster of Hogwarts who had let Gryffindors get away with bullying him. He worked on his memories of serving himself, choosing the Dark Lord’s side because that would let him spend his time brewing more experimental potions.

It didn’t matter. Lord Voldemort’s voice flowed over his perceptions of reality and rewrote them.

Above all, you will convince him that I am making more and more Horcruxes, that I am mad about them, that I distrust everyone and that I am chopping my soul into confetti. That is my master plan, to make so many that no one can locate them all. I even distrust Harry, who I had seemed close to, because he would be horrified if he knew the truth.

The Dark Lord had Horcruxes? How many? Even that madness—

Yes, that madness. That was what was finally going to drive Severus from his side at last. He wanted to win, not serve someone so mad that he would cast away good servants who only wanted to brew experimental potions and be left in peace. It was the madness of the Horcruxes that had led him to place the curse on Severus that he had.

Horcruxes would even make the Dark Lord turn on Potter. And Horcruxes were the knowledge that he would carry to Dumbledore.

The knowledge pounded him. How many there were—thirteen. Where they were hidden—graves, townhouses, ordinary Muggle buildings in London. What they were—ordinary objects that no others might glance at more than once. Lord Voldemort had outgrown the notion that he needed to place the shards of his soul in grand, indestructible pieces of art. Ordinary stones and bricks and furniture and the like would do as well.

Severus had found out these secrets at the risk of life and limb, only because he was the greatest Occlumens the world had ever seen. Only because he could read the Dark Lord’s mind when the Dark Lord thought he was reading Severus’s.

He would use the Occlumency to hide things he didn’t want Dumbledore to see. Like his resentment of the Marauders and the Potters. He would do it.

He would become the master spy.

The torture ended at last, with the Dark Lord withdrawing from Severus’s mind in apparent disgust. Severus lay there, breathing, and barely dared to glance up at the Dark Lord, who was looking aside from him.

“Get out of my sight,” the Dark Lord spat.

Severus stood and bowed deeply, because that would maintain the necessary deception. He knew that Dumbledore would value the information he brought, but he also knew that he would need to be able to come back. He retreated when the Dark Lord stood motionlessly staring out into the gardens, apparently bored.

He would wait. A day, perhaps two. Enough to make the Dark Lord think that Severus had accepted this violation of his mind and soul as he had accepted all the others.

And then he would go, and have his revenge.

*

I need to see you.

Voldemort’s note said nothing more than that, but Harry came to the dark clearing in the woods. He had to admit to some curiosity as to how Voldemort had taken to absorbing the locket Horcrux.

Voldemort was waiting in the form that Harry had last seen him in, his eyes brilliant in the darkness. He made a short motion with his hands as Harry came towards him, and Harry halted. For a minute, he’d thought he was going to draw his wand.

But he didn’t, and instead Voldemort only whispered, “Harry.”

“Voldemort,” Harry said slowly, confused. He’d thought Voldemort would treat him with either greater warmth, because the Horcrux would have given him some of his emotions back, or greater coldness, because he wouldn’t want to show what he was feeling. This neutrality was unsettling.

Voldemort sighed and did draw his wand this time, but only to Transfigure a tree root into a bench that he sat on. “Will you join me?”

Harry nodded and went to take his place next to Voldemort. The Deathly Hallows were awake and watching in the back of his mind if he needed them, but despite the fact that Voldemort’s wand remained drawn, resting down near his side, Harry didn’t really think he would.

Voldemort watched him pensively, enough for Harry to decide that, yes, having a piece of his soul back had affected him. Then he asked, “Would you be opposed to me keeping one Horcrux for the purposes of immortality?”

“Yes,” Harry said at once. “If you’re missing even a shard of your soul, then you still won’t be able to attain any other method of immortality. You have to have them back, Tom.” Then he flinched, because Voldemort in any other world would react to that name with attempted murder.

“I do not like that name.”

“I know. I’m sorry.”

“Voldemort is still the name I chose. I will keep it until I think of a better one.”

“All right,” Harry said. This was one of the most surreal conversations he’d ever taken part in. “Why do you want to keep one Horcrux? I think you probably already knew what my answer would be.”

“Because attaining any other method of immortality will take some time,” Voldemort said, and lowered his voice until it sounded as though he was speaking through fog. “And in the time between absorbing the last Horcrux and attaining that method, I will be—mortal. I will be afraid.”

Harry stared with his mouth open. He’d assumed Voldemort would be afraid, but it wasn’t as though he’d thought he would ever admit it.

He moved without thought, laying his hand over Voldemort’s and squeezing it. Voldemort turned to him with a tempered flare of triumph in his eyes.

Probably wanted me to touch him. Harry would have rolled his eyes about Voldemort’s obsession, but accepting the truth he’d spoken and showing that it mattered was the only thing Harry wanted to do right now.

“Fear is natural,” Harry said quietly. “You might think that’s hypocritical for me to say, when I die every time knowing I’ll wake up and live again, but I fear losing the worlds I live in. The people I love. I always wonder whether they’ll be okay without me, especially if I die in the middle of a battle or something.” Or before you’re defeated, he thought, but that wasn’t the kind of thing he could say right then. “I wonder whether I benefited the world by living in it, all the time.”

“Why would you care about that?”

Voldemort’s brow was furrowed, the white scales that still seemed to linger beneath his skin standing out. Harry smiled faintly and withdrew his hand from Voldemort’s, or tried. The long fingers clenched around his, and stayed shut.

All right, then. Resigned to having his hand held, Harry said, “Because I try to make a difference in the world I lived in. To make it better. To heal people, love them, make them happy.”

“You have never lived just for yourself? You have never done things in those worlds to make yourself happy?”

“Of course I have. But a selfish act that would make someone else permanently unhappy?” Harry swallowed. “The only times I did that were in my first life, when I didn’t have the memory that I do now, or when someone else needed the results of that selfish act more. And each time, I do regret it. I can perfectly remember the guilt I felt every time something like that happened, Voldemort. I try not to cause other people pain because it means causing myself some.”

Voldemort was silent. Then he asked, “And if I told you that I needed you to remain with me tonight, not showing me magic, not asking me questions about when I will be ready to absorb another Horcrux?”

“I would do it,” Harry said simply.

And they did—sitting side-by-side on the Transfigured bench, long into the night, watching the stars and listening to the wind. At some point, Voldemort let go of his hand.

Harry still remained by his side.

Chapter Text

“Jonathan!”

Harry raced to meet his brother as he got off the train at King’s Cross, leaping and grabbing him around the waist. Jonathan laughed and staggered back; Harry wasn’t much shorter or lighter than he was, now. He hugged him back and then held out an arm as Lily stepped up to them, her smile making her face appear brighter than normal.

“I’m so glad you’re home, Jonathan,” Lily said, and hugged them both at the same time before kissing Jonathan on the cheek. She looked up as Sirius got off the train. “And we have somebody to thank for training you, I see.”

Sirius smiled and nodded at them all, although his gaze lingered longest on Harry. Harry thought Lily noticed, but she only gave a strained smile and started to herd them away from the train. “Come on. We’re Apparating this time. I’ve had enough of the Floo for today.”

Sirius laughed as he strolled beside them, his hands in the pockets of his fur-lined robe. “You drop something on the way through, Lils?”

As their mother started the tale of how the Floo had tried to eat her gloves, Harry dropped back beside Jonathan. “You’ve been all right?” he asked quietly.

Jonathan met his eyes and nodded. “Yes. Dumbledore still thinks that the Occlumency he can see in my mind is the real thing.” He kept his voice soft enough that no one else would be able to hear them, but Harry wandlessly raised a few protective charms around them anyway. “And Sirius is brilliant. There are a few strange things, though.”

“What strange things?”

“Well, first, whenever I was outside watching Quidditch or doing homework or practicing with Sirius, I had the sensation someone was watching me. I tried to use a few spells to figure out if it was true, but I couldn’t find anyone. Neither could Sirius.”

Harry nodded slowly. It was possible that Voldemort had set up some kind of monitoring spell. Harry would figure it out. “And what’s another strange thing?”

Jonathan checked to make sure their mother was thoroughly distracted by Sirius’s questions, and then reached into his robe pocket. The parchment he pulled out crackled in a way that told Harry how expensive it was. He picked up the letter with a frown. There was a flowering thorn tree on the seal.

“The Parkinsons?” Harry knew their crest from other worlds, but it was possible it had changed here.

Jonathan nodded, though. “You know Acanthus Parkinson? Who won’t leave me alone?”

“Yes.” In no other world had Pansy had an older sister, although sometimes she had older or younger brothers. Harry would have to watch how he stepped with Acanthus, since he had no way to predict her actions from the past.

“She wanted to follow me because she was sure I was going to be powerful. But then she figured out I followed someone—”

Jonathan.”

“What? It’s true.” Jonathan just shrugged inside his robes. “And she started writing to her family. I think she was trying to persuade them to offer you an alliance. It took her a long time. But there’s the letter.”

Harry had to tuck it away as Lily and Sirius caught up with them again. Sirius gave him a pained-looking smile. Harry only smiled back at his mother and began to talk exactly like any other child about how much he was looking forward to opening the high pile of presents under the Christmas tree.

“Something happened, didn’t it?” Jonathan muttered to him under cover of Sirius beginning to describe all sorts of absurd gifts that he couldn’t really have bought for them, and Lily hitting him on the shoulder.

“Yes. But I have to tell you later.”

Jonathan only nodded, accepting that, and continued walking beside him, shoulder-to-shoulder, as they made their way to the Apparition point. Harry stared at his hands and felt his eyes fill with tears he could never shed. He didn’t deserve his brother.

*

“You can have one small glass of mulled wine. But only one!”

Sirius watched Lily fussing over her boys, dictating their food and how they sat in their chairs and the time they would go to bed and now how much wine they could have, and he wanted to shake his head and groan. Did Lily want to drive them away? Jonathan put up with the fussing with a sort of amused tolerance, but he had already grown beyond it. And Harry played a part. Right now, that part was The Good Child that his parents obviously wished existed.

How can you forget what he is, even for one minute?

But Sirius reminded himself again, as Harry’s eyes briefly caught his, that that was why he was important. He knew the truth. He could give the boys a chance to be their real selves with him. And he could intervene when he saw Jonathan’s mouth starting to twist with exasperation that, unlike Harry, he didn’t have the maturity to hold back. He laughed loudly, which of course drew Lily’s attention.

“What is it now, Sirius?” The way she put her hands on her hips reminded him of the way she had looked in Hogwarts, when Prongs had first been drawn to her. Sirius pasted a leer on his face and fluttered his eyelashes.

“I was just thinking, since there’s mistletoe hanging above us…”

“There is no—” Lily looked up and noticed the small sprig that Sirius had floated to the top of the arched doorway before dinner. Lily shot him a frown, but with enough light in her eyes that Sirius felt his grin grow more genuine.

“A kiss on the hand. James said last year that’s all you get.”

“James isn’t here,” Sirius whined, and he could do whining pretty well, given that he spent a quarter of his time in a form that used it as a native sound. “What he doesn’t know won’t hurt him.”

“A kiss on the cheek.”

One on the lips, and a tango.”

“You are incorrigible.”

As Sirius got up to flirt and banter and protest and joke, he caught Jonathan’s eye, and saw how his face had smoothed down again. He also got a small, grateful smile from Harry.

Sirius smiled back at them, and then faced Lily and set about trying to get past the cheek she was presenting him. To his surprise, it was actually more fun than just playing the game on its own would have been. It was sad, yes, that Harry’s parents—both of them, probably—couldn’t see who he was, or who his brother was. But Sirius felt like a master spy this way, as if he was thirteen again and trying to sneak into the Slytherin common room.

For higher stakes, but at least this suits me better than keeping court in Grimmauld Place all alone.

*

“Are you going to tell me what happened or not? It’s obviously something to do with Voldemort.”

Harry nodded and looked out the window for a second. There was a dusting of frost on the hard ground, but mostly it seemed inclined to freeze until the air felt like chiming crystal around him, not actually snow. “Yeah. I was trying to convince Voldemort to absorb another Horcrux. I couldn’t understand why he was playing so coy. The kind of immortality that he wants still can’t be achieved until he absorbs all of them, even though he isn’t going to do it exactly the way I thought he was.”

“Okay.” Jonathan sounded confused. “But what? You had an argument?”

“You could say that.”

“Sure, I could, but you’re the one who was actually there. I want you to tell me.”

Harry started, and then smiled ruefully at his brother. Jonathan had got more forceful since he went off to Hogwarts. Well, that was what Harry had wanted, someone who would stand up to him and not always be in his shadow. “This actually happened a month ago. I didn’t want to tell you anywhere near Hogwarts, and I had to wait to find the right words.”

“To do what?”

“To explain it to you.” And Harry drew in his breath and began, grateful that Lily thought they were both asleep up here.

*

“All you have to do is tell me where one of the Horcruxes is, and I can go and get it, and then you can absorb it. I don’t see what’s difficult about this.” Harry heard the ragged tone of his voice, and sighed. He really should Apparate away and leave the argument with his incredibly stubborn friend—partner in war—student—whatever—until tomorrow.

“You told me you knew where they were.”

“In other worlds! But then the Resurrection Stone wasn’t with the Gaunt ring, the way it’s been in almost all other worlds, so now I don’t know for sure. And I don’t want to pry into that, anyway. I want you to just tell me!”

For a moment, after that shout, no one said anything. It was a brilliant night, the moon out and full above the trees. Harry stood looking at it for a second, instead of Voldemort. Maybe the sight of that clarity would calm him down.

“You should be with me.”

Harry turned around at once. This was the first sign of yielding Voldemort had shown in weeks. “What? To hunt down the Horcruxes?”

“No.” Voldemort flowed to his feet and paced towards him. He’d been sitting on one of the benches that they’d Transfigured from tree roots. The more time they spent in the clearing, the more it came to look like some kind of outdoor classroom. He was staring at Harry with his eyes wide open and his mouth parted in that rictus-like grin that Harry knew meant trouble.

He managed to convince himself to stand still as Voldemort came up and prowled around him in a full circle. At least he didn’t feel the same terror about having Voldemort at his back that he would in most worlds.

Voldemort halted in front of him and said softly, “I wish to be immortal with you.”

Harry frowned at him. “I haven’t found any way to share the Deathly Hallows. Even in places like this world where one of them had another master, like the Elder Wand did with Dumbledore, they end up coming to me and staying with me.”

“Delightful fool,” Voldemort said, in a tone that Harry thought bordered as closely on affectionate as he could permit himself. “I meant that I wish to become immortal through the altered method I have devised—”

“I know—”

“And I wish you to apply that same method to yourself. I wish you to be immortal with me.”

Harry froze. Then he shook his head. “No.”

Voldemort showed his teeth again. Harry didn’t know how he could tell the difference between a snarl and a grin with Voldemort using the same expression for both, but he could. “You would stay with the same wheel of rebirth and life in worlds where no one knows who you truly are? You would give up the peace you have found here, with your brother? With me?”

His voice had lowered to the point that Harry couldn’t tell what kind of emotion was behind it. Harry stuck his hands awkwardly in his pockets. He couldn’t imagine reaching out to Voldemort right now. He took a slow, deep breath. “I have peace with you and Jonathan. And sometimes with Sirius, when I can talk to him about things that wouldn’t alienate him. I don’t have any peace otherwise. You know very well that I wish no one else had found out the truth about my powers.”

“You would give up this life?”

“All things die, Lord Voldemort.”

“I will not.”

“I’m giving you the chance to keep going,” Harry said, while privately he thought that all things died at last, and someday Voldemort would follow his body’s natural inclination into death, when the world held no more pleasure for him. “I don’t want the same chance.”

“You should want to stay alive. For me.”

Harry jerked a little, but didn’t look into Voldemort’s eyes. Then he might lie to humor him, and that would be more disastrous to all the rest. He shook his head. “I respect you. I’m willing to help you make your choice and attain your path because I think it’s the best for you. I’m not willing to make the same one.”

Voldemort hissed at him, but not in Parseltongue, and went back to circling around him. Harry gentled his breathing. It was strange. Even after so many years of peace with this Voldemort, and his own great magic, he still experienced fear at having his enemy encircle him. Then again, four years of peace didn’t mean much against literal millennia of war with the same person.

“I wish you to.”

“Your wish is not enough when it comes to me.”

“I cannot believe that you would be happy being born into a twenty-ninth life. Without your brother or the guarantee that you would even be human.” Voldemort was silent long enough that Harry almost turned around to look at him again, but then he began to speak. “Without me.”

Harry swallowed. Perhaps he should have seen this coming, but he honestly never had. He fastened his eyes on Voldemort’s, and murmured, “I do not want to be immortal. I was never meant to be—what I am. I gathered the Hallows on accident. I didn’t know I would be reborn until the first time I was, and it took me another life to realize that it would probably happen again. I don’t wish to go further down the path of immortality than I already have.”

Voldemort was still, head cocked like a bird with a particularly juicy worm in front of it. Then he said, “You would abandon me.”

“What are you talking about?”

“You would die eventually, and I would still be alive. What is to keep me sane when you are gone? Who would anchor me as you have? Who would believe, as you have, that I am capable of pursuing my ends with politics instead of war?”

Harry stared again. Then he said, “There’s no reason that you should go mad when you’ve reabsorbed all the Horcruxes. You’ll be sane then, and I don’t think you’re stupid enough to tear up your soul a second time. A sixth. Whatever.”

“But Lord Voldemort is—”

“What did I tell you about the third person?”

“Let me finish the sentence,” Voldemort said, and the tone of his voice made Harry fall silent. “Lord Voldemort is a persona that I created. I could not sustain it, most of the time, without some level of death and terror. But I have done it the last four years without those. Because I have you.”

“You’ll manage,” Harry said, and smiled at him. From the way Voldemort stiffened, that smile probably said some things Harry didn’t want it to say. But he felt as though he was walking through a nightmare. He had to end it somehow. “You’ll be sane, remember? And you’ll have those years to figure out better ways of living and keeping yourself occupied. If you win the war with Dumbledore, then you can also exercise your power in ways that you can’t right now.”

“What about immortality terrifies you?”

“People are meant to die, Voldemort. Maybe other people are reborn the way I am, but just don’t remember their past lives. It’s not like I’d know or they’d know. But…I’m tired. I thought I was going to see my parents at the end of my first life, who I never really got to meet, and Sirius, who I barely knew then. Instead, I went on to something else. I’ve come to terms with it. I can’t come to terms with the thought of endless life and watching everyone I know in this world die and leave me behind, when I know that I’ll never see them again. I wouldn’t even see any other versions of them again if I stayed here.”

“You would see me.”

Harry paused and then inclined his head. “That’s true. But it’s not enough for me.”

You would be enough for me,” Voldemort hissed, and for the first time in months, the magic around him was thick with rage. Harry cautiously called the Elder Wand into his hand. “Why is the compliment not returned? What must I do, Harry?”

“Nothing?” Harry offered in confusion. “I don’t want to dictate your life. I’m just saying that you shouldn’t make your decisions to reabsorb the Horcruxes or reach for a new kind of immortality dependent on me, because I’m never going to join you.”

Voldemort roared. A lash of icy power soared towards Harry. Harry lifted the Elder Wand and it parted on either side of him, although he felt the magic wither the grass and frost the trees. He grieved that for a moment, then took a steady breath.

“I’ll return when you’re more rational,” he said, and Apparated away, wondering anew how to make Voldemort understand something that the Master of Death understood as the axis that drove the universe.

*

“And he hasn’t communicated with me since then.”

Jonathan reached out and gripped his hand. Harry started up from his mindless stare at the fire and smiled wearily at his brother. “Thanks. It’s not something I should be surprised about. And he’ll probably want me back at some point, if only because he can’t safely manage the Horcruxes on his own. But I do miss him more than I thought I would.”

Jonathan didn’t say anything, just maintained the quiet clutch of his hand. Harry sipped his hot chocolate and looked out the window at the frost and felt the steady presence of his brother beside him, warming him more than the fire.

I could never give this up, no matter what kind of immortality Voldemort promised me.

Chapter Text

Harry woke to something buzzing against his face. He sneezed and opened his eyes, for a moment caught between memories and assuming he was a Kneazle again and had whiskers that a kitten was tickling.

It wasn’t a kitten. Would that it were, Harry thought, as he stared at the buzzing, spinning Resurrection Stone that had taken up a place on the bed right in front of his nose. As he watched, it began to bounce up and down, the symbol of the Hallows shining in red light from its surface.

It bounced to the edge of his bed, and continued jumping up and down. There was movement beyond the bed then, and the Cloak rose up, looking like a manta ray from the angle it had adopted. The Elder Wand was tucked into the side of the flap.

“Uh, all right,” Harry said, staring at them. “I know you’ve been bored, but you also know why we can’t do anything more right now, until Voldemort consents to absorb one of the other Horcruxes.”

The Stone stopped bouncing and began to spin in place. A strong impression came off it. The Hallows had never communicated with him in words except when Harry was deep in that world beyond the world where everything was dead or dying. But he knew their gestures and the emotional auras they could emit well enough by now. This was a question, a pointed one.

“Yes, I’m unhappy,” Harry said, and rubbed his face. “But no, there’s nothing you can do about it.”

The Cloak abruptly floated into the air, stretching out like a flying carpet. The Wand floated up onto it, and the Stone gave one more bounce and catapulted off the bed to rest beside the Wand. Then they blurred and soared out through the wall and were gone.

“What the fuck are you doing?” Harry called after them.

Of course there was no answer, except for a stirring in the bedroom next to his and Jonathan’s gleeful voice saying, “Harry said a bad word! I would tell Mum if everything was normal!”

Harry let himself fall back into the pillows with a sigh. Then he shook his head and remembered it was Christmas, and he would get to see the reactions of his loved ones as they opened their gifts. That had long been the best part of Christmas to him, even after lives where he was spoiled silly because he was a Black or an adopted Black or an adopted Malfoy (or when he got a rhinestone collar and feathered toys because Hermione liked to spoil her Kneazle).

“Come on, Harry! Get up!” Jonathan pounded on the wall.

“That’s infinitely more annoying than saying a bad word,” Harry called back, but he got up and started pulling on the red robes that he’d worn last Christmas and Lily had enlarged. She’d taken enthusiastically to wizarding traditions in all the worlds where he’d known her well, but, well, with her parents dead and the Dursleys as her only Muggle family left, Harry found it hard to blame her.

When Jonathan came out, in a green robe, he took one look at Harry and snorted. “You should have this color, it matches your eyes.”

“Don’t start about that again,” Harry pleaded as they went downstairs. He’d made the mistake of revealing to Jonathan how much it had annoyed him in his first life when people tried to dress him in green, and since then, he’d been subjected to merciless teasing.

“We can probably switch right here,” Jonathan promised, and acted as if he would drag the damn green robe over his head.

Harry was still glaring at him when James came around the corner at the bottom of the stairs and beamed at them both, spreading his arms wide.

“Happy Christmas, boys! Come down! We’re going to have the Weasleys over tomorrow, but your Uncle Sirius is still here, so you’ll have to hurry if you want any biscuits or strawberries.”

Jonathan promptly forgot about the robe and took off. Harry did the same thing, smiling because that was what James would expect and it was still novel to be able to have a Christmas with most of the Marauders. Remus would come over later, as he’d heard James and Lily discussing last night.

Harry hoped that Remus would appreciate the gift Harry had chosen for him. It was something he could use and something that ought to improve his self-perception, if he would only let it.

*

Remus edged slowly inside the Potters’ house, his hands still wrapped in the cloak that was draped around him. He wondered if he would find an excuse to keep it on all through the Christmas celebrations.

Probably not. If James or Lily thought he was cold, they would serve him an extra goblet of mulled wine and seize the cloak the instant he looked away.

“Happy Christmas, Remus!”

Remus managed to smile at Jonathan as he bounced over. According to Albus, this was the child on the correct path, the one who had displayed a great willingness to learn from both Albus and Sirius. Albus had even talked about having Remus teach him ways to combat Dark creatures. “Happy Christmas, Jonathan. This is for you.” He waved his wand and floated in the aquarium that, in the end, he had decided not to wrap. There was no way to disguise the sloshing noise, anyway.

Wow!” Jonathan grabbed the aquarium and stared into it. Remus smiled. The water was a deep, pure blue, with charms to keep it that way, but of course Jonathan was staring hardest at the small golden koi fish darting around inside it. “What’s the fish’s name? Is it magical? What’s its species?”

Remus laughed, reassured and taken for a second back to one of the Christmases he’d spent with James’s parents when Euphemia got him a Kneazle kitten. The kitten had unfortunately run away before he left Hogwarts. “That’s a mythical koi. I call her Lucky, but you can name her something else. They reinforce cheerfulness and turn nightmares into gentler dreams.”

Mythical koi also couldn’t thrive in the care of a wizard who was less than purely Light. Albus was the one who had suggested the gift for Jonathan and given Remus the coin to purchase Lucky. At least, based on Lucky’s health, they would have a chance to gauge if Jonathan was wandering too far into the Dark Arts.

“Hello, Remus.”

“Hello, Harry.” Remus swallowed fear, the way he’d learned to do on a full moon before he went into the Shrieking Shack. The confrontation was going to happen anyway, whether he wanted it to or not, just the way that he would always transform into Moony. He held out the small package. “This is for you.”

Harry undid it to reveal the golden pendant with the blue stone that Albus had also suggested. He gave Remus a soft smile with a hint of sadness to it. “This is a Lightpath pendant, right?”

Remus blinked. Albus had told him that the golden chain would burn Harry’s fingers if he was less than purely Light, which meant Harry shouldn’t have been able to hang onto the thing without dropping it. But obviously he was. “Er, yes,” Remus said, his brain a little scrambled.

“What’s it do?” Jonathan spun around from admiring Lucky.

“It illuminates your path,” Harry said quietly. He lifted the pendant and dropped it over his head so that it hung in the center of his chest. “See?” He twisted the top of the chain where it connected to the stone, and a small, dazzling spark sprang to life. Remus blinked. It had been full moon only two days ago, and the light was even more overwhelming than it would have been for a human.

“And looks pretty, I reckon,” Jonathan said, not sounding all that interested. “Well, come on, Remus! I know Sirius wants to see you!” He hauled on Remus’s arm and pulled him towards the drawing room.

Remus couldn’t help looking over his shoulder as he went. Harry was watching him solemnly, one hand cupped around the Lightpath pendant. The light was more subdued now, but still clung to his fingers.

I don’t understand, Remus thought, and then gave up on understanding as Sirius shoved a goblet of mulled wine into his hands and Lily hugged him in welcome. I suppose I can tell Albus that he’s not as far gone into the Dark as I thought?

*

Jonathan watched Remus’s face turn pale when he opened Harry’s gift, and glanced at his brother. But Harry was busy explaining to Sirius how he was not going to take his Lightpath pendant apart to figure out how it worked, and he didn’t seem to notice.

“What is it, Moony?” Dad scooted to the side so he could read the title of the book. “Great Werewolves Throughout History?”

“I’ve never heard of any book like this.” Remus’s voice was shaking. He turned the book over as if he wanted to see the back cover, although from what Jonathan could see, that was just leather with a golden circle on it. He put it down again hastily.

“Harry? Where did you get this?” Dad asked.

Harry yanked his Lightpath pendant away from Sirius with a triumphant little smile and turned to Dad. “Sirius found it for me. There was a book in his family’s library that mentioned it, and then he managed to track down a copy for me.” He threw his arms around Sirius and hugged him. “Thank you so much, Sirius! I can do chores around Grimmauld Place for you if you want to make up for it.”

Sirius laughed and patted Harry on the back. “No, Kreacher does just fine with the chores. You go on doing what you need.”

Jonathan narrowed his eyes at his brother. He was absolutely sure that Harry hadn’t asked Sirius to find that book for him, especially since Sirius had looked baffled for a few seconds before he smiled. But he would wait to talk to Harry about it when they were alone.

“How can the book be about great werewolves?” Remus asked. His hands had stopped shaking, but his voice was very flat. Jonathan had to admit that he felt sorry for him. “There is no such thing as a great werewolf in history. They’ve always been monsters.”

“I haven’t read the book all the way through, Remus. But I thought it sounded interesting. And you’re a great werewolf.”

Remus muttered something that Jonathan thought Mum would have said was impolite and shoved the book down inside a bag of gifts beside him. Jonathan left the couch and went over to admire Harry’s Lightpath pendant.

“Can I talk to you for a second?”

Harry nodded and followed Jonathan out of the room. Jonathan turned around with a sigh when they were in the entrance hall. “Where did you really get the book?”

“I remembered it. I read it in one of my previous lives, and I wrote down the words. I couldn’t do much about the illustrations, though, because I’ve never been a great artist and I didn’t have the models in front of me to copy. Then I conjured the leather and sinew and bound the pages into the book.”

“And why did you get it for him?”

“Because it really is about great werewolves in history, and Remus needs to learn to accept that he can be great, too.”

Jonathan sighed, and wondered if he should explain to Harry that having a book like that probably just made Remus all the more eager to ignore being a werewolf. But Harry was looking him dead in the eye, and Jonathan was pretty sure that he already knew all the counterarguments to that.

“I don’t know if Mum and Dad and Remus believed that story about you getting the book from Sirius,” he chose to say instead. “You just reminded all of them that you aren’t ordinary, probably.”

Harry’s chin lifted a little more. “Good.”

Jonathan blinked. “But I thought you were trying to be an ordinary kid for Mum and Dad.” And maybe Remus, too, although they didn’t see him enough for Jonathan to be sure of that.

Harry sighed. “Jonathan, every ordinary thing I try to do only reminds them that I’m not. They have to start thinking about the fact that I know a lot more than a child my age normally would, and that’s something they’ll have to get used to. I can usually play a child pretty well, but only when people don’t know who I really am. Now I do things I think are normal and Lily still looks at me with fear in her eyes.”

Jonathan nodded. “I do get that. And—you’re not going to keep things under wraps for Dumbledore, either?”

Harry hesitated for the first time. “There’s something I wanted to try, except I didn’t know if you and Sirius would agree to it.”

“We sure can’t if you don’t tell us what it is.”

Harry smiled for the first time in the conversation. “I wanted to portray myself to Dumbledore as someone whose power is failing. There are a few Dark rituals I could have done that would have that effect. He already believes I’d cross that line. So I want to pretend that my memory is fading and I’m desperate and I’m coming to him for help.”

Why?”

“Because it’s a tactic that will hopefully distract Dumbledore enough that no one has to die, and it doesn’t require Voldemort’s help.”

“You realize he has to reach out to you again?” Jonathan had read some of the letters from Voldemort, and honestly he thought he understood them better than his brother did. Voldemort was bloody obsessed.

“He might, he might not.” Harry’s face was set. “In the meantime, this’ll get me close to Dumbledore and more trusted, and I’ll know more of what he’s planning. And you know what Dumbledore is like when there’s someone he thinks he might have the chance to redeem.”

“Well, um, not really. I don’t think you told me about that part of your other lives.”

Harry blinked, then said, “Yeah. Sorry.” He grinned, and Jonathan leaned over and hugged him.

“Anyway,” Harry whispered into his shoulder. “Dumbledore is never more fascinated with someone than when he thinks they’re about to leave the Dark. He tries to get power over them, yes, but he also tries to honestly persuade them of his viewpoint. He wants them to agree with him. That’s his ultimate victory. With me, he knows it’ll be harder because I have those multiple lives and memories, but if he thinks I’m desperate in this life, and he knows that I love you more than anyone else…”

“So he’ll keep on working on you.” Jonathan hesitated once. “Is there any chance that he’ll succeed?”

Harry snorted hard enough that Jonathan thought he felt disgusting stuff on his shoulder, and pulled back to stare incredulously to him.

“Sorry, stupid question,” Jonathan said, but he was grinning. Harry like this was better than Harry brooding over Voldemort. “And what am I supposed to be doing while you’re doing all this?”

“Continue on with your training. Make Dumbledore think the Occlumency I lodged in your mind is the only thing there is to you. And I’ll talk to Sirius about some spells he should be teaching you that are on the border of Dark Arts.”

“Uh-huh. What about Voldemort?”

“What about him? I have the power to counter any move he makes and ignore any letter he sends.”

“Uh-huh,” Jonathan said again. He watched his brother go back into the drawing room, to apparently play this mixture of innocent child and frightening one that he’d decided on.

Meanwhile, Jonathan started planning his own letter. Acanthus had given him the idea. She had decided to write to Harry even though Jonathan was right there and he could have told his brother any message she had for him. So Jonathan took it for granted that he could write to his brother’s allies, too.

He needed to send a letter to Voldemort and see if his brother was wrong that Voldemort wouldn’t reach out again. Jonathan would bet all his Christmas presents that he was wrong.

*

Albus sat back with a slight smile on his face. It was the largest expression of joy he would permit himself when he was still in front of the nosy, spying portraits in the Headmaster’s office.

Everything was going well. The Lightpath pendant he’d given Remus to gift Harry had not reacted by falling apart, which meant that Harry was still far more Light than Albus had thought. Severus Snape had come to Albus, and as full of hatred as he was, he had valuable information on Voldemort as well. Even Harry had written a letter to Albus that said he’d been thinking it over, and there were Dark things he wasn’t prepared to contemplate or do.

If it hadn’t been for Augusta’s failure to locate any of the Horcruxes and the lack of socks among the gifts he’d received, this Christmas would be perfect. Albus supposed he would have to buy the socks himself.

Then his gaze fell on the empty perch standing near his desk, and he frowned. Well, and he was missing Fawkes. This wasn’t the first time the phoenix had disappeared for a long period of time; he seemed to enjoy wandering the world and showing himself to Muggles who needed a glimpse of hope or visiting other phoenixes. But he had never missed Christmas before.

With a sigh, Albus decided to fetch the bottle of Firewhisky Minerva had got him, which had been spiced with some special new preparation of Ogden’s to make it taste even hotter. A search convinced him it wasn’t in the office and he must have left it in the Great Hall. He opened the door of his office; a quiet, rejoicing walk was just what he needed right now.

Something blew past him, down the corridor.

Albus turned abruptly, blinking. It had been a strange object, something much bigger than any of the flying pranks the Weasley twins had managed to create so far. He cast a Lumos and peered down the corridor, but could see no sign of it now.

“Fawkes?” he called.

Silence returned, and after some time when he listened and heard no explosions and felt no hostile magic, Albus shrugged and continued on his way to the Great Hall. After all, if there was a mess, Filch would take care of it.

*

Harry yawned and rolled over in bed. Something snagged next to his neck, and he opened one eye in confusion. He was sure he’d taken the pendant off last night.

It wasn’t the pendant. It was the Elder Wand, rolling proudly back and forth. Then it turned and pointed towards the edge of the bed. Harry stared at it, then followed the pointing end.

The Resurrection Stone was bouncing up and down in ecstasy on a fold of the Invisibility Cloak as it hovered in midair. Harry had just enough time to notice that the cloak was wrapped around something like a lumpy package before it unfolded.

In the center of the cloak lay Ravenclaw’s diadem.

Shit.”

Chapter Text

Harry sat contemplating the Ravenclaw diadem for a moment, then shook his head at the Hallows and stood. “You brought this to me just so that I would have to contact Voldemort again,” he accused them.

The Resurrection Stone bounced up and down excitedly. The Elder Wand rolled back and forth on the bed. The Invisibility Cloak stretched and rippled.

“You realize that I’m never going to agree to be immortal with him the way he wants?”

Bounce, roll, ripple.

In the end, Harry gave up. Yes, he understood the Hallows much better than he had when he was younger, or when he had virtually ignored them in his first life, but that didn’t mean he could always convince them of his beliefs or understand what they wanted. He took the diadem and rolled his eyes a little when the Horcrux inside it immediately reached out to snare him.

“Your attempts are boring,” he told it, and sealed it inside a transparent barrier of magic that encircled it closely, before he flung it into a drawer of the small desk Lily and James had bought him. Then he sealed the drawer with a few spells that he would be extremely surprised to find anyone knew in this world, since they came from a grimoire that had been thrown into a volcano centuries ago.

The Hallows were still watching him expectantly when Harry turned around. Harry scowled at them. “I’ll see if he wants to reabsorb it,” he said. “But not today. Today is a day for family.”

And he went off to join the ones who were his family in this life, even if he sometimes felt more disconnected from them than in any previous life before.

*

Jonathan’s parents had given him lessons in letter-writing by the time he was five or six years old and began to write words properly. He should be courteous, neat, as brief as possible, and use proper salutations and closings, unless he was writing to a dear friend who wouldn’t mind if he skipped some of those procedures.

It was only when he sat down that he realized none of those helped with writing letters to a Dark Lord that you thought was your brother’s best friend.

Jonathan sat there with his quill dripping on the parchment and scowled at the blank paper. This ought to be easy. He just wanted to tell him that Harry was lonely and missed him and they should talk again. But he didn’t have any idea what he should write at the top. “Dear Voldemort?” “Dear Dark Lord?” Or should he not use “Dear” when he and Voldemort had never even met?

Finally, Jonathan shook his head and started writing again. He didn’t think Voldemort would get too upset if Jonathan broke some rule of etiquette. He might be more upset that Jonathan was writing to him at all.

Dear Dark Lord Voldemort,

I know that you had some kind of an argument with Harry that’s preventing him from reaching out to you. But you ought to. I think Harry is miserable and lonely here with no one except me and Sirius who understands him. Mum and Dad don’t. Remus and Dumbledore want to pretend that he’s different than he is or something. He’s probably never going to be immortal with you the way you want, but maybe you could talk to him? So he won’t be as miserable. I don’t like seeing my brother miserable.

Sincerely,
Jonathan Potter.

Jonathan read it over and carefully corrected a couple of the loops on the d’s and t’s that looked like they could be other letters. Then he cast a mild Drying Charm and sneaked out to the small owlery. He wanted to send this right away before Mum or Dad caught him. They wouldn’t understand why he was writing to Voldemort.

*

Three days after Christmas, Harry finally settled down to deal with Acanthus Parkinson’s letter.

He hadn’t been looking forward to it. In every world where he’d dealt with the Parkinsons, they’d claimed they were the ultimate pragmatists and just wanted to join in on the winning side. In practice, what that meant was they sat everything out until the absolute last minute and then pretended they’d been on his side all along.

It was unusual for one of them to write him a letter declaring possible allegiance when Harry hadn’t even made his side of the war public yet. Harry prepared to find himself tangled up in demands and vague promises and conditions as thorny as Acanthus’s name.

Dear Harry Potter said the precisely written and spelled introduction,

I had some trouble convincing my parents to take such a definite step as this. While neither of them are Marked, my mother did think about it. And she is wary of me spending as much time with Jonathan as I do.

But I’ve sent them some Pensieve memories of Jonathan when he’s practicing spells, and they acknowledge his power. And someone that powerful who follows someone else is worth listening to when they talk about their Lord.

My parents would like to meet you and talk about the possible future alliance we could have. I have a younger sister, Pansy, who would likely be present at the meeting as well, since she will be in your year at school. Please write back to me and tell me the time and place of the meeting.

Acanthus Parkinson.

Harry considered the letter for a second. It was a lot more direct than he’d expected. Maybe that was because Acanthus existed in this world, where she never had before, or maybe it was because Jonathan did.

Harry smiled a little. He knew which one he thought was more likely.

He fetched a piece of parchment and wrote a calm acceptance of the letter, but asked Acanthus to set the time and place of the meeting. He had no idea if the Parkinsons were on holiday at the moment, and he had also waited longer than they’d probably thought he would to read the letter and respond to it.

