Actions

Work Header

sleeper

Chapter Text

Sometimes Harry wondered why he thought he’d be good at this.

He ground his teeth as he scrawled out his report on a dead Death Eater’s cousin caught selling dark artifacts. It would have been a middling crime, maybe five years in Azkaban (which, without the Dementors, wasn’t the sentence it used to be). It would have been, if one of them hadn’t killed someone’s ten-year-old daughter. She should've been at Hogwarts next year and instead they'd had her funeral last week.

Take down one dark wizard and ten more sprung up in his place, Harry thought darkly. Like the heads of a hydra. Life was fragile; petty evil was persistent, clinging to everything like mold; and Harry was unequivocally not good at this.

Well, maybe he hadn’t really thought he would be – he hadn’t expected to live this long, so of course he hadn’t expected paperwork.

It wasn’t that he was too good for it, like other Aurors insinuated. "Potter thinks he’s above the rules" echoed Snape in his head whenever they whispered about the Chosen One who thought that he was special, who hadn’t even bothered getting his NEWTs, nevermind that Harry was only taking what he had been offered. The ghost of Snape’s oily voice was so familiar it was almost a comfort, and Harry almost smiled when he heard it, which only made the other Aurors think he was mad, which only made him laugh and look madder.

Writing just wasn’t his strong suit. Harry was never good at putting words to deeds. Maybe it felt like giving them power. His handwriting on the page – perpetrator, Nolan Travers, age 32 – gave darkness a sticking place. It wasn’t that he’d rather it be forgotten; he just wished it weren’t him doing the remembering.

Perhaps he was a coward after all, after all this time. He never enjoyed facing the terrible things people did to each other, no matter what anyone thought. It’d just always been his job to, with grim determination. It’s why he accepted the early admission into Auror training – it felt like it was already his job, fighting dark wizards with Ron at his back. He thought may as well get paid for it.

Now the war was over and Ron had left the Aurors and Harry was twenty years old and had a desk covered in half-finished reports.

Later, he went home, and left his boots by the door and threw his cloak over the sofa. His flat was smaller and plainer than anyone would expect of the Boy-Who-Lived – that is to say, anyone who didn’t know Harry, just Harry. He rather liked it. He had framed photographs of his parents and Remus and Sirius, of Ginny and Hermione and Ron. He had a Floo so his friends could call him – he hadn’t gotten another owl. He had a kitchen where the vegetables chopped themselves, one of his few splurges in purely magical living. The rest of the flat was a hodge-podge of magical and muggle, but cooking the muggle way always reminded him unpleasantly of Privet Drive.

That night, he made spaghetti and turned on the wireless to listen to a Puddlemere United game while he ate dinner on the couch.

He lived alone – Ginny wouldn’t move in with him ("nothing against you, Harry, just not a battle I want to pick with Mum"). Harry considered asking her to marry him – it seemed like the right thing to do, and Molly might let up a little if they were engaged – but at that moment he was glad he hadn’t yet. If she were there, she’d give him the disapproving glare that Harry would never, ever tell her looked just like her mother’s – not at him eating on the couch listening to the game, they did that together often enough, but at the robotic way he lifted his fork from his plate to his mouth. She would accuse him of brooding.

Harry was not brooding. Harry was eating his spaghetti, lamenting not for the first time that wizards hadn’t invented an equivalent to television - Quidditch without visual wasn’t quite the same, and no one would ever live up to Lee Jordan’s commentary. He was going over his caseload, making a mental checklist for tomorrow, and wondering absently if the milk in the fridge was about to go off.

I am not happy. The thought entered his mind fully-fleshed and unbidden. He tried to push it back out. He wished, not for the first time, there was such a thing as Patronuses for brains.

Why wouldn’t he be happy? The war was over. His friends were alive. He was whole (mostly).

He had a flat he liked and a girlfriend he loved and after three years people and the papers had learned to leave him alone (mostly).

I am not-

He shut his eyes and let the voice on the radio wash over him.

-

Harry opened his eyes and found himself in a room that was not his own. It wasn’t a room at St. Mungo’s, either, and it wasn’t the guest room in the small flat Hermione and Ron shared, which they kept calling “Harry’s room” despite his protests.

He wasn’t on a couch in the Auror office where Harry sometimes slept before or after a long shift, or the mangy futon at Dean and Seamus’s place, or the sofa at Luna’s that had plants growing from the arms (he blamed Neville) and a mind of its own, having bucked him off once in the middle of the night (he blamed the universe).

He groped for his wand and found it on a flat surface just to his left, and quickly cast Lumos.

If this were a training simulation, he’d be scolded for giving away his position to potential unfriendlies. He’d been really shit at training simulations.

The glow of spell-light revealed that he was in a large space, a bedroom richly furnished in shades of burgundy and brown. Without his glasses, he couldn’t discern much more, but this still gave him a small measure of comfort, because he’d found that dark witches and wizards really did favor shades of black and silver and green. The wizarding world ran on clichés.

Harry pointed his wand at himself and cast a quick spell to sharpen his vision. The spell didn’t last long – a few minutes at most – but he was suddenly grateful the Auror academy had insisted he learn it.

His newly improved vision clarified two things: one, that he was indeed in a strange bedroom done up in warm Gryffindor colors, in a bed with very soft sheets and dark red velvet curtains which were an obvious, if subdued, throwback to his old dormitory; and two, the wand in his hand was not his wand at all. It was a different wood – willow, maybe?- and perhaps three-quarters of an inch longer than his own.

He waved it experimentally. Well, it felt like a good enough match. He’d be able to use it for now.

Harry considered what he remembered doing last – sitting in front of the radio, listening to the game. He asked himself if anything on his person hurt or felt like it’d been hit with a spell – it didn’t, which didn’t mean that he hadn’t been, of course, but was still a promising sign.

He slipped quietly out of the bed and made a cursory check of places in the room where someone might be hiding, then made his way to the door and checked it for spells, one of the other few useful things he’d learned in training.

Finding nothing, he cast a quick charm on it just in case that would stop any creaking, because it looked old and heavy, carved from solid wood, and the fixtures were made of a metal that was polished but pockmarked with age.

Harry mentally catalogued these details. If he’d been abducted, his captors were probably fairly wealthy Purebloods, because he was pretty sure he was in a reasonably grand older wizarding home. He briefly ran over a list of wealthy people who might favor Gryffindor colors, would dislike him enough to abduct him, and would be stupid enough to do such a poor job of it.

He only came up with Cormac McClaggen, and decided that was probably unlikely but held onto the information for later.

The hall beyond was empty and dark. He aimed his light at his feet, first, checking for obstacles on the ground. There was only a once-plush rug in an ornate ivy pattern, now somewhat threadbare. Also, he was barefoot and –

-he was wearing silk pajamas. Well, that was bloody weird. He’d consider the implications of that later.

He lifted the light a little to the hall in front of him. He saw two more doors further down to his right and the start of a staircase to the center left. The hall curved around and to the left at the end.

He began to make his way cautiously toward the staircase. In a hostile situation, it was always best to be on the ground floor.

“And what are you doing creeping about like a common burglar at this ungodly hour?”

Harry nearly jumped out of his skin. He turned and illuminated the source of the voice, a portrait of a man in dress robes with dark, well-groomed hair. Harry thought he looked familiar but couldn’t place him.

Bugger, he thought. He knew a spell that froze portraits in their frames, but it also ran the risk of waking anyone tied into the house’s wards if they protected against such things, and in a house like this he thought they probably would. Best to play along and not give the portrait reason to alert someone.

“I’m,” he hesitated. “Looking for the loo?”

Right. His acting skills left something to be desired. He should really work on that.

The portrait raised an oil-painted eyebrow.

When he spoke, his voice reminded Harry of McGonagall, how she used to repeat something back to you very slowly as if to say "did you really mean to say those words, and in that order?"

“You’re looking for the- loo.”

Harry wondered what rich wizards called their toilets, because it apparently wasn’t that.

“In your house,” the portrait continued, “Where you have lived for your entire life.”

The portrait had apparently mistaken him for someone else – possibly the person whose bed he’d come from, whose wand he had, and, probably, whose pajamas he was wearing. A pair of painted gold spectacles glinted from a pocket at the portrait’s chest, and Harry wondered if perhaps the portrait had been painted near-sighted, to match its sitter.

He had begun to think that maybe he’d gone out to the shops for something after the game was over and slipped and hit his head. Maybe a strange wizard had come to his aid and set him up in a guest room in his mansion instead of sending Harry off to St. Mungo’s. Probably he was hoping the great Boy-Who-Lived would grant him a boon, or something. Like a fairy – or no, those were useless little things, in reality. A genie, then. Did genies exist, properly?

Note to self: ask Hermione re: genies.

Harry was considering how he might respond and possibly capitalize on the portrait’s mistake – he could ask it to point him in the direction of the nearest Floo and pretend that was what he’d meant, although of course the portrait would think he should know where that was too – when he heard another voice call out from further down, where the hall came to a bend.

There were two things of note about this voice. The first was that it said his name: “Harry, is that you?” It asked this in a way that suggested familiarity, a sleepworn way that was not at all the voice of someone who was going to misguidedly ask Harry to grant him a favor.

The second was that Harry had heard this voice before – in memories, in dreams, from a shade.

It was the voice of James Potter.

Harry felt a jolt, like he had taken a step forward off a precipice and into space, and then, nothing.

-

Harry woke with a start. He still felt the pit-of-his-stomach falling sensation as he blinked, blearily, at his own cracked living room ceiling.

He’d fallen asleep on the sofa and there was a crick in his neck to reward him for it. He sat up. His limbs felt stiff. The radio, still on, hummed a song he didn’t recognize – which was most of them; he never had warmed up to wizarding music.

He shook his arms out and found his wand, casting Tempus. It was 2:40 in the morning. He yawned and began to put things right, turning off the radio, taking his dishes to the kitchen, heading to his proper bed with its ordinary sheets and distinct lack of curtains.

The dream did not fade like most dreams. As he lay in bed, it hovered still, with perfect clarity, at the edges of his consciousness.

It was the strangest dream he’d ever had, and Harry had a lot of strange dreams. Nightmares, still, about Voldemort, about the war. Anxious dreams about showing up to the Auror office in his pants. The old dream about Cedric in the graveyard. Sometimes, even, the oldest dream of all – the one with a crack of green light, the one where, sometimes, he heard James Potter say to Lily take Harry and run.

It was that voice he’d heard – only, no, it was not that voice, tinged with bravery and fear, nor was it the cocky, boyish voice of Snape’s Pensieve memory, or the gentle voice of the vision of James who’d come out of the Resurrection Stone.

It was a version he’d never heard, one he’d been robbed of, a tired father who’d just gotten out of bed, exasperated but ready to identify and fix a problem before going back to sleep.

What an odd gift his mind had given him. His heart hurt in a way it hadn’t in some time. He probed at it like a tongue at the hole left behind by a recently lost tooth.

It was now well past four. Harry remembered that he had work tomorrow, early, and forced himself to go to sleep.

-

The next day, Harry found himself struggling to finish another of his half-hearted reports. His mind was racing, replaying the events of last night on loop, and his hands itched. He wanted to do – he didn’t know what, but he wanted to bunk off work the way he used to skip History of Magic, just to feel like he was doing something.

He floundered over the word to describe the perpetrator’s demeanor at the scene of the crime. “You can’t write ‘shifty’ in a fucking report, Potter,” Bastion – his first partner – had said two years prior.

“…quite shifty?” said Harry.

“Fucking – kill me. I can’t believe this is what I’ve got stuck with.”

Ron had sniggered quietly in the background. This was before he’d left the Auror office to work at his brother’s joke shop, a move which Harry understood and respected even if he still felt a twinge of something close to bitterness if he let himself ponder it.

At first, Harry’d been quietly pleased that the older Auror didn’t give him special treatment. In training, some of the instructors didn’t seem to know quite how to respond to him – or, to a lesser extent, the former DA members that made up half their trainee ranks.

Eventually it had lost its charm. Thankfully, Bastion had recently retired and Harry was deemed senior enough to get stuck with a younger partner.

Two and a half years as an Auror shouldn’t have been enough to classify him as senior, but they’d lost a huge chunk of the force in the war, and soon after Harry’s batch of trainees were officially on the force, a few more dedicated Aurors who’d been hanging on just to see it through retired.

Unfortunately, his new partner was a former Hogwarts student, two years behind him, who thought the sun shone from the part of Harry where Robards intimated he pulled his reports from. Fortunately, Aleksander “Call me Alex” Twigg was also a Hufflepuff and so mostly kept his mouth shut about it.

An inter-office memo bird flew gracefully towards his disordered desk, and Harry snatched it out of mid-air, eager for the distraction.

Harry knew who’d sent it right away – ones from fellow Aurors crash-landed, crumpling and sometimes sparking a little.

 

Meet me in the cafeteria for tea in half an hour (or as soon as you can get away)?

-Hermione

 

An idea came to Harry, and he began to wonder why he hadn’t thought of it sooner. If it’d been three years ago, he was just self-aware enough to realize, it probably wouldn’t have thought of it at all. Still.

 

I’ll be there, Harry wrote in reply.

By the way, do you have any books about dreams?

Then, before he could think better of it, he tacked on:

What’s another word for ‘shifty’?

Also: are genies real?

 

He didn’t bother signing the note before sending it back off. He accomplished little during the next half-hour, and when it was up, he flung his quill down, splattering ink over his unfinished paperwork.

“Djinn,” said Hermione as he settled into a seat across from her in the Ministry cafeteria. Harry had gotten a sandwich, realizing he hadn’t eaten properly since the night before. Hermione had a cup of tea and a pointed look.

“Bless you,” he said.

Harry. Djinn. Genies. They exist – they’re indigenous to the Middle East and quite rare. Also, ‘treacherous, underhanded, duplicitous’ – buy a thesaurus, Harry. Or borrow one; I have three.”

“Hm,” said Harry, noncommittally. “What about the dream stuff?” He hoped he wouldn’t regret this.

The war had, at least in part, trained him out of the idea that his problems were his own to solve and his friends were best left in the dark. Well, the war and Ginny yelling at him. When the worst of it was over, funerals attended and major repairs to Hogwarts and the Ministry and all the rest underway, it occurred to him that he should probably ask Ginny to be his girlfriend properly. She had agreed only on the condition that he promise to “tell someone before he did something stupid again”. She had later expanded this extracted promise to include Harry telling someone about things like the press hounding him so thoroughly that he had to wear his invisibility cloak to visit his friends (and she and Hermione together had hired him a wizarding solicitor and taught him how to threaten litigation).

Harry wasn’t really sure if the strange dream from last night counted as “something”, but the itching in his hands that propelled him forward certainly did.

“I’d have to look at home,” said Hermione. She blew on the steam rising from her cup. It assumed the shape of a heart and she cast it a glare like she wanted to scold it, though Harry knew it was only a charm they cast on the tea. “I haven’t done much reading on dreams, since…” she trailed off and gave Harry a meaningful look.

“Oh,” he said quickly, realizing the impression he might have given. “It’s not that kind of dream. No Voldemort.” But still significant, something in him said.

Harry shifted in his seat uncomfortably. He would never grow used to describing his problems, if you could call this that, but now he pretty much had to tell Hermione if only to reassure her that it wasn’t a dark magic-y thing. At least, he didn’t think so.

In retrospect, it was magnanimous of Ginny to allow the “someone” he was meant to go to to be Ron or Hermione, not insisting that it always include her, but that was why he loved Ginny – she seemed to understand, inherently, the bond between the three of them, and positioned herself somewhere close but separate from that bond without bitterness.

He’d chosen Hermione more or less on impulse when he saw her note, but now he reckoned it was probably the best choice. Ginny and Ron had been more closely affected by the awful vision he had of Nagini and their father, and Ginny in particular was sensitive to talk about nightmares and dreams. He thought that might be a side effect of being possessed for the better part of a year.

Hermione looked less pointed, somewhat relieved. “So, a regular dream, then? Are you looking for interpretation? That falls somewhere in the realm of Divination.” She did not have to say that she didn’t put much stock in Divination.

“Not interpretation. It’s just… I had a dream last night that felt real,” Harry began, because now he realized that he had to reassure her or she’d never leave it alone. May as well get it over with. “Not – not real in the way that the things I saw in Voldemort’s head used to feel. Not like a vision. It didn’t feel like a dream at all. I could feel the furniture and things, I could feel magic when I did it.”

Hermione hmm’d thoughtfully. “What happened in it?”

“Not a lot. I woke up—"

“You woke up in a dream?”

“Yeah?”

“That’s not supposed to be possible.”

“What do you mean?”

“I read something once about the ‘rules’ of dreams – you can’t wake up in them, you can’t die in them, and if you try to read anything written you’ll find it doesn’t make sense.” Hermione frowned in the way that meant she was shuffling through the card catalog of her own memory. “There’s probably more I’ve forgotten,” she said.

“Really?” asked Harry skeptically. He didn’t doubt that she’d read that – Hermione recalled things she’d read in passing years ago in with such accuracy it was startling. But dreams didn’t seem to him like a thing the rules of nature or magic applied to. They were rather like Harry that way.

And, as he added, “I die in loads of my dreams.”

The look Hermione gave him mercifully held less pity than it might once have.

“Well,” she said finally, “It’s all theory. Muggles have done plenty of scientific study of dreams, but they still don’t know what they are or why we have them. Magical study of dreams is mostly about prophetic ones – which are demonstrably real, if rare – and the interpretation of dream symbols, which have never been proven to have any real significance.”

“This one hardly acted like a dream at all,” Harry said. “Except at the end. That felt like a dream – I was startled, and then I woke up. You know that jerk you have when you wake up sometimes, like you dreamed about falling?”

Hermione nodded. Harry shrugged. Like that, it said.

“What startled you?”

“My dad.” It felt strange to say it out loud, like it would cheapen it. As unsettling as the dream had been in its vividness, he still held James Potter’s voice in his hand like a treasured thing, something tangible, a marble made of black glass.

“Oh,” said Hermione, softly. “What was he doing?”

“I dunno. Just – responding, I guess, to me being there. I didn’t even see him.”

“You didn’t?”

“No. I just heard his voice – I didn’t say anything. Or, I guess I tried, I was about to, but that’s when I woke up.”

He began to wish he’d just left it at asking Hermione about the books and that he'd given her a vague answer about them being for a case, promise be damned. He knew it wouldn’t hold her off for long – she was too clever and too curious and she knew him too well – but it could’ve bought him time to distance himself from the fresh and unfamiliar sting the dream had left him with.

He didn’t imagine he’d crack a tome open and find a page that said “sometimes you have dreams where can feel soft sheets under your hands and carpets underneath your feet, and that’s okay and no one is going to die about it”, but throwing himself into research might have been a good distraction.

He hadn’t really planned this out at all. He guessed he just wanted to put Hermione’s brain to it, like he used to. He sighed. Well, what’s done is done. At least he knew he could extract a promise from her not to mention it to Ron yet. She’d give him terrible looks about it, but she’d keep her word.

His bout of self-pity was interrupted by a boy – man, he supposed; he was about their age – that Harry vaguely recognized from Hogwarts. He was striding towards them with a cup of something.

“Oh, for—" Hermione had noticed him too.

“Who’s that?” Harry asked, happy for the distraction.

“Theodore Nott,” she said with a groan. Ah – he’d been in Slytherin, hadn’t he? Their year.

He looked less of whatever it was he had looked like before. Still, Harry could offer to hex him on principle, so he did.

“No, no,” Hermione said, sighing and waving a hand as if his threats were flying things she could bat off. “I’m supposed to meet him today, he’s just a bit early.”

“You’re meeting him? Why?”

The man in question had been waylaid by a Ministry employee who’d flagged him down and was drawing him into what looked like an unwanted conversation that involved a lot of dramatic arm waving on the employee’s part.

“His family owns a lake with a large population of merpeople – the second largest in the UK after the Great Lake, we think. The department wants to send someone out to observe them.”

“You?” Harry had less than fond memories of his last encounter with merpeople.

“No, I’m just supposed to convince Nott that it’s a good idea. They’re having me do it because they thought he’d be more likely to get along with one of his classmates. Or the only person in the department under the age of fifty, more like.” As she said this, Hermione tugged at her work robes to straighten them, and made as if to tuck loose hair back into the tight bun she wore when at work despite the fact that there wasn't a strand loose. “You’ve no idea how lucky you are to be in an office that consists of over ten people,” she said, though Harry knew she liked her job quite a bit.

Nott finally made his way over. “Granger,” he said politely, and Harry did have to credit him that it only sounded a bit forced. “Can I get you anything? Another cup of tea?”

“No, thank you. Do sit down,” Hermione said, equally politely.

Nott gave Harry a wary look. Harry smiled in a way he hoped was friendly. Nott looked offended.

“Potter,” he said. It sounded more like an accusation than a greeting.

Hermione shot Harry a look that said we’ll finish this later. “Harry was just leaving.”

“I was,” Harry agreed, and he began to gather his rubbish. Nott seemed to relax.

Harry stood up and paused by the table. Nott was a rich wizard from an old family, he thought. Well, technically, he knew very little about the status of Nott’s accounts, and had, in fact, forgotten the man existed until this moment. But if his family owned an entire lake, they were probably doing alright for themselves.

“Nott,” he said, before he could think better of it, “could you tell me. What do you call your toilet?”

Harry thought he would cherish the memory of Hermione’s face for years to come.

-

Chapter Text

That night, Hermione owled Harry a carefully wrapped, shrunken stack of books on dreams, both wizarding and muggle – dream theory, dream interpretation, curses that took the form of dreams or nightmares. (He wasn’t sure if she had all of them on hand, or if the six hours since he’d seen her were enough for her to buy them all. He also wasn’t sure which answer was more terrifying).

A cursory glance confirmed what Harry pretty much suspected: the dream probably didn’t come from a curse or spell, or at least not any common one. It didn’t follow the “rules” of dreams which, as Hermione said, did exist. She had listed off the standard muggle ones, but a wizarding volume expanded the list of things you Can’t Do in Dreams to include magic, or at least magic that made sense, with the proper spell resulting from its usual incantation.

None of the literature very thoroughly covered what forced visions as a result of possession or other connection were like, but Harry reckoned he was familiar enough with those to rule them out, too.

-

He fell asleep with his nose in a book. He didn’t dream at all.

-

He cornered Hermione in her office before noon the next day to tell her his findings. He explained that he didn’t think he’d been cursed. She nodded like she already knew that which, he suspected, she did – after all, she’d bookmarked the appropriate passages in “Waking Night-Mares” and “50 Ways to Make Your Enemy Wish They Had Never Been Born”.

He asked what she thought he should do next, and she shrugged.

“Unless you’re willing to visit St. Mungo’s—"

“I’m not.”

She sighed. Hermione believed his refusal to see Healers was something akin to a muggle child’s aversion to the dentist, which she of course had personal reason to believe was ridiculous. Harry had never been able to convince her otherwise.

“Hermione, I’m fine,” he said. If she had less tact, she’d probably say something like “the last time you said you were fine, you turned out to be a Horcrux”, but instead, she just squinted at him.

“In that case,” she said, “we need more data before we draw further conclusions.”

In other words, he needed to dream again. He left with an extracted promise to contact someone immediately if something more sinister happened, and a second promise to join her and Ron for dinner.

-

His second order of business was to send his junior Auror down to the Ministry archives.

At some point during Auror training, Harry learned that the Ministry kept records on hand of every magical residence in Britain – floor plans, records of major remodels and updates, lists of major wards added. He wasn’t sure why, exactly, aside from the fact that the Ministry had records on pretty much everything they could conceivably collect them on.

Hermione had said something vague at the time about wizards not having homeowner’s insurance, but Harry had been afraid to press further because she had a look about her that suggested that, left to her own devices, she would single-handedly introduce insurance law to the wizarding world.

At any rate, they’d come in handy during post-war raids on known Death Eater residences. Death Eaters being Death Eaters, most of them had added nastier layers to their wards than the records indicated, and many had secret rooms and passages unaccounted for on the floor plans. Harry was pretty sure the Malfoys had added an entire wing to the Manor since the last time their records had been updated. He was certain, however, that the home whose file he’d sent Twigg to copy wouldn’t have changed in decades.

For one thing, it had burned down during the first war.

Twigg returned with a file labeled Potter Manor just after two. He had a dust ball the size of a pygmy puff on one shoulder and a generally rumpled appearance, but he didn’t ask any questions, which raised him several ranks in Harry’s estimation.

Harry breathed heavily through his nose as he opened the file. He’d never dared look, though he knew it was in the archives from the time he, as a rookie Auror, was sent down to retrieve schematics of a townhouse owned by someone named, rather unfortunately, Portentia Puffle.

Now he flipped it open to a section of parchment bordered by the dark blue used on architectural schematics. His eyes flicked immediately to the second floor, which seemed to be mostly taken by various drawing rooms, studies, and guest chambers. It was a large home.

He moved on to the third floor, saw a narrow corridor, a chamber marked “Family Quarters No. 2” in curling script, a familiarly placed staircase and series of doors, a hallway which curved around –

He tapped a finger over the place where his father’s voice had come from. Around that bend was a series of rooms marked “Master Quarters”.

It was real, thought Harry.

He had dreamed of a real place he’d never been before, a house that burned down in a Death Eater attack before he was ever born. A note in the file indicated Fiendfyre was suspected. His grandparents had been dead a year by the time of the fire, and his parents had already been in hiding at the smaller Potter Cottage, so the fire was retaliation, not a murder attempt. Harry hadn’t given much thought to the loss of his ancestral home since he first learned of its existence two years ago, but now he felt a spark of anger at the idea that he’d never get to see it outside of his dreams.

Quickly, he duplicated the page with the floor plan and shoved it in the satchel that he used to carry work home with him.

Twigg reappeared at his desk as if summoned – he had an uncanny sense of timing. “Should I return that now, Auror Potter?”

Please call me Harry,” Harry said. “For Merlin’s sake.” Harry would call Twigg "Alex" whenever the other Auror stopped calling him "sir", so Tuesday after never.

“Sorry, sir,” said Twigg. “Should I—”

Harry squinted at the plan one last time before closing the file. He noticed for the first time a door off the chamber he’d woken in, marked in the shimmering gold ink used for hidden passages and doorways. It led to a tiny room labeled “W.C.”

“W.C.?” he muttered. There was one mystery solved, he supposed.

“Er. Water closet, sir- Har- sir. It’s a—"

“I know what a water closet is, Twigg,” Harry snapped. “Sorry,” he quickly amended, looking up at the younger man hovering by his desk. “I was just thinking about Nott.”

“…sir?” Twigg blinked at him owlishly.

“Toilets. Nott." Harry waved a hand vaguely, then added in an attempt to not sound entirely mad, "He was in Slytherin."

“In your year, yeah. I knew him; he was on the chess team.”

“Hogwarts had a?—you know what, never mind.” Harry closed the file and handed it over. “You can take it back now.”

That night, Harry made spaghetti and sat in front of the wireless again. Hermione said something about replicating the original conditions as per scientific method in the note she’d sent to Harry just before he’d left for the day. Harry had thanked her and opted not to tell her about the floor plans for the time being, instead doodling a tiny Theodore Nott repeatedly poking his head out of a door marked “Piss Cupboard” and then slamming it back shut.

She had not replied, which was a shame, because he thought he’d gotten the pinched look on Nott’s face down rather well.

-

It took Harry a moment to realize that he was in the second dream.

He did not wake in the room at Potter Manor like he expected. He was, instead, in a grandly decorated room full of people, standing in dress robes and shoes that pinched just as if he'd been there the entire time.

Light streamed in through a series of windows along the far wall, indicating that it was either daytime or charmed to look like it.

A string quartet played in one corner, but no one was dancing. He supposed it wasn’t that kind of party, but it was certainly a party. It reminded him of some of the ministry functions he’d attended. For a brief moment, he thought he’d dozed off on his feet somehow at one of those. It wasn’t entirely unheard of.

Then he looked around for familiar faces while gaining his bearings and saw one of the Lestrange brothers – was it Rodolphus or Rabastan? He could never tell them apart, even after one had been killed in the Battle of Hogwarts and the other had been sent to Azkaban again on a second life sentence. Whichever he was, he was clearly walking free and/or alive - he looked perfectly healthy indeed to Harry, who took an uneasy step backward, nearly upsetting a table of delicate finger sandwiches.

He thought he might need to reassess the idea that this wasn’t a curse. He considered aiming an Incarcerous at Lestrange – a quick check of the pockets of the dress robes indicated he did have a wand - but if this was to be that kind of dream again, he really didn’t want to get into a duel in it. Who knew how much a spell might really hurt. No one was looking at Harry, so he made for the ornate double doors to his right and ducked out into the hallway.

A glance around the hall confirmed that he wasn’t in Potter Manor, but was instead in another grand old home, this one less warmly decorated, all dark wood and shades of green. Harry was assessing his surroundings when someone called his name softly from down the hall.

“Harry!”

He wasn’t jolted from this dream the way he had been from the last one at the sound of the voice, though perhaps that was because it wasn’t familiar. It was accompanied by a blonde girl in expensive-looking dress robes. She was perhaps sixteen or seventeen, and Harry didn’t recognize her.

“When did you get here?” Her voice had a certain lilt to it Harry associated with the well-bred, and a half-smile played around her lips in a way he suspected was permanent.

“Just a minute ago,” he decided to answer honestly.

“Well, come on then,” she said, in an authoritative manner he suspected was also permanent. “Al found a stuffy old sitting room we can hole up in, and I brought Firewhiskey.”

“Er,” he said. He looked around the hall again. Just to his right was a frankly frightening tapestry of a wizard fighting a centaur. The artist, for reasons known only to themselves, had chosen to depict the centaur as especially well-endowed. “Yeah, alright,” Harry said, imagining that things could not possibly get worse than that or a Lestrange brother sipping punch.

The girl, who had moved to stand a few feet away from him, tracked his gaze. “Ergh,” she said, at the tapestry. “Goyles have such awful taste.”

The idea that he might be in the Goyle family home was the last straw spurring him on towards the promise of Firewhiskey. "Lead the way," he told the girl. He wondered if he could get drunk in a dream and decided it merited research. This was not going at all how he planned – he had a whole reconnaissance mission mapped out for the dream-version of Potter Manor – but he guessed he should be used to his plans going pear-shaped by now.

The blonde girl led him through winding corridors and up staircases in a way that Harry knew he’d never be able to retrace on his own. He didn’t think he’d be able to compare it to whatever plan the ministry had of the Goyle home if he tried.

Somewhere on an upper story landing with suits of armor and the ugliest stuffed bird he’d ever seen, and that was counting the vulture on Augusta Longbottom’s hat, he felt something grow warm in the pockets of his robes. He stuck a hand in before he could think better of it and drew out a small, nondescript black stone. It grew even warmer as he held it. The girl, who’d also stopped, drew a matching stone from her own pocket.

“Oh for—” she said, flicking her wand out and rapping the stone sharply. The stone in his palm immediately cooled. “He’s so impatient. Honestly.”

Harry realized the stone was some type of communication device, a bit like the DA’s coins. The girl gave another haughty sniff and carried on in the direction they’d been headed. A minute later, they came to a large door and she knocked in a sort of pattern, three sharp raps with a pause between the second and third. The door swung open.

“Took you long enough,” said a voice from within.

The blonde girl moved to sit on a hideous floral settee and began to withdraw a series of shrunken objects from her robes. With her out of the way, Harry looked into the room. What he saw made him inhale sharply.

There, draped over an armchair, was a teenaged Sirius Black.

Harry blinked rapidly, but the image did not disappear, and he did not jolt awake.

“Harry!” the young Sirius said cheerfully, “You made it. We weren’t sure if your dad would let you come.”

But the dream Sirius’ voice was all wrong. His godfather’s voice had been a mesh of things – aristocratic, brash and teasing – but under it all had been a bit of something sharp, broken glass, edges that he could never quite disguise. This version of him sounded genuinely young in a way that even the Sirius Black in Snape’s Pensieve hadn’t. Instead of glass, Harry heard something warmer and honeyed.

He blinked again and saw that the boy’s eyes were a shade of ordinary brown instead of Sirius’ gray. It wasn’t him.

Some close relative, certainly. Remembering the way his father’s voice had sounded in the first dream – older, a bit tired – Harry thought the dream James might have been older even than Sirius was when he’d died. If the timelines in the two dreams were the same, that would make this boy the right age to be – what? Sirius’ son?

The boy in the chair grinned wolfishly at Harry and the expression was so familiar Harry suspected that was very likely.

“Are you coming in, or are you going to keep gaping at us from the doorway like a house elf?” This was the blonde girl again. She’d resized the items from her robes – a bottle of Ogden’s and three crystal tumblers – and was pouring sizeable servings with practiced efficiency.

Harry entered the room, closing the door behind him, and made his way to an armchair before he could think better of it.

He accepted the offered glass of Firewhiskey the girl hovered over to him with a wave of her wand and tried his best not to stare at the not-Sirius. Now that he thought about it, he remembered the girl calling him “Al”.

“Nice party?” maybe-Al asked.

“Not really,” replied Harry. The other boy laughed, a halfway point between Sirius’ bark and something more melodic.

If he was going to keep having these dreams, Harry hoped they would stop making him feel like he’d been stabbed. He took a large sip of his drink and just stopped himself from hiccoughing smoke.

“Well,” said the girl. “Now that we’re all here.” Without further prelude, she turned to the door of the sitting room and waved her wand in the complex pattern of a temporary, but rather strong, privacy ward. Harry raised his eyebrows.

“Showy,” muttered maybe-Al.

“Oh, you’d prefer we be overheard?” drawled the girl. “Because I was about to discuss our extra credit project. But, you know, I’ve heard Azkaban’s lovely this time of year.”

Harry looked up sharply. The girl turned to him and her face softened at whatever she saw. “Only kidding, Harry,” she said. “Theoretical discussion isn’t illegal.”

“Actually, when you’re theoretically discussing breaking the law, I think it is. Treason or something. Fucking thought-crime.” That was maybe-Al, who punctuated his statement by downing the rest of his drink in one go. “Don’t worry, Harry,” he added as a seeming afterthought. “Your father’s an Auror. I’m sure he’ll get you out.”

“If anyone’s getting out of prison it’s me,” said the girl. “My father will undoubtedly bribe someone," she said snottily, but she sounded like she was teasing.

Harry was growing increasingly uncomfortable. He’d broken several laws in his day, but whatever these two were discussing sounded dangerous, and they were so real, so fully-fleshed and present that it was hard to remind himself it was only a dream.

“Not if we succeed, hm?” Maybe-Al asked darkly, sounding more like Sirius than ever. “If we successfully complete the Animagus transformation, we’re officially outlaws. If we’re caught, it’s a life sentence in Azkaban.”

Harry started. “What?” he asked, before he could think better of it, because the Animagus transformation wasn’t illegal. Not registering your form was, certainly, but Harry knew of at least four people who’d gotten away with that (though his brain helpfully supplied, with its usual grand sense of timing, that he really should look into arresting Rita Skeeter one of these days).

“Not an if, Alphard,” said the girl, who seemed to not have heard Harry. “When.” Her half-smile was back, and something bright and fierce shone in her eyes.

Alphard – and Harry was relieved to finally have a full name for him – set his glass down on the spindly side table to his right with an audible thunk.

“You’ve found it.” It wasn’t a question.

“Yes,” said the girl, and Harry recognized the look in her eyes now. It was the same one Hermione got when she’d finally uncovered some obscure bit of magic or lore after hours or days of searching.

“Lyra,” said Alphard. “Merlin. You found the incantation?”

“That’s what I said, isn’t it? That’s the final piece. Now we just have to start the process.”

“Oh, right, just that,” Alphard scoffed. He wordlessly summoned the bottle of Ogden’s to himself. “Only a difficult potion with rare ingredients and an impossible ritual and we’re all set.” He seemed to shake of some of his previous tension as he poured himself another glass.

“You forgot the bit with the mandrake leaf,” added the girl – Lyra, he supposed – as she drew something else from her robes. It was a folded piece of parchment, and as she unfolded it she muttered something, tapping it with her wand. She turned to hand it to Harry. “Have a look?”

He blinked and took the parchment. “Er, thanks.” The spells woven into it felt… familiar.

At the top, in block calligraphy, were the words FIELD NOTES. The rest of the page was taken up with words and diagrams – notes on the Animagus transformation, Harry realized. They were written in three different hands, and as he watched, portions of the text were added and removed, sections underlined and circled.

“At the bottom,” Lyra said. An incantation appeared in an elegant feminine cursive and was summarily underlined three times. Amato Animo Animato Animagus.

Harry almost snorted. He’d never studied the Animagus transformation himself, hadn’t had time, but the spell was –

“Ridiculous, I know,” said Lyra, as if she’d read his mind. “It only serves to further infuriate me that I didn’t find it sooner.”

“Where did you find it?” asked Alphard. He made a grabbing gesture at Harry, who passed the parchment to him in a manner that felt strangely familiar, as if the three of them were always in his dream-world in a garishly decorated sitting room passing bits of parchment around to each other. Maybe it was just that it reminded him of plotting with Ron and Hermione.

“Chock in the middle of a very boring journal by a great-aunt. I doubt Father even knows it’s in the library or he’d have thrown it in a vault somewhere.”

“Mm. Not destroyed it?” Alphard looked bored as he scanned the parchment, but he’d set his new drink down and ran the fingers of his left hand over the place where the incantation was written with something like reverence.

Whatever the reason, Harry realized this was all very important to the two of them. Three of them, probably, since they clearly had a Harry of their own. A ridiculous thought, of course, since this was all a dream, since he was Harry – the only Harry - but he couldn’t help thinking it.

“Of course not,” Lyra said. “Malfoys don’t destroy family history. Unless it embarrasses us, in which case it never happened.”

Harry choked on his whiskey. He looked at the blonde girl again and realized, to his growing horror, who exactly she reminded him of. Now that he was paying attention, she bore an uncanny resemblance to Teddy’s grandmother Andromeda, only fairer, which was to say that she looked an awful lot like a young Narcissa Malfoy.

Harry continued choking, though there was no whiskey left, and the look of alarm on Lyra Malfoy’s face was quite genuine and unlike anything he could imagine Narcissa conjuring up. “Are you alright, Harry?”

