It is dark, and the room is cold.
Four living beings and one that is, while being, not technically living, occupy the room. The cold is the not-technically-living-being’s fault. Of the room’s other four occupants, three are aware of this, and one is too young to care about much other than that he is cold and his mum isn’t there to cast a warming charm.
The child is one year, four months, and five days old.
“Is everything ready?” The speaker is the man holding the child, a small, twitchy thing.
“Nearly, Elphias,” says a tall man in robes. “Nearly.”
Elphias rocks the young boy in his arms. The toddler’s sniffles begin progressing into active whimpers.
“Perhaps you could move a bit faster, Albus,” the final living-and-being occupant says tersely. The voice sounds vaguely feminine, and the speaker’s figure appears vaguely feminine, but they wear gray robes with the hood pulled up, and gloves, and a high collar, and the moving black runes on their cloak make it impossible to determine so much as skin color or a hint of a face existing under their cowl.
“Soul magic ought not be rushed,” says Albus. His long silver-streaked ginger beard is tucked into his belt to keep it out of the liquid pooled in the center of the room. It is black, and it could be water, reflecting the dimly lit ceiling. It could also be something else. “As you should know.”
“Yes, yes, but do get a move on, the Department has need of this chamber in an hour and we’ve no idea how long this will take.”
Albus hums and pours something into the pool of liquid. It looks less like water now. The ripples around whatever he’s pouring are far too sluggish to be water. “Patience… Does a dementor’s Kiss normally take very long at all?”
“This is no normal Kiss and you know it,” the vague figure hisses.
Elphias shifts on his feet. “Albus, this is… A Kiss… on a toddler… that is to say… you’re quite sure…?”
“As sure as I have ever been of anything in my life, old friend,” Albus says hoarsely. He peers at the liquid a bit longer through half-moon spectacles, nods, and rises to peer down at the boy instead. Elphias does the same and so does the third living being, although they do so rather grudgingly, with the air of someone looking over a curiosity they do not wish to admit is at all curious. “Young Mr. Potter has defeated Lord Voldemort through the purity of his soul and his magic… and in doing so, he has fragmented Voldemort’s soul beyond repair. I must find the pieces and destroy them. Starting with the one… that fled here.”
He presses one long finger lightly to the toddler’s forehead. The boy’s quiet, constant movement stops completely and his entire body shudders.
“Broken skin would indeed create a conduit for a soul shard,” the third speaker says drily. “In point of fact, it would rather be an invitation.”
“We understand blood magic so little,” Elphias says mournfully.
The third speaker snorts. “You understand it so little, Doge. The Department of Mysteries is not subject to the Ministry’s petty fear-mongering decrees.”
“Peace,” Albus says. “Now is not the time for political differences. Which Unspeakables are supposed to be above, anyway.”
Elphias Doge obeys instantly. The third speaker makes a sarcastic gesture of agreement and steps away again.
“Right,” the third speaker says brusquely. “Albus, the potion feels about right, and I’ve had the runes ready and waiting for thirty minutes, so can we please get this show on the road?”
“Of course, of course… Elphias, if you could give the boy to me?”
Elphias licks his lips and looks in the direction of the windowless stone room’s fifth and final occupant. It drifts up near a corner and might possibly be forgotten, if not for the silver bird that floats in front of it, and the aura of misery and despair that it exudes like the scent of bad eggs. “Albus…”
“Trust me, Elphias,” Albus says softly. “Please.”
With a jerky nod, Elphias deposits the boy into Albus’ arms and leaves through a door that did not appear to exist before he needed it and appears to no longer exist once he is gone.
The third speaker snorts as soon as he is gone. “Purity of his soul my arse, Albus, you know the boy’s mother did some highly illegal ritual and fueled it with her own death. The batshit monstrosity killed himself with his own arrogance. Waltzed right into your trap, I might add.”