When he went to the small owlery to send it, he was surprised to see Jonathan walking away from there. “Writing to your friends?” he asked, pausing so that he could cast a Warming Charm on his hands. Snow was falling in whirling flakes right now, even though it probably wouldn’t remain for long.

Jonathan grinned at him. “Writing to let Fred and George know that their latest pranks made my hands dirty and didn’t do much else.”

“Sure,” Harry said vaguely. Jonathan was darting his eyes around and flushing the way people did when they lied. Still, Harry trusted his brother. If he was lying, he was doing it for some incredibly good reason, and Harry would find out about it eventually. “Well, I’ll see you inside later.”

Jonathan nodded and ducked into the house. Harry attached the Parkinson letter to the leg of a small saw-whet owl called Dusk that James had bought as a wedding present for Lily. Dusk seemed excited to take off; he didn’t get a lot of use. Harry watched him out of sight and then turned around.

James was standing there, his head hunched and his hands tucked into his robe pockets as if he wanted to hide them. “Can—can I talk to you, Harry?”

Well, Lily had had a few conversations like this with him. Harry supposed he should have suspected James would want to have one. “Sure, Dad,” he said, and kept his voice simple and eager.

James grimaced a little. Harry kept a careful eye on his face as he walked across the grass with him. Perhaps he would need to use a different tactic.

James took him to the study where Harry remembered him sometimes transforming into Prongs when Harry and Jonathan were toddlers so he could carry them around on his back. And then, to Harry’s shock, he reached out and took something from his neck, what looked like an onyx pendant with the Potter coat of arms on it. Harry stared at it. He didn’t remember ever seeing something like it in his previous Potter lifetimes.

Castellum,” James muttered.

Wards slammed into place around the room that made Harry blink. They were as solid as some of the ones around the Ravenclaw Tower at Hogwarts, and stronger than the ones that Rowena’s ghost, tired of people searching for her lost diadem, had put around it in that one mad lifetime. Harry glanced back at his father, and found James tucking the pendant back under his shirt.

“Okay,” James said. “Those wards mean no one can listen to us here, or spy even if they have listening spells activated. And it means that nothing we can speak of here can be spoken of outside this room.”

Harry blinked and sat up. He could feel the magic twining around his inner self, now that James spoke of it. He listened for a moment, and detected the flaws in the chains. He could break free of them, if he had to. But he wouldn’t want to have to try. An impressive amount of strength was tied up in them.

“Okay,” he said, focusing on James again. “Why is this important?”

“Because I’ve tried to treat you as a child, and it hasn’t worked.” James rubbed his eyes the way he’d done in other lifetimes when he was exhausted from fighting a war. “So I’m going to treat you like an adult and see where that leads. Please tell me what you intend with the war, and Jonathan, and Albus, and Remus, and Sirius, and Lily.” He hesitated. “And me.”

Harry leaned back and studied his father. He hadn’t thought James would be the one to come and confront him like this. Remus, maybe. Sirius, maybe, if Harry hadn’t carried the facts to him first.

“All right,” Harry said. Of course he would limit what he told James, but he could give him some truths. “First, I love Jonathan completely. I would never risk him. He’ll always have my protection no matter what happens.”

James closed his eyes. “Thank Merlin.”

You really thought that I would hurt him, don’t you? Harry edited the truths he was going to offer even more. “I feel sorry for Remus. He’s hated himself in some of the other worlds where I knew him, but it never ceases to hurt me. He could make greater strides and come to peace with himself if he could stop worrying about being a werewolf. That by itself doesn’t make him a monster. Maybe if he hunted down people and bit them like Greyback did to him, it would, but he doesn’t do that. If I can encourage him to accept himself, then I will.”

“But werewolves who do that kind of acceptance are the ones who become monsters.” James sat up, frowning at him. “Remus has to maintain the awareness of being human, always. That’s why the Wolfsbane Potion is good for him. He can’t sink deep into the animal mentality and not come back.”

“Who told you that? Who did that kind of scholarship on werewolves?” Harry qualified, when James opened his mouth to probably say that Remus had.

James blinked and appeared to think about it. “I don’t know the names of the scholars for sure, but Albus was the one who told us how the Wolfsbane Potion worked, and explained why what we did in school was dangerous. Remus thought and acted like an animal when he transformed, then. Animals don’t have consciences. That isn’t what you want for him?”

Dumbledore. Of course. Harry wanted to roll his eyes, but James would ask questions he couldn’t answer right now, and honestly, Harry didn’t think that Dumbledore was maliciously lying to control Remus. He probably believed what he was saying. He encouraged strong consciences in other people, after all. “No. I think Remus taking Wolfsbane is definitely a good thing for him. But he can come to terms with the wolf in another way, you know.”

“I don’t know any other way.”

And James was bristling slightly as if he would defend Dumbledore and Remus against anything Harry said that was any different. At least he had agreed that Harry was worth arguing with instead of treating him like a child, though. “You wouldn’t,” Harry told his father. “It’s not known in this world.”

James blinked again. “You’re sure that it would work when it’s coming from another world?”

“Of course,” Harry said softly. “Remus was the one who taught it to me, and he ought to know how it works.”

“I suppose,” James said. “How does it?”

“Remus has to stop hating the wolf and thinking of it as something different from himself,” Harry said. “That’s one reason I got him that book for Christmas. If he can think of werewolves as potential heroes, then maybe he can think of himself as one, or at least a potential good person even if not a hero.”

James stood up abruptly. “How can you say that when the wolf is separate from him? He only changes into it every full moon! You can’t say that he’s really a wolf.”

“No, instead he’s been told all his life that he’s a werewolf, and that’s wrong. It obviously hasn’t worked to make him accept himself as human.” Harry folded his arms when James continued to glare at him. “Do you think of Prongs as separate from you?”

“What? Of course not. He’s just an animal I can become. It’s not like being a werewolf.”

“But you don’t think of yourself as a monster. You think of yourself as an Animagus, right?”

“Yes, of course. What does this have to do with Remus?” At least James had sat down again and didn’t act as if he was still trying to use his height to intimidate Harry.

“If you can accept that you turn into an animal, and that animal is harmless and under your control, then Remus can do the same. He’ll have to have the Wolfsbane to do it, but if he stops thinking of himself as a monster all the time, that will help.”

James snorted a little. “You sound as if you think it’s really that simple, Harry.”

“I do think it’s that simple. I watched it happen in other worlds.” Harry kept to himself that most of the time, it had been other werewolves and not Remus that he had been watching do that. Being in the forefront of the Werewolf Revolution in his twenty-second life had been…interesting.

“Well, I can’t see Remus agreeing to do that. He knows the truth about werewolves, and anyway, he’s pretty old to change his mind.”

He’s twenty-nine, just like the rest of you, Harry thought incredulously, and fought to keep his face from changing. But he only said, “That’s what I want to happen. I want Remus to gain more self-confidence. I’m glad that Sirius has got back some of his own and is teaching Jonathan. I love Jonathan and I would never do anything to hurt him. And I’d like it if you and Mum would treat me more like an adult sometimes.”

James sighed. “You’ll have to wait for your mother to adapt. She doesn’t like the thought that you’re not one of her little boys. If you’d been normal, then she would have smothered you even more after you came back from your kidnapping.”

“Please don’t use that word as a bludgeon.”

“What word?” James looked a little dazed by the diction, which was another sign, at least for Harry, that he hadn’t fully accepted the implications of Harry’s power or past lives.

“Normal. I’ve heard it a lot, and it’s always used as an insult and people are always sorry that I’m not that.” Harry took a deep breath. “If I was really normal, I would have died the night Voldemort came hunting me, or Jonathan would have, or Mum would have. Or maybe all of us, or both you and Mum. I wouldn’t have survived those years with him, either, even if he did take me away. Please don’t act as though you wish I was different. Would you rather have a dead child than an immortal one?”

James immediately rushed across the room and hugged him. “Of course not, Harry,” he muttered into his hair. “I’m sorry. Of course I am. I never wanted—we’ll work on it. And I’ll speak to your Mum. Sometimes she listens to me better than she listens to her own thoughts. It can just take a while.”

Harry hugged his father, and noted to himself that they’d managed to slip completely past the question of what Harry’s intentions towards Dumbledore were.

*

Lord Voldemort laid down Jonathan Potter’s letter, in an extremely thoughtful mood. He once would not have thought that he could be interested in the maunderings of any eleven-year-old boy.

Except Harry. And Harry was not eleven yet.

But since Harry still showed no sign of reaching out to him and forgiving that argument about immortality they’d had, this would do as a substitute.

I will have him in the end. We are both immortal. We can both afford to wait.

Chapter Text

“Thank you for coming to meet with me.”

Acanthus had to slow down a little when she entered the private room of the Scarlet Ribbon. It was a restaurant in Diagon Alley that let wizards reserve space and never asked the reason. It was also neutral ground for everyone, with its extreme magic-dampening wards. Acanthus had thought it was a good choice of meeting place, and so had her parents.

But they truly hadn’t expected to see a child who looked barely nine years old alone here.

“Greetings, Mr. Potter,” said Mother after a moment. She had worn her most formal gown, the one that Acanthus usually saw only on the eve of a few great holidays, and she held out the silver skirts as she curtsied to Potter. Behind her, Father, in his dark robes that Acanthus knew were flattering, bowed. Pansy giggled and hid her face.

Acanthus restrained her sigh. As her parents reminded her often, Pansy was only nine years old.

Potter’s age. It made Acanthus wonder more and more if they had made a mistake.

“We did expect you to be somewhat older,” Father said, taking the risk of letting possible displeasure fall on him. He had raised her to do the same, since Acanthus was his first child. “Or to have an adult guardian with you.”

Potter gave them a faint smile and raised his hand. Acanthus found herself gasping as fire took form there, a small dragon that spread its wings and looked around with bright eyes. A second later, it zoomed around the room, making Acanthus duck, and landed on Pansy’s shoulder, nuzzling at her. Pansy giggled and reached out to pet the little creature, but it turned into smoke before her hand could touch it.

It was hard for Acanthus to close her mouth. She knew that making fire into a shape, and controlling it like that, and making the flames clever enough not to burn clothes but possibly to burn flesh—because it had disappeared when Pansy reached out for it—were all signs of great control. Mother and Father had probably even noted things that she missed.

Potter was very powerful.

“Please sit down,” Potter said, and nodded towards the small round table with five chairs around it in the center of the room.

Acanthus saw the moment Mother decided that Potter was genuine. She lifted her chin and said, “Thank you, sir,” walking over to sit down. Father followed her, and held her chair out for her. Acanthus held it for Pansy, and then they were facing Potter’s chair in a semicircle.

Potter sat down calmly, so calmly that Acanthus didn’t think it was silly to see his legs dangle. His eyes never left them. Acanthus wondered if he could really know which spells each of them could cast just by looking. It felt like it.

Potter raised his hand, and a silver teakettle floated into the room from an even smaller one off to the side. A tray loaded with milk, cream, sugar, scones, honey, cups, and some marzipan followed. Potter lowered the tray easily into the center of the table and brought out another one that held cups, plates, spoons, and delicate little knives.

“Extravagant, Mr. Potter,” said Father.

“Not really.”

Acanthus wanted to choke at that statement. Just how much power did he have? But she kept silent and sipped the tea and let her parents do the talking. She’d done all she could by getting them to listen to Jonathan. Now she just had to let whatever was going to happen next happen.

The small talk Mother and Father made while they took the scones and tea and arranged them as they wanted concerned the size of the room and the convenient location of the restaurant. Potter only looked at them and waited. Mother nodded at last, in the way that she used to nod to Acanthus and Pansy when it was time to go to bed, and looked sternly at Potter.

“How does your power accord with your age?”

“I considered not telling the truth, but there’s too many questions you would have if I didn’t, and it would get us distracted from our main purpose here. I’m immortal, Mrs. Parkinson. Several lifetimes old. Each time I reincarnate, I keep all my memories. So it’s not so much that I have more magic than the average wizard as that I know all the ways to get around the constraints on a wizard’s power. All the exceptions to the magical ‘laws’ that people think are permanent. Everything.”

Acanthus was breathing hard, and hearing herself do that, blushed a little and put down her tea. She had time to learn these things. If Potter knew them, then maybe he would be willing to teach them to her.

And other people, of course, but she would always be one of the first. Now she knew where Jonathan got some of his strange, secretive air and probably some pf the spells that he knew.

“That’s impossible,” Father said.

“How could you be immortal?” Mother added.

Pansy gave a nervous little giggle, but ducked out of sight when Potter looked at her. Acanthus sighed. It was a trial having a sister like Pansy. She only hoped that Potter realized not everyone in the family was like her.

“Perhaps these will answer your questions?” Potter extended his hands, and objects were there, popping into being out of nowhere. Acanthus jumped. You couldn’t just Summon things through the wards like that, and even then, you would see them flying.

But as she stared at the objects Potter held, she began to see why she might not have seen these things flying. She swallowed nervously and glanced at her parents. Father’s eyes were a little glossy. Mother reached out silently to touch the fabric of the Invisibility Cloak.

“There are—the Deathly Hallows?” Father’s voice was slow.

“Yes,” Potter said calmly. “I found them in my first life, by accident. I didn’t know I was collecting them or what would happen when I did. But when I did, suddenly I found myself able to return from death. And since then, I can never truly die. I return to life in a new world every time.”

Acanthus remembered what he had said about his memories. To have a leader who knew secrets that perhaps no one else in this world would ever discover—someone who might even have known them before—seemed a lot better than merely having a powerful leader.

She turned to her parents and did her best to look at them imploringly. Father was already looking at Mother in much the same way. Mother nodded, her hair, up in a chignon, bobbing along as she did. Pansy was holding her hands to her mouth, probably not understanding much except that she was looking at artifacts from a children’s story.

“Mr. Potter.” Father had a nice smile when he wanted to, although Acanthus mostly only saw him use it to friends. “We would be honored if you would be our ally. We may need more proof of your incredible claims, but what we have seen is enough to convince us you are powerful.”

“You should know that I value loyalty.” Potter considered them slowly, his eyes lingering on all their faces, as if Pansy and Acanthus were every bit as important as their parents. “I don’t want to find myself with someone trying to stab me in the back. You’ll need to take a few oaths before I fully trust you. And you may not like all my goals.”

Mother looked a little reserved at that. Acanthus wanted to roll her eyes. The Parkinson family had its power, its money, but they couldn’t accomplish as much as they could if they allied with someone stronger. And this was better than the Malfoys any day. Lucius Malfoy was a weak person, Acanthus thought. She’d only met him a few times, but she already knew that he said anything he thought someone wanted to hear.

Father nodded with incredible slowness, Acanthus thought, but Potter didn’t seem insulted. “As long as the oaths don’t require us to harm family.”

“It would never require you to do something like that.” Potter gave them a small smile. “Only to keep my secrets and not harm other people who are my friends or allied with me.”

“Not to help you?”

“I can accomplish most of the things I want to do on my own. Mostly, I want to interest people in standing aside rather than joining Dumbledore.”

Acanthus saw both Mother and Father sit up like their Crups when the house-elves brought fresh bacon to the table. She hid her smile. Now they were feeling like this was a really good idea, now that they had more ideas what Potter wanted.

“Dumbledore is your enemy?”

“Not by choice,” Potter admitted. “He knows about my powers and he’s convinced that I’m a danger to the world that he wants to create. Mostly, so far, I’ve pretended to go along with him and to be frightened myself of what I can do. But sooner or later, I need to either move more openly against him or help someone who wants to. That means the fewer people he has fighting on his side, the better.”

“You want to avoid open warfare, right?” Acanthus asked. She thought she was right, but she wanted to see if she was.

Potter smiled at her. He looked a lot older when he did that. “Yes. I don’t want people to die simply because they sincerely believe something.”

“Sincere beliefs are a good reason for people to die,” Mother muttered, but she did it under her breath. She met Father’s eyes, and Father nodded and took out a scroll of the parchment he always carried with him.

“Shall we discuss the wording of this oath?”

*

“I—really don’t like this spell, Sirius.”

“And I really hope that you don’t ever have to use it, Jonathan. But it saved my life once, and it’s the kind of Dark Arts that both Harry and Dumbledore would want me to teach you. Well, maybe with Dumbledore, not so much want, but he’d expect it. At the very least, you need to know how to cast it so that you can learn the countercurse.”

Sirius watched with his chest aching as Jonathan took his slow place in front of the dummy Sirius had created. They were back from Christmas holidays, at Hogwarts, in one of the training rooms that Sirius had carefully protected against anyone outside it being able to sense Dark Arts. And the Entrail-Expelling Curse was one of the Darkest spells.

Sirius remembered being made to learn it himself, how he’d tried to refuse, and how his mother had forced him to. He grimaced, scratching at an old scar on his shoulder for a second. He’d persevered through learning it for the same reason he wanted Jonathan to, so that he could learn to cast the countercurse that would tuck someone’s entrails back inside them.

And then the curse itself had saved his life, in a battle with one of the Death Eaters during the war.

Jonathan licked his lips and then kind of flopped his wand around and said, “Obscurus expulso!”

Sirius sighed as he watched a splash of purple light against the dummy’s stomach. There were bags of sand and colored rocks inside that would spill out when Jonathan succeeded. “I know that you didn’t try your hardest.”

“How do you know that?”

“The way you deliberately messed up the wrist movement. Come on, Jonathan. I won’t make you cast this again once you know how to do it. Then I’ll cast the curse on the dummies, and you can practice the countercurse.”

The poor kid’s face was utterly pale, the few little freckles he had and which Sirius didn’t usually notice standing out. But he nodded and said hoarsely, “Obscurus expulso!”

The spell ripped into the dummy’s stomach this time and produced a small rent in the cloth. Sirius nodded. “That’s a lot better. Now let’s keep practicing at this so you can get even better, okay?”

“O-okay.”

Sirius winced and stood out of the way as Jonathan went back to casting. He hated the idea that he had to act like his mother did when she was teaching him to cast this spell. But then he reminded himself that he had never locked Jonathan in a dark room filled with doxies as punishment or forced him to eat slugs until he vomited.

The better he can do at this, the better he’ll do at fighting other people who did go through that sort of training.

*

Lord Voldemort lifted his head and turned it slowly in the direction of the breeze that blew from the back of the glade, sniffing. There was a scent there he had long missed, sweet enough to make his mouth water. He stood and strode towards it, watching the shadows the moon threw.

And the small one that had formed at the back of the clearing, beneath some crooked branches.

“Harry,” he said. “At last.” He didn’t think he needed to say more than that. The sound of the welcome in his voice would be enough.

“Voldemort?”

Lord Voldemort nodded, watching as Harry drew back the hood of a fur-lined cloak that was new. It must have been a Christmas gift. For a moment, Lord Voldemort felt his stomach boil at the thought of someone else’s gifts touching Harry, at the thought of Harry treasuring them, but then he soothed himself. He had simply not had the time to present his gift to Harry yet. When he did, then Harry would wear it as he was now wearing the cloak; he would cherish it.

“I wished to speak with you,” Lord Voldemort said, and watched Harry cast some spells around the clearing that seemed meant to secure their discussion in utter privacy. “I am surprised that you came this time, however, when you did not respond to my letters in the past.”

“I wanted to talk to you, too.” Harry took a slow breath. “And the Deathly Hallows brought me something that belongs to you. For what reason, only they know.” He scowled for a moment at his wand, which—Lord Voldemort did not think it was merely the moonlight deceiving his vision—seemed to wriggle like a puppy. Then Harry laid the wand aside and drew a wrapped package from his pocket.

Lord Voldemort knew the presence of his Horcrux before Harry undid the wrappings. He reached out and let his hand glance down the diadem. For a moment, he relived the triumphant moment of finding it in the tree where everyone else had missed it for a thousand years, how many would have rejoiced to know that the Lost Diadem of Rowena Ravenclaw was lost no more, but he was the only one who knew.

Then he stepped back and told Harry, “Finish it. Rejoin this piece to my soul.”

“It means that you won’t have as many Horcruxes left.” Harry’s eyes narrowed. There was no strong light in the clearing, and so Lord Voldemort did not know why he squinted. It irritated him not to know why.

“I mean to give up the Horcruxes,” Lord Voldemort told him. “I have said this before. Do you find me so easy to disbelieve?”

“No. But I thought you would be irritated with the Hallows for stealing it. And me for having it,” Harry added, after some thought that seemed to course through him like a wave of lightning.

“I can think of no one I would trust more to have it.”

Harry just blinked at him. Lord Voldemort sighed and sat down on the grass. He would prefer to be sitting already if he experienced the same level of discomfort he had last time when a piece of his soul was rejoined and a Horcrux destroyed.

Harry took a step slowly nearer him, then another, and finally held out his hand. His wand sprang into it. The Cloak was rising around them abruptly, a rippling darkness against the stars, and Lord Voldemort thought he saw the stone spinning above Harry’s shoulder, enclosed in a sphere of red light.

“I want to try something different this time,” Harry said gently. “Something that I think might be less traumatic for you.”

“I would still have to relive my victim’s last moments, would I not?”

“Yes, but that was the first time I’d ever reattached a piece of someone’s soul. I think I might be able to do it better this time.”

“Do as you will,” Lord Voldemort murmured. “I trust you in all things.”

For some reason, Harry shuddered a little, but then he nodded. His wand rose and gestured, and the stone came forwards to hover over the tip of it, the sphere that enclosed it turning green. Harry leaned forwards and blew on the sphere. At once it expanded, and then Harry’s hands and hair, and the hovering cloak, shimmered the color of new spring leaves.

“This way,” Harry said, in a voice that made it clear he was talking to the Hallows rather than to Lord Voldemort, and laid his wand on Lord Voldemort’s shoulder in a way that reminded him of a sword used to dub a knight.

Lord Voldemort lifted his head in time to see the sphere around the Resurrection Stone turning an even more brilliant green, and then it dived at him. He thought he wouldn’t be able to keep himself from flinching, which would probably have been disastrous, but the Elder Wand held him as still as a glacier.

The Stone hit him between the eyes, and the world dissolved. Again Lord Voldemort felt the stone of Hogwarts beneath his feet as he walked to the Room of Hidden Things to conceal the Horcrux. Again he felt the grip of the smooth silver beneath his hand as he retrieved the diadem from the tree where it had been secreted centuries ago.

And he felt compressed, in one nerve-destroying moment, the agony of the man he had killed to make the Horcrux.

He felt the life of cold, hard, endless work, the dampness of the forest on a morning after rain, the slant of blue sky overhead that sometimes the man had looked at because it was the only sight of beauty he could afford. He saw his own death steaking towards him with the movements of a stick he could not understand, and even knowing with his own being that it was a wand did not change the endless terror. He saw the regret for the countless small cruelties of ordinary life, the ones his victim had caused and the ones he had been a victim of.

He was the man, and it lasted less time than had the previous set of memories, but packed all into one moment like that, it made Lord Voldemort scream.

With fury. With despair. With rage that he had not known that he would feel this before he killed the man, and been wise enough to avoid it. And as he felt a sensation like someone drawing thread and needle across his heart, he wavered, and the emotions crashed in on him again.

He found himself kneeling in the grass, where he had begun, his hand rising to trace his fingers over his cheek. His first thought was that he had bled from the eyes. And then he drew his hand back and saw the gleam of something transparent on his fingers.

I am human enough again to shed tears.

“Shit, I’m sorry. I thought that would be less painful for you, but—it really wasn’t, was it?”

Lord Voldemort raised his head, slowly, and blinked past the gleaming red veil that wanted to cover his eyes. There was a renewed sense of anger, as well, and it would be so easy to dive into that and leave the recovered humanity the Horcrux had given him behind. But he did not wish to. Instead, he reached out and grasped Harry’s hand where it rested on the Elder Wand.

Harry looked at him in radiant concern, head cocked slightly. Lord Voldemort found his voice. “You—feel sorry for me. What about the man I killed?”

“I think the only justice for him is making sure that his death matters. That you feel so horrible about it that you won’t ever create another Horcrux.” Harry hesitated, then reached out and covered Lord Voldemort’s hand with his. “There’s so little I can do for the dead. Sometimes I can escort a ghost to their proper rest. That’s about it. I have to save my compassion for the living, and maybe it means that not as many people will die.”

Lord Voldemort nodded. There were cracks spinning through his being and threads of light cutting across his eyes, but this time, he did not wish to retreat to deal with his emotions. Perhaps healing the break in his soul had inflicted honesty on him as well, because he knew those emotions’ names now.

“I will never give up trying to persuade you to be immortal with me.”

Harry sighed. “I know that. But I’ll always refuse you. And sooner or later, the end of this life will come, you know. I’ll need to die and go on because my body has aged. You’ll be left alone. I’d consider whether that’s something you want. If you can’t find anyone else to share your immortality, it would be a lonely existence.”

Lord Voldemort clutched the hand that rested on the Elder Wand. “You can stop yourself from aging. You know as many methods of being immortal as I do—far more!”

“I don’t want to be.” Harry shook his head, his eyes direct and clear and honest. “You’ll lose this argument, Voldemort. You can keep on having it if you want to. I won’t stop being your friend. But I’m not going to yield to you. Can you make your peace with that?”

Lord Voldemort studied him intently. The red veil had disappeared from his vision, and seemed to have taken some other kind of dimness with it. Before, expressions on other human faces, other humans’ emotions, had often been a mystery to him. Now he could see the soft lines around Harry’s eyes, and the way those eyes shone.

He will always resist me as long as I am openly pressuring him.

Lord Voldemort slowly inclined his head. Let Harry assume it was in assent to what he had said instead of Lord Voldemort’s own internal thoughts.

Then I will not pressure him openly. I will simply become important enough to him that one day he will decide to become immortal to retain me.

“If you think that you have to do that,” he said, and released his death grip on Harry’s hand slowly. “Thank you for healing my soul.”

Harry grinned and conjured a mirror with a twist of his hand. “You look different now, did you know that? More like the shade of yourself that I’ve sometimes seen emerge from Horcruxes.”

Lord Voldemort stared at himself. The black hair that had grown in a tonsure shape on his head was filled in now, although still with a bald patch at the top of his scalp that might have echoed the place where a diadem would rest. His face seemed less pale, his forehead higher, his eyes less slit, although still crimson. He raised a hand and saw that there were lines on the palm again.

“I’m glad you’re becoming more human.”

Harry’s voice was so soft that Lord Voldemort nearly missed what he said. But he shot a quick glance at him and found that he could interpret the signs of gladness and relief on Harry’s face.

“As am I,” Lord Voldemort said after a moment.

And if their motives for being glad of that thing were not the same, the emotion was.

Chapter Text

“What are you doing, Albus?”

Albus started a little and looked up from the book in front of him. It was a heavy wizarding genealogy, the kind that normally only pure-bloods obsessed with their own lineage took out of the Hogwarts library. He smiled. “Good morning, Augusta. I’m trying to learn enough about Voldemort’s background that we might be able to find one of his Horcruxes’ hiding places.”

“I thought you were entrusting that to me.”

Albus sighed. “But you haven’t achieved results, have you, my dear? I don’t mean to disparage your efforts as useless. But we need results.”

“Why? What’s so urgent about now, as opposed to the last time we talked about it?”

Albus spent a moment casting thick privacy spells around them. Augusta had found him in a deserted corner of the Hogwarts library; it was nearing exam time, but not even the OWL or NEWT students in Divination worried much about passing Sybill’s subject or studying for it. Sometimes Albus regretted hiring her, but there had been no choice if he wanted to protect the source of the prophecy.

“There are many more Horcruxes than I originally thought,” Albus said quietly, as he put his wand away. “There are thirteen.”

Augusta’s hand rose as if to cover her mouth or clutch her heart. “What?”

“Yes.” Albus waited until a little of the whiteness around Augusta’s lips had retreated and he no longer thought that he might have to drag her to the hospital wing. “I recently received a valuable source of information. One of the Death Eaters who grew disgusted enough with him to defect.”

“He knows about Horcruxes?”

“He does. It seems Tom was careless and left the information lying around where my source could discover it.”

“I don’t trust information that was simply lying around, Albus.”

“Well, he did go through some struggles before he could make up his mind to come to me. And of course he believes that he would be ill-treated by anyone else, because of the years he spent as a Death Eater.”

Augusta squinted at him, as if trying to read his thoughts behind his eyes. Albus smiled a little. That was something she would never do, at least.

“Who is he, Albus? This paragon of spies?”

“His name is Severus Snape—”

Augusta jerked back and clutched at the table for a moment, as if she envisioned turning it over so that the book and the parchment Albus had been taking notes on all spilled. “That monster? I know he tortured people, Albus! That he killed good Aurors! That he might have been the reason that poor Edgar Bones is lying in St. Mungo’s, raving from a nightmare that he can never wake up from! Potions invented by that monster!”

“He really does want revenge for what Voldemort did to him,” Albus said softly. “And I feel that I need to give him the chance at redemption, Augusta. Even the most hardened criminal should have the opportunity to change his mind, you know.”

“Someone as Dark as that? Why?”

“Because without information like this, there is the chance that Tom might win. I certainly never knew that he had as many Horcruxes as he does. I wouldn’t have thought he had the sanity to refrain from war if he had thirteen. It must be that he’s employing base animal cunning. Do you want to give up the victory in this war, Augusta?”

For a long moment, Augusta clamped her lips shut, while her nostrils flared. Then she slowly nodded. “Just make sure that we never come in contact, Albus. I owe that bastard for Edgar.”

“Easy enough to do,” Albus said, smiling at her. He was only relieved that Augusta hadn’t stormed off in a huff, the way Minerva had when he’d tried to explain to her why they had to listen to what Severus said. “Now, I’m doing research on the Gaunt family that Tom’s mother came from. It might be that he’s hidden a Horcrux where they used to have property or hide their own treasures. Can you help me?”

“Gaunt?” Augusta laughed, a sound like a raven. “That’s a name I haven’t heard in long enough to nearly forget. They sank at the end, Albus. They refused to marry outside their own family. The last I heard, they had no magic left and they couldn’t speak English.”

“What did they speak, then?”

“Parseltongue only. Always scorning any outsider that couldn’t speak it as beneath them, while they went their way with torn robes and tangled dirty hair.”

Albus blinked. It did seem strange that a family like that would have any property or vault where Tom could hide one of his Horcruxes.

But Tom had always valued his ability to speak Parseltongue, too, and he had cherished the dark past of Slytherin’s line more than any contribution he could make with his modern power. So it was still possible.

Albus leaned towards her. “Tell me more.”

*

Lord Voldemort paused for a long moment before the carved oaken door. Beyond the door lay his Death Eaters. He intended to speak to them about his next plan—

The plan that had brought an emotion he had not experienced in years back into his life.

Lord Voldemort grimaced and renewed the spell on his eyes that made them look as purely crimson as before. Dark glints had an unfortunate tendency to show up in them now. Then he opened the door and strode into the room beyond.

The Death Eaters immediately dropped to their knees, with a murmur of, “Master.” Lord Voldemort looked out over them, and realized that he could not be sure whether their devotion was honest or came from fear.

Or whether they stay with me because they think of what they can gain from me.

Lord Voldemort grimaced. Severus’s “devotion” had been of that kind. He had already contemplated betraying his lord long before he did it.

Harry, it seemed, inspired genuine devotion in his brother and perhaps even in his allies. Lord Voldemort would have to work for the same kind of loyalty.

“Rise,” he said, and watched as the Death Eaters climbed back to their feet. Then he turned to Bellatrix, who he had sent to watch Jonathan Potter at Hogwarts. “Report, Bella.”

Bellatrix eagerly tossed her head back and began giving a report consisting of the boy’s movements through most days of the term—or at least those days that snow and wind had permitted him to come outside. Lord Voldemort listened with a careful, retentive mind, but his attention was focused elsewhere. He would revise the report in a Pensieve later.

Could he go through with this? If their loyalty to him was already weak, would this option not make him think that he was becoming a doddering old man and should be replaced?

He banished the notion harshly. He had too many steps forwards taken already. And if they might think him weak, then his way was to strengthen his plans, and force them to forget his weakness.

“Thank you, Bellatrix,” he said, when she was done. He turned to face Lucius Malfoy, one of his sleeper agents in recent years, whom Lord Voldemort used more for information than to conduct raids or torture. “So, Lucius. What have you found out about the new Minister’s weaknesses?”

“Fudge is easiest to control when you appeal to his desire for money and flattery both at once, my Lord.” Lucius stood a little too high, thought a little too well of himself. A year ago, that would have cost him a round of pain, perhaps a limb. Lord Voldemort knew Lucius had Harry to thank that he was undamaged now. Someday, Lord Voldemort would make Lucius understand and acknowledge the debt. “I do not mind spending some money to get the laws that you have proposed passed.”

“See that you do so,” Lord Voldemort commanded.

“My lord?” That was Rabastan Lestrange, always one of the more restless when he did not have enough violence to sate him. Bella had once been the same way, but Bella’s undoubted loyalty was a good leash on her. Rabastan’s appetites swallowed his common sense too often. “Of course it would be a great boon if we gained control of the Ministry, but…”

“Yes? Speak your mind, Lestrange.”

Other Death Eaters winced, knowing the switch to surname was never a good sign. But Rabastan, blind to everything but his own yearning after murder, barreled on. “When are we going to go on a raid again? I’ve heard rumors that people think the war has actually stopped or you’ve died!”

“The war has changed.”

“My lord.”

“Did you know, Lestrange,” Lord Voldemort murmured, “that you sound remarkably like a whining Muggle child who has been denied a sweet right now?”

There were a few nervous chuckles. Nervous for many reasons, Lord Voldemort thought. They not only thought they might witness him torturing Rabastan, they couldn’t understand why he hadn’t done it yet.

“My lord? Sorry.” But Rabastan didn’t sound properly sorry, and that meant it would have to be torture after all. “But it seems as though we’ve forgotten our proper purpose, going after Muggleborns and Muggles, and—”

Lord Voldemort sighed and cast the Cruciatus. It was much shorter than it would have been a month ago. Bellatrix only stood by, and even Rodolphus shook his head instead of pleading with Lord Voldemort for it to end. Rabastan trembled when it was over, but managed to crawl back to his brother’s side.

“Do you know why I only held you under the curse for twenty seconds, Lestrange?”

“N-no.” Rabastan was shaking badly enough that Lord Voldemort magnanimously decided to forego demanding the title.

“Because you are not worth more than that. Who looks at a long-term change in tactics and assumes that it will reverse itself? Who assumes that random killing is what the Death Eaters are about?”

A tension shot around the room, pervading all the Death Eaters. Lord Voldemort smiled in the depths of himself. They assumed the war would in fact come back, but under a law of targeted killing. There probably would be enough necessary murders before the end that he could keep up the pretense.

“I shall keep you out of the front lines, Rabastan, if you cannot muster more brains than that,” Lord Voldemort drawled, and faced Lucius and the others who would likely end up being more useful. “Now. The plan is to keep our finger weighted on the scales of the Ministry, and tip them gradually more and more towards us. Tell me, Lucius, other than you, who does Fudge listen to the most?”

“Dumbledore, my lord.”

“Exactly. It will be difficult, but we must wean him away from that source of counsel. And make it seem as if Dumbledore’s reputation is tarnished. There, Rabastan, is our next assassination mission. Dumbledore’s good name is a much harder kill than any ordinary Muggleborn.”

Bellatrix clasped her hands and stared at him breathlessly. “Please, my lord, allow me to strike the first blow!”

“You are already helping, my Bella. I know that Dumbledore has plans for the Potter child. Continue to keep an eye on him. We must know in an instant if Dumbledore looks as if he might withdraw the boy from Hogwarts and send him elsewhere.”

Bella nodded and then threw herself down hard enough on her knees that Lord Voldemort suspected she had cracked her forehead open on the floor. He only hoped that his grimace would be seen as one of distaste for her slavishness. “Of course, my lord! Of course!”

In truth, Lord Voldemort thought it unlikely that Dumbledore would send Jonathan Potter away from Hogwarts, but it made a good excuse to keep Bellatrix exactly where he wanted her. And there was always the chance that Dumbledore would do something else she could prevent.

Lord Voldemort turned back to Lucius. “You are to keep up the subtle prying into Fudge’s mind, Lucius. I will provide you with the money. Begin hinting to him that we know dirty secrets that Dumbledore would not want revealed.”

Lucius bowed. “Nothing better as a tactic, my lord. The man is one of the most inveterate gossips I have encountered.”

Lord Voldemort assigned his Death Eaters other parts, telling them off to spy on key Ministry officials, subtly approach some whom they might have a chance of converting to their side, and infiltrate the Department of Mysteries, if possible. The Ministry might be hoarding weapons there that could prove hazardous to their cause.

He turned and looked coolly down on Rabastan when he was finished. Rabastan had pushed himself back to his knees and ceased trembling by then, but dared go no higher.

Lord Voldemort hid a sneer. Harry had told him a little about his first life, and said that he had dueled that version of Lord Voldemort when he was fourteen. He had been cursed with the Cruciatus for longer than Rabastan, and still he had stood straight and defied Lord Voldemort, and then resisted his Imperius and escaped.

“Stay out of this, Rabastan,” he whispered. “I will not be pleased if I find that you have interfered. Rodolphus.”

“My lord?”

“Keep a close hand on your brother, if you want him to survive.”

Rodolphus nodded, and reached down and gripped Rabastan’s dirty hair as if he meant the hand to be literal. Lord Voldemort smirked in a way that once would have felt natural and left the room.

He returned to his own, and shut his eyes once the door was closed and the spells that would keep anyone from spying on him had engaged.

Harry had brought embarrassment back into his life.

Lord Voldemort had once been proud of his name, of his achievements, of the Death Eaters who followed him. And now he looked back on everything that had mattered to him and saw it as the deluded dreams of a child.

Who assumes that random killing is what the Death Eaters are about? he had asked Rabastan. And once, for years, the answer was himself.

Lord Voldemort maintained silence for long moments. He had entered the meditative trance that, for years, worked to calm his emotions, in the time before he had split his soul into as many pieces as this.

And the control would not return to him. Perhaps the emotions truly were too new, and he had been too long without them to achieve control by such a simple measure.

Lord Voldemort opened his eyes and turned to the parchment and quill awaiting him on the table. When such weakness struck, the only way he knew to alleviate it was to write a letter to Harry. And perhaps even to Jonathan Potter, if only because he thought the boy might be a receptive audience for complaints about his brother.

Or an amusing one.

*

Jonathan was at least glad, when the Dark Lord Voldemort sent him an owl, that it didn’t come with the huge black thing that Jonathan sometimes had seen carrying letters to Harry. This owl spiraled slowly down and extended ordinary brown wings to brake itself as it landed right next to his plate. The orange eyes still glared at him with a hint of madness, though.

“Who’s that from?” Cedric asked, giving the owl a stare that made the owl stare back. Cedric ended up flinching away.

“My mum,” Jonathan said, because certain secrets he wouldn’t trust even to his friends. “She complained about the old owl she had, but now she’s going to complain about this one.” He tried to offer some bacon to the owl, who gave him another long stare and flapped slowly away. Jonathan supposed it might come back when he had a reply for it.

Jonathan waited until he was alone in the back of the Charms classroom to open it. Cedric was chatting with some of his friends from Ravenclaw. He had friends in all Houses, which was good for him, Jonathan supposed.

The letter said only, Your brother has introduced me to embarrassment.

Jonathan bristled for a second, thinking that Voldemort meant Harry was embarrassing in some way. Then he remembered what Harry had said about Voldemort getting part of his soul back. Oh. He hadn’t been embarrassed before?