“’m fine,” he managed to splutter.

“You’ve been very quiet this evening,” she said.

He laughed a little.

“Mate, you’d better not usurp my place as the hysterical one,” said Alphard. “Are you dying? Should we call a healer? Blink once for yes, twice for no.”

“This is the strangest dream,” said Harry hoarsely.

“Too much whiskey,” he thought he heard Lyra say authoritatively, then he felt a jerking sensation, and the world blurred around the edges.

-

“Well,” said Hermione. Her fingers were steepled in a way that made her look like either an evil villain or a headmistress. Perhaps both. “We’ve identified one factor of the dreams, I think.”

“What’s that?” Harry asked. He’d woken on his couch again last night with the image of the last dream still dancing on his eyelids. He could’ve sworn the gaudy silver wallpaper from the little sitting room was burned on his retinas.

He swore, too, that he tasted something like a spent match on his tongue.

“When you’re startled, you wake from them,” said Hermione matter-of-factly. They were in her office again, her in her desk chair and Harry in an old armchair she’d defied the laws of physics, probably literally, to cram in. Harry, who worked in a cubicle, was envious that she had an office at all, but Hermione was convinced it was a storage closet that had been converted so they could stick her somewhere out of the way.

“In your first dream you were startled by hearing your father,” Hermione said, “And in this dream, you were startled by the realization that you were…” she trailed off.

“Fraternizing with Malfoys,” supplied Harry.

“Well, just the one. And it sounds like she wasn’t that bad, really. I wonder—”

“Wonder what?”

“It’s interesting, isn’t it? You’ve dreamed about your father, someone you think is Sirius’s son, and an alternate Malfoy - one who you found friendly instead of antagonistic. One theory about dreams is that they help us work through what’s troubling us, and, well, it’s very Freudian and simplistic but certainly you can see where you have a lot of – conflict, surrounding those three figures.”

“I’m not conflicted about Malfoy, he’s just a dick. And what kind of conflict would I have about Dad?”

“Well,” said Hermione softly, as if she were afraid of treading too far, “that you never got to meet him. That could explain why he appeared as a disembodied voice, while your substitutes for Sirius and Malfoy were more substantial.”

Harry groaned, but if he didn’t barrel on now, he wouldn’t put enough distance between them and the idea that he was so hung up on his enmity toward Malfoy that he dreamed about him, or girl-him, or whatever she was meant to be.

“Why wouldn’t I just dream Sirius?” he asked, steering them into clearer waters. “Why would I need an alternate?”

Hermione looked thoughtful. “Sirius filled a strange role in your life – not quite a father figure, not quite a friend. It makes sense that you’d have to choose one or the other in a dream, and you aren’t really… in need of a father figure anymore,” she concluded delicately. “Since you never knew a younger Sirius, you imagined his son, instead.”

That, at least, stood to a certain kind of reason. He thought about asking why his dream-self was hanging around with teenagers, but he was afraid she'd say something about his mental maturity. Anyway, Harry didn't really believe that he had any control over the dreams. He wanted to dream about his dad again, but he hadn't. And then there were the floor plans. He’d told Hermione about them finally, but she hadn’t been swayed. She said he had probably seen copies at some point in his vault.

After the war, and after they’d both paid the goblins small fortunes in reparations to allow them back into their vaults – Harry had paid Ron’s, too – he had explored the larger Potter vault, having only seen the one that held his Hogwarts money and trust fund. There hadn’t been much - well, plenty of gold, of course, but little in the way of heirlooms, just his parents’ old schoolthings and a few books.

Bills of sale indicated that his parents had sold most of the Potters’ material goods when they moved into Potter Cottage. Transfer records plied from the goblins (for additional fees, naturally) showed they’d sent quite a lot of money to Albus Dumbledore. Harry had realized, for perhaps the first time, just how much his parents had channeled into the war effort – not just their lives and magic, but everything else they felt they could spare.

He knew he hadn’t seen any floorplans in the vault, but Hermione only went on about conscious versus unconscious memories, so he’d dropped it.

Having now read everything she could get her hands on about curses involving dreams, she was more certain than ever that Harry had not been cursed. Instead, she seemed to have come to the conclusion that he was having vivid dreams for some psychological reason, if her newfound interest in dream interpretation was anything to go by.

“I guess I just don’t see how I could be making this all up,” Harry said. “I’m not normally this creative, y’know?”

“Oh, I don’t know about that. I remember your Divination homework.”

“Fine,” Harry conceded for the time being. “What does it mean, then? What do the dreams mean? And spare me the conflicted feelings bit.”

“Like I said, dream interpretation is very... imprecise. But I do think it’s interesting that your last dream focused on the Animagus transformation, and that you made it into something more dangerous, something illegal.”

“How is that interesting?” Harry asked, genuinely curious what she thought, because that was the bit that had him most baffled.

“It implies that you’re frightened by what it represents," she said.

“Which… is?”

“Change,” Hermione said. “You’re afraid to change, afraid to even learn how to change, and you’re frightened that you’ll face some sort of retribution or threat if you do.”

If anyone else had said that to Harry, he would have become suddenly and incandescently angry. Because it was Hermione, he just narrowed his eyes and closed the too-short distance between him and her desk and thunked his forehead down on a stack of files.

Jesus,” he said, a bit muffled. “I’m not – I can’t – for fuck’s sake.”

“Sorry,” Hermione said, suddenly flustered, “I shouldn’t have –"

“It isn’t true,” Harry said firmly, sitting up again.

“No, of course not. Only a theory,” Hermione said. At some point in the last three years, she’d learned how to drop a topic, if temporarily. Only this somehow made Harry feel even worse.

“Why do I tell you things? Have you cursed me? Did you slip veritaserum into my tea?”

“I thought about it,” said Hermione. “During the war. I decided it was unethical, in the end.”

“Well, thanks for that,” Harry said.

Harry still thought she was wrong. The dreams were not only dreams, no matter what they said about his psyche. They were too real, too much. He had a gut feeling that they were something else, something other, and his gut was rarely wrong.

He also had a hunch, though, that if he didn’t continue talking to someone about them that he’d go a little mad. Maybe even as mad as Hermione apparently thought he was.

“Hermione,” Harry asked, “do you think I’m crazy?”

The answer he was looking for was “of course not, Harry.” Instead, she said, “I think that you’re - conflicted.”

And there was that word again. He didn’t bother asking about what. She might say “the future” or she might say “yourself” or she might say “the rising cost of dragon scales”, for all he knew, and for all he knew she’d be right about all of them.

“Do you think I should see a mind-Healer?” he asked.

“Would you, if I said yes?” she asked in reply.

“Definitely not,” he said. That, at least, he knew.

“Okay,” she said again. “We can keep doing this, then. If you have any strange dreams, come talk to me and we’ll go over them.”

“Fine,” he agreed before he could think better of it. “So you’re playing therapist, then,” he said, but he kept his voice forcibly lighthearted.

“I can transfigure that chair into a couch, if you’d like,” Hermione said, matching his tone.

Harry recognized it for what it was – a peace offering. He forced a chuckle at the joke only a muggleborn and muggle-raised wizard would understand. “Nah. It wouldn’t fit.”

Hermione scowled, forgetting their previous tension entirely at the reminder. “It wouldn’t, would it? Merlin, but I hate this office.”

-

Chapter Text

The next dream had him blinking into consciousness in other-Harry’s awake form again, which was entirely more disconcerting than waking up in a strange bed.

This time, though, he recognized the room he was in – bookshelves lined with books, strategically placed chairs and reading tables. It was cleaner than the last time he’d seen it, free of cobwebs and the lingering presence of dark magic, but it was clearly the library at Grimmauld Place.

It had been two days since he'd dreamed about the party. He was still holding out hope that he’d dream about Potter Manor again, and he was apprehensive about being here instead. Grimmauld, however clean, was not a pleasant place to be. Harry should know – he owned the bloody place. In real life, he’d sealed it up with instructions to Kreacher to keep it in some kind of repair and he didn’t plan on going back until he needed to.

Still, a library wasn’t all bad. It offered him the chance to do research, figure out what sort of world he’d dreamed himself into. And Harry was an Auror. He reckoned he could investigate, gather clues, do Auror-y things.

He began to make his way around the enormous room, looking for anything that might prove useful. The library was odd – both familiar and not. Someone with better taste had clearly had a hand in decorating – portraits and art lined the walls, and he didn’t see anything especially awful, though everything was still dark-toned and somber.

He ran a hand over the paneling and paused at a portrait he didn’t remember of a grey-eyed girl in old-fashioned robes who only looked back, curiously, at his gaze. He almost didn’t notice when he passed an ornate mirror in a frame made of gilded snakes, but they'd been charmed so that they wove around one another slowly, and the subtle motion caught his attention. He turned and then nearly jumped, startled, at his own reflection.

It was him – unmistakably him, albeit at about seventeen years old, but also, it wasn’t. He had the same messy black hair, but cut differently, and the same piercing green eyes, but his glasses were unfamiliar, almost stylish. This Harry wore casual black robes that were nevertheless a perfect fit, and he could’ve sworn he was maybe an inch or two taller, with broader shoulders. Then he leaned in closer to his reflection and swept the hair back from his forehead and found the uncanniest difference of all: this Harry didn’t have a scar.

His heart was racing in his chest, and he turned away from the mirror quickly lest the surprise shake him out of this dream before he was ready.

He finally made his way over to the shelves, finding that, unlike in his own world, things here actually seemed to be arranged in a discernable order – he passed a section of books on wizarding art and music, which he was fairly certain was comprised entirely of texts that didn’t exist in his own version of Grimmauld, and a shelf of books on charms that seemed to be arranged by use (defensive, offensive, medical, household…). Eventually he made his way to a shelf comprised mostly of history texts – “Magicke in the Middle Ages”, “Secrets of the Founders”, “A Short History of the Giant Wars”.

(He couldn’t tell if the last book was too ridiculous to be real, the first sign of his dreams adhering to dream-logic, or if it was just ridiculous enough to be a magical world bestseller).

History felt like a decent place to start, so Harry scanned the shelves for anything that looked pertinent or useful, though of course he didn’t really know what that might be. He pulled a newish-looking tome from one of the lower shelves and was surprised to see a familiar title – “A History of Magic”, by Bathilda Bagshot. It was someone’s Hogwarts textbook. Harry flipped open the cover and saw that inside was written Property of Alphard S. Black.

Harry flipped through the chapters quickly, but it all looked familiar if not memorable – some bits about Merlin, the founding of Hogwarts, too many goblin rebellions to mention.

Of course, there wouldn’t be anything about him in there, or about his parents. He was very much interested in finding an alternate account of the events of Halloween 1981, to see how his father – and perhaps his mother, too? He hadn’t let himself think on it too long – had survived. But “History of Magic” was published in the late 1940s; Hermione’d complained about their using a fifty-year-old book more times than he could count.

He turned to the last chapter anyway, which ought to include a brief description of Grindlewald’s rise to power and eventual defeat by Dumbledore.

Instead, he found a rather strange passage that he didn’t remember being there at all. It didn’t even fit in, tonally, with the rest of Bagshot’s work – he suspected that she wasn’t the author.

At the turn of the forth decade of the twentieth century, a brief period of international conflict ended with a civilized gathering of nations on the part of the collective European magical governments. The gathered coalition heard the requests of their constituents, who were eager to create a safer all-wizarding society and to know that the magical governments of Europe would defend the future of magical mankind. The ensuing union of European magical nations promised to usher in a time of peace and prosperity, to strengthen the foundations upon which our culture rests, to honor our history and to educate our children in tradition.

It went on like that for a while, the rest just as vague from what he could tell at a glance, and Harry was still wondering what the bloody hell it was supposed to mean when Alphard burst into the room, slamming the door behind him. Harry quickly closed the book he was holding, but he didn’t have time to put it away without seeming suspicious.

“Harry!” the other boy said, “You’re here! Kreacher said but I wasn’t sure. Sometimes he mixes up you and Mum’s tailor. Bit weird, since he’s about sixty, but I’m convinced Kreacher went around the bend two generations ago.”

As he spoke, Alphard strode through the room to a shelf, picked a book seemingly at random and flipped through unseeingly it before shoving it back in. Here in what Harry assumed was his home, he seemed entirely in his element, with a larger-than-life quality that had been suppressed in his last dream. He looked like someone incapable of stillness.

“When did you get here? Y’know, when I say ‘come over and study’ I don’t mean ‘come over and help yourself to my library without so much as a hello to me, your oldest and dearest friend’. Bit uncivilized, that.”

Feeling a bit off kilter, Harry forced out a “sorry”, but Alphard was already carelessly tossing another book onto an overstuffed chair. It was unclear if he meant to read it or if he was just leaving it for someone else to tidy away.

“What’re you reading? Is that Bagshot?”

“Yeah,” Harry said. “I was just, er, looking.”

“Merlin, I don’t miss History of Magic at all.” Alphard crossed the room to stand next to Harry, and leaned over his shoulder to look at the book despite its being closed. “Are our notes still in there?”

“Er, I dunno.”

“Give it here, then,” Alphard said. Harry complied and Alphard flipped open the book to a random page, muttering “Revelio”. Gold ink appeared on the page in front of them, overlaying the text – a crude cartoon of a paper airplane flying up the nose of a ghostly professor, unmistakably Binns. Harry watched as the paper airplane made its complicated maneuver around a paragraph on the origins of cauldron legislation towards Professor Binn’s waiting nostrils on loop. “Brilliant,” said Alphard. “We’ll leave these for posterity. Someday my grandchildren will find this book and realize my lost potential as an artist.”

Alphard continued to flip through the pages and Harry watched, realizing that the notes inside were written in two separate hands. He recognized them both from the piece of parchment in his last dream. Now that he looked closer, they were each familiar in their own ways. One, with wild flourishes, bore a passing resemblance to Sirius’s – he supposed that was Alphard’s. The other was similar to his own, but neater, as if penned by a version of him who had first learned how write using a quill, instead of picking it up at eleven as Harry had.

The notes described, mostly, the writers’ boredom, with passing commentary on their History of Magic class and classmates and the occasional drawing, moving or still. One line read What is Parkinson WEARING on her HEAD and was accompanied by a doodle of a surly-looking girl with a hair bow roughly the size of a kitten. Another said Reckon I could set off fireworks in here without Binns noticing, y/n? They reminded Harry very much of the notes he used to pass to Ron in school, and he felt a pang of nostalgia tinged with something strange he’d come to identify as the uncanny feeling of missing something that he’d never actually experienced in real life.

“Why’ve you got this, anyway?” Alphard asked after a moment of flipping through the pages. “I thought you came over to work on the last of your summer stuff; you’re not taking History.”

“I was – trying to remember some things,” Harry said. It sounded unconvincing.

“What, Ulrich the Ugly?”

“No, more like… like how did the last wizarding war end?” There. Harry hoped that wasn’t so strange a question for him to ask that he’d be booted out of the dream. He wanted to know if the first war with Voldemort here had ended with the Killing Curse rebounded off of Harry, and if the second half had started yet.

Was it going on now?

“War? What, like the last Goblin Rebellion? Dunno, what was that, 1780-something? It probably ended with a truce, like usual.”

“No, I mean- the war with Voldemort.”

“Who?” asked Alphard guilelessly.

And then, with that syllable, Harry thought he understood. He looked at Alphard, who’d moved to lean against a shelf across from him, book held limply at his side. His friendly brown eyes were a bit curious, a bit bored.

He really doesn’t know, Harry thought. Which meant that, to him, Voldemort didn’t exist. There was the difference, the dividing point between the real world and this one, which allowed his father to be alive and for Sirius to have (Harry was almost certain) had a son. Which allowed a version of Harry to be friends with a Malfoy, weird as that thought remained.

“Death Eaters?” asked Harry, just in case.

“…er, should I know what those are? They sound like some kind of ridiculous, dangerous creature. Does Hagrid know about them?”

Harry laughed.

He couldn’t decide if the idea of a world without Voldemort was a relief or not. Well, of course it was, on the most basic level; it was everything he’d ever wanted. But he wouldn’t know where he stood, who he was, without Voldemort. It was true before Harry banished him and it was true now – he was framed around the concept of the boy-who-defeated, eventually twice. Who was Harry Potter without that?

This was his chance to find out. Even if only in dreams, he had a chance to see who he might have been without the specter of Tom Riddle looming over him.

And not just him: the entire wizarding world. Everything would be different.

“Who’s the Minister for Magic?” Harry asked, not caring how stupid he’d sound. It was fine, he thought, if he was startled out of this dream now. He’d solved the mystery at the dreams’ core, which seemed like enough progress for one night.

“D’you mean who was the last Minister for Magic?” Alphard sounded confused. “It was Fawley, wasn’t it? Or, no – Spencer-Moon. He was the last, even if he didn’t, you know- serve much of a term.”

“Wait, what?” Just as soon as he’d become certain he’d figured the dreams out, Harry found himself at a loss again.

“Well, I know there wasn’t an official minimum, but he only served a year, didn’t he? Then – well, the treaty was signed.”

Harry racked his brain for the list of ministers he’d had to memorize years prior. He was pretty sure Fawley was minister when Grindlewald was terrorizing Europe, and Spencer-Moon was his successor. “That was in the thirties. How could they be last?”

Alphard huffed a laugh. It sounded, to Harry’s ears, much weaker than his usual, as if he were uneasy.

“You can’t be that bad with dates, Harry. The Unification treaty was signed in ’40.”

Unification. Harry suddenly recalled the strange section at the end of “History of Magic” that he’d been reading when Alphard came in. Now he wondered if the nonsensical passage was important. Something told him it might be.

“Are you okay, Harry?” Alphard asked when he was met with silence. “You seem… off… lately. You’ve been awfully forgetful, and Lyra said you fell asleep over tea yesterday. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you what forgetfulness and exhaustion are symptoms of.”

Harry was an Auror; of course he knew what they were symptoms of – memory charms. Badly done ones, or just too extensive for the mind being charmed to cope. It seemed strange to tell Alphard that he was dreaming, though, or that he hadn’t had tea with anyone but Hermione yesterday. And anyway, why would the boy suspect Harry – his Harry – of having been subjected to memory charms?

He supposed couldn’t very well ask that, either. “I haven’t been Obliviated,” Harry said instead.

“Alright,” agreed Alphard easily. “I believe you. It’s just. Listen, Harry, with the Vow – you know you can’t get caught. If you get caught, if someone tries to get you to tell our secrets, the Vow’ll kill you. I know you know that, but it just… seems more important than ever, now, to remember exactly what that means.”

Harry blinked. He was referring to a wizard’s vow, a powerful oath – he’d apparently sworn to secrecy or death.

What could the hell could they – and Harry suspected “they” included Lyra Malfoy, too – have been doing that they felt the need to take wizard’s vows? Surely this couldn’t all be about the Animagus transformation. He would have thought it was a joke, but Alphard wore a grave expression that reminded Harry of the last dream at the party, when he'd talked about going to Azkaban. He looked deathly serious.

“You’re afraid,” Harry said.

Alphard let out a choked laugh. “Of course I’m fucking afraid, mate. How could I not be? You know what happens to people who – “ He cut off, then lowered his voice almost to a whisper as he said, “you know what happened to my dad.”

Harry looked up sharply and took in the way the boy’s face had fallen. “What happened to my dad.”

It’s just a dream, he told himself, but his stomach plummeted nonetheless.

What was the point of dreaming a world where Voldemort didn’t exist if Sirius was still dead?

It wasn’t fair. This was his curse, Harry thought, that whenever he had something nice, even for a moment, it would turn sour. Maybe it was because he’d done something meant to be impossible when he was only a baby. Harry didn’t know much about fate or the universe, but he knew powerful things didn’t like it when someone neglected to play by their rules.

I want to wake up now, he thought firmly. And to his surprise, he did.

-

Harry woke in the early hours of the morning. It was Friday. Fridays were his day off. He had nothing to do, no appointments to keep until dinner with Ron and Hermione that evening, and by all accounts should have let himself drift back to sleep for another few hours. Instead, he made his way to the kitchen and got the kettle going.

As he waited, he went to the spare bedroom where his old Hogwarts things were stashed away in his trunk. He fished out the battered copy of “A History of Magic”. Flipping to the final chapter, Major Magical Events of the 20th Century, he read the text that hadn’t appeared in his dream.

They’d actually never covered this section in Binns’ class – too modern, probably, and it verged on actually interesting. Harry had read it anyway - despite claims to the contrary, he did sometimes read things that weren’t required for his classes, and after Rita Skeeter's book on Dumbledore came out, he'd been curious to read more about this point in history.

It began with a brief overview of the ministerial career of a man named Faris Spavin, an assassination attempt on him (which the author didn’t seem to think much of), and his eventual retirement in 1903. Very little happened for the remainder of the decade, or very little that Bagshot noted, though Harry knew in truth (partly from Rita Skeeter’s terrible book) that Gellert Grindlewald, having parted ways with a younger Albus Dumbledore, was already amassing an army. The book went on to describe an increase in suspicious events and skirmishes throughout Europe. By the 1920s, Grindlewald’s name was known to the public, and he was openly leading dark forces with the intent of dissolving the divide between magical and muggle worlds and ruling over the muggles.

None of this had been in the book that Harry read in his dream. Perhaps, Harry thought, Dumbledore in that world had defeated his former friend in their duel in 1899. A duel between two boys barely out of school would hardly have merited a place in a history book, even if had turned deadly- it hadn’t in Harry’s own world, after all, for almost a century.

But how could Grindlewald’s earlier defeat explain why Tom Riddle had apparently never become Voldemort, either?

From his kitchen, the kettle whistled a jaunty folk tune. Harry closed the book and returned it to his trunk.

He had the distinct feeling that he was missing something.

As Harry drank his tea, he realized that he needed to tell Ron about what was going on. Ron, who had an uncanny knack for seeing the bigger picture, might be able to piece together what Harry could not.

He would tell Ron at dinner that night, he decided. Having Hermione on hand to explain might help, anyway, even though Ron wouldn’t be quite as hurt as he would’ve been when they were teenagers over the fact that he’d been left out. At some point when Harry wasn’t paying attention his best friend had lost some of the insecurity that had plagued him all his life.

Harry supposed he should be happy for him, and he was, but it also made him a little uneasy. The idea that his friends were changing, that the things he knew to be fundamentally true about them could change, filled him with a kind of dread.

Perhaps Hermione was right after all.

-

Harry spent the day digging up old photographs, rifling through papers he’d taken from the Potter vault, half-heartedly flipping the few books pertaining to wizarding history that he owned. He’d recovered the stack of letters from “Snuffles” from the bottom of his trunk and run his fingers over the familiar script, noting how much it looked like the handwriting he’d seen in Alphard’s book.

Maybe he had created a son for Sirius as an alternate version of his godfather. He thought about how open and amiable Alphard seemed to be, even when it was clear that something was troubling him. Sirius had been easy to read, too, but in a sharper way – he was quick to anger, impulsive. Every mercurial emotion showed. Harry remembered how it’d felt to see his father and Sirius bully the younger version of Snape in the professor’s Pensieve, how angry he’d been to realize two of the only men he’d ever looked up to had been capable of deliberate cruelty. How he’d yelled at his godfather about age being no excuse. How he’d then turned around and nearly killed Malfoy a year later, accident or not, Death Eater or not.

Alright, Harry thought. So I’m conflicted.

Maybe Alphard was meant to be a version of Sirius from a kinder world. Perhaps he was fatherless and some kind of aspiring outlaw, but he was still unmistakably nicer, like something influential in his life had mellowed out the famous Black temper.

Harry was aware, distantly, that he wasn’t analyzing his dreams to seek out meaning, as Hermione had suggested. Instead, he was treating them as if they were real – memories from another life, a view into an alternate time and place. But it was nearly impossible to do anything else. He’d touched the book in the library last night. He’d read it. It was real, it was solid, and despite all evidence to the contrary, Harry refused to believe he’d made it up.

But of course he wasn’t traveling in his dreams, he wasn’t leaving his bed at night to go - elsewhere. That was impossible. For every incredible thing in the magical world, he’d never heard anything about alternate worlds or time travel without time-turners, and then there was the fact that Harry never left his bed, that he woke in his own clothes without a thing out of place.

And in the dreams, he wasn’t even Harry, not really – he was some younger, more polished version of himself, the boy he’d seen in the mirror.

Which left only what must be the truth: that something was making Harry dream these incredibly real, vivid things. If it wasn’t a curse or a spell, perhaps it was the result of some heretofore unknown trick of magic. The dreams were not unlike the otherworldy version of King’s Cross where he’d spoken to Dumbledore, after all. Perhaps what he was experiencing now was some side effect of dying and coming back, or of, however briefly, being in possession of all of the Hallows.

Well, he decided, shaking himself from his reverie and going to fetch his cloak and boots, that was what he needed Ron and Hermione to help him figure out.

Leaving his apartment in a state of disarray, papers and books scattered all about, Harry tossed a handful of Floo powder into the fire.

-

His friends’ flat was a comfort as ever. Full of books, woolen throws knit by Molly, and obscenely orange Cannons paraphernalia, Hermione and Ron’s place felt like home in a way Harry envied. He stepped through the Floo and took a moment to absorb it all before wandering off in the direction of the kitchen.

In the kitchen, Ron was wearing the world’s ugliest oven mitts and wresting a casserole from the depths of the oven while Hermione seemed to be scolding a salad. “Harry! Mate, clear a space for this, would you?” Ron nodded his head in the direction of the cluttered counter, holding the baking dish aloft. Harry obediently made his way over and began pushing things off to the side.

“Ron! Harry’s a guest. Honestly. Hullo, Harry, how’re you?”

“Oh, rubbish, he’s family, and he can bloody well help me with the garlic bread.”

“I’m alright,” said Harry to Hermione. From Ron, he took a proffered knife and began cutting thick slices of fresh-baked bread, quietly pleased. It didn’t matter how many times a Weasley called him family, he’d always be pleased to hear it.

Hermione gave Harry a look that he interpreted to be her inquiring if he’d had any more of the strange dreams. He mouthed later. She flicked her glance to Ron, who had their back turned to them, fishing glasses from the cupboard. Harry nodded to say that yes, he meant to tell Ron, too. Hermione looked delighted and then calculating. Harry sighed.

They proceeded to have an ordinary dinner. The casserole was decent, the wine and bread were quite good, and the salad had been beaten into submission. Ron talked about something he and George were working on for the shop, and Hermione described, in painful detail, a new bill she was working on to protect centaur lands. Harry gave vague answers to questions about work and talked to Ron about the score of the Puddlemere United game he’d never actually caught the end of. Soon the meal was over, their plates were cleared away, and the three of them had settled into the living room with their wineglasses.

“So,” Hermione began after a pause, not at all subtle.

Ron looked at her and then Harry, brow furrowing. Never let it be said that he wasn’t observant.

“What’s going on?” he asked.

“Er,” Harry said, not sure how to start. He looked helplessly at Hermione. She rolled her eyes.

“Harry’s been having some unusual dreams,” she began obligingly anyway.

Ron turned to Harry, suddenly serious. “Not…”

“Not Voldemort-ish, no,” Harry said quickly. “Actually, even less of him than in my usual dreams.” Then, to Hermione, whose turn it was to give him a quizzical look, he added, “Er, I’ll get to that in a moment. Let’s… start from the beginning?”

Ron frowned. “Yeah, I think we should.”

“Right.”

And so he and Hermione took turns explaining the events of the last week, and Harry filled in with last night’s dream at the end, describing the cryptic conversation with Alphard Black and the strange alternate history book. At the last, Harry noticed Hermione’s expression turn thoughtful, as if she was trying to remember something.

“Blimey,” said Ron, when Harry finished. “Why does the weird shit always happen to you?”

Harry huffed a laugh. “I wish I knew.” Then he waited, expectantly, while his two best friends thought, during which time drained his glass on principle.

It was Ron who spoke first.

“Alright. Well. I think we can rule out them being ordinary dreams.”

Hermione protested almost immediately. “But there’s nothing in any text I can find that sets precedent for this – I’ve compared Harry’s descriptions to every dream spell and curse imaginable; nothing matches-“

“Yeah, well, then it’s not one of those. Maybe there’s not any precedent,” Ron said easily. “Wouldn’t be the first time, would it?”

Despite him having come to the same conclusion just a few hours earlier, hearing Ron say it out loud cinched it. Whether he liked it or not, Harry had a new mystery on his hands, and his friends were involved in solving it too.

Harry thought he should be annoyed, even frightened, but instead he felt almost – excited.

I want to be normal, he reminded himself firmly. I want to live an ordinary, uneventful life.

But surely a bit of harmless mystery wouldn’t hurt, said a second voice. Only you’ve been so bored, lately.

And what if it isn’t harmless? Asked a third. And really, speaking to yourself in one voice was quite enough. Three was entirely too many.

“Why do you reckon your dream self took a wizard’s vow with Malfoy and Black?” Ron asked, and Harry was grateful for the interruption. “That’s the bit that stands out, 'least to me. Are they doing dark magic?”

Harry thought about this. “No,” he said. “I don’t think so, anyway. I think – I think maybe it’s more stuff like the Animagus transformation. The notes they showed me were careful, they'd been written over a long period of time… they’re interested in researching, I think. Studying things that they’re not supposed to. But I don’t think they’re dark. It sounds mad but Alphard seems nice, really. And,” he added, distance from the second dream having given him a bit of clarity, “Lyra seemed more clever than anything. I think they’re the– other Harry’s – friends, really and truly. A bit like you two but… not.”

Ron looked mildly put out at the comparison, but Hermione cut in. “I agree about the vow being strange, but I’m more interested in the passage you described in “A History of Magic”. The language, the wording – ‘history’ this and ‘tradition’ that.”

“’The foundation upon which our culture rests’,” Harry supplied. He’d tried his best to recall the passage word for word when describing it earlier.

“Right,” said Hermione. “That sounds very much like propaganda.”

“Propaganda? What, like the rubbish the ministry put out about me being mad when I said Voldemort was back?”

“Mm, or the anti-Muggleborn things seventh year. Only this sounds a bit more subtle than that. More subversive,” Hermione said. “Cleverer.”

Ron nodded slowly. “Yeah. It sounds like whoever wrote that was trying to smooth over something – a bit of history they don’t want anyone looking too hard at, I’d think. And they’re appealing to pureblood traditionalists.”

“It didn’t talk about blood at all,” Harry protested.

“Nah, but those’re the words they use. Well, when they’re trying to be polite, anyway – it’s all ‘think of the children’ and ‘don’t let our traditions be forgotten’.”

“How do you know that?” Harry asked.

“Er – I’m a pureblood, mate. I grew up with this rubbish. Never put any stock in it, obviously, but Dad works for the ministry. I know how those people talk.”

“But it can’t have been anything to do with Voldemort,” Harry pointed out. “Alphard didn’t even know who he was.”

Hermioned hmm’d. “What if it wasn’t Voldemort at all? What if it was another dark witch or wizard, or a group of them – someone else who’s taken over that wizarding world?”

“But why wouldn’t the book mention that?” Harry asked. “Surely if someone took over – it sounded like all of Europe, didn’t it? Surely they’d want people to know, to fear them.” Though he'd suspected something was awry from the way Alphard spoke about "them" in his last dream, Harry found himself strangely adverse to the idea that his dreams took place in a world with as much conflict as his real one. He reasoned that it was just because they felt so real - if he was attacked by a dark wizard in one, he almost thought he make wake up feeling real pain. But there was something else to it, too, something deeper - he realized that he thought of the dream world as almost an escape, that he'd rather hoped he kept having dreams where he met people he'd never gotten the chance to in real life, where he slipped away from boring parties to drink like an ordinary teenager might have. There was something comforting about it all.

Hermione shrugged. “History is written by the victors. Maybe they wanted it to sound like a peaceable conclusion. Maybe it was. People can be subjugated in more ways than one; you can make people fear you in a way that’s not so obvious. That was what Voldemort never learned – his downfall, really. If he hadn’t been so publicly violent he might’ve won a lot of support outside of the Death Eaters. Remember how you saw him in the Chamber, or that memory from Slughorn? The way you described him – he sounded charming.”

“It sounds like you want him to have succeeded,” Harry said.

“No,” said Hermione, matter-of-factly. “I’m saying it would’ve been easy for him to.”

“I hate to say this, but Mione’s right – we’re lucky he was mad, really. Made our jobs a lot easier,” Ron said.

Harry shuddered at the idea of a saner Voldemort. “Right. Well, if not him, then who?”

“Hm,” said Hermione. “I have a few ideas. I’m not sure how useful it is to speculate, though,” she added, the last part seemingly to Ron, who had begun to narrow his eyes in a way that told Harry he had his own theories. He decided not to bother arguing for the time being. If Hermione wouldn’t tell him, he could always corner Ron later.

“For now,” Hermione went on, “We should ensure the dreams aren’t causing you harm – that’s top priority.”

“How d’you reckon we do that?” Ron asked.

“Oh, it should be simple enough. We just have to watch Harry sleep.”

“What?” said Harry.

“Merlin, but you’re creepy,” said Ron fondly.

“Oh for – one of us will observe Harry and run diagnostic charms periodically. That’s all I mean.” Hermione huffed and tucked a wild curl behind one ear. “Harry, you don’t work ‘til tomorrow evening, correct? My first meeting isn’t until noon, and Ron, I’m sure George won’t mind your being a bit late.”

“Do I get a say in this?” Harry asked, realizing Hermione meant to perform this experiment tonight. He wondered if that had been her plan all along. This is a set-up, he thought, looking suspiciously at his female friend.

She gave him a long-suffering look in reply. “Well, if you have any better ideas…”

He didn’t. There were other concerns, however. “It’s just I haven't dreamed – well, dreamed,” he said, emphasizing the word, “every night.”

“I’d thought of that,” Hermione said. “But if you don’t tonight, we’ll just try it again next time we’re all free.”

With that, Harry found himself somehow coaxed into a set of Ron’s pajamas and set up in the bed in the spare room. Hermione graciously declared that they’d leave him alone to fall asleep, and launched into an explanation of the REM cycle when Ron wondered if they’d miss anything.

Harry thought that he’d lay awake awkwardly for hours, but the wine had made him sleepy and it was rather late. Before he knew it, he was drifting off.

-

He woke in the bedroom from his first dream – the one he’d come to think was Other Harry’s. He wasn’t in bed, however, but rather was seated at a desk in the corner of the room, covered in parchment with what looked like Potions homework written on. Dim light came through the windows on either side of the grand four poster bed he’d woken in last time. It looked to be late afternoon.

Ron had asked him last night when they were talking how he knew he was in one of these dreams right away, what distinguished them right off the bat, and Harry assessed that feeling now so that he could describe it more eloquently than he had ("dunno, I just do").

Really, it was that it didn't feel like a dream at all. Nothing moved in the corners of his vision, nothing slipped forward or away. He felt clear-headed and wide awake. He felt the point where his arms made contact with the wood of the desk. He felt the chair he sat on. Dreams weren't like that; they never bothered filling in every detail like this.

Harry quickly verified that no one else was present, then found "his" wand in one pocket. Now that he’d seen other Harry’s reflection, he thought to check the spectacles on his face, too. He removed them, finding the world a familiar blur, and turned them back and forth in his hand, confirming that they were gold and thicker-framed than his own silver ones. Then he replaced them on his face. It was strange to realize they were a perfect match to his prescription, but then, if he had other Harry’s face, it stood to reason he had other Harry’s eyes, too.

Going mad again, he forcefully reminded himself. There was no “other Harry”, and the glasses worked because they were part of the dream.

Still, he found some measure of – comfort, he supposed, that even his dream self, who seemed to look a little healthier and stood a little taller and unscarred, wore glasses.

He would never tell anyone about the rush of relief he’d felt in the real world when he saw that James Potter had worn glasses, not only because it was something they’d had in common, but because it meant – well, things with the Dursleys could have made what was already there worse, missing meals and spending hours in a dark cupboard might have worsened his eyes, but if his father had worn glasses it meant Harry wasn’t entirely altered by their treatment of him. Even though this was only a dream, Harry felt an even deeper relief on realizing that this Harry, who he reckoned had never lived in a cupboard at all, had eyes that were exactly as bad. He felt the tendrils of something dark and deeply rooted pulling loose.

Before he could lose himself in that thought, he stood up and grabbed the wand, flicking it to light the magical lanterns that he’d noticed on the walls - as he'd thought, they worked on the same spell the ones in the ministry offices did. They threw light over what darkness remained in the room where the afternoon sun through the windows did not touch.

Then he began a careful search. He wasn’t sure what he was looking for, really – just clues from other Harry’s life.

The school trunk at the foot of the bed was an obvious target, but Harry wanted to save it for last because he suspected it would be locked. He walked around the perimeter of the room instead, picking up things along the way. Everything was tidy, but he supposed the dream Potters probably had house elves to clean.

On a second nightstand around the other side of the bed from where he’d found the wand the first time, he saw an array of photographs. One was unmistakably of James Potter and a smaller, younger Harry – about ten. Harry picked up the picture and looked more closely. They were in Diagon Alley, he realized, outside of Ollivander’s shop. Probably a trip for his first school supplies, then, Harry thought. Lily Potter was conspicuously absent, he noted, with a lump in this throat that battled the different sort of lump he felt at seeing his dad's hand resting on his shoulder. He quickly placed the picture back down. Another photo was of Harry and Alphard, who he nearly took again for Sirius, the size of the photograph disguising his eye color, until the boy in the picture grinned his softer, less feral smile. Alphard had his arm slung around the other Harry’s shoulder in a friendly way. In a third photograph, which he thought was taken by the Great Lake, other-Harry and Alphard sat on the ground with books and school bags scattered among them. Lyra was there, too. Her back was turned to the camera, but her pale blonde hair was unmistakable, and as he watched, she turned to look over her shoulder and shoot a fond smile at whoever’d taken the photo.

He wondered distantly who that might be – he hadn’t seen any evidence of other friends yet, and the parchment with notes that the girl had shown him in the other dream was something clearly shared between the three of them. They were close, he realized, just like he'd said earlier - they were nearly like Harry and Hermione and Ron. It was a very strange thought. He wondered for the first time if there were a Hermione and Ron in this world, and if so, where they were, why they weren't his friends instead.