“We both know you will be keeping such observations to yourself,” says Albus in a tone so delicate it might break upon the floor like spun glass. “The fiction will be a comfort to Elphias, and everyone else, and it is not even far from the truth. This world is in dire need of hope, my dear. And Harry Potter can offer it to them. A beacon of light, driving out the darkness…”
“Hope, ha,” the nameless speaker says. “There’s a reason I picked the Death Chamber and not Love, Albus.”
Albus doesn’t look at them, only at the child, as he pulls a slender length of wood from his pocket and taps it to the child.
In an instant, the child is entirely naked, and squalling louder at the sudden onslaught of cold.
“You know this has over an eighty percent chance of killing the child, right?”
Albus bends down, holding the child over the liquid like a prayer, or a sacrifice. “It must be done. The risk of one life to begin the process of killing a man who has killed hundreds and would kill hundreds more. I will carry the guilt forever but I shall do so without regret.”
“One among many,” Albus says, and in this, for the first time, they appear to be in perfect agreement.
The nameless speaker steps back, raising their own wand, and begins tracing complicated patterns in the air while chanting in a language no longer actively spoken. It is a language not-quite-dead, not-quite-alive.
They are dealing with a number of not-quite-dead, not-quite-alive things this night.
Albus lowers the boy slowly into the liquid. He is careful to not touch it himself, not so much as a drop on the trailing sleeves of his robes.
The liquid appears to have pooled in a very shallow depression in the middle of the room, whose floors all gently slope towards its center. It soon becomes clear that its center is much deeper than the visible planes of the floor would suggest. The toddler—Harry Potter—disappears completely as soon as Albus lets him go, and he does so with barely a ripple in the sluggish liquid. His unhappy infant cries cut off as the liquid closes over his face.
The silver bird fades out of existence at a flick of Albus’ wand. The chanting immediately grows faster, more frenzied. Trembles overtake the hands and body of the nameless one. In the corner, the not-quite-alive not-quite-dead being drifts forward, spectral and frightening and hunting.
It reaches for Albus, first, but the chanting picks up its pace and the creature stops. Redirects itself toward the pool.
There is no sign of Harry Potter, not anymore. Not from outside.
Even under the liquid he is causing very little disruption. His pudgy fists lie still and his feet kick spasmodically only once every few seconds. He is not breathing, but that is a side effect of the potion they’ve submerged him in; it will need to be forcibly and painfully extracted from him if he survives the next minute of his life.
Though he is a fighter by nature, the boy’s fight is directed entirely inwards at this moment. Inside him, the soul’s instinctive reaction to something that can obliterate it has slammed into action, and for this boy, it is magnified to several times its usual effect, for several reasons.
One, because he is young, and his magic is as yet unformed and wild and messy, and magic is the connection between mind and soul.
Two, because he is near death, another side effect of the potion, and the ties between his soul and his body are loosened almost to the point of snapping on their own.
Three, because he, technically, has one and one one hundred and twenty-eighth souls inside his body.
The extra one one hundred and twenty-eighth is the greatest source of his problems. It was not part of this body to begin with, so its connection is already comparatively weak. No magic can quite replicate the connection between a body and its original soul. Also, it is a particularly violent and unhinged piece of a particularly violent and unhinged soul, and its entire sense of self is built around an implacable fear of death, and ending. The only thing greater than that fear is the fate it feels approaching now, because while in death there is a slight chance of something coming after, there is no chance whatsoever of finding something else on the other side of a dementor’s Kiss.
Harry Potter’s body makes a particularly violent jerk, sending ripples through the liquid. The dementor pauses, face inches from submersion.
The chanting accelerates.
The foreign soul-shard shrieks and struggles. Its fear is strong and so is its instinct for self-preservation, and while it does not think, per se, it is aware and it can plan, and it takes advantage of all the abilities left to it. Which are, admittedly, quite few. Its only chance is to somehow change places with the natural soul and sacrifice that one for the dementor, thus taking this vessel entirely for its own, or—or it can entwine itself so thoroughly with the natural soul that they are, in essence, indistinguishable. The parameters of this spell only allow the dementor to take a soul (or a soul fragment) that does not belong.