Jonathan grinned. He wrote back hastily, Well, you sure do have a lot to be embarrassed about, right? So it’s good you recognize it, and then ran out of the Charms classroom to the Owlery. He might get points taken off by Professor Flitwick for being late since he wouldn’t be able to make it back in time, but he absolutely wanted to get this out as soon as possible.

If only so he could imagine Voldemort’s face when he read it.

*

Albus nearly overlooked the truth when he found it.

But then, it was understandable. He’d been spending more time researching the Horcruxes, but also trying to herd the Minister in the right direction, trying to flatter and cajole Severus into doing something other than hiding away in a room in the dungeons, making peace with Minerva, recruiting new allies, and seeking for Fawkes.

Fawkes was a mystery that could not concern him as much as the others because of the needs of the war, but nevertheless, Albus felt a pang in his heart when he thought of the phoenix. He hoped that he had not met with some misadventure.

So it was understandable that he nearly overlooked the modern, Muggle name of some of the land the Gaunts had once held.

...a village that Muggles now call Little Hangleton, from rumors that hanging once prevailed there to a degree unknown in the rest of the country…

Albus sat up slowly. He had heard of Little Hangleton, yes. Aberforth’s wanderings had once taken him in that direction, and Albus, playing indulgent audience for his little brother’s rantings, had remembered the name because it sounded genuinely ominous, unlike some of the places Aberforth tried to make sound that way.

Tomorrow, he had a journey to make.

Chapter Text

Albus shuddered as he made his way down the road towards the small shack that he had identified as belonging to the Gaunt family. There was a wet, rotting smell here, even though he had seen no pools or even fallen leaves. The trees looked too bare to be rotting. The ground was merely bare grass.

But it was probably part of the defensive spells Tom had cast here. Albus willed himself to ignore the scent, and instead drew his wand and rounded the last corner left in the path.

The shack had almost collapsed in on itself. The doorway only showed splinters of wood and darkness. Albus halted, concentrating, and because he was looking for it, he saw it: the way the darkness broke apart for a second, and a lashing tail showed before it vanished again.

“Using serpents to protect your family home,” Albus murmured as he readied a spell that would banish the door-guardian. “Not very creative, Tom. But effective. Perhaps.”

He twisted his wand in a corkscrew and sang the incantation instead of speaking it. His wand began to glow, and light trailed slowly away from it, spreading through the door. It was thick, rich radiance, as yellow as a lamp seen from far away in a welcoming window as a traveler came home. Albus watched as it ate the darkness, not even leaving a corner of shadow behind for the door-guardian to hide.

There was an agonized hiss, and the creature died. Albus nodded as he stepped through the shack’s door, ducking as he did so. Whether the spell had been made of darkness or had simply eaten it, it was gone now.

He found himself in a room so thick with gloom and dust that he had to cast another series of spells so that small balls of light would fly into the corners and hover there, illuminating the floor and the furniture, such as it was. There was a poor, scrubby table here, and a series of broken chairs. The fireplace hadn’t been used in years and had partially collapsed. The light showed the remains of a snake’s corpse in one corner, the small, pitiful bones perhaps the sacrifice Tom had used to create his door-guardian.

Albus moved in a slow circle. For long moments, he wondered if there was anything here, if perhaps Tom had decided this wasn’t a secure hiding place and had already moved it.

Then he felt a stir of power beneath the floor in a corner. Albus smiled and braced himself at the same time. He knew there would be stronger defenses here than there had been on the door.

When he reached down to move the floorboard, his hand burst into flames.

Albus jumped back, swearing before he caught himself back out of habit, even though there were no students around to hear him. He had never before encountered magic that could make the air into a burning curse. Almost every wizard would have to cast the curse on an object, and then it would activate when someone touched that object.

But then, Tom was far from every wizard.

Albus waited until he was sure there was no spark of heat left. Then he eased towards the floorboard again, his wand weaving a soft pattern of defense in front of him. The spell whispered of sleep, of relaxation. Guardians and beasts could lay down their heads and close their eyes. Curses need not burn. Nothing need happen, in fact, but that danger grow less perilous and hard corners be less sharp.

When the spell was humming loudly enough to fill Albus’s own ears with murmurs of slumber, he was able to slip underneath the curse and into the corner that it had protected.

The darkness returned at once. Albus ignored the foul mold that seemed to coat his lungs, and reminded himself that that came from nothing physical that existed here, but only the sheer darkness of the spells Tom had cast. He used his wand to tip back the loose wood, extremely visible now that he was close to it.

There was a hollow underneath it, the kind of place that a poor child might have used to conceal his treasures from thieving parents. In it lay a heavy gold ring that had an empty setting. Albus blinked, wondering for a moment why Tom had removed the stone. He didn’t seem the sort to deface Gaunt heirlooms.

Then again, it could have been an indigent ancestor of his, selling the stone long ago for what it would fetch. Albus reached for the ring.

The ring uncoiled like a striking snake and snapped at his fingers. Albus barely withdrew his hand in time, with a startled cry. When he could look again, the ring had gone back to tamely lying on the dirt underneath the floorboard, its circle complete.

Albus breathed out slowly. He had never heard of a Horcrux able to defend itself in that way, but then again, there wasn’t that much material on Horcruxes available. And Tom had created more than any wizard Albus knew of.

Slowly, he cast a spell that fully illuminated the small space, although it didn’t seem to work as well as it should have. The shadows stubbornly pressed in at the corners, and Albus thought he could hear a strained hissing. But he kept his eyes on the Horcrux as he cast the spells, and it didn’t appear to have moved.

Albus breathed out. Possibly the trap was only triggered when bare skin touched the Horcrux. He would have to approach it carefully in order to find out. This time, he conjured a long iron rod and reached it out to hook through the hollow of the ring.

The ring promptly uncoiled again and struck with what seemed to be a blunt snake’s head that one side of the circle turned into. It bit the iron rod three times before Albus could withdraw it. When Albus managed to get his conjuration back to his side, he saw that the metal had already corroded and flaked away.

Albus shook his head. He had never heard of such powerful protections. Most of the time, such spells needed to be wards that surrounded the area; they couldn’t give the treasure within the ability to act independently like the ring had, or the goblins would have long since started using such spells to protect the vaults they guarded.

And the ring had different kinds of defenses adapted to different ways someone might try to fetch it out, at that. Albus was sure that had it managed to bite him, he would have been poisoned, but it had rusted the iron.

After staring down at the ring for a few more minutes, Albus levitated the ring into the air. It should have no defenses against that—

It turned and uncoiled again, becoming an ornamental snake with gaping fangs. Emeralds that Albus thought hadn’t been there before made glowing eyes on the head. It darted at him, so quick he had no chance to raise a shield before the fangs sank deep into the webbing between his right thumb and forefinger.

Albus shrieked. Devastating ripples of pain were already making their way up his arm, and the skin was turning black as he watched. Albus shook his hand like someone trying to snap out a wet towel, and the serpent let go and soared back to its place. In seconds, it was coiled up, a ring again.

Albus let the floorboard fall and staggered back. His vision was blurring, his head rotating. He wished, for the first time in his life, that he had brought someone with him as backup.

He did manage to conjure a silvery phoenix. As his Patronus flew overhead, staring down, he croaked, “Go to Fawkes. Bring healing tears—”

Then the pain made it impossible for him to do anything but scream.

*

Harry jumped back in shock as a silvery phoenix burst through the window in front of him. Fawkes, on his perch, looked up and trilled urgently, but didn’t actually take flight.

“Healing tears,” came the words, the only words, from the beak of what Harry knew must be Dumbledore’s Patronus, before it utterly dissolved.

Harry blinked, and then glanced at Fawkes. Fawkes bowed his head. A few tears leaked down his beak. He still didn’t fly.

“I suppose it’s up to me,” Harry sighed. He reached out and used a potions vial to collect a few of Fawkes’s tears, although unless Dumbledore was in a unique situation, Harry wouldn’t actually need them to heal. Then he grasped the Elder Wand and turned his head, reaching out through delicate floating tendrils that tightened and turned black as he watched.

Dumbledore was near death now, which made it all the easier for Harry to sense him. He leaped through time and space and found himself outside the Gaunt shack, which had once been very familiar to him. Harry sighed and stepped within.

Dumbledore was writhing on the floor, half his body blackened by the poison spreading through it. Harry blinked. He never would have believed that there was one that virulent in existence. He’d have to ask Voldemort where he got it.

But for now, Harry needed to kneel next to Dumbledore and immobilize him with the Elder Wand. The wand was a little more eager than normal to behave. Harry eyed it, wondering if it had some loyalty to its former master.

The wand made a little protesting buzz.

“Whatever,” Harry muttered, and put it down so that he could reach out and lay his hands on Dumbledore’s shoulders.

The poison immediately tried to spread to him. Harry shook his head in irritation and drove it back with a wave of magic that was mingled necromancy and healing power. Yes, he would have to ask Voldemort about this, just because it was incredibly annoying.

He kept pushing until the black hue began to ebb from Dumbledore’s skin. Once the poison was confined to Dumbledore’s arm, Harry sat back and studied it intently before pulling the vial of phoenix tears from his pocket.

He could have healed the injury on his own, but not without studying the poison some more, and then Dumbledore would probably think he was using Dark Arts anyway. Probably for the best to use the method that Dumbledore would trust, the reason he had summoned Fawkes in the first place.

He met the fixed blue stare and said, “I’m sorry for how much this is going to hurt,” before he upended the vial over Dumbledore’s arm.

*

Albus thought he must be hallucinating with the pain. There was no way that the darkness could have spread all over his skin in that short time and then into Harry’s and then been beaten back by the boy.

Yet it had happened. And when he came out of the maelstrom of burning that the phoenix tears had inflicted on him, it was to see the same boy picking up the wand that had once been Albus’s and pressing it gently against the skin between Albus’s thumb and forefinger, the same place the Horcrux had bitten him.

What he said wasn’t English or Latin. It seemed to be words in the same way that Albus had thought he heard voices in the thunder as a child. The heavy, vast sounds crunched through him and left him reeling and shaken, staring at his clean pale arm, as Harry took the wand away.

The black spot was gone.

Albus knelt there, blinking, for a second. Then he realized the frozen stasis Harry had placed him under was gone and he could move. He turned to Harry. “How did you manage to heal me? That is a unique venom. I doubt that even Tom’s obsession with you would have told you how to cure it.”

“No, Voldemort didn’t tell me.”

Harry turned his head, and Albus nearly scrambled backwards, despite how weak he was. Harry’s eyes were dark pits filled with swirling stars. His voice was deeper, as well, but Albus had thought that was the hoarseness of exhaustion. Instead, he suspected he was hearing, for the first time, the voice of the creature that hid inside the skin of a normal child.

Harry blinked at him, and the stars disappeared. Then he shook his head with a faint grimace. “I managed to heal you because I came so close to my nature as the Master of Death,” he said softly. His voice was again normal, although Albus would not forget what he had heard so soon. “You were close to dying, in return. I managed to push you back.”

“But that would make you—it could make you a miracle healer.”

“It could,” Harry acknowledged, his gaze still fixed on Albus. He didn’t look as if he were in a hurry to pick up his wand and go anywhere soon. “I would need to arrive just as the people who were dying came close to the edge of my realm, though. And they would need to want to live. Some people who are dying of old age or terminal illness really don’t want to.”

Albus frowned at him. It seemed as though Harry spoke from experience, which meant it must be experience from other lives. Albus had heard no reports of him being such a healer in this lifetime. “Then why—why are you still spending time on doing anything other than healing? If you can save so many lives?”

Harry looked at him, eyes bright and wide, and for a second Albus thought he saw the stars in them again. Then Harry shook his head briskly and murmured, “Because I have other things to do,” and stood up. In a second, he had the wand in hand and was casting a web of light around the shack. “What were you trying to do, sir?”

Albus had no intention of telling him that. “Things that are more important than saving lives?”

“Sometimes, yes. Unless I want to reveal to the whole world that there are disturbing things about me.” Harry frowned at him a little. “Do you want me to reveal that I’m the Master of Death, sir? Or reincarnated? Or even just a miracle Healer? Because that’s what people would have to know if I went around healing them?”

Albus said nothing for long moments. He knew what the revelation of Harry’s real being had done to James and Lily. On the other hand, it was possible to argue that they had suffered so much because they knew Harry so well. If he had told the Order of the Phoenix, then they might have simply accepted it after some initial disbelief or wariness.

“I wish you to exercise more of your Light talents, Harry,” he finally said.

“I’m not Dark in the way you mean when you think of it, Albus. I don’t go around torturing people for fun. I don’t use Dark Arts because they’re the best spells to use. Sometimes I don’t even think there is a use for some of them.”

“But you know them. And you don’t think that fighting Voldemort is the best thing for me to do.”

Harry was silent for long moments. Then he shrugged. “I don’t think that you should be training my brother as hard as you are, sir. I think that adult wizards who are trained should be fighting him. Or other Death Eaters, if they’re the ones who try to torture people or kill them. I don’t understand why you depend so heavily on children. I never have.”

“Because it is the only way to defeat him!”

“Why, though? I know that you defeated one other Dark Lord, and you did that yourself, instead of relying on children.”

Albus found himself at a loss for words. It was rare now that people referenced his win over Gellert, even though he knew the shadow of reverence for that act lingered in the mind of almost everyone who interacted with him. And Harry’s eyes weren’t like the eyes of anyone else. This child knew secrets Albus had never told anyone.

Slowly, Albus murmured, “Because there was no prophecy at that time, no one who was foreordained to defeat him. I only participated in the war when I had to. I do not enjoy chaos or bloodshed.”

“No, sir, I know you want to avoid them.” Harry sounded more respectful than he had in a while. “But even in my first life, I thought you put too much trust in that prophecy. And in that one, Voldemort actually did try to kill me, and he marked me with a scar on my forehead, the way I told you. This time, Voldemort and Jonathan never actually came into conflict. There was no mark. Why do you think Jonathan is the only one who can defeat Voldemort?”

Albus flinched. He looked down at his hand where the Horcrux had bitten him. Yes, he was healed, but in a world where the war had gone “normally” and Harry had never been born, or had been born a normal child, then he would have died in this miserable little shack.

“Because I cannot,” he said at last. It was the truth, one he had never wanted to voice to anyone. He knew it would be the death knell for the Order’s faith in him. “The prophecy offers a bit of hope. Otherwise, we are hopeless. And I am afraid.”

Harry was silent for long moments. Then he reached out and helped Albus back to his feet as if he was the older one.

Which he is, in a way, Albus reminded himself.

“Come on, sir. I’ll bring you home.”

Chapter Text

“And it’s not like they can really make us do anything we don’t want, right?”

“Right.”

Jonathan paused and looked into the train compartment. Fred and George stood there, heads so close together that Jonathan would have thought there was just one twin if he’d been a little further back. He raised an eyebrow at them when they jumped apart. “Are you planning some kind of prank?”

“Of course!” But Fred’s smile didn’t reach his eyes.

“Of course,” George echoed when Jonathan looked at him. He didn’t smile, though. He just stared at his hands as if he wanted to cut them off and fling them against the wall.

Jonathan stepped into the compartment and shut the door. “Are you going to make me drag this out of you? Because I really don’t want to, but I can if you make me.”

Fred and George traded a long look. George nudged Fred, and Fred nudged him back. It was George who finally said, “We aren’t looking forward to our summer, that’s all. But it’s not like our family can make us do anything.”

“I thought your family had accepted your Sorting,” Jonathan said, startled. That had been what the last letters from Molly Weasley said, anyway.

That got another special, silent twin-look, and then Fred cleared his throat awkwardly. “They have. I mean, they’re not going to march up to the school and force us into Gryffindor. They can hardly do that.”

George nodded, his eyes unusually grim. “Yeah. But Percy whinged at us most of the year. He insisted that the Hat made a mistake and that we were getting ‘coarser’ being around people in our House. And either we never noticed before, or it’s just because we were around him instead of getting letters from him, but our little brother Ron is really prejudiced against Slytherins. We can make him back off if we play pranks, but—”

“Then Mum gets upset about her little baby crying.” Fred rolled his eyes. “Like we said, they can’t make us do anything. It’s just going to be a hard summer.”

“Then you can come over to mine.”

George blinked at him. “I mean, thanks, mate? But we’d still need our parents to Apparate us there.”

It was Jonathan’s turn to roll his eyes. “Are you wizards or not? You do understand that Floo powder exists for a reason, right?”

“The last thing we knew—”

“You weren’t on the public Floo network.”

Jonathan scratched the back of his neck. Right. Well. It was true that he didn’t think to announce it when Mum and Dad put them back on. They were less paranoid than they used to be, and Jonathan thought they might even believe Harry that the war was really over, instead of Dumbledore, who insisted it could begin again any second. “We are now. The address is Potters’ Haven.”

“Not the address that you use other places, is it?”

Jonathan shook his head. “But there are private Floo networks and public ones, you know. So this is the public one.” He hesitated, then added, “I think you should meet my brother, too.”

“We’ve met him. Short bloke.”

“With those green eyes that look at you like you’re the center of the universe.” George smiled at Jonathan, who felt himself flushing. He wanted to protest that Harry didn’t look at him that way, but he couldn’t. So he cleared his throat awkwardly and shook his head.

“There’s something important about him that you should know. Something really important.” He knew that Harry might not want to bring even more people into the knowledge web, as he sometimes called it, but Jonathan felt that they could trust the twins. Hell, they could trust Acanthus and the Parkinsons. If Harry needed to, he could make the twins promise whatever the Parkinsons had promised.

Fred and George exchanged glances. Then Fred nodded and said, “Sure, mate. If there’s something important, of course we want to know it.” They put on innocent looks that didn’t hide the way they were grinning.

Jonathan smiled at them, relieved. He knew he remembered Harry telling him that Fred and George had been trusted allies of his in more than one life. He would just have to see if they could be in this one, too.

*

“Harry. I just wish I understood you more.”

Harry halted with his hand on the banister. He’d been about to go upstairs after another conversation with his mother that was mostly lies and half-truths, and then he heard her say that.

He looked back at Lily. She had her head bowed over a stack of papers that she was proofreading for leaving Hogwarts seventh-years trying desperately to achieve apprenticeships and jobs in the wider world. That didn’t hide the weariness at the edges of her eyes, or how her hands rested heavily on the quill and the parchment.

Harry took a deep breath and came back down the stairs. There’s always Memory Charms if she absolutely can’t handle it, he reminded himself, when he cleared his throat and Lily’s startled eyes came flying up to him.

“Mum, there’s something important I should tell you. Can I tell you? And have your word that you won’t go running right away to Dumbledore?”

Lily sat up, her hair swinging behind her shoulders. “Harry—I am my own woman. I won’t go running to Dumbledore for any reason that’s not excellent.”

Harry sighed shakily. Honestly, he felt a little more conflicted about Albus after he’d heard the man admit how afraid he was of Voldemort. But he still wasn’t going to trust him with deep secrets. And part of him thought he was being foolish to do it with any of the man’s old loyalists.

That foolish part didn’t keep him from saying, “All right. But I had the impression that you were really, really loyal to him.”

“Not—as loyal as we were during the war.” Lily’s face was troubled. “That’s why you’ve been waiting to get close to us, isn’t it? Because you thought we approved of everything he did, and you don’t.”

“Well, yeah.” Harry walked back over and sat down on the couch in front of her. “You seemed open to him training Jonathan, or having Sirius train Jonathan, and those gifts that Remus gave Jonathan and me for Christmas—you know they were meant to determine whether we’re Light wizards or not?”

Lily sat up so straight that two of the essays on her lap spilled to the floor. She didn’t appear to notice. “What?”

“Oh. You didn’t know.” A second later, Harry felt stupid. Of course they hadn’t. Harry knew because of his lives; Jonathan knew because Harry had told him. Remus, assuming that he did have full knowledge of what the Lightpath pendant and the mythical koi did, only knew because Albus had told him.

“Sorry,” Harry added.

“What would have happened with those gifts if you weren’t a Light wizard?” Lily demanded. “Or if Jonathan wasn’t?”

“The chain of the pendant would have burned my fingers,” Harry said. “Honestly, though, it doesn’t work the way Albus thinks it does. I’m not purely Light, but I’m also not purely Dark. There’s no way to find out a wizard’s allegiance or their intentions with something so simple. Albus was willing to try that because he wouldn’t have trusted me if I’d just told him and he’d asked where my allegiance lies.”

“Where does it lie?” Lily whispered. She held out her hand and took one of his. For the first time in this life, she didn’t look absolutely frightened by the fact that Harry was speaking to her as an immortal creature, with an immortal creature’s knowledge.

“With my brother. With Sirius. With—friends that I’m starting to make.” Harry still didn’t think this was the best time to tell her that he’d been corresponding with Voldemort for years. “It’s not that I hate Albus. But I am going to oppose him when he tries to say that he gets to make decisions for me and Jonathan and all of us.”

“You didn’t say it lay with your family.”

“No.” Harry met her eyes and swallowed. “I had a talk with Father a while ago. James, really. That’s the way I think of him. He didn’t really understand when I told him that I think Remus has to accept his inner werewolf if he’s to stop being a monster. And he said that he would talk with you about accepting me as the Master of Death and treating me less like a little boy. I trust he didn’t?”

For a moment, Lily flinched. Then she shook her head and murmured, “No, he didn’t. I—don’t know why. Maybe he thought things got better on their own when Jonathan went back to Hogwarts after Christmas.”

Harry sighed. “Only because James wasn’t around as often and wouldn’t see the way we’ve been clashing.”

“Have we been clashing?” Lily’s hands were tight around the parchments now, as if it was vital to prevent any more of them from sliding off her lap. “I thought we were having—disagreements. The way any young man and his mother might when he wants one thing and she wants another.”

Harry looked at her steadily, and Lily’s gaze fell away before his own. Harry nodded slightly. “That’s the difference, Mother. We can’t come to an accord. Do you want me to be a young man or a child? Are you ready to acknowledge that I’m the Master of Death, or do I need to withdraw again because you’re not ready to hear it?”

Lily closed her eyes tighter and tighter. Then she asked, “How did your other mothers deal with it, in the worlds where you lived with them?”

“They never knew.”

Bright tears gleamed along the edges of Lily’s closed lids. Harry waited for her to whisper the words he could almost see burning in her eyes even without Legilimency: I wish I didn’t know, either.

But instead, Lily pulled herself back from an abyss that Harry couldn’t have helped her cross, and exhaled shakily. “Then—I have to stand up to a challenge that they didn’t. I am strong. But I have to tell you something first.” She sat up and shifted the stack of parchments to the floor. “I have to tell you why I wanted you to be normal so badly.”

Harry flinched at the word “normal,” but a soft bell of hope rang in him. This was the thing that had been holding Lily back for so long, he was sure. “Go on.”

“When you were kidnapped, it changed everything.” Lily said it to her hands and the floor. “The only thing I could think of was getting you back. James despaired, sometimes. Sirius did, too, but then he would rally and say that he wouldn’t give up hope until he actually saw your dead body. Albus was—not encouraging. I think he mainly wanted to figure out whether the prophecy about Jonathan was still in play.” She sucked in air.

Harry swallowed. Yes, that sounded like Albus, and James and Sirius. “Go on.”

“I had this—fantasy, I suppose.” Lily shook her head; the soft sound of her hair moving around her neck was loud in the room. “That you would be found, and you would be fine, completely unchanged by your time with Voldemort.” She gulped his name. “Or you would be affected, but it would be something we could heal, and then everything would be like the way it was before.”

She looked at Harry. “Instead, you came back and everything was strange.”

Harry nodded. Honestly, he should have suspected this before. Of course mortal human minds reacted to trauma in ways that he’d long ago left behind. And of course Lily would have wanted to dream that everything would be normal with two normal children bound for Hogwarts in a normal world, anyway. That was human, too.

If that is human, what am I?

Harry refused to pay attention to that thought for a second, and smiled at his mother. “Okay. Then I’ll just ask that you not tell James or Dumbledore. If you do anyway—” He rolled his neck. He was a lot more concerned for Jonathan than himself, but he settled for saying, “They might do their best to interfere, and I don’t think they should.”

Lily caught her breath, and then nodded. “If you think they shouldn’t, Harry…”

Harry told her the truth—selectively. He didn’t tell her that Sirius was in on things, if only because she might have relaxed too much. He did tell her his doubts about the prophecy, that he had deceived Albus about his role in the war, and that he thought Remus could be much more than he was now. And he told her that he thought Voldemort meant peace.

That last revelation caused her mouth to fall open, a little, and she stared straight at him with unblinking eyes. Harry bit back a chuckle and raised his hand to wave back and forth in front of her faces. Lily snapped out of it then, and looked down at her hands with her cheeks burning like torches.

“You think he means it.”

“I’m very, very good at telling when people are lying,” Harry said simply. “And I spent years with him, remember.” Lily swallowed, and Harry reached out to take her hand. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry that I couldn’t be the son you wanted when I came back from the kidnapping.”

“I have to remind myself,” Lily whispered, “that if you were an ordinary child, you never would have survived it. Or at least not as whole mentally as you are now. And—you’ve known other Voldemorts in other worlds, of course.”

Harry nodded, glad that they were heading away from that topic of conversation to one that made his mother less viscerally uncomfortable. “Yes. None of them would have been capable of even pretending to declare a truce, let alone pretending for as long as this has lasted.”

“He and his Death Eaters really haven’t made any attacks, have they?”

“No. Not even attacks disguised as something else. He’s holding back.”

“Do you—do you think that he might try to take over wizarding Britain through other means? Political means?”

Harry struggled to hold out of his eyes exactly how much he thought that, and exactly how little it was his problem if Voldemort behaved like any other politician that the wizarding public elected. “It’s possible. But even that would indicate that he’s changed, wouldn’t it? Either he’s sane enough himself to run a credible campaign, or he’s humble enough to let someone else take part of the visible power and stand behind the throne.”

Lily let out a choked laugh and covered her mouth with one hand. The other didn’t let go its grip on his.

“What?”

“You just—if I’d listened to you, I would have given up my fantasy of being normal a long time ago. I’m sorry, Harry.”

Harry looked at her evenly. “I can frame the words in more childish ways, if you wish.”

Lily shook her head, and then stood. Harry looked up at her. She seemed to be debating with herself about something, but he wasn’t sure what.

Then she leaned over swiftly and hugged him.

Harry leaned against her for a second, luxuriating in that hug. Then he hugged her back—not as hard as he would hug Jonathan when he got home from Hogwarts, of course, but a lot harder than he had in years.

“Thank you,” Lily breathed into his hair. “For trusting me and being honest with me.”

Harry nodded at her with a small smile. He hoped this mood would last. She accepted things right now, but he had seen people like her change their minds in the past and retreat when things got too hard. Remus had in this lifetime, even.

But he could hope that she wouldn’t.

*

Jonathan stepped off the train with a significant nod at Fred and George. He was going to have them over to the house somehow. Even if his parents said no, he was sure that Harry would be able to arrange it in a way that would hide them.

The Weasleys were easy to spot, with their ginger hair standing out. Fred and George heaved identical sighs—for once, Jonathan didn’t think they’d really meant to do that—and started towards their parents.

“Jonathan!”

Jonathan would know that voice in a thousand lifetimes, in a million words.

“Harry!” he shouted back, and bolted through the crowd. Suddenly all the elbows and trunks and owl cages that had seemed so hard to get through before melted away. There was a clear path, or clear except for a few negligible people, between him and Harry.

He’d seen his brother at the Easter holidays, and during the term whenever Harry could get some time to come to Hogwarts. It wasn’t enough.

It’ll never be enough until he’s there, too. But we only have a year left, Jonathan thought hazily as he held out his arms and Harry jumped straight into them, laughing as his magic washed over Jonathan.

It was a wonder to him how no one else in the train station felt that buzz of magic and turned around to see who was causing it. But Jonathan supposed some people really were that blind. He would have been himself, once.

It made him wonder what remarkable things he was missing in other people’s lives.

And then he busied himself in hugging his brother, while their parents put their arms around both of them, and forgot to worry about it for a little while.

Chapter Text

“You don’t mind that I invited them over without asking you?”

“But you told me about them yesterday.”

Fred raised his eyebrows at George. They’d only just come out of the Floo, and the first thing they heard was Harry and Jonathan arguing over whether they were supposed to be there.

“So welcome, brother mine,” George whispered back.

“It sounds like we might be,” Fred said. And at the moment, honestly, the Potters’ house was more welcoming than home. Ron hadn’t got over the fact of their being Sorted into Slytherin yet. Mum wouldn’t let them play pranks on Ron now, even though she hadn’t cared that much when they were younger, because she kept saying they were Hogwarts students now and they couldn’t use magic outside of school. And she also kept saying Ron was just ten and a child and they had to leave him alone.

Fred didn’t see why. They’d pranked him all through their childhood and Mum had never said anything about the Ministry sensing their magic then.

“And Ron just deserves it when he won’t shut up,” George muttered, finishing his thought.

Fred nodded and was about to say something else when the door to the little sitting room opened and Harry and Jonathan came in. Jonathan looked the way he usually did, grinning at them, although maybe less shy than he was at school.

Harry looked…

Fred exchanged another glance with George. They hadn’t more than half believed Jonathan when he told them they should come to his house to meet his brother, of all people, but it did seem as if something interesting was going on.

Harry walked as though he was years older than they knew he was. He was younger than Ron, in fact. And his eyes were bright and clear and then he let go of something or turned some kind of key and Fred gasped as pure magic flooded the room.

George shook his head as if to get water out of his ears. “Great bloody Merlin,” he said. “Who are you?”

“Harry Potter.” There was a moment when Harry hesitated, and then he added, “In this lifetime.”

Fred exchanged looks with George again. He knew that some people thought they were stupid because they played pranks all the time and didn’t care about marks, but they knew they were plenty intelligent. And they knew when someone was lying to them, most of the time. It was part of the reason they were such good liars themselves.

Harry wasn’t lying.

“So, mind telling us what this is about?” George asked, casually. He stood a little in front of Fred. Fred appreciated that. He would be the one to strike if they had to, or grab George and run if they had to. George was the one who took more risks, but only slightly. And Fred was faster, but only slightly.

Put their strengths to work and fool people with their similarities. It was how they always did things.

Since being Sorted into Slytherin, they sometimes had to do things that way more often.

“I know that your family isn’t happy about your Sorting. I can’t think of any world where they would be. I wanted to offer you this house as a refuge in case you need to get away during the summer or holidays. And if something happens at the school that means you need to run away from it, then you can come here, too.”

Fred gasped before he could stop himself. Harry was looking at him now, and that power was burning in his eyes. Fred rubbed his arms. It felt as though someone was pressing a heavy blanket down all around him.

“But why would you do that for us?” George asked.

“Because I know what it’s like to be left alone and scorned by people, or even just feel that way. And you’re Jonathan’s friends. And you’ve always been my friends or allies in my lifetimes.” Harry hesitated. “You don’t have to. But I wanted you to know it was an option.”

George looked back swiftly over his shoulder. Fred thought for a second about what his twin’s eyes were asking, but then nodded. Honestly, it was their best choice.

“Then we’ll accept the invitation and gladly,” George said. “But what about your parents?”

“Well, they probably won’t accept that you’re here all the time without your parents’ permission. That is to say, Mum might, but Dad wouldn’t yet. So you’ll have to hide and sneak around so that he doesn’t see you. Can you do that?”

Fred took a step forwards so that he was standing shoulder-to-shoulder with his twin. Because Harry had spoken those words not with the scorn in his voice that so many people—that their Mum—used about lying and sneaking, but just like he would ask any ordinary question.

“You really did know us,” said Fred. “You liked all the other versions of us?”

Harry’s smile changed his face. Fred blinked at his twin. It was like seeing the way that Dad smiled when he thought no one was around to notice from outside the family. Harry’s face was suddenly softer and brighter.

If he’s like Dad, then he might be reasonable even with all the lives he’s lived, Fred thought, and faced Harry again.

“Of course I did,” Harry said. “There were times I had to tell you that you couldn’t play a certain prank, for example if someone was scared of spiders and you planned to unleash a whole horde of them. And there were times that you didn’t much like me. But I have fond memories of you from my first life, and that’s only been strengthened since then.”

“So how many—”

“Lives have you lived?” Fred finished for George, falling back into the familiar rhythm of the communication style they preferred. They just hadn’t wanted to annoy someone who seemed powerful and unknown.

“This is my twenty-eighth.”

Fred’s brain reeled for a second, trying to absorb that information and failing. George was gaping, too. But he recovered faster, the way he always did. “How is that possible? Did you drink—”

“The Elixir of Life?” Fred asked eagerly, thinking of all the other stories and legends they’d ever read or heard that promised someone could be immortal if they did the right thing. “Or what about—”

“Transforming into a part-phoenix? Or how about having an ancestor who was a phoenix?”

“Couldn’t be, twin mine,” Fred muttered, still thinking hard. “The blood wouldn’t have transferred between lives.”

Harry and Jonathan both laughed. “If you two would just stop talking for once, then my brother is trying to tell you,” said Jonathan, laying a hand on Harry’s shoulder for a second.

Fred caught George’s eye and they nodded. Sometimes they had wondered who Jonathan was really loyal to besides them, because they knew it sure as hell wasn’t Dumbledore. But now it all made sense.

“These,” Harry said, and held out his hands. A second later, with no transition, there was a wand in his left hand and a stone in his right hand, and a cloak draped over his arm.

George hesitated, but Fred’s intuition was faster like George’s recovery time was. “The Deathly Hallows,” he said. “You have the bloody Deathly Hallows. And you’re only nine years old.”

“Yes,” Harry said, and looked at them as if he was waiting for something.

Fred didn’t want to disappoint. “So can we hold them?” he asked, and only waited for Harry’s nod before he reached for the Elder Wand.

It didn’t feel as different from his own ordinary wand as he’d expected, to his quiet disappointment. He’d thought maybe it would light up the room or turn him pink or make him explode. (He trusted that Harry could pick up the pieces). But other than a slight tingle of heat running up to his arm, everything was normal.

George insisted on holding the wand next, and then the Resurrection Stone. That felt cold to Fred. The Invisibility Cloak just felt silky. He handed them back and huffed a little. “Why are they exactly like ordinary items? Is that just a disguise?”

Harry shook his head. “They would respond fast enough if you tried to use them against their will,” he said dryly. “But they are good at making sure that that doesn’t happen. They seem uninteresting to most people. Or useful, but not in the way that they think the Deathly Hallows are.”

Fred was realizing something else, and he nudged George. George looked at him, and picked up on the realization. He began to smile, too.

Now it just remained to be seen if Harry would actually tell them what they wanted to know.

“You must know—”

“So many secrets. You know, with all the lives you’ve lived, and the time you’ve had to research magic and—”

People. If you know about us, you must know about other people, right? Like some of the Slytherins we live with, and our beloved—”

“Brother Percy?”

Harry rolled his eyes. “Stop fishing for information. You’re quite able to find it on your own.” He turned back to Jonathan. “Did you tell them anything about what they might have to swear before I can take them more into my confidence?”

Jonathan shook his head, at the same time as Fred and George looked at each other and clapped hands together. There was more.

Of course, there probably would be when someone had lived twenty-eight lives and was hiding secrets from his parents and recruiting people to do something, Fred thought. He let George ask, “What would we have to swear?”

“To maintain silence on what exactly we’re doing.” Harry’s eyes moved back and forth from one of them to the other, and Fred blinked, sure that not only did Harry know them, he saw them as individuals. It was slightly unnerving. “We’re going to fight a war, but not the one you think.”

Fred’s intuition struck him like lightning again. “You mean that we’re going to fight against Headmaster Dumbledore?” He exchanged nervous glances with George. They knew that their Mum and Dad were loyal to Dumbledore, although not really what “loyal” meant. Something about the war and fighting against the pure-bloods who wanted to keep Muggleborns out of Hogwarts, though.

Weird. I wouldn’t have thought Harry wanted to keep Muggleborns out of Hogwarts.

“Yes, I should have assumed you’d pick that up.” Harry only sounded resigned. “And it’s a pity, because Dumbledore and I are really on the same side. The problem is that he thinks the war with Voldemort is going to resume any minute. I know that it’s really a lasting peace and Voldemort is interested in other things now.”

Fred couldn’t help flinching at the name, and neither could George. Of course, that was only because they didn’t hear it that often, Fred told himself sternly. Certainly not because they were afraid. Not really.

“How can you know that?” George asked.

“Because I’m one of the people who helped arrange for that peace.” Harry was looking at both of them now, stepping back a little bit to do it. “Can you be prepared to be swear a wand oath before you leave today? It’s not the most binding one I could have you do, but some of the secrets I could tell you, I’d have to get permission to tell, anyway.”

Fred turned and looked at George. George turned and looked at him. They worked best like this, staring at each other and reading each other’s faces with little motions of their heads and hands.

Honestly, Fred could say that he wanted this more than he’d wanted anything lately except for Ron to stop being a prat. This was big. They were going to get to learn important secrets and help someone who was immortal and maybe even play pranks on important people before they were even in their second year at Hogwarts!

But if George felt differently, then Fred wanted to know.

Of course, when George rolled his eyes at him and sighed a little, Fred grinned. He should have known better than to doubt his twin. George believed the same way Fred did and wanted the same things. Of course they did. Fred turned back to Harry and nodded, and talked because George had been lately. “We’re sure.”

“All right. Then take out your wands and repeat after me…”

*

“And you have brought these children into a position where they can betray you?”

Harry sighed as he leaned back on the tree behind him. The clearing where he and Voldemort regularly met looked less wild every time he saw it. The benches that he and Voldemort had once Transfigured from roots only once in a while were now permanent conjurations, and Voldemort had begun to smooth them out and added arms and backs. There was a chair where a stump had once been, and a dueling ring marked out with burn marks on the ground. Voldemort had been working on what Harry was certain was a summoning circle when he arrived tonight, although at the moment only the outer ring, of iron, had been set in place.

“Not where they can betray you,” he reassured Voldemort, who sat next to him on the bench and stared the way he did when Harry was anywhere near. Harry had got used to it. So many lives where he had been famous or infamous had helped with that. “I didn’t tell them anything about what you’re really like. Just that I’m powerful enough to be an equal that I can negotiate with you.”

“I did not say me. I said you. They could betray you with what they know now.”

“No, they couldn’t. I made them swear a wand oath. Or were you too busy imagining ways to make me immortal to listen?”

Voldemort glared at him. Harry grinned back. Another unexpected thing lately, besides the mere fact that he could spend time with Voldemort at all, was that he wasn’t intimidated or concerned by that glare.

“That oath is light, and easily broken. If they decided that they would rather run squealing to Dumbledore than work with you, then it could make them suffer a little pain and nothing more. You have too squeezable a heart.”

“Everyone’s hearts are squeezable, though. When you plunge your hands into people’s chests on a regular basis, then you learn that.”

“Which life was that?”

Voldemort was endlessly fascinated with his past lives. Harry thought it a bit strange and a bit endearing. “When I was a necromancer. There were rituals that I had to perform that—well, I was a bit insane in that life. That’s all I want to say for right now.”

Voldemort leaned back on the bench. He appeared to take pride in the way that the carved back he had added hit the middle of his back and cradled it. “When will you decide if you can bring them further into the secret?”

“When they’re older,” Harry said. “I’d like them to have at least another few months at Hogwarts before I start seeing what way they go. I know the twins from other lives, but they’re not exactly the same here, either. They were never Sorted into Slytherin before.”