He made a cursory perusal of the wardrobe in one corner of the room, just thorough enough to note that the other Harry had six sets of dress robes, and honestly, what the fuck. Then he took in the contents of the room’s lone bookcase. Harry quickly scanned the titles – textbooks, mostly, and a few about Quidditch. Some books on charms, a few Transfiguration texts. Nothing especially interesting or damning. He didn’t think it wise to waste too much time reading through them now, so he made his way back to the desk instead. He noticed at his second look that it held a paperweight in the shape of a dragon – a Hungarian Horntail, he realized, amused. He poked at it experimentally and the dragon twitched its tail.

He picked up the Potions essay he’d seen earlier and scanned it quickly. Again, he noted that this Harry’s handwriting was, while still his, somehow neater. It wasn’t the untidy scrawl he had in his own world and it wasn’t like the tiny, precise lettering Hermione preferred - it was straight and strong and deliberate, reminding Harry more of what he’d seen of Draco Malfoy’s writing.

He paused and considered engaging in a moment of self-reflection when he realized he could perfectly recall Malfoy’s handwriting, but quickly decided against it.

It was just that this Harry probably had childhood tutelage in penmanship, like Malfoy almost certainly had. He reckoned it was a rich people thing. He thought about all the times Snape had criticized his “illegible scrawling” and what the man would’ve said if he’d replied “sorry sir, I’m too poor to write well”, and he snorted.

The essay was on potential applications of the Draught of Living Death, and though he’d completed a similar one in his own world, he’d been in fifth year and not going on sixth or seventh as he thought this Harry was. Harry had an uncanny shock at seeing several complete sentences that he remembered writing in his own world scattered through the essay. Though, he thought, they sat in more fleshed-out paragraphs - this Harry wasn’t a brilliant student, he didn’t think, but he was a bit more thorough.

Harry tossed the parchment back down on the desk and made his way over to the school trunk.

It was a fairly standard trunk – just a bit nicer than the one he’d had, with his initials embossed in gold on the mahogany leather, which Harry thought a little showy. It was, as he’d thought, locked.

He tried a half-hearted Alohamora which didn’t work, obviously. (He’d often wondered why wizards ever bothered with locks that an Alohamora DID open, but he thought it was one of the many logical inconsistencies of the magical world that didn’t bear analyzing.)

He ran through a few other unlocking charms that were standard issue Auror stuff and then, when the lid still hadn’t budged, he tried a complex identifying spell which would reveal the nature, the construction of the lock to him, so that he would know at least what the thing was looking for – a key, a password, a certain spell –

-a magical signature.

Harry groaned. He wasn’t sure quite how magical signatures worked, frankly, but he knew they were near impossible to fake or forge and couldn’t be changed. This trunk, keyed to the other Harry’s magical signature, would not open for anyone else.

The fact that their signatures were different was curious. Hermione would probably have a field day with it. He resolved not to tell her until they’d had at least half of a useful conversation because he was pretty sure she’d either run to the library to research magical signatures or, worse, go on about his psychological state again. He could imagine it easily enough – a locked chest symbolizing Harry’s deepest secrets, his innermost being, locked even to himself.

The growing part of him that felt that this was real also offered up a shred of unease at the idea of opening someone else’s things when they hadn’t done anything illegal to deserve it. He’d always been readier than most to invade other people’s privacy when he felt it was due – see every time he’d ever stalked Snape or Malfoy. But he felt odd about doing it to himself, which probably said something else about his psyche that Therapist Hermione would have a field day with.

With nothing left to look at, Harry realized it was time to leave the room. He realized, too, that he was a little wary at the prospect.

Before he could overthink it, he undid the spells he’d put on the door and ventured out into the hallway, keeping his wand in his hand. The hall hadn’t changed since the last time he was here, except for being well-lit now. He looked from the staircase to the bend at the hall where his dad’s voice had come from last time, wondering which route to take.

Then he remembered something – with a mental kick for not thinking of it before, Harry turned to the portrait who he’d spoken to in the first dream.

In the improved light, Harry could make out details in the painting he hadn’t seen before. The older man, dressed in distinguished robes, dozed in a chair off to the left-hand side of the picture, and behind him was what looked to be a well-equipped potions lab. Harry knew that magical portraits were often painted to depict the sitter’s favorite room or pastime, or else something they were known for. It seemed the man sleeping in the picture had been fond of brewing.

Taking a few steps closer, Harry took more careful stock of the man’s features. He seemed tallish, though it was hard to tell with him seated, and looked like he might’ve been athletic once but grown a little pudgy in middle age. He was greying slightly at the temples, but most of his hair was dark black, a similar color to Harry’s own, though his was much neater. It had a slight sheen as if fixed into place with a potion, which, Harry reckoned, it might very well be if the man was a potioneer. There was a familiar set to his jaw and shape to his nose – Harry was certain the man was a Potter, probably a close relative.

He squinted and thought he could just make out the labels on some of the potions ingredients in the background of the painting. One shelf was entirely taken up by a prominent display of a potion in a squat green bottle that Harry thought he’d seen before in real life, though he couldn’t for the life of him say where.

“Ahem,” someone coughed pointedly.

“Oh,” said Harry. The man in the picture had woken and was giving him a funny look. “Er. Sorry? I was just trying to make out what that potion was in the back. In the green bottle?”

The man continued to look at him oddly. “You’re a very strange boy, Harry. I don’t know where you got it – not our side, certainly.”

“I don’t quite know myself,” Harry found himself replying.

The other man made a sound that might have been a laugh. “It’s my Sleekeazy Potion, child. It made me quite a fortune,” he added, sounding amused as if at some private joke.

Oh,” said Harry again, because he suddenly knew who the other man was.

He had to be Fleamont Potter – Harry’s grandfather. Harry didn’t know much about him at all, only that he’d died of Dragon Pox along with his wife and that he’d invented a profitable line of hair care potions. He’d found that out from records in his vault after the war – no one had ever bothered telling Harry much about his grandparents. He thought again about how strange it was to not even know your own grandfather’s name until you were eighteen.

He realized he was staring openly at the portrait now. The man – his grandfather – stared back, still looking at Harry as if he’d swallowed a live goldfish in front of him.

Harry had a thousand questions for him, but right now he couldn’t think of a single sensible one. He wanted to ask his grandfather to tell him everything, to give him his life’s story – Harry thought he’d be willing to stay in that hallway all night to listen.

Before he could think of what to say to begin, however, Harry heard the distinct pop of a house elf behind him. “Young Master Harry, sir?”

Harry turned and saw one of the little creatures just behind him in the hall. He wore a clean pillowcase with the Potter family crest and a doleful expression, though Harry suspected that was probably just his face.

“Erm… yes?”

The elf’s expression changed suddenly and he cocked his head to the side curiously, looking like nothing so much as the world’s ugliest, feather-less budgie. He stared at Harry unblinkingly for a moment, and really, Harry was getting rather tired of being regarded like he was some kind of rare specimen of plant or a creature Luna would tell him about.

Then the elf seemed to shake himself – like everything house elves did, it was exaggerated, a shiver like a small earthquake – and stammered on. “Tea is being served, sir,” he said.

This seemed to Harry to be a statement he was meant to follow up on – it was probably assumed that Harry would be taking said tea. He couldn’t think of a reasonable way around it and was familiar with how house elves grew flustered when you tried to ignore such things, and anyway, he reckoned it might not be so bad to get a look around the house. He could come back to the portrait when he got his bearings.

“Alright,” he said to the elf, who seemed to be waiting for some kind of answer. Then, after a second, he realized he didn’t know where to go. “Can you lead the way?” he asked the elf, figuring that even if it was strange to ask, a house elf was pretty unlikely to comment. Sure enough, the elf only “eep”’d and motioned to Harry to follow him. Or Harry thought he did, it was more of a full-body flail, really.

Harry followed, down two flights of stairs and a large corridor on the ground floor. Potter Manor was lovely – spacious and bright, elegant without seeming stuffy. He saw rugs that had been let to go a little shabby and scuff marks on the walls here and there, as if they’d been hit by someone on a practice broom, which, Harry thought, they probably had. It looked like the sort of place he could have had a wonderful childhood in.

He was in too much awe to feel morose about it as the elf led him to a small dining room and then disappeared again with a pop. Harry assumed he was meant to go in.

He realized his mistake when he entered the room, because there, sat at the dining table and holding a copy of the Daily Prophet, was James Potter.

He lowered the paper as Harry came in. Harry froze halfway to the table, his heart hammering in his chest. His father didn’t seem to notice. He wore a friendly smile as he greeted him. “’lo, Harry. How’s the essay going?”

Harry had forgotten how to breathe, but he did unstick and was able to make his way to the table and pull out a chair at random and sit down.

His father was here, and he looked a bit older than any version of him Harry had ever seen, his hair a mess and his outer robe carelessly unbuttoned and gold spectacles rather like dream-Harry’s own perched haphazardly on his nose.

This did not feel like a dream. It did not feel like a spell. It felt like nothing at all, it felt like life, and that’s what made Harry think it might be real.

“Hi,” he managed, terrified that he might wake up again.

“That bad, huh?” His father laughed amiably and gestured to a tea service that had appeared on the table at some point. “Have a cup. Homework’ll wait. I’m proud of you, frankly; always used to wait ‘til I was on the train back to finish my summer assignments.”

Harry managed somehow to pour himself a cup of tea.

I’m proud of you.

The words were offered so casually, as if they weren’t everything he’d ever wanted to hear a real, corporeal James say to him. He took a shaky breath as he spooned sugar into his cup.

“How – how are you?” he asked, aiming for casual, as if he meant only to inquire how his father’s day was going.

“Oh, m’fine. About the same as I was at breakfast,” his dad said with a cheeky grin. “Ask me tomorrow. I’m working on a case that- well. Nevermind, I know the ‘no cases at the table’ rule. It’s a brute, though.”

Harry wanted to say that he’d listen to his father talk about literally anything – Quidditch statistics, flobberworm mating habits, the bloody Wizengamot. But he assumed the Harry that belonged here would never say that, that he, like most people Harry knew with living parents, would take his dad for granted. So instead he said, “Your grades must’ve been wretched, waiting ‘til you were on the train to do your work.”

James laughed again. He sounded like a man who spent a good deal of time laughing. “Nonsense. You know I was third in my year. Brilliant student, I was. Not like Sirius.” Harry noted that a flash of something painful shot across his dad’s face at that, which pretty well solidified his theory about this world’s Sirius Black. It was hard to take it too badly when his father was sitting right in front of him, though, Harry thought with just a twinge of guilt. “Sirius was a lousy student,” James went on. “Made alright grades, considering how much he bunked off class and teased the professors, but his parents were never pleased. Always compared him to Regulus and his cousins. Seemed like there were about a million Black cousins, back then. I guess there still are, though,” he added, looking at Harry.

“Yeah,” Harry said noncommittally, guessing it was probably true.

“Alph seems to do alright, though,” said his dad. He sounded a little distant. “Takes after his dad, but he takes after his mum more, thank goodness. Don’t tell Aurora I said that,” he said, with a faux-conspiratorial wink. Harry thought he could see why everyone had always told him James Potter was charming.

“I won’t,” said Harry, who thought Aurora must be Alphard’s mother. This seemed to confirm, finally, that Alphard was Sirius’s son. And his dad seemed to know the other boy rather well. He wondered what it’d be like to grow up in this world.

“What time are you going to Diagon with him tomorrow? Noon, was it?”

“Er,” Harry said, unsure of how to answer, but James only snorted and said “better owl him to double check, then”.

“Is – Lyra going with you?” he asked, somewhat stilted. Harry inferred that his father didn’t wholly approve of his friendship with Lyra Malfoy, which reassured him that this world wasn’t completely bonkers. It also annoyed him, somehow.

He felt strangely defensive of the blonde girl as he said “probably”.

He reckoned the other Harry must be friends with her for a reason, after all.

His father didn’t say anything on it, though, only grew misty eyed (suddenly and suspiciously – Harry thought a spell was being used). “And then it’s off to your last year at Hogwarts. My only son, my darling boy, all grown up!” He reminded Harry ridiculously of the Weasley twins in a forty-year-old man’s body.

Then he lunged bodily across the table, and Harry was too startled to do anything as his father grabbed him in a facsimile of a hug, ruffling his hair like he was a child. Harry suspected he was supposed to pull away or shove him off, but he could only let himself be manhandled, growing a little misty eyed too without the help of any magic. His dad was stronger than he looked. He smelled vaguely of pine needles.

I hope this is real, Harry thought. Please, please, let this be real.

His dad let go of him and clambered back into his seat, and Harry laughed in surprise at the sight of the older man’s glasses skewed at an awkward angle on his face.

I’ll do anything, he thought. He’d sleep ten hours a night, he’d fight off whatever thing Alphard was afraid of, so long as he was able to come back here as often as he could.

With that thought, Harry began to feel a familiar sliding feeling, as if the world was slipping away from him.

No, he thought stubbornly, and grabbed at the dining table, his hand closing around something as he clutched desperately at this reality. He already knew, though, that it was too late. He was waking up.

-

In the spare room of Ron and Hermione’s flat, he woke with a greater start than usual. Ron was seated in one of the couple’s dining chairs beside the bed, chin against his chest, having apparently fallen asleep himself. At Harry’s flailing, he was instantly awake, sitting up and pointing his wand with what was left of his war-time reflexes.

“S’just me,” Harry said. “Sorry.”

“Harry?” Ron sighed and dropped his wand. “Must’ve drifted off. Don’t tell Hermione.”

Harry snorted. “Did it work?”

Ron shrugged. “Dunno. We ran a bunch of diagnostics earlier and everything was clear. Oh, except Hermione thinks you have a mild case of ap-knee, whatever that is.”

“Apnea,” Harry supplied. Then frowned, as he thought about having to go to St. Mungo’s. He wondered if it was too much to hope that Hermione would forget about it.

“Right. Were you dreaming?”

“Yeah,” Harry said, suddenly recalling that only moments before, he’d been having tea with his father. “Yeah,” he said again, softly. “My dad was there. It was brilliant.” It was all so present and vivid in his recollection - the way his dad had winked, the portrait of Fleamont Potter, the Potions essay that was and wasn't his. How could any of it be a dream, really?

Ron only nodded. He looked around the room as if expecting someone or something to materialize, perhaps Hermione with tea. He squinted at the bed, where Harry had now sat up, feeling a little awkward. “What’s that?” he asked, pointing to the coverlet.

Harry blinked and looked down to figure out what he meant. There on the blanket, just under his right hand, was something he hadn’t noticed before. A newspaper, he realized – the Daily Prophet. He picked it up, puzzled, taking in the strange layout, a header font that he didn’t quite recognize – it was like the Prophet, but not, as if it were –

He realized suddenly where he recognized it from and almost dropped it again.

It was James’s paper.

It was the paper from his dream, and he had brought it back with him.

Chapter Text

“This is fascinating,” Hermione said.

“I’m glad someone thinks so,” said Harry. It was early morning, and the trio was seated in Ron and Hermione’s kitchen. Hermione was reading the Daily Prophet Harry had pulled from his dreams for what must have been the third time, her eyes wide and lips mouthing the words to herself as if she intended to memorize the entire thing.

When Harry realized what he’d done, that he’d brought something from the dream world back with him, his first thought was to be afraid, because what if he’d brought over something more dangerous? If he were cursed in the dream, he wondered, would he be cursed in real life when he woke? But his second thought was finally, because, at last, here was irrefutable proof that something strange was happening.

Ron believed him immediately, he could tell - as soon as he’d shoved the paper in the other man’s face and said “it’s from there, it’s from the other Harry’s house”, Ron’s jaw had only dropped for a moment before he laughed incredulously in a way that said only you and risen quickly from his chair.

“Right. Well, we ought to show Hermione, then.”

“How is this happening?”

Ron shrugged. “Dunno. Maybe Hermione will. If not - we'll find out.”

“How are you so calm about this?”

Ron shrugged again. “You died and came back to life once. This is only about half as weird. Anyway, I’m not panicking until we’ve had breakfast. Put your trousers on,” he added over his shoulder as he made his way to the door. Harry scrambled to do just that, grabbing the paper on his way out.

Ron went to wake Hermione, who was in their bedroom, while Harry made tea and toast, feeling a little ridiculous as he did. His eyes kept wandering back to the newspaper on the kitchen table like it would disappear as soon as he turned around, but it stayed, resolutely there and solid, until Ron returned with Hermione and Harry thunked a plate of half-burnt toast on the table.

Hermione made a beeline for the paper, Ron clearly having caught her up on the events of the morning, and the other two watched as she picked it up, turning it from side to side as if inspecting potentially counterfeit currency.

“Have you read this yet?” Hermione asked. Harry tried not to be offended by the hint of incredulity in her tone. He knew it wasn’t him or Ron she distrusted – Hermione was just a natural skeptic.

Harry shook his head.

“It’s dated August 29th, 1997.”

Harry hadn’t noticed, though he thought it made sense – his dad had mentioned him going to Hogwarts soon, and in his own world, if he hadn’t been Horcrux hunting, he would’ve started seventh year in September 1997.

He wondered sort of vaguely how the timelines aligned, or didn't, as the case was - why was the alternate world over three and a half years behind his own?

Hermione continued to read, her expression shifting often as she did – from doubt to wonder to puzzlement to pensiveness.

She made observations – “the header’s different – Knowle wasn’t editor in ’97– who is that? – oh, but she was killed in the first war” and then, soon after flipping to the third page, she inhaled sharply.

“Ot?” said Ron around a mouthful of toast.

Hermione spread the paper out on the table, pointing to an article in the center of the page. Harry leaned over and squinted at the spot where her finger lay. He read the sentence she indicated aloud.

“In a rare visit to the British Isles, Chancellor Grindlewald attended the opening ceremony for the newly renovated Burke Ward of St. Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries.”

Grindlewald?” he echoed incredulously. What did it mean?

He thought about the nameless entity Alphard Black had expressed fear of – could it possibly be the dark wizard, still alive and operating in that world?

He sat back in his chair, mind racing with questions, and caught Hermione and Ron sharing a look. “What?” said Harry. “You’re not surprised?”

“Makes sense, doesn’t it?” said Ron. “The weird bit in ‘History of Magic’-“

“The timeline,” supplied Hermione. “Grindlewald was at his peak in the late nineteen thirties and early forties. And uniting wizarding Europe was one of his stated goals. Well, conquering, really, but that's how he'd have put it.”

“You thought it might be something like this,” Harry realized. “Why didn’t you say anything?”

“I wasn’t certain,” Hermione insisted. “And anyway, I thought it was all the world of your subconscious – I thought your mind was supplying details based on an absence or difference in your dream world’s version of Dumbledore, since the prevailing pattern in your dreams seemed to be changes in people you had mixed feelings about.”

Harry didn't even try to argue Hermione's assessment on that one - if he was "conflicted" about anyone, it would be his old headmaster and mentor.

But still, Harry, feeling a little light-headed, thought they were having two different conversations at once, and he couldn’t track them. “What exactly does this have to do with Dumbledore?”

“He defeated Grindlewald, yeah?” said Ron, still sounding unbearably sensible. “So, imagine a world where he didn’t-“

Hermione nodded along. “Right. A world where he lost his first duel with Grindlewald, in 1899 – I would say the second, only the timelines don’t match. Or perhaps he was never born at all, or he died young of dragon pox, or anything, really.”

“So Grindlewald comes into power without anyone to stop him,” Harry said slowly, catching on. “Then what? Why’s he going to ribbon cutting ceremonies instead of, I dunno, murdering muggles?”

Hermione rolled her eyes at the tactless phrasing of the question, but she answered anyway. “Remember what we talked about last night? How Voldemort – or, not Voldemort, but Tom Riddle – how he could’ve been a politician, if he’d wanted to, how he could have taken over with very little force if he’d used his charm to a different end?”

“You’re saying Grindlewald might’ve been voted in over there? That he’s – what, minister for magic?”

“Not quite. Sirius’s son said they didn’t have a minister, didn’t he? And the title ‘Chancellor’ – that’s rather ominous. I can’t say if it’s an overt reference to Hitler or not, but the suggestion is there. I would speculate he’s more of a dictator than a minister, though that’s only a guess.

It would explain things like the Animagus transformation being illegal in their world, too – you remember how Rita Skeeter used her form to spy? A magical dictatorship would likely outlaw forms of magic that could easily be used against them. Historically, dictators have restricted access to knowledge as a means of controlling the populace. It sounds as if Grindlewald might have ordered references to certain spells or rituals removed, which would explain why the other Harry and his friends apparently had to go to great lengths just to piece together the transformation process.”

“Shit,” Harry muttered under his breath. He realized something else, now. “You believe me,” he said to Hermione. “You think this is real.”

Hermione looked down at the paper again, then at Harry. “I believe you,” she said. “I don’t know what’s going on, exactly. I - I’ve never heard of anything like this. But this,” she said, gesturing to the Daily Prophet, “is very real. It’s incredibly detailed. Every article, every picture – it all suggests an alternate history, a…” she trailed off.

“A what?” asked Harry.

“Another dimension, I think,” said Hermione.

“Do those exist?” Harry shot a look at Ron as was relieved to see that at least now his friend looked as lost as Harry was, though that might be because he didn't know the meaning of that word.

"Another world," Hermione said to Ron, who looked a little less confused, confirming that suspicion. "And I’m not sure,” Hermione admitted. “An hour ago I might’ve said no, or at least, that there’s never been evidence of them. But now – I’m not sure what else to think.” She frowned, getting the distant look in her eyes that meant she was ready to run to the nearest library. Then she seemed to snap out of it, looking back at the Daily Prophet. “For now,” she said, “I think we ought to read this. Thoroughly. It’s our best look at what’s happening in-“ she paused, as if unsure what word to use – “...over there.”

And so they did exactly that. With a Gemino, Hermione made copies of the paper for them both and went about reading the original herself. They were interrupted only by Ron crunching his way through the toast, Harry and Hermione having forgone their own altogether, and the occasional exclamation as one of them found something of note.

“Ergh,” muttered Ron. He was furthest along, having flipped through the paper suspiciously quickly – Harry suspected he was really only scanning the words. Harry leaned over to look. It was the Prophet’s “Society” page, something Harry’d never paid attention to. He saw what had caught Ron’s attention – a picture of the Malfoy family with a caption that identified their backdrop as a charity ball earlier in August.

“Is that the girl from your dream? Lyra?” Hermione had peeked and flipped to the corresponding page in her paper.

“Yeah,” confirmed Harry. The blonde girl stood in the foreground of the picture, in front of Narcissa Malfoy, who rested a manicured hand on what could only be her daughter’s shoulder – now that he saw them together, the resemblance was uncanny. To their left, Lucius Malfoy mirrored the posture with Draco. “I’d sort of hoped he didn’t exist over there,” Harry said. There was no need to clarify who he meant, though frankly, either male Malfoy’s absence would’ve been a vast improvement.

“No such luck, mate,” said Ron. “His sister’s sort of pretty, though.”

Ronald,” said Hermione, scandalized. “The caption says she’s sixteen!” Harry took note of that, too – he hadn’t been sure if Lyra was the same age as the other-him and Alphard; it seemed she was a year younger than them and probably - Harry paused to digest the information - her brother, too.

“Oh, what,” said Ron defensively. “I just mean she just looks a bit less pointy than Malfoy – takes after their mum, I guess. Malfoy’s mum might be a she-demon from hell, but she’s not bad looking for an older witch.”

“I wonder how we - er, the other Harry and her became friends,” said Harry, still looking at the picture as Hermione seemed to decide to forgo cursing Ron in favor of throwing a piece of cold toast at him. “Oh, Merlin,” he said, blanching. “You don’t think I'm friends with – Draco in the other world, do you?”

“Definitely not,” Ron said loyally. “Maybe she’s like Sirius? Maybe she doesn’t get along with the rest of them. It’s hard to imagine Malfoy with a little sister.”

“It is a bit,” Hermione said. “I wonder how many subtle differences like this there are, how many people had one more child, or one fewer.”

“Hey,” said Ron, “Maybe Mum and Dad skipped Percy.” He sounded quite hopeful.

Harry shook his head. How could they be sitting here, chatting about the now apparently real world in his dreams as if it were nothing extraordinary?

Ron had said that strange things just happened to Harry, and that was certainly true, but this had to be the strangest. Maybe it was only that there was no immediate threat – Grindlewald or no, the dream world had proven harmless so far, with no one dying or trying to kill anybody. Mostly, Harry had liked the dreams; liked the chance to see what might have been, bittersweet as it was.

And if it were all real - the Potter house, his dad being alive – that meant he could find things he wouldn’t have a chance to know about in his own world. He could ask his father questions that he’d never have the chance to here. They weren’t his world and his father, but they weren’t figments of his imagination, either. The other James Potter not being not being his James Potter didn’t mean Harry was going to turn down a chance to talk to him again.

Harry thought it was really too much to wrap his head around. Looking at his friends, who were reading the paper with rapt attention, he realized that perhaps they, too, had felt a little bored lately. Perhaps they’d all wanted something to solve, and that’s why they were falling into this so quickly and unquestioningly now.

He felt almost like he was back at Hogwarts running around with the invisibility cloak, or in the Room of Requirement with the DA.

The difference, though, was that – real or not – his connection to the other world was his. He couldn’t take anyone else with him. He had to experience this alone.

They continued on, Harry and Ron eventually finishing their reading and Ron putting together a more acceptable breakfast that he forced on Harry while Hermione went over everything in the paper a second and third time.

Harry ate a few forkfuls of egg, wondering what his - their - next steps would be. Hermione would want to research – and who knew how long that might take. Harry was beginning to wonder if he should send an owl to Robbards and tell him he wasn’t feeling well and wouldn’t be in that evening.

Ron was apparently thinking along the same lines, because he stood up suddenly, saying he was going to firecall George and beg off. Hermione frowned and summoned a piece of parchment and a quill and wrote her own note to her department head, which is when Harry knew things were rather serious, because Hermione never took off work.

“I’m not sure how urgent this is,” he pointed out. “I’ve been having the… dreams… for a week and nothing’s happened, not really.”

“Well, no, but that’s rather the point,” said Hermione as she sent her owl, “We don’t know anything about them – whether it’s urgent or not. For all we know, you might be losing a year of your life every time you visit the other world.”

“I feel fine,” argued Harry, although he knew, logically, that didn’t mean he wasn’t suffering some ill effect. “We don’t know that whatever’s causing me to have – er… visions?” he tried, only that didn’t sound right, “is dangerous, or that it means me any harm.”

Hermione closed the newspaper and looked at them both. “And that’s what we need to find out. So,” she began.

“The library,” sighed Ron, who’d reentered the kitchen.

“Yes. Only, which library.” There was a library at the ministry – several, technically, including a law library and a highly restricted one in the Department of Mysteries Harry was fairly certain Hermione would give her firstborn to access.

“Grimmauld?” offered Harry, who’d resigned himself to the idea that his friends were going to try and help him, whether he thought he needed helping or not.

“Actually,” said Hermione. “I was thinking perhaps Hogwarts.”

“Hogwarts? You think they’ll have… that sort of thing?”

Harry felt a weird mix of dread and excitement at the thought of visiting Hogwarts. He hadn’t been back to the school proper since Hermione’s graduation ceremony after her “eighth” year, though he met Neville in Hogsmeade for a pint now and then.

“It’s the most extensive magical library in Britain,” said Hermione. “And frankly, I’m not sure anywhere will have ‘that sort of thing’. As I’ve said, as far as I’m aware, inter-dimensional travel is a complete unknown, even in the magical world. But I recall the section on time travel being reasonable, and it’s really the only lead we’ve got.”

And that was how they came to write Headmistress McGonagall a hasty owl that said essentially that no one was dying but they would rather appreciate if she would let them have access to the Hogwarts library as soon as possible. It being June, the staff was already in the castle preparing, and McGonagall wrote them back less than an hour later telling them she’d open the Floo.

Harry spent the interim time wandering around the living room aimlessly, Hermione packed a bag full of parchment and quills and skimmed several of her own books for any references relevant to the topic at hand, and Ron, apparently in the name of keeping a level head, played a one-sided game of wizard’s chess. Watching him, though, Harry could see he was thinking quite deeply about something.

When the answering owl arrived, Hermione tossed her bag over one shoulder, nudged Harry, who was holding a gold statue of a quill that he’d found on the mantle for some reason, and gestured impatiently to Ron, and then they were off.

-

“I do hope you’re planning on telling me what this is about,” said Professor McGonagall, who’d met them on the other side of the Floo in her office with a raised eyebrow.

“Er,” said Harry and Ron in perfect unison.

“Not now,” said McGonagall. “I have work to do. But later,” she eyed them all pointedly, and Merlin if Harry didn’t feel like a rulebreaking teenager again. “you will tell me exactly why you needed access to the library so urgently. Now,” she said, crossing the room with a sweep of her robes, “I have a staff meeting to lead. I trust you can find the way yourselves?”

“Of course!” said Hermione, “Thank you for letting us come, Headmistress. We’ll try not to be too long.”

McGonagall, hand on the door, turned back to them and gave them a quick smile, just a twitch of the lips. “It is good to see you three again.”

In the library, Hermione made her way around pulling books from shelves in a system that made sense only to her, shoving them at Harry and Ron and then, when their arms were full, levitating them behind her. Finally she seemed satisfied or had given up, one of the two, and led them to a large study table towards a back corner.

“What’re we looking for?” Ron finally asked. Hermione seemed to be arranging the books into stacks. She took one from the tallest pile and flipped to the back.

“Here,” she thrust the book at Ron and Harry. When Ron made no move to take it, Harry did. “Index,” she said, pointing. “We’re looking for any references to – well, inter-dimensional travel, but wizards don’t typically use the term ‘dimension’. You might find some references to alternate universes in works by muggleborns, but for the most part, you’ll have to look for anything that talks about “other worlds”, possibly alternate timestreams. I’ve included books on research conducted by the Department of Mysteries in this pile,” she pointed, “and theoretical works about timelines and realities in this one.”

“What’s the third pile?” asked Harry.

“Things I’ve read before – in third year – that talk about the consequences of messing with time.”

“You don’t think-“ Harry cast his mind back to the Sirius/Buckbeak incident, wondering if he could have created enough of a disturbance in – destiny, or whatever – to be causing this now.

“Oh, not really. There’s a muggle theory that every decision we make causes a parallel universe to form in which we made the opposite decision. But it’s clear the split between this world and your – other world was made long before you were born in either, so.”

She sighed. “We’re really looking for anything, any scrap of information that indicates that a witch or wizard – or a muggle, even, though I doubt we’ll find that here – has ever successfully, if not travelled to, viewed another world. The first stack also includes divination books,” she said with clear disdain. “If anyone has 'Seen' or made a prophecy regarding another universe we’ll hopefully find it in one of those.”

Nearly two hours later, Harry had a headache and no answers.

Frankly, he wanted to ask what the point was – what they’d do if they did find confirmation that whatever was happening to him was possible and it’d happened before. Even if they’d found a book that said oh yes, so-and-so had done it in 1722, and it had eventually killed him or he’d gotten stuck in the other world and his body was left behind in a coma or something – what were they supposed to do about it? Harry felt like the real answers, if there were any, lay in the other world, and he wanted nothing so much as to curl up in one of the library’s uncomfortable chairs and force himself to sleep so that he could go back there and find out more.

But he recognized the determined set to Ron’s shoulders and the almost frantic way Hermione scrawled notes on the parchment she’d brought. He realized that no matter how light-hearted things had been earlier in the kitchen, his friends were worried – worried about him. He had always hated that feeling and he didn’t know how else to assuage them now except by playing along.

Still, two hours without any success left him feeling restless, so he said something about going down to the kitchens for a snack. Hermione mumbled something and Ron, tellingly, only asked that Harry bring him something.

He took his time on the way to the kitchens, half hoping that he’d run into Neville or one of the other professors on the way. But he saw no one in the halls and didn’t even spot Winky among the elves who loaded him down with a platter of basket of treacle tarts and a travel pitcher of pumpkin juice (Harry was quite certain Madame Pince would be furious, but they hadn’t spotted her before – Hermione suggested she might be in her office).

He left the kitchens, the oversized fruit painting swinging closed behind him, and made his way slowly back towards the library. Near the staircase that would return him to the first floor, Harry felt a sudden chill. The hairs on the back of his neck stood up.

“Harry Potter,” someone whispered, and Harry, with a shout, dropped the pitcher of pumpkin juice. It went clattering across the stone floor.

He turned towards the voice. Behind him stood a transparent figure in a very old-fashioned dress. Her long hair gave the impression of being dark, and Harry couldn’t be sure, but he thought she looked amused. “Did I startle you?” she asked.

It was the Grey Lady – otherwise known as the ghost of Helena Ravenclaw.

Yes,” said Harry sharply. “What do you want?”

“Hm,” she said. “You were politer, before.”

“I’m sorry,” Harry said, never very sure of how to deal with ghosts. “It’s just it’s been a very long day.”

“Oh? What troubles you?”

Harry almost snorted, then he looked at the apparition and he thought, why not. Who better to vent his problems to, really, than someone who’d been dead for hundreds of years?

“…I’ve been having these dreams,” he began. “About another world. And they’re sort of brilliant, actually,” he said, picking up steam. “My dad is alive, and there’s no – er, Tom Riddle, you’d know him as. And I – the other me – grew up knowing about magic. He seems – well, I don’t know, I’ve never met him, but it seems like he should be happy.”

The Grey Lady stared back at him unblinkingly. Harry took that as a sign he should continue.

“But even though there’s no war, I don’t think, and I’m not the Chosen One or whatever – it’s still not all good. Because I think my mum is dead or gone and Sirius is, too, and they have their own dark lord to worry about. It only seems better because that Harry isn’t as – as caught up in it as I am, was, in the worst of things here.”

“And you don’t find that to be an improvement?” asked the ghost, as if what he’d said made any sense to her.

“Well – no. Or I do, but I shouldn’t.”

“Why shouldn’t you?”

“Because! Just because it doesn’t affect me - him - as much doesn’t mean it isn’t wrong. It doesn’t mean I don’t have a- I don’t know, a duty to fight it.”

“I thought you said they were dreams? I was under the impression that dreams merely happen to us.” She looked amused again, and Harry felt frustrated, both at her expression and at the idea at letting anything “merely happen” to him.

That wasn’t who he was. That wasn’t what he did, or at least, he didn't want it to be.

And anyway, as he said, “I don’t think they are dreams. Not anymore. I think it’s all real – it’s like I’m looking through a window into someone else’s life, and I’m behind the glass, but everything happening on the other side, it’s still happening.”

The Grey Lady appeared as if she would shrug, were shrugging part of the repertoire of gestures available during her former lifetime.

“Worlds like balance,” she said as a seeming non-sequitur. “They like symmetry. No world will ever be all good, or all bad.”

“Worlds?” Harry repeated, latching onto the plural.

“When balance is lost,” she went on without acknowledgment, “they’ll seek to restore it. ‘If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent Him.’ You could say the same for the Devil. You’ll never find a perfect world, and as soon as you do, something terrible will come along to even the scales.”

“…you’re saying that if there wasn’t a Voldemort, another evil wizard would have to pop up instead? To restore balance?”

Harry supposed it made sense, in a way, that way being that the universe – or universes – seemed intent on making sure everything was awful most of the time. Still, he wondered, “What’s the point of any of this then?”

He didn’t clarify what “this” meant. He wasn’t even sure he knew.

“I'm afraid I wouldn't know,” replied the thing that once was Helena Ravenclaw. “I’m dead.”

And then she walked straight into the opposite wall, vanishing, and Harry, brain weary from the hours of reading, just shook his head and retrieved the pitcher with what was left of the pumpkin juice. He returned to the library where his friends were waiting and wasted a good deal of time transfiguring loose sheets of parchment into drinking glasses while Ron ate treacle tart.

-

Later, he would wonder if Hermione and Ron really didn’t notice that he’d fallen asleep over his copy of “A Treatise on Time Magic and Those Fools Who Would Seek to Use It”. Of course, he hadn’t noticed himself drifting off either, but he realized that must have been what happened when suddenly he blinked and he was in Madame Malkin’s.

“-think the grey is more suited, really, and – Harry! What do you suppose?”

“What?”

“Harry, you’re of no use to me.” Alphard was there, and he was holding two sets of trousers aloft while a girl with a measuring tape draped around her neck – an assistant of Malkin’s, he supposed – looked on wearily. Harry had the distinct impression they’d been there awhile. “I hope Lyra comes back from escorting the twin terrors soon. Merlin, they’re thirteen, you’d think they could get navigate Flourish and Blott’s.”

“I like the grey,” Harry said on a whim, though both pairs of trousers looked identical. He was more cheerful than he'd been all day, guiltily glad to not be in the library with a stressed-out Hermione and bizarrely focused Ron anymore.

“More than the charcoal, really?”

“-er?”

“I’m joking. Obviously I agree. I’ll take a set of these and – oh, d’you think I should get another scarf? It’s only that Addie charmed mine pink again and I can’t for the life of me turn it back. You have those nice wooly ones, right?” This last was to the shopkeeper, who looked like she might strangle him.

Harry wandered around the robes on display while Alphard finished shopping, thinking about what the Grey Lady had told him. He found himself looking out the shop’s front window to Diagon Alley beyond, searching for any sign that the other world was a frightening place to live, that it existed under the iron fist of a magical dictatorship. It looked almost livelier than he’d ever seen it, though – bright and bustling just like the alley ought to be a few days before the start of a new Hogwarts term.

From his limited vantage point, Harry spotted two unfamiliar shops – a furniture store and a confectionary – and thought he saw Hannah Abbott outside the Owl Emporium. What he didn’t see were any wanted posters or lurking Snatchers or people rushing from shop to shop like they were afraid of being cursed. Really, the only thing that made him uneasy was that everyone – including Harry himself, he noticed – was in robes. He didn’t see a single article of muggle clothing in the alley.

Eventually Alphard came to join him, his purchases wrapped and a red and gold scarf tossed over one shoulder despite the fact that it wasn’t the weather for it. Harry found himself amused and a little relieved that the other boy was in Gryffindor.

Alphard continued to natter on amiably as Harry let him lead them both through the alley towards the bookshop where, he gathered, they would hopefully encounter Lyra. Harry realized that the other boy very much liked to talk, and if Harry let him, he would fill the silences quite easily. He wondered if his other self was very quiet, because Alphard gave no indication that him not saying much of anything was unusual.