Outside the pool of liquid, Albus sighs as the dementor dips its face in.
The foreign soul-shard, however, has made one miscalculation. It has made no effort over the one month and five days of sharing a vessel to make nice with the natural soul. The natural soul, then, fights the foreign shard for all it is worth, with the blind instinct that comes from a soul’s overriding concern: stay with the born vessel at all costs.
Thus they struggle and the dementor nears.
Its clammy mouth touches the child’s lips. The Kiss is a bit of a misnomer for this process, frankly. Not only is it entirely unromantic and perverted on multiple levels, but a kiss would imply that both parties have some capacity for affection, have lips, have a shared understanding of what a kiss means. None of those things is true in this case.
The foreign soul-shard screams and fights and clings and loses (mostly).
After several long seconds, the dementor lifts its face out of the liquid (there is no visible remnant of the potion anywhere on its face or robes) and retreats to its corner. It is more docile now. The soul-shard it has just consumed was much smaller than a typical soul but it was a delicious banquet of misery and fear and despair and all the negative emotions a dementor prizes, so the thing is temporarily easier to control.
“Done,” the nameless speaker rasps.
Albus moves swiftly, parting the potion with a wave of his wand and plucking the toddler from the bottom of six-foot-long indentation in the center of the room. The boy is blue-lipped and covered in blackish reside from the potion, which Albus no longer seems to care about getting on his hands, and he is neither breathing nor moving.
The nameless curses. “Albus, I can’t help, I’m spent…”
“I have this,” Albus says. His voice is perhaps not so confident as he might like but he resolutely points his wand at the child and begins murmuring incantations.
After thirty seconds, he is near to giving up.
After forty, young Harry Potter begins to seize and spasm, mouth gaping soundlessly. Albus briskly casts a spell known as langlock, now commonly used as a prank spell but originally developed by Healers to stick a seizure patient’s tongue to the roof of their mouth and therefore prevent them swallowing it. He returns to his previous stream of nonstop incantations.
After almost a full minute of casting, the seizures turn into violent but less unnatural-looking heaves. Albus deftly turns the child as he vomits up more of the brackish potion than plausibly could have been contained in his very small body.
After just over a minute, more potion begins to seep from the child’s body’s access points (all of them, including his pores) and he begins wailing in earnest. The shrieks echo around the small stone chamber so obnoxiously that the nameless speaker clamps their hands over their ears. Albus conjures a steady, gentle stream of warm water to cleanse the potion from the child’s skin and holds the terrified, agonized toddler under it for ten long minutes.
All of the potion must be purged.
The nameless speaker sighs with relief when Albus levels a gentle drowsiness charm at the child and ends the spray of water. “Circe’s tits, Albus, that was awful.”
“Haven’t you seen it done before?”
“Not with a kid. I’m quite possibly the least maternal witch ever but that doesn’t mean I like seeing one tortured.”
“That was not torture,” Albus says. “That was necessity.”
“Right. I’m pretty sure cancer patients undergoing round after round of scourgifying magic wouldn’t call it torture, either.” The nameless speaker is, evidently, well versed in sarcasm. “Just ‘cause it’s justified, which I happen to agree this was, doesn’t make it any less torture.”
Albus frowns at them.
“But if that’s the fiction you need to keep your guilty burden from getting to heavy, fine, I won’t pop your delusion bubble.” The nameless speaker gathers themself up off the floor with apparent effort. “You’d have made a terrible Unspeakable, Albus. They don’t tend to like the moral kinds.”
“I’d imagine not,” Albus says.
Albus looks down at the boy in his arms. “Now… I tuck Mr. Potter away somewhere safe and far away from all this fame and nonsense, where he can grow up a normal little boy, while I make sure the monster that did this to him will never return.”