Voldemort abruptly leaned forwards, his eyes narrowed and his expression fierce enough that Harry felt the Elder Wand stir in his robe sleeve. He maintained his calm posture and his gaze into Voldemort’s eyes, however. Voldemort hissed out softly in Parseltongue, “I know that your birthday is drawing near. You must tell me what you want.

Harry blinked. “I hadn’t thought about it. Honestly, I have all I want, except things that are impossible for me to get.”

Tell me what you want.

Harry shook his head. “I can’t think of any material objects that I want. And I can’t persuade Albus to leave the war well enough alone, and I can’t free myself of the Deathly Hallows, and I have my brother back with me for the summer. What else could I have?”

Voldemort was silent, except for his fingers tapping on the bench. Harry did add, because he wanted to make the oddly frustrated expression on Voldemort’s face go away, “I’ll tell you something, though. I can’t spend the whole day with you because my family will want to celebrate with me. But I’ll make sure to Apparate away in the evening when they’ve gone to sleep. And—would you like to meet my brother?”

Voldemort reared back in a snake-like gesture. Then he said, “You would trust me that much.”

Harry nodded. “You’re you, not the other Voldemorts from other worlds.”

Voldemort was very still for a moment, as though he assumed any untoward motion would make Harry change his mind. Then he said, “That would be a true gift.

Harry smiled. At least the frustrated expression was gone. It was becoming important to him to make Voldemort comfortable in his presence if he could.

Much like I would any other friend.

Chapter Text

Albus considered Fawkes’s empty perch, and finally turned away from it. He did not know where his friend had gone, and attempts to find him had turned up nothing. For the moment, he would concentrate on what lay in front of him.

The difficult task that lay in front of him.

Albus picked up the book that he had retrieved from a room only one person had seen the inside of before him, a room carved deep under the mountains of Austria. He balanced it in one hand and studied the black binding with the shimmering silver letters on it.

Was he mad, to be thinking of giving this to Harry? But it seemed to him that a man—a being—who could face down the deadly venom of the Horcrux that had tried to devour Albus was the only one who might understand it.

And the lad’s birthday in this body was coming up.

Before he could think better of it, Albus wrapped the book in thick layers of charmed leather that would keep it safe through a flight in rain and storms, and carried it to the Owlery. Several birds hooted at him, but Albus chose the largest, a great horned owl who puffed out her chest as Albus carefully bound the book to her foot.

“Harry Potter,” he said. “Please wait for a reply.”

The owl bobbed her head and then launched herself out through a window that pointed north. Albus stood and watched her until she was out of sight, and then returned to his office thoughtfully.

He had been more honest with Harry than he had meant to be while the boy was healing him. But it might be that that moment of connection was not too vulnerable. It might, in fact, be useful.

If he could only be sure that the boy would listen to the message the book would send him.

*

“You could visit Albus for a little while, you know.”

Fawkes turned away and hid his head under his wing. He was motionless for long enough that Harry finally sighed and walked out of his room. He supposed he couldn’t reconcile a phoenix and a wizard who had disappointed him, and maybe he shouldn’t even try.

If Fawkes deigned to appear to a few of Harry’s allies who were more firmly on the side opposing Voldemort, it could even be useful. Harry just wished he could do something to improve the phoenix’s melancholy.

When he stepped outside, an owl hooted and headed down towards him. It was big enough that for a second Harry thought it was Voldemort’s black eagle-owl, and his chest felt lighter. But then it came close enough and he blinked and saw it was the great horned owl Albus used to communicate with James sometimes.

“You have a package for me?” he asked, slightly incredulous, as she landed on the grass in front of him.

The owl bobbed her head in a way that meant she thought it was obvious, and insistently held out her leg. Harry undid the package and then hefted it, uncertain. He thought he could feel the shape of a book in the wrappings.

Why would Albus send him a book? Unless it was a huge pamphlet on the wrongs of devoting his life to Lord Voldemort or something.

The owl hooted again, and Harry nodded. “He wants confirmation that you delivered it? All right.” He waved his hand so parchment and ink would fly out of his room, and composed the letter, ignoring the owl’s piercing gaze. Who was she going to tell about his wandless magic?

Harry wrote quickly, Received the book, thank you, and held it out to attach to the owl’s leg. Apparently he’d taken too long, because she grabbed it and swooped away, wings beating frantically, as if she wanted to get back to Hogwarts before twilight. Harry shook his head and went to sit under the apple tree that marked the back edge of the garden, opening the book.

The first page proclaimed it a diary belonging to Gellert Grindelwald.

Harry thought later that he stared at that page for maybe ten minutes. Then he shut the book and lay down on the grass and stared up at the sky. By now, he was completely used to Dumbledore’s history with Grindelwald, since his first life wasn’t the only place where it had come out into the open, but here, he couldn’t come up with any motive why Albus would have wanted him to know this.

Or was it some kind of test? The book was written in German, which Albus wouldn’t have known for sure he could read. Harry, though, had learned the language in his second life and then “learned” it again in others where people thought he really was seeing it for the first time, not remembering it.

He wants to believe even now that I’m not the Master of Death? He needs proof I know things I would have no other way to know?

Harry sighed, sat up, and took the book with him up to his bedroom, where he firmly stuffed it into a corner of the bookshelf. He wasn’t going to read it right now, not until he figured out what Albus’s motive for sending it was.

You could always ask him.

But, Harry had to admit, that was a matter of last resort. And he would much rather look forward to the upcoming meeting between Jonathan and Voldemort.

*

Jonathan coughed as he came out of the Side-Along Apparition with Harry into the middle of a forest clearing that seemed to be filled with wooden furniture. Harry gave him a concerned glance. “Was the Apparition too rough?”

Jonathan shook his head. “Just surprising. I don’t think I’ve ever traveled with someone that way and had it be that smooth.”

Harry beamed at him, while Jonathan tilted back his head to look up at the trees’ intertwined branches and the wooden benches. “He likes to carve things?” he asked doubtfully, even though the curving way the benches seemed to rise up from the roots didn’t really look like carving.

“No. He grows them with pure magic out of the stumps and roots that are already there.”

Jonathan grinned. “I’m glad that you’ve got someone who can understand you.”

“I didn’t say he did!”

“No, but if he’s powerful enough to grow furniture out of stumps and roots, then he has strong magic, and that makes him a good friend for you,” Jonathan said sternly. Harry sometimes acted as though he could just hide in the house with their parents forever and never make friends, but he’d told Jonathan that he was going to Hogwarts. That meant he was going to meet other kids his own age.

Jonathan thought Harry would probably explode if he didn’t have at least one friend who knew who he really was and was as powerful as Harry. Jonathan would have exploded without the twins and Acanthus and Cedric, although he hadn’t told Cedric about Harry yet.

A movement on the edge of the clearing made Jonathan turn around expectantly. A man who looked almost normal stepped into the moonlight. Jonathan blinked. He had red eyes, all right, but he had dark hair that was only a little scraggly and a face that wasn’t too pale.

“Is that Voldemort?”

“Of course it’s Voldemort!”

“He just doesn’t look ugly enough to be Voldemort, that’s all.”

Voldemort paused in walking towards them. Harry closed his eyes and stood there drawing his breath in and out of his nostrils as if that was something that would calm him down. Jonathan doubted it would. He turned and held out his hand politely. “Do I have to call you Lord Voldemort, or can I leave off the title?”

Voldemort stared at him in what could have been fury or icy hatred, but Jonathan wasn’t afraid. Not with his brother there. Harry would protect him if Voldemort exploded into a curse-hurling machine.

*

Memories of Harry’s brother when he was two years old were of no use understanding the boy who stood before him now.

He looked a little like Harry, and still more like James Potter. His hazel eyes had something odd and settled about them, though, as if he understood exactly where he came from, who he was, and his purpose in life. Lord Voldemort had only once seen eyes like that. They were—

Impatiently, he drowned the memory and tore its wet corpse apart. He stepped towards Jonathan and said, “I would prefer Lord Voldemort. I accept the other name from no one but Harry.”

“I told you he understood you!” Potter told Harry in a loud whisper, and grabbed Lord Voldemort’s hand, and shook.

Lord Voldemort continued to stare. He could recall driving strong Dark wizards into whimpering submission with the power of his eyes alone. But the mere memory caused a wisp of embarrassment to blow up inside his soul, and it did nothing at all to Jonathan’s blinding grin as he drew his hand back.

Then Lord Voldemort glanced at Harry.

And he knew that any loss of influence he had suffered in giving up his Horcruxes one by one had been worth it.

Harry was almost lounging even though he was also standing upright, his gaze fixed on both Lord Voldemort and his brother. His ancient eyes were calm for once, his mouth curved in a smile that Lord Voldemort had never seen before except when he spoke of some of his past lives that he had married and had children in. He did not have magic crackling around him, ready to spring and defend, as he had almost always had in the past.

It was enough. More than enough.

Lord Voldemort turned to Jonathan Potter and said, “From Harry’s brother, I will not require the title.”

The young Potter’s face lit up. Harry’s smile grew a little more. Lord Voldemort valued one reaction more than the other, but he understood that he must have one to have the other. They could not part from one another, any more than an intestinal parasite could from its host.

“It’s nice to finally meet you,” Potter said, studying him as if he thought that Lord Voldemort would vanish from sight at any second. “Harry talks about you all the time, but he didn’t mention that you could be calm.”

Jonathan.

“Well, you didn’t mention it!” Potter said, turning around to frown at Harry. “I was just making an observation. You’re always talking about how you speak to him, and then he gets upset, and then you don’t speak for a while, and then he wants you to be immortal with him, and you don’t want that, and you argue—”

“I can indeed be calm,” Lord Voldemort interrupted, because he thought it best. Harry’s face was flushing, and he was inclined to resent anything that would interrupt Harry’s good mood on his birthday. “And I wish to persuade Harry to be immortal with me, but by now, I am resigned to the fact that I may not succeed.”

Harry narrowed his eyes. Lord Voldemort smiled at him. No, he was not resigned, but that was something he would share with Harry later, in private.

“I wanted to save my birthday present for Harry for when you could be there,” Potter announced, easily stealing his attention back. Lord Voldemort would admit that he had been foolish about many things, but he would never tire of seeing Harry’s reaction to receiving gifts. “Here, Harry.” Potter held out a thin package that made Lord Voldemort suspect what it was before Harry opened it.

The wrapping paper was yellow and black, because Potter was still a child, for all the trust Harry showed him and the maturity he might display. Lord Voldemort told himself not to forget it.

“A wand holster.” Harry smiled at Potter, and the air in the clearing seemed to transform, becoming as soft and warm and welcoming as the air of Hogwarts on a summer’s day. “Thank you, Jonathan.” He turned it around. “And it has the symbol of the Deathly Hallows on it…Jonathan, how much did this cost you?”

Potter grinned at him. “Nothing.”

Jonathan.”

“No, really. Dumbledore asked me what kind of gift would convince you that he’s kinder and more welcoming than you think he is. I don’t know if he really wants to reconcile with you or if he’s only pretending to reconcile, but this is what I said. And you notice it’s extra-long, so that it’s the right length for the Elder Wand?”

“So I have to thank Dumbledore for this?”

“No. Thank me, because I’m the one who came up with the idea!”

Lord Voldemort watched as Harry gave his brother a helpless smile. It was one that Lord Voldemort had never seen directed at him. It was one, he suspected, that Harry would only give the child who seemed to accept the whole of what he was.

Lord Voldemort could not stand to be left out. Although he had planned to wait until the end of the evening to give Harry his gift, he raised his wand and Summoned it from behind the tree where he had placed it.

Harry shot him a puzzled glance as the small package landed in his hand. “You got me something this size? Let me guess, it’s a ruby worth more than anything else in the world.”

What is worth more than anything else in the world stands in front of me. But Potter would probably laugh if he heard the words, and even Harry might. Lord Voldemort was not yet in the business of embarrassing himself, even when he felt the emotion. He nodded to the wrapped box. The paper, unlike the childish colors that Potter had used, was flat and black.

Harry unwrapped the small box, and Lord Voldemort saw his eyes narrow. The box was big enough to contain several precious stones, and Harry probably thought that was what he was receiving.

He opened it. And froze, except for his eyes. The glance he flicked Lord Voldemort was one of glazed disbelief.

Potter, of course, bounced over to the side to see what the gift was, and broke the moment, but it had lasted long enough for Lord Voldemort to smile. Harry understood the import of the gift, which was far more symbolic than practical.

“A crown? What—Harry, why would he get you a crown?”

“Technically, it’s not a crown,” Harry said slowly, his eyes once again returning to Lord Voldemort’s face. It suited Lord Voldemort that Harry should look at him even when his brother stood at his side, practically hopping as he tried to see the gift. “It’s a diadem.”

He turned it. Lord Voldemort watched the starlight flash from the crystal he’d sculpted it from. He was no artist with chisel or hammer, but he knew how to use magic, and he knew what it was to shape things to his will. He had made a copy of Ravenclaw’s diadem, although much smaller, of crystal rather than of silver, and studded with small emeralds rather than one large sapphire.

“I wonder,” Harry said, “if I put it on, what dreams it would give me.”

Lord Voldemort inclined his head. “It will guard your dreams. You can seize control of them at any moment, as well, if you sleep with that on your head, and you will be able to go back and look at past memories from many different angles, to see what courses of action you might have ignored.”

“So it’s a Pensieve, too.”

Lord Voldemort nodded. It was a valuable gift, but not nearly as valuable as he could have scrounged up out of his manor or his followers’ possessions to give Harry.

No, the symbolic value lay in that Lord Voldemort was giving someone else a crown when he had once desired to rule all himself. Harry would understand the gift and the unspoken words bound up in the delicate transparent tracery that wandered like ice along the top of the diadem.

He did not have the words to tell Harry how much his desires had changed without making him uncomfortable. But his magic could speak for him.

“That’s brilliant!” Potter said. “I’d like to try it sometime—”

Voldemort could not restrain the snarl in his voice. “I made it for Harry and no one else. It will wither the skin of anyone else who touches it.”

Harry put the diadem hastily back into the box, and glared at him. “You didn’t think to mention this before I almost let Jonathan touch it?”

“I said it before he touched it.”

Harry squinted at him as if contemplating being angry about that, and then sighed and said, “Right. Now, I’d like to have my birthday meal.”

Potter and Harry had brought lemonade and sandwiches and cake, and Lord Voldemort had brought elegant carved fruit, steaks swimming in their juices, bread as white as death and honey as golden as life, and a roast peacock. Potter gaped at everything and then dived on it with a cheer. Harry squinted at him some more.

“You didn’t have to.”

“Neither did I have to make the diadem for you, or meet your brother.”

Harry flushed and turned away to entertain his brother, including explaining how to eat a peacock. Lord Voldemort sat on the blanket they had turned the grass into, eating; he found he had had more appetite for food since Harry had begun to restore his humanity. But most of all, he watched Harry.

Harry was still young as far as this life and this body were concerned. He still probably thought of Lord Voldemort more in the light of his kidnapper and his sometime friend than anything else.

Lord Voldemort was immortal. He would wait the eight years, the ten, the twenty, perhaps more, that it would take for Harry’s perceptions of him to change. His desires would not change again, and he would not tire.

In the meantime, he could enjoy a birthday meal with Harry and his brother.

Chapter Text

“Harry, why do the Weasley twins visit so often?”

Harry turned and looked thoughtfully at his mother. Lily stood with her hands clasped in front of her, as if she thought she would have to dust them off in a second. Her wand stuck out of her sleeve, and her eyes were calm and demanding on Harry’s face.

“Their family is upset with their Slytherin Sorting,” Harry said. He hurried on, because he could see Lily’s face twisting, and he knew she was about to defend Molly and Arthur. “I mean, at least their youngest brother. And they don’t want to spend a lot of time at home. They come here to be with Jonathan. And me.”

“They know who you really are?”

Harry nodded. Lily abruptly rustled forwards and crouched in front of him, her hands on his shoulders.

“You must be careful,” she whispered. “You must. What happens if word of what you are spreads too widely? There will be people who seek to use you, Harry, or at least use your power. You must be careful.”

Harry touched her hand, and felt it trembling. He gently led his mother into the lab where she had started doing Charms experimentation. As he had thought she would, Lily relaxed a little around the proof of her own skills. She sat down in a chair and studied him.

“I know that word is going to spread,” Harry murmured. “I think it has to. I’m never going to be able to stuff it back into a box, not when both Voldemort and Albus know. And Jonathan isn’t that great at hiding that he wants to protect me, or that he’s getting extra training. Why should he be? He’s only twelve.”

Lily stared at him. Then she shook her head and said, “I was about to say that you are only ten. I—forget sometimes. And I worry about your brother, too.” She tapped her fingernails in a steadily accelerating pattern. “Do you think it possible that Albus might agree to leave you alone while you spread this word? Since he’s agreed to Sirius training Jonathan and he hasn’t made any obvious moves against you lately.”

Harry thought again of Grindelwald’s journal waiting upstairs and stifled a sigh. He still didn’t know what Albus had actually intended by giving that to him. “I think we have to convince him that we’re on his side and lying to fool everyone else. There’s no way that he’ll consent to leave us alone otherwise.”

“At what point in time can we stop the lie?”

Harry glanced at her. “Worried about what James is going to say?”

“Yes, I am.” Lily hesitated. Then she said, “I thought you being kidnapped would strain our marriage, but although we had our arguments, we also pulled together in the face of something we couldn’t do anything about. And then you returned, and it was like the sun rising. And then you told us the truth about how powerful you are, and that seems to have strained our marriage more than anything else.”

Harry watched her quietly. He didn’t know what to say. He’d never had a spouse who knew what he was. He’d never had parents before this who did, either. This was one arena where he didn’t have much experience to offer.

Lily looked into the distance, her hands tightening in front of her until Harry honestly wondered if she would snap off part of the tabletop. “I know that he just wants everything to go back to normal,” Lily whispered. “He’s still enjoying the freedom he has to go anywhere and do normal Auror work after years of hiding. But he doesn’t seem willing to recognize that Albus might be wrong about…anything. I’ve tried raising things that trouble me, and he brushes me off and tells me that Albus is older than us. And you’re older than us, so he seems to think you should understand each other and be natural allies.”

She turned to him. “I reckon that’s impossible.”

Harry nodded. “I frighten him too much. Recently, something happened that made him vulnerable, and made me understand him better. I thought he might reach out to me after that. And he did, but it was a hell of a weird gesture.”

“So he’s playing games?”

“I have to think that until I get some other proof. And I can’t ask him outright, because he’ll either lie or step around the truth.” Harry sighed. Albus honestly exhausted him sometimes.

“What if you just—told him that you’re confused and you want the truth? That you need to know the truth before you can ally with him?”

“You mean, make the question part of the general pretense that I’m going to be his ally?”

“Yes. If he doesn’t answer it, you’re no worse off than before. If he does…”

Privately, Harry feared most that Albus would manage to lie to him and he would do something based on that deception that would endanger Jonathan or Voldemort. But now that he thought about it, he had to admit that was highly unlikely. Harry was a Legilimens and could detect lies, and he knew Albus much better than Albus knew him.

“Thank you, Mum,” he said, smiling at Lily, who turned a bright red that reminded him of Molly in his twenty-third life, brushing over the accidental revelation of her affair with a Prewett cousin.

“Sometimes other people can see something you don’t yourself.” Lily stood up briskly. “While you work on Albus, I’m going to work on James and see if there’s some weak point I haven’t noticed yet.”

“Ew, Mum! I don’t want to hear that my mum is going to work on my dad and imagine what that means!”

Harry was exaggerating to give her some normality. It worked. Lily laughed and left the lab smiling, her wand hand relaxed once more.

Harry hesitated, deciding whether a letter or a personal visit to Albus would be likelier to get him what he wanted. In the end, he nodded and went to Apparate. Personal visit it is.

*

“Ah, Harry. I suppose that you haven’t seen Fawkes in your wanderings over the world?”

Albus kept his voice soft as he moved behind his desk. In truth, it had shaken him badly to feel Harry enter the school. There were protective spells that should have warned him about that much Dark magic heading his way. That they had not made him wonder what else they weren’t warning him of.

“I think Fawkes will need to come back on his own, sir,” Harry said, and sat down in front of the desk. His legs were still too short to reach the floor in the chair he’d chosen. Albus had to wonder if he was ignoring that or if he’d chosen the chair on purpose, to put Albus at ease by making himself look like a normal child.

“I merely asked if you’d seen him.”

“Not in my wanderings over the world.” Harry took a deep breath and leaned forwards. “I want to know why you sent me Gellert’s diary.”

“I suppose you know all about my history with him from other worlds.” Albus had tried to brace himself for that, because it was reality and he couldn’t change it, but it was still disconcerting to see Harry simply nod, as if it wasn’t a large change in Albus’s reality.

“Yes. And I know that you never gave me that kind of book before. Of course, you never knew about me being the Master of Death before. So what was the motive?”

Albus shifted a little in his chair. To see your reaction wouldn’t go over well.

“Albus?”

“I think you may be more Light than you pretend,” Albus finally said. “Because you came to my rescue. You haven’t reacted to—certain gifts as I expected. You encourage Remus to see himself as more heroic.” Albus was skeptical of whether such efforts would work, and it might still be that Harry wanted Remus to surrender to the Dark creature within himself, but it could also be commendable. “So I want to know why you didn’t destroy the Horcrux I discovered the other day. I want to know why you act as if you are also allied to Voldemort.”

Harry stared off into the distance for a second, his fingers plaiting themselves together in his lap. Then he nodded and turned back to Albus.

“I’ve always served the Light in my lives,” he said. “But that included being willing to take on the burden of hatred and scorn if people needed to not see me as serving the Light. I suspect you know yourself, Albus, that methods to promote the greater good have a high chance of being seen as evil.”

His gaze was piercing. Albus felt the impulse to squirm that he hadn’t had since the last time he visited Gellert. He managed to just smile. “Indeed, Mr. Potter.”

“I’ve come to question my own methods more and more lately. I’ve destroyed Voldemort’s Horcruxes in a majority of my lives. But is that the best way to go about subduing him? Is destroying pieces of someone’s soul ever the answer?”

Albus paused. “I can honestly say that didn’t occur to me before I went after the Horcrux in the Gaunt shack.”

Harry nodded. “It might be that there is a way to disempower the Horcruxes without destroying them. So that the shards of soul are forced to leave their objects and return to Voldemort, for example. That should make him more human and at the same time remove the protection of his immortality.”

“So you have been attempting to—”

“Persuade him to allow it. Persuasion is better than force, Albus. Even manipulative force.”

Albus clenched one hand below the desk, out of Harry’s sight. From the way Harry’s eyes focused on his shoulder and then politely flicked away, he might have known about it anyway. Albus attempted to relax his breathing. “You cannot really think that Voldemort will ever surrender his immortality.”

“I think speaking to him about it can’t hurt. And look what my speaking has done so far. We’ve had years free of war.”

“You cannot trust him.”

“But a Legilimens can detect lies. And I’m that among other things, Albus. I can always tell when someone is lying to me.”

His direct stare made Albus catch his breath. He shrugged away the uncomfortable feeling and shook his head. “He might tell you that he would give up his Horcruxes and sincerely mean it at the time, and then go back to them later. You cannot trust him to keep his word.”

“Then at least I would have given him a chance to repent. Then I could get on with destroying the Horcruxes and be content that I’d done the best I can.”

“What about all the people who might suffer in the meantime, for your misplaced trust?”

Harry showed his teeth, an odd sight that made Albus wonder on what face he’d first learned the gesture. “How many people could have suffered for your misplaced trust that three Animagus students could keep a werewolf contained, Albus? How many suffered for your misplaced trust in Peter Pettigrew?”

Albus jerked. It felt as though someone had slapped him. He hadn’t realized how close he had come to mentally accepting Harry as an equal.

“No one was hurt because of Remus—”

“Severus Snape.”

“That was more your father and your godfather than him,” Albus snapped, and shut his eyes. He had to recover control. He wondered now if, in their past conversations, Harry had been holding back in the name of not hurting him, of giving Albus a chance to “repent.” He certainly wasn’t now. “And while the incident with Peter was certainly unfortunate, in the end, no one was hurt either.”

“My parents suffer ongoing trauma because of my kidnapping. Remus is still mostly estranged from my family. Define hurt.”

Albus felt as though someone had decided to scourge him with a hot iron. Facing up to mistakes was something he’d never been good at.

But even then, were they exactly mistakes? He hadn’t intended for Lily and James to suffer that trauma. He’d known nothing about Peter’s plans. Harry could not hold him responsible for consequences and actions he could not have foreseen.

Albus swallowed and opened his eyes. “You will hurt more people than I have if you are cooperating with Voldemort.”

“Define cooperation.”

“Now you are simply being obstructionist.” Albus leaned forwards. “We are not discussing my past mistakes. We are discussing your inability to trust Voldemort in the future.”

“Really. I think we are discussing far more your refusal to trust him. You distrusted him from the first moment you met him, didn’t you? And I wonder why. Why let the word of an overworked, prejudiced woman at an orphanage control your own reactions? Why decide that the best introduction to the world of magic was attempting to burn Tom’s wardrobe? I never really understood that even when I saw the memories in a Pensieve in my first life. I knew you disliked him the second you laid eyes on him, but not why.

Albus stared at Harry. Harry gazed back, his eyes almost empty, brilliant with a light that seemed to come from very far away.

Albus caught his breath and came back to himself. “What a child’s caretakers say about that child is often the truth.”

“Often, not always. I simply wonder why her words were enough to close your mind instead of make you wary.”

Albus shook his head. “That is not what matters here, Harry. If you give him too much room to play with your head, then he might—”

“Shall I tell you what I think?”

Albus sighed. “If you must.” Honesty from Harry was not at all what he had imagined it would be. Even with the desire to ally with him, Harry seemed committed to prodding old wounds instead of building bridges.

“She would have told you that he did things which were the product of wandless magic. You don’t like wandless magic or trust anyone who wields it because of what happened to Ariana.”

Albus flinched back before he could stop himself. Then he smothered his desire to exclaim with a deep breath, and did his best to smile at Harry in a grandfatherly way. “Perhaps that is the way it was in your first world. But not what happened to Ariana here.”

“She didn’t die in the midst of a three-way duel between you, your brother, and Grindelwald? She didn’t use wandless magic after her attack by Muggles in a way that made you afraid of it?”

Albus sat very still. He’d replayed those events in his mind almost every night of his life; he’d longed for the Resurrection Stone years after he gave up the desire for ultimate power and the other Hallows so that he could apologize to her. But there was something about hearing them spoken aloud by a rude, sneering voice that...

“You have no idea what happened to me. You have no idea what a man like Tom Riddle is capable of.”

Harry sighed. “Albus, after all these years and lives, that knowledge is the one thing I do have. I couldn’t always change what happened. The important part is that I can change the future. Give me time to persuade Voldemort that reabsorbing his Horcruxes is the best strategy. He trusts me a lot more than he would you.”

“But can I trust either of you?”

“I saved your life from that venom, remember? The last thing I want is your death.”

Albus shook his head, at a loss. It seemed to him that Harry might have saved him from that venom only to condemn the world as a whole to die at the hands of the insane monster he felt sorry for. But he doubted saying that would gave him any cooperation from Harry. He controlled his breathing again, made himself sit back.

“Can I trust you to have the same goals as I do?” he asked.

“What are you goals?”

“To defeat Voldemort. To bring peace back to the world.”

“Then of course you can trust me. If Voldemort absorbs those Horcruxes again, then he essentially won’t be Voldemort. He certainly wouldn’t try to take over the world and live forever. And we have peace now, which we can make more lasting and permanent.”

Albus shook his head. “Voldemort is like a disease. As long as he’s alive, then the world’s not immune.”

Harry’s eyebrows went up and stayed up. “I think that’s the strangest way I’ve heard you describe him in all the lives I’ve known you, and you’ve had some pretty fucking strange things to say about him.”

Albus gripped and held down his own shaking conscience. No. It was pathetic of him to be thrown off-stride by the casual way Harry spoke, or by the fact that he existed. He had to ensure the safety of the wizarding world that looked to him for protection.

“I will give you two years,” he said. “If you can’t persuade him by the end of your first year at Hogwarts, then I’ll move to destroy him.”

Harry considered him, then nodded. “That’s better than I thought I would get out of you. Agreed.”

“You thought—what do you think of me, Harry?”

“That you’re incredibly stubborn,” Harry said quietly as he stood and moved towards the door. “You cling to first impressions, whether those impressions tell you that someone is deserving of help or isn’t. You still think of me as Dark, even though I should have proved over and over by now that I’m not. You still think of Remus as someone who isn’t dangerous when he was an unsupervised werewolf who was running all over the Forbidden Forest. And you still think your ideas are better than anyone else’s.”

“I don’t see anyone else standing beside me trying to defend the world.”

“Then you’re blind, Albus. Because I am.” Harry paused with his hand on the knob. “And if you want to know why Fawkes won’t return to you, that’s why. Because you’ve gone beyond stubborn into oblivious and unforgiving. Phoenixes are creatures of change. As long as there was a chance that your mind would open again, Fawkes stayed. Now he won’t return unless you make a tremendous change.”

And Harry left, and Albus stared after him in stunned silence.

Chapter Text

“What do you think, Albus?”

Albus said nothing for long moments. Severus watched him with narrowed eyes and waited for the self-loathing to hit. It did, but his loathing for the role he was expected to play was stronger. Albus wasn’t content unless Severus acted repentant.

But Severus hadn’t come here for redemption. He wanted revenge. Albus was the one who could give it to him, since his power to find the Horcruxes and destroy them outmatched Severus’s own. And Severus was sick of him doing nothing but sitting there with a slightly pensive look on his face.

“Harry came to talk to me the other day.”

Severus stifled his groan. He had thought he would be free of the Potter brat by taking up a position with Albus, since they were at odds. But instead, the old man seemed to brood about the supposed Master of Death as often as the Dark Lord did.

“I trust that he didn’t have anything interesting to say about Horcrux destruction?”

“He told me that—that I was being too stubborn. That I focused too much on the destruction of Tom, and not enough on the other aspects that are needed to make a good leader.”

But that is what I want. For you to focus on the destruction of the man who betrayed me and cursed me.

Severus leaned back in the cushioned seating of the quarters Albus had given him—there were any amount of furnished and unused rooms in the castle, which had once had a much larger teaching staff—and glanced around as casually as he could. No bubbling cauldrons, no movement in the Foe-Glass on the wall, nothing that could distract Albus from dipping into some cold philosophical lake. Damnation.

“And you want me to counsel you?” Severus asked, when Albus kept on staring at the far wall and frowning. “Reassure you that he was wrong?”

“I do not come to you for counsel, my dear boy.” Albus’s irritating smile flashed. “I only have to wonder if he was right.”

“You said yourself that the boy is Dark, and seems to have too much patience for the Dark Lord,” Severus reminded him. “Why wouldn’t he lie and say whatever he could come up with to lessen your effectiveness? The best way to ensure that the Dark Lord wins this war is to disarm his greatest enemy.”

And the surest way to make me die of boredom will be to make me discuss this.

Albus hesitated one more time, then nodded. “Yes, I understand what you are saying, dear Severus. In the meantime, I intend to go after another one of the sites that was important to Tom when he was a child. I haven’t identified the Horcrux there yet, but I’m sure that there must be one. Do you want to come with me?”

Severus shook his head. He wanted to see the Horcruxes when they were destroyed and smoke was rising from their charred objects, but he wanted to be nowhere near the front lines of such a vicious battle. “I will await your return here, Albus.”

“If you are sure, my boy.”

“I am,” Severus said, and managed to hold onto his patience until Albus left. Then he hissed and stood up to go brew. It was the only thing that calmed him now and made him look at the prospect of possible years of awaiting Albus’s return from Horcrux-hunting with any patience.

When this was done, he would leave Britain and not come back.

But I will see him dead first, for what he did to me.

*

Lord Voldemort stood for a long moment before the mirror in the drawing room of the manor, staring at his reflection. He had dark hair now, completely covering his head and hanging in soft waves nearly to his shoulders. His eyes were a dark green. He had pale cheeks with a slight flush of red to them.

It was almost a shame that it was only an illusion.

Then again, he had others that he wished to terrify with his appearance, and one who did not care how he looked. The illusion would accomplish its purpose, and then Lord Voldemort would cease to wear it and would return to his normal self.

He turned and strode out of the manor, timing the cadence of his steps, adjusting it. He needed to look confident but not commanding, or he would more than likely alienate the man he was going to see. He had to look like a petitioner, as well.

That is a more unfamiliar role. But perhaps the way that I am a petitioner for attention from Harry will help.

Smoothly, Lord Voldemort Apparated, and smoothly, he arrived near a shop with a fireplace that led to the Ministry Atrium, and smoothly, he stepped out of the Floo. He had not forgotten the small motion that would shake any soot off his robes without the use of his wand. He walked towards the lifts and waited a moment for the illusion to be pierced, or spells to be fired.

No one said anything. In fact, the average wizard had always been more closely concerned with his own business than arresting Dark Lords, Lord Voldemort had found. It was a reassurance, as he rode the lift up to the Minister’s office with two people arguing heatedly in front of him and one pressed too closely against his side, to see that it was still true.

It didn’t keep him from wanting to blow their heads off.

He smoothed the foul mood from his mind, using Occlumency, as he halted in front of the Minister’s Senior Undersecretary, a pasty woman who looked as though she was part-vampire. She gave him a dubious look. “And who are you, then?”

Lord Voldemort pictured how disappointed Harry would be if he blasted her head off. He smiled. “A diplomat. My name is Robert Gaunt.”

“Gaunt, you said?” The woman relaxed a little, which told him as much about her prejudices as her face did. “Then of course you can see the Minister right away.” She turned and pranced over to the office to speak to Fudge.

Lord Voldemort allowed himself an inner sneer. Educated enough to determine that Gaunt was a pure-blood name, not educated enough to ask why suddenly there was one walking around when the family was supposed to have died out decades ago.

“Yes, yes, waiting for him, send him in,” came Fudge’s voice in a babble through the door. The secretary stepped aside and smiled at him. Lord Voldemort pictured her dead in a pool of blood at his feet, and smiled and nodded as he walked past.

Fudge was a tremendously cowardly man in a bowler hat. He reached out and shook Lord Voldemort’s hand, and Lord Voldemort did not rip his hand off and make it strangle him, because Harry would not like it. “Gaunt, Gaunt, eh? Welcome, welcome. And—” Fudge sat back down and sucked in a breath hard enough to puff out his cheeks and make him look as if he was about to float off the floor. “You’ve really come from him?”

“If you mean Lord Voldemort, then I have, yes,” Lord Voldemort said mildly as he took a seat on the chair in front of Fudge’s desk.

“How can he—is he sane enough to negotiate?”

How he will suffer for that, Lord Voldemort thought, and imagined Fudge’s head disappearing into a red mist. But once again, he could not react the way he wished to, because he could feel green eyes staring disapprovingly at him.

“He is sane enough to send me,” Lord Voldemort decided to say.

Fudge gulped and nodded. “And of course he hasn’t attacked anyone in the last few years, and Dumbledore’s ramblings seem to have come to nothing…”

Lord Voldemort did not clench his hands into fists, because Lord Voldemort did not allow himself that level of indulgence. He only inclined his head and murmured, “One must wonder what someone gains from preaching war when we have only peace.”

“That’s a fair point, Mr. Gaunt, very fair. Didn’t think of that.” Fudge gave him a nod so emphatic that his hat almost flew off. “What’s he really want, do you think? Everyone always says that he could have been Minister and he refused, so he must be trustworthy, but—”

“I would not presume to say that I know the workings of the mind of the great Albus Dumbledore,” Lord Voldemort said, and then lowered his voice. “Of course, even those who are not as powerful can be permitted some…educated guesses…”

“Please share your educated guess with me, Mr. Gaunt!”

Fudge’s imbecility and cowardice were less than pleasing, at least in terms of a political ally, but Lord Voldemort could live with his obsequiousness. He smiled a little. “Only this. When someone stands up in front of people and declares that he doesn’t want political power, I would then expect him to stay out of public life, if he was sincere. But he is not, is he? He makes pronouncements. He retains positions such as the Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot and the Supreme Mugwump. And what is more political than being Headmaster of Hogwarts?”

“How?” Fudge asked, after a long moment of earnest contemplation.

“Among other things,” Lord Voldemort explained patiently, “it means that he can mold the minds of the younger generation. And fill them with tales of war and the enemy who must be fought. It means that he can essentially recruit them as his soldiers.”

“He can do that? I never thought of that!”

“You did not think of a great many things, of course,” Lord Voldemort said. The sarcasm had to escape, or he was going to make something explode, and it might not be the Minister’s desk. “Consider all the concerns that you have to deal with on a day-to-day basis. Dumbledore says that he doesn’t want to rule and then apparently steps back, but he leaves you with the business of ruling.”

“You are a wise man, Mr. Gaunt, very wise.”

“And my employer is wiser still,” Lord Voldemort said. Praising himself was the only thing that felt natural about this whole dreadful conversation. “If you consider that he’s managed to step back from a war and be the one who kept the peace. Dumbledore is trying to stir him up and give him some insult that he would have to react against, or lose the respect of his Death Eaters. But he holds his position of peace nonetheless. Dumbledore cannot anger him. He is wiser than Dumbledore.”

“Never thought about it like that!”

Hurry up and get more allies on your side soon, Harry. Or at least appreciate the sacrifice that I am making for you. Admiration would be a worthwhile birthday gift.

*

Jonathan felt as though someone had set his skin on fire when he glanced away from his duel with Sirius. Professor Dumbledore was standing near the door and watching Jonathan with twinkling eyes.

Of course, taking his eyes off Sirius when they were in the middle of a duel had consequences. Sirius crowed as his spell wrapped thongs around Jonathan’s legs that made him fall. Jonathan did manage to cast back a step that made Sirius jump and hop a few times, but Sirius had won and they knew it.

Dumbledore applauded politely. “Can I borrow young Mr. Potter for a few minutes, Sirius? I promise to give him back to you so that you can finish your lesson.” His eyes were twinkling again as he looked from Sirius to Jonathan and back.

“Oh, as long as you don’t teach him anything that means he can counteract my spells like that,” Sirius grumbled. Jonathan thought Dumbledore’s eyes couldn’t get any brighter, but they did.

“I promise not to help him cheat. That’s not the Gryffindor way,” Dumbledore said solemnly, and then held open the door of the room for Jonathan.

Does he forget that I’m a Hufflepuff? Sometimes it seems that way. Jonathan obediently followed Dumbledore a little way down the corridor, and they stopped near a portrait of a lady dozing on a bench. Jonathan saw her open one eye when they stopped, though.

“What is it, sir?”

“I recently uncovered some disturbing information about Voldemort, Jonathan.” Dumbledore wasn’t smiling now. “I wondered if you would agree to let me share that information with you, in case you have any special insights on the situation.”

Jonathan stared at him. “Sir, if you want to talk to Harry, why don’t you just say so?”

A flash of annoyance crossed Dumbledore’s face, and he shook his head. “This isn’t about your brother, Jonathan.”

“But he knows more about Voldemort than I do. He even lived with him for three years! What kind of special insights would I have?”

“You are the one destined to defeat him.”

Jonathan sighed. “Sir, Harry prevented that prophecy from coming true. I asked him once what that would mean, and he said he didn’t know, but he didn’t think that the prophecy would ever come true because someone got in the way.”