“Here we are,” said Alphard, startling him from his reverie. He dragged Harry by his sleeve into the bookshop. Flourish and Blott’s was crowded, full of younger students and their parents. Harry spotted a familiar head of silvery blonde hair through the crowd and nudged Alphard.

“Over there,” he said.

“Good eye,” said Alphard, and proceeded to force his way through the store. Harry noticed that a few people nodded to them as they passed, though his companion hardly noticed.

Lyra was in a corner of the store dedicated to Defense, scanning the shelves idly while also seeming to keep one eye on a pair of identical dark-haired boys of about thirteen. Harry guessed these were the twins Alphard had mentioned. They whispered back and forth conspiratorially and when Alphard greeted Lyra and she turned her back to them for a moment, Harry noticed one of the boys sneak a book into the stack he was holding.

“Hello, you two!” Lyra greeted Harry and Alphard with a warm smile, and Harry was struck by how odd it was to see such a friendly expression on a Malfoy’s face. “How was robe-shopping?”

“Ah…“ said Harry, and she laughed.

“That bad?”

“He exaggerates,” said Alphard with a wave of his hand. “How are my least favorite cousins?” He gestured to the younger boys, one of whom now seemed to be trying to scale a shelf.

Lyra glanced back at them and winced. “Oh, for – Castor! Get down!”

“I’m Castor,” replied the boy still firmly planted on the ground. “That’s Pollux.”

“I don’t care who you are! We’re in public! Behave yourselves!” Lyra pointed her wand at the boy on the shelf and he fell backwards with a wordless spell. She turned back to Alphard. “They’ve been at this all day,” she hissed. “I’m never doing cousin Regulus a favor again.”

Harry snorted and tried to disguise it as a cough when he realized the boys doing their best impression of the Weasley twins must be Regulus Black’s children. Apparently Sirius’s brother was alive here, and had inherited the Black family penchant for terrible names. Castor and Pollux, honestly.

“Have you gotten your books yet?” Lyra’s question was directed at Harry, as Alphard had gone over and seemed to be lecturing the twins, or perhaps egging them on – from the angle he was at it was hard to tell.

“No?” he ventured. “We only just got here.”

“Well, come on then. Let Alphard deal with those two for a moment – if he can handle that sister of his he can certainly deal with the twins.” Lyra steered them away and towards the section that held Hogwarts’ mandatory texts as Harry wondered about the apparent sister of Alphard’s he hadn’t seen.

“Do you have your list?” the blonde girl asked. Harry blinked and found himself searching his pockets at her authoritative tone. She rolled her eyes and withdrew her wand. Harry flinched instinctively but she only said “Accio Harry’s supply list” and raised a manicured brow at him as the folded parchment flew from some inner fold of his robes and towards her outstretched palm.

Harry thought she and Hermione would probably get along well as he let himself be led around the store in search of his – of the other Harry’s – schoolbooks. It was surprisingly easily to let her boss him along, making agreeable sounds and nodding as she searched, just as it’d been easy to let Alphard lead him around Diagon Alley.

They had just retrieved the NEWT-level text for Defense – which Harry noted was only called Defense, no “Against the Dark Arts”, on his list – and were in one of the outer aisles of the store when she stiffened suddenly. Harry’s hand went immediately to his wand, but Lyra grabbed his arm. She straightened and cleared her expression, going immediately from an amiable teenage girl to an unfamiliar Pureblood heiress with an icy, unreadable expression.

Harry followed her gaze to see what had her on guard, and his eyes locked on a wizard in dark gray robes who was striding purposefully through the store. The wizard was older, with close-cropped hair. He looked almost like an Auror but gave off a distinctly darker, more dangerous air. He still didn’t know why the man’s appearance had startled Lyra so, and turned to ask her, but she pinched the arm she was holding and shot him a pointed look, raising her chin even further. Harry unconsciously mimicked her posture, standing straighter and doing his best to clear the confusion from his face, and her grip on his arm loosened.

“Nothing to worry about, Harry,” murmured the girl so quietly he hardly heard her. Then, a little louder, “Let’s fetch my cousins, shall we? I think we’ve found everything.”

Just as they made to move, another grey-robed wizard went past them. This one turned ever so slightly their direction, and as Lyra froze again, Harry noticed something – a silver pin, clasping the man’s robes together, in the shape of a circle around a bisected triangle. It was the symbol of the Deathly Hallows, and Harry realized that these must be Grindlewald’s men.

Their appearance in the store was apparently both unexpected and a threat, but Lyra retained her perfectly impassive look as she steered him to where they’d left Alphard and the twins. Soon the other customers begin speaking again, albeit in hushed tones, and only now did he realize how still and quiet things had gone before.

They found Alphard standing slightly in front of the two younger boys as if to protect them, and the previously rambunctious pair looked a little wan. Lyra exchanged a meaningful look with Alphard and nodded, almost imperceptibly, then the group made their way silently to the counter where they proceeded to make their purchases with an absolute minimum of words. Harry panicked for a moment when he realized he didn’t know how to pay for the stack of books that Lyra had been levitating behind them, but when she sent them to the counter with a flick of her wand, the shopkeeper had only looked at him and asked “Potter account?”

“Er – yes,” Harry said, confused, and the man nodded and scrawled something on the ledger book in front of him, then pushed the books towards Harry. Alphard, who was next in line, sidled up, shrinking Harry’s books and handing them over.

When their purchases were made, they hurried out of the store and back into the alley.

“What-“ Harry began almost as soon as they were out the door.

“Not here,” Lyra hissed.

Alphard was gripping Castor – or was it Pollux? by the sleeve of his robe. “Come on,” he said. “Let’s get you two home.”

“But we were going to the joke shop,” said one of the boys, whatever had been keeping the pair subdued now gone.

“My ass you were,” said Alphard, sounding almost cheerful, though to Harry's ears it was a bit strained. “Lyra, were you going to Floo these two home, or did my aunt say she’d collect them?”

“Floo,” said Lyra, equally calm. “Why don’t you take them? Harry and I will meet you at Fortescue’s. I could do with an ice cream, couldn’t you, Harry?”

“Yeah,” said Harry, a little lost, but it was clear they wouldn’t talk about whatever had just happened in front of the two younger boys. “That sounds – good.”

“Right,” said Alphard. “C’mon, lads.” He half-dragged the two protesting boys towards the public Floo, and Harry followed Lyra, who now looked for all the world like she were having a lovely afternoon strolling through the alley, though she still had a hand on Harry’s arm. He felt a little silly, like an old-fashioned gentleman escorting a lady, as he walked with the girl to Fortescue’s.

At the ice-cream parlor, Lyra asked him to find a table while she ordered for them both, returning with a pistachio ice cream in a glass bowl and one fudge sundae, which she placed in front of him. He was surprised to see she knew his favorite, but then he guessed it must have been the other Harry’s, too.

He was not surprised that she cast a privacy spell as soon as they were both seated.

“So,” she said.

“What was that?” Harry demanded.

She blinked at him. “How should I know? Your guess is as good as mine. The chancellor’s men showing up in Diagon Alley – I can’t imagine they were shopping for books.”

“No,” Harry said grimly. He didn’t know this particular dark wizard and his lackeys, but he thought he knew the type well enough. They had walked through the store with purpose. "They were looking for something."

“Or someone.” Lyra looked at him thoughtfully. “You said your father was especially busy with work lately?”

Harry recalled in his last "dream" that his dad had said something along those lines. “Yeah, he’s been working on a difficult case.”

“Do you know what it pertains to?”

“No,” Harry said honestly. “Why? What are you thinking?”

“Only that something that’s giving the DMLE’s senior Aurors that much trouble could be cause for the dark army to show up in Britain.” She looked as if she wanted to say more but cast a wary glance around Fortescue’s and Harry could tell she was still anxious about being overheard, privacy spell or not.

“I could try to find out what my – dad,” he said, stumbling over the word, “is working on.”

She nodded slowly. “If you’re able. Don’t do anything too obvious – you know your father’s quite clever, and quite dedicated to keeping you out of… things. Don’t make him suspicious.”

There was a lot to unpack in that statement, and he couldn’t help but wonder again what this world’s Harry was up to that he had to hide from his father. And then, of course, was the question of what his father was hiding from him. He only knew with absolute certainty that there was no way that his father was pro-Grindlewald – there couldn’t possibly be an incarnation of James Potter that was.

His thoughts were interrupted by Alphard coming into the shop. He made his way over without getting anything - Harry thought he looked shaken now that his younger cousins were gone.

He felt the privacy spell extend itself to include the other boy as he sat down, and though Lyra didn’t seem to move, her wand hand remained under the table. She ate her now-melting ice cream calmly.

“You two alright?” asked Alphard.

“I’m fine,” said Harry.

“Of course,” said Lyra haughtily, as if to say that assuming she were anything else would be an insult.

“What in the fuck was that?” asked Alphard. “Why were they-“ he cut himself off, inhaling sharply.

“We don’t know. Harry’s going to see if his father knows anything.”

“What about your father?”

Lyra raised an eyebrow. “If he knows anything, he’ll never tell me, and I certainly can't seem too curious.” Harry wondered what that meant, but thought it likely that Lucius Malfoy was as well-connected in this world as his own. It seemed, too, that this Harry wasn’t the only one whose parent was keeping things from them.

“Right,” said Alphard. “Well. Change of subject for now, then?"

“Heve you both finished your summer homework?”

“Morgana’s tits, really?” Alphard snorted, but something in his face seemed to lighten.

Harry wanted to keep talking about - whatever was going on, but he couldn't think of a way to say so that wouldn't arouse suspicion. “I’m nearly done with the Potions essay,” Harry offered instead, assuming there would be no way for the other two to know if that was true or not.

“Ugh,” said the other boy. “Can we not?”

“Alright,” drawled Lyra. “How’s this – I heard your sister made prefect.”

Ugh,” said Alphard again. “Don’t rub it in. Mother was delighted. She bought Adhara a kitten.” So his sister’s name was Adhara – Harry thought he’d mentioned an “Addie” before – and she was going into fifth year, from the sound of it. Harry filed the information away.

Lyra laughed. “You probably could have made prefect too, you know – the headmaster’s very fond of your family.”

“What, and be stuck in weekly meetings with your bloody brother? I can’t believe he made Head Boy.”

Head Boy - Christ's sake, Harry thought. At least he had confirmation now that he wasn’t going to have to get along with Draco Malfoy.

Oh, Merlin, he thought suddenly, and felt incredibly stupid for not having realized it before. If the dreams – visions – whatever – kept up the way they were, Harry was going to have to go to Hogwarts. He was going to have to attend classes.

“And me, you prat,” Lyra was saying. “I’d have liked to have reasonable company in said meetings. Also, Circe, call me a hypocrite if you will, but I don’t need the reminder. Draco’s head’s so swollen at the moment I’m surprised he fits through doorways. I’m going to have to bring him down somehow – I was thinking of telling Zabini about the time he was chased around the grounds by one of the peacocks. He screamed like a little girl.”

Harry choked on his ice cream. The image of that was almost enough to make him forget how badly he wanted to steer the conversation back to the encounter in the bookstore.

“Oh, you’re evil,” Alphard said. “Zabini gossips like an old hag.”

“Exactly,” said Lyra.

“Do you know where we can find a Pensieve? I’d rather like to see that memory.” Harry privately agreed.

“It’ll be your birthday present,” laughed Lyra, eyes sparkling with mischief.

Harry felt a sudden jolt – almost as if someone had grabbed his shoulder. He whipped his head around, half expecting to see one of the grey-robed wizards from before or worse, but there was no one there.

“Harry?” he heard Lyra ask. Then – “Harry!” someone said a little louder, only he thought it was – Hermione? He only had a moment to be confused when he felt the jolt again, and suddenly, with a blink of his eyes, he was in the Hogwarts library, drooling on an old book.

Someone was shaking his shoulder. “I’m awake!” he nearly shouted.

“Sorry!” Ron dropped his hand. “Sorry – didn’t mean to startle you. We just had a bugger of a time waking you up, is all.”

“S’alright,” Harry said, sitting up and rubbing the sleep from his eyes.

“Were you dreaming?” he heard Hermione ask. He realized she was standing behind his chair, and turned to look at her, thinking he caught a trace of concern in her features.

“Yeah,” he said sheepishly, feeling a little bad for worrying them. “Turns out it’s bloody weird to be woken up when I am. Disorienting.”

“Sorry,” said Ron again.

Harry shrugged. “Have you found anything?”

Hermione frowned and made her way back around the study table where, Harry now saw, she had a stack of notes. She picked them up, looking a little disgusted. That was a no, then.

“Nothing concrete,” she admitted. “What happened in your dream?”

Harry gave them a rather abbreviated summary. Not only was the dream the longest he’d had so far, he realized, he felt sort of – odd – about describing it in too much detail. It felt invasive, somehow, rude to the other Harry and his friends, who he now saw as wholly real people. He described the sighting of Grindlewald’s men, but left out the concern he’d seen on the faces of his – the other Harry’s – friends, and the talk about Hogwarts and their families, and the way Lyra knew his favorite ice cream flavor. Hermione gave him a strange look, obviously realizing he was leaving bits out, so Harry faked a yawn, making himself out to be tireder than he really felt.

She caught that, saying “I wonder if you’re really getting rest while you’re doing - whatever this is.”

“I dunno,” Harry said. “I haven’t felt all that tired before, but the dreams have all been pretty short.”

“Hm,” said Hermione, contemplative.

“What do you reckon the other Harry is doing while you’re – well, in his head?” asked Ron.

Harry hadn’t really thought about it and said as much.

“You think maybe he’s still in there, looking on?”

“Bloody weird if he is,” said Ron. Harry agreed.

“You don’t – feel anyone else, do you? Another presence?” Hermione seemed to have latched onto the change of subject entirely, for which Harry was grateful.

“No,” said Harry firmly. “It’s not like when I was connected to Voldemort. It’s just – me.”

“Maybe he’s getting your sleep for you,” Ron joked. “You should ask his friends if ‘you’ve’ seemed very well rested lately.”

Harry didn’t say that Lyra had apparently told Alphard the opposite – that their Harry had seemed more tired than usual.

Hermione had apparently decided that they’d done all the reading they could for one day. She began packing up her notes, bringing a few of the books along saying she was going to ask McGonagall about borrowing them, and Harry, who had forgotten to send an owl to his boss asking the night off, had to be at the Auror office in an hour. He decided he might as well go – he could use the distraction.

They returned to the headmistress’ office and found Professor McGonagall waiting there. She gave them a skeptical look over her glass of scotch (Harry had to quietly suppress his surprise at seeing her drinking, and Ron, judging by the way his eyebrows rose to his hairline, did the same). Hermione apologized for them that they didn’t have time to explain at the moment, assuring the older woman again that they would and then thanking her when she consented to let Hermione borrow the books.

While she spoke, Harry eyed the portrait of Albus Dumbledore that now hung amongst the ones on the wall. His old professor was either sleeping or pretending too – Harry wouldn’t put the latter past him.

He thought about seeing if he could wake the portrait to ask him about his old friend, or lover, or whatever Gellert Grindlewald had been to him. He wanted to know more about their intentions when they were younger – what the future dark lord had proposed to do with wizarding Europe.

Harry knew, from Rita Skeeter’s sensational book as well as his own study of history, that Grindlewald had wanted to end the Statute of Secrecy and reveal the magical world to the muggle one, subjugating the muggle to “superior” wizard rule. But, he thought, whatever was going on in the alternate world – it didn’t seem like he’d done that. Harry saw no signs of muggles in the other world at all. He wondered if the man’s plans had changed, or if he hadn’t gotten to that stage yet, or –

But of course he couldn’t really wake Dumbledore’s portrait and interrogate him in front of the headmistress and his friends, he realized. Perhaps later when Hermione came to return the books he could catch the portrait alone.

He turned and found Hermione eyeing him with an assessing look and nearly groaned – he didn’t know what she was thinking, but that look never bode well.

Together, the three of them gave their goodbyes to McGonagall and returned to Ron and Hermione’s flat via Floo. Once he’d picked himself up from the hearth and dusted his jeans off, Harry started to say that he needed to get home and get ready for work. Hermione stopped him, placing her satchel on the floor and pinning Harry to the spot with that same assessing gaze.

“Harry,” she began.

“-Hermione?” he tried.

“Listen, Harry. I know you have – a thing. A ‘saving people thing’. You’re very noble, and brave, and that’s fine, it's wonderful really, but-“

“But?” he said, not liking where this was going.

“I think what Hermione’s trying to say, mate, is… don’t get too involved.”

“What do you mean?” Harry asked Ron, scrunching his brows.

“It’s obvious that your – that the alternate world has its issues,” Hermione said. “And that it could be very dangerous. We’ve established that this is a real place we’re dealing with, that you’re capable of bringing things back from it – so it stands to reason that if you get hurt in that world, you might be hurt in real life.”

“And?” asked Harry, who’d already thought as much himself.

“And,” Hermione went on, “you shouldn’t involve yourself in those issues. You shouldn’t – put yourself in harm’s way. I know you’ll be tempted- but you have to remember that it isn’t your world, those people aren’t your friends.”

“Wait,” said Harry, flabbergasted. “You’re saying I should just ignore the fact that there’s a bloody dark lord apparently running Europe?”

“Over there,” Hermione said pointedly. “That’s what I mean –“

“Fuck that,” Harry said. He remembered the way Lyra had gripped his arm, how her face had gone blank - maybe he didn't know what was going on exactly, but he knew the girl had been terrified. He found himself suddenly very angry, and thought it would be a good idea to leave before he got any angrier.

“Harry, it’s Grindlewald – one of the darkest wizards in history, second only to Voldemort. I saw you looking at Professor Dumbeldore’s portrait. It’s obvious you’re thinking about helping these people with – whatever it is they’re doing, but it’s not your job.“ She made an abortive step towards him as if she wanted to hug him or shake him, looking at him with too-wide brown eyes that were dark with concern.

He stepped out of reach, and saw Ron grimace.

“They’re people, too," he said, almost spitting. "You said it yourself – they’re real people. If I can help, I will.”

As soon as he said it, he realized it was true. He hadn’t thought about it quite that way before, not really – when he looked at Dumbledore’s portrait, he was mostly thinking of obtaining information he could use to keep from being so bloody clueless in the other word, but now –

“I can’t believe you two,” he said to his best friends, before he could think better of it. “I’m going home.”

Then he stormed out of the room, distantly aware that he needed to calm down before he could Apparate, but heading for the door anyway because going to the Floo meant going around Hermione and he didn’t want to look at her right now.

He heard Hermione sigh as he made his way to the front door. “That went well.”

“Better than I expected, really,” he heard Ron say, and then he slammed the door shut behind him.

-

Chapter Text

Harry showed up to work still in a mood and not wanting to think about his fight with Hermione and Ron, which is how he came to volunteer himself and Twigg to go out on the first call of the evening. It turned out to be a drunk and disorderly near the Leaky.

“Potter, anyone could handle this. A trainee could handle this,” said Higgins, the Auror in charge of assignments that night, but Harry insisted.

“If you’re sure,” Twigg said cheerfully. Hufflepuffs, thought Harry. Bless them.

The job turned out less than satisfying, though – the drunkard in question was a fresh-out-of-Hogwarts boy Harry didn’t recognize, and he’d barely introduced himself and Twigg when the poor lad burst into tears and begged them not to send him to Azkaban. He wasn’t consoled by the two Aurors telling him the sentence for public intoxication was typically a five-galleon fine, and so Harry went inside and left Twigg patting the boy on the shoulder and assuring him that no, really, he’d gone to school with Hannah Abbott and he didn't think she'd press charges for him Transfiguring one of the barstools into a cactus so long as he turned it back tomorrow when he was sober again.

Harry couldn’t drink on the job, of course, but he sat at the bar anyway and let Hannah cheerfully tell him how terrible he looked.

“I haven’t been sleeping well,” he said. He wisely did not say that the last time he'd “slept” he'd seen a seventeen-year-old version of her in another world’s Diagon Alley outside the owl shop.

She gave him a sympathetic look. Harry knew she probably assumed he’d been having nightmares – most everyone he knew that had lived through the war did – but he didn’t bother correcting her.

“Warm milk with whiskey,” she told him, “try drinking it just before bed.”

“That sounds vile,” replied Harry.

“Oh, it is, but it works a charm. Or you could try Dreamless Sleep, of course, but it’s pricey.”

Before he could reply, Twigg returned without their sniffling suspect. “He’s on the kerb,” he told Harry, and then turned to Hannah. “He sicked up a bit, sorry. I cleared it up. Also, he said he’ll be back about the stool tomorrow, and to tell you that you have ‘lovely eyes, like a friendly cow’.”

Hannah continued cleaning a pint glass as she rolled her decidedly non-bovine eyes. “Oh, hell, he can leave it. I’ll give it to Neville as a gift, I don’t think he’s got any cactuses.”

“Cacti,” said Twigg helpfully. “Shall we get him through the Floo? I don't think he's fit to apparate in this state.”

“He’ll vomit all over whatever’s on the other side,” Harry pointed out. Floo was a queasy way to travel at the best of times. But then, most magical methods were.

“Maybe you’d better send him to his mum’s then?” Hannah said, the innocence in her tone not quite going over, mostly because she was grinning wickedly.

Harry considered re-assessing his previous thoughts on Hufflepuffs. Between them, he and Twigg successfully got the boy, who was now slightly damp, in the Floo off to someplace called “Heath Cottage”.

“Feel better soon, Harry,” Hannah called out as they made to leave.

-

“Are you ill?” Twigg asked when they were back at the Auror office.

“Something like that,” Harry said.

“You should go see Liona,” Twigg suggested. Liona Ilyas was the Auror office’s on-site mediwitch for minor jobs that didn’t necessitate going to St. Mungo’s.

Harry dismissed the idea immediately, but then, on further reflection, told Twigg he was headed that way and he’d be back shortly.

Just outside the mediwitch’s office was a cupboard that held a handful of potions – standard brews that the Aurors could be trusted to administer themselves if the mediwitch wasn’t available. Harry recalled what Hannah had said about Dreamless Sleep and remembered that there were a few vials of it in the potions cupboard. It would be quite easy to take one home with him without anyone noticing.

He couldn’t be sure, of course, that the potion would actually stop his “dreams” – they weren’t normal dreams, after all. But, he reasoned, as he slipped a blue bottle into his pocket, it wouldn’t hurt him to try.

Harry had meant what he told Hermione – that he wanted to help Alphard and Lyra and the rest, that he regarded them as real people and felt that he owed it to them to do what he could. But maybe, he thought, he was a little guilty of letting his emotions get the better of him. Harry knew better than anyone how impulsive he could be, how hot-headed. The flood of dreams in the last 48 hours had been a lot to take in, and it was no wonder he felt so – attached – when he’d spent so much time in the other world. Maybe, if he took the Dreamless Sleep, he could have a night off to clear his head.

And if the “dreams” proceeded linearly like he thought they would, with today being August 30th, the other Harry would be going to Hogwarts soon. He would be in the castle again, surrounded by who knew how many familiar faces. He might even, Harry thought with a mingled sense of hope and dread, be seen off at King’s Cross by his father – and he couldn’t imagine anything that would heighten his sense of attachment to the other world than that. Harry wasn’t sure, if he got to experience his dad sending him off to school like he’d had dreams – normal dreams – of his parents doing, that he would ever want to wake up again.

Yes, Harry thought. He needed time. He needed distance.

The rest of his shift passed without event, and Harry arrived home after two a.m. He was so tired that taking the Dreamless Sleep felt almost like a waste, but the point wasn’t to fall asleep quicker, it was to keep from dreaming, so he crawled into bed and uncorked the vial, taking a healthy swallow.

His eyes closed before his head touched the pillow.

-

“-ry. Harry?” a familiar female voice called to him.

“Gin?” he asked, before he could think better of it. He eyelids felt like they weighed ten stone each, and he struggled to force them open.

I’ve got to stop waking up like this, Harry thought, remembering how disorienting it had been when Ron and Hermione shook him awake in the library. But at least he hadn't dreamed that night.

“Gin?” said another voice – was that Ron? “It’s not even noon, you heathen. Have an Irish coffee if you must.”

Harry blinked, finally, and realized that he wasn’t on his bed in his flat. His ceiling was not carved of wood, and he certainly was not in possession of a miniature chandelier.

He turned toward the voice that had last spoken. Alphard Black was giving him a strange look, and that, too, was growing a little old – having people looking at him with such obvious concern.

What happened? His limbs were stiff, uncertain – he had never come into one of the dreams so slowly. This felt like he was actually waking up, not the other way around.

Belatedly, he remembered the Dreamless Sleep. He reasoned that must have something to do with it.

Harry forced himself to sit up. He was in an unfamiliar bed with violet coverings, but fully dressed in robes and on top of the blankets. Alphard was leaning over him, and across the room at a writing desk, Lyra sat with her ankles crossed and something that looked like a ball of dark hair in her lap. They were in someone’s bedroom, Harry realized.

Alphard’s, his brain supplied helpfully. On the third story of Grimmauld Place. He frowned. He’d never been in this room before, so how – but then, he supposed it was the only logical conclusion. It wasn’t the other Harry’s bedroom, and everything he’d seen of Malfoy Manor had been about ten times as grand.

It didn’t quite explain how he knew where in Grimmauld the room was, but for all he knew Alphard had mentioned it at some point – he had a tendency to talk whether anyone was listening or not.

Now, for instance, he proclaimed that Harry was a lush, having apparently misinterpreted his nickname for Ginny, and began arguing with Lyra about why exactly Irish coffees were called Irish all the while making very expressive yet un-interpret-able hand gestures.

“I’m only saying, if you could milk a leprechaun-“

“That’s disgusting, not to mention morally reprehensible-“

“What’s going on?” Harry asked, perhaps a little too loudly. He meant it in more ways than one.

“Oh, right,” said Alphard. “Are you okay? You were lazing around as per usual-“ Lyra snorted and said something that might’ve been ‘hypocrite’, or was it hippogriph?- “and next thing we know you’re mumbling and thrashing about.”

“It looked like you were having a nightmare,” Lyra added. “You must’ve fallen asleep.”

Harry wondered at that. Had he – the other Harry – been asleep when he – himself – Christ, but this was getting confusing - took the potion and fell asleep in his own world? Is that why he felt a little like he’d been hit by a Bludger?

“Maybe we should take a break,” Lyra was saying now, “We’ve been working all morning.”

Harry looked over at the desk where she was sitting and saw that it was covered in parchment and books, and an assortment of – were those leaves? – were scattered over the lot.

“I’ll call Kreacher and have some tea sent up,” Alphard said agreeably. “Sandwiches, maybe? Anyone hungry?”

Lyra snorted. “You’re always hungry.”

“Sod off. Kreacher!” the boy said, and the familiar house elf popped into the room. Harry thought he looked exactly as ugly as his own Kreacher, but less haggard, somehow. His pillowcase was certainly cleaner than it had been when he’d first met the elf in his own world, anyway.

“Young master is calling for Kreacher?” asked the elf, and he almost sounded polite.

“Could you bring us some tea and sandwiches?” asked Alphard. He didn’t say “please”, Harry noted, but he sounded nicer than Sirius had at least. Hermione would be 30% pleased.

“Right away,” Kreacher said perfunctorily.

“Oh!” Lyra said just before he could pop away again. “Would you mind bringing something for Snowball, too?” She held the ball of fur from her lap somewhat aloft, and Harry realized the lump was actually a kitten. Only-

“Snowball?” he echoed, because the animal was solid black.

“Addie thinks she’s hilarious,” said Alphard.

“It runs in your family,” said Lyra primly.

Kreacher was nodding, nearly bowing in fact, to Lyra, and his “Of course, young miss!” was much politer than the affirmation he’d given Alphard. Harry recalled that the old elf had been very fond of Narcissa Malfoy in his own world and thought the same must be true here.

As if he could feel Harry’s eyes on the back of his head, Kreacher turned to look at him where he sat on the bed. The weight of his gaze was almost aggressive – Harry hadn’t seen the elf look at him so meanly in his world in ages, having worked out a sort of truce with him after he'd returned from his stint in the Hogwarts kitchens.

“Strange,” Kreacher muttered at him.

“Er – what’s strange?” asked Harry, against his better judgment.

“He is being the Potter boy but he is not," Kreacher muttered, seemingly to himself. Then, "You,” Kreacher said, punctuating the word with a jab of his finger in Harry’s direction, “are not Harry Potter.”

Harry’s eyes widened. How could the elf know that he wasn’t really this world’s Harry?

Of course, he thought, house elf magic was very mysterious. They had a way of finding people that no wizard wholly understood, so perhaps they had a way of identifying people, too.

Harry felt a little panicked, looking over at the two humans in the room to see if they seemed accusatory.

Thankfully, neither did. Lyra was petting the tiny cat, and Alphard looked more annoyed than anything. “Kreacher,” Alphard sighed, “for the last time, he’s not mum’s tailor, the man is about a million years old and bald. Go get the tea now.”

Kreacher narrowed his eyes but didn’t protest, popping away without another word.

“Well,” Alphard said. “Sorry about that.”

Harry shrugged. He was preoccupied with thinking that he needed to avoid any house elves that might know Harry – this world’s Harry – in the future. He recalled that the Potter elf had seemed to regard him strangely, too, though he hadn’t said anything that indicated he recognized Harry as being anyone other than his master.

He realized that he didn’t quite know how anyone here would react if they found out that he was not their Harry Potter. He thought it was probably best that he not risk it.

Soon Kreacher appeared again with their refreshments, and Alphard sat the tray on the bed and plopped down beside Harry and Lyra came and sat at the foot of it, leaving the kitten on the floor with a dish of cream.

They ate in near silence, interrupted only by Lyra and Alphard’s occasional bickering. Harry was enveloped in a certain sense of familiarity and warmth as he drank his tea. It was comfortable being there, he thought. There was something about listening to the two of them argue, about sitting in that room. He felt like he’d been there before. But probably it was only because their bickering was so like Hermione and Ron’s, and because he felt so disoriented still - because of the Dreamless Sleep, he assumed. That must be it, thought Harry, and yet – he felt a sense of déjà vu, the ticking sensation of a memory just beyond his recall.

When they were done, Alphard set the tray just outside the door to his room so that Kreacher could retrieve it without disturbing them again. Harry was grateful. Then Lyra returned to her place at the desk and began prodding a leaf with her wand.

Harry wondered what –

They’re mandrake leaves, his mind supplied. She’s experimenting on them, trying to come up with a way to…

…and there the thought cut off, and Harry frowned. How- but of course, he’d seen mandrakes before, in second year. He must have-

“I believe,” Lyra said, interrupting his thoughts, “that if I chain a shrinking spell with this-" she jabbed at something in one of the books- “it’s a household preservation charm meant to preserve the integrity of ingredients. I think…"

“Is that a book of cooking charms?” asked Alphard, sounding a little incredulous.

“And? It’s foolish to disregard magic because of its source. Consider it- mandrake leaves aren’t all that different from, oh, parsley or thyme."

"Parsley doesn't scream at you, generally-" Alphard said.

Lyra ignored him. "-I think with the correct application – yes, this could work.”

Harry then finished his previous thought, remembering that one of the few things he knew about the Animagus transformation was related to something Sirius told him, that the Marauders held mandrake leaves under their tongues for a month. It sounded as if the group was trying to come up with an alternate way to do that. Now that he considered it, it would be rather hard to hold a mandrake leaf under your tongue inconspicuously for an entire month – it would limit your speech, almost certainly. He wondered how the Marauders managed it without anyone noticing.

Lyra began scrawling something on a piece of parchment. “Here,” she said when she was finished. “Look that over.” She flicked the page towards Alphard and Harry with her wand, and Alphard snatched it from midair. Harry glanced at the page over the other boy’s shoulder and realized she had been spell-crafting, finding a way to link the pieces of magic she mentioned into something cohesive that didn’t cancel itself out.

Harry couldn’t offer comment, because he’d never learned how to do such theoretical work himself, but Alphard hmm’d and nodded and said it looked solid, which seemed to satisfy Lyra, who began casting on the leaves properly.

They fell back into a sort of lull while Lyra muttered and waved her wand, Alphard offering occasional comment.

Eventually, Lyra seemed satisfied, if her pushing her chair back from the desk and standing were any clue. She held something cupped in one hand – the shrunken mandrake leaf, Harry suspected – and bounced on her heels in an eager fashion.

“Well? Come see.”

Alphard obliged, sliding off the bed to join her, and Harry eventually followed.

“Who’ll go first?” Alphard asked, poking at the tiny leaf in the girl’s outstretched hand with one finger. She batted his hand away.

“I don’t care,” Lyra said, “but it’d better be one of you two. I can’t apply the sticking charm until it’s – well, in your mouth, and I’d rather not try that on myself.”

“Oh, excellent, experimental charms work near my tonsils. Just what I like to hear. Harry, thoughts?”

Harry shrugged. “I’ll do it,” he said.

It was stupid, probably, but Lyra seemed to be almost as clever as Hermione and twice as sure of herself. Also, he was pretty certain that if he was injured horribly it would be enough to startle him out of the dream and he had at least one Blood-Replenishing potion in his cabinet at home.

“Excellent,” said Lyra. “Have at it, then.” She handed him the leaf and looked like as if she were trying very hard to seem impassive, but the spark in her eyes and the way she watched him place the shrunken thing under his tongue gave her away.

“Ready?” she asked.

Harry nodded, holding his mouth open with his tongue pressed to the roof as she directed. She pointed her wand in and he felt suddenly and terribly as if he had agreed to dental work.

She whispered a spell and Harry felt the leaf stick firmly to the underside of his tongue. It was an alarming sensation, but it quickly passed. “Erm,” Harry said around the taste of something rather spinachy. “It’s – is it supposed to do anything?”

Lyra grinned and Alphard whooped and smacked him on the shoulder. “Ah, I think it’s working!”

“That was clear as anything, Harry,” Lyra beamed. “I’d have no idea the leaf was there at all.”

“You’re a genius!” exclaimed Alphard, lunging over and hugging the girl.

“Oh, for – unhand me!” she pushed him off, clearly trying to subdue her grin.

Harry, meanwhile, was wiggling his tongue around experimentally. It was really sort of brilliant – the leaf was about the size of a head of clover, and he hardly felt it at all. He wondered belatedly if he’d carry it over with him when he woke up. Now that he thought about it, learning the Animagus transformation in his real life wasn’t so terrible an idea.

I wonder what my form would be.

“Something quick,” mused Lyra, and Harry realized he’d voiced his thought aloud. “A bird, maybe, to suit your flying skills.”

Harry blinked. Did he play Quidditch in this world? Was he – and then a sudden image of himself, no, of the other Harry, flashed before his eyes. It was from his perspective, him flying around the pitch, only he didn’t recognize the broom and I must not tell lies was conspicuously absent from the back of his otherwise identical hand. He looked up and saw someone he didn’t know in Gryffindor robes – a Chaser, he was going make a goal, he - Fifth year, he thought. Ravenclaw won-

“I hope I’m something terrible and huge. With claws,” said Alphard, shattering the – was it a memory? But it couldn’t be. It was something from this world.

Lyra snorted. “You’ll probably be as fierce as Snowball there,” she said, gesturing towards the kitten.

“Oh, and what’ll you be, then? A hedgehog?”

“…explain.”

“A pain in my ass.”

“I don’t – you mean a porcupine, you imbecile, if we’re supposing that even makes sense. Actually, you’ll probably be a pygmy puff, now that I think of it.”

Harry was still shaking away the intrusive image of the other him on a broom and thinking about himself as a bird. Maybe, he thought with a pang, an owl like Hedwig. He would’ve thought he’d want to be a stag like his father but on further consideration, the idea of flying without a broom was an appealing one, and a bird would be less conspicuous than a ruddy great deer anyway.

He wondered, if he learned the transformation here - would it carry over?

Lyra repeated the spells with another leaf on Alphard and prompted him to do her own, and when they’d all successfully managed that, she pulled another piece of parchment from her pocket, this one familiar. It was the bit that Harry saw in the dream at the party, the one labeled FIELD NOTES.

She whispered something he couldn't quite make out as she tapped the parchment with her wand, like last time, and a swirl of ink appeared where the magic touched. Harry realized suddenly what the notes reminded him of before. If he wasn’t mistaken, the charms being used were the same as those on the Marauder’s Map.

He was still reeling a little at that revelation as she added the spells she used to the notes with a flourish of her quill, tapping the words with her wand to dry and animate the ink. It shimmered, sinking into the page. “For posterity,” she said quietly.

A sudden solemnity came over the room and Harry remembered again that what were doing was, in this world, dangerous. Then Alphard broke the spell with a cheeky grin, clapping his hands together as Lyra tucked the notes away.

“Well,” he said. “We’ve still got two hours until Harry’s due home. What do you say we play a game? Chess? Gobstones? Poker?”

“Absolutely not poker,” said Lyra. “You two cheat like goblins.”

They ended up sprawled out on Alphard’s bed with a game of gobstones, playing until Harry lost track of the time. It had been hours, he thought, when finally he rest his head on his hand and closed his eyes for a moment, then woke again to the morning sun streaming through the window in his own bedroom.

-

The dream had been different from the others. Harry lay in bed for a long time after, considering the way thoughts that weren’t his own, that seemed almost like they might belong to the other Harry, had entered his head. He wondered if the Dreamless Sleep had done it somehow, made him – hallucinate wasn’t the right word, probably, but something like it. Dream within the “dream”?

He wished he were willing to talk to Hermione so he could ask her.

Only she’d probably just give him a look of concern and make him return to the library and – no, nevermind. He was going to go to work and have a normal day and worry about it later.

At work, Harry labored over writing a report and sat through a painfully long meeting on illegal potions sales in Knockturn Alley. Just before noon, a junior Auror Harry couldn’t place – he thought his name was Dim, but it couldn’t be. Din? Dan? Could Dan be a surname? – approached Harry with a note.

His first thought was that it was from Hermione, but she would just charm a memo bird if she wanted to meet with him.

“What’s this?” he asked – perhaps it was Dine?

“An owl for you, sir," and Harry thought he really needed to break the junior Aurors from calling him that. "The mail department passed it along.”