“Death Chamber, remember? And I’ve done my fair share of studies in Time. Some things are inevitable.” The nameless speaker leans forward and traces the rune on the child’s forehead. “Sowilo. Victory, power, the sun. His mother’s magic and Voldemort’s arrogance saved him, but this child is an exceptionally powerful wizard, Albus, and no amount of meddling with Fate will change that. No matter how much you try to avoid past mistakes.”
Albus’ laugh rings hollow in the small room. “You have done your research, haven’t you?”
“Never liked you in school, Albus, and I know full well the feeling was mutual so don’t insult me with denials. Of bloody course I did my research. My oaths bind me but—sometimes trying to dodge Fate just brings about the very thing you fear.”
“I appreciate the warning, my dear,” Albus says. He pulls the child away from that curious finger, closer to his own chest. “But I will be perfectly fine. You can handle the dementor, I take it?”
“Certainly.” The nameless speaker casts a Patronus with a flick of their wand and no incantation, which elicits an eyebrow raise from Albus. A silvery pine marten appears, dancing through the air and corralling the dementor back into its corner. “Go find Elphias and console him before he cries a river.”
“Don’t mock Elphias.”
“He’s my brother, I can mock him all I want, thanks.”
Albus sighs and leaves.
He pauses in the corridor. Glances once down at the bundle in his arms.
For all their differences, Albus and the nameless speaker are thinking something similar as they take their separate paths from the ritual chamber. They are both considering how unexpectedly well the experiment had gone. The child survived and the soul-shard was destroyed and the dementor only made one halfhearted attempt at slipping its bonds.
But there was something they did not know.
When the foreign soul-shard was clinging with all its might to the native one, when it was trying so desperately to survive, it left something behind. Not a piece. No, there was only one soul in Harry Potter’s body, and it was his own. But he was marked, now, on the inside as well as the outside, because no soul can come through such a struggle unscathed. An impression had been left on the essence of Harry Potter. No more invasive than fingerprints on the outside of a wine glass.
But invasive and significant are two different things, and the consequences of the battle between soul and soul-shard, which would go forever undiscovered, would nonetheless be felt the world over.
All across the country, men and women in robes and long hats gathered. It had been almost two months exactly since You-Know-Who fell, vanquished by a young boy so pure of magic that Fate herself decreed him the downfall of the Dark Lord. Whether they celebrated Christmas, or Yule, or one of the bloody pre-pre-Christianity rites, or nothing at all, they could celebrate that holiday season secure in the knowledge that terror had been vanquished.
Some children, however, were not so fortunate.
A young blond boy sobbed on his bed in the shaking arms of his mother, both of them picturing the third member of their family consigned to an awful fate.
Two parents celebrated with their remaining family, sickened by their own relief that it had been the Potter boy and not theirs. The boy, meanwhile, was crushed between all of them and heard by none.
Another boy shrank away from his father’s rage and fled to the family library. The books there were undeniably nasty but at least they never tried to pretend to be anything but. Also, for the one-and-a-half-year-old Heir of the family, they were slightly more lenient than they would be otherwise.
Words echoed on the other side of a door that a black-haired girl was not allowed to open, words like betrothal and Malfoy and unpleasant business and family’s only chance that she didn’t like but couldn’t ask about.
And in a cookie-cutter Muggle home in Surrey, Harry Potter slept in a battered half-broken hand-me-down crib that had been his cousin Dudley’s until Dudley smashed one of its legs. It only stood upright if you leaned it on the wall. It was nothing like Mum and Dada, it was weird and cold and foreign and his head hurt all the time, but—
Crying hadn’t gotten him anywhere.
So Harry Potter stopped wailing when his Aunt Tuney came in to yell at him for the racket and waking her Dudders, and he stayed quiet after she left, and the first foundation of a new life was laid.