That conversation was even real. Jonathan wondered if he should offer to show Dumbledore the memories to prove it, but Dumbledore was already going on.

“I know that you trust your brother, Jonathan. But this information I have learned…it contradicts other information I have learned about Voldemort. It might be that we can no longer trust your brother.”

“Er. Why? Does it contradict information Harry told you, sir?”

“No. Another source.” Dumbledore bent down towards him, his face solemn. “But I trust the source of that information absolutely.”

“The new information, or the contradictory information? Sorry, sir. I think I’m losing track.”

Dumbledore gave him a quick look that Jonathan wouldn’t have liked if the whole look came out, but it seemed that Dumbledore turned it into a smile just in time. “A trusted source brought me information that I know to be true, about an artifact that is extremely important to Voldemort. But then I discovered that no such artifact lay in the place where my informant said it did. It may be that Harry moved it.”

“Or your informant just lied. Or made a mistake. Why are you distrusting Harry because of that, sir?”

Jonathan knew that he probably sounded too clear-headed, but he was really puzzled. Someone else lied, and Dumbledore thought that meant Harry had? Jonathan knew he wasn’t as smart or anything as Dumbledore, but this just seemed like plain logic. And he didn’t need to be in Ravenclaw to use logic.

Dumbledore cast a spell that made the air around them shimmer with pretty colors and then muffle sound. Jonathan decided he would ask Harry about that spell later. It sounded like one that would be useful to learn.

“I am speaking of Horcruxes.”

Jonathan shivered a little, even though it was mostly the tone in the Headmaster’s voice when he said that word. But Dumbledore nodded grimly. “Yes, we should shiver in the face of the Darkest magic ever performed.”

I think the Darkest magic ever performed was that spell you did on my mind.

“I know that Voldemort has thirteen Horcruxes, and I determined where one must be. But when I went there, there was no artifact, and no sign that the place had been used in perhaps a century. I am concerned that Voldemort must have received warning and be hiding his Horcruxes in different places.”

“Um, sir, how could he do that if the place wasn’t used in a century? Did he go back in time and move the Horcrux?”

Dumbledore narrowed his eyes. “You are not funny, Jonathan.”

I thought I was pretty funny.

“Thirteen is bad enough,” Dumbledore continued in grave tones. “But to not find them in the likeliest places…yes, I do have to wonder if Voldemort is getting information from our side of the war. And it is far more likely that Harry is a traitor than most of the people in the Order of the Phoenix, none of whom would have that knowledge.”

“Harry is not a traitor!”

Dumbledore sighed. “Alas, my dear child, you see your brother’s soul by the light of your own. When one has lived such a long time as the Master of Death has, it is very easy to come to regard other human beings as lesser than yourself and see them as only pawns on a chessboard.”

Yes, you would know.

“I only want you to consider that what he has told you about the prophecy may not be correct,” Dumbledore continued. “And to be cautious about what information you feed him. And perhaps talk with him concerning what he knows about Horcruxes.”

Jonathan bit his lips and didn’t explode. He clenched his hands into fists and didn’t explode, either. It was really difficult. Finally, he nodded and said, “I’ll be careful about what I say, Professor Dumbledore.”

That was the kind of dancing around the truth that Harry would have picked up right away. But Professor Dumbledore just smiled at him, maybe because he was so used to thinking he was the only smart one. “Thank you, my dear boy. Being careful is all anyone can do.” He patted Jonathan’s shoulder and walked away.

Jonathan waited a long time before he went back to Sirius. He was thinking all the time.

Professor Dumbledore wasn’t stupid, but he held himself above everybody else and he didn’t really understand them.

And he was stupid if he thought Jonathan would ever abandon his brother. Because that was not the way it was going to be.

Chapter Text

“So the Minister is going to do what we say?” Harry stretched out on the bench in the center of the clearing, the one Voldemort had spent the most time carving. It was now almost comfortable enough to lie on without a Cushioning Charm.

Not that he got much chance to try that, because Voldemort cast one before Harry could even finish drawing a breath. Harry glared at him and got a glare right back, before Voldemort said slowly, reluctantly, “He will listen to what we say. Matters would be simpler if you let me cast the Imperius on him.”

“It’s wrong.”

“I did not think that you held much impression of morals, anymore.” Voldemort settled beside him, his eyes gleaming brighter than normal as darkness descended over the clearing. Harry suspected that was one feature about him that would never change, no matter how many Horcruxes he let Harry put back in him. “Was I wrong?”

“I don’t think the Imperius is wrong, under certain circumstances. But someone could notice if you cast the curse. Dumbledore probably checks Fudge for it regularly, and anyone else who’s important in the Ministry. We can use other tactics.”

Voldemort laughed softly, and continued the conversation in Parseltongue. “I should have known that you would never offer such an objection because of conventional morals.

Harry rolled over, and rolled his eyes at Voldemort at the same time. “I’m a lot more conventional than you think. I wouldn’t still be sane after seventeen hundred years if I wasn’t.

You are talking about the focus on routine and trying to appear normal that you have experienced in so many of your lives?”

That I chose in so many of my lives. Don’t mistake me, Voldemort. If I didn’t try to make human connections, then by now I would be mad. Or a god. Or something that appears in a world like this one and immediately cuts itself off from humans, even if it’s in a human body.

Then I am forced to be glad for your insistence on being human.

Harry looked carefully at Voldemort. His voice had deepened in a way that told Harry what he was thinking. “I am never going to join you in immortality.”

You may yet change your mind.

I told you how important my mortality is to protecting my mind, and you immediately jump to the opposite conclusion? You’re smarter than that.

Voldemort tensed like a snake about to strike, and Harry realized that he would almost welcome it. He still preferred it when things were more like his other lives. He didn’t want to give up his friendship with Voldemort, but he did want to get rid of the man’s obsession with him.

You say that you would go mad. On the other hand, you have never tried the companionship of someone who knows what you are and fully accepts it. Someone who is as immortal as you are, who can stay alive as long as you do.

Jonathan knows what I am. And fully accepts me.

He will die. Unless you intend for him to join us in immortality?”

Harry snorted. “I never intend to become immortal, myself. Not by staying in this life. He can have the books if he wants them, but I don’t think he will. He’s too strongly connected to natural life and he’ll probably have a family and children. I think I would prefer it if he did. I love him, but it’s not fair for him to spend his whole life just being devoted to me.

Voldemort was silent. Harry thought it was because he wasn’t interested in discussing Jonathan, and started to ask Voldemort if he wanted to talk about another tactic to use during the war. But then Voldemort leaned forwards and placed a hand on the bench near Harry. His eyes flared in the darkness.

You should consider immortality in this life.

Why? I’ve always died and gone on.

You could use the same methods to make yourself immortal that you were recommending to me.

I could. But I don’t want to.

Then I am not enough for you?”

Harry stared. The last thing he had expected to hear from Voldemort was hurt.

He sat back up, watching Voldemort, who still crouched like a great cat and stared at him. The lazy swirl of magic around him, nearly constant when they were in the clearing, had stopped. It remained tight and flat to Voldemort’s skin instead, as if it didn’t know yet if its master would want it to strike out or stay hidden away.

Harry switched back to English, because he thought it was less intimate than Parseltongue. “I’m sorry. I never meant to make you feel like I didn’t value your friendship. But it’s true all the same. I am going to die. My immortality is conditional. I want to keep it that way.”

“Why?” Voldemort’s breath still sounded like the soft warning hiss of a snake even though he had also switched back to English. “What benefit do you think it would gain you that remaining immortal with me would not?”

“Like I said, I think it’s the thing keeping me sane. I would have become mental if I’d continued living in my first life after everyone I was close to had died. The same thing would happen to me here. If I lost Jonathan and Sirius and Mum and even Dad and Remus and Albus, as infuriating as they can be—”

“But you would have me. That is the difference.”

Harry opened his mouth, then closed it again. But Voldemort pressed closer, and his magic was buzzing now like the tail of a rattlesnake, and Harry knew he had to speak. “I’m sorry. That’s not enough.”

Voldemort flung himself away, and for a moment the air of the clearing was as dark as midnight in the inside of a cave with his anger. Then he was gone. He Apparated so loudly that Harry winced and raised a hand to rub his ear.

Then he leaned back on the bench with a sigh. He wished he could have given another answer, but he did have to tell the truth.

*

Acanthus ignored the way she could feel Flint staring at her back. If he wanted to come over to her and have an actual conversation, then he could. But she wasn’t going to do anything to answer his rude staring.

By the time he cleared his throat, breakfast was half over. Acanthus turned around and nodded. “Yes, Flint?”

“You spend a lot of time with a Gryffindor for someone who’s Slytherin.”

Acanthus did her best to assume a patient expression, but she could feel disapproval tugging down the corners of her mouth, while Flint just blinked at her. She had thought Flint was going to approach her about a possible alliance with Jonathan, but no, it was just House prejudice. “I follow the power,” she told him in a clipped voice, and stood up.

“Huh? How can there be any power in that?”

Acanthus turned to consider him. He sounded genuinely puzzled. Of course, he sounded that way about everything from Gryffindor’s House colors to the existence of planets. “Maybe I could tell you.”

Flint had enough instincts to bob his head. “In a less public place?”

“That might be the suggestion of someone intelligent.”

Flint flushed dully, but didn’t snap at her. “Then you need to find someplace less public.”

Than the Great Hall at breakfast? Not that that’s difficult. “Meet me in the alcove opposite the statue of the one-eyed witch. It might be that I’ll have something to say to you.”

“Might be?”

Honestly, the stupidity of his inbred family alone is an argument against blood purity. “Will be,” she said. “If two smart people show up,” she couldn’t help adding over her shoulder, while she picked up her bag and swept out of the Great Hall.

*

Jonathan halted cautiously near the alcove next to Acanthus. He didn’t really think she was leading him into a trap, not when she was loyal to Harry, but he didn’t think he knew as much magic as Flint, either.

“What are you going to want me to do?” he asked Acanthus once they saw that Flint wasn’t there yet. “Cast some strong magic to impress him?”

“I did promise him power. Normally I would say that you could talk more about politics, but given that it’s Flint, you’ll need something flashier. One of your spells would be great if you think you can get away with casting it in the corridors.”

Jonathan smiled. With the way that Dumbledore thought he had him under control, Jonathan believed he could get away with it even if Filch and Mrs. Norris were hiding around the next corridor. “Fine,” he said, and started to warm up his wrist with small flicks of his wand. “I know something flashy that won’t even hurt him.”

“You think you can impress me, Potter?”

Jonathan watched Flint walk towards them. He was a burly fifth-year who seemed to have a sneer for everyone and everything, except maybe the members of his Quidditch team when they’d just won. But Acanthus only rolled her eyes at him. “Would I have told you about him if he couldn’t, Flint?”

“Who knows why you do anything, Parkinson?”

“I think she’s really easy to understand,” Jonathan put in, because he did. He’d spent enough time around Acanthus to know what she wanted: power and respect, probably the reasons that she got Sorted into Slytherin in the first place.

“I don’t.” Flint folded his arms and looked down his nose at Jonathan. “You’re an even more annoying second-year than she is, since you’re not even a Slytherin. If you really think you can impress me, go ahead and try.”

Jonathan turned around and aimed his wand at the far side of the corridor. He already had a spell in mind that he and Sirius had practiced during their latest dueling session. “Ignis lapis!”

The fire jumped away from his wand and hit the wall, and then began to melt the stone there. It made a terrific fountain of light that blazed away and leaped up and down like real water. It didn’t even hurt the stone of the floor of the rest of the wall, since it could only make the stone it was actually targeted at burn. Jonathan grinned.

“Enough! Enough, Potter!”

Flint was actually shouting. Jonathan ended the spell and turned around to stare at him. He hadn’t thought a Slytherin would be that scared by the spell. But then he saw even Acanthus was standing away from him with her hands tucked behind her back.

“Where did you learn that?” Flint whispered, his eyes darting around.

“From someone who’s training me,” Jonathan said, with a slight shrug. “It’s important that I know that kind of spell if I have to fight in a war someday.”

Flint stared at him with his nostrils flared. Jonathan still didn’t know what was going on. Had Flint been hit by that spell when he was younger or something? Jonathan hoped he hadn’t. It was a harsh spell.

“I believe you, Parkinson,” Flint said abruptly. “Spend time with Potter all you want.” And he turned and stomped off down the corridor.

“What is going on?” Jonathan asked, turning to Acanthus. At least she’d taken her hands out from behind her back again, although she still looked more shaken than Jonathan would have preferred. “Is there something about that spell that’s forbidden, or—Dark or something?” He knew that Sirius had taught him Dark spells, but he hadn’t specifically mentioned that the Stone Fire spell was one.

“It’s the fact that you could cast it at all.” Acanthus looked at him and tilted her head up and down in a strange nod. “Flint knows that no ordinary second-year ought to be able to do that. He wouldn’t be able to do that. There are people in the world impressed by raw magical power. I have some in my own family. And Flint’s one, too.”

“Oh.” Jonathan thought about that. “Should I not have done that? Is he going to go and spread it around Slytherin that I have more power than I should and know spells that a second-year shouldn’t know?”

“No. He’s going to be impressed enough to keep his mouth shut. And to stop interfering with me.”

“Okay.”

“Besides, he doesn’t have to spread the word around Slytherin. I’m going to do that.”

“Acanthus!” Jonathan glared at her. “We don’t want people thinking that I’m trying to get up some kind of rebellion against Dumbledore or something!” He whispered the words, even though he’d already cast a privacy spell around them, the same kind that he used when he was showing spells to Acanthus and the twins. “The Slytherins are incredible gossips, you know that, especially some of the upper years!”

Acanthus shrugged. “They need to know that they can either follow you or not, but they need to know about you, Jonathan. That’s the only way that you can have a power base.”

“I don’t want a power base! For all the reasons I just told you!”

“So you don’t want people to know they have an option for someone to follow other than Dumbledore? You don’t want to have people know about your brother?”

Jonathan hesitated. “How is people being impressed by me going to help them follow Harry? And you know that Harry isn’t into displays of raw magical power like the one I just gave Flint.”

“This is getting the ground ready for next year.” Acanthus was speaking with exaggerated patience now, shaking her head a little as if she was trying to help Jonathan but thought there was no helping some people. “Making sure that people know about your brother when he comes to school here. Then he can have a whole bunch of people following him around and protecting him. You want that, don’t you?”

Jonathan studied her suspiciously. It made sense, but still, he had to wonder just what Acanthus’s game was.

Acanthus caught his eye and began to laugh quietly, shaking her head. “Come on, Potter. You think I want to follow someone myself who no one knows about? And they would all laugh at my family for following? Of course not. I’m doing this for myself as much as for you, if you can accept that much.”

Jonathan nodded slowly. “Yes, all right. But how do you know that Dumbledore won’t hear about this and do something about it?”

Acanthus put on such big eyes that Jonathan would have believed it if he didn’t know her. “I was only trying to make sure that people knew about Jonathan Potter, sir! He’s the one whose family has been hurt by You-Know-Who, and he’s training to go up against him! Some people probably lied and twisted rumor, but I didn’t mean any harm!”

“He’ll think you meant harm just because you’re a Slytherin,” Jonathan said, but his lips twitched a little. Acanthus had actually spoken without a single lie, and that was going to be important since Dumbledore was a Legilimens. “If he tries his mind-altering spells on you? Or reading your mind?”

Acanthus gave him a demure smile. “I am really, really looking forward to it if he does.”

*

Harry sighed and put his head in his hands. Now there was a letter from the Flints, of all families, inquiring in a Flint’s version of delicate language whether he really was plotting to lead a resistance against Dumbledore.

“The Flints,” he told Fawkes, who was checking over his feathers one by one on the perch next to Harry’s bed. “I’ve never been allied with them in any world!”

Fawkes looked up and gave an absent trill, then went back to hunting the imperfection among his feathers. Harry stared at the letter, shaking his head. He’d thought he would make allies, sure, but he’d thought they would come through Sirius, his mother, maybe Voldemort—not his little brother.

Then he sighed, and began to write an answer. He supposed he could do the same thing with them that he had with Acanthus’s family: meet with them outside Hogwarts and show them convincing evidence that he was the Master of Death. It wouldn’t much matter if he actually met with Marcus, the one who had seen Jonathan perform “an impressive display of magic,” according to the letter.

He sent off the letter with Fawkes, frowning, and sat rapping his fingers against the table. He had thought that he was going to conduct a resistance against Dumbledore mostly by helping other people. He hadn’t counted on leading the resistance himself.

Then Harry snorted and flopped back in his chair. “Well, who said that that part was going to be different from other worlds?” he muttered, and turned to the letter that had been occupying him before the one from the Flints arrived.

It was on sleek black parchment, the letters printed in white, and had a soft gleam that made it look as if it was made of oiled wood. The seal was a rearing basilisk, and the letter said only, I miss you. I would miss you more if you died.

Harry decided simple was best, wrote, I am not going to be immortal with you, using a spell on the back of the parchment, and cast another spell that would make it seek out Voldemort. He watched it flap out the window with a frown on his face.

He missed their complex relationship, too, but his answer to that question was not ever going to change.

Chapter Text

Harry sighed when he saw the stubborn expression on Cicero Flint’s face. Apparently he thought that Harry should be an adult if he was the Master of Death, and explaining that he had been reincarnated many times and was only currently in the body of a ten-year-old child wasn’t impressive enough.

Harry palmed the Elder Wand. He was in the same small restaurant in Diagon Alley where he had taken a private room to impress the Parkinsons, but the Flints clumped up in chairs and stared at him and said nothing at all.

“What else should I do to convince you?” he asked. The Resurrection Stone had got suspicious stares, the Elder Wand squints, and they’d declared the Cloak just an ordinary Cloak. The Hallows were vibrating behind him, ready to release any magic he desired on the unbelievers. Harry thought they might have called the Flints heathens if they could speak.

“Show us your true master.”

Harry stared at Cicero blankly. “I’m sorry?”

Cicero was Marcus Flint’s uncle, and although Harry had only met Marcus today (in this lifetime), he could see the resemblance. He had a hulking jaw and hulking shoulders and a slow, contemptuous voice. “The man who commands you. The man you owe allegiance to. It’s not Dumbledore. Who is it? Is it the Dark Lord?”

“I’m the Master of Death.” Harry’s voice got lower despite himself, and despite knowing it didn’t sound nearly as impressive now as it would after his voice changed. “No one commands me.”

“No ten-year-old can be the Master of Death. Tell us, boy, if you want us to ally with you.” Cicero leaned back and looked behind one of the delicate screens near the wall as if Voldemort or Dumbledore might be hiding there. “Come out, or we’ll punish your boy-toy in ways you won’t like.”

Harry fought to keep a hiss of Parseltongue from escaping. Now he was remembering the many, many reasons he’d never allied with the Flints in any world before. “I am who I say I am. Perhaps we shouldn’t be allies if you can’t accept that.”

“Those are the Deathly Hallows. But who commands them? Not you. Did your daddy give them to you to play with?” bleated Claudius Flint, who was some kind of older brother to Marcus. Only Marcus himself looked uneasy, but Harry wasn’t sure if that was because he was marginally smarter than the rest of his family or because he’d seen Jonathan’s display of power firsthand.

“My father is not the Master of Death, either.” Harry slowly rose to his feet. “Perhaps a demonstration would be in order?”

“You talk as if you’re an adult. Cute, kid.” Cicero sneered at him. “Still not impressive enough for a Flint. Show us who really stands behind you, and we’ll talk. Unless it’s old man Parkinson, of course. Not enough brains for us to bother following him.”

I sincerely hope they’re talking about their own lack of brains.

Harry turned and looked into the air above Cicero's head. The swirl of darkness that formed in response to his stare depressed him, as always, with how quickly it came. Then again, the Deathly Hallows did always wait for him to use them. He shouldn't ignore them as often as he did if he wanted more reluctance for these little displays.

"Did you hear us, boy? You--"

"You are going to die five years from now," Harry said softly, "on the twenty-fourth of June, in 1995. You're going to die from a heart attack as you hop up and down to watch the Third Task of the Tri-wizard Tournament. I can see the hedge maze they'll create so that most of the people outside it don't see what's going on and the Champions are isolated from help. Your heart has always been bad. It beats erratically even now, but you think you have it under control with Soothing Potions and Cheering Charms. It could be almost any stress that would make it burst, but it's going to be this one. You have a gambling problem, don't you? And you're going to make one more desperate bet on who wins the Tournament, one that you're convinced will get you back the three-quarters of your fortune that you’ll have gambled away by then." He turned and met Cicero's eyes. "I would stop relying on those potions if I were you. You probably make your heart worse because of the amount of aconite that's in them."

Utter silence filled the room. Harry let the darkness recede from his vision along with the knowledge, and watched Cicero's face.

"Tricks!" barked Claudius. "Anyone could pretend to predict the future and do it with about as much accuracy!"

Harry sighed and turned a little to the side, reaching back into the past of this world. It was always a bit more difficult to look at things that had happened before he was born in a particular place, but only a bit.

"You had an aunt," he said. "No, wait, a great-aunt, your father's mother's sister. Arabella Rookwood. She was one of those indomitable old women who seem as if they'll go on forever. But your uncle on your father's side, Nero Flint, got impatient and murdered her for the sake of some money he was sure would come to him. He broke into her house when she was about to go to bed on the night of the nineteenth of December in 1979. He used a golden dagger to stab her to death, because a golden dagger is the symbol of a family called Irelde that you were having a feud with at the time and he thought it would make the Aurors blame them. But gold is too soft. The point broke off the dagger when your aunt started to fight back. Nero panicked and stabbed her in the eye with an ordinary steel blade. Then he gutted her for--well, it apparently satisfied his sadism. And he stole twenty Galleons she'd taken out of Gringotts the previous day and stored in a small strongbox under her bed. He was caught less than two hours later. The dagger was a distinctive blade forged for him alone and he left it behind when he fled."

Harry lowered his eyes and found more than one member of the Flint family staring at each other. "Oh, did I speak some secrets aloud?" he asked. "You ought to have known that might happen when confronting someone who claims to be the Master of Death."

A woman who had introduced herself as Lesbia Flint, Cicero's sister, flung a dagger at him. Harry melted out of the way. There were lots of ways he could have avoided the blade, but he chose to step into the other world where death crowded him and appear again off to the side. It probably looked like silent Apparition. There was no reason for Lesbia to start and press a hand to her heart, while the others gaped at him. The loudest sound was the ringing dagger falling to the ground.

"It appears that we don't have anything to talk about," Harry said, gathering his magic around him. "I wasn't allies with your family in any other world and I can't be in this one, either. I wish you good luck with allying with Voldemort, if that's what you want to do."

"Wait!"

That was Lesbia, surprisingly. Harry tilted his head at her. She had stood up and advanced a step towards him. "Yes?"

"You spoke the truth about Great-Aunt Arabella's murder?"

"Yes."

"How do we know that?"

"If you have cause to distrust every word I say, then we're not going to be good allies--"

"No. Just. Please. No one would tell me how she died or why Nero was arrested for it. I didn't attend the trial as I was out of the country at the time and the others swore that Nero had been accused by people in the Ministry who were jealous of him and wanted to see the Flint family's downfall." Lesbia took a deep breath. She was a tall, heavyset woman with dark auburn hair. Harry couldn't remember seeing her among the Flints in his previous lives, but then, that didn't mean much. "She was my favorite relative."

"Yes. I'm telling the truth. The conviction was quick." Harry glanced up again. This information was only tangentially related to Arabella Rookwood's death and therefore harder to see, but still his since it connected to that death. "There was too much evidence against him."

"It was for money."

"Yes." Harry wondered idly if it was the motivation that made her disapprove of the murder. He hadn't known any Flint who would think that was a horrible motive, but again, he didn't know all of them that well.

"Great-Aunt Arabella didn't deserve to be murdered for money." Lesbia turned to Cicero, her hands clenched in a way that told Harry she was about to go for her wand. "Other people in this damn family might have, but not her! Never her! And you told me that someone else must have killed her, and it wasn't Nero!"

"It wasn't! He was framed!"

"I believe the Master of Death that he did it."

"Then you can follow your new master and get out of this family."

Harry sighed and Apparated. He hoped that something better would come out of this mess than seemed likely right now. At least he thought he could probably depend on Marcus Flint not to mistreat Jonathan at Hogwarts.

When he got back to his bedroom, he wrote a quick note to Voldemort telling him what had happened and adding, You would have enjoyed it. You probably had at least one Flint among your Death Eaters. Did they always squabble like this?

It wasn't until he went to the owlery that he hesitated and reminded himself he wasn't supposed to be speaking to Voldemort. Well, surely a quick note on the process of gathering allies for the war couldn't hurt.

*

"Are you sure that you'll be able to give me advice through this thing, Mr. Gaunt?"

Lord Voldemort touched the identical device occupying the collar of his robe, a silver pin that looked as if it had a gaudy ruby in the curl of metal at the top. "I am speaking to you through it now, Minister," he pointed out. No trace of a sigh made its way through his voice. He stood in an office down the corridor in the Ministry from Fudge's. There were no Aurors inside, but they did stand guard outside the door.

Fudge was easy enough to fool. Lord Voldemort did not intend to alert the possibly sharper Aurors.

"Oh. Yes. Of course. Um. But you're sure the spells will prevent Dumbledore from overhearing you when you speak?"

"Yes." Lord Voldemort imagined carefully removing strips of skin from the backs of Fudge's thighs. The man had a lot of fat there. It would take enough time that he might be able to enjoy himself and calm down enough to leave some of the skin.

He imagined Harry's disappointed expression, then, and that removed the pleasure from his thoughts as effectively as Lord Voldemort could have removed Fudge's skin. He clenched his hands and forced his mind back into calm channels as Fudge babbled at him again.

"All right, then. If you're sure. I'm going to see Dumbledore now." Fudge turned a little away from the jewel he wore, by the sound, and called, "Come in!"

At least his voice does not jiggle like his legs, Lord Voldemort thought, and closed his eyes. There was nothing in this room that he needed to see. When he detached his consciousness from the topmost layer of his mind, then he could glide easily down the corridor and insert a tendril of magic into Fudge's office that would give him sight.

Fudge was seated, twitching and twisting, in his own chair, but a grander one waited for Dumbledore on the other side of his desk than had waited for Lord Voldemort in his guise of "ambassador from the Dark Lord." Lord Voldemort withheld another sigh. The more Fudge pandered to Dumbledore's notions of grandeur, the more respect he would demand.

The man was bad enough at politics that Lord Voldemort had started to wonder if he had gained his office merely because of his susceptibility to bribery and nothing else.

"Ah, do come in, Albus," Fudge said, while his hand twisted underneath his desk. "You wanted to talk to me about the rumors of this war that you keep saying we're about to have with You-Know-Who."

"Voldemort, Cornelius. Call him by his right name. Fear of the name increases the fear of the thing itself."

Lord Voldemort sneered without sound. That name without title was one he had granted only to Harry. He fantasized about turning Dumbledore's blood to boiling lead. No, perhaps only to fire, and only a bit at a time. Otherwise, it would kill him too quickly.

"And they are not rumors." Dumbledore regarded Fudge as if he, too, thought of the man as an insect he would like to crush, but perhaps without flaying him first. "They are the simple truth. While he is quiet for now, Voldemort might restart the war any second."

"Can you tell me why he has pulled back and acted as if peace is his intention, then, Albus?"

"To catch us off-guard, of course. To make us lower our defenses and go back to living life on a normal footing, the way so much of Britain is already doing."

"But we've had years of peace, Albus. Can this plan really last so long? It would erode the loyalty of his followers, as well."

Lord Voldemort raised his eyebrows. That was more insight than he had expected Fudge to be able to come up with on his own. He adjusted his posture a little so that he was comfortable and could concentrate on the tendril of magic that was inside the office instead of on where he was standing in his own room.

"He does not need other followers. I fear that he has one so powerful the others could not compare."

“Who is that?”

“Harry Potter.”

Lord Voldemort murmured to the pin on his collar, “Harry Potter is a child. Ten years old. Ask him why he is so powerful as to make the rest of my lord’s followers look like nothing.”

The words came from some part of him that was still rational. It was a small part. The world had begun to blaze and shift in his vision. If Dumbledore truly intended to reveal the extent of Harry’s power to someone as dangerously incompetent as Fudge, Lord Voldemort would declare war again. After he had Obliviated Fudge and replaced him as Minister.

“You expect me to believe that a child is a powerful Death Eater, Albus? Are you mad?”

“You do not understand that boy, Cornelius. Or perhaps I should say that you have no reason to understand the creature that is hiding behind the mask of a boy.”

Creature. Lord Voldemort flexed his fingers and felt as if he had claws at the ends of them.

“You’re saying that the Potters’ child isn’t human, Albus? Is he a werewolf?”

“Nothing so common, Cornelius. He is the Master of Death.”

There was a long pause. Then Fudge laughed.

Lord Voldemort eased back, and ceased to flex his fingers. “The right response,” he murmured to the pin. “But do not laugh too long. Ask what he would have to gain from telling you such lies.”

“The Master of Death is a legend, Albus. Is there a reason that you want me to react negatively to the Potter boy? A reason that you chose him as your scapegoat?”

Lord Voldemort smiled thinly. Yes, that was more like it.

“I promise that he is the Master of Death, Cornelius. I have proof.”

“Of what sort?”

“I can show you my own memories in a Pensieve of the boy declaring to me that he is the Master of Death.”

“Albus Dumbledore is a Legilimens,” Lord Voldemort said instantly. “Consider whether he would present the memories to you as they happened or not.”

It seemed Fudge might have been doubtful of that before Lord Voldemort cautioned him, because he said, “I should warn you, Albus, that Pensieve memories from a Legilimens are rarely admitted as court evidence. Specifically because you can tamper with them, you understand.”

“But these aren’t court evidence, are they, Cornelius? This is just one matter of one friend proving the truth to another friend.”

“Now, really, Albus. Are you claiming me as a friend after some of the letters you’ve sent me?”

“An ally, then.” Lord Voldemort focused through the tendril of magic again and saw a calm smile on Albus’s face. The smile was twisted at the edges and less calm than it otherwise looked, however. “What would it cost you to listen to me, Cornelius?”

“I don’t want to be prejudiced against a child,” Cornelius said flatly. “And prejudicing me against him is what you’re trying to do, Albus, so don’t look disingenuous,” he added.

“If I cannot convince you that Voldemort is a danger, Cornelius—”

“You’ll need stronger material than a grudge against a ten-year-old, Albus. Like some actual proof. Now get out of my office.”

Lord Voldemort watched with some satisfaction as Albus departed, and whispered the appropriate compliments to the pin to be carried to Cornelius’s ears, while he considered. Perhaps Albus revealing the truth or hinting around about it to a few select people would not be so deadly as Lord Voldemort had feared. It would mean that Harry would begin to assume the status in some minds that he was entitled to. It would mean that Lord Voldemort did not need to plant seeds himself.

He went home in a fine mood, one improved when he found the owl Harry had sent waiting for him. He read the contents, and laughed.

Yes, for once, his plans and Albus’s would dovetail nicely.

Chapter Text

“Um, can I talk to you, Potter?”

Jonathan stepped carefully away from the stream of Hufflepuffs headed to Herbology. Acanthus and the twins gave him sharp glances, but went on when Jonathan nodded to them. Marcus Flint was pale and sweating. Jonathan didn’t really think Flint was going to do anything to harm him.

He did wonder if whatever this was had to do with Harry.

“What is it, Flint?” he asked, folding his arms and studying Marcus carefully.

Marcus coughed. “I—I believe all the stories about your brother. He called my family together last weekend and showed us what he could do. My parents didn’t believe him, and most of my other relatives didn’t, either. But I’m more sensitive to magic than some of my family is. I could feel it all around him.”

Jonathan relaxed. “So that means that you aren’t going to be upset if Acanthus spends time with me? That was the original argument in the first place.”

“No.” Marcus hesitated. “Since my family didn’t believe he was really—what he says he is, they didn’t ally with him.”

“Okay?” Jonathan didn’t see what this had to do with him.

“But I believe him. I want to ally with him.” Marcus nodded as if he was making an argument to himself more than to Jonathan, who just stared at him, startled. “So I thought I could make an offer to him, and you could write to him and tell me if he approves.”

“What sort of offer? I don’t think he would want you to turn your back on your family. Harry really cares about family.”

“I won’t work against them, unless they decide to fight your brother. Then they’re stupid and deserve what they get.” Marcus folded his arms, and his muscles bulged like rocks. “But I was just thinking that I could be really useful to your brother by guarding you while you’re at school.”

“Guarding me from what?”

Marcus gave him a flat look. “Come on, Potter. There are enough people who hate you among the Slytherins. And there are people like my family who’ll get frustrated with your brother and take it out on you. And there’s even just ordinary students who are jealous and want to play pranks on you because they think you did better than them on exams or something.”

“I don’t need you to protect me from pranks,” Jonathan said, a little disgusted. Exactly how weak did Marcus think he was?

“But when someone could be unexpectedly vicious? Or when the prank is coming from a Slytherin?” Marcus curled his lip a little. “You think that Acanthus and the Weasleys are the face of Slytherin, but they’re not. I know my Housemates better than you do. I want to make sure that you get the kind of protection you deserve.”

“You mean you want to prove yourself to Harry.”

“That, too.”

Jonathan sighed. “Fine. But you’ll have to be subtle about it. You can’t follow me around all the time without someone thinking that something’s changed, and unless you want to advertise to your family that you’re rebelling against them—”

“Trust me, I can be subtle when the time calls for it.” Marcus grinned at him and cast a spell before Jonathan could flinch. Jonathan watched as it spread out over his head like a glittering purple firework before it faded.

“What was that?”

“Something that will make my job easier. It means that any charm or hex that hits you is going to be rebounded straight back at the caster. It won’t do anything about curses, it’s not that powerful. But it means that you have some protection.”

“What if someone hits me accidentally or while we’re dueling in Defense class, though?”

Marcus shrugged. “Best make sure that doesn’t happen.”

Jonathan glared at him for a moment. Marcus only looked back, so unrepentant that Jonathan started smiling in spite of himself. Sirius looked like that when they were doing dueling practice sometimes.

“All right,” he said. “But you know that you’re going to have to get along with Acanthus and the twins better if you’re going to spend a lot of time around me.”

Marcus grunted. “You have the good taste to have Slytherin friends—wait. Are you going to also expose me to that ridiculous Hufflepuff who spends so much time with you? And those Gryffindors?”

Jonathan smiled innocently. It was true that Lee Jordan had started to spend a lot more time with them in the past few months, intrigued by the twins’ new skills—and Lee was a perfect Gryffindor, even if he did enjoy curses and pranks. “Get used to it.”

Marcus stifled a groan.

*

“Okay. I’m here. You were the one who wanted to speak to me, so don’t you think it’s about time you showed yourself?”

Lord Voldemort remained hidden under the shadows of the trees at the edge of the clearing a moment longer, his whole being poised like a flame on the verge of going out. Harry’s voice echoed calmly and naturally from the open; he didn’t sound on edge. And why should he? He had such powers that he could guard himself, and he could also sense Lord Voldemort in a minute if he was willing to extend himself.

But at the moment, he was not. He was playing at being mortal. Lord Voldemort found the pretense irritating, but also endearing in an odd way. It would be one of the ways that Harry had managed to cling to his sanity through lifetimes of being born in different worlds.

When he comes to accept my gift, my offer, he will no longer need that, Lord Voldemort thought, and stepped out of the shadows. Harry spun to face him at once, and Lord Voldemort caught a sharp breath of delight.

For a moment, what he saw gleaming in Harry’s deep green eyes, the color of water in leaf-shadows, was a bright, feral thing, no more human than a thunderstorm. Harry had seen the sudden movement and been prepared to defend himself against it. His hand had curled back, his fingers forming claws. Lord Voldemort had no doubt that Harry could deal a blow harder than any striking leopard.

I want all of him. The mortal and the immortal and the beast. I wonder if he has yet realized that?

“Voldemort,” Harry said a moment later, and dropped his hand. He looked normal, mortal, and annoying again as he nodded. “What is this about? Sending me a vague letter telling me ‘it’s urgent’ isn’t going to work every time you want to see me, you know.”

“It is enough that it worked this time,” Lord Voldemort said quietly, feeling the vibration of the words in his throat in a way that he never did except when speaking to Harry. “And I wanted to know how you feel about others realizing that you are the Master of Death.”

Harry sighed and leaned back against the bench beneath the tree that Lord Voldemort’s magic had carved, shaking his head. “I’m not that enthusiastic about it,” he admitted with a grimace. “I understand that certain people know and they can spread the knowledge, but the more people know, the more people start taking me into consideration.”

Lord Voldemort frowned. That seemed to him an odd way of putting it. “Taking you into consideration?”

“They start basing their actions on what they think might make me react, or what would earn my favor. They calculate everything. I want to make as little impact on the world as possible. Just be a normal human being in every way that matters.”

Lord Voldemort had not anticipated his own reaction, but then, he never thought that words so ridiculous would come out of the mouth of someone so self-aware as Harry, either. He threw back his head and laughed.

The sound boomed around the clearing, and the trees rustled their leaves and bent down as if they wanted to be near it. Lord Voldemort would not be surprised. He had affected these trees with his own magic—carving and shaping the bench, casting spells that singed their bark and affected their growth. It made sense that they would respond to an emotion he felt so seldom.

“What are you laughing about?”

“You affect the world by being here,” Lord Voldemort said. “You would have even if you had succeeded in your mad desire to sacrifice your own life for your brother’s protection when I first met you on that night nine years ago. You are not normal, Harry Potter. And I for one will never cease to rejoice in that fact.”

Harry’s mouth hung slightly open. The expression on his face was lost enough that he did sort of look like the gormless mortal that he claimed he wanted to be. But Lord Voldemort would not forget the immortal eyes that had looked at him when he first came into the clearing. He ceased to laugh and waited politely until Harry could find words, at least.

“But that would have been—I mean, it would have been unusual, and I know that it wouldn’t have stopped you forever, but it would have been normal in a way. It would have been something that my mother did in my first life.”

Lord Voldemort made a soft noise, but as much as he loved the tidbits from Harry’s other lives, he would not be distracted now. “You are such a liar, Harry. Unless what you are saying is that you wouldn’t have seen the consequences of that, the grief and the fear and the wonder, that you left behind you, because you would have been dead and then reborn into another world?”

“Well—yeah.”

“Ah. I never took you for a coward.”

Harry snapped his spine straight. “I am not. I’m practical!”

“Practical.”

“The whole world changes when people know what I am! I’ve never had a relationship with my family that’s like the one I have now, because they never knew what I was. I never had to be enemies with Dumbledore, even when I wasn’t exactly his friend, because he never feared me as the Master of Death. And I certainly never had this—this,” and he waved his hand in the air between him and Lord Voldemort. “I killed the Voldemorts in my other worlds or I helped kill them. That’s the way it was!”

“It is new,” Lord Voldemort agreed in as dulcet a tone as he was still capable of mustering. “So that means you fear it.”

“I do not.”

The clearing was darkening in a way that had nothing to do with the absence of light, unless the absence of light in a great being’s soul counted. Lord Voldemort let his magic spread its wings to Harry’s magic, and shivered in the tingle of pleasure down his spine. “You can think of this relationship that you have with your family and Dumbledore now as something other than twisted.”

“Yeah?” Harry glared at him. “What?”