He furrowed his brow as he took the note. The mail department intercepted owls coming into the ministry and did a thorough job of checking them over for hexes and poisons, so it ought to be safe to open, but Harry couldn’t for the life of him think who’d be writing him at work - at least, who that he actually knew. The Auror department kept a separate box for the mail wizards to forward any fan letters to – Harry "checked" it monthly, in other words, set the contents on fire.

“Thank you, er-“

“Dim,” supplied the younger man helpfully.

“-really?”

Dim sighed. “Sir, you said that last time.”

“I’m very sorry,” said Harry, who suspected he’d also said that last time if the look on the man’s face was anything to go by, but he just shrugged and turned away.

Unfolding the letter, Harry began to get the sense he’d forgotten something. Perhaps it was because of the stationary, which he thought looked familiar.

 

Harry-

I’m running late; blame Transportation – our last batch of Portkeys was faulty. I’ll see you at 1:30 at the usual place.

Love,

Ginny.

 

“Shit,” said Harry aloud. That explained the sense of foreboding, then.

He’d forgotten Ginny was portkeying home from Wales today – she had a break from practice and was staying at the Burrow for a week. “The usual place” was a Thai restaurant they frequented, where they had planned - two weeks ago when she'd told him about her break - to meet for lunch.

He was due there in twenty minutes, and, of course, Harry had not yet told Ginny anything – about the dreams, about the newspaper, about –

-it occurred to him suddenly to prod the bottom of his tongue with one finger. He found something slimy and plant-like there.

Right. About that, too, then.

“Shit,” he said again. Something, call it survival instinct, told him Ginny might be a bit put out about it all. “She’s going to kill me.”

-

“I could kill you.”

Ginny said this with the same tone you might use to comment on the weather. This had the potential to be comforting, but Harry knew that when his girlfriend said things like that calmly it meant she had crossed the threshold that he liked to call “full Veela” – claws drawn, fireballs at the ready – and come to a level-headed internal debate on which part of Harry he would miss least if she were to sever it from his body.

“It’s only I can’t believe,” she said, “that you didn’t think the fact that you’ve been traipsing around another universe in your free time was worth writing me about.”

“It’s only been a week,” Harry pointed out.

He noted with detached displeasure that he sounded like a petulant teenager, even to his own ears. Also, his curry was growing cold. He tried to remember the charm for reheating food. They were in a muggle restaurant, but he’d cast a Notice-Me-Not charm and a Muffliato earlier and if he were arrested for breaking the Statute of Secrecy at least it would be a distraction.

“And you’ve accomplished so much in a week! Meeting dark wizards, starting the Animagus transformation – tell me, are you planning to begin your potions mastery tonight? Maybe take up knitting?”

Harry sunk lower in his chair. “I told Hermione? And Ron. You said I should tell people about – things. And I did.”

“And I’m very proud,” said Ginny drolly. “But next time you defy the laws of magic, you had better send me a fucking owl, Harry.” She punctuated her sentence with a stab of her fork to her own dish, skewering a bit of chicken and taking a bite of it in a way that looked frankly threatening.

“I’m sorry, Gin. I really, really am. It was just – at first, I thought it was all in my head, and then, you know, the last time I had weird dreams I had a piece of Voldemort’s soul in me, and... you’re mid-season and I didn’t want you to worry?”

“You didn’t want me to worry,” Ginny echoed around mouthful of noodle. “Because of Quidditch. Bloody - Quidditch, really?”

Harry took the fact that she was eating as a good sign, though he didn’t dare try it himself yet.

“Things went rather quickly. The last few days.”

Ginny narrowed her eyes at him. “Right.”

“I’m sorry,” Harry repeated, for emphasis. “It won’t happen again.”

“I literally can’t imagine how it would,” said Ginny. “What could top this? You telling me you’re Merlin reborn?”

Harry laughed weakly. Honestly, with his luck-

“Eat your lunch,” said Ginny, pointing her fork at him. Harry brightened and began eating his noodles cold, deciding not to waste the time to remember that charm.

“What did Hermione say?” Ginny asked after a moment.

“Er. About..?”

“Any of it.”

Harry blinked. She’d said quite a lot of things, really. He reached for something that wouldn’t make it sound like Hermione was concerned for his safety – better leave that for when they weren’t in public, he thought. In his retelling of events, Harry had wisely forgone mentioning his fight with Ron and Hermione and how he'd implied that he was ready to take on the other-world Grindlewald.

“She said," he said slowly, "That I have... conflicting feelings... about my dad, and Sirius, and Draco Malfoy – and Dumbledore, too, I think? And that I’m afraid of change,” he added. He reckoned would remember to be embarrassed later, when his life wasn’t in danger.

Ginny laughed suddenly, a proper laugh with her mouth open and her head tossed back. She continued laughing for longer than Harry thought strictly polite, shaking so that her bright hair caught the light.

“Tell me something I don’t know,” said Ginny.

“Hey!"

She quieted and gave him a look, raising a skeptical eyebrow.

Harry sighed.

“Are you going to eat that?” she asked, already pulling the spring roll indicated towards her plate.

Harry sighed again. “No,” he said. “You can have it.”

-

Ginny told him on no uncertain terms that she was spending the night at his, Molly Weasley be damned. She insisted on seeing the phenomenon firsthand, despite Harry’s insistence that there wasn’t anything to see, really.

He was able to show her the copy of the Daily Prophet he'd taken home with him, Hermione having kept the original. When she came to the society pages and the picture of the Malfoy family her eyebrows raised almost to her hairline.

“So, baby Malfoy,” she said, indicating the picture's Lyra, who tossed her hair over one shoulder and lifted her chin a little higher under the scrutiny.

“She’s nice,” Harry defended half-heartedly. Ginny held even a bigger grudge than him against the Malfoys, so he didn’t really expect to convince her.

“Hm. Are they – you know, just friends, or…?”

“Uh. I think so? I don’t... er, there’s nothing for you to worry about.”

Ginny turned on the couch and gave him a look that hovered between bemused and scathing. “No shit, Harry. I’m not jealous of a sixteen-year-old girl. I was only wondering what he sees in her.”

“Oh,” said Harry, scratching the back of his neck. “I’m not sure, exactly? I think they might be friends because he's friends with Al.”

“Al?”

“What? ’Alphard’ is kind of a mouthful.”

Harry sensed himself getting tetchy and Ginny seemed to as well, because she closed the paper and said she was going to change into her pajamas and clean her teeth. While she was in the loo, Harry fetched the bottle of Dreamless Sleep he’d tucked in the nightstand. He debated taking it. He hadn’t suffered any ill effects last night, not really, not after the initial feeling of being too heavy-limbed.

And then there were the little intrusive thoughts he’d had – they were disconcerting, but, he reasoned, rather useful in that everything they'd pointed out to him seemed to have been correct somehow. They’d offered little bits of insight, and he was still trying to figure out how to behave in the dreams to keep the other Harry’s friends from growing suspicious. It seemed to him he should use whatever insight he could get.

By the time Ginny returned, with her hair gathered in a bun and wearing a Holyhead Harpies shirt and a pair of Harry’s old boxers, Harry had taken a mouthful of the potion and returned the bottle to the drawer. Luckily it didn’t hit him so quickly, it being earlier and Harry not having worked a late shift. He was able to act as if he were just especially tired and tell Ginny goodnight before he succumbed to sleep.

-

He woke on the Hogwarts Express. He recognized the familiar jolt of it before he even opened his eyes. It felt, it sounded, just like he remembered – the slide of compartment doors, the murmur of voices.

For a moment, he allowed himself to miss it. Strange, that he’d ridden it perhaps a dozen times but it was imprinted so deeply on his psyche. He inhaled and smelled pumpkin pasties.

So he was definitely going to Hogwarts. All aboard, Harry thought. Next stop: the shambles that is my life.

“Aha,” said a familiar voice. Harry allowed himself another moment before he opened his eyes. Alphard was sprawled across the seat opposite in the bored, entitled way he’d seen Sirius do on the sofas of Grimmauld Place a few times. He had a book open across his lap and a small pile of sweets at his side. The cabin was otherwise empty. “You awake now?”

“Yeah,” said Harry, scrubbing a hand over his face. He felt odd again, every motion sluggish like he was swimming through the Great Lake.

He wondered if his father had been there to see him – to see the other Harry – to the train. He was sorry he missed it. If he was off to Hogwarts, then he wouldn’t have another chance to see his dad until Christmas break.

Harry wondered, distantly, if he would still be having the dreams by Christmas break. He couldn’t decide if he was frightened or pleased by the idea. Everything was muddled, apprehension and doubt and regret and delight -

“Lucky you,” said Alphard. “You just missed my cousins.”

“Which ones?” asked Harry, shaking his head to clear it.

In the back of his mind, he saw, or felt, the presence or existence of a number of Black cousins – he wouldn’t have been able to name them, but he knew they were there in the same way he’d known Alphard’s room in his last dream.

“Castor and Pollux,” said Alphard. “Conned me out of a package of Bertie Bott’s, the little shits. I expect one or two more will stop in later, because the gods hate me.”

Harry allowed himself a brief moment of hysterical interior laughter (again) at Regulus Black naming his twin sons Castor and Pollux. Jesus. Maybe it was for the best that he died young in Harry’s world. He was aware that this was a thought Hermione would deem “uncharitable”, but he was in a shit mood, really.

“Where’s Lyra?” he asked, to distract himself. Then he grimaced, because what if other Harry was supposed to know the answer to that question already? Luckily, Alphard didn’t seem to care or notice.

“Scheming with the Greengrasses and Parkinson, I expect. The prefect’s meeting ought to be over now.”

“Oh,” said Harry, unsure of what else to say. He thought about Ginny wondering what the other Harry saw in Lyra Malfoy. He didn’t know the aforementioned girls very well, only that he thought Daphne Greengrass was in Slytherin with Parkinson and vaguely recalled her having a younger sister. He realized suddenly that it was rather unlikely that Lyra was in Gryffindor. The other Harry was her friend, but he supposed that didn’t mean that she wasn’t – well, a Malfoy. She was probably in Slytherin, he thought uncomfortably.

Alphard had fallen back into companionable silence, broken only by the occasional mutter and tap of his wand against the pages of his book. Harry could just make out diagrams that began to move when he did. It looked like a Quidditch book – some of them had that feature, to reenact old games and demonstrate plays. He quite wanted to look and also to ask if Alphard played Quidditch but couldn’t think of a normal way to do so.

He sort of wished Ron was here to talk about the Cannons – it had a stupefying effect that tended to drown out anything awkward Harry might say in a group conversation; he’d experienced it several times in his first few months of Auror training, when they’d all go out for drinks after.

For a brief moment he also wished that he himself was a Slytherin – he felt like one of their ilk could figure out a way to extract information in his position without making an ass of themselves. Harry, left to his own devices, had once taken a priceless luck potion just to have a talk with his own professor.

Before too long, the silence was broken by the door to their cabin sliding open and Lyra coming in.

“Move,” she said to Alphard, and when he didn’t, she flicked her wand at the pile of sweets, which reassembled themselves into a neater pile on Harry’s side.

“Oi!” said Alphard, but he barely looked up from his book.

“They’re Harry’s now,” she said, folding herself neatly into the empty space. Alphard swatted at her with his book, and she ducked easily out of the way.

It occurred suddenly to Harry how ridiculous it was that he was a grown man sitting on the Hogwarts Express, surrounded by teenagers behaving like teenagers. In order to have something to do, he withdrew a Chocolate Frog from the pile now at his side and began to unwrap it. If he had to be the only adult here, he was going to help himself to free candy.

He paused with the frog halfway to his mouth as he realized that he felt a sudden terrifying kinship to Dumbledore.

Then he paused again upon realizing that Lyra was wearing a blue and bronze tie with her expensive-looking, non-standard-issue school robes. She was a Ravenclaw, Harry realized with a start. Not a Slytherin after all.

Suddenly all the research made sense.

He wondered if the Malfoys had been upset about Lyra’s sorting- if they’d sent her a Howler, even. Probably not – he suspected the Malfoys were more of a “behind closed doors” type of family– but the thought still amused him.

He was riding on the high of this amusement when he asked Lyra, who was still seated primly at Alphard’s side but had stopped goading him and now seemed to be magically lengthening and shortening her fingernails, “What were you scheming?”

Lyra looked up at him and Harry met her gaze. He realized she didn’t look quite as much like her mother as he’d thought – her eyes were much darker than he remembered Narcissa’s being, and nothing at all like the icy grey-blue color of Draco’s. Instead they were deeper, almost navy. She stared at him for a long moment, then turned with a huff and sent a quick stinging hex at Alphard.

“Ow! Buggering fuck, what was that for?”

“’Scheming’. I know that was your choice of words, you complete knob.”

“Well! What else do you call what you lot get up to, because it’s not a bloody sewing circle.”

“May as well be, as far as you’re concerned. What we discuss is none of your business. Also, I came to tell you anyway,” she said, as if the last two statements didn’t completely contradict one another.

“You’re such a-“

“I dare you,” Lyra said, her wand still pointed at Alphard, “to finish that sentence. I really do.” Then she turned to Harry, her features shifting from lazily intimidating to friendly in an instant. “Anyway. Harry, this is a bit of a long shot, but do you know anything about the new Defense professor?”

The words struck an old and resonant chord in Harry.

“No,” he said carefully. “I don’t. Why?”

“We have a new defense professor?” Alphard interrupted. Harry was relieved – it meant that probably this wasn’t information he was supposed to have known. “And why aren’t you asking me?”

“That’s why,” the girl said, waving a hand seemingly at Alphard’s general person. “Anyway, you would have owled me right away if you’d heard anything about a new professor, wouldn’t you?”

“Well, yes.”

“Right.” Lyra went on. “So, Pansy intercepted a letter for the Board of Governors directed to her father last night. Apparently, it said only that Quirrell was announcing his intention to leave the position and that, quote, ‘a suitable replacement had been found’. No name, nothing. No one brought it up at the Prefect’s meeting, either.”

Harry frowned, wondering how long Quirrell had taught DADA in this world. Would he have been a professor for years without the curse? What a strange thought.

Lyra misinterpreted Harry’s expression. “I’m sure it’ll be fine,” she said. “I know it’s NEWT year for you two, but you’re both quite good at Defense and Sluggy can’t have chosen anyone too terrible, even if he’s being very hush-hush about the whole thing. The secrecy is probably his odd idea of a joke.”

Something in the statement caught his attention, distracting him utterly from his thoughts about the defense curse and un-turbaned Quirrells.

Sluggy?

He’d only ever heard that nickname applied to one man, but surely -

“You can never tell him I called him that. Actually, no, he might not even mind. He’s a very strange man,” Lyra said, wrinkling her nose, which did nothing to assuage Harry’s fears. “Oh, and speaking of, look! You got his card.”

Harry glanced down at the chocolate frog card he’d discarded to one side without reading it.

From it, Horace Slughorn beamed.

“I’ve got about fourteen Slughorns,” said Alphard. “They’re hardly rare.”

Harry picked up the card with a growing sense of dread. “Celebrated potioneer and professor,” it said. “Currently Headmaster at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry”.

He groaned. He didn’t dislike Slughorn per se, but he still felt, somehow, that this didn’t bode well. Not for his probable return to Hogwarts, nor for the universe in general.

“Are you alright, Harry?” Lyra asked.

“Probably a bad frog,” supplied Alphard cheerfully. “Sometimes they hop around in your stomach a bit. Makes you queasy. I learned the vomit-vanishing spell over the break, Harry. Shout if you need it.”

“I don’t think he’ll be shouting if he’s actively vomiting. Also, why a separate spell? Wouldn’t Evanesco do it?”

“I mean, you’ve got to regard the smell, too, when you’re discussing vomit.”

“I’d really rather not discuss it.”

“Well, you did ask,” said Alphard.

Harry closed his eyes and tuned them out, hoping that he might fall asleep again and wake in a world where Voldemort had existed (twice) but Slughorn had never been headmaster of anything. Perhaps, Harry thought, he should revisit the idea that he was cursed. For that matter, why had vomit been a running theme in his life for two days now? Surely dark magic was involved.

He thought he heard Lyra say “do not use the term ‘mouth-feel’ in this context, for Hecate’s sake-" when the compartment door opened again with a snick, saving them all from certain doom.

Or not, he quickly amended upon realizing that stood in the doorway was none other than Draco Malfoy in all his smarmy teenaged glory.

“Ah, our new Head Boy,” said Alphard. “Come to show us your badge?”

Actually, Harry thought, this was almost comforting. It was certainly familiar, at least. And, Harry noted, unearthing a heretofore unseen optimistic streak, the blonde boy was alone, sans hulking bodyguards.

Draco sneered in his usual way at Alphard and turned to his sister without sparing Harry a glance. Harry was very nearly offended at the slight.

“Lyra,” Draco said, “Cassiopeia is looking for you.”

At the name, Harry’s mind helpfully supplied an image of a youngish girl with unruly dark curls and grey eyes. He blinked it away.

“Oh? Funny, I didn’t realize you were an owl,” said Lyra to her brother in feigned confusion.

Draco’s nostrils flared and Harry thought he might curse her. He found his wand where it sat beside him on the train seat and closed his hand around it, ready to come to her defense if so.

But he only hissed “I want her out of my compartment,” and turned away with a dramatic flare of his robes that reminded Harry a bit of Snape before shutting the door again.

And that, Harry thought, was not familiar at all. His world’s Draco would have certainly thrown in a remark or two about Harry’s glasses, scar, and/or status as a disgrace to wizard-kind before making his exit.

Lyra snorted and rolled her eyes when he was gone. “He’s in a right state. I think perhaps Blaise went too far with the peacocks, alas.”

“You should write to cousin Andy, tell her he’s bullying Cassie again,” suggested Alphard. “See if she doesn’t send your mum a strongly worded letter; I delight in Andromeda’s letters.”

Andromeda has three daughters, Harry’s mind supplied again. Cassie is the youngest – Harry shook his head. So far as he was concerned, Andromeda Black only had one child, Tonks, and she was-

“It might backfire,” Lyra was saying. “They might force us to have a Black Family Tea again and give us a talk about the Blood That Bonds Us. You remember what happened last time.”

“Merlin, you’re right, those stains never came out – well, may as well get Cass, anyway, before Draco has one of his goons spell her knees backwards.”

“I’ll be back,” Lyra promised as she left the cabin.

“Your family is a mess,” Harry noted, still trying to sort out the bits of information that flit through his brain like snitches.

“Oh, a nightmare, really,” agreed Alphard. “Could I have a cauldron cake?”

“Oh, er, sorry,” Harry said, gathering up the remaining sweets and dumping them back on Alphard’s side of the cabin.

“I ought to change before they get back,” Alphard said around a mouthful of cake. “Once Cassie’s here,” he added after swallowing, “it'll take a herd of thestrals to drag her out again.”

“…right,” agreed Harry. He took note of the singular noun and glanced down at his own robes, realizing with some relief that he was already in uniform. He felt even greater relief on noticing that he wore a Gryffindor tie, and his relief grew still when Alphard suddenly seized his own robes and pulled them over his head to reveal that, unlike traditional wizards, he did in fact wear trousers and a shirt underneath. Harry still felt like a bit of a perv with a teenaged wizard changing in the smallish compartment in front of him and pointedly looked out the window the whole time. Alphard didn’t seem to notice.

Lyra returned shortly with the girl Harry had “seen” prior – a tiny thing with a mass of dark curly hair and all the energy of a live wire.

“Alphie, did you hear about the Tuthill Tornados’ new seeker? - Oh, and Dora got your letter, Lyra, she’ll reply soon – none of you took Care of Magical Creatures, did you? Only there was a question in the summer homework that I didn't answer and - did you hear, Blaise Zabini conjured up half a dozen peacocks in the upper years’ car, it was brilliant, Draco tripped over his own shoe - Ooo, have you got any licorice wands? “

“Sit down, you menace,” said Alphard, not unkindly. He thrust a package of licorice wands at her with an order to “eat these and be quiet.”

She did, Harry thought, remind him a little of Tonks, despite her size and the fact that she wore a Slytherin tie. Something around the eyes and air of sheer chaos.

“We’re nearly to the castle now,” said Lyra in a tone that suggested she might be reassuring herself.

“’arry,” said Cassie, eating one licorice stick and waving the other in the air as if it were a proper wand. “I saw your dad in the paper – that picture of him making an arrest.” Harry perked up at the mention of his father. “He looked really handsome, don’t you think? Like a conquering hero,” she ended with a giggle.

Lyra shot the younger girl a disparaging look. “You’re twelve, Cassie.”

“You sound like Del,” frowned the girl.

Delphinus, Harry thought, was the middle sister. He found himself not quite able to “recall” her relative age. The sensation of half-knowing this was alien and his brain itched a little.

Cassie's arrival turned out to be a spectacular boon, though, because with her chattering it was impossible for the other two to tell that Harry was unnaturally quiet, and when the train finally came to a stop and everyone got off, they were so preoccupied with trying to force the younger girl into a carriage that no one noticed the way Harry looked at Hogwarts looming in the distance like he was a drowning man and he couldn’t decide if the school would help him swim to safety or if it would speed up his downward descent. Harry was silent all the way up the road.

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” murmured Alphard quietly as they, having left the carriages behind to make the rest of the journey on foot, began to ascend the castle steps.

“Yeah,” Harry readily agreed. It was. Hogwarts would always be almost unbearably beautiful.

“I can’t believe this is our last time coming in like this,” Alphard said.

And then Harry thought of what a gift this was, because he hadn’t known during his own final year at Hogwarts – his sixth – that he was ascending these stone steps as an incoming student for the last time. He couldn’t have known. Also, he’d been rather busy with a recently broken nose.

But now – now Harry couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed and awed at the idea that he’d been given another chance to appreciate the castle he’d once called home, and to do it without being the Boy-Who-Lived, subject to whispers and stares and the bad luck that had kept him from coming to the Welcoming Feast in a normal fashion.

As the doors swung open, Harry vowed to take everything in, and it was in that spirit that he entered the Great Hall with the rest of the crowd.

It did not, he noted, look any different from his own Hogwarts. The ceiling still reflected the stars of the night sky outside, a thousand candles still hovered and cast flickering light over the long tables.

He looked around him as Lyra pushed Cassie off toward the Slytherin table and tried finding familiar faces. There were, he thought, more students than there had been in his own world – that was different – and he didn’t see any of the familiar red heads of the Weasleys or Hermione’s bushy brown hair in the crowd.

Lyra paused as they neared the Gryffindor table and gave Harry and Alphard both a friendly smile.

“I’ll see you later,” she said. “And before I forget – happy last year!”

She turned with a toss of her long blonde hair and made her way gracefully to the Ravenclaw table, where she sat in a group of girls Harry only vaguely recognized with the exception, he noted with surprise, of Luna Lovegood.

“Well, c’mon then,” Alphard said, jolting Harry out of his thoughts and tugging him along by a sleeve. They sat at the Gryffindor table near a cluster of students Harry hardly recognized at all. Lavender Brown and Pavarti Patil were there, but he didn’t see Seamus or Neville or Dean, and Hermione and Ron he could now confirm were absent. He thought one of the unfamiliar boys, a handsome athletic type with a broad grin, looked like he might be a relative of Cedric’s. The Cedric look-alike said hello, and Alphard greeted him with a friendly nod and an “alright, Nate?”

It was all a little overwhelming.

Harry realized he had yet to look at the staff table, shying away somewhat from the idea of seeing Horace Slughorn in Dumbledore’s old seat. Perhaps it was only that he felt the position of headmaster was not a role that could be filled by someone Harry had first met when he was pretending to be an armchair.

He forced himself to raise his eyes to the staff table anyway, and, yes, there Slughorn was in all his dubious glory, seated in the middle and chatting to an unfamiliar witch at his side. But, Harry thought with relief, there was Flitwick, and Madame Pomfrey, and Sprout. He recognized the witches who taught Ancient Runes and Arithmancy, and Professor Sinistra from Astronomy. There were two wizards he didn’t recognize – Harry assumed one of them or the witch talking to Slughorn must be the new defense professor, and noted none of them looked especially possessed – and, thank Merlin, perhaps best of all, Snape was conspicuously absent.

Harry had – revisited, he supposed – his feelings on his old potions professor since viewing the man’s memories as he lay dying, but Snape had still been a lousy teacher and a competent legilimens besides. Harry thought he would probably have seen through him in a minute.

“I wonder where the new defense teacher is,” Alphard said, following Harry’s gaze along the staff table.

Oh, Harry thought. He supposed the three unknowns were existing professors, then. Now that he looked, there was an empty chair at the end of the table. And, after all, Hagrid was missing, and there was still the potions position unaccounted for. He wondered if this world had Muggle Studies but somehow doubted it - perhaps another elective had taken its place. He really hoped it hadn't been replaced by the horrible farce of a class the Carrows had taught.

“Ah,” said Alphard suddenly. “That must be him now with the first years.” A sudden rise in noise level indicated the incoming students being led into the room, and Harry heard the unmistakable voice of Professor McGonagall somehow cut above them all, ordering them to be quiet and line up.

“Odd,” said Alphard as Harry turned to look. “He must have ridden the train with us.”

And Harry’s heart jumped suddenly in his chest, because he only knew of one defense professor who’d ever ridden the train with the students, and he found that he wouldn’t mind history repeating itself if it meant seeing Remus again.

He sought out a taller figure in the sea of tiny eleven-year-olds, eager to see his old friend, and, sure enough, there was someone in the crowd that loomed over the children around him, only –

And Harry’s heart leaped for the umpteenth time that night, but now it was in fear. Because there, in the crowd, stood someone he recognized. He was older than Harry had ever seen him, but he would know that face anywhere, in any universe.

After all, it was the face of Tom Riddle.

Chapter Text

Harry thought he would wake up.

After all, he couldn’t imagine being more startled than he was in that moment, seeing Tom Riddle standing amongst a group of eleven-year-old children. His pulse raced, his fingers itched for his wand. He felt sick.

And there was a – tug. Harsher than the feeling of free-falling that had accompanied him startling out of the dreams before, and it went on longer – it was almost like the pull of a portkey. It felt persistent, and it felt like it was being blocked by something.

The Dreamless Sleep, thought Harry – it must be. Now that he thought about it, last time he’d taken it, he’d stayed in Alphard’s room for hours, only waking up in his own world when he fell asleep in the other.

It was holding him down. As soon as he identified the cause, Harry thought he felt a tether, like he was a balloon and attached to him were a string and weight, keeping him there.

He struggled to breathe normally. Riddle, he noted with detachment borne of creeping hysteria, looked younger than he should – middle aged, still, perhaps in his forties or fifties, but younger, only a touch of greying hair around his temples. It was impossible to tell the color of his eyes from this distance, but it was clear they weren’t crimson. He looked horribly human.

“Harry?” Alphard elbowed him in the side. “Oi, quit staring at the firsties, you’ll scare them.”

“Sorry,” Harry said, exhaling harshly. “Sorry. The sorting, you know? It’s – er, exciting.” He forced himself to look away. Riddle had mercifully not made eye contact with Harry, instead preoccupied with McGonagall – he’d crossed the sea of children waiting to be sorted and seemed to be saying something to the older witch. Harry pinned his eyes to the table instead. It wouldn’t do, he thought, to be noticed. He needed to keep Riddle’s attention off him at all costs, until he figured out what was going on.

“...right. Say, do you recognize him?”

“Who?” said Harry, a little too quickly.

“The new defense professor – that’s him, isn’t it? It must be. I don’t think I’ve seen him before.”

Harry forced himself to keep his mouth closed. He wanted to say something, wanted to warn his friend, tell him stay away from that man, don’t speak to him, don’t –

But what could he do? Anything he said would demand an explanation, and any explanation he could give would give himself away.

“No,” he replied, after too long a pause. “No, I don’t know him.”

“O-kay.

“I’m nervous,” said Harry, because Alphard still sounded suspicious. “About – er. NEWTS. Having a new professor for our last year.”

“Oh. Oh, I’m sure Lyra’s right, it’ll be fine. Quirrell was about as helpful as a flobberworm, anyway. And your dad’s good at Defense, you could always write him for help if you’re having trouble.”

“Yeah,” replied Harry, trying to sound reassured. “I guess you’re right.”

“Anyway, the new bloke looks pretty –“ Alphard paused, hesitated. “Well, he looks competent, doesn’t he?”

Harry almost laughed and managed to turn it into a cough at the last minute. Competent, what a word to describe Voldemort.

Only, he wasn’t Voldemort, was he? This Riddle looked so human Harry would almost suspect he didn’t have a single Horcrux.

Which wasn’t to say that he wasn’t suspicious. If anything, Harry felt warier of “Tom Riddle” than he would of Voldemort himself if the pale-skinned serpentine creature had walked into the Great Hall instead – because he didn’t know what Riddle wanted, why he was here, and not knowing his motivations made him seem infinitely more dangerous.

Harry wondered what Alphard had almost said instead of “competent”. “Scary”? Because he was – even at his most human, an astute observer would notice that there was something frightening, something off about Tom Riddle. Harry had thought so in the memory he retrieved from Slughorn, looking at the teenager who would become Voldemort. He had thought so in the memory of the eleven-year-old boy Dumbledore met at the orphanage. Riddle hid it well, but there was something there, or rather, something not. Whatever it was that made most people people, he was missing it.

He wondered if Alphard had caught that, and if so, how.

He didn’t miss how the other boy watched Riddle a little warily out of the corner of his eyes as the man made his way up to the head table, taking the empty seat at the end. Harry couldn’t say so aloud, but he approved of that look.

He was shaken from his thoughts with Professor McGonagall announcing the beginning of the sorting, setting the Hat on its stool with a flourish and ordering the incoming students to line up.

The tear in the hat that served as its mouth opened and it began to sing.

Listen, children, and take heed,

For I’ll know your every deed,

When you place me on your head -

But don’t fret, you mustn’t dread.

For the Sorting Hat is wise,

I can See, though I have no eyes,

I can tell you where to go,

Where’ll you do best, and where you’ll grow.

Indeed, though I have no ears,

I hear your strengths, I hear your fears,

I know where your loyalty lies,

But could not betray you if I tried.

So, if you’ll just take a seat,

And let me perform my feat,

I’ll send you onwards to new friends,

Let the ceremony begin!

Harry found himself clapping with the rest of the hall, wondering about the phrasing of the song, if it meant anything. He remembered quite clearly the way the hat seemed to warn them all in his own world at the ceremony during his fifth year.

“Funny,” Alphard said, and it seemed he wasn’t the only one parsing the hat’s words. “That was awfully succinct, for the hat. And ‘could not betray you if I tried’,” the other boy murmured thoughtfully. “Sounds like a reassurance, doesn’t it?”

“Maybe they need the reassurance,” Harry whispered back, realizing that Alphard was cleverer than he thought. He looked over the line of first years and dared a glance at Tom Riddle at the head table. He appeared to be watching the ceremony with polite attention.

“Maybe so,” Alphard replied.

As the hat finished its song, McGonagall unfurled the parchment with its list of names, and the students looked on, waiting attentively to see where their younger siblings and cousins and those of their friends would end up.

The professor cleared her throat. “Barnes, Niall,” started them off, sorting into Ravenclaw.

He recognized a few surnames, at least – there was a Julian Bones sorted into Hufflepuff who sat next to Susan Bones, one of the hall’s familiar faces, and an Ottilie Fudge who could only be related to Cornelius.

Towards the end of the sorting, Alphard leaned over and whispered when a “Selwyn, Venturina” was called up that she was a cousin of Castor and Pollux’s, their mother’s brother’s daughter. She was sorted into Slytherin, where Harry spotted the twins looking pleased. “They’re planning something,” Alphard said with a horrified too-knowing tone. “Too many Slytherins in one family, Harry. It never bodes well.”

Then Cassiopeia seemed to order one of the twins to switch seats with her and began engaging the Selwyn girl in what looked like an animated, if one-sided, conversation. “Oh, Merlin help us,” said Alphard. “Hell is empty and all its demons are here.”

"And you're related to most of them," Harry pointed out, which earned him a groan. He then furrowed his brow, because the reply hadn't been him, not really. He'd said it on instinct, even if the disconcerting sensation of a thought entering its head had been absent.

The sorting seemed to be over as quickly as it had begun, and soon Horace Slughorn was standing to make a speech. Harry fixed his eyes pointedly on his former Potions teacher and did not let himself look towards where Riddle was seated.

“Students,” Horace began with a grand, sweeping gesture. “Young witches and wizards! What an honor it is to see your young faces again, to be responsible for another year of ushering our youth towards greatness…”

Harry thought he rather preferred Dumbledore’s ridiculous remarks. He found himself tuning the man out until a feast appeared on the table before him with a flourish of magic.

“I really love this part,” said Alphard, gesturing at a roast. His earlier ambivalence seemed forgotten as he dug into the feast, a change in mood that reminded Harry not a little of Ron.

“Me too,” Harry replied, and he meant it. He still didn't have much of an appetite himself, or he didn't think he did, but his stomach growled at the smell of the mashed potatoes and so he begrudgingly piled food onto his plate. It felt strange to eat knowing a monster sat just a few yards away from them, but then, the longer he was able to hide that he knew about said monster, he reasoned, the longer the others were safe.

The rest of the feast passed easily enough, everyone around him catching up with each other after the holidays. Other students seemed to regard him and Alphard politely, but to not be especially close to either of them, if they way they asked general questions about how they’d found their summer homework and what they’d done over the break were any gauge. The friendliest seemed to be the boy Alphard had called Nate, whom Harry learned was indeed a younger brother of Cedric’s – he mentioned offhandedly that he’d practiced Quidditch with his brother over the summer, and from the sounds of it, Cedric had become a professional player after graduating. Harry felt a warm spark in his chest at that and tried to resist looking up at Riddle, fiercely thinking you didn't kill him, here. Instead he did his best to absorb every bit of information he could, both for his aim of blending in and as a distraction.

Occasionally, as if in passing, Harry recognized someone he shouldn't or remembered something he'd never really seen. Looking at one younger Gryffindor girl, he saw her being teased as a first year over crying during her first flying lesson. Harry - the other Harry - had told the bully off, and Harry remembered it as if he'd really been there, but the sensation was, again, less distinct and intrusive. He thought it must have something to do with the Dreamless Sleep - that, perhaps, the potion was wearing off.

He also tried to erect his somewhat shoddy Occlumency shields. The Aurors were offered optional training on the mind arts, and Harry had taken that offer despite his previous experience with the practice. Though his shields weren’t strong enough to hold off a forceful attack - his instructor seemed certain he’d never be a great Occlumens, it wasn’t in his nature - anything was better than nothing.

Eventually with a dismissal from Slughorn the fifth year prefects were leading students back to their dorms. The younger years followed, but the older years seemed to hang back, some crossing the hall to another house’s table to greet classmates. The practice wasn't familiar to him, but still, Harry was surprised when Alphard stood and led him towards the doorway instead of the Ravenclaw table, where Lyra sat amongst a group of mostly female students.

The other boy didn’t exit the hall, however, instead waiting just beside the door. “We’ll give her a moment,” he said, with a tone halfway between fond and exasperated.

Harry watched the cluster of students more closely. A few Slytherins had joined them since the end of the feast – Harry recognized Pansy Parkinson and Daphne Greengrass, and there were others who must’ve been sixth years. Luna Lovegood sat there still, a few seats down from Lyra, and the girl he thought he remembered being Greengrass’s younger sister say directly to Lyra’s right. They seemed caught up in an involved discussion and at one point Luna looked directly at the staff table where Tom Riddle still sat.

Harry stiffened in defense of his old friend, ready to - he didn't know, really. Curse the bastard, he guessed.

But then she looked away and Lyra lowered her chin a little and seemed to say something very quietly – the younger Greengrass sister beside her leaning in as if to listen – and a Slytherin girl Harry didn’t recognize shrugged and another nodded. Then the group broke apart suddenly, everyone going their separate ways. Lyra stood and met Alphard and Harry’s gaze for the first time, crossing the hall towards them with only the younger Greengrass girl trailing her.

“So!” she said cheerfully when she’d come to stand beside them. “Little Venturina made Slytherin. I’m sure she and Cassie will be great friends.”

“That’s what I’m afraid of,” grumbled Alphard.

Lyra ignored him in favor of turning to the Greengrass girl. “Astoria?”

The girl - Astoria - nodded to her as if in thanks. “My cousin Fallon was placed in Gryffindor,” said Greengrass, turning to Harry and Alphard. “Fallon Vern.”

Harry looked on with a measure of confusion as Alphard gave a mock bow in the girl’s direction. “Say no more, Miss Greengrass. Anyone who wants to give your firstie trouble shall have to go through me.”

He felt even more confused when Greengrass laughed at his declaration, responding with an “honestly, Black, you’re ridiculous. But thank you.”

Then, as if her business there were done, she nodded to Alphard again and gave Harry a quick “Potter,” before turning to Lyra for more affectionate, “see you in the dorms, Ly,” and then she left.

“What was that about?” said Harry when she was gone. He followed the other two as they made their way out of the door and into the hall beyond, stopping just a few yards past the entrance, partially sequestered in one of the hall’s many alcoves.

“The Verns are traditionally in Slytherin,” Lyra said by way of explanation as they walked. “The houses may not be so divisive as they once were, but it can be difficult when everyone expects you to be in one house and you’re sorted elsewhere.” At the latter, she shared a look with Alphard.

“Oh,” said Harry. “Right.” He guessed they both knew something about that, even if, as Harry suspected, Sirius had been in Gryffindor here too. It took more than a generation for things to change, he supposed.

Alphard laughed. “Not you, though, eh? The Potters have been Gryffindors for bloody centuries.” And at that, for some reason, Lyra gave Harry another knowing look, although it was subtler than the one she’d given Alphard and if Harry weren’t used to interrupting Hermione’s range of expressive glances he might not have noticed it at all.

What was he meant to infer from that, he wondered.

He didn’t have long to consider, though, because the next words out of Lyra’s mouth were “So. Professor Riddle.”

“Who?” replied Alphard, and Harry realized with a start that Slughorn hadn’t introduced the new professor anywhere in his long-winded speech. He hadn’t even noticed, nor, apparently, had his tablemates, who apart from Alphard hadn’t said anything about the man at all. “Oh,” said the boy in question, catching on, “The new Defense professor? Is that his name?”

As if reading Harry's mind, Lyra said, “Yes, and it’s very odd, isn’t it? The Headmaster never even gave us his name. Of course, most people don’t know Quirrell’s gone, yet – I’d bet everyone who noticed thought Riddle was only a stand-in or a guest of Slughorn’s.”

“How did you figure out who he was, then?” Alphard asked.

“I have my ways,” said Lyra airily. “One of the girls,” she added more transparently when Alphard shot her a dirty look.

Harry wondered if she meant one of the cluster of mixed Ravenclaw and Slytherin 6th and 7th years, and if they were the "not-a-sewing circle” Alphard had referred to on the train.

“And how did she know?” Alphard prompted.

“Because her father works for the ministry. As does, apparently, Professor Riddle,” the girl said, lowering her voice.

“Really? I knew he didn't look much like a professor-" Alphard trailed off, looking uneasy.

Harry felt uneasy too, though likely for different reasons. If Tom Riddle had been working for the ministry… he assumed the whole thing had to be awful and corrupt if Grindlewald was somehow in charge, but he could just imagine how awful it was if Riddle were – what, responsible for writing laws? For enforcing them?

Of course, for all Harry knew, Riddle could work in the Sports department, but he really doubted it. No, whatever he was in charge of, for he was almost certainly in charge of something, it did not bode well. At all. He recalled Hermione's words about the man's charm, how there was more than one way to take power...

“No,” said Lyra. “No, I don’t suppose he does. I’ll find out more, but for now, I’d- well. Don’t tell anyone, and be careful.”

“We will be,” Harry said fiercely, and gratefully, because this was what he’d wanted – for the two friends he’d made in this other world to be appropriately cautious of Riddle. If it was only because they were afraid of the ministry itself, well, so be it – he could work with that.

“You too,” said Alphard. “Do you think we should, er…”

“We’ll still meet tomorrow like usual,” Lyra said, her voice barely above a whisper. “Keep your stone on you.”

“Right.”

Harry was confused for a moment before remembering the communication stones he'd seen in the dream about the party. He hoped he could find his, and that he'd see a demonstration of how they worked.

The tension seemed to break there and the three of them split apart, Lyra pulling away first and leaving the alcove and the other two following. “Well,” she said at a normal volume. “I’d better be off to the tower, I’ve got prefect duties later.”

“Goodnight,” said Alphard.

“’Night,” added Harry. The blonde girl waved and turned away, leaving the two of them to make their way to Gryffindor dorms.

The walk to the dorms was so familiar Harry’s heart ached from it. The emotional whiplash he’d suffered over the course of the last day threatened to exhaust him utterly, and Harry hoped that he’d be able to actually sleep, and rest, when they made their way back to the dormitory.

Although, he thought, it would be very hard to sleep knowing that Riddle was somewhere in the castle.

What was he playing at? What fucking reason could Tom Riddle have to come to Hogwarts to teach a bunch of schoolchildren? He wasn’t surprised that Slughorn had hired him – he’d bet anything that the man had been as fond of Riddle here as he had in Harry’s own world – but he couldn’t come up with a reasonable explanation for why Riddle wanted to be hired.

Of course Harry remembered that Tom Riddle in his own world had applied for a teaching position at Hogwarts not long after graduating. It was due to his rejection, after all, that the DADA position had been cursed. Professor Dumbledore had thought that Riddle wanted to use the role of teacher and mentor and his access to students to gain followers, to influence young minds with his own twisted beliefs. But surely that couldn’t apply here – the man was, what, 70? He’d had decades to gather the Death Eaters, he needn’t rely on children.

Maybe he did have a Horcrux after all? Perhaps it was somewhere in the school, and he wanted to guard it?

Or maybe it was simpler than that – maybe he just wanted to sabotage the students, teach them so poorly they’d never be able to defend themselves against him. It was a stupid sort of plan, but Voldemort had, in Harry’s experience, had a lot of very stupid plans. In fact, if anything, it was exactly the flavor of short-sighted and bizarre that Voldemort’s plans often were.

Well, thought Harry, if that was what he was after, then Harry would stop him somehow.

He had some experience in getting around and rid of useless Defense instructors, after all.

They were on the seventh floor, nearly to the Fat Lady’s portrait, when Harry was interrupted from his turbulent thoughts by a chill at the back of his neck.

In front of him, Alphard stiffened and turned. Harry turned, too, to see-

“Oh. Greetings, my lady,” said Alphard in a strangely formal way to the ghost of Helena Ravenclaw, who stood just behind them.

Harry noted for the first time with detached interest that she was one of the few ghosts who walked instead of hovered. It afforded her both an air of dignity and something – else. Something other, something that made her seem odder than the other Hogwarts ghosts nearly to the point of being frightening.

“Greetings, young Gryffindors,” replied the Grey Lady coolly.

“Hello.” Harry greeted her far less formally, and were he not a little unnerved, he’d laugh at the sense of déjà vu, because here he was speaking with the Ravenclaw ghost for the second time in so many days.

She blinked at him a little too slowly for it to be normal.

“Er,” said Alphard. “We – were just returning to our tower.” He looked as uncomfortable as Harry felt.

“Of course,” said the Lady evenly. “I won’t keep you. I only wanted to ask you something.”

“Ask away,” said Alphard, though his voice was a little strained.

“My question is for Harry,” she said, smiling now. Harry wondered distantly if it were normal for her to know his name – if this Harry had ever had cause to speak with the Grey Lady. From the way Alphard’s eyes widened, he suspected not.

“Have you found it?” she asked, turning her attention to him alone.

For a moment, he thought she was speaking of her mother’s diadem. But of course, that didn’t make sense.

“I-“ he began, unsure of what to say.

“Has he found what?” Alphard asked for him, still sounding wary.

“The reason,” the ghost said simply, “the point.”

“…the point of what?” asked Harry in reply, confused.

“I believe your words were... ‘all of this’?” she said, still smiling, only it was a chilling sort of smile that didn't reach her eyes, which Harry noticed now looked too hollow and too dark.

And Harry blinked, dumbfounded, remembering his conversation with his own version of Helena Ravenclaw about “worlds” liking balance, seeking to restore it whenever it was lost, any tip of the scales towards good or evil resulting in something happening to tip them back. What’s the point of all this, then? he’d asked.

He’d almost forgotten the details of that conversation in the chaos of the last couple of days. But now- those were his words to his version of the ghost; there would be no way for this Helena to know-

And then the Grey Lady was beside him, very close, and his entire body felt like it’d been dipped in ice water. She leaned in, her mouth nearly touching his ear.

“Tell me, Harry,” she whispered, so quietly it might have been the wind, might have been a draft in the corridor. “Are you dreaming?”

And then she was gone, just as suddenly as she’d appeared.

Harry was frozen to the spot.

“Well,” said Alphard after a long while. “That was... weird.”

Harry couldn’t help but agree. The other boy's words broke the spell and Harry moved, shaking himself and turning to walk just a little too quickly the rest of the distance to the dormitories.

"Do you know what that was about?" Alphard asked behind him.

"No," Harry said, and it was only half a lie. "No idea."

Nothing else was said until they reached the Fat Lady and Alphard got a passing sixth year prefect about to set out on rounds to tell him the password. They made their way inside and up the stairs to the boy’s dorm, which Harry thought looked exactly like his own had.

Nate Diggory and the other two boys in their room, who he thought were called Wilhelm and Dash, were already in bed by the time they made their way up.

“I’m about ready to kip, too,” said Alphard. “It’s been a long day.” Harry thought he still looked a little strange, and fully expected the other boy to corner him later and ask about the ghost's words, but it seemed like he was ready to let it go for now.

“Yeah,” said Harry. He was still mulling over the conversation himself, deciding where it ranked against everything else that had happened with Slughorn the headmaster and Tom Riddle the teacher. Frankly, he didn’t know what was what anymore. It was too much and all at once and he could not begin to make sense of it.

“Yeah,” he said. “Yeah. I think I’d like to go to bed.”

And then he was presented with another problem, this one blessedly mundane by comparison, but aggravating all the same. Because he found the other Harry’s trunk at the foot of his bed easily enough, but as soon as he went to open it, he remembered that it required a magical signature, and that Harry’s was different from that of the Harry who’d set the lock.

He glanced up to see if Alphard had noticed him trying, and failing, to open the mahogany leather trunk. The other boy’s bed was right next to his, but his back was turned to Harry while he rooted around in his own trunk, eventually producing a pair of sapphire blue-and-white striped pajamas and a toothbrush.

Harry knew spells you could use to clean your teeth and tidy yourself up – Aurors often had to use them on long missions or even just long nights where they slept in the office. He thought, too, he could manage to transfigure the shirt and trousers under his robes into something resembling night clothes. He just needed a moment alone to do so while escaping notice.

When Alphard turned to enter the dorm bathroom, Harry quickly clambered into his own bed and closed the curtains behind him. He shed his outer robe and waved his wand over himself while incanting a clothes-transfiguring spell and was relieved to see his clothing morph into something close to the set of silk pajamas he’d had in his first dream, although they were a slightly off-putting shade of green. Then he quickly performed the cleaning spells and stuffed the discarded outer robe under the blankets.

“’arry?” he heard Alphard’s tired voice call out from beside the bed.

He opened the curtains slightly, sticking his head out.

“Here,” he said to Alphard, who he was amused to note had tied his longish hair directly on top of his head where it stood upright in a strange hybrid between a ponytail and a sprouting plant.

“G’night, then,” Alphard said, flopping backwards onto his own bed. Then he sat up again and squinted at Harry, or more specifically, his pajamas. Harry tensed. “Are those – new? I’m not sure the color suits you. It’s a little – er, puke-y.”

Harry groaned and closed the curtains. He had really heard enough about vomit to last him a lifetime.

He thought he heard Alphard laugh as he pulled the covers over his head and lay with one hand clutching his wand under the pillow. He’d thought it would be impossible to fall asleep knowing that the man who’d become Voldemort was roaming the halls of Hogwarts, but he might’ve underestimated how exhausting paradigm shifts were, because he fell asleep almost as soon as he’d closed his eyes.

-

Harry woke to an empty bed, but as he began to get ready for the day, the presence of Ginny’s toothbrush still wet on the bathroom counter told him that she was around somewhere. Sure enough, as soon as he made it to the flat’s small kitchen, she was there, pouring herself a bowl of cereal.

“Good morning, sunshine,” she said chirpily, turning to lean against the counter as she ate. “I would have made you breakfast, only I didn’t want to. Also, all you have is cereal.”

Harry shrugged and slumped into a chair. “I need to do the shopping. You’re still mad at me?”

Ginny hmm’d thoughtfully and looked off into middle distance. “I’m not sure there’s a word for what I am, actually. It’s unprecedented.”

Harry blinked. He decided he’d better put the kettle on. He got up and busied himself around the kitchen as Ginny finished her first bowl of cereal and poured another.

“So,” she said, just as the kettle began singing the Irish jig that signaled it was ready. “How did you sleep?”

Harry decided to look very busy preparing his cup of tea while he thought about how to answer.

The thing was, if he told her that Tom Marvolo Riddle had showed up in the other world under the guise of teaching Defense, she would probably hit him with a spell that ensured he never slept again before he could finish his sentence. She would never, he thought, let him go back there and sit in classes with the man. Ginny was clever, and resourceful, and almost – no, no almost, she was scarily strong-willed. She’d figure out a way to keep him from returning to the other world, somehow.

And that ought to be a good thing. He ought to tell her right now and get it over with.

Only that meant never seeing his father again. It meant never telling Lyra and Alphard who Riddle was exactly, it meant he couldn’t help them – prepare against whatever it was the man had in store. He’d be abandoning them, leaving them to their own devices against Voldemort, and he wasn’t sure that he could do that.

But if he didn’t tell Ginny – if he didn’t tell her, she might never forgive him. He might never see her like this again, leaning against his kitchen counter, hair a fright, wearing his boxers still.

What do I want, he thought, To do good, or to have an ordinary life? Which do I want more?

How can he possibly choose?

Ginny paused in giving him a skeptical look to raise her cereal bowl to her mouth and drink the remaining milk. She lowered the bowl, leaving behind a white mustache.

Harry felt a sudden burst of affection and with it, guilt. “I had a dream,” he found himself blurting out. “Riddle was there.”

Ginny blinked slowly.

“Voldemort was in your dream,” she said. It wasn’t a question. “I thought you said he didn’t exist in their world.”

“He didn’t – doesn’t. It wasn’t him, it was really Riddle, looking human as anything. He was hired by Slughorn – Slughorn is their headmaster – to teach Defense.”

Ginny set her bowl down with a thunk.

“Huh. I should’ve known. I doubt there’s a world that exists where he’s not fucking things about.”

“-you’re not surprised.” First Ron and Hermione had guessed about Grindlewald and now Ginny seemed unsurprised to hear about Riddle – why was everyone around Harry less thrown than he was when things went pear-shaped?

She shrugged. “As Charlie likes to say, 'fate’s a bitch'. Shouldn’t you know that better than anyone? Anyway-“ and then she sighed once, deeply, reaching up to tighten the elastic that held her hair on top of her head. “I guess that cinches it.”

“Cinches what?”

“You were already planning on doing something stupid, and the thing with Riddle’s sealed it. You’re going to try and save another world, because one’s not enough.”

“How did you know…?” asked Harry, before he could recall the phrase “plausible deniability”.

“Because I know you, Harry. And there’s the fact that you’re fighting with at least Hermione, and probably Ron-“

“How-?

“I’m not psychic, she sent you an owl this morning. No,” she said, before Harry could interrupt, “I didn’t read it, but if she’s owling you before the sun’s up, that means you’re fighting and she stayed awake all night feeling bad about it. Go on, tell me I’m wrong.”

Harry said nothing.

“Right. Which means they know, or more like Hermione’s figured out, that you’re not going to let this go, and she told you not to be self-sacrificing and you got angry and accused her of being heartless and left in a huff.”

“…you’re sure, though, that you’re not psychic?”

“Again,” Ginny said, rolling her eyes. “I know you. And I know Hermione. So - what are we going to do?”

“…we? What? Do about what?” Harry scrambled for words, thinking he needed something stronger than tea to follow this conversation.

“Your ‘saving the world’ thing. I expect a plan would be helpful?”

“Erm,” said Harry, eloquently. “Wait. Are you- you're not mad? You’re not going to try and stop me?”

Ginny sat at the table across from him finally, giving Harry a long, hard look that he couldn’t quite interpret.

“I think you’ve forgotten the part where I’ve never stopped you from running off and doing stupid things before.”

“Also,” she continued, “Quite frankly, I doubt I could. Whatever is happening here is magic greater than we know, and that kind of stuff doesn’t let you go once it’s got hold of you. Not until you’ve done whatever it is it wants you to do, anyway. That doesn’t mean I’m going to sit back and twiddle my thumbs while you do this – that, I’ve had enough of for a lifetime. No, I’m going to help.”

"No offense,” said Harry, still reeling, “But – how?”

“Well,” said Ginny, “It seems like your most pressing issue at the moment is Riddle and, frankly, I don’t think you’ll find a greater expert on him alive.”

“Oh. Oh.

“Yes, oh. So shall we?”

Harry was still confused. Because he’d made a choice – he’d chosen Ginny, he’d chosen his life here, his safe and comfortable life, and now he was being told – what? That he’d made the wrong one? Or that he didn’t have to make a choice at all, that he could do what Ginny’d call a stupid thing and still have her and his friends and his flat and his job, and-

Wait.

“I have a job,” said Harry.

“...I’m aware, yes.”

“That is, I mean, I have to go to work,” said Harry.

“Really? You want to go to work right now?”

“-well. I suppose I could ask for the day off?”

“You could.”

So Harry did, jotting off a quick note about feeling under the weather and sending it with Hermione and Ron’s owl, who was still about for some reason. He suspected Hermione had told it to stay until it got a reply, and Harry felt a little guilty about requisitioning it. He also didn’t feel like writing Hermione back yet, though, and Ginny had only shrugged and said that she could wait. It wasn’t like Hermione and Ron weren’t used to Harry storming out on them – though Ginny said that latter part a little more nicely.

He hadn’t been sure of what Ginny’s offer of help would entail, but it turned out to involve getting dressed and then getting bagels and coffee from a nearby bakery and strolling around the local park while they ate, Ginny peppering him with questions about the other world and what people had said and done as they walked.

“Here’s the thing,” she said, when Harry offered his theories – such as they were – about Tom Riddle’s reason for accepting the Defense position. “Riddle wasn’t – isn’t – like Slughorn. He doesn’t collect people because they’re clever or interesting or well-connected. The only things he values are obedience and power, and really mostly the former. He’s a pure narcissist, so he doesn’t expect or want anyone to be as powerful or clever as him.”

That was true, Harry thought, considering what he knew about Death Eaters. “Most of his followers were pretty useless," he conceded. "Bellatrix was... a good dueller, and Snape was – well, he was Snape, but on the whole they were pretty stupid.”

“Exactly. So I’m not sure I’d worry about him trying to sway a bunch of students to his side, especially if it doesn’t sound like he has a side, or a well-known one anyway. Unless he suspects they’ll be blindly loyal to him, I doubt he’d go to the trouble.”

“He’s gone after students before, though. Me, and-“ Harry trailed off, not wanting to bring up Ginny’s experience with the diary directly even if it were the premise at the heart of their conversation.

“I was convenient,” said Ginny with dark amusement. “I could’ve been anyone. I doubt he’s going to try and possess the whole student body.”

“No,” said Harry. “But he does get – fixated. And,” Harry pointed out, “he marked Malfoy just before sixth year, so it’s not like he’s never recruited teenagers.”

“True. So I think your best bet is ensuring that this version doesn’t get fixated. Not on the other Harry or on anyone else. If he’s marked any of the students – and this is assuming he even has Death Eaters or marks – there’s not much you can do about it but stay out of their way.”

“What do I do, then? I have to do something. I don’t want to just – just stay out of the way and let him take over, I couldn’t." I’m the only person who’s ever really defeated him, he wanted to say. instead he raked a hand through his hair, pacing back and forth on the path restlessly.

Ginny grabbed him by the shoulder and stopped his pacing. “So don't,” she said. When Harry gave no sign of understanding, she shook her head. “You’ve got firsthand knowledge, so tell them how to defeat him. If he has Horcruxes, you tell them how to find them and how they’re destroyed. Teach them his weaknesses, because he’s got loads. He’s vain and impulsive and he’s terrified of dying – tell them all that, tell them to use it. While he’s teaching Defense, you can teach your other Harry’s friends how to defend themselves against him.”

Harry blinked. She made it all sound easy, even if he knew it wouldn’t be. And, as he said, “It’d mean telling them – telling Lyra and Alphard and maybe m- the other Harry’s dad – who I am. They’d know I wasn’t really their Harry.”

Ginny nodded. “You’ll have to be careful how you do it. I’d bet the Malfoy spawn has some tricks up her sleeve, and if I were them, I wouldn’t trust you once you told me.”

Harry wanted to say that was unfair, but he wasn’t sure – not really. Maybe Lyra would curse him if she knew he weren’t her Harry. Hell, maybe Alphard would – really the unfair thing was singling Lyra out because of her surname when Alphard seemed just as capable as she was. So instead, he asked the other question on his mind. “What about Grindlewald?”

Ginny frowned. “It sounds like that goes older and deeper than anything a group of teenagers could handle. Maybe Dumbeldore’s portrait would know a thing or two you could pass on – I don’t know.”

“Alright,” Harry said, because it was a start. He felt a little less lost than he had before, and was suddenly glad for Ginny and the way she’d managed to cut through things, to make it seem like, if he wasn’t on the path, at least there was one in sight.

“Alright,” she echoed. “Now let’s go home and I’ll tell you every single thing I can remember about Tom Riddle and you tell me how much you pissed Hermione off, because we’re probably going to need her.”

“For what?” Harry asked, because he felt they were doing just fine by themselves.

“We need to find out everything she knows about ghosts,” said Ginny.

“…ghosts? Oh, the Ravenclaw ghost. Yeah, that was weird.”

“Yeah, weird. I want to know if it’s typical for ghosts to read your mind, or-"

“You think it might’ve been Legilimency?” asked Harry, feeling a little stupid for not having considered the possibility before, because it certainly made more sense than the Grey Lady in his own world and the other having some kind of link.

“No clue,” Ginny said. “But I expect we’ll either find out or set Hermione on a research binge the likes of which the world’s never seen.”

“She accused me of trying to help like it was a bad thing,” Harry groused. “As if she’s not always going on about the rights of house elves and centaurs and goblins.”

“Hermione’s never been as quick to stand up for humans, though, has she? Don’t get me wrong, she’s definitely done it - bless her for all time for punching Malfoy right in his smarmy face– but I don’t think she’s ever seen witches and wizards as needing to be defended, not really, not like creatures.”

“No, I guess not – they’re often the ones in the wrong, to her.”

“And it’s time to go tell her how you were in the wrong,” said Ginny, grinning. “Oh, don’t look so glum – I’ll help you write the letter, hm?”

-

Harry suspected that Hermione was swayed not by his half-hearted apology so much as by his intentionally vague references to potential research questions. She arrived at his flat, having taken a half-day, with a book on ghosts and, for some reason, “Hogwarts, A History”.

“You don’t have to keep taking off work on my account.”

“Oh, don’t be ridiculous,” said Hermione, still a little bristly. Her hair reflected that state, standing at odd angles when she relieved it from the bun she wore at work. “I’ve acquired more vacation days than I know what to do with.”

“You could always take a vacation,” suggested Ginny wryly as she entered the living room.

“Hello, Ginny. I missed you too. I hope practice has been going – well.”

Ginny laughed. “It’s amazing how you're dating one former Quidditch player and you've been best friends with another for years and you've still never managed to learn a thing about it.”

“Don’t forget Krum,” Harry pointed out. Hermione shot him a dark look and he realized belatedly he was meant to be apologetic. “Er, I mean-“

“Krum!” repeated Ginny with clear delight. “I had forgotten Krum.”

“Yes, well,” said Hermione very firmly. “Let’s get started, shall we?”

It turned out that no one knew very much about ghosts and their abilities, mind-reading or otherwise. Hogwarts, apparently, occasionally taught a course called “Ghoul Studies”, but only when there was enough demand – Hermione lamented that she had been unable to take it during third year for that reason, the demand of a single student, no matter how strident, not constituting “enough”.

“That’s nonsense,” said Ginny. “Hermione, you have enough demand in you for ten people at least.”

“If so little’s known about ghosts,” Harry interjected before Hermione could take offense, “how did Hogwarts ever manage to host a whole class on it?”

“You’ll recall they had a class on Muggle Studies,” said Hermione.

“…point.”

Which all led them more or less back to where they started, not knowing much of anything. Well, they still had Ginny’s notes on Tom Riddle, which Harry had actually committed to parchment, much to Hermione’s amusement. “Does this... say he likes scones?”

Ginny shrugged. “He did mention it once. He might’ve been lying, of course.”

“That’s – well. Okay, then.”

“To think, we might’ve won the war sooner if we’d left out some poisoned pastry,” joked Harry, who’d had much the same reaction when Ginny first relayed that.

“If only you’d asked,” replied Ginny.

Hermione gave them both a strange look. “I’m glad to see you’re in a better mood, Harry,” she said.

Harry glared. He hadn’t forgotten why he was angry, after all.

“Oh, you’ve set him off again,” remarked Ginny. ”Well, I’m going to go Floo-call Neville.”

Harry blinked, animosity temporarily forgotten. “Why Neville?”

“Because we’re making a trip to Hogwarts.”

“Wait, wh- oh, the ghost.” That was Hermione.

“Yep. It seems to me that we ought to go talk to the Grey Lady. You two finish your chat.”

“Oh – oh, I suppose that is a good idea.” Harry couldn't guess which part Hermione meant, but she turned to him as Ginny left the room. “I’ve thought about what you said, Harry," she began, "And I’m sorry. I must have sounded very callous to you, talking about people you know as if they weren’t – well. I have to remember that they’re quite real to you.”

“That’s because they are real,” Harry insisted.

“Well, yes. I know. But it’s one thing to know and another to – to feel, I suppose. I hadn’t taken into account how difficult this must be for you, not really.”

“Difficult how?” asked Harry, feeling cautious. He was still wary of Hermione's recent fixation on his psychological state.

“Well – the whole world sort of represents things you don’t have, doesn’t it? Does it – is it hard? I mean, does it make you feel badly, seeing what could have been?”

Harry breathed through his nose. He promised himself that he wouldn’t get angry again.

“No,” he said, after a long moment. “Yes. Not exactly. It’s – I actually find it almost reassuring, in a way.”

Hermione looked curious, but said nothing, urging him to continue.

“All my life,” Harry went on, “I’ve wondered if maybe I wasn’t living up to my potential. People talk about how clever my mum was and how popular my dad was and I’ve always thought – well. I guess it’s sort of comforting to see that even in a world where my dad’s alive and I grew up knowing about magic and I probably had friends before Hogwarts, that I’m still…that he seems to be...”

“Just Harry,” Hermione supplied, quietly.

There was a rich vein of history in those words.

“Yeah,” Harry said. “Just – I don’t know. I do envy him, a little, the other Harry. I think about how easy it would be to be him, to not be recognized walking down the street, to not have people expecting things of you all the time. But... I dunno. I reckon he has his own problems.” And he thought that maybe that was what the ghost meant about balance. For every good thing in the other Harry’s life, it seemed, there was bad, just the same as there were good and bad in his. “I don’t mind it, I guess, being him. But I wouldn’t want to trade places with him or anything,” Harry concluded.

Hermione breathed a deep sigh and Harry was startled to think it might be relief. Had she thought he wanted to trade places with his other self?

Perhaps he had considered it, once or twice, but even if he could, Harry thought, he wouldn’t. He’d do almost anything to have his dad alive and well, but the key word was almost. He wouldn’t trade Hermione and Ron and Ginny for him. Maybe he would if he could look at the situation objectively, if he hadn’t known the three of them before he saw his father in the flesh. If that were the case, he might be tempted, but he couldn't, and he hadn't. That wasn’t how it had played out.

Ginny returned then and gave them both a once-over as if trying to determine if they'd settled things. Harry supposed he was happy enough with Hermione’s apology for now, especially with new insight into what had been troubling her. He thought about what Ginny said, that Hermione didn’t consider other witches and wizards as being as necessary to defend, and he decided that in a strange way it was probably one of her better qualities. Because he thought it stemmed from how Hermione didn’t always consider herself to be a witch, not in the traditional sense – she’d always held herself apart, in a way, from the rest of magical society. And maybe it was because she’d been prejudiced against as a muggleborn, but it was a strength of sorts because it gave her the distance to see things that other people, Harry included, missed because they were so entrenched.

Perspective was one of the things Harry’d always been worst at. Ginny wasn’t wrong that he’d probably need Hermione to sort out this mess. And Ron, too, who - Harry thought with a groan - he'd need to apologize too as well.

At any rate, he was willing to let things go if Hermione was, and raised an eyebrow at her as if to say as much. She nodded and leaned over and gave him a quick, one-armed hug.

That seemed to satisfy Ginny, who told them that Neville would be collecting plants in the Forbidden Forest that night – it would be a full moon, and he didn’t want to miss his chance - so they were to come tomorrow evening.

“If you think you can wait,” Ginny said. Harry shrugged. He figured it was one of the least important angles of their investigation and said as much. “Ah, ‘investigation’ - there’s the Auror we know and love,” said Ginny.

“Are you ready?” asked Hermione more seriously. “If you dream tonight – are you prepared to face Riddle and keep a level head?”

“I think so,” he said. Then, more firmly, “Yeah. I think I am.”

-

Chapter Text

Ron came by after closing the Weasleys’ shop, accepting Harry’s apology for yelling and storming out the night before with a shrug. “I reckon we should’ve expected it, with your – thing.”

“What thing?” asked Harry.

“Your inability to keep it in your trousers, metaphorically speaking,” supplied Ginny. Hermione snorted and then looked offended. Ron only looked confused. “Or should I say keep your sword in its scabbard? The sword represents your heroics, see, and-“

“Yeah, alright, I get it,” Harry said. He still felt a little put-out. “I think I’m being really calm about all this, actually,” he said to that effect. “I’m not rushing into anything, and I’ve told you all what’s going on, and I’ve taken notes even.”

“I’m still wondering why, to be honest,” said Ron, who was sitting in one of Harry’s armchairs looking uncharacteristically pensive. “I mean,” he added at a look from Hermione, “I’m glad you’re being so, er, smart about it, but.”

“I have grown up in the last few years, you know,” Harry snapped.

“Hmm,” said Ginny, her tone giving no indication if she agreed with him or not. “Theory?”

Harry grimaced but shrugged to indicate she could continue, and she did.

“It’s because we’re not there,” she said, gesturing around the room. “Not even alternates of us. You’re used to keeping the people you care about in the dark to protect them, but you don’t have to protect us from this because we’re not in any danger.”

“-oh.” Oh, that was – rather insightful, actually.

Hermione seemed to think so too, as she perked up in the way she usually did when a mystery was solved. “Although,” as she said, “technically, we’ve at least established Harry can bring things back from the other world, so he could bring back a dangerous object, or something else that posed a threat-“

“The newspaper might’ve been a fluke,” he pointed out. “I haven’t brought back any clothes, or the other Harry’s wand.”

“That’s true,” mused Hermione. Then, “oh, I hate this! I hate how – how powerless we are; we don’t have any answers and we’re not finding anything.”

Harry fought back a new wave of the irritation that always crested at the idea of anyone having a right to any piece of him, even his problems – he’d struggled so long, and for so hard, just to be his own person.

He could almost hear Hermione’s answer to that – a prim well, we’re your friends, Harry, and he recognized that he was being ungrateful, but more to the point, he knew he’d already involved them, so they’d never drop it now, no matter what happened next.

Still, he was left with the sensation of a choppy sea and the taste of pennies in his mouth.

When he turned he saw that Ginny was watching him a little too knowingly. She raised her brows when he caught her gaze as if issuing a challenge. He nodded once, sharply, as if to say I’m still here, aren’t I?

So,” said Ron, cutting through everything like a knife. “Let’s focus on what we do know, then. Let’s make a list.”

And they did, although the document they created looked less like a list proper and more like a piece of evidence that could be used to commit the lot of them to the Janus Thickey ward.

It began with the obvious – that Grindlewald was some kind of leader of the magical world, calling himself “chancellor”; that Horace Slughorn was headmaster of Hogwarts; that Riddle was now a Defense teacher. Then they continued into observations the others made out of Harry’s descriptions.

The Ministry of Magic still existed in some capacity, as did the position of Auror, evidenced by multiple people referencing both. Underage magic outside of school was likely allowed, because Lyra Malfoy was a sixth year but had used spells outside Hogwarts. House elves apparently had the ability to see Harry for what he was, or at least could tell he wasn’t the “correct” Harry Potter – Hermione thought that might have to do with the differing magical signature, which she suspected house elves used to determine who their masters were and where to locate them.

The prophecy probably did not exist, and Harry was not a horcrux, given his lack of scar.

Ghosts knew – something, or could read minds, one of the two.

“List all the students you remember seeing,” Hermione demanded halfway through. Harry did. She grimaced. “That’s what I thought – there are no muggleborns at their Hogwarts at all."

The question of where they might be didn’t bear asking.

Hermione went on, "Not even any halfbloods, from what I can tell.”

I’m a halfblood,” Harry pointed out. “And Cassie mentioned something about “Dora” – that’s what Andromeda called Tonks. She’d be a halfblood too, and unless Andromeda remarried at some point, so would Cassie and the other sister.”

“But your mum isn’t around,” Ginny countered. “And you didn’t see Tonks – you don’t know for certain that she’s the same as our world’s.”

“But the other Harry looks like me. What’re the chances that my dad married someone who looks enough like my mum that it worked out that way? Someone with the same color eyes?”

“Not good, I’d reckon, but that doesn’t mean anyone knows,” Ron pointed out.

“Ron’s right,” said Hermione. “I’d not tell anyone, if I were you. It’s possible, even likely, that Lily Potter is still the other Harry’s mother, but it’s equally possible that it isn’t common knowledge. You said the other Harry didn’t have any pictures of his mum at all, and I’d think that’s unusual.”

Harry conceded the point, for all that he was a little uncomfortable about lying about his parentage, even by omission. He’d never pretended to be a pureblood in his own life, and he didn’t fancy starting now.

“And that’s another thing,” Hermione said when Harry expressed his discomfort. “You need to be careful about how you’re acting – it sounds like no one there’s suspicious of you, yet, but that could change, and your lying ability…” She trailed off.

“Harry’s a great liar,” said Ron. “Remember Roonil Wazlib? Stroke of genius, that.”

Harry grinned despite himself and Ginny laughed.

Hermione rolled her eyes. “Okay, sure, but it’d really help if you knew more about the other Harry and how he acts around his friends so that you could… play the part better.”

“About that,” Harry said, because he might’ve left out one small detail in his retelling of events – that of the Dreamless Sleep and its apparent influence on his “dream” state.

Hermione was displeased. “You’ve been taking a potion without telling anybody; you continued taking it despite its not having the stated effects-“

Twice,” Harry pointed out. “I took it twice. Not even half the bottle. Anyway, that’s not the point – the point is I think it has something to do with my getting these – memories, or whatever, from the other Harry.”

Hermione frowned but looked too curious to keep yelling at him, which was Harry’s intention. Ron shot him a look that said I’m onto you. Harry narrowed his eyes back to say whose side are you on? and Ron raised his eyebrows to say what sides?

Ginny regarded them both as if they were very rare species of lizard.

“But that only raises more questions!” said Hermione, not at all paying attention to the silent exchange happening. “What role does the other Harry play in this? Is there a link between you two? Does he know you’re, ah-“

“Walking around in his life?” Harry interrupted. “Dunno. I feel like he’d have said something to his friends, if so, but I don’t know what’s going on when I’m not there.” He had wondered about that, of course, it only ranked low on the list of things that concerned him.

“You’d think he’d notice there being a bit of mandrake leaf under his tongue,” Ron pointed out.

“Well, yeah. Maybe he remembers it from his own point of view - as if he did it?”

“Perhaps it works like a memory charm? When you wake up, maybe he ‘remembers’ the events you took part in as if they were the suggested memories a caster supplies…” Hermione trailed off, probably considering her own experience with memory charms if the distant look on her face was anything to go off.

“But the Dreamless Sleep seemed to help you,” Ginny said, steering them back on course.

“Yeah, it did,” said Harry gratefully. “And that was only a mouthful. I think if I took more,” he added, realizing it even as he said so, “that I might get more information.”

Ginny gave him a little smirk. You see? it seemed to say. You aren’t powerless.

Right. Right – and they were getting nowhere with the theoreticals anymore, and Harry was tired. He straightened out and raised his voice, using the tone he'd adopted when teaching the DA.

“Listen. We have lists. We – I – have a plan.” He did not mention that the plan, at the moment, was mostly to go into a dream armed with everything he knew about their Riddle and about the dream world and wing it from there. “Everything’ll be fine and even if it’s not, there’s nothing we can do about it from this end.”

Hermione looked like she might argue, so Harry added “trust me,” in a way that didn’t allow for argument. “Now, if you don’t mind, I think I’d like to sleep.”

“Good idea,” said Ron, wrapping his hand over Hermione’s. She had her mouth open as if to say something, but closed it with a click. “All this talk about dreaming knackers me out, really. We’ll Floo home now, yeah?” Ron stood and began gathering their things.

Hermione sighed. “Fine. Yes. Let us know if anything happens?” At Harry’s nod, Ron turned to his sister.

“Ginny, are you staying? You can kip at ours if you don't want to go back to the Burrow.”

She turned to Harry. “Do you want me to stay?”

He thought about it. Shook his head. “No,” he said. “Hermione’s right, I could bring something through any time. It might not be safe.”

What he really meant was that he wanted to be alone, but he suspected Ginny probably knew that since it seemed like she read bloody minds, lately.

Hermione started to protest again that that was all the better reason for someone to stick around, but Harry insisted, and Ron seemed content to drag his girlfriend off through the fireplace.

Ginny stuck around a minute longer. “Remember, Harry – huge narcissist. Head so far up his own ass he can see his tonsils. Just don’t draw his attention and you’ll be fine.”

Harry snorted. “Yeah, I know. Thanks.” Then she gave him a kiss and stepped into the flames.

Later, as he downed the mostly full bottle of Dreamless Sleep, Harry wondered if he were the first person in history to take a sleeping potion in order to face his problems rather than avoid them.

-

Of all the classes to “wake” in, he thought Charms was a decent one.

He was in Flitwick’s classroom, the man himself excitedly demonstrating a spell that twisted and wrapped one’s hair into various configurations, depending on the caster’s intent. He was able to listen to the lecture while he blinked away the drowsy feeling the Dreamless Sleep seemed to leave him with.

“Now, some of you might dismiss this as a simple cosmetics charm, but it’s been used on opponents in duels to great effect – in fact, in one notable instance, a dueller used it to force his opponent’s own mustache up his nose and his beard into his mouth, restricting his breathing and thereby ending the match-“

“Well, hell,” muttered Alphard next to him.

Harry snorted his agreement. Then he turned to the satchel on the floor next to him. First order of business – finding his schedule.

“What’re you looking for?” hissed Alphard as he shuffled through the bag. Why did the other Harry need Drooble’s gum and a spare set of socks, anyway?

“This,” Harry said as he found the schedule at long last, slapping it onto the desk beside his textbook.

“Forgotten it already?”

“Just reminding myself,” Harry replied, going over it quickly. He already had an idea of what classes the other Harry was taking from the textbooks they’d bought in Diagon that day.

Apparently, the other Harry had started his morning off with Herbology before Charms. After Charms, he had lunch, then Ancient Runes – balls, he didn’t know the first thing about runes – then a free period. Defense was his last class of the day, which seemed about right in the scheme of things. It gave him all day to prepare, or to get keyed up, one of the two.

Flitwick was expecting them to practice the incantation and wand movements now, and as the spell was one Harry genuinely didn’t know, he followed along. Who knew, it might actually come in handy.