“Honest. For the first time in thousands of years, Harry, you are appearing to people as you really are. And if you are afraid of that, I suppose I cannot blame you. But I will mock you for your cowardice for as long as I am permitted to know you—and I am wondering now how much of your determination to continue to die and be reborn in distant worlds comes from that same cowardice. What would happen if you stayed in the same world? If you kept watch over the same people, and saw them die, and then came to know their descendants, who are new to you? Are you afraid that you would be unable to cope with it?”

“I do get to know different people in each world! I never had a brother like Jonathan before, and there’s a Parkinson here who never existed before, and I was people who otherwise aren’t born in most of the worlds—”

“But the majority are the same,” Lord Voldemort said, his voice darting, probing, like the tongue of a snake. “And you do not live much past your own generation, do you?” Harry had never told him that, but suddenly he was certain it was true. “You live a wizard’s normal lifespan, perhaps, but not the full length that a powerful one like Dumbledore can reach. You will not use your magic enough to aid you even in that, is that it? Or do you prefer to die and go on, so that you will not need to face a world where you will need to create new relationships, without the preconceptions you can rely on when you are born anew into a world that has Blacks and Potters and your schoolmates?”

Harry stared at him. He did not appear to be breathing. Lord Voldemort raised his brows and pressed the last blade home. “Death holds no terrors for you, I am certain of that. But what about life? Do you not fear that, Master of Death?”

Harry vanished. One moment he was there, the next moment a soughing black wind had carried him away. Lord Voldemort turned his head, listening. The trees rustled, and something came back to him, an indefinable impression again likely created by the impact of his magic on the clearing, that said Harry had become the air.

He was gone. He had not Apparated. Lord Voldemort did not know when he might return, and he had initially planned to spend more time in Harry’s company.

But he could not regret what had passed between them. There had been, for the first time, a stricken look in Harry’s eyes. Lord Voldemort had pressed his ideas beyond the flare of instinctive denial when Harry thought of immortality.

Lord Voldemort was well-pleased with his night’s work.

*

Harry appeared under a tree at the edge of his parents’ garden, and collapsed to the ground. It had been a long time since he’d done that, turned into a wind that could pass through the world of the dead and the living both at once. The Elder Wand was humming with contentment at his side that he had done something that demanded so much magic.

And his reason for doing it…

Harry wrapped his arms around himself and willed his skin warmer when he couldn’t stop shivering.

But it truly wasn’t the cold of the evening that had made him feel like this, or even the realms he had traversed. No, Voldemort’s words had pulled away some sheer layer of self-deception that he hadn’t even realized was there.

Yes, part of him was afraid to pass beyond the bounds of what he had always known. He remembered how disoriented he had been during the life when he was born as Sirius and Regulus’s brother, a generation before most of the people that he knew and loved, and getting to intimately know many of those who, like Orion and Walburga, had remained distant in all his other lives.

He had known the same kind of disorientation when he was reborn as Hermione, but that had been so near the beginning that his sense of it had become blunted over the passing years. His memory was perfect, but he could still start to doubt whether he had felt that dizziness because of being reborn as a girl he knew, or being reborn as a girl, or being reborn at all.

Harry let his head fall back and closed his eyes.

Did I deal well with this kind of immortality only because it repeated itself so much? I was never born in a country that Voldemort wasn’t rising in. I was never born in another century. I was never born into a life that had no connection with Voldemort at all. That’s pretty fucking weird when you think about it.

For a moment, Harry entertained the idea that perhaps he had been created, destined, to defeat Voldemort, and there was some entity, perhaps Death itself, that wouldn’t let him get too far away. But he discarded the idea almost immediately. If that was the case, he couldn’t believe it would have remained hidden so long. And it surely would have indicated some disapproval of this life, where he was—befriending Voldemort, or whatever the hell the thing they had was.

That left the other possibility, something he had distantly accepted as a theoretical likelihood before, but never thought of seriously, never pursued.

I’m being reborn like this because I choose it. Because I want to.

Sweat broke out over his skin. He had never given it serious consideration because—well, because he had accepted that he was a pawn of the Deathly Hallows, essentially. Because he had thought that he had a purpose in defeating Voldemort even if he didn’t have a destiny. Because he had regretted things during his first life that he had been relieved to have a chance to set right in others.

Because it was easier, perhaps, to believe that he was reborn in random worlds and couldn’t choose his own fate than it was to think of the power that awaited him if he could.

Harry’s world reeled and staggered around him. It reminded him of falling headlong into the heart of an active volcano (necromancy initiation was as fucking weird as never being born in another country).

What would happen if I chose to remain in this body and—just become immortal? Without even researching one of the ways I told Voldemort about? Just remain, say, thirty because I wished to?

The Elder Wand leaped out of his hand. Harry looked up, almost sure that it would manifest Death’s disapproval now, and at least he’d know.

Instead, the Wand beamed like a second moon in the darkness, and the Cloak was suddenly on his back like a light breeze, and the Resurrection Stone sang like a phoenix.

Harry swallowed. It didn’t sound as if they disliked the idea. It sounded as if they had been waiting for him to figure it out.

“It only took me seventeen hundred years,” he said weakly, and then bowed his head on his knees, and contemplated having even more power than he’d thought to choose his own fate, while the Deathly Hallows danced around him.

Chapter Text

“Are you all right, dear?” Lily asked softly as Harry sat down at the table for breakfast that morning. “You’re moving—well, differently.” She paused, then added, “And you have a different expression on your face, as well.”

Harry smiled a little. “I wouldn’t be surprised if I did. I came to terms with some things that a friend told me a few days ago, Mother.” He attacked the eggs and sausage in front of him with an appetite that made Lily’s eyebrows rise. Harry supposed he couldn’t blame her for that. Most of the time, he just treated food as fuel to keep him going.

“You came to terms with them in a good way, I hope.” Lily’s voice was restrained, her eyes shifting back and forth between him and the plate.

Harry swallowed and nodded. “He made me realize that I’d been drifting through all my lives, and pretending that I couldn’t control anything. Or at least severely underestimating what I could control. I have to stop doing that. I owe myself and the world and even him more than that.”

Even him?”

“He’s not a friend that I would have—done a lot for before this.”

Lily studied the ceiling. “I am going to keep my suspicions to myself,” she said, in a voice that quivered a little. Harry hoped it was with amusement. It sounded like amusement, at least. “I assume that you aren’t going to spend much time in the house today?”

Harry shook his head and wiped his mouth with a napkin. “But I’ll be back for dinner. I really need to talk to Dad.”

“Do you?” Lily tilted her head.

“Yes. Like I said, I was just letting things drift along because I was afraid of overstepping my bounds. But I’ve let it go on long enough. Dad and I are going to have a talk.”

Abruptly, Lily stood up and came around the table. Harry froze in shock when she hugged him. If anything, he’d thought she would beg him not to talk to James, to remain with the comfortable status quo.

“Thank you,” Lily breathed. “I know how hard it was for me to really think of you as a—a powerful being, and it’s going to be harder for James because you left it longer. If we can start accepting you the way Jonathan already has, then we can start really moving forwards as a family.”

Harry patted her back and finally smiled into her hair. No, he’d never had a family like this, in all the worlds.

He was already used to saying that kind of thing with Jonathan. He would just have to make sure that he extended the notion to Lily.

And both his parents?

Well, that would have to wait for tonight. In the meantime, Harry had someone else he needed to talk to, someone he’d avoided for the past few days and who he owed not only honesty but an apology to.

*

Lord Voldemort glided silently into the center of the clearing. It was more than unusual to receive an owl from Harry during the day requesting a meeting, but then, he had expected no more contact for perhaps months. He was more than willing to delay a report from his Death Eaters so that he might see Harry.

But there was—someone else in the clearing.

Lord Voldemort closed his hand carefully around his wand. It was not improbable that Dumbledore had intercepted Harry’s messages to him and tricked him by sending the request for this meeting, although it would have required a level of thinking ahead that Lord Voldemort was reluctant to attribute to Albus.

Then he walked past the tree that stood above the carved bench, and saw Harry standing alone. He raised as much of his eyebrows as he had at the moment. The return of the Horcruxes had not yet returned all his hair.

Harry turned around to face him, and smiled.

Lord Voldemort understood a moment later. He had felt as though there was someone else in the clearing because of the amount of magic hovering in the air. Harry normally kept his power quietly constrained, almost apologetic for the extent of it. For the first time, the restraints were gone.

Lord Voldemort often felt as though he was floating in the depths of water when standing near Harry or looking into his eyes. Now, he was standing on the shore of the sea.

“Hello,” Harry said quietly.

“I am surprised that you needed only three days to think on my words and change as much as you have.”

“You think I’ve changed that much?” Harry made a show of looking down at the ten-year-old body he wore.

More than ever, Lord Voldemort felt as though that body was a mask, one he would have longed to tear aside. But he kept himself to a flick of his eyes up and down, and an extension of his magical senses that nearly blinded and deafened them at the same moment. “You do not act as though you need to apologize for being the Master of Death anymore.”

“Apologize for what I am,” Harry repeated thoughtfully. “Yes, perhaps that’s what I was doing.” He extended one hand and snapped his fingers a little.

The looming magic in the air seemed to part and flow around Lord Voldemort. Now he was, in a way, on an island in the midst of the ocean, able to see the surface and the light gleaming on it, able to hear the cries of the seabirds rather than losing control of his senses at once. And for the first time, he appreciated how immense Harry’s power. His own magic was as a cup of water beside it.

Harry watched him with wary eyes. Lord Voldemort wondered if he was about to apologize again.

Then he understood. Of course Harry was still more used to the Voldemorts of other worlds where he had spent the past, as opposed to the nine years he had known the true Lord. He thought Lord Voldemort would be jealous.

“I am awed,” he told Harry, and he meant it, for the first time in his life. He glanced around again, using the eyes of his magic that told him what Harry’s power was really like. “I did not know that one being could contain this and still retain his humanity.”

Harry smiled, and the light in his eyes was everything Lord Voldemort had been craving, and had not known, since he first lifted a wand. It was what he had wanted magic to be and found that it was not. It was—

Lord Voldemort cut his thoughts off. He could not speak in a coherent manner now, and he would not embarrass himself in front of Harry when Harry had trusted him with such a secret. He settled for inclining his head and murmuring, “I meant what I said. I am glad that you were able to think through the thoughts I spoke and not the—tone in which I spoke them.”

Harry shook his head a little. “I realized that I’d been holding back, and also that I was the one who was choosing my life and being reborn.”

Lord Voldemort blinked. He had only meant to bring Harry to a realization of what he had and what he could be. He had not known that Harry had that much freedom. “And you chose to be a Kneazle? And a Dementor?”

Harry laughed. The trees above him bent nearer as if to listen. Lord Voldemort moved closer for the thrill in his chest. “Not that much choice, I don’t think. But I started working it through. Why was I never born somewhere that wasn’t Britain, or to absolute strangers? Why was I never born in a time period where you didn’t exist? The span of history is so vast that I ought to have been. But—I accepted what you said. If I am the Master of Death, then I’m the master of the Deathly Hallows, not their servant. I suspect there are probably arcane details to this that I don’t understand, such as only certain bodies being free to receive me at any one time. But I don’t need the arcane details. The way the Deathly Hallows reacted when I had that thought was enough to prove it.”

He extended his hand in front of him. At once, the Resurrection Stone was orbiting above his palm, although Lord Voldemort did not see where it had come from. And the Elder Wand and the Cloak joined it, shrunken so that they matched the size of the stone. Something soft and glowing filled the center of the ring they made, like a candle flame.

“I’ve been going about this last life all wrong,” Harry said softly, watching the Hallows instead of Lord Voldemort. When he considered it, Lord Voldemort was glad. He could not be sure that he was controlling the expression on his face. “I was cringing and trying to replicate the pattern of my past lives, not wanting to influence people too much.”

“I told you that.”

Harry nodded and lifted his eyes. The blaze in them made Lord Voldemort struggle to remain standing. He had been right, it was better to have Harry looking at the Hallows at first.

Mercifully, he turned his eyes back to them after a few moments, and halted their orbits with a simple flex of his fingers. “Yes, but you didn’t tell me what to do about it,” Harry murmured. “That was the thing I had to decide.”

He shot Lord Voldemort a small smile as he sank back on the bench. “I’m still going to let my ethics and principles chain me, just so you know. You needn’t think that you’ve convinced me to throw everything I believe in overboard.”

“I would have rejoiced to know that I have done so, but I did not truly expect it,” Lord Voldemort said, taking a seat next to him. He spoke the truth. “So what has changed, if your principles have not?”

“The way that we’re conducting this war,” Harry said, and his face altered, taking on the fierce cast of an eagle’s about to dive. “I was giving Albus too much room to play on the line. I kept thinking that I couldn’t tell him certain things—not because it’s practical, but because we hadn’t been enemies in other lives, and I wanted to maintain that relationship.”

“Now?” Lord Voldemort’s throat was thick.

“We need to get him out of the way,” Harry said. “Having him distracted with false reports of Horcruxes is a good tactic, but it’s not enough. I have to shift things so that he’ll fight a false notion of both me and you. That will give us room both to conduct the actual war through political means, and diminish his reputation.”

“Ah. So I see that you won’t simply kill him.”

“Part of me would like to.”

Lord Voldemort paused. “And that part of you cannot be in control?” he whispered.

Harry grinned at him. There were depths and darkness behind that grin that Lord Voldemort reached out to touch. But Harry simply squeezed his wrist once and lowered his hand, shaking his head.

“He cast a spell that could have destroyed my brother’s mind. Of course I want to kill him. But right now, it would just make a martyr of him. And I don’t know who else he’s told about your Horcruxes. If he’s spread enough information, or accurate information, then someone might be able to find them and destroy the ones that are left.”

“I have gathered all that are left to me. And when we are ready, you will piece them back into my soul. Except one.”

Harry rolled his eyes. “I told you that the other methods of immortality I know about are a lot more reliable than those bloody things.”

“I will not destroy the ring.”

Harry paused. “The one with the protections that almost killed Dumbledore. Why not?”

Lord Voldemort settled slowly back on the bench. He had pictured confronting Harry, or perhaps comforting him if he had not come to terms with the implications of Lord Voldemort’s words. He had never pictured having to tell the truth himself. “The ring is unique.”

“Not just because it’s an artifact of your Slytherin ancestors,” Harry said quietly, and dropped into Parseltongue. “Tell me, please, Voldemort.

Lord Voldemort stared into the distance. The light between the trees thrummed and sang with Harry’s power. To him, it also sang with something else. “I killed a traitor to create that Horcrux.

Harry paused, but Lord Voldemort did not intend to speak again. He nodded and responded, “And someone who meant a great deal to you, right? Otherwise, I can’t see you allowing the fact that it was a traitor to matter to you at all.

Lord Voldemort would have closed his eyes, but that would not have relieved him of the memories, or enabled him to make Harry understand. In the end, he said only, “I will not destroy the ring.

All right,” Harry said finally, after a disturbingly long and uncomfortable time when he simply studied Lord Voldemort, and switched back to English. “As long as you’ve gathered them and hold them safe, that’s what I care about, so that their destruction wouldn’t cause you any pain.”

Lord Voldemort managed to move from memories of the past to the reality of the present by listening to the thrum of the magic around them. “You need not be concerned about them. But explain what you mean by having Dumbledore chase false notions of us.”

“Exactly that,” Harry responded, and turned and stared at a spot under one of the trees. Lord Voldemort followed his gaze, but saw nothing remarkable there.

At least, he didn’t until the soil stirred and something rose up from it. Lord Voldemort narrowed his eyes. It resembled grave dust more than anything else, but was too flitting and dark to be that entirely. In fact, it seemed to flash and lighten at times, as if fireflies were mixed in with it.

Harry nodded. “This is something I haven’t done before, but I always knew I could do,” he said, and Lord Voldemort stifled the surge of inappropriate emotions that came with knowing he was the first being other than the Master of Death to witness this. Harry cradled some of the dust in his hands, while some of the other specks orbited his fingers the way the Hallows had earlier. “You know how memories of the dead linger in our minds even when they’re gone?”

“I understand the theory.”

Harry rolled his eyes at him. Rolled his eyes. Disbelief held Lord Voldemort still for a moment, long enough for Harry to hiss, “And, of course, you don’t at all remember the person you killed to make the ring a Horcrux.

“I have told you to leave that.”

The air in the clearing seemed to still after he spoke. Harry’s eyes remained on him for long, motionless moments. Then he nodded, and turned back to speaking as if the shouting had never happened at all. “Well, the memories are often elusive. Anything might trigger them, and what some people associate with the dead would never matter to anyone else. I’m going to ask the dust to whisper rumors about us, to create images of us at various places.”

“And those rumors and images will be—”

“As elusive as memories of the dead, yes.” Harry’s voice was gentle, his smile sad, and for a moment, his eyes grew distant in a way that made Lord Voldemort sure he was seeing another world, not this one. He restrained the impulse to wave his hand in front of Harry’s face. “No one else will see them in the same way that Albus does. And this dust will have the power to travel anywhere the dead are buried.”

“There are dead around Hogwarts.”

“There are dead everywhere.” Harry swung his head a little to the side. “If you could see what I see, you would know that.”

“I want to see what you see.”

For a moment, Harry gazed at him, and Lord Voldemort thought Harry would refuse, perhaps because of his own stupid shouting earlier. But then Harry nodded.

He didn’t cast a spell. Instead, he simply reached out and clasped Lord Voldemort’s wrist.

The world wrenched. When he looked up again, Lord Voldemort was gazing at a world studded with skeletons.

Not only that, he realized after a moment. The world had gone black and filmy, the skeletons imposed on the living trees and grass. There were graves everywhere he looked, the outlines of the remains of small animals, the fallen corpses of trees, lines that delineated vanished human buildings. Layer after layer of the dead loomed around him, and when he looked closely at one, it peeled back, showing him squirrel on rat on weed on human on ancient lizard on wide-winged bird on lily…

He gathered his sanity with a gasp and turned to face at Harry. Harry tilted his head to the side. He was the only thing that did not look dead in this altered vision, but neither did he look alive. Instead, whirling motes of blackness assembled him, crowned his sleek living face, and danced around the blaze of his soul.

“There is death everywhere,” Harry said, and removed his hand from Lord Voldemort’s. The world snapped back into view.

“Because you are the Master of Death of plants and beasts and the landscape, as well as humans,” Lord Voldemort whispered, voicing what he had not acknowledged before.

Harry nodded. “And there is dead akin anywhere Albus treads. Dead rodents. Dead insects. Or what used to be the dead.” He breathed on the black dust still in his hand, and it sped away from him. “It will mutter and whisper to him. He will think that he saw us near the Chamber of Secrets, or the Room of Requirement. He will think that he heard someone talking about me or you being in France, or the Ministry, or the States. He won’t remember where he heard that or why he became convinced of it. Just as you never know where rumor began. He will breathe in fear with every inhalation, and exhale paranoia.”

“That might be worse than most of the other punishments you could give him,” Lord Voldemort concluded, after thinking about it for a moment.

Harry nodded. “And with Albus distracted, we have much freer access to the Ministry and the ears of the powerful than we did.” He grinned like the skull his face would never resemble and leaned forwards. “Now. Let’s talk about how we’re going to make things better through politics.”

Chapter Text

Albus stopped. There was a ripple of dark motion on the stairs ahead of him leading up to his office.

Albus narrowed his eyes. Lately, he had stopped giving his password to anyone; instead, he asked students and professors who wanted to see him to wait by the gargoyle. A small bell would chime in his office, and he would let them in. There should have been no one here, there could have been no one here.

But there was. Albus saw a shadow, and it was small, as though a first-year had cast it. But he knew very well that no first-year could get past the gargoyle, even with a blast of accidental magic. That left one candidate.

“Harry Potter,” he whispered. “Come out.”

The shadow trembled and danced for a moment, as though Harry was considering rebelling against him for no good reason. Then it formed, after all, into the boy. He was leaning on one of the stones that projected far enough to scrape at Albus’s robes every time he went up the stairs, his eyebrows raised a little. His hair was longer than normal and his smile was lazy and mischievous.

Albus felt his stomach lurch in dread. “Why are you here?” he whispered. “How are you here?”

“You must at least suspect that,” Harry said, and pushed himself away from the wall to stand in front of Albus with his hands on his hips. It should have looked ridiculous, given that he was ten years old, but Albus had long since ceased to see him as a child. He knew what wore that body like a cloak. “I’m the Master of Death, Albus. I can go wherever I want.”

Albus’s lips felt like stone. “And the why?”

Harry smiled at him, and the smile was a wolf’s. Albus had never been afraid of werewolves, but suddenly he thought he understood what it must have been like for Severus to stand in the mouth of a tunnel staring up at Remus’s parted jaws. “What have you always suspected about my true allegiance?”

“Why—why would you yield to him, Harry?” Albus’s heart was cracking, piece by piece, tumbling and flaking like dust to fall on some floor far below. “He is fated by prophecy to try and destroy your brother! He cost you a normal relationship with your parents by kidnapping you for three years and forcing you to reveal yourself! Do you think that you can work with him? He’ll never tolerate an equal!”

“Oh, Albus. You think I would, either? He’s my dog, on my leash.” Harry leaned near and whispered, “He thinks otherwise, of course. Don’t tell him?” He capped the confession with an obscene giggle.

Albus backed up. It was indeed his worst nightmare come true. Harry was so dangerous that he had managed to subjugate Tom, and he had evidently given up on taking over the wizarding world slowly or quietly. He would probably let Albus die now if he saw him poisoned by the Horcrux.

Harry laughed. No hyena could have made a worse noise, as far as Albus was concerned. Albus put his hands over his ears.

And then Harry was—gone.

Albus turned slowly in place. On the one hand, he wanted to believe that Harry hadn’t been able to Apparate out, since that would indicate the security of Hogwarts had changed forever. On the other hand, he could hardly have done worse than shown up in Albus’s private staircase even if he didn’t Apparate.

But no sound answered him when he gave a low call. Albus went into his office and asked the portraits if they had seen Harry wandering around Hogwarts, but they all answered in the negative.

Frowning, Albus took his place behind his desk. The only thing he knew for certain was that Harry had openly declared war.

And that meant Albus, too, could unleash the forces he had been holding back for too long a time.

*

“Jonathan.”

Jonathan opened his eyes with a gasp. He could have sworn that he was in his bed in the Hufflepuff dorms the last time he looked. But now he was standing on top of the Astronomy Tower, his hair blowing in the brisk wind.

He turned around slowly, wondering if Dumbledore had kidnapped him and brought him up here, and what he would need to do to contact Harry and avoid any spells on his mind.

But he felt his heart gallop with relief when he saw Harry standing behind him, lit up with some kind of green-black outline that made the night blaze. He extended his hand, and Harry came forwards and grabbed it.

“Sorry to come to you in dreams like that,” Harry said. “But I have to talk with you, and I think it’s better to do it like this so we can be absolutely private. Even Dumbledore can’t spy on memories like this.”

“But how are you doing it?” Jonathan asked in interest. “Are you Master of Dreams too and you just never told me?”

Harry laughed. The sound made a strange kind of vibration wake up in Jonathan’s bones. “No. Dreams are on the edge of death—a kind of neighboring realm. A lot of people die in their sleep. They dream of dying. Or they enter into a state that’s different from the waking world, which is a lot like the world I can move through. I can reach you here and it’s more private and better than trying to speak to you when you’re awake.”

Jonathan cocked his head and looked at him. The light around Harry still wouldn’t settle, and kind of hurt his eyes, not that this was real darkness or real stars. “You made the decision to wake up and use all your power?”

Harry hesitated once, but Jonathan glared at him, because, damn it, he was not too young to know this. Harry finally nodded. “Yeah. I’m done giving Dumbledore and anyone else chances. He’s going to be acting strange for a while, but you don’t need to worry about that. I’m going to make sure you’re protected.”

“How are you going to do that?”

Harry extended his hands and closed his eyes. Jonathan looked around expectantly, then wondered if he should expect anything after all. Harry had said they were in a dream. Maybe Jonathan would just wake up in his bed with a headache and he wouldn’t know that anything was different.

But instead, images started to swarm towards them. Jonathan saw a deep pool of water, floating on the air in the way that their mum had described images on Muggle telly, and a set of stairs, and a wand glowing with the color of the Killing Curse, and a sharp stone, and so many other things that he couldn’t keep track of them. They swarmed around him, and then they acted like they sank into his skin. Jonathan looked cautiously at his arms. He didn’t look different.

“What’d you do?” he finally asked, since he had no idea.

“I protected you from various forms of death that someone could try to inflict on you,” Harry said. His voice sounded hoarse and exhausted, and when Jonathan looked at him again, the green-black glow had turned into colors like sunset. “All the spells I could think of, falling, someone stoning you to death, drowning, fire. There’s lots of others.”

“You made me immortal?” Jonathan wasn’t sure he liked that. Being immortal had messed Voldemort up. Jonathan didn’t want to lose all his eyebrow hair and have to regrow it the way Voldemort was sort of starting to do.

Harry laughed without sound, and dropped his hands. The sunset glow faded away. “Oh, of course not, Jonathan. I’d never do that to you without asking you first.” His smile was warm, and Jonathan found himself smiling back the way he had when Harry first came home after being kidnapped. “Just unable to die in a lot of common ways that someone might try to murder you.”

“Who are you worried about, though? If you’re keeping Dumbledore busy?”

Harry’s smile faded. “Allies of his. Stay safe, Jonathan.”

And Jonathan woke up in his bed, extremely annoyed that he hadn’t got to hug his brother good-bye.

*

“Father. I’d like to talk to you, please.”

James eyed his youngest son warily as he unlocked the door to his study. There were books in there, as well as some half-finished pranks, that he tried to keep out of the way of his children.

But the being that stood in front of him and looked up at him with solemn green eyes was far away from being a child.

James sighed, beaten, and opened the door. “Okay. Fine.”

“Thank you,” Harry said, and walked in and turned around, standing in front of the couch like the world’s most solemn ten-year-old, even though James knew he wasn’t really that at all. “Would you prefer that I call you Father for the duration of this, or James? Which one would make you more comfortable?”

James stared at Harry and tried to think of what to say. Honestly, nothing came to mind. It was—this whole conversation was surreal. But he decided that he was going to face up to reality, and that meant doing it all the way. He folded is arms and leaned on the back of the armchair in front of the fire. “Call me James. I was never really your father.”

“You were—in this life.”

“That you have more than one life is exactly the problem.”

Harry smiled a little sadly. James paused. For some reason, the expression looked wrong to him, but he didn’t know why.

It was only when he realized that he’d been expecting Harry to smile at him with desperation that Harry started to speak. “Well. I’m still trying to give this my best effort, James. The reality is that I’ve decided to stop holding back on using my own powers and waiting for Dumbledore to reform.”

“What do you mean? What does Dumbledore have to reform from?” James realized he was snapping, but he couldn’t help it. It sounded—it sounded as though Harry blamed Albus for acting to keep the world safe, and James honestly couldn’t stand that.

Harry only looked at him, and the immortality behind his eyes had never been on such open display before. “He tried to fog Jonathan’s mind and keep him a mindless, obedient slave. I used Occlumency to protect Jonathan’s mind so that Dumbledore thinks he’s still in control. I also used my power to free him.”

“That’s—that’s not true. Albus would never do anything like that.”

“I know that you probably know the charms the Order of the Phoenix used during the war in other worlds, the ones that make sure no one can lie in a particular confined space,” Harry said quietly. “Will you cast one now?”

James became aware that he was holding onto his chair in a way that was more about not falling over than just being comfortable, and tried to make himself stop. He shook his head. “Why should I? You would probably laugh at that level of precaution. You would—you would be able to resist it.”

“So I’m too powerful for you to trust me?” Harry bowed his head a little. The light behind his eyes had gone wintry. “Why is the same not true of Dumbledore, given how much you seem to worship him? Of course, I know I’m at a disadvantage because you’ve known him longer, but I did hope that the fact I loved you made some difference.”

James closed his eyes, but the words came spilling out of him exactly as if Harry had cast one of those truth-forcing charms on the room. “You’re not my son. Not really. Not the son that I should have had. You replaced the spirit that should have been my son. Didn’t you.”

Silence. It got so long and so awful that James finally opened his eyes, looking for the space that Harry would probably have stood in. And he still thought of him as Harry even though he wasn’t the boy who should have been born wearing that name and that body, which was awful in its own way.

Harry still stood there, though, and watched him with an intense look of pity. He shook his head once James caught his eye and said quietly, “I might have replaced a baby that would have been stillborn. It’s one of my theories about my lives. I don’t have as much proof of it as I would like. But I realized something else recently.”

“Yes?” James had never known his voice could snap like that, like a whip.

“That I was born where I wanted to be, at least some of the time.” Harry grimaced. “I certainly never wanted to be born a Dementor, or a Kneazle. But I was born in the time period that would mean I would keep on fight Voldemort, defeating Voldemort. In a way, I was afraid of letting go of what I knew. Otherwise, why keep being born in this time period? I should have made a tour of history. There’s at least a good chance I would be born in another country. Britain’s not big enough to contain all the possibilities. I was the one controlling it, though. I resented what I thought was my destiny sometimes, and it was me after all.”

James blinked. “Why are you telling me this?”

“Because I wanted to be born to you, to you and Mum.” Harry looked up at him, and his eyes had gone luminescent and more boy-like than immortal. “If I’d known it was possible, I would have been born a Potter in my second life. I didn’t know it was, so I didn’t make that conscious choice. But I was overjoyed when I was born here again, even though I thought at the time that I’d have to sacrifice my life to defend Jonathan and help him fulfill the prophecy. I chose you to be my parents.”

James wavered and tried to sit down, but there was nothing behind him. Then his arse met something after all, and he looked back and realized that a chair was there. Since none of the furniture in his study was enchanted to move by itself, he knew who must have cast the charm.

He turned around with a deep breath. Harry was reaching a hand towards him, eyes wide and adult again. “Are you all right?”

“I—” On the face it, of course, James thought, nothing had changed. He still thought Harry was ridiculously powerful, he knew Harry was ridiculously powerful, and he still didn’t like his accusations against Albus. And if Harry had said those things that had affected him so strongly, well, he might have said them for that reason. Just to affect James and make him agree with him.

But it still affected him.

James swallowed and stretched out his hand. Harry came over and immediately took it, smiling up at him. James managed to contain the urge to blurt something out, and sat and thought about it, instead.

He still thought that he would have liked to have a normal son. But Harry was standing here, safe and warm, and he was the one who was present. James’s hypothetical son might never have existed at all, especially if Harry was right about the fact that he would have been stillborn instead.

James said softly, “Besides fogging Jonathan’s mind, what has Albus done?”

“He keeps doubting me and thinking the war is going to start any second when I know that isn’t true,” Harry said. “He went after an artifact that Voldemort made, and he did it in a stupid way that meant he would have died if I hadn’t come and saved him. And he still continues to think I’m evil.” He paused. “Did you know Fawkes left him?”

“What?” James felt weak and was glad he was already sitting down. He knew that the last time he had visited Albus in his office, Fawkes’s perch had been empty, but that happened often enough when the phoenix had a burning day. James had never once thought that it could somehow be a permanent absence.

Harry nodded. His eyes were strikingly sad. James wondered for the first time if living as long as he had had actually increased Harry’s ability to feel things, rather than blunting his emotions the way James had assumed would happen. “Fawkes doesn’t talk much about the reasons for his decision. He did still help me save Albus’s life when it mattered, but I don’t think he’ll ever go back to him.”

James exhaled. He had never thought much about the fact that a phoenix followed Albus, it had never been the reason that he had given his allegiance and his time to the Headmaster, but that the bird the Order was named after had gone missing now...

“Do you think Albus is still capable of good actions?”

Harry didn’t hesitate. “Yes. But he also doesn’t have a lot of foresight and can’t always see how other people are going to react to his actions.”

James nodded wearily, closing his eyes. That sounded more like Albus than unthinking evil. Albus thought a lot, in fact, but sometimes in the wrong directions. The enemies he anticipated hadn’t always materialized, even during the war, and he had trusted Peter right along with the rest of them.

If Harry, on the other hand, believed the war wouldn’t start again any time soon and opposing Albus was the right thing to do...

“Are you going to kill him?” James asked, not sure what the answer would be, not sure what he would say to any answer at all.

“No.” Harry gave a faint, grim smile. “I have a plan that should keep him chasing shadows until the point where he can’t do anything against us anyway.”

James swallowed. “Then—then I’m on your side of the war.”

And the joy in Harry’s eyes was just joy, neither mortal nor immortal, but there for the sharing.

Chapter Text

“I know that you don’t believe me, Severus. But I know that Harry has turned on us.”

Severus said nothing. It wasn’t that he didn’t believe the Headmaster—exactly. He knew how malicious the Potter brat was, and Severus could easily accept that he was more powerful than the Dark Lord. It wouldn’t be the first time that a wizard less cautious and clever than Severus had begun to play with the Dark Arts, only to find himself mastered by them.

No, Severus had trouble with the way that Albus’s eyes continually darted from side to side as he spoke, and the way he spun around and pointed his wand into the shelves of the library.

“Headmaster?” Severus asked quietly. He touched a crystal vial of a certain potion tucked deep in a pocket of his robes, one that would dispel hallucinations.

“I know that he’s here and watching us,” Albus said. At least he lowered his wand, but his face as he collapsed at the table next to Severus was terrible. Severus wished momentarily that the spells he had spun to keep students out of this section would affect the Hogwarts professors. “I see him all the time.”

“Professor. Perhaps you should see Madam Pomfrey…”

“I tell you that I see him.” Albus leaned forwards insistently. “He was in my private stairwell the other day. He told the truth I’ve long suspected, that he has Tom on a leash and he can use him like a mad dog. He wants to rule, and he’ll take all that power for himself if someone doesn’t stop him.”

Severus again thought that could be the truth, but he was growing increasingly convinced that Albus wasn’t the one to stop Potter. He knitted his hands together and said only, “Why don’t you tell me about it?”

Albus did. His eyes showed the glassy look of true belief. Severus cast a few subtle spells under the table, and all of them came back negative. Albus wasn’t under the influence of the Imperius Curse, and he wasn’t hallucinating from any potion or poison that Severus could detect.

Which left the possibility that Potter had tampered with his mind in some other way. But Severus wasn’t a good enough Legilimens to slip through Albus’s shields without him noticing.

There might be another course of action, however, one that Severus, and no other, was clever enough to discover. When Albus paused in his recitation, panting a little, Severus leaned forwards and said with concern, “Perhaps you could show me the memory? I won’t understand how horrifying it is until you do that, and I feel that I should. I have to know our enemy to be able to fight him, after all.”

Albus nodded rapidly and then spent a moment with his eyes closed, his breathing slowing. When he opened his eyes again, Severus slipped easily into his mind.

And found no signs of mental tampering or alteration of memory. Such a thing was not easily hidden from someone as skilled as he was, despite the power Potter had. His uneasiness growing, Severus followed the path towards the memory Albus was trying to chivvy him at anyway.

He watched the Potter brat confront Albus in the stairwell, and had trouble keeping his own heart from beating triple-time. Yes, he understood now full well how terrifying Potter was, and how even a powerful wizard could be afraid of him.

But at the same time, it wasn’t right, the way he vanished like that. Not even the Master of Death could be so casual around Hogwarts’s wards, Severus thought.

And the laughter and the insults he hurled, the truths he whispered. They were all exactly what Albus had thought he would say. Of course that could show how prescient Albus was, and that he had anticipated their enemy’s need to move in certain directions, but…

Severus did not believe it.

He rose from the memory and studied Albus, convinced that he was so convinced that he wouldn’t believe Severus if he tried to argue against the delusion. Severus ended his scrutiny by simply nodding. “And what would you like me to do?”

“Spy on Tom.”

Severus flinched before he could help it. He had been lucky to be able to leave the way he did, he thought, with his knowledge of the Horcruxes intact. That he might have to go back and be close to the man who had cursed him—

Severus might know in an abstract way that Potter was more powerful than the Dark Lord, but he did not believe it, he realized then, in his heart of hearts. The Dark Lord was the terrifying one, the one who had had a chance of winning the war even before Potter sided with him.

On the other hand, there might be a kind of sense to this plan that he hadn’t heard yet. So he braced himself and asked, “Why?”

“Tom will like it if you come crawling back to him. He probably regrets letting you leave with the knowledge that you gave me, anyway. And if I’m right about the way that Harry has him enslaved, then he will be desperate for someone who is voicing any kind of loyalty to him.”

“How do you think Potter has him enslaved?”

Albus merely shook his head, one of those habits that made him infuriating. Severus had tired of serving the Dark Lord long before the end, but service to Albus had its downsides as well. “I cannot tell you that yet. I don’t want him pulling it out of your mind. But I do think that it is a kind of complicated ritual.”

That I can’t seek information about in books now. Severus’s hand tightened. It was true that he could get someone else to read the books aloud to him, but he hated that kind of dependence and saw no reason to seek it out. He did control himself with a deep breath before he demanded the name of the ritual, though. “All right. But what would I be looking for?”

Albus smiled and seemed more like himself than he had since he began ranting about Potter to Severus today. “Information on how to get past Horcrux defenses, for one. I encountered ones that drove me back.”

Severus nodded. He should have suspected that of course Potter was not really more powerful than the Dark Lord, not if the Dark Lord was more powerful than Albus. “And ways to defeat Potter?”

“See how they interact. See what weaknesses you can find in their attachment.”

“Their relationship must truly have changed,” Severus ventured. “The last time I saw anything concrete, the Dark Lord treated Potter like a toy that he didn’t want anyone to take away from him.”

Albus turned grave blue eyes on him. “I was the one to collect Tom from the orphanage where he grew up. From what I remember of the way he treated his toys there, Severus, I would say that he could do that, be fully under Harry’s domination, and still be a grave danger.”

Of course he is the greater danger. It is only Albus’s delusion that makes him think otherwise. Severus kept his expression smooth. “When would you like me to leave and begin spying upon the Dark Lord?”

“Immediately. Or at least as soon as you can, Severus. Now that Harry knows a way past the defenses of Hogwarts…what he might teach Tom…”

That was something Severus hadn’t considered. Of course the Dark Lord might come into Hogwarts and attempt to murder Severus to silence knowledge of his Horcruxes. That meant building friends on both sides was imperative. Severus stood a better chance of survival that way.

And his own survival was all that he truly cared about. He would give up vengeance for the sake of that.

He nodded. “I will begin devising a way to return.”

*

“Severus Snape would have me believe that he was loyal to me all along and only ‘defected’ to Albus because of the curse I placed on him. He says that he has thought it over and wants to return and serve me.”

Harry stared at Lord Voldemort blankly. Then he threw back his head and laughed with that joy Lord Voldemort had seen more and more often since Harry had resumed his full powers as the Master of Death, and in fact had come to crave.

“Tell me you weren’t fool enough to believe him,” Harry muttered once he had stopped laughing.

“I am far less of a fool in my choices and preferences than you want to believe,” Lord Voldemort said. A few weeks ago, that would have made Harry start and stare at him before he tried to change the subject. Now, Harry only smiled. Lord Voldemort felt free to continue. “Nonetheless, I am inclined to indulge his application, if only to find out what Dumbledore wants. And what is amusing about this?”

“In some of the other worlds I’ve lived in, including my first one, Snape used to be your loyal servant. But he left because you threatened my family, and he was in love with my mother.”

Lord Voldemort blinked for a moment. “He said nothing to me in this one when I announced my intentions to my closest servants.”