“Now, turn to your partner-“

He spent the fifteen minutes taking turns with Alphard, spelling each other’s hair into more and more ridiculous configurations. He burst out laughing several times, but then, most of the class was engaged in varying degrees of laughter.

“What a bloody useless spell,” said Alphard.

“Maybe not; you heard what Flitwick said about the duel.”

“Oh, for – so you’re facing an opponent, and your first thought is alright, let’s give him a nice curled fringe?”

“You never know,” Harry grinned. “The element of surprise can give you an upper hand.”

“Did you learn that from your dad?”

“Yes,” Harry said, because it did sound like something he might say – or at least, something a Marauder would. They’d like this spell, he thought.

He allowed himself to be wistful for a moment before giving Alphard French braids.

“Oh, these’re lovely,” drawled the other boy, having conjured a mirror. “I think I’ll keep them, what do you say?”

“Lyra’ll love them,” joked Harry.

“I think I’ve seen her use this spell, now that I think of it. I wonder if she knows other ways to use cosmetic charms in dueling? She’s got that one nail-lengthening thing, bet she could do something awful with that.”

“Probably,” Harry agreed.

Alphard adopted a sort of queasy look. “Remind me never to cross her.”

They made their way to lunch after class, Harry planning all the while how to best use his time that day. He was thinking about what Ginny said, how she wouldn’t trust Harry if she were the other Harry’s friends. They’d hex him as soon as he explained that he wasn’t their Harry, probably. He might not get a chance to explain himself.

But if he waited until after they’d had classes with Riddle – and Harry made a mental note to figure out when the sixth year Ravenclaws would – then perhaps the seed of distrust they both seemed to have in the man already would grow, and he could use that. If they came to distrust Riddle enough, perhaps that would overshadow any apprehension they had about Harry when he eventually revealed himself. He knew that nothing brought people together quite like a common enemy, so if he were able to convince them that Riddle was their enemy-

It would also help, he thought, if he could find a Pensieve and show them memories of his own world. In fact, that would help a lot – he wondered if Slughorn had one in his office and if so, how he might get to it.

He probed at his not-memories for any visions of the other Slughorn’s office, and thought he saw a fleeting glimpse of velvet drapes, but then it was gone. He supposed that the other Harry wasn’t prone to being sent to the headmaster twice a term like he had been.

Well, one thing at a time, he reckoned.

“Are you looking forward to Defense later?” Harry asked. They were seated at the Gryffindor table. He didn’t see Lyra at Ravenclaw’s, but lunch at Hogwarts had always been more of a come-and-go affair and Ravenclaws were known to study through theirs.

“Hm,” replied Alphard, looking thoughtful. “I’m torn, I think. On the one hand, if Riddle’s a proper teacher, that’ll be useful. On the other…” he trailed off.

“You’re not sure if we can trust him,” Harry supplied.

“Not so loud,” said the other boy, casting a glance around the hall. No one seemed to pay them any mind, but Harry knew there were eavesdropping spells that one could use, so he decided to let the subject go, for now.

He was still unused to the near-paranoia that both of other-Harry’s friends demonstrated, but he didn’t know enough to say it wasn’t merited.

“How’s your first day back so far?” he asked instead.

Alphard looked at him oddly. “We’re in all the same classes, you know.”

Shit. “Er – right, I just meant, how’re you, ah, feeling?” Excellent, now he sounded like Hermione.

“Just fine,” Alphard said slowly. “Is this about the letter your dad sent this morning? Have you read it yet?”

Harry blinked but took up the distraction. “Yeah. It’s –” He paused to think of something plausible. “It’s about his work?”

“You can’t talk about it,” inferred Alphard, as Harry had hoped he might. “Not here, or not at all?”

“I’ll tell you about it later,” Harry said. He didn’t intend to, of course, even if he did know what the letter said, but that sort of appeasement always worked on his own friends, so-

And sure enough, Alphard just nodded and returned to his lunch. “Oh,” he said after a moment, “that reminds me. I found that picture Cassie mentioned – in the paper, of your dad? She’s right,” he added with a grin, “He looks quite dashing. The article’s vague as anything, though – just says that someone tried to break into Gringotts and the Aurors stopped them. They’re lucky it wasn’t the goblins that did it, those buggers are mean with an axe.”

“Gringotts?” Harry echoed before he could think better of it.

“Yeah,” said Alphard, looking at him strangely again. “Your dad didn’t mention?”

“No,” said Harry. “Er – maybe he wasn’t meant to? I wonder what they were after,” he added, as an afterthought.

“The paper didn’t say. Either it’s secret or they don’t know.”

Harry couldn’t help but think of the Philosopher’s stone. Maybe the events of his first year had somehow begun playing themselves out here – perhaps Riddle was here because the stone was in the school?

The idea didn’t necessarily hold up well to scrutiny given what he knew about Riddle - has propensity to send other people to do his menial work where possible, their notes last night had read - but it was one of the only theories he had.

“I’ll ask him,” Harry said suddenly. “My dad. I’ll see what he knows.” He remembered now that he’d promised Lyra already that he’d try and figure out what James’ Auror job had him working on. If he could find the letter Alphard mentioned, perhaps he could write a reply..?

“Best of luck,” said Alphard. “Meanwhile my gorgon of a mother’s only written me to ask if Adhara is behaving herself. Tell me, does that look like behaving?” He pointed a fork with a still-skewered green bean at the Slytherin table, and Harry saw a dark-haired girl with Alphard’s same honey-brown eyes wearing a gleaming prefect’s badge and holding court with a number of students fifth year and younger. A black ball of fur sat perched on one of her shoulders. As he watched, she shot a dirty look towards the end of the table, where Castor and Pollux were gesticulating animatedly at Cassie and Venturina Selwyn.

“They don’t seem to be getting along,” Harry remarked.

“No, they’re bloody well not. Addie’s already taken twenty points from the twins, apparently – each. And they’re probably convincing the younger two to put color-changing potions in her food, or some such bollocks. I hate my family, the whole dirty lot of them. I’ll laugh when they’re all sent to Azkaban and never visit.”

Harry, who had Bellatrix Lestrange and Walburga’s portrait as basis for comparison for the Black family and the Dursleys as comparison for his own, only said “they don’t seem that bad.”

Alphard looked at him like he were deranged.

“You’re lucky to have so much family,” Harry said in his defense, and the other boy’s eyes softened in a way that was oddly familiar. Brilliant. So people felt sorry for this Harry, too. He bit his tongue.

“Well, I suppose Dora and Delphine are all right,” Alphard conceded. “And Lyra, of course. Anyway, enough about them, we’ll be late to Runes.”

Professor Babbling, luckily, seemed disinclined to call on students, instead collecting their summer homework – which Harry had been relieved to find his other self had tucked into his satchel – and then launching into a lengthy speech on her expectations for them this school year and all the work that lay ahead.

Occasionally a fully formed vision of a rune or its meaning formed in his head, and Harry grasped at them where he could, jotting down notes, even if he weren’t sure what he’d do with the information later.

“Merlin, I don’t know why I take this course,” Alphard muttered grimly beside him, taking notes of his own while Babbling went on.

“Why do you?” Harry asked him.

“You know why. It’s useful for spell-crafting. Anyway,” the boy tacked on, brightly, “you heard her – our end-of-term project is enchanting an object, and I’m ruddy good at that. We’ll get an O for sure.”

The project, which called for them to partner up – and there hadn’t really been a question of who he’d partner with – involved layering enchantments on an object in a novel and useful way using only runes. In the hall on their way to the Common Room, where they headed to spend their free period, Alphard brainstormed ideas.

“I’m thinking,” he said, “of something like the stone.” Harry’s ears perked up. “Only instead of the warming and navigation charms, something more – concrete? I’d really like,” he mused, “to relay proper messages from one object to another.”

Harry realized he was describing something like the DA coins. “Have you looked into the Protean Charm?” he asked, because it seemed harmless enough.

Alphard frowned. “Haven’t heard of it. What’s it do?”

Harry explained. Alphard’s eyes widened. “You’re a genius. If I can break down that charm into its component parts, and find the right rune set, I think- Oh, that’s brilliant. I want to run this by Lyra. No offense,” he added hastily.

Harry shrugged. He didn’t know how competent the other Harry was at Runes or spell-crafting, but he was hardly offended, given that he personally could barely follow the theory of it. Now that he thought about it, though, it sounded dead useful and he sort of hoped that enough information leaked into his brain on the subject that he could pick up studying it in his own world.

The rest of their free period passed with Alphard scrawling down notes that he said he would show the third member of their group tonight. Harry inferred that the meeting they’d referenced in the last dream would take place sometime after curfew, and that they’d catch up then – being friends with someone in another house and year, it seemed, made it hard to communicate regularly.

While Alphard took notes, Harry looked through his own papers and books under the guise of doing homework, but he found little of interest. The textbooks were standard, the Herbology notes from earlier that day dirt-stained, and the other Harry didn’t seem to have the Marauder’s Map or invisibility cloak.

Then it was time for Defense. Harry grit his teeth as they made their way to the third-floor classroom where the course was held. Outside the door, students milled around, whispering amongst themselves – about their new professor, probably. Over the course of the day, news of Quirrell’s retirement and his last-minute replacement must have spread throughout the school. Harry wasn’t surprised to see Malfoy and some of his Slytherin friends lurking about – Zabini and Nott; he doubted there was any world where Crabbe and Goyle made it into NEWT Defense – but he was surprised to see that the blonde boy looked quite smug. It was a familiar look, one that said I know something you don’t.

Alphard seemed to notice it too, because he leaned over to Harry and whispered, “Looks like Draco knows something about Riddle, too.”

“Do you think Lyra told him?” Harry didn’t think the siblings were close, based on their interaction on the train, but then most people he knew seemed to run hot-and-cold with their siblings, arguing with them one minute and defending them the next.

Alphard blinked. “Doubt it. But her source might’ve, or Parkinson; I’m assuming she knows. That, or Lucius wrote to him.”

Odd. Harry recalled something Lyra said about her father not telling her anything – it seemed the same didn’t apply to her brother. He filed that piece of information about the Malfoy family dynamic away.

Then the door to the classroom swung open, and it was clear they were meant to file in. Harry and Alphard glanced at each other and seemed to reach a silent agreement to hold back as the other students streamed past, making them two of the last to enter the room. When they could delay no longer, they made their way through the door, Harry standing just a little in front of the other boy as if to shield him.

He half-expected the front of the classroom to be empty when they came in, for Riddle to wait to make a grand entrance like Snape had been fond of, striding into the room with a sweep of his robes. Instead, the man sat behind his desk like any ordinary professor might. Though, Harry noted, the way he sat was far from ordinary. He seemed to loom, somehow, in the chair - as if he were a king and it, his throne. Harry thought, again, that he didn’t look seventy. There were gray strands in his hair, but his pale face looked as if it’d been carved from cold marble.

He recalled Ginny’s remark on the matter: “He was oddly good-looking. It didn’t seem natural. It was like he’d drunk Veela blood.”

Harry, disgusted in more ways than one, had asked if that were a thing, and she’d pretended to gag and said she hoped not and they’d both laughed.

But now, looking at the man, Harry wondered. This was a face that had convinced people that Tom Riddle was an angel, a model student, worthy of being made Head Boy. Worthy of bowing to, of killing for.

Harry felt a wave of revulsion.

“Harry,” Alphard hissed, nudging him towards an empty desk. He’d been frozen in the walkway, unable to move. He gave Alphard a grateful look and threw himself down on the bench a little too quickly.

Alphard frowned at him. Harry busied himself getting out his textbook and a quill and parchment.

He could swear he felt a searing heat like eyes on the top of his head as he bent down to retrieve them from his satchel, but when he looked up, Riddle’s head was still bowed over his desk as it had been the entire time.

He didn’t utter a word as the students filed in and took their seats, still murmuring excitedly. He seemed not to notice their speculative looks, instead focusing his gaze on a sort of workbook before him as if going over his syllabus - and his eyes, Harry noted, while uncommonly dark, were an ordinary brown.

It took everything he had not to glare at the top of the man’s head, but then Riddle looked up and Harry was too busy focusing on not cursing him right then and there. He gripped his quill tightly in an effort not to grab for his wand instead.

Alphard apparently noticed, because he reached over and plucked Harry’s quill right out of his hand, where he’d nearly snapped it in half, and scrawled a note across Harry’s open textbook.

GET IT TOGETHER. The message was underlined twice.

Harry shook himself and looked at the other boy. Alphard made a point of getting out his own supplies.

It was much, much harder, as it turned out, to ignore the fact that Tom Riddle was alive and well and present when you were stuck in a small classroom with him and fifteen other students.

Fuck.

Harry thought desperately back to the Occlumency lessons he’d taken – not with Snape, but with an Auror instructor. Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe-

“Good afternoon, class.”

Riddle’s voice spread through the room like oil.

He smiled.

Harry thought it was the smile a snake would give if it could. No, not a snake, a basilisk-

“Let’s begin, shall we?” With a flick of Riddle’s hand – wandless magic, really? – the door closed, and Harry had to force himself to stay in his seat.

Then Riddle stood and made his way around to the front of the desk, keeping his hands crossed behind his back as he walked. Harry had never thought about the particular implications of that gesture among wizards until this moment, but now he realized it had a meaning here that it didn’t for muggles.

I’m harmless, it said. I’m not reaching for my wand.

It said trust me.

Of course, that was foolish, because wandless magic existed – as Riddle himself had just demonstrated - and an astute observer would realize that demonstration contradicted the message he was trying to relay with his body language entirely.

But most people weren’t astute observers. Most people, said the voice in his head that sounded suspiciously like Hermione, saw what they wanted to see, and when faced with a contradiction, went with the interpretation that required the least amount of effort on their parts.

Which meant they’d see wandless magic and think powerful and Riddle’s stance and think trustworthy and that, Harry thought, was precisely what he wanted.

And Harry calmed, and stilled, and retrieved his quill from where Alphard had dropped it and leaned forward a little over his desk, loosening his shoulders. Because two could play at that game – so he made himself look attentive and relaxed without seeming overly confident, an ordinary student ready for an ordinary lesson.

He was rewarded by Alphard mirroring the posture next to him.

“First,” said Riddle, still smiling, “I suppose I should introduce myself. For those of you who have not already heard, I am Professor Riddle. I have the honor of instructing you all in Defense this year. While I haven’t taught the subject before, it has always been a particular interest of mine.”

Well, Harry thought. What a load of shit. Except, he amended, the part about defense being an interest of his.

Riddle simply neglected to mention that offense was a bigger one.

“I have full faith that under my tutelage you will all learn that which is necessary to excel on your NEWTs - and then some. After all,” Riddle said, and Harry snapped back to attention. “We needn’t stop with you merely passing your exams. Indeed, I hope that in my class you develop – or hone - the skills required to protect yourselves against attacks outside of these halls.” He paused for just a moment. “Should the need arise.”

He gave the room a long, solemn look, as if taking them all in. If Harry didn’t know better, he’d say the man was projecting an air of... concern?

And then he smiled again, and shifted his stance, unclasping his hands. “And now I’m at a disadvantage, because you know a little about me, but I’m afraid I know nothing about you. So I shall call roll, and when I come to your name, I’d like each of you to tell me your favorite defensive spell. It needn’t be a curse, it can be any spell at all – I won’t ask you to justify your answer.”

Harry was– confused. Because...narcissist. Why did Riddle want to know what spells they liked?

The other students apparently had the same question, because three raised their hands. Riddle pointed to one. “Yes, Mr.-?”

“Boot, sir. Er – why our favorite spell?”

“Because,” replied Riddle, smiling genially, still, as if he were trying to give Albus Dumbledore a run for his money, “I find a person’s favorite spell tells you a lot about them.”

And suddenly it made sense. He was digging for information. Was he assessing them as potential threats, or allies, or...?

Either way, Harry considered lying when his name was reached, then decided that his favorite spell – at least in combat, because his favorite bit of magic truly was the Patronus – was mundane enough as is.

Riddle called their names one by one, beginning, funnily enough, with Boot, who decided on a bone-breaking curse and then shrugged sheepishly at the looks his fellow Ravenclaws gave. Riddle’s expression did not bely an opinion on this, against or in favor.

When he reached Harry, Harry tensed at the “Potter”, but, as luck had it, Riddle’s voice was so unlike Voldemort’s – rich and deep, instead of high and inhuman – that he was able to reply normally.

“The Disarming Charm,” he said, only grinding his teeth a little. “Sir,” he added hastily at Alphard’s jostling his knee.

Alphard snorted quietly. At his own turn, he’d said the shield charm, and Harry would bet ten galleons that that wasn’t Alphard’s favorite spell at all, so if he thought Harry was lying at least he wasn’t alone in it.

“Interesting,” said Riddle, cocking his head to the side a little and looking at Harry.

Harry was careful not to make eye contact. Don’t draw his attention, he thought. It was not the first time he’d replied to a student’s answer. He’s probably just thinking how daft it is, how bloodless.

Riddle called on a girl by the name of Sarkovsky and moved on. With the revelation that Zabini was fond of something called a “mesmerizing hex” which Harry made a note to look up later, they were finally done.

Riddle sent the roll sheet, which he’d let hover in the air before him, off to who-knows-where with a another negligent flick of his wrist. “Now, to our next order of business – I do, of course, have my lessons prepared, but your previous teacher left in quite a hurry, and we didn’t have a chance to exchange notes. Would one of you mind telling me where you left off last year?”

Harry wondered if Riddle had in fact murdered Quirrell for the job. It seemed likely. He didn’t have it in him to be upset over the man’s probable death, having never known him sans Voldemort on back of his head, but still.

Other students filled the man in on their sixth year work, and, at Riddle’s behest, Theodore Nott and Lavender Brown went up to the front of the room to demonstrate their best attempts at non-verbal stinging hexes. Riddle corrected their form patiently, neither too indulgent nor overly critical.

He was, Harry noted with displeasure, a decent teacher.

That might make things difficult. It was also horribly unnerving. Harry had to try his best not to jump each time Riddle reached over to demonstrate a wand movement or correct someone’s stance, though, he noted, the man was very careful never to touch a student, not even brush against their robes. He hid it well, but Harry suspected he didn’t like to touch people at all if he could help it.

When the demonstration was over, Riddle sent Lavender and Nott back to their desks. “Thank you for indulging me,” he said, tone light. “I’m glad to see you’re farther along in the NEWT curriculum than I thought. That means we ought to be able to begin practical lessons very soon.”

Someone raised their hand – A Gryffindor girl Harry didn’t recognize, personally, but knew was named Felicity.

“Yes, Miss Jamison?”

“Does that mean we won’t be starting practical lessons today, sir?”

Riddle cocked his head to one side as if considering her question. “Not quite, Miss Jamison. We’ve taken up nearly half our allotted time already, so I’d like to devote the remainder to discussion.”

“Discussion, sir?” that was Pavarti Patil – and Harry could swear the look he gave her for interrupting held genuine hostility; he saw something flash in the man’s eyes.

It was almost reassuring, because Riddle had been far too docile thus far.

He quickly summoned up a friendly look and a nod at Patil, however, and carried on as if nothing had happened. “Indeed. You see, I’d like us to talk for a while about what defense means to us. What it truly means to defend one’s self – what classifies something as a threat.”

The class was quiet, with an uncertain air.

“Mr. Nott – didn’t you say your favorite defensive spell was a heating charm? One typically meant, as I understand it, to brew tea. Why did you name that spell?”

Nott blinked. “Because, sir. That spell can be used to – er, heat other things?”

“Such as your opponent’s vital organs. Yes?”

Riddle said this with such a casual air Harry couldn’t help but think viciously your monster is showing, but most of the class was looking at Nott, instead, who set his shoulders and just nodded.

“Very good,” said Riddle, charming as ever. “Tell me, would the rest of you have thought a spell meant to brew tea could be used in a duel, prior to this moment?”

Several students shook their heads. Harry wasn’t among them, but then, he’d fought actual battles and was in fact both a grown man and an Auror. He might’ve said differently otherwise.

“As I thought,” Riddle said, his voice smooth and dark and terrible. Harry felt a shiver run down his spine, but the rest of the class seemed – captivated. “You’d have overlooked something that could do serious harm to you – something that could also, in turn, protect you – because you “knew” it to be harmless. Or you thought you did.

“Never forget,” he said, “that it isn’t only magic we must defend ourselves against. Ideas, too, can be dangerous - notions. Preconceptions.

“One might think they’re a better dueller than they are,” Riddle went on, “or assume their opponent is less able, because they have been told so. You’ve all heard rumors and old wives’ tales and half-truths – heard that certain families are better at one type of magic than another, that elder wood wands are unlucky, that grindylows are too stupid to form a good offense.”

Harry’s heard jerked up unconsciously at the mention of elder wands but Riddle, mercifully, had his back to him – he had taken to striding back and forth across the front of the room as he spoke.

“Over the years, I have seen all of these examples prove untrue, one way or another. Of course - I understand the impulse to listen to such things. There are sources you simply trust – your parents, your textbooks, your teachers.” At this, Riddle turned to face the class again, a mocking sort of smile on his lips.

If he didn’t know any better, Harry might assume he were making a self-deprecating joke. As it were, he suspected it was a joke - just not one any of them were privy to.

“But I must caution you,” Riddle said. “Be very careful that you don’t believe everything you are told. Indeed, I would advise you question everything you are told– no matter the content, no matter the source. Ask yourself if the information is likely. Ask yourself if it is verifiable. Only when you have examined something thoroughly should you let yourself believe that it is true.”

Beside him, he heard Alphard inhale deeply. Harry turned to look and saw the other boy staring at Riddle intently. Harry thought for a brief moment that Alphard was won over – because the rest of the class seemed to be. They leaned forward in their seats, eager to hear more, latching on to Riddle’s every word.

But then he noticed the way the other boy’s eyes narrowed. He didn’t look as if he were impressed by Riddle so much as he looked suspicious.

His expression was also obvious, though, and that wouldn’t do, so Harry returned his previous favor, jostling him with his knee. Alphard blinked and turned to Harry. “Thanks,” he mouthed.

Riddle concluded his little speech by walking back to his desk and leaning ever so slightly against it, hands on the surface of the wood.

And this, too, was a message, Harry thought. He looked almost – casual. He looked younger.

He wants the students to think he’s on their side. He wants them to like him.

As if to cement that, Riddle ended the class early, “as it’s the last one of the day. Don’t expect this to happen again, however. And – before I forget – your homework.” He smiled charmingly at the class’s collective groan. “All I ask for is a short essay, two feet – I’d like you each to choose a rumor or legend you’ve heard about magic – it needn’t be about a spell or curse; I mentioned wandlore and magical creatures. Explain, in your essay, why a commonly held belief about your topic is untrue and how believing misinformation regarding it might prove detrimental.”

And then they were dismissed.

Harry half ran out into the corridor, hardly stopping to notice if Alphard trailed behind him. Luckily, he seemed just as disinclined to talk as Harry, who was trying to parse each part of that little speech of Riddle’s.

It was obvious he was trying to win the students over, to come across as intelligent and fair – and he’d probably succeeded as far as most of them were concerned. Harry noted that he’d given both Lavender and Nott ten house points for their participation, not favoring any one house.

But why was he so focused on – misconceptions? Misunderstandings? Riddle had many obsessions, but disproving rumors had never been one of them to Harry’s knowledge.

He'd expected Riddle to try and either teach them dark magic or hinder their knowledge of it to his benefit - not give them a lesson on critical thinking.

Harry barely noticed when they’d made it back to the Common Room. Alphard said the password behind him and they both stepped inside and made to sit on one of the couches near the fire. The room was near empty since it wasn’t quite time for final classes to end- their sole company was one older girl who probably had a free period, reading in one of the window seats.

“Well,” Alphard said, once they’d sat down. “That was quite the class. Between him and Flitwick I’m half-convinced our professors want us to commit murder with household charms.”

Harry seized his chance. “What’d you make of it? Riddle’s speech, there at the end?”

Alphard frowned. “It was… odd. Only tangentially related to defense. If I didn’t know better, I’d say he didn’t have a lesson planned and was winging it.”

“If you did know better...?”

The other boy grimaced. “Then I’d say he’s a politician.”

“Right, but what’s he planning? To what end?”

“Not here,” Alphard said more quietly. He glanced quickly at the girl in the corner, then raised his wand and cast a subtle variation on a privacy spell that wouldn’t be noticeable from the distance.

“Tonight. Lyra doesn’t have defense until tomorrow but there’ll be enough talk around the castle, and we can give her our own version of events.”

Harry reluctantly agreed. He didn’t think he’d get much more out of Alphard – the boy was extremely cautious, he’d noticed. He didn’t take after Sirius at all in that regard. But then, Harry supposed that he must have his reasons.

He couldn’t help but wonder how Sirius had died here and if that had anything to do with it.

The wait until their meeting with Lyra was agonizing. The only homework they’d been given was to practice the hair charm, which hadn’t taken any time at all to master, and Riddle’s essay, which neither was inclined to begin. They both wound up reading ahead in their texts instead for the hour before dinner started, Harry noting absently that he’d read more in the last week than in the three years since he’d left Hogwarts combined.

Just before dinner, he had a thought and went up to the dormitories under the ruse of fetching a new quill. He then went through the other Harry’s nightstand and the rest of the belongings he could see, looking for the letter Alphard had mentioned from his father. It was to no avail. Harry suspected his alternate self had placed it in his trunk and cursed again at his not being able to open it.

Then they made their way to dinner, eating quickly, even though their meeting wasn't until after curfew. Lyra was present this time, sitting at the Ravenclaw table and chatting with Astoria Greengrass. Luna was there again too, and Harry couldn’t help but look at her now and then. She seemed more comfortable with her housemates than she’d been in his world, being drawn into their conversations far oftener than he remembered.

At one point, Lyra caught his glance and gave him a fleeting smile. He thought she looked pensive – as if her attention were in two places at once.

After dinner, Alphard nearly dragged him back to the tower, apparently as impatient as Harry was. “This is ridiculous,” he said, in the dorm room. He had thrown himself dramatically across his bed, and Harry perched on the end of his own. “Fucking – ugh. Distract me, Harry; let’s talk about literally anything else.”

“Er, alright,” Harry said. “How about our-“ and he meant to say “Animagus forms”, but he found himself suddenly unable to, because he was unable to speak at all, or breathe. He was choking, his throat constricting.

“Harry!” Alphard shot up and grabbed him by the shoulder, shaking him. “Stop trying to-“

And then the door to the dormitory swung open, the younger Diggory striding in. He paused near the doorway. “Ah – everything alright, guys?”

“Oh, yeah, Harry’s just having a bit of a coughing fit. It’s the dust, you know. Grimy old castle and all. Ought to have a chat with the house elves, really-“

Harry coughed weakly as if to corroborate the story while his throat un-constricted. He took in a shaky breath.

“…right, yeah. Just grabbing this,” Nate said, taking something from his bedside table. “Later, then.”

“Yeah, later,” said Alphard. When the door closed again, he turned back to Harry. “Mate, that was close. Wait ‘til we’re behind wards to talk about the-“ his own face grew a little whiter – “the you-know-what.”

Harry blinked dark spots away from his vision. He realized at Alphard’s words what’d happened – it was the Wizard’s Vow keeping him from discussing the Animagus transformation where he could be overheard. It had to be.

But he hadn’t taken the vow – the other Harry had.

Had he somehow absorbed it himself along with the other Harry’s memories?

It wasn’t the strangest thing that had happened to him thus far, but he made a mental note to find out all he could on magical vows when he got back to his own world.

Alphard, meanwhile, had apparently decided the close call merited a lighter-hearted past time. He produced a set of playing cards from his trunk and demanded Harry play Exploding Snap with him. Harry conceded, having already noticed that the boy turned to games when he was in need of a distraction.

Mid-game, Harry pulled his hand away from an exploding card with the dexterity that came from being a Seeker, and he briefly saw himself-but-not-himself playing Quidditch again, hand closing around a golden snitch. Alphard asked what he was thinking and he told him.

“You going to try out this year, then? You’ll likely make it; I think the only new second year that might have a shot is that Smith kid, and Nate’s not fond of him.”

Harry nearly grinned. Being at Hogwarts again was half-brilliant and half-terrible, but he thought the chance to play Quidditch once more might fall into the brilliant category. And, he thought, it sounded like Diggory was captain, all the better.

He had no way of knowing if either he or the other Harry would go to tryouts – but he didn't see any harm in saying "yeah, I think I might."

All told, he was in a much better mood when Alphard pulled the communication stone out just before ten p.m. and declared it time to go. Harry’s own pebble made itself known in the depths of a pocket, heating up. He wondered if there wasn’t a spell that kept it from being found until it was needed, because he hadn’t unearthed it earlier when he looked.

He was surprised when they made their way out of the tower – without the use of the invisibility cloak, which Harry sorely missed – and instead of heading towards any of the secret places Harry knew of in the castle, like the Room of Requirement, they wound up outside a familiar doorway.

The prefect’s bathroom? He wondered. As soon as he did, he saw the inside of the room from another perspective – the other Harry’s, he thought – and heard him asking that very question.

“It’s ideal,” said Lyra. “People won’t wonder at privacy wards set here – they’ll assume someone inside is, well…” She trailed off and Harry snorted, and he couldn’t tell if it was himself or the memory-Harry that produced the amusement. The prefect’s bathroom was notoriously used for – liaisons, after all.

“Ergh,” said Alphard. Harry noticed the other boy’s hair was shorter. He was a bit younger, Harry thought. “That’s revolting; what if we’re caught?”

“If we’re caught, we pretend to be in a compromising position.”

“Absolutely not,” said Alphard.

Harry blinked, still half-conscious of the younger version of Alphard protesting vehemently and himself laughing.

Meanwhile, the real Alphard was knocking on the door in the same distinctive pattern Lyra had used at the party. It swung open and she was there, giving them a somewhat impatient look. They hurried inside.

She began to cast layers of privacy spells much the same as she had before, and Harry took the opportunity to look around the room. He hadn’t seen his world’s version since fourth year, but it was much the same, gargantuan and luxurious, with stained glass windows and a pool-like bathtub.

In the center of the room were a handful of cushions, the only thing out of place, and Alphard made his way over to these, sprawling out in his usual fashion. Harry followed and joined him.

“There,” said Lyra with evident satisfaction. She pocketed her wand and sat on her own cushion, somehow managing to make reclining on it look elegant.

“So?” Alphard asked.

“So, indeed.” Lyra looked between them both and frowned. “Where to begin?”

“Riddle,” Harry said insistently.

Lyra raised her eyebrows but nodded. “I’ve heard quite a lot about his first day of classes. Apparently, he gave everyone variations on the same speech.”

“’Trust no one, etc.’?” That was Alphard.

“Precisely. And then the essay. So the question is, what does he want?”

It was Harry’s turn to frown, now, because he couldn’t very well offer his own opinion, which amounted to “to murder us all in our beds, probably”. He could, however, try to steer them in the right direction. “He sounded like he was trying to get the students to trust him – to like him.”

“And he succeeded, mostly. He’s one of the only professors who assigned an essay on the first day and everyone’s still talking about him favorably. The Ravenclaws are nearly frothing at the mouth waiting for his class tomorrow. You'd think we'd never had a competent or decent-looking professor.”

“To be fair,” Alphard pointed out, “Quirrell.”

“Well, yes. But anyway. It’s intensely suspicious that a ministry employee is suggesting to students that they not trust authority figures. If he were anyone else I’d think he was veering into treasonous territory, that he was bound to - well, disappear.”

“…disappear?” asked Harry, confused, because he heard a second meaning just under the word but didn’t know what it might be.

“Vanish overnight,” said Alphard, a little too quietly. Harry glanced over and saw that the other boy had a dark look on his face. In a moment, it passed, and he said, “But treason? Really? It’s questionable, enough for someone to show up and… make him ‘see sense’. Vanish him, though..?”

Harry still felt the conversation had layers he wasn’t catching, but was able to infer more – it sounded as if this world had people like Snatchers, maybe, wizards who hunted Undesireables and took them out. He shuddered a little at the thought.

“Think about it,” Lyra was saying. “From what I understand, the man quite literally said not to trust your textbooks. Who assigns those texts? Rather, who controls the professors that assign the texts, and who controls Slughorn, and who controls the Board of Governors-“

Alphard raised an eyebrow. “And it keeps going. Straight up to the top.” Harry inferred this to mean Grindlewald, or at least the man’s administration, and now that he considered it, he too was wondering what Riddle was playing at. “Okay, so he’s taking an absurd risk which is seemingly at odds with his profession.”

Lyra smiled in the way Harry had seen Hermione do when someone caught on to her train of thinking. “Exactly. And about his profession – I’ve asked around, and there are multiple people who can confirm he’s with the ministry, but no one who can tell me what department he works for.”

Alphard whistled lowly. “That’s a little…”

“Frightening,” said Lyra, matter-of-factly. “There are very few ministry wizards whose proper job titles aren’t common knowledge, and all of them, so far as I’m aware, work closely in conjunction with the Chancellor himself.”

Harry blinked, understanding Alphard's whistle now.

“You’re saying that someone very high-up is working as our defense professor and essentially trying to… to what, undermine our education? To what possible end?” asked Alphard.

“He could be trying to root out traitors,” Harry says, recalling the Carrows’ administration at Hogwarts and their methods of getting information out of students to pass along to the Death Eaters.

“If he is, he’s doing it badly. It’s too obvious, too – risky,” Alphard said.

“Is it?” Lyra asked. “Think about it – how many students will dare write what he’s said today in letters to their parents? How many would risk a message being intercepted and misconstrued as their opinion? Most everyone will be too frightened to, and the ones who do, well, their parents will probably be frightened as well, and if they tell anyone they’ll be putting their children in danger. And it'd be their word against a probably high-up ministry employee's. He's taking a risk, but it's a minor one. It’s actually a little brilliant.”

They were all quiet for a moment. Harry, personally, was thinking that the insight was interesting, but that they were going a little off track.

“Whatever he’s doing here,” Harry said, “you – we – need to be careful. Keep away from Riddle. Don’t draw his attention.” There.

“I agree,” said Lyra. “Until we know more-“

Until,” echoed Alphard. “You’re going to dig into this, aren’t you?”

Lyra neither confirmed nor denied, only raising one eyebrow at him.

“Lyra. Ly. This isn’t – it’s not studying banned magic or reading illegal books behind closed doors, this is – fuck. This is serious.”

“Need I remind you that we’ve started work on something which would land us in Azkaban for life if we’re caught? It has always,” Lyra said, leaning towards Alphard and forcing him to meet her eyes, “been serious.”

Harry realized that now might be a good time to tell them both the truth – they were both wary of Riddle, both conscious of the threat he posed, even if they didn’t know the full extent of it. If he told them now that he was – what, a visitor from another world? – well. Anyway, he could convince them to listen to what he knew, explain about Voldemort and all the rest so they weren’t so… vulnerable.

But to do so meant trusting them – trusting that they wouldn’t curse him or worse. He’d gotten a glimpse over the last half-hour of what their world was really like, and he thought if they were to tell someone about him he might be locked away somewhere awful, and even if he did wake up in his own world, what’s to say he wouldn’t be in a holding cell when he dreamed again?

He might end up in a vicious loop, waking in Azkaban over and over.

So - did he trust them?

On the one hand, he’d found himself more and more at ease with Alphard as time went on, something about the boy inherently familiar. Part of him suspected it had to do with the potion and how, at odd moments, he glanced at him out of the corner of his eye and remembered being five and flying around the grounds of Potter Manor on toy brooms, seven and sneaking into the kitchen at Grimmauld Place to steal pudding before dinner, ten and sitting on Harry’s bed, discussing their future houses at Hogwarts like all the world depended on it. The memories flitted around Harry’s mind, just brushing him, just out of grasp, but the impression they left made Harry feel… fond. More than that, they made him feel like he actually knew him.

And on the other hand there was Lyra. He didn’t think he trusted Lyra, not really – at least, not in the same way that he might Alphard. He thought he – liked her, maybe. He had defended her to his own friends in the real world, after all. But he found it too hard to get past her surname, and then there was the way it was implied that she had a habit of extracting information from people, that she had spies in the castle.

As he pondered this, he felt – something. Like the ground sliding out from beneath him, only in his mind, and suddenly he was standing in an otherwise empty corridor across from what could only be a young Lyra – she couldn’t be more than eleven.

She was tiny, with her long blonde hair in plaited pigtails, wearing her Hogwarts robes, and she was speaking to him.

“Harry – did the hat – when you were sorted into Gryffindor, did it say anything? About the other houses?”

“How d’you mean?” he asked, his voice higher-pitched, belying his own younger age.

The girl in the memory seemed to steel herself, standing tall, straightening her shoulders as best as someone that small could.

“Did it suggest that you could’ve been sorted elsewhere?”

Harry felt, in the memory, his warring emotions – hesitation, fear, and... relief. “Yeah,” he said finally. “It said I’d do well in Slytherin. It – it gave me a choice, and I asked to go somewhere else.”

The girl didn’t look surprised. She looked, instead, like a suspicion had been confirmed.

“Why?” Harry asked.

“Because,” she said. “It gave me a choice, too. For Slytherin. I chose Ravenclaw.”

Harry felt himself frown, furrow his brow. “But why? Your whole family’s Slytherin. They’d be happy if you were sorted there.”

The girl snorted, a sound out of place from her eleven-year-old self. But then, in a way, it wasn’t out of place at all. It seemed like a sign of things to come.

“I know they would be. Everyone would be. They’d be glad that I was easy, that I was doing what I should. And then they’d forget all about me, because I’d be just another Malfoy. But this way, they can’t do that. Don’t you see? I won’t let them forget.”

She sounded so fierce in that moment that Harry thought he understood, all at once, why she was his friend. He understood the relief, too, because this was something they shared, a secret, an understanding. He knew with a strange certainty that he and Lyra – the other Harry and Lyra, he corrected himself absently, but it was hard to express that difference while still under the spell of the memory – that they’d been friends before, but what he’d seen had been a galvanizing moment, like the encounter with the troll had been for him and Hermione and Ron.

Okay, he thought. Okay. I get it.

He blinked and he was back in the Prefect’s bathroom, and he would've stumbled were he not sitting down – it was a disorienting sensation.

It was the strongest memory he’d had yet, and he wasn’t sure what had happened – had he summoned it, or had whatever part of the other Harry that remained in his mind pushed it forth?