Harry shrugged. “I think he must be a very different person in this world. But then, just about everyone is.” He smiled at Lord Voldemort. “If you allow him to return, could you refrain from killing him unless you really have to?”

“You sound as if you retain some fondness for him.”

“I’m not fond of this one,” Harry said, with enough conviction that Lord Voldemort believed him. “But I want to know what made him so different. I’m trying to trace back some of the differences between worlds and figure out where they came from.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s interesting.”

Something that had been awakening in Lord Voldemort calmed down at the words. It didn’t sound as if Harry wanted to resurrect whatever relationship—whether mentor, professor, or closer—he had once shared with the Severus Snape of other worlds. This sounded more as if Harry was talking about research.

And Lord Voldemort well understood that fascination.

“Unless he gives me clear provocation, I will try to avoid it,” he conceded. “What is the next move, now that you think Dumbledore sufficiently distracted and the Minister more or less bound to our side?”

“We resurrect somebody.”

Lord Voldemort narrowed his eyes, both at the use of a word that had filled his thoughts just a moment ago—although he had not felt any trace of Harry sliding past his Occlumency shields—and because Harry was grinning in the way he did when he was about to say something outrageous, such as his idea to introduce his brother to Lord Voldemort. “I wish to know what you mean by that.”

“Well, yeah, you sort of have to, since you’re the one we’re resurrecting.”

Lord Voldemort spent a moment stroking his wand with long fingers. Harry continued to lounge on the bench in the clearing, the faintest of smiles tilting his lips up. Lord Voldemort sighed at last and conceded he could not intimidate someone who was more powerful than he in every conceivable way. “Tell me what you mean by that.”

“We’re going to put you back on the political stage,” Harry said calmly. “Explain that, yes, you started a war, but you are very sorry for it, and also, you were young and didn’t know what you were doing. Now you want to negotiate. You have something about you that appeals to pure-blood ideals, and those people aren’t going to want to discard you right away. Explain that you were misguided, but after listening to advice—”

“Whose advice?”

“Mine, if you want to name me. But it might be more effective to leave me as a mysterious presence of the kind that people think advised Merlin.”

“What presence?’

“Oh, do people not believe that in this world? Damn.” Harry shook his head. “I’ve lived in several dimensions in a row where no one would have believed Merlin could accomplish everything he did alone, so they attributed some of his wisdom to a spirit who advised him. Or an elf, or a raven, or an owl, or a demon.” Harry shrugged when Lord Voldemort looked at him. “It’s a useful bit of trickery in a situation like this, although the stories vary so much you can’t rely on them. But you don’t have anything like that here.”

“No.” Lord Voldemort felt the coiling excitement rise in him. He would have to move carefully, but he might be able to persuade Harry in the end. “We have few choices. I would like to announce you as you are.”

“The Master of Death?’

“The Master of Death, Harry Potter, whatever title you would be willing to go by.” Harry opened his mouth, and Lord Voldemort stepped swiftly ahead, although he knew that speed might cost him his objective. “I want the world to know you.”

Harry was frowning slightly. “You know that we might damage the credibility of the war effort if we make it clear a ten-year-old child is advising Lord Voldemort.”

“The peace effort, not the war effort,” Lord Voldemort corrected him. “And with Dumbledore sadly delusional...well, it won’t be as damaging as if he had open eyes and could oppose us. And do you need to appear as a child?”

Harry looked thoughtful. “An illusion, then? To give me that semblance of a helpful spirit that we would use if you had the stories about Merlin in this dimension?”

“Do you need to stay in this young body?” Lord Voldemort asked, and he knew his voice was deeper than it should be and that Harry would look at him sharply for it. He found himself unable to care. “Do you need to never do something to age yourself? Would you grow up only as you are to make your family more comfortable?”

“My family’s comfort matters to me.”

“But now they all know who you really are. And you needn’t assume that semblance around them. You could use it when we were negotiating and no other time.”

Harry was quiet, motionless as a hunting cat. Then he shook his head. “I would still need to appear in it in public. And that would make James uncomfortable. Not Jonathan, maybe not Lily, but him.”

Lord Voldemort said nothing. It was true that he wanted the semblance to appear in the papers, to show forth Harry’s splendor and power, not disguise it. He had few other arguments that he could make in opposition to the ones Harry raised.

Harry finally lifted his head. “You wish me to be older so that you could touch me.”

And there it was, in blank, bald words that Lord Voldemort paused for a moment to honor. Then he nodded. “Yes,” he said simply.

Harry sighed. He said, “I don’t want to—alternate back and forth between ages. It would disconcert me, and I think it would disconcert my family.”

“But you have the power to do so.”

Harry paused, staring off into the distance. Lord Voldemort followed the line of his gaze, but could see nothing that could possibly justify the intensity of his stare.

Then Harry took a deep breath, and Lord Voldemort could have sworn that he felt a distant sensation like a wall collapsing. It wasn’t a noise as much as it was a pulse traveling through the earth. He half-rose, holding his wand, wondering if someone had attacked the manor house while he was with Harry.

Look at me.”

The whisper traveled around the clearing and shook it—and him. Lord Voldemort spun to face Harry.

There was a seething ball of darkness there, shot with lightning. Lord Voldemort remained still. There would have been nothing to defend himself against, and he knew at once that he couldn’t defend himself if Harry was determined to strike.

I try to remain human,” said the voice, a voice like someone speaking Parseltongue through trees instead of a mouth. “But I cannot always do it. I am a human skin floating on a sea of inhumanity, and in my darkest moments I know that.

Lord Voldemort looked back at him, and said nothing, because he disagreed with that declaration so much he couldn’t put the disagreement into words.

If I change myself, if I begin to play with my age and my appearance, what will be left of me to anchor myself to the human? What will convince me that my morals and my concerns still need to be restricted to the field of the mortal?”

Lord Voldemort sighed. He waited until the immense attention behind the words turned to him, and said, “I would do it.

What?”

I would hold you to humanity. I would remind you of what you would be forsaking if you dived into power and did nothing else. Were you expecting a different answer?” he added curiously, as the boiling shape in front of him became motionless. “Of course I would hold you.

You are not human enough to do so.

Lord Voldemort opened his mouth to speak, but the darkness said only, “Absorb the rest of the Horcruxes, forsake whatever memories are tied to the ring or tell me about them and let me make my own judgment, and I will consider it.

The darkness and lightning faded, and with them, Harry. Lord Voldemort stood alone in the middle of the clearing for a moment, then sighed and shook his head.

He did not, and would never, fear Harry’s inhumanity. And in the end, if he had to choose between Harry and the memories that the ring Horcrux represented…

The choice was not a choice.

Chapter Text

Lord Voldemort stood at the edge of what had once been the home of his ancestors, and looked at the darkness, the tangled brush, the remnants of footprints in the dirt from what must be Dumbledore’s visit.

He stood still enough and long enough and cold enough that a sparrow flew down and perched on his shoulder, then preened its feathers enthusiastically. Lord Voldemort did not move. His eyes were seeing memories far more than they saw the pitiful house in front of him.

When he at last moved, the sparrow flew away with a startled cry. Lord Voldemort did not look at it as he passed into the shack, but he knew that was at least partially because it might be the means of leading his gaze, and his body, back out and away.

He had promised Harry.

Inside the shack, the wards and the traps reached out for him. Lord Voldemort dismissed them with an easy motion of his hand. He had come to visit the ring before, and although they would part for no one but him, he had built the wards to melt at a gesture.

When he reached down and gathered up the ring, it lay glinting in his hand like the treasure he had dreamed of finding when he was a Muggle orphan, the treasure that was supposed to guarantee him a life of ease. It always did in stories, did it not?

Lord Voldemort turned away, his robe flaring around him like great wings. The memories were thicker in the air than the disturbed wards, than the magic trembling around the ring, than the poison that wanted to make its way down his arm and was held at bay only by his will. Did he want to bring the Horcrux out of its resting place? Was the prize that he would gain worth disturbing all these memories?

Then another memory took the place of the one breathing in his mind. It was Harry dissolving into pure power and expecting that to drive Lord Voldemort away.

Lord Voldemort had always been good at confounding the plans of his enemies. And perhaps he would have been at confounding his friends, as well, had he had any before Harry.

He dropped the Horcrux into his pocket, and left the shack.

*

“So the way that Albus appears to be going mad lately is something you did to him?”

Harry kept his face friendly and neutral, even though it was hard not to read an accusing tone into his father’s words. They were sitting at the table outdoors, since the weather was unusually warm and dry for late April. Harry listened to the call of a bird up in the nearest tree—it sounded nothing like Fawkes—before he replied. “Yes. He thinks that I’ve been sneaking into Hogwarts and taunting him, and the apparitions tell him whatever he most fears is true.”

Lily sighed and reached out to pick up her glass of iced lemonade from the edge of the table. “I would say that was cruel, but after hearing about what he did to Jonathan’s mind…”

Harry smiled at her. That hadn’t been a pleasant conversation, but he did value the way her eyes still shone like fire. This was the woman his first mother probably would have been if that first Voldemort had given her the chance to get older. “Yes. That’s the main reason I don’t have any pity for him.”

“But how did he get off the right track?” James asked plaintively. “What made him think that going around enslaving children was the right thing to do?”

“That’s something I want to find out,” Harry admitted. “This world is so different from every other one I’ve lived in. Something must have caused it. But it might be difficult to find out, because it could have happened before anyone here was born.”

“Are worlds that vulnerable to something coming along and changing them?” Lily was eating an ice now, which she’d Summoned out of the house to her rather than going to get. Harry smiled. He was always glad when he saw other wizards and witches at ease around magic. It meant they were less likely to get upset if he used a lot of it.

“Not vulnerable, not exactly.” Harry thought about it. “It’s a conglomeration of choices. It’s not always the case that one small choice changes everything. Most of the worlds I saw that were different had big changes. But yeah, you build up a lot of small choices, and it all topples downhill like an avalanche.”

“Is there a way of reclaiming Albus?” James’s voice was low.

“Not that I know of. This is the most stubborn and self-righteous one I’ve ever met. His phoenix left him and I saved his life, and he still doesn’t understand that maybe I’m less than pure evil and he’s less than pure good.”

Fawkes left him?”

Harry nodded, watching the way that James’s face paled. “Yes. I’ve talked to Fawkes about why, but Fawkes doesn’t want to speak in detail. And he’s gone a lot now, flying around all sorts of places. I think he’s looking for a new master.”

“Funny, dear. I thought he would take you as his new master.”

Harry scoffed. “I don’t have anything like the purity of character a phoenix needs, Mum. That’s one reason I want to have a moral anchor—to hold me to morality. I’ve been vengeful and ruthless in so many of my lives.”

“But you still have so much compassion, so much humility…”

“That doesn’t always mean I do the right thing,” Harry said quietly. He’d really hoped they wouldn’t have to have another uncomfortable conversation, but that looked like what was on the horizon. “Sometimes my compassion led me to murder Voldemort as soon as I could, so that other people I loved from other worlds wouldn’t suffer and die.”

“But…killing Voldemort is the right thing…”

Harry sighed and shook his head. “In some worlds, maybe it was. But so often, I didn’t think of the moral arguments. I didn’t do it out of morality. I was fighting for my life, that first time. Mostly the lives of other people since. And I have an awfully long time to think about whether I acted morally when I have my childhood in my next life. I’ve concluded that most of the time I could have found another solution.”

James tapped his fingers on the table and stared at Harry. Then he said, “That applies in this life, too?”

“In this life, I already made the right choice.”

James looked away and said nothing. Maybe he was still afraid of asking. That was all right. It was still pretty new, this whole better relationship between them. Harry was fine with giving his father time to get used to it.

“If you decided it was the wrong thing, though, why kill him again and again?”

Lily’s question wasn’t comfortable, but it got his mind off the conversation with James, and Harry turned to her with a grateful smile. “Because then it would start seeming like the right thing in the heat of the moment. Or I would lose people and feel I owed it to them. Or I would have to do it because the ‘Chosen One’ in that world didn’t do it right.”

“Jonathan was meant to be that Chosen One in this world.”

“But prophecies aren’t commands,” Harry said, because he had heard a telltale note in James’s voice. “If they were, then there wouldn’t have been a way I could have interfered. Jonathan would have faced Voldemort no matter what. I would probably have died as a sacrifice for him, and provided him with the same kind of protection that—my first mother gave me.”

Lily and James exchanged a glance, and James nodded. Harry watched them wistfully. It was a kind of silent communication he had never achieved with anyone. No matter how close he became to lovers or parents or siblings or children in his other worlds, none of them had known the truth of him.

Now, people do.

Harry sighed. Yes, they did. But still there was no one who could match him in power, or really understand the full scope of who he was, and he wasn’t sure that he wanted to make them try.

“Will you tell us what they were like?” Lily asked quietly, turning to him. “Your first parents. Those versions of us. We’d like to know.”

“I never knew much about them,” Harry said. “Only things that I heard from other people late in life, and the memories of those first fifteen months when I lived with them—which I didn’t get back until after I died the first time and my memory became perfect.”

Lily hesitated. “I was under the impression that they’d influenced you more than that, for you to be this kind of good person.”

Harry smiled tiredly at her. “No. It’s living forever that’s done that.”

“What were they like, though?” It seemed James was going to speak after all. He leaned forwards with his hands swinging between his knees and looked pleadingly at Harry. “Just—anything you know. Even if it’s from a child’s memories or another source.”

“Sirius in my first world told me a lot about the pranks those Marauders played,” Harry said, as neutrally as he could. His mind still blazed with the pain he felt over Sirius’s wasted life in his first world—one of the saddest fates that he’d seen anyone suffer in seventeen hundred years—and also the revelation of the casual cruelty that said that, even after the werewolf prank, Sirius and James hadn’t learned better. “They picked on Severus Snape a lot. James, I mean, my first father, wouldn’t stop harassing Lily to go out with him. But they loved me. They loved me so much that they gave their lives for me without hesitation.”

James, this James, stared at him with fascinated eyes. “It sounds as if you don’t especially approve of what those Marauders did.”

Harry took another breath. “I—understand it differently than I did then. Then, I just focused on how my father, who I’d loved and adored and never remembered, could have been so cruel, Such a bully. I grew up with my cousin, who bullied me, and I took against another boy on the train to Hogwarts in that world just for reminding me of my cousin. It wasn’t comfortable to suddenly see that in my father. But I know now how young he was. Younger than I’ve ever been again.”

James settled back and looked as if he wanted to think about that. Lily was the one who laid a hand on his arm and said in a calm, quiet voice that Harry didn’t think he’d ever heard from her before, “You grew up with your cousin? Who?”

Harry raised his eyebrows. He didn’t want to make this version of his mother feel badly about things that had happened in another world. On the other hand, he had no reason to keep this to himself. “The Dursleys.”

Lily closed her eyes. Her hands remained absolutely still, which was the only reason Harry knew for sure how upset she was. She was always gesturing with her hands, pointing and talking and laughing. He had never seen her go that level of motionless before.

“Who?” James was looking back and forth between them.

“My sister Petunia and her husband. And I assume their son?” She opened her eyes, and Harry nodded. Then he reached out and gently touched his finger to the back of her hand when she started to stand up.

“Really, Mum, it’s over and done with.”

He’d used the name Mum on purpose, and from the mild scowl Lily gave him, she knew it. But she did nod and settle back into her chair. “I never wanted to let Petunia anywhere near Jonathan, and then I got an awful letter from her that…” She sighed. “Well. It’s over and done with, as you said. But I don’t understand how you ended up with a Muggle family in the first place.”

Harry wanted to laugh. He’d never been a worm or an insect in any of his lives, but he thought he knew now how one felt when a bird pinned it with one bright eye. “Because they were my only living relatives—”

James opened his mouth, then sighed. “My parents died there the way they did here, right?”

Harry nodded. He’d only met his Potter grandparents in one lifetime, and that had been one where he wasn’t blood-related to them in any way. Diseases like dragonpox seemed less influenced by the differences between worlds than politics and other human actions. “And Mum didn’t have any other living relatives, either.”

“It just seems like a stupid decision for Sirius and Remus to make, though, unless they weren’t around?”

“Sirius was in Azkaban because they thought he was the traitor instead of Pettigrew. Remus was away for a long time, because he also thought Sirius was the traitor, and I didn’t even know he existed until my third year at Hogwarts. And, well, Dumbledore was the one who decided that I should go to the Dursleys.”

“Well, no wonder you want him to pay, then,” James said, with a shaky little breath that made it sound as if he was debating what to say next.

Harry caught his mother’s eye, and grinned a little. Lily looked as if she would like to launch into a tirade, but Harry knew that wouldn’t do anything to convince James. He held her eyes, and Lily finally nodded.

“It isn’t about that,” Harry said. “It isn’t about grudges that I carry from world to world. I think that this Dumbledore is going to do great harm to this world. I long ago forgave the man I knew for the mistakes he made. A perfect memory makes it easy to do that.”

James hesitated. “But you aren’t going to wake up and forgive this one someday?”

“Someday,” Harry said. “But not right now. And I don’t expect you to adopt my perspective, anyway. Hate him for what he did to Jonathan. I might understand his fear without forgiving him for it.”

His dad thought about that, then nodded reluctantly. Harry wondered if he would always have to fight this hard to convince him. Well, as long as James didn’t run away and betray them to Dumbledore, things would be fine. And Harry didn’t believe James was that kind of cowardly traitor, not like Pettigrew, who had been the same in almost every world where Harry had known him.

Then Harry turned his head. There was something plucking at his attention, as if someone had touched one of the Hallows. He closed his eyes and reached out along the lines of the connections that ran back and forth between him and death, through the world he had traveled when he freed Jonathan.

The sensation became knowledge. Harry had rarely felt something like this before, but he didn’t question it. He knew that Voldemort required his presence in the clearing in the woods where they often met.

“Harry?”

His mother’s tone brought him back. His strange drifting off and staring into the distance must have frightened them. Harry managed to turn his head and smile at them. The plucking ran through his body, rapidly building to a song, as hard to resist as the time in his sixteenth life when someone had stolen the Elder Wand.

“You have to—do something?” James asked, taking out his wand as if he thought that thing would be a duel involving them.

“A friend is demanding my attention,” Harry said. He hated being that vague, but on the other hand, he didn’t think they were ready for him being friends with Voldemort yet. “I’ll see you in a few hours, all right?”

James opened his mouth, but Lily put a hand on his arm and nodded to Harry. “Fine. We have to remember that you’re not actually ten years old and you can fend for yourself like an adult.”

James grinned a little. “Right. I do forget that.”

Harry raised one hand and then jogged away from the house to Apparate. There were other ways to get to the clearing, but his parents really had suffered enough revelations for one day.

When he arrived in the clearing, Voldemort didn’t turn to face him right away, as he had done every other time Harry had come there. He was staring down at something cradled in his hands, instead. Harry moved hesitantly towards him. Voldemort’s body tightened in the way of a coiling snake.

Harry stopped approaching and asked in quiet Parseltongue, “Do you want me to go away?”

I required that you come here. Of course not.

But Voldemort still didn’t turn to face him, and Harry was now virtually certain that Voldemort had called him without knowledge of what he was doing. Or maybe he hadn’t had any idea about the calling, and just wanted to salve his pride now that Harry was present. Harry circled off to the side, trying to see the object Voldemort held. It had been years since he’d cared about what he looked like in front of Harry; why did he care about it now?

It was the ring.

Harry leaned back against the nearest tree and watched the Horcrux instead of Voldemort. Voldemort was the one who had to make the choice to bring this up.

“I want to tell you what this means to me,” Voldemort said, in a rattling, hissing whisper like a snake with dry scales moving over the stone. “I want to tell you whose death this Horcrux was created with.”

Harry said nothing, but leaned closer. He knew what Voldemort was probably thinking, about the way he imagined Harry would judge him.

“Trust me,” Harry said, and let his voice deepen a little with his magic, in a way that he knew would make Voldemort look up at him, “there is no one in all the worlds who would judge you as little as I will.”

Voldemort stared at him with silent red eyes. Then he nodded, and began to tell the tale in Parseltongue.

Harry remained at his side, listening, giving what silence he could.

Chapter Text

Lord Voldemort glanced up with a lazy motion of his head. He did not yet have all the words to the speech he wanted to give his new Knights written down, but he had time. And he always had the time for Jeremy.

Jeremy grinned at him. He was nothing remarkable to look at. He had blue eyes, which were common in his family, the Selwyns, and curly brown hair that perhaps sometimes people commented on more than they should. But Lord Voldemort had noticed that those comments had diminished as they grew and left Slytherin behind. And Jeremy had never had his head turned by them, anyway.

“Wanted to show you this,” Jeremy said, and made a big, dramatic show of throwing a golden cup at him.

Lord Voldemort caught it before it could hit the table that his papers were spread out on, and stared at it with his eyes widening. It was—he could see that it was—

“Yeah.” Jeremy looked enormously pleased with himself. “Hufflepuff’s cup. I found the person who stole it from Hepzibah Smith all those years ago. Before you could steal it.”

Lord Voldemort gave him a glance, but in truth, none of Jeremy’s teasing right now could distract him from this prize. He ran his hands slowly up the sides. The badger at the handle sparked deep, cool desire in him, as cool as the cup itself. He placed it in front of him and regarded it with hooded eyes for a long moment.

“That’s not all I found.”

Lord Voldemort disliked being torn from the contemplation of his spoils, but then again, a better one might take its place. And the teasing tone in Jeremy’s voice said this was the better one. He turned in his chair, his fingers beginning to tap on the table.

Jeremy was kneeling in front of him, the way he only did when he wanted to make a joke. But what set his palm on fire with reflected golden light was no joke.

“The ring of my ancestors,” Lord Voldemort breathed. “The Gaunt ring. How did you find it?” He had sought it years ago, wanting to make a Horcrux out of it, but there had been a useless scuffle with his uncle instead, and the discovery that the ring had already disappeared.

“Magic,” Jeremy said in a sepulchral voice, and winked at him. “You like?”

“More than that.” Lord Voldemort held the ring up. He knew the setting didn’t hold the original stone, which had to have been something as powerful and magical as befitted a ring belonging to the trueborn descendants of Salazar Slytherin, but that hardly mattered. The heavy gold did, the fact that his ring would have been set on the fingers of ancestors who could speak Parseltongue and who had made him the wizard he was. Lord Voldemort turned the ring around and couldn’t help smiling.

“Any boon you want,” he said, turning to Jeremy. “You have only to name it, my most loyal and faithful servant.”

Jeremy leaned back on his heels and stared with his mouth slightly open. Lord Voldemort tapped his fingers on the table in response. Had Jeremy thought he would be less than generous? He still might be, if his friend gaped at him in such surprise. After all, if he did not expect that kind of boon, then Lord Voldemort did not have to give it.

But it seemed Jeremy was only thinking of what he might use the boon for, because he murmured, “Anything? You mean it?”

“I will not die for you,” Lord Voldemort said at once. He could think of enemies who would name that as their boon, of one in particular who was both twisted and clever enough to perform a service for him and then ask that.

Jeremy uttered a shaky laugh and stood. “I would never ask that of you. In fact, I’m going to ask the opposite.”

“Oh?” Lord Voldemort laid the ring down to focus on his one companion, the one who had followed him for friendship and the thought of helping him achieve his dreams rather than the dreams Lord Voldemort might try to help him achieve. “What does that mean?”

“I’d rather tell you outside. Can we? Inside is too stuffy.”

They were in a fine room at Malfoy Manor, one done in the height of pureblood fashion with delicately rose-colored marble walls and long mirrors in between the landscape paintings. But it was true that Jeremy’s family had grown up with lost wealth thanks to being sued by some Mudblood and unwise investments. Lord Voldemort nodded and stood.

Jeremy was silent on the way out of the house, despite Lord Voldemort’s efforts to tell him how pleased he was. In fact, he was silent until they walked into the small forest that surrounded the Malfoy property, made of rowan and ash trees that would look splendid in the spring but now dripped with rain and ancient leaves.

Lord Voldemort expected that at any moment they would halt and Jeremy would ask his boon. But Jeremy kept restlessly walking, as if he was seeking some place he would know only when he saw it, until they reached a wet green clearing overrun with moss.

Jeremy turned to face Lord Voldemort and abruptly fell to his knees, burying his face in the moss. Lord Voldemort watched impassively. There were no likely objects nearby to Transfigure into a throne.

“Please,” Jeremy said. “The only thing I ask of you is that you live.”

Lord Voldemort laughed in delight to find the desire of his friend’s heart so easy to fulfill. “Of course I shall. You know more about the path I have walked towards true immortality than any other wizard alive. I assure you that I shall use the trinkets you brought me to safeguard my life even further.”

“Not that.” Jeremy sat up and stared him in the eye. “Before today, when was the last time you laughed?”

Lord Voldemort thought carefully back. The question hung in the air like a cloud promising rain, although he could not tell why it so concerned Jeremy. “It was the day that we heard the Averys had decided to support us despite the death of Jason.”

Jeremy nodded. “But that was almost a year ago. And before that? I can’t remember the last time I heard you laugh.” His words were racing and spluttering now, his eyes wide. “I need you to be able to do the ordinary things. To laugh, live, rejoice in something other than the gathering of power.”

Lord Voldemort considered him. Now and then he had followers who declared their romantic feelings for him, but he had never thought Jeremy would do so. It wasn’t in his nature. “You wish me to date you?”

“Ugh, no!”

Lord Voldemort laughed again. That sentence matched the sentiment within him. “Then what is it? What exactly do you want me to promise you?”

Jeremy hesitated one more time, as if he wanted to plan the exact right words. Lord Voldemort well understood that impulse; it was the same one he had when recruiting followers. And Jeremy was dear to him. So he waited.

“I want you to stop making Horcruxes. And reabsorb the ones that you’ve made.”

Lord Voldemort remained still, but that was because of the roaring chaos that had opened inside him, a maelstrom of emotions so intense that he could not have moved. Jeremy seemed to think the response was encouraging, and continued in a slightly stronger tone.

“It’s making you less human, my lord. It means you don’t laugh, you don’t smile, and your emotions grow more volatile, but only aimed in certain directions. Like fear and torture and rage. I’m afraid for you. Not of you, never of you. But I’m afraid what you’re going to turn into if you keep going like this.”

“And of course,” Lord Voldemort said, his voice sounding high in his own ears and far away, “you would be the one to make the decision about the proper limits of my immortality.”

“You can find some other method of immortality. I know you, Tom. You’re brilliant. You can find one that costs less than that. You found this one and made your first Horcrux when you were sixteen. You can figure out something else now that you’re more than twice that age.”

The sharp drop inside him was as if he had fallen from a Muggle aeroplane. Lord Voldemort drew his wand in what felt like a dream. But he halted himself before he could cast the Cruciatus Curse.

No. He could not curse someone who was his oldest and dearest friend. He could not. He thought. He wavered back and forth for a moment. He did not want to do this. But his friend was suggesting he give up his Horcruxes.

He couldn’t do it. He had to. He could not stop being immortal.

“The Horcruxes are the best method of immortality,” said Lord Voldemort at last. He was proud of his voice. He did not scream. He did not yell. He had already seen that he barely persuaded his followers when he did that, no matter how satisfying it was to a part of him that had always stayed in the orphanage. He sounded calm.

Jeremy sat back on his heels and met his eyes directly. Lord Voldemort’s hand twitched. It wasn’t the seeming act of defiance that did it; it would never be defiance from a friend so dear. No, it was the damnable fact that Jeremy’s eyes were full of hope.

“You don’t need to do this,” Jeremy breathed. “I promise you don’t need to, Tom. You can find something else, something that will leave you your humanity—”

“What makes you think that I want to be human?”

“Because to be human is to be the kind of lord you want to be.” Jeremy now looked as he had when they were Slytherin students in Hogwarts together and he had been working on a difficult Arithmancy problem, never his best subject. “You need to remain in contact with human emotions so that you can persuade people to join us. And you need to remember what joy is like so you can feel it when you’ve achieved everything you wanted.”

It was a more cogent argument than Lord Voldemort had expected, and part of him wavered.

But only part of him. Because the rest of him was snarling in diseased satisfaction. He had known, deep down inside his mind, which meant more to him than his soul, that Jeremy’s pretense of friendship was only that. No one could really reach out to him and mean it. Jeremy had only pretended, and well, until it was time to try and deprive Lord Voldemort of what he wanted most.

“You are the best actor I have ever known,” Lord Voldemort said, because he could offer praise when it was due.

“What?”

Jeremy's eyes had jerked up, his whole head had jerked up, and his attention was fixed on Lord Voldemort. Lord Voldemort smiled at him almost tenderly and spun his wand between his fingers. His wand was the only loyal friend he had. It had never betrayed him since the day it chose him. Yew, symbol of resurrection, tree that lived and was immortal. Lord Voldemort should have listened to the lesson of the wand long ago.

Yew trees did not depend on other trees to grow. They achieved their goals slowly, through long decades. Of course he could not depend on another human.

"The way you acted out the pretense of being my friend," Lord Voldemort said, slowly, luxuriously. He could feel the darkness spreading out of his soul, and he knew that he had long distrusted Jeremy in part of himself. He hadn't wanted to believe his own intuitions, but this was not exactly a surprise. "I have to say that you are an excellent actor."

"I was always your friend!"

"Not if you want me to be mortal. Not if you want me to die."

Lord Voldemort almost sang the last word, as snarling and malice clawed its way up from inside his chest, and then he swung the wand. The spell was there without his speaking it, as if all the words he needed had been taken up by what he'd said to Jeremy. The pain curse, not the Cruciatus but not one much milder, took Jeremy by the limbs and sprawled him across the ground. He opened his mouth and tried to scream.

He could not. Lord Voldemort found that appropriate. If he couldn't speak, then he couldn't lie.

Lord Voldemort lifted the spell at last, when his superior senses told him that Jeremy's heart was on the verge of rupturing. Then he knelt down next to the man who had schemed to be his friend and smiled at him tenderly. Jeremy turned his head and looked at him with bloodshot eyes.

"This still isn't you," Jeremy managed to breathe. "You still have the chance to be mortal. The lord we deserve."

Lord Voldemort sighed at the thought that Jeremy still thought Lord Voldemort didn't understand his treachery. "The man you could supplant. the man you could destroy. It is all right, Jeremy. I have seen to the bottom of your plans, and I forgive you." And he truly thought he could. They could move forwards from this moment, as long as Jeremy never again pretended to be anything but one of his followers. As long as he said nothing else about wanting Lord Voldemort to give up the instruments of his immortality that he alone had been clever enough to devise.

"I don't want to destroy you."

Lord Voldemort lifted an eyebrow and laughed a little. "Then I suppose you would have me believe that you were trying to strengthen me?"

"I--I was. I care for you greatly, Tom. Please. Understand me. Give up the mortality so that you can be the man who's my friend."

"Even now you persist in these lies!" Lord Voldemort hissed, though he knew from the blankness in Jeremy's gaze that he could not understand him. He stepped back, shaking. He had thought that he might welcome the chastened traitor back into the fold, that he might say that Jeremy had learned his lesson and was a loyal follower once more.

He had learned much of his own foolishness today. Jeremy had taught him that. He could not welcome someone back into the fold who did not wish to belong there, and once a traitor, always a traitor.

"I think I understood a little of what you said," Jeremy whispered, and his hand fluttered out to the side, groping like a broken-winged moth. "I'm not lying. You should give up the Horcruxes. You should be mortal again--"

And Lord Voldemort stepped back, and aimed his wand, and there was nothing but singleness of purpose in his voice as he intoned, "Avada Kedavra."

He had not prepared the ritual of the killing as he normally would have, but that did not matter. Not when he had made so many other Horcruxes, not when he had the control to keep the torn shard of his soul fluttering around him in the void until he had the object ready to store it in.

Jeremy was there one moment, and then he was not, sprawled on the ground, his motionless eyes staring at the sky. Lord Voldemort stared at him in turn, and had the notion that he should close the eyes.

He sneered violently and turned away. That notion belonged to the mortal that Jeremy had tried to wrench into existence. The mortal he was not. The man he had left behind when he became an immortal being, a force of magic, instead.

He straightened up and went back to the manor house, striding along with his ring in his hand and the piece of soul that would make the Horcrux-to-be fluttering around him in the void, content to know that he was less human than ever.

*

Harry listened to the story Voldemort told, his words sometimes stumbling. Sometimes he went backwards and said things he'd already said, and he hesitated a long moment before the end, as if he thought Harry would turn away from him in the moment of the murder. But Harry had heard far worse things than that.

When he thought he'd received the whole story, he reached out and tightened his hand around Voldemort's Voldemort's long fingers reached out and writhed around his and held them.

"That explains a lot," Harry said quietly. "But it also sounds as though absorbing the ring Horcrux might be easier than the others, because you partially regretted killing Jeremy even at the time."

"I would have--to face the other emotions that I experienced at the time," Voldemort said in a low voice. Harry was about to ask why that was so different from absorbing the other Horcruxes, when he added, "The fact that I thought he was lying to me, and he was telling the truth. I would have to admit he was right."

Harry held back a smile. He could understand, now, how much that hurt Voldemort to admit. Hadn't he just gone through his own revelation about something he'd always believed to be true, and then it hadn't turned out to be true at all?

"You will help me."

Harry looked into his eyes and ignored the desperate tightness of Voldemort's fingers. "Help you do what?"

"Go through the process."

He does want to give up the ring Horcrux, and face his memories, and learn how to be human.

Faced with all that, there was only one answer Harry could give, although he dipped his head a little and spoke softly when he said it. "Yes."

And Voldemort smiled the way he might have smiled that afternoon long ago, before the murder, when Jeremy was still alive.

Chapter Text

"I don't know how to take back those memories. Telling them to you and retrieving the ring from the place where I had it hidden was painful enough."

Harry watched Voldemort staring at the ground, at the small fire Harry had lit hours ago, while he said those words, and knew it would do no good to say that he looked more human than ever now. Voldemort would reject the compliment and make it into an argument, somehow, to send Harry away. Harry had to be with him now.

"I know a way that you can absorb them and it would muffle the pain."

Voldemort turned towards him. "Why did you not say so at once?"

"Because I wasn't sure if you would agree. It muffles the pain by letting someone else bear it instead. You have to let me into your memories--the literal ones, not just the story you already gave me. Do you want me to see those things? To feel them?"

Voldemort gave him a skull-like rictus that was not a grin. "You would feel my emotions."

"Yes. This is the memory inside your head, not the degraded copy that you put into a Pensieve."

"Degraded?"

"That's a theory we can discuss after you've decided if you want me to look at your memories. Whether tonight or sometime later."

Voldemort bowed his head. Harry waited in silence, the fire flickering. He extended his awareness outwards and found the mouse dying in a burrow under the soil, the owl swallowing another mouse, the rotting tree on the edge of the clearing, the manor house far away filled with Death Eaters. No one was near them. They had all the time and privacy they would ever need to perform this ritual. But he still wasn't sure Voldemort would agree.

Harry did hope his parents wouldn't worry too much about him, that they would remember how powerful he was and that he could take care of himself.

"Yes."

Harry started. He'd thought either Voldemort would agree eventually but put him off for tonight, wanting to hang onto the memories and the Horcrux for a while, or that he would choose a less painful way. "Why?"

Again he got the rictus, but this time, Harry thought there was humor in it--humor directed against Voldemort himself. "I spent decades thinking I was the most powerful wizard ever to exist. The moment I knew what you really were, I should have discarded that belief. And yet, I did not. I continued to cherish my weaknesses and believe I could control you. Now you are here, a powerful wizard offering to perform a task I am too weak to perform."

Harry sighed a little. "I'm glad to do it. We're friends."

"Jeremy said much the same."

Harry smiled a little wistfully. He thought, from the story, that Jeremy Selwyn was a mortal wizard he would have liked to call friend. He was almost looking forward to the ritual, if only to know him a short time from Voldemort's memories. "But there's still something you're forgetting. I'm really not human anymore. Not a wizard. That's one reason that I hope you'll give up your notion of us spending forever together."

Voldemort's face set in stubborn lines. He said nothing, but took out the ring Horcrux and extended it towards Harry on his palm.

Harry accepted it. He knew, in part, this was a test to see whether he could do what he'd claimed. The venom in the Horcrux tried to climb his arm as it had climbed Dumbledore's. Harry ignored that and cleaved through it, speeding his soul, his essence, down towards the ring, while he sang under his breath the chant that a centaur had taught him long ago.

The song spiraled around the Horcrux, sealing it within a matrix of sound. When Harry reached the end of one full chant, he lifted his hand, and a ball of blue energy appeared beside him, singing the same song. That would keep the poison and the essential Dark nature of a Horcrux contained. Harry had no desire to meet the shard of Tom Riddle that lived in this ring.

Harry held out his right hand without looking away from the Horcrux in his left. Voldemort's strong fingers clamped down on his wrist. Harry nodded once and then dived forwards and into it.

*

He is not a wizard. That does not make him less beautiful.

Voldemort wondered if Harry knew how truly wonderful he was as he knelt on the dirt and grass in the clearing, gazing at the golden ring in his palm, his mouth open slightly even though it was the light beside him that sang the song. Light crowned his head and shoulders, then shadows, slowly rising and falling, fantastic towers that had not the slightest thing to do with the fire in front of them. Voldemort began to feel Harry's fingers dissolving, turning into rings of pure power.

He made no attempt to keep a further grip on them. He only leaned back and watched as the power slid up into a white glow that assumed a lightning bolt shape for a moment before it became a wand, then a tower, then a spread wing, then a cloak. Lord Voldemort saw the shapes of all the Deathly Hallows before the white glow turned the color of embers and whirled down around him, but he thought that might be a coincidence.

"Breathe me in."

The words weren't Parseltongue, but some kind of rushing command that swept around Lord Voldemort like the wind. He looked and found ash hovering in front of him, streams of it separating into smaller grains. They rested at the level of his mouth and nose.

Lord Voldemort had not done such things for pursuit of power in years, but when he had, he had not hesitated. He opened his mouth and his nostrils as wide as they could go. The grains swept towards him and funneled into him.

He could feel them attaching to his memories in the moments before his view dissolved into rolling sparks of light. He ignored the panic that wanted to begin. He trusted Harry, and he trusted that Harry would do what he said and accept this pain without exposing Lord Voldemort to it.

The last thing he saw before the advent of unconsciousness was a pair of brilliant green eyes filled with all the stars of the universe.

*

Harry appeared in the forest, and saw Jeremy Selwyn kneeling before him.

All around him, the memory flickered and danced, not much different than the light of the fire that Harry had so recently left behind. He felt the emotions surging through him as well, burning into his mind like curses from the Elder Wand.

Fondness. Pride. Anticipation as he thought of what he would do with the cup and ring that Jeremy had brought to him. Amusement as a memory arose of when Jeremy had pretended to plead with him on his knees, as he was kneeling now, when they were both still in Slytherin.

No trace of the fear or suspicion that the story had portrayed Voldemort as having. He truly had never thought Jeremy would betray him. He had been incapable of foreseeing his friend's request.

That's why it hurts so much. He really did believe in him, and it required almost splitting his soul before the murder in order to conceive of what Jeremy did as a betrayal.

"My lord," Jeremy breathed.

Harry bent down and held out his hand. Around him, the memory spiraled and split, becoming the darker one of reality, and the brighter one where he stood. The magic congealed in the center, guarding Voldemort's mind in a shell.