At any rate, he’d asked a question, and the memory answered. He wondered if he could trust Lyra and it seemed to tell him he ought - that, at least, the other Harry had, with something that, if he were anything like himself, he'd consider one of his deepest secrets.

(And then there was the notion that this Harry had, still, been offered a place in Slytherin. In his own world Harry had, since learning he was a Horcrux, suspected that its presence in his mind was what had led the hat to suggest Slytherin. The thought that it might have done so without the bit of Voldemort in him was... both unsettling, and not. Unsettling because Slytherin, not, in part, because it meant that the Horcrux had influenced him less than he thought.

He simply was who he was, regardless of Voldemort or his Horcrux or the prophecy.

And that was– well, that was almost reassuring.)

Harry realized belatedly that he had probably been silent for a long time. The other two were still talking, animatedly discussing their theories on Riddle’s presence in the school, and he thought perhaps they hadn’t noticed – but then Lyra gave him a look out of the corner of her eye.

Trust or not, he ought to realize she was clever. After all, he didn’t think that she’d asked him – asked the other Harry – about his sorting all those years ago at random. Something had to have made her suspect a secret he held close to his chest.

He just had to hope she was clever enough that she let him get out his whole story before hitting him with a Stupefy.

He took a deep breath, ready to reveal himself-

-but suddenly Alphard was asking, “What about the Gringotts break in?”

Harry blinked. He’d almost forgotten about that over the course of the evening.

“I’m not sure,” Lyra said slowly, seeming as thrown by the sudden change in topic as Harry was. “I’ve heard the suspect they arrested managed to kill himself in a ministry holding cell before he could be taken to trial.”

Shit,” said Alphard. “Can’t blame the bugger, but that’s – well. Who’d you hear it from?”

“The Carrow twins,” she said.

Alphard winced. “Probably true, then. Their aunt’s an enforcer, isn’t she?”

“Mm,” Lyra hummed in agreement. Harry wondered what an enforcer was. If it was a position held by a Carrow he reasoned it must be nasty, perhaps something to do with the hint at Snatcher-types earlier. “Harry, did your father mention anything?”

“No,” he said, beginning to grow a little tired of that question. “I was going to write him and ask.”

Lyra raised an eyebrow at him. “Think he’ll tell you anything?”

“I dunno,” he replied honestly.

“Suppose it depends on what they were after,” added Alphard. “If this bloke offed himself, it must’ve been important. He’d only do that if he thought he were facing serious time in Azkaban.”

“Or Nuremgard,” Lyra murmured.

Alphard’s eyes widended and so, too, did Harry’s, though he suspected it was for a different reason – this was the first mention he’d heard of Grindlewald’s prison. He hadn’t been sure it existed until now.

“For a robbery?” Alphard asked incredulously.

“Like you said,” Lyra answered, far calmer. “For him to do that, it must’ve been dire. There must have been something he didn’t want anyone to know.”

Harry noticed that Alphard’s expression had closed off entirely at some point. It was strange to see his face, which was normally easy to read, shut off so. Lyra seemed to have noticed too because she slipped a hand into his. Harry thought she looked apologetic, though he didn't know for what.

“It’s getting late,” she said quietly, as if speaking to a frightened animal. Then, a little clearer, “I think we’ve covered enough ground. Let’s call it a night.”

Alphard seemed to shake himself. “Yeah. Yeah, okay.”

Harry was about to interrupt, to ask them to stay a moment longer so that he could get his story out, but Lyra shot him a warning look. He closed his mouth, startled, trying to figure out how she could know – but then he realized that Alphard still looked like he’d rather be in Moaning Myrtle’s toilet than here.

The last portion of their conversation seemed to have thrown him, much in the same way something earlier had – it seemed to affect him even more than talk of the three of them being thrown into Azkaban did, for some reason.

Harry sighed and gave it up as a bad deal. Lyra seemed… protective, in her own way, and he thought doing anything that upset her cousin more just then might end in Harry getting hexed.

“Alright,” he said instead, and at Lyra’s prompting he helped her reverse the spells on the cushions, which turned out to be bath towels. Then she removed the wards and turned to Alphard and cast a Disillusionment Charm on him. He batted at her hand as if to shoo her away but she rapped him on the head with her wand anyway.

“Can you do yours?” she asked Harry. He could, of course – he was a bloody Auror – though as he did, he wished again that he had his cloak.

Then she disappeared under her own spell and the three parted ways, Harry keeping track of Alphard on their way back to Gryffindor tower by the sound of his breathing.

Back in the Common Room, they stripped the charms off and Alphard, who seemed to have perked up some, remarked that he’d forgotten to ask Lyra about the Protean Charm.

“Tomorrow, I s’pose.”

They made their way up to the dormitory, Harry going over everything he’d accomplished and learned. It was a start – a weak one, perhaps, but he hadn’t cursed Riddle right in his pale smug face, which he thought counted for something.

He was still deep in thought as he made his way over to the other-Harry’s bed, Alphard having already flopped down face-first on his own, still fully dressed. Without thinking, Harry reached down to open the school trunk at its foot.

His hand was already on the lid when he recalled that he couldn’t – but then, with a click, the lid swung open.

Harry jumped back as if stung. Then, after a moment, he leaned over to look it - it was an ordinary school trunk like his own, with books and robes and everything else.

How?

“You going to stare in the thing all night? Accio Harry’s jim-jams. Ah, there we are.” Alphard tossed the summoned pajamas on top of Harry’s bed. “Put them on and go to sleep, Merlin’s balls.”

Harry was still blinking, stunned, at the open trunk.

Chapter Text

It felt very strange after the events of the previous day – night, and wasn’t that confusing – to put on his work robes and Floo to the Auror office as if nothing had happened.

Harry couldn’t help but think, as he arrested someone in connection with a Muggle-baiting case, that he was missing something. He was going about all this the wrong way still. But what was the right way? Research, like Hermione, or careful planning, like Ron? Or... what would Ginny do, anyway? Curse someone, probably.

He paused, briefly, to entertain the notion of hitting Tom Riddle with a bat bogey hex.

What was the Harry Potter way of doing things? Stumbling along until something stuck or he got lucky had sort of been his tactic in most of his adventures.

He couldn’t stop thinking about what Ginny had said – about his being less defensive than usual because Harry’s friends didn’t exist in the other world to be defensive of. But that went both ways, didn’t it? It also meant they weren’t there to spur him on, to back him up. In the dream world, he was entirely alone.

His being so lost in thought meant that he only partly dodged a hex the suspect sent his way, but it landed on his sleeve, just singeing the fabric a bit. He snapped out an Incarcerous at the suspect in response, sending his rope-bound form to the ground.

But, then, there was the thing – he was a well-trained wizard, not a schoolboy. What was stopping him from just getting Riddle at wandpoint and forcing him to admit to whatever he was up to? He could – well. He probably couldn’t kill him. Harry didn’t fancy becoming a killer now. And there probably wasn’t anywhere to lock him up, either, not if Grindlewald were in charge and the prisons – and ministry - under his control.

“You alright, sir– Harr- Pott-?” asked Twigg. “Looks like one of his spells hit.”

Harry pinched the bridge of his nose under his glasses. “For Christ’s actual sake, please call me anything but 'Sir Hair Pot'. And I’m fine, my robes got it.”

And then there was that – his dad, or the other Harry’s dad, was an Auror. Meaning he worked for the ministry. Did that mean he was corrupt? Or was he possibly – what, a spy? Or perhaps there were pockets of the ministry outside of Grindlewald’s sphere of influence – it had certainly never been an efficient or cohesive organization, it wasn’t beyond imagining-

“Your robes which are spelled to be impervious to all but the most serious damage, you mean. If that’d caught you on skin you’d be in St. Mungos right now.”

Harry pinched harder.

“If you don’t mind me saying so, s- Harry. You’re not looking well lately. Sort of peaky-like. You look like death warmed over, actually.”

He was too tired for this. Lately it felt like all he did was sleep, but he was still so tired. “I thought Hufflepuffs were meant to be nice.”

Twigg blinked. “Who told you that? Anyway – I’m only saying. Sometimes lately it’s clear your heart’s not in it, you know? Not any point in being an Auror and helping people if your heart isn’t in it.”

“I care a good deal about catching dark wizards, Twigg,” Harry snapped. “Do I really have to remind you of that?”

“It’s Alex. And that’s another thing – you’d never play the ‘I’m Harry Potter’ card if you were feeling like yourself; you hate that rubbish.”

“I- wait, what?”

Harry, who had been prepared to raise his voice – not yell, just raise his voice a little if it meant Twigg would go away and leave him be – paused.

“Which part?”

“The part where you apparently know me well enough to know what rubbish I hate?”

“I’m your partner, Harry! I’ve been your partner for a year. Which is how I know when you’re not giving it your all, which, might I remind you, is dangerous in a line of work where people are constantly pointing their wands at you?”

“Are you lot goin’ to take me to the feckin’ ministry?” interrupted the scabby middle-aged man who still lay on the ground. “Or are we going to be sat here all day listenin’ to that one havin’ an existential crisis?”

“Existential’s a pretty big word for a man caught cursing children,” said Twigg – Alex – but he grabbed the man by the conjured ropes anyway and apparated to the ministry’s holding cells, casting Harry one last forlorn look before he vanished.

-

“Harry, I hardly think it’s cowardly not to march into an unfamiliar, hostile universe wands blazing.”

“I’m not saying-“ Harry cut himself off. Why did he tell Hermione things, anyway? There was something about being alone with her in her cramped office having a cup of tea.

Maybe this was how therapists worked- maybe they tricked you into spilling your secrets by looking at you all full of concern will quills sticking out of their hair. Or pens. Or – whatever.

“Well, no, of course you didn’t say that exactly,” Hermione was saying, “But it’s what you meant. Look – there are some things that call for subtlety. For – for subterfuge. Think of it like an undercover mission-“

“Shit’s sake, I know what subterfuge is. I am actually good at my job, you know.”

“I never said you weren’t. But you’re not treating this like a job, are you? You aren’t thinking rationa- oh, I said I wouldn’t do this!” Hermione let out a frustrated, garbled scream and threw up her hands, upsetting a stack of files.

“Look,” she went on, calmer if one ignored the frenzied way she retrieved and re-stacked the files, “What I meant to say is – I think you ought to keep doing what you’re doing. Integrating yourself, gathering information – I think you’re right that there’s very little you could do immediately and outright that wouldn’t get you… killed.”

“…you’re not going to tack on ‘or expelled’?”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” said Hermione primly. “You’re a grown man.”

“Never did get my NEWTS, though,” Harry pointed out.

“Oh,” said Hermione brightly. “You know, you could use this as an opportunity to study for them! Assuming their curriculum isn’t terribly different-“

She began cackling madly at the dismayed look Harry gave her. “Oh Harry, your face. I’m joking! You aren’t the only one who can joke, honestly. Although, actually, now I think of it-“

Harry threw a bit of discarded parchment at her.

“Anyway,” he said, as her laughter died down. “That’s rather the point, isn’t it? I am a grown man, and an Auror besides – I ought to be able to do more than just.. just sit around, waiting for something to happen.”

Hermione frowned. “Think of it… I don’t know, like Ginny and Neville during that awful year at Hogwarts. They didn’t curse the Carrows outright, but they were helping the other students all the same. You’d never have said they were ‘sitting around’.”

Harry did not see the parallel at all, and the look on his face must have said so, because Hermione sighed.

“Oh, why are we arguing? I’m just – worried. We all are. Ginny is worried sick, you know.”

Harry gave her an incredulous look. “Ginny spent ten minutes last night listing charms she thought Riddle might use to make his hair shine. She wrote a note that says ‘would get along with Lockhart: discuss’.”

“I don’t think he wou- ah. I mean, I know, but you know Ginny – she uses humor like a shield that way. She’s really very concerned. She went over to the Burrow this morning to help Molly de-gnome. Voluntarily. I suspect she’s working off stress.”

The dark look that crossed Hermione’s face showed exactly what she thought of de-gnoming as an activity, but the fact she’d not said anything at all about how inhumane it was suggested to Harry that perhaps she might be serious.

“How do you and Ginny know so much about each other, anyway?” Harry had not been made aware of this situation previously, and he found it a little frightening.

“Well, we did have a whole year together at Hogwarts without you and Ron around,” Hermione pointed out. “We had a lot of time to talk.”

Right. More than a little frightening. “Do you mind if we get back to the dream?”

“Of course not. Where were we? You’d just gotten out of Riddle’s class..?”

“Right. Er. Then there was a thing with the vow.”

“The vow?”

“What do you know about wizard’s oaths?”

-

Harry was relieved when finally his day was over and he was meeting with Ginny and Ron and Hermione in the latters’ flat, although Hermione kept alternating between peppering him with questions and trailing off thinking. Apparently being presented with so many things to think on at once had her at a standstill. Harry couldn’t help but remember the lesson on Boggarts, how they got stuck if too many people looked at them, unable to decide what to shift to. If there were an equivalent that represented thought processes rather than fears, Hermione’s would flicker between a trunk, a promise, and the prefect’s bathroom before it froze.

Shortly after arriving home, she’d removed half a dozen books from her bag and had all of them open on the dining room table while they waited for Ron to get home, as if she thought she could read them simultaneously.

Harry, meanwhile, watched Ginny, who, now he was looking for it, did have the sort of crease between her eyebrows she got when she was anxious about something.

“Sorry,” he told her. “For spoiling your week off.”

She kicked him ineffectually under the table.

“Don’t mind me,” she said. “Anyway, it’s like Christmas for Hermione.”

“I’m not enjoying myself,” Hermione muttered.

Then Ron appeared to save them all. “Though I’m not really sure why we’re all needed for this – no offense, Harry.”

“Aw, Ronniekins,” said Ginny, “Do you have somewhere better to be?”

-

They Floo’d directly into Neville’s office, a solitary greenhouse full of all the plants that couldn’t be trusted alone around the children.

“You know,” he said, conversationally, “Technically, none of you are actually allowed to be on school grounds right now.”

“We were here a few days ago,” Ron pointed out.

“By invitation of the headmistress,” said Neville. “Who, by the way, monitors the Floos, if I’m not mistaken.”

“I did think we should tell her, but – well, I still have some books out that I’m not done with,” Hermione said.

Neville said, “Well, so long as we all know my job’s at risk. Are you going to tell me about- whatever this is?”

Harry, who was rather tired of describing the events of the past week, made short work of it. “I’ve been travelling to an alternate dimension in my sleep,” he said succinctly. “Grindlewald’s alive, Tom Riddle’s a professor, and it’s real and we don’t know why it’s happening.”

“Also,” Ginny added, “we’re here to see if ghosts can read minds.”

Neville, to his credit, only blinked once and brought a hand up to rub at his ear. Then, “Ron, stop touching that. It’s a cutting of Devil’s Snare.”

Ron jerked his hand away from the plant he’d been prodding.

Neville seemed to think for a moment, then he lifted his head and gave them all a look that Harry was quite certain he learned from Professor Sprout – it was fond and scolding at once, as if they were his beloved but especially stupid children. Harry didn’t know quite what to make of it, particularly because he’d seen Neville give exactly the same look to vicious carnivorous plants.

In fact, he’d probably included the devil’s snare it in just then.

“Well, Harry,” he said, “you don’t do things by halves.”

Harry frowned at him. “I wish everyone would stop acting like this is my fault. It’s not like I asked for this.”

Neville looked like he wanted to roll his eyes but was too nice to. “Right. Tell me what I can do to help, then. You need to talk to the Ravenclaw ghost, yeah?”

“Yes,” said Hermione. “I don’t suppose you know where-“

“Erm,” interrupted Harry, “I’m not actually sure it’s the best idea if you go, ‘Mione – it’s only that she’s very cryptic.” In fact, he had a really spectacular mental image of Hermione in a shouting row with the Grey Lady. It was as clear as if he were a Seer.

Hermione looked up from where she was swatting off an especially grabby ivy. “And?”

“Harry’s got a point, love,” said Ron. “You don’t mix well with cryptic. Maybe Harry and I can go talk to the ghost and you can.. er, visit the library?”

Hermione narrowed her eyes at him. “I do have other interests-“

“Here’s a thought,” Ginny cut in. “Hermione and I could go talk to Dumbeldore’s portrait.”

Harry had very nearly forgotten that he’d wanted to do so. Now he considered how he felt about the two of them going in his stead.

It wasn’t so strange, he decided, to not want to talk to his old headmaster when he was irritable and tired and all the rest of it. It was common sense - Dumbledore was difficult to speak with at the best of times. And his portrait was very near Snape’s, and he really wasn’t in any mood to deal with Snape – being dead and painted hadn’t improved his personality very much.

“I think that’s a good idea,” Harry said.

“Being headmistress,” said Neville, “McGonagall is quite often in her office. Unless you were planning on breaking into it while she’s out – Ginny could probably tell you, it’s harder than it looks.”

“We have the password,” said Hermione, not seeming at all offended at being accused of considering breaking and entering.

“Right,” said Ron. “Nev, maybe you could draw McGonagall out of the castle and send us a message when she’s heading back?”

Neville gave them another of his my-beloved-but-quite-daft-children looks. “Well. I suppose I could ask her to come have a look at the wards on the firebushes. That’ll buy you twenty minutes, maybe?”

“You’re a god among men, Nev,” said Ginny, giving him a mock salute.

That time, Neville did roll his eyes.

-

Ron and Harry set out in the general direction of Ravenclaw Tower once in the castle – they didn’t know where the Grey Lady might be, but that seemed like a good place to begin. They kept to the shadows and lesser-used corridors along the way. Harry felt like he was back in school again, sneaking around after curfew, and said so.

“There’s less of someone trying to murder us this time,” Ron pointed out. "And if I see Filch, I'm stunning him."

Then suddenly he seized Harry by the back of his shirt and dragged him into an alcove behind a statue of a siren plaiting her hair.

“Shh!” He held up one finger, then pointed in the direction of the intersecting corridor opposite.

Sure enough, someone came through in that direction – it was the new Potions professor, a youngish woman Harry thought was named Professor Farley. Her head was buried in a book and she didn’t so much as glance their way as she turned down the corridor and headed in the direction they’d came from.

When she was gone, they stumbled out of the alcove, Ron laughing. “You’re right, it’s like we never left.”

“Good reflexes,” teased Harry. “You’d think you were an Auror.”

“You’d think,” said Ron.

“Do you miss it?” Harry asked suddenly. He wasn’t sure why he had, only that it was a thought that popped into his head now and then.

“Nah,” said Ron. “Not really.” He shrugged in an easy sort of way, and Harry knew he was telling the truth.

Still, he asked – “why not?”

“Dunno. I reckon it wasn’t any good for me, being tense all the time, wondering what was going to come next. I’ve had enough of that for a lifetime.”

“You were good at it, though,” Harry said. He wasn’t really sure who he was trying to convince.

“I s’pose. Would you miss it, if you left?”

He should’ve expected Ron would turn it back around on him – his friend had always been more astute than people thought. “Of course,” he said, and it didn’t sound nearly as convincing as Ron’s denial had been. “I like helping people,” he tacked on, in an attempt to smooth it over, because that, at least, he knew to be true.

“There’s more than one way to help people though, isn’t there? Personally, I think Fred and George were onto something when they left school fifth year – they made people laugh, and we needed that, didn’t we? Seems to me laughing’s a pretty good weapon against darkness.”

Harry couldn't help but grin – the swamp and the fireworks were one of his favorite memories. “I guess you’re right,” he said. “But working in a joke shop’s not for me. I mean,” he added hastily, “I think you’re right, it’s brilliant, it’s good for you, but-“

“No, I know. But it doesn’t have to be for you, does it? There’re loads of other ways to help people. Look at Hermione – she’s going to be minister one day if she keeps it up. And Neville’s teaching the next generation of kids, and Hannah gets us all drunk and listens to us while we talk about how shit things have been, and Dean’ll be in charge of the Prophet one day and we might actually have some decent press for once.”

But that only served to make Harry more miserable, because it reminded him that all his friends seemed to have found something they enjoyed. “I don’t know what I want to do,” he admitted.

“You’re twenty, mate. You don’t need to know. Hermione’s always saying if wizards weren’t so barmy we’d all be in – whatsit, uni right now.”

Harry just shook his head. “I’ve wasted enough of my life.”

Ron snorted. “Y’know that wizards can live to 200 years old, yeah? Great-Aunt Muriel’s probably older than running water, by my reckoning.” But he didn’t say anything else and let Harry lapse into silence as they walked the rest of the way to Ravenclaw Tower.

They stood in the hall just outside the tower entrance, where beautiful stained-glass windows let in the twilight and cast it in fragments of red and gold and blue all over the floor.

“D’you think we could – dunno, summon her?” he was saying when Helena Ravenclaw appeared at the corner of his field of vision.

Ron jumped back about a foot, turning red and gripping the stone wall. “Fuck’s sake,” he said emphatically.

Harry waited until his own heart was done trying to race off and turned to her. “Hello,” he said, in a way that he hoped was polite.

She sighed and tossed a specter of hair over one shoulder. “You again?”

Off to a fantastic start, Harry thought.

“I spoke to – another version of yourself. In another world,” he said.

Helena raised a fine brow, as if bidding him to continue, so he did.

“She seemed to know what we had talked about before.”

Helena only stared at him, as if to say “yes, and?” It was very irritating. Harry took a deep breath.

“Well, how is that possible? How does the version of you in that world know what I told you in this world? Can you read my thoughts, or-“

The Grey Lady stared at him for a long minute. Harry was just growing to be very uncomfortable when she said, finally, “No. I do not know your thoughts. I only know my own.”

“…then what?” he asked. “How do you…”

“Her thoughts,” said the ghost, “are my own.”

Harry shook his head, trying to dissect that answer. “You’re saying you can read her mind, then? How could that be true unless you're the same-" Person? Ghost? He wasn’t sure which term to use.

“Not the same. Alike. Ghosts are alike in every world,” said Helena. “We are like ourselves.”

And that, Harry thought, did not make sense at all. “Every world where we were born,” she continued, as if reading his thoughts, “and died.”

“But that can’t be right,” said Harry aloud.

Helena smiled enigmatically, though perhaps it was only a trick of the light on her pallid features.

“Fine. Okay. You're alike. That still doesn’t explain how the other version of you can talk, or share thoughts, or whatever, with the version of you in my world.”

“Which world is yours?” she asked, in a tone that said she wasn’t really looking for an answer.

Harry was growing frustrated. He remembered the Ravenclaw common room’s door and wondered if riddles were particular to that house.It really was for the best that they hadn’t brought Hermione. She’d be pulling her hair out by now.

Suddenly, as if taking pity on him, or perhaps just to prolong the conversation, the ghost said “Souls.”

“Souls?” said Harry, suddenly uneasy. Every conversation he’d ever had about souls had been about fractured ones, acts of murder, unholy magic.

“Souls are the same in every world.”

“Not alike?”

She smiled again. This time, there was no enigma in it. It was wide and real and Harry had to force himself not to back away. “Souls are not from this world, not from yours – they are from someplace else. You’ve been there.”

He thought immediately of the train station. A wriggling shade of a thing, bawling underneath his seat.

Yes,” she said. The word sent a shiver down his spine.

Harry shook his head to clear it. “What’s that mean, then?” he demanded. “Because this world’s Tom Riddle divided his soul into pieces and we destroyed them, but he’s walking around the other world as alive as anything.”

“Not destroyed,” she mused. “Displaced. Don’t worry, young lion,” she said, seeing a flicker of panic in his eyes as he considered that Voldemort’s soul could somehow knit itself back together. “They’ve been banished. They will never reunite with his body, or any body, in this world.”

“Why are you telling me this? And what does it have to do with ghosts? Or the other world, or-“ Literally anything, he wanted to say.

“Mind, body, spirit. Or mind, body, soul. Take your pick.”

“What?”

“The recipe for Man. Or Wizard, as it were.”

Ron cut in, suddenly. “So you’re saying ghosts are – what, soul and mind?” Harry had forgotten the other man was there.

She made a small, low, hmm-ing sound that Harry took for confirmation. “The body is tethered to one world. The mind to one body. But the soul is shared – the soul is free to wander.”

Harry thought he understood what she was saying, now – that the other world’s Helena and the ghost in front of him shared a soul, that it meant, somehow, that they could communicate, consciously or unconsciously, that one might know what the other had thought or said.

But- “I think I’d know if I shared my soul with another body,” he said. “Different worlds or not.”

She laughed. The sound was brittle, like breaking glass, or more accurately, like the impression of a sound of glass breaking. Harry was reminded of a parrot he’d seen on telly once that mimicked everything from people’s voices to doors slamming closed.

This was a parrot of a window shattering into a thousand pieces.

“You think it is a definite thing? A knowable thing, a splitable thing? You think it so small?”

“Riddle split his,” Harry pointed out again. “He carved it into seven pieces.”

“Carved seven pieces out,” said the ghost, as if that made all the difference. “Put them aside. You think of it as if the soul is a glass of water, comprised of drops. Remove a drop, and there is less water. Souls do not work that way. They are never less.”

“I saw what was left of him at the end," he said stubbornly. "It was definitely less.”

She sighed, or else a breeze flowed through the corridor.

“We’re getting off track,” Ron interjected again. “Look, do you know why Harry is – connecting, or whatever, to another world? Do you know why he’s dreaming about it?”

“Perhaps he’s a ghost,” said Helena, who’d cocked her head to the side as she regarded Ron. “Or perhaps he’s only traveling as one.”

“Do you know of anything that could make someone – a living person – do that?” Ron asked very patiently.

She smiled widely, and the black void of her mouth behind her teeth seemed endless.

“Right,” said Ron. “This is bloody useless.” He turned to leave, and Harry, after a moment, went to join him.

“One more thing, Harry,” murmured a voice in his ear. He jumped, and turned around again, and shuddered when he realized that Helena hadn’t moved from her position down the hall. She stood, perfectly still, in the half-light of the high windows.

“Destinies,” said the voice in his ear – and the ghost’s pale lips did not part – “are tied to the soul.”

And then she vanished, all of her, body and disembodied voice, and Harry felt like he’d been dipped in a bath of ice.

-

Harry nearly raced to catch up with Ron’s long strides, using the exercise as an excuse not to think or speak of the last thing that Ravenclaw’s ghost had said.

“Bloody ghost,” muttered Ron. “I hope the others are having more luck than we are.”

“At least she confirmed she knows what the – er, other her is doing.”

“Did she? Sounded like she was spouting a bunch of shit to me. Who knows what it meant.”

Harry felt, with a sense of dread, that what the Grey Lady had said made more sense than they could know. But if he told Ron that, he’d have to tell him the last thing the ghost said-

“Where are we going?” he asked instead.

“Head’s office,” said Ron. “Neville hasn’t sent us a message yet, so we must still have time. Let’s go see if Dumbeldore’s said anything.”

Harry, reckoning things couldn’t get much worse, decided he could probably face the portrait after all so long as they were all there.

They arrived at the gargoyle statue and gave it the password from a few days before, and found that Hermione and Ginny were still in the office alone, each sitting on one of McGonagall’s tartan armchairs and facing Dumbledore’s portrait.

“Oh, there you are,” Ginny greeted them, a little too brightly. “You haven’t missed anything,” she said. Harry recognized her tone for what it was – she was incredibly annoyed.

Hermione wore her own annoyance more blatantly, though she seemed to be struggling to hold onto the shred of respect she used in dealing with any authority figure. “Professor Dumbledore was just telling us about his – history,” she said, a little strained.

“His study of the properties of dragon’s blood,” added Ginny. “To be precise.”

“-oh. Er. Why?” That was Ron.

“Hello, professor,” Harry said to the portrait, a little weakly.

Dumbledore had been painted in his favorite robes with glittering stars on. They, and his eyes, twinkled merrily as he replied. “Hello, my dear boy. Oh, but I ought not call you that. You’re not a boy any longer, are you?”

“It’s alright,” said Harry. “Sir.”

“We’ve just been asking Professor Dumbledore about his duel with Grindlewald,” Hermione cut in. “For our research project,” she said, pointedly.

“Indeed,” said the portrait. “And such interesting questions! I’m afraid I can’t be of more help. You see, certain memories are lost to me – being a portrait.”

“The professor was painted with an encyclopedic knowledge of potions,” said Ginny. “And, apparently, the rules of gobstones.”

“So that I may converse with Severus, here,” said the portrait, indicating Snape in his own frame. The man in question sneered at them all quite meanly, but said nothing. Harry thought he gave Hermione the worst sneer of them all, proportionately speaking, which was an interesting turn of events. “We spend a great many hours discussing the properties of ingredients,” he went on. “You’ll find his own memory on the subject remains even more thorough than my own.”

“…and the gobstones?” Harry couldn’t help but ask.

“Ah,” Professor Dumbledore said, “many of the portraits play, in fact. We hold a bi-monthly tournament.”

“Sir – professor. This is…” Harry trailed off. He was finding it hard, still, to meet the portrait’s eyes. Ginny tugged at his sleeve and shifted in her armchair so that she perched on one of the arms instead. Harry took the seat. “This is very important,” he said more firmly, gazing up. “Are you sure you can’t remember anything that might help us?”

“With our project,” said Hermione.

“Right. That.”

Professor Dumbledore looked out over his frame and seemed to take them all in. Harry thought he saw a smile twitch around his lips.

“There is one thing I recall,” he said finally. Harry leaned forward. “Gellert’s weakness,” said Dumbledore, more quietly, “was very much the same as Tom’s. He underestimated people. He underestimated their strength of character, their loyalty to their loved ones. And he overestimated, I think, himself – he never did quite trust anyone. Even Tom, I believe, trusted some of his followers, to an extent, but Gellert did not confide his true plans in any of his own. He was quite alone, in the end.”

Harry just stopped himself from sighing. He hadn’t known what he expected, really – that Dumbledore would tell him his old friend favored his left leg? That he was afraid of fire, or the dark?

“How did you defeat him then, sir?” Ron cut in.

The portrait did smile, then. “By being a moment quicker. By holding out just that much longer. It was a very close fight, you know.” His tone was strangely light, but then, Harry supposed, it had been a very long time ago, and after all, he was not the real Dumbledore. Not really.

“What would have happened if he’d won?” asked Hermione, a little too curiously for her to be working on a research project.

“Oh, I expect some very terrible things – and some very wonderful ones. He was quite clever, quite ambitious. He had so many ideas for how things ought to be done. Not all of them, I must admit, were bad.”

Hermione sort of frowned at him in reply, but Harry thought that it was somehow true. He’d seen a world ruled by Grindlewald, and no, it was not all bad.

“Thank you," said Harry. He was most familiar with the rhythm of conversations with Dumbledore out of all of them, and knew the man would not say much else of use.

“Oh, it was nothing at all. I hope you each come by again, when you have time. I do so enjoy talking to old friends.”

They said their goodbyes and left the office then.

Somehow, Harry thought, the painter had captured the detail that had made his old professor’s company so frustrating – that his words, his advice, always seemed nearly meaningless until Harry had needed them most.

They headed towards the greenhouses. Eventually, Ron asked, “How did Snape manage to keep so quiet?”

“Oh!” said Hermione, and Ginny suddenly began cackling. “You remember the portrait of Sirius’ mother?”

“How could I forget,” groaned Ron. "I used to have nightmares about that bloody thing."

“Well, I’d studied portrait charms at the time, looking for a way to keep one quiet – I never did find one that worked, whatever spellwork had been done on her was so powerful, but I thought I’d try one I learned on Professor Snape.”

Harry, catching on, asked “You silenced Professor Snape’s portrait?”

“Well… he was being so awful! He kept going on about my still being a nosy busybody.”

“It was excellent,” said Ginny, looping her arm through Harry’s. “I’ll cherish the memory forever."

When they arrived at the greenhouses, Neville was in his office again. “You just missed McGonagall,” he told them. “I’m not sure she was convinced.”

“Oh well,” said Ron. “We got in, anyway. We saw the Grey Lady, for whatever that was worth.”

“Oh! What did the ghost say?” Hermione turned on them.

“Bunch of rubbish,” said Ron.

At Hermione’s expectant look, Harry added, “We’ll tell you later. We ought to get goi-“

Then a familiar silvery-grey cat cut between them, opening its mouth.

I KNOW YOU’RE ALL HERE, intoned the Patronus. COME JOIN THE STAFF FOR DINNER. THE HOUSE ELVES CAUGHT WIND OF YOUR PRESENCE, AND THEY HAVE QUITE OUTDONE THEMSELVES.

“-she didn’t sound angry,” Ron began, but McGonagall’s Patronus was not done.

SHOULD YOU FAIL TO, I WILL PERSONALLY SEE YOU BANNED FROM THE GROUNDS FOR LIFE. Then the spell fell apart in a cloud of stars.

“Have we just been threatened into attending dinner?” wondered Hermione aloud.

“I’m pretty sure, yeah,” said Ginny. “I’m starved anyway. We had to listen to the complete rules of gobstones, earlier. It was a nightmare.”

Neville was openly grinning at them, the bastard.

“What are you smiling at?” asked Ron. “You’re the one who’ll be fired if she finds out you let us in.”

“Ahh,” he waved a hand, “she already knows, I’d say. You’d best be going.”

“You aren’t coming?”

“I’ll be there in a mo’. Actually,” he said, “Harry, could you wait a bit? There was something I wanted to ask you about.”

Harry shrugged and stayed behind as the rest of his friends left the greenhouse. Neville gestured at him to follow and took a seat at his desk, Harry sitting in the chair across. Tendrils of something grew up through the cracks in the stone floor below them and around the chair and the legs of the desk, which was covered in strange potted plants.

“What is it?” he asked Neville, feeling a little like a student. Or, for that matter, like Neville was Hermione in her office – he wondered if the two were comparing notes.

He continued wondering as Neville went on to say, “I got a letter from Alex. He’s worried – says you don’t seem yourself, lately.”

“Alex?”

“Twigg? Your partner?” One of the plants began to hum softly, and Neville reached out a hand as if to pat it.

“I know who Alex is,” said Harry waspishly, although he actually had forgotten, for a moment. “I’m just wondering why he’s writing to you. Didn’t even know you two knew each other.”

“I was an Auror for a while, remember?” Actually, Harry had nearly forgotten that, too. Neville left even before Ron did, taking up a herbology apprenticeship with Sprout instead. “Anyway,” Neville added, “I spent a good deal of time with Hufflepuffs at Hogwarts. Also, we were on the chess team together.”

Harry was briefly distracted from his irritation at that. “I still can’t believe Hogwarts had a chess team and I didn’t know. Why wasn’t Ron on it?” Then he remembered the topic at hand. “I suppose you’re going to ask me about my career choices, too.” He wondered why his friends all seemed so bloody incapable of minding their own business. He would’ve gotten up to leave then, only Neville had a sort of effect on people – Harry would have felt guilty, if not then, then later, if he’d stormed out on him.

Neville blinked. “Er, no. I was only going to ask if you were doing alright. Though, after today’s events, I was actually going to ask if you’d been taking any Dreamless Sleep?”

Harry looked up. “How’d you know that?”

Neville shrugged. “It’s what I’d have done if I were having strange dreams. But the side effects are tiredness and, er. Mood swings?”

“I didn’t know there were side effects,” Harry said, electing to ignore the implication. He realized he hadn’t actually known much about the potion at all, just that he’d taken it during fifth year – that was once, though. “I’ve taken it three times, so far,” he said a little guiltily. “Is that… bad?”

“No, not really. It’s safe,” Neville assured him, “for up to a week or so of regular use. But it does make you tired during the day, makes you a bit off-balance. Some people theorize that not having dreams means your mind’s not getting the rest that it should. Anyway, it sounds as if it’s not helping, so why’re you still taking it, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“It makes the dreams clearer,” Harry admitted. “When I take it, I actually sort of… hear, or see, the Harry’s thoughts.”

“Merlin. That’s – weird,” said Neville.

Harry shrugged. “It helps. Everyone’s been on me about my acting odd though, so maybe I should stop.” He frowned at the idea of going into the dreams blind again.

Neville hm’d to himself, seeming to think. “There’re a few herbs that have similar effects – maybe you ought to try one of them, see if they work the same way? I have valerian root here you could have.”

“Really? That’d be brilliant, Nev.”

Neville looked sheepish in the way he often did at praise. “Well, it’s only an herb. Don’t mix it with any potions, though – not the Dreamless Sleep or anything else, it might have worse side effects than a bit of tiredness if you do.”

Harry agreed readily, getting up to follow Neville to Greenhouse Two where the valerian root grew.

“You know,” said Neville matter-of-factly as he prepared some clippings, Harry standing off to one side awkwardly with his hands in his pockets, “it is true you don’t have to stay in the Aurors, though. If you don’t want to.”

Harry groaned. “I’m not… giving up,” he said.

“Is that what you think I did?” Neville asked. Harry felt a pang of guilt and opened his mouth to say something. “Kidding,” he laughed, at the look on Harry’s face. “I don’t really mind one way or another, frankly. It was my choice to make. My point is, it’s not as if you have to chose one thing and stick with it your whole life. How many people do, anyway? You know how Hannah’s training with Madame Pomfrey?”

Harry hadn’t known that and said as much. “I thought she liked the Leaky.”

“She does, but that’s the point. You can like something and still not want to do it every day. You can like something and like another thing just as much or more.”

“I know that,” Harry grumbled. "What are you suggesting I do, then?" He didn't think his bad mood just then had anything to do with the potion.

“Who knows? You could create new Bertie Bott’s flavors, maybe. Hunt snorcacks with Luna. You could take a break and do nothing at all.”

Harry did not know how to say that he was afraid that if he took a break, that he might never – un-break. That he might remain in stasis, forever.

Luckily, Neville only clapped him on the back and handed him a little cloth sack of something earthy-smelling. “One segment a night ought to do it,” Neville said. “Remember, no potions.”

“Right,” said Harry.

“Let’s get to dinner,” Neville said. “Last time the elves went ‘all out’ there was a singing pudding. It got through an entire aria before McGonagall had enough and started cutting it.”

-

As he’d rather expected, Hermione was much more interested in the Grey Lady’s cryptic words than Ron had been. She’d followed him back to his flat while Ron accompanied Ginny to the Burrow, and he recounted the conversation