This was why this particular bit of magic was risky, something Harry wouldn't have been able to do if he wasn't the Master of Death. Even as he bore the pain of what had truly happened to Jeremy, he would be letting Voldemort picture an alternate path, one where he accepted what his friend was saying and reversed course. It wouldn't replace his memories--something that might happen if the shell was lowered--but it could help reconcile him to the truth that he hadn't ever thought of his friend as a traitor before this.

"I hear what you are saying, my loyal and faithful servant," Harry said in Voldemort's voice. "I will consider it."

Jeremy's face lit up, and Harry felt a tug of despair. He would have liked to know him. Voldemort had made that impossible.

But before he could despair too much, or undo some of his own work by being here, he turned and flung himself into the real memory.

He accepted and absorbed the pain, the shock, the soul-fracturing moment when Voldemort convinced himself that Jeremy had never been his friend. It made part of his mind shake, but it was the most mortal part, the part that had been afraid, until recently, to have a life that didn't center on defeating Voldemort.

He was a monster. He killed his friend. He killed part of himself that day.

Harry acknowledged that, mourned that, watched the moment when Jeremy flew onto his back and the light of the Killing Curse struck him, and also enveloped the realization with the calmness of his own immortality. He had done worse than this. He had borne worse than this. Let him be the one to bear it, because Voldemort was incapable.

And, in a way, it would still lead to remorse; it would let Voldemort accept and live with the fact that he had never truly thought Jeremy was a traitor until the moment he asked Voldemort to leave the Horcruxes behind.

*

Lord Voldemort walked back down the path that led to Malfoy Manor, Jeremy by his side. The day was filled with shadows and exultation.

He was not sure why he had agreed to give up the Horcruxes as his friend's boon. Yes, it was what Jeremy had wanted, but on the other hand, Lord Voldemort did not always grant his followers the favors they asked for. Refusing would not have been the end of their friendship. And Lord Voldemort would now have to find some other kind of immortality.

On the other hand, it was hard for him to imagine treading the path that had ended in Jeremy's death. Or perhaps the one where he turned his back and led the Death Eaters into a rebellion. Nearly as many would follow Jeremy as followed Lord Voldemort himself--

A ripple of darkness cut in front of him, shattering the vision of Jeremy, and Harry's exasperated voice said, I'm trying to spare you and heal your wounds, not increase your paranoia, you berk.

Lord Voldemort jerked back with a hiss. The vision of Jeremy in sunlight wavered to the point that it seemed he stood in shadow and Jeremy was walking on alone. What are you doing? I do not want this to replace the true memories!

Letting you come to terms with the fact that you never "foresaw" him "turning" on you.

Lord Voldemort would have answered in similarly cutting terms, but Jeremy was speaking with a worried frown on his face. "My lord? Are you all right?"

The sunshine came back, and the image of the other path and the darkness disappeared. Lord Voldemort stood tense and waiting for a moment, a hand on his wand. He could have drawn it. He could have distrusted Harry the way he had learned to distrust Jeremy.

He could have. But he chose to pull his hand away, smile at his dearest friend, and say, "Yes, I am. We need to plan for how I'm going to absorb the other Horcruxes I've already created, if you're serious about this being your boon."

"I thought of that," Jeremy said, his steps light and his smile brilliant. He obviously wasn't going to respond to the question about whether he really wanted Lord Voldemort to absorb the Horcruxes as his boon or not. "We'll tell the others that you took a Contagious Disease Curse and you have to rest up."

"That would hardly prevent some of them from wanting to come get a look at me, or pamper me."

"We'll tell them that it's Exploding Pustules. A really bad case. Red and yellow streaks of pus all down the walls."

Lord Voldemort laughed, and could not remember the last time the sound had left his lips so freely. From the way that Jeremy slowed and turned towards him with a slight smile, he also thought that the laughter Lord Voldemort had used in the clearing hardly counted.

Lord Voldemort continued walking, and continued planning. He realized at some point that he was trusting Jeremy with the location of his Horcruxes, something he had never done before.

And he was trusting Harry to accept the pain for him and bind his thoughts in the sort of matrix they needed to survive the pain and endure the magic of someone else standing in the memories for him.

He walked on, and gave up on figuring out exactly what was happening and exactly when he would wake up. He would adapt as necessary. Because he could trust Harry.

*

Harry sighed into the void and unwrapped the congealed bubble that had protected Voldemort's mind. Enduring the pain hadn't been pleasant, but Voldemort had done his part, accepting the vision that was what might have happened if he had given in to Jeremy's pleas.

He was ready to integrate the soul shard from the ring.

Harry opened his eyes and saw the hovering glow above the ring. It was human-shaped and had a crown on its head. Harry gave it an unimpressed look. He still wasn't going to meet the piece of Tom Riddle Voldemort had bound to the ring. Instead, he held out the former Horcrux that now felt merely greasy and magical.

Voldemort accepted it without hesitation, but his eyes were on Harry. Harry waited expectantly, wondering if Voldemort didn't know how to make the integration work when he hadn't felt the remorse himself.

"Will you show me what you might have looked like at Jeremy's age?" Voldemort whispered.

Harry raised his eyebrows. "Why would you want to see something like that?" He nodded towards the Horcrux so that Voldemort would remember what he needed to do here.

"I have seen what he would have looked like had he lived, and I have relived what he looked like dead. I need something to replace those visions." Voldemort hesitated for a moment. "Especially the first. I understand that you meant it as--kindness, but now I have that vision haunting me."

Harry nodded, not sure whether those were the only reasons Voldemort was demanding these things, but willing enough to go along with them. He reached down into the center of himself and yanked sharply on the magic, making his body melt and swirl and flow like the power had when he was busy shielding Voldemort's mind.

He grew taller in a way that had once been uncomfortable for him, and was now usual. He had taken disguises like this before, although always out of the sight of people in his other worlds who didn't know what he was.

He blinked at the ground from a new height, took an unsteady step on new legs, and glanced at Voldemort, silently asking if this was what he had had in mind, and if he would absorb the ring Horcrux now.

*

Voldemort drank in the sight. Harry was much taller than he had been, lean, sinewy, his hair and his eyes wild in a way that fit this body better than they had ever fit the one of a child. He looked to be perhaps thirty-nine. He did not have many muscles, but the ones he did were the ones of a trained duelist.

And if he has done it once because I asked, he may do it again.

"Thank you," Lord Voldemort murmured, and clasped his hand around the ring Horcrux, and willed it to rejoin with him.

It was still far from painless, the blurring whirl of different thoughts and perspectives and memories around him, and the sensation of being at once younger and more lost, as that faded Tom Riddle poured back into him. Voldemort hissed and closed his eyes. The heat that shifted through him seemed to focus on his face, and he wondered how his features would be reshaped this time.

"That's different."

The strange voice nearly caused Voldemort to seize his wand, but he realized a moment later that it was the same voice he had heard speaking to him for weeks, just deepened so that it came out of an adult chest. He opened his eyes and looked out at Harry, whose brows were raised, his eyes gone as deep as his voice.

He held out a conjured mirror, and Lord Voldemort examined the skin that had deepened in color to nearly a tan, his hair that had grown in grey and shaggy and would need to be trimmed, and his slightly thicker fingers. He nodded and leaned back to indicate when he was done.

Harry swirled and melted back into his child self at the same moment. Lord Voldemort held back a noise of disappointment and stood. "Would you assume that form again, if I asked?" he murmured.

"If you had a need, not a desire."

"Why make so much difference between them?"

Harry gave him a single look and turned into darkness and air. Lord Voldemort closed his eyes. Perhaps he had been unwise to push, when Harry had been the means of enabling him to be more human and to absorb the Horcrux that had haunted his life without his realizing it for so long.

But he would continue to push. He would continue to ask.

And he would not yield until he saw the corresponding desire in Harry's eyes. Were they not both immortal? Compared to that, ever was not too long to wait.

Chapter Text

Severus took a deep breath as he landed at the edge of the wards that defined the manor. He didn't want to do this. Only his sense of self-preservation kept him walking at a steady pace, and ignoring the way the Mark on his arm burned.

Once he reached the edge of the wards that would ring bells inside the manor and let the Dark Lord know he was here, Severus knelt.

The stocky man who came to greet him had never been one of Severus's favorite Death Eaters, but that was beside the point now. Severus tried his best to keep a mask of unruffled calm while he nodded. "Thorfinn. I need to see the Dark Lord as soon as possible."

"Really? And what if he doesn't want to see you?"

Not least of Severus's loathed traits in another Death Eater was stupidity. Severus lifted his head a little to meet the man's eyes. "Don't you think you should let him make that decision?"

Thorfinn hesitated, then said, "Wait here," and reentered the manor while glancing over his shoulder as if he thought Severus would be stupid enough to attack him from behind. Severus didn't appreciate the implied insult, but kept his eyes on the ground.

Long moments slid past while presumably Thorfinn gave the Dark Lord his message. Severus drifted through them with Occlumency, and playing over and over again in his memory the moment Dumbledore had showed him when Potter came to Hogwarts. There still had to be some trick to it that Severus did not understand.

Light footsteps strode towards him, and Severus crouched further while frowning. That did not sound like the way the Dark Lord walked.

"Arise."

Nor did that sound like his voice, and it was odd to be given a command like that before he had cringed and groveled sufficiently. Severus still obeyed, because he wanted to see who would be taking the Dark Lord's place. He did not really believe the man could have been killed or appointed an important subordinate without Albus being aware of it.

The Dark Lord did stand in front of him, but different, less pale than Severus had ever seen him, less red-eyed, more human. Severus stared in shock, and the next second his left hand's fingers writhed back on themselves with crippling pain.

"Perhaps you should look away from me until you adjust to the shock."

Severus gritted his teeth, glanced at the ground, and murmured, "Forgive me, my lord." The pain in his hand stopped the minute he did, which made his shoulders twitch. The Dark Lord had never been able to do that before. He liked causing pain too much, and would use any excuse that he could get to do so.

Nor had he been able to stop a curse that intense without so much as a twitch of his wand.

"Why have you returned?"

Severus took a long breath and, still without looking up, murmured, "I thought that Albus would give me a place of honor in his hierarchy and that I could gain more by leaving you. But he introduced me to none of his allies and has given me nothing I want. I--I have returned to you, my Lord, in hopes of forgiveness." And that was all technically true, to make it impossible for even so strong a Legilimens as the Dark Lord was to detect a lie.

There was silence, pressing on him like an enormous spiderweb. Severus wanted to look up, but he remembered the sensation of his own hand turning against him well enough to stand motionless.

"You left intending to betray me. Why should I let you return?"

Severus tensed all his muscles against a flinch. His strategy had relied on telling technical truths, going through torture, and begging until the Dark Lord granted him another chance. Logical argument was...

Not something the man had been capable of the last time Severus saw him.

Severus took a chance and raised his eyes. The Dark Lord gazed back at him, motionless, except for his fingers rapping slightly on the outside of the holster that held his wand. Severus managed to say through a dry mouth, "I only have my repentance and knowledge of Dumbledore to offer as a--a reason, my Lord."

"That will not be good enough until you make me an oath."

An oath, Severus had not anticipated swearing. He refused to allow his hands or face to betray his surprise. "What oath, my lord?"

"An oath that you will not harm Harry Potter."

Severus jerked back a step. The Dark Lord only watched him, his fingers curled on nothing, his eyes so brilliant that Severus imagined for a moment that he had done something that restored his sanity.

But no, there was no potion that would do that, and no Dark Arts ritual that Severus knew of, either. Severus managed to smooth his face and say in a calm, neutral voice, "I will swear that if you wish, my lord."

The Dark Lord nodded. "Then come here and place your hands between mine."

Severus drew back with a rattling hiss, and didn't care that it might ruin all the deceptions he and Albus had decided on up until this point. He had expected to draw his wand for an Unbreakable Vow, which he was an expert at finding loopholes in. He knew exactly how the Dark Lord wanted him to swear now, and there was no way to trick it.

The Dark Lord smiled, his fingers curling in the air again. "Come, Severus. If you are truly coming back to be loyal to me, you should have expected this."

"I--did not." It would do no good to lie. Severus moved forwards with a sense of unreality singing through the air near him like a huge lute string. To swear this kind of vow would mean that his own magic would coerce him along the way and take over his body like an internal Imperius Curse if necessary, to force him to its own desires.

Or the Dark Lord's desires.

It should have been impossible for the man to manage it. It required power, which the Dark Lord had an excess of, but also a clarity of purpose and a desire to understand someone else's magic that Severus could not remember the Dark Lord having.

"You will be happy to note," the Dark Lord said, while Severus held out his hands with his mind whirling, "that the very being I am asking you to swear to protect taught me how to attempt this."

Severus glanced up, although he had to keep his face more relaxed than he otherwise would have. "Oh, my lord?"

"Yes. Harry Potter was the one who taught me how much I had lost by pursuing the path of immortality above all other goals. I had to grasp that that was detrimental to some things I wanted to achieve even more. And so he directed me back towards the mortal ends and means of magic."

Another reason to hate the brat, Severus thought, and then winced as the Dark Lord's fingers clamped down around his.

"I can sense your loathing of him," the Dark Lord hissed, sounding more like the man Severus had known. "Harry asked me to spare you, as an indulgence to his memory of other versions of you in the worlds he had inhabited. But if I decided you were too great a risk and killed you, he would side with me. There is a way of binding your soul to your bones and enslaving your consciousness for centuries as a source of knowledge that he showed me. Shall I show you?"

"No, my lord," Severus whispered, shivering. He had never been this filled with what felt like thin, cold bile. Now he owed his life to the very being he most hated.

"Good. Now put your hands between mine and repeat after me. I will never seek to bring harm to Harry Potter, not by thought, not by deed, not by word, not by spell, not by wand..."

The list continued, distressingly long and specific conditions that his magic would enforce on him. Severus seethed, but far below the level of his consciousness where the Dark Lord could have seen it.

That the amused, knowing dark red eyes focused on him anyway was something that made Severus shiver harder than the realization that he owed his life to Harry Potter.

*

"I don't even know why we're attending classes. We're learning more in these private study sessions of yours than we ever learn in classes."

Jonathan rolled his eyes a little at Fred's pronouncement. He was lying on the floor in the room that doubled as his and Sirius's study room and his friends' practice room. His chest and head ached and his hands were numb. "It just seems that way because they're teaching us second-year spells in our classes. We're learning more advanced ones here."

"But why are we learning more advanced ones? If we can learn them, then why can't they just teach them in our classes?"

Jonathan rolled over and shrugged at George. "Because not everyone could get them? The second-year spells are supposed to be something that every second-year student can learn."

"That's a stupid reason," Acanthus murmured, but she sounded lazy and had her eyes closed. Jonathan at least hoped that wouldn't result in another argument.

"Yeah, someone should change the school," Cedric said. He sounded determined and like it wasn't going to be an option to skip the argument. Jonathan held back the impulse to beat his head against a wall.

"Well, good luck on getting anyone to do that," Jonathan said firmly, so they would all stop arguing and let him relax. "There's a board of governors that like things just the way they are. And there's people who don't want to think about any change because they like the way they were taught when they were children. And there's--" He stopped.

Acanthus sat up then, which was a bad sign. Her smile was light and amused. "It's cute the way you try to prevent us from blaming the Headmaster, when it's pretty obvious you do blame him."

Jonathan just looked down and tried to keep his cheeks from flushing. "Well, he's a dangerous enough. You could be in danger if you fight him."

"The way you're doing?" Acanthus asked sweetly. "The way your brother is doing?"

Jonathan scowled at the floor. Harry would just love that, if it came out that lots of people thought he was an enemy of Dumbledore’s. Even if the Parkinsons were allied to him. Jonathan decided to sit there and say nothing.

Cedric was looking back and forth between him and Acanthus, though. “What do you mean? What are you talking about?”

“Nothing you need to worry about, Cedric,” Jonathan said.

“Oh, no,” Cedric said. His mouth was set into the kind of flat line that Jonathan always hated, because it meant that Cedric was going to be a stubborn Hufflepuff about things. “I want to know. You sometimes act as though you’re closer to Acanthus and the twins, and I don’t like that, Jonathan. We’re Housemates. You included me in this in the first place. You should tell me.”

“But it’s dangerous,” Jonathan said. Acanthus had a powerful family that could protect her, and he had the feeling that Fred and George’s parents were allied closely enough with Dumbledore that it didn’t matter. But the Diggorys didn’t have a lot of political power or a close alliance.

Cedric folded his arms. “I want to know.”

Jonathan looked at Fred. He just grinned and shook his head. George was the one who said, “He does have a point about including him and then never telling him the truth, mate.”

Jonathan turned to Acanthus, although he didn’t think she would help. She was studying her wand with a faint frown, and now she looked up and said, “What? Oh, it’s not my decision. You need to make this one on your own.”

Jonathan really wanted to tear at his hair, but that would be very immature and not get him anywhere. He turned to Cedric. “Okay, but we need some way to keep this secret. You can’t look Dumbledore in the eye, okay?”

“Why not?”

“Because then he will read it out of your head with Legilimency.”

“What’s Legilimency?”

Jonathan sighed.

*

It was no trouble to put together an older body of drifting shadows and clouds. Harry contained it within a solid frame of bone, and then draped himself with a cloak and went trotting down Knockturn Alley to assess the state of the resistance to the Ministry.

Three hours later, he was sitting, still draped in the cloak and still contained within the frame he’d put together, on the doorstep of a dilapidated shop not far from Borgin and Burke’s. He frowned. It seemed that there were a lot of big talkers here, but not many people who actually wanted to overthrow the Ministry or lead violent revolution. Voldemort must have drawn most of the Dark wizards to his side already.

That’s good, right? That means that he has people who’ll follow him instead of causing trouble when you start making those reforms.

Harry sighed. That much was true, but he was more than a bit bewildered by the state of Dark magic here, in what had always been the most notable cesspool of the British wizarding world in the other dimensions he’d lived in. Oh, not that the most notorious outlaw werewolves or notable Dark wizards had been here, but there had always been people who could get in contact with them. That didn’t seem likely to be the case here. People had melted away from him in a pub where he had merely mentioned Voldemort’s name.

“Wotcher.”

Harry turned his head. A hag was standing in front of him, assessing him with rheumy eyes. There was a tray around her neck that held fingerbones—bones from monkeys, not even humans, Harry knew with a single glance.

“Wotcher,” Harry said, uninterested, and stood up. He supposed that he would have to ask Voldemort about where he had done his recruiting, if it was from some other place in Britain or always by word-of-mouth.

“You were asking about Dark wizards,” the hag said, stepping in front of him.

Harry nodded, watching her with a vague interest. She had only one eye, and a patch covered the other. The hands that clutched the tray of fingerbones were so wrinkled that she looked as if she couldn’t unclench them. “That’s right. What would you know about them?”

“I know a lot more about some things than you think.”

Her voice had changed, the British accent dropping away to reveal something much flatter and more neutral. Harry narrowed his eyes a little, but didn’t move. It wasn’t as though there was anything here that could hurt him. “Oh?”

“I know what you are,” the woman said, and now something did slip into her voice, an emotion Harry didn’t think she was feigning. “The Master of Death.”

Harry cocked his head. He was interested to find that word of that title had spread without either Dumbledore or Voldemort apparently being responsible. “Where did you hear that from?”

“It’s something this body can sense,” the woman said. Her single eye closed in a slow wink at him. It had a blue-silver glow that Harry had never seen before. “Would you like to come with me and meet the other bodies and discover the things they can sense?”

“I don’t know if I should. I have a distressing tendency to agree to things like that and then find myself fighting off an enraged dragon or something similar.”

The hag laughed and held up one of those crooked hands, fingers bent in so that Harry could barely make out the nails against her palm. “This body swears that neither it nor the other bodies this consciousness controls mean the Master of Death any harm.”

“You’re a consciousness spread out among many different bodies?” Harry demanded, delighted. He’d heard of creatures like that, but he hadn’t met any since his eleventh life. “That’s wonderful. As long as you don’t attack me, then I’d like to accompany you and learn from you.”

The hag nodded and started walking down Knockturn Alley again. Harry followed her, ignoring the pitying glances that he got. Well, yes, hags normally ate people, but his current body didn’t look anything like a child’s. Somewhat rude of them to assume I would have trouble fighting her off.

They stepped through a swaying curtain at the front of a shop—or at least Harry thought it was a shop; it had a hook where a sign might once have hung, but so could a pub. He found his eyebrows rising as they entered a stone tunnel that was much longer than it had looked from the outside. The tunnel sloped into the depths of the earth, and the hag kept walking in front of him, tilting her head back on her neck instead of ducking when the roof became low. Harry simply released his hold on his shadowy body and resumed the short form that he wore most of the time.

The tunnel at last opened into a wide room festooned with stone arches, looking as if it had been carved out of the earth itself; everything that wasn’t an arch was packed dirt. Harry looked around and found many other bodies, mostly women but with a few men and children, standing together.

“Will you speak through just this one, or all of them at once?” he asked, as the hag who had led him here pivoted around in front of the crowd and faced him.

“Just this one for now,” the voice said, although Harry saw the blue-silver gleam begin to shine around all of the heads in front of him. “Hail, Master of Death. We have waited for you for several years now.”

“Several? Not since I was born?”

The heads swayed back and forth. “No. We could not sense you then. We could sense you only when your musings on the nature of this world intertwined with our own purpose.”

“And that is?” Harry breathed, a deep thrill moving through him. This was new, a kind of creature he had never encountered before.

“We know,” said the voice, deep and booming now even though it continued to come through the one mouth, “why this world is so different from others that you have lived in.”

Chapter Text

“Okay. I know that you’re not human, not if you can sense things like that. But—” Harry paused and let his vision blur and become the vision of the Master of Death, the view of the world he had showed Voldemort. Most of the time, he consciously repressed it when he was around other humans.

The bones of mice haunted the floor, and the walls spoke to a long-ago murder with a human skeleton buried behind them. The dirt was leaf mold, and insect shell casings shed over the centuries, and the soil that remembered the roots of dead plants. The beings in front of him blazed with life in the midst of that.

The kind of life that Harry had only seen before when he looked at the few fully immortal creatures he had come across. The kind of blaze that he saw when he met his own eyes in a mirror using this sight.

Harry released the vision and smiled. “What kind of being are you? How did you come here? Have you lived in other worlds, like I have? Why can you tell me about how things have changed here?”

The hag in front of him laughed, while a few of the other bodies did, too, and others opened their mouths in silent versions of the sound. “So curious, Master of Death,” the voice murmured. “I will answer the questions, but one at a time.”

Harry nodded. He settled back on the dirt floor and cocked his head, letting his gaze wander from one body to another. The being didn’t seem to move them all equally; some yawned or covered their mouths sometimes or rolled their eyes at the ceiling, and others remained as still as if they were made of wax.

The hag who had met him in the alleyway shone for a moment, and then the blue-silver light moved to a younger white witch, who twitched slightly pointed ears and said to Harry, “I am what you would call a conglomerate of souls.”

Harry felt his eyes widen. He had learned about this in his necromancy training. “How did you form?” Battlefields were the usual way, when many souls died at once and clung together, or in the wake of a pandemic. But Harry had dealt with conglomerates like that, and none of them had been as self-aware or as calm as this being.

“I chose to form.”

Harry paused. “But where did the souls that make you up originally come from?”

“Many places. Some of them from Hogwarts, ancient ghosts who had faded and no longer knew anyone who walked the halls. Some of them from wizarding villages that were abandoned when Muggles moved closer, and who were lonely. Some of them from battlefields, and some from plagues, and some from shipwrecks. So many places, Master of Death. The common thread binding them is that they did not want to be alone. And now they are me.”

Harry grinned. “That is brilliant.” It would also explain why this being seemed so different from the other conglomerates of souls he had met in his necromancer training. The only desire those beings had was usually for mindless vengeance on everything they could reach.

Harry had something else to ask, though. “Where did you get the bodies? It sounds, from what you said, that most of them can’t be the original bodies your ghosts lived in.”

Several heads shook, but only the woman the being was now inhabiting spoke. “The bodies of those who died alone, or who were murdered and never found, or who died of disease and would not be touched. Those whom no one else wants, I gather.”

“Er—excuse me for saying this, but I can’t see a lot of wounds or marks of disease.”

“When I have had them for long enough, I can heal them. My presence inhabiting them and moving them around restores them to the peak of health.”

Harry whistled. Yes, that was unique. Conglomerates of souls usually remained bodiless until they possessed someone or found objects to hurl. And it increased his hope that the being might be like him in one way. “Have you lived in other worlds?”

There was a long silence, and the blue-silver glow around the young woman seemed to dim until she answered gently, “No, Master of Death. I have always been in this one, largely undetectable.”

Harry closed his eyes and sighed as he accepted the blow he hadn’t realized would be a blow. He had never encountered anyone like him who was born into multiple worlds. He had only found two beings who could travel from world to world, and both of them had immediately tried to destroy him. He had hoped that he might at last have found kin.

“This distresses you.”

Harry opened his eyes again. “Yeah, but it’s not your fault. It was just—I wish I knew someone else like me.”

“There is no one identical to you. But there are those like you, I think. I am one of them. Is not your Voldemort another?”

Harry stared at her. Then he said, “You still haven’t explained how you know things like that. Or how you could sense me. Or why this world is different.”

The woman nodded and turned, loose blonde hair flying behind her as she gestured with one hand. Some of the bodies moved aside as a chair came flying towards him. Harry smiled and sat down. “Thanks. But aren’t you going to sit down, too?”

“After so many centuries of having so many bodies to handle, standing is more natural to me.” The woman folded her arms and regarded him thoughtfully, the blue-silver glow dancing around her head like a halo. Two of the children behind her did the same thing, although the glow was less intense in them, and some others looked at Harry in what Harry could have said was curiosity if the being had been animating them at the moment. “I am part of the reason this world is different.”

“Because you existed?”

“In part. Also because I gathered up ghosts that might have influenced others to take certain actions. Either good or bad actions, truly. Inspiration or depression.”

Harry paused, then nodded. He could see that. He had seen, first-hand, how often contacting the shades of the dead made someone else long to join them, or how someone might use the constant company of a ghost to dedicate their life to something the dead person had never achieved.

“Another reason,” the being added softly, “is that your Voldemort is stronger here.”

Harry blinked. “You mean, he was already more stable or sane than in other worlds?”

The being tilted the woman’s head, then leaped to the body of a young black girl, who studied Harry with a serious expression as the blue-silver glow danced atop her head. “Perhaps that. I was referring to his magical strength, however. He is the most powerful wizard to have been born since I became aware of how to sense wizardly power.”

The being didn’t explain the next conclusion, but Harry’s mind had already leaped to it much like the glow moving around between bodies. “So he was able to withstand the Horcruxes better. He didn’t lose as much magic to them.”

“And perhaps his power also preserved his sanity, rather than his sanity being inherently stronger in the first place.”

Harry bit his lip as he thought about that. It did explain certain things, perhaps. Why this Severus had stayed with Voldemort instead of turning to Dumbledore earlier; the lure of that power had compelled him, or he had thought Voldemort more likely to win the war. And even Voldemort’s Death Eaters obeyed him and seemed to stay more loyal in this universe than in most worlds Harry had been.

“You are another factor.”

“Well, yes, I knew that. I’ve never lived in a world where people knew me for what I am before.”

“Not just that,” the girl said, with a frown that revealed she had died too young to grow in her front teeth. “The weight of beings like us distorts the world, did you know? We cause ripples like a stone being thrown in a pond simply by existing.”

Harry blinked. “I—think I knew that, too. I mean, obviously there are things like prophecies that I’ve interfered in, because I wasn’t just going to let Voldemort go undefeated.”

The girl shook her head and sighed. “I don’t think English is a good language for talking about this in, but then, there’s nothing that’s better, either. I mean that even before we take an interest or decide to actively interfere, events begin to move in a whirlpool around us. Even if your parents had never known who you were, and you’d never been kidnapped by your Voldemort—”

“He’s not my Voldemort.”

“He’s more yours than any of the others or any other Voldemort in any other world. My point is, you simply existing here caused a disturbance that I felt. I couldn’t track it to its source or tell what it was until you got kidnapped by your Voldemort, though. You are the source of some of the changes here that would have occurred around the time you were born.”

Harry sat in silence, thinking about that. The being let him, the blue-silver glow jumping to the head of an old man with a beard as long as Dumbledore’s, then back to the hag, then to a warlock with limbs as gangly as a starfish’s.

Before he had accepted that he had been the one determining where and when he was born, that idea would have caused him incredible distress. He would have been thinking about the best way to mitigate that impact and restore the world to what it would have been without his presence.

But now…

Well, it was stupid to think that I could stay neutral or out of the war, anyway.

Harry nodded and focused back on the being. The warlock stopped idly inspecting his legs and turned to face him, eyes shining so intense a silver that Harry couldn’t see what their original color had been.

“I don’t suppose you would be interested in helping me understand more about this? And whether there are other beings like us somewhere? Maybe in worlds that we can travel to without dying?”

The being smiled, with almost all its faces. “I would be most interested.”

*

“I can’t believe that you thought I would let you win the war, Albus.”

Albus closed his eyes. This time, the boy was behind him, standing in a slit of shadow that ran along the side of his office desk. The wards around the office—the wards around Hogwarts—should have prevented him from getting anywhere like this. Albus couldn’t fathom why they weren’t working.

Except that perhaps the wards were never meant to stop the Master of Death, to stop someone as powerful and evil as the monster that now possessed the Elder Wand.

“You must be stopped,” Albus whispered. “I don’t know how, but I know you must. For the sake of the wizarding world.”

Harry sighed, following it with a giggle. Albus turned. The boy’s face was covered with blood, and he was chewing, slowly, something that was thick and black-red. Albus glanced away again. He knew enough about viscera to be fairly sure that the boy was consuming a heart.

From whose chest had he torn it, probably still beating? Albus felt faint and sick. While he had been up here pitying himself and thinking about what would have happened if only he had managed to retain the Wand, the boy had been killing people.

“What do you think is going to happen when I tell your parents about this?” Albus challenged. It was a weak strike and he knew it.

The boy rolled his eyes and went on chewing. He must know it, too. “Why would they listen to you, Albus? Have they come to you to express any concerns about my behavior or to protest their loyalty to you? Of course not. I have them coiled up in my nets.” He smiled and leaned forwards. “The same way I have everyone in wizarding Britain. Do you know what they’re saying about you now?”

“I have read nothing in the papers.”

“Respect for your name keeps it out of the papers for right now.” The boy snorted. “And probably that bitch Augusta Longbottom, too. Did I tell you that I was her grandson in my last life? She was just as intolerable there as she is here. She thinks she always knows best, and she always takes your side.”

Albus caught his breath and tried not to exhale hope. That was true. That was right. If something happened to him—if this demon-child killed him—then Augusta knew about the Horcruxes and could receive Severus’s reports and make sure Tom died.

“But I never told you about the gossip spreading that Augusta has managed to keep out of the papers so far,” the boy said, and smiled at him. “Mad old man. That’s what they’re calling you.”

Albus flinched in spite of himself. He had cultivated a reputation for barminess for years, and there had been people who thought him senile. But he had never wanted to be called mad. Madmen had no one listen to them.

Well, perhaps that was not true. Tom had managed to gather a large group of people around himself despite being as mad as Harry Potter.

But Albus would die before he allowed himself to embrace Tom’s particular brand of madness.

“You’re the one spreading that gossip, of course,” he whispered.

Potter laughed. “Hardly. I might encourage it, but just about everyone still knows me as a child.” His face took on an obscenely innocent expression. “Who would believe a ten-year-old capable of participating in vicious rumors? All I’m doing is shaking my head and sighing sadly a little when someone has a conversation like that in front of me, and that’s enough for right now.”

Albus closed his eyes, doing his best not to listen to the child. He could not listen to the child. This was not real. Not really. It could not be. Surely his own fears were playing out in front of him, not reality—

And then he froze. If that was true, did it not prove that Harry and the others were right, and he was mad?

Soft laughter startled him enough to make him jump. Harry was shaking his head as though he had followed every coil of Albus’s thoughts. Which meant that he had managed to get inside Albus’s Occlumency shields.

“I’m only surprised that it took you so long to start seeing reality as the rest of us see it,” Harry whispered.

Albus whipped out his wand and cast a curse before he thought about it. Harry blinked out of existence, and the curse shattered the stone behind him. Albus stared at the hole in the wall, panting.

“You still haven’t understood everything I wanted you to understand.”

Albus turned around slowly. Harry now stood on the far side of his desk, near the fireplace, actually making Albus wonder for an absurd moment if he was about to Floo out.

“But that’s all right,” Harry continued, in a voice hardly louder than the rustling of cobwebs. “You’re old, but not as old as a wizard can get. We’ll have plenty of time to make you understand. And Albus?”

He would have liked to respond, but terror had congealed the words in his throat.

“I won’t leave you until the last moments of humiliation I can possibly wring out of you are past. Don’t worry, old man, you’ll have company on the downwards slide.”

And the monster of Albus’s deepest nightmares vanished in a whisk of darkness and laughter.

*

“Uh, what can I do for you, Augusta?” Sirius watched with a wrinkled forehead as Augusta paced around his drawing room. They had worked together in the Order of the Phoenix, but they hadn’t seen each other for years, since the war had ended and so had regular meetings.

“You can share the burden of this task that the Headmaster laid on me.”

“All right,” Sirius said, watching as Augusta unrolled a gigantic parchment across the table in front of him. It looked as if it had so many notes on it that Sirius’s eyes crossed looking at it. “What is it?”

“You-Know-Who has something called Horcruxes. Albus has had me hunting them, but with no results so far. And the last time I tried to talk to him about them, he said…some strange things.” Augusta shook her head to dismiss those strange things, and stabbed her finger at the parchment. “You’re going to help me research ancient Dark artifacts he could have corrupted to be his Horcruxes.”

Sirius found his mouth open and no words coming out. Augusta peered at him sharply. “If you’re about to refuse, young man, then you’ll need to offer me an alternative suggestion.”

Sirius swallowed air and said, “No. I’ll help. Why don’t you tell me what kind of rituals you’ve conducted so far to find the Horcruxes?”

Internally, he was rolling his eyes. Harry is not going to believe this shit.

Chapter Text

“Lord Voldemort, may I introduce the conglomeration.”

Lord Voldemort narrowed his eyes at the being that stood next to Harry. That it was a being and not the ordinary human woman it looked like he had no doubt, even if that was mostly based on what Harry had said. For one thing, no ordinary human woman would stand that comfortably and calmly in the face of his power.

And power was what Lord Voldemort had unleashed, the minute he had seen someone else walk into their clearing alongside Harry.

“Greetings, Lord Voldemort,” the woman said. She was small, perhaps a teenager in body, with brown skin and brown eyes and tangled brown hair that blew back in the wind of his magic. “May I address you without the title? It will become awkward soon.”

“I do not care,” Lord Voldemort said, ignoring Harry’s sidelong glance.

“Very well. Then I should say that I represent a large conglomeration of souls, gathered together from those who had nowhere else to go, and picking up some bodies along the way as well. I am immortal—truly immortal. Not in the same way Harry is, of course, but I also do not need to pursue the pitiful human ways of achieving immortality. Harry tells me you have an interest in becoming a creature like us.”

“I have no interest in joining my soul with another’s,” Lord Voldemort said. “I have had enough trouble reintegrating the scattered pieces of it that I created by mistake, as Harry will have told you.”

“All your Horcruxes were deliberate, Voldemort.”

“I mean that it was a mistake to create them in the first place,” Lord Voldemort said, and met and held Harry’s eyes until he nodded a little.

“Not literally immortal in the same way,” the woman interjected, her face rippling a bit as though the creature was not used to molding human skin into an expression anymore. “Simply that you wish to live and not die, and in a different way than the Horcruxes would permit.”

“That is a fair summation,” said Lord Voldemort grudgingly. He could understand Harry’s fascination with the creature, but he wished that Harry had not brought it here, and did not seem so fascinated with it.

The creature nodded and sat down on the bench that Lord Voldemort had shaped with his magic out of tree roots. “Very well. Then I can tell you that the nature of this world itself will help with your success, in a way that others would not.”

“Why?” That sounded too easy. Lord Voldemort eased around to the side to watch her face more comprehensively, while also watching Harry. He didn’t seem alarmed, but studied the being with a faint, fond smile Lord Voldemort did not like.

“Because immortal creatures have already dwelt in it. That alters the nature of the world.”

“Is that one reason that you think Voldemort was able have such powerful magic?” Harry leaned forwards. “Maybe a reason that I was born here?”

“The causes are interconnected until it is hard to isolate a single one,” the being said, swinging her legs, in a way that reminded Lord Voldemort of the inanities that Muggle fortune-tellers might utter. “But I would not be surprised if that had something to do with it.”

Harry fell silent. His eyes were shadowed, and his remarkable mind had darted into some niche that Lord Voldemort could not follow. He ground his teeth. Harry made him uniquely helpless. He could order his followers to tell him what they thought, and they would comply. Or he could use Legilimency to read the truth out of the minds that would defy him. He was used to capturing and torturing his enemies for information.

Harry was beyond all that. Lord Voldemort had to lower himself to asking when he wanted to know, and accepting it if Harry did not want to tell him.

“What are you thinking of?” he asked, and tried to ignore the way the being turned to look at him. He was convinced it was amused.

Harry blinked twice, and the shadowy look departed his eyes, which focused on Lord Voldemort again. That was as it should be. “That there must be paths to immortality, and causes of it, that even I don’t know about.”

“Master of Death,” said the being abruptly. “Why have you not asked those who would know?”

Harry twisted his head hard to the side, one of those movements that made him look most inhuman. “I have spoken with you.”

“No. I meant the Deathly Hallows. They must contain some of the secrets you have been looking to know.”

Lord Voldemort hoped he was the only one who saw Harry’s left hand clench into a fist by his side. “I have asked them in the past. They can’t—speak in an understandable way. They can express emotions, and they let me know when I came to the right conclusion about why I was reborn in so many similar times, but they don’t speak.”

“Have you asked them?”

“Of course! All the time when I was reborn in my second life and I was trying to figure out if it would happen again.”

“And not again?” Lord Voldemort would have been pleased that he was not the only target of the creature’s mocking voice if the thought of someone mocking Harry had not infuriated him.

“I have tried talking to them, of course. Again and again.” Harry shook his head, and ripples of darkness traveled with his hair. He was losing control over his bodily form, then, letting some of the reality out. Lord Voldemort would have been more pleased with the level of comfort it indicated if it were not in front of this stranger. “The Hallows never replied. They can understand what I want, but they don’t always do it.”

“They can speak if you ask them the right questions.”

“And I suppose you know how to do that?” Harry’s voice was etched like words on a glass pane, and he drifted a little away from the being, feet leaving the ground. Lord Voldemort caught his breath, and hoped neither of them noticed.

“I know at least how to pose the question.” The being got to her feet. Lord Voldemort saw a sharp blue-silver light flicker into being above her head. “Bring the wand before me. We will begin with that, since it is the most fearsome of them.”

“Fearsome,” Harry mouthed, but shook his head and extended his hand. In seconds, the Elder Wand rested there. It had its own subtle glow of power, which Lord Voldemort did not think it usually bore.

Does everyone respond in some unique way to this being?

The woman halted in front of the wand and looked down at it. Then she traced one slow finger down the elderberry carvings near the end of it. Her eyes shut, and her head fell back, exposing her throat. Her breath came out of her in a steady hiss, but no matter how closely Lord Voldemort listened, it did not sound like Parseltongue.

“What is she doing?” he murmured to Harry.

“I have no idea. Now hush.”

Lord Voldemort had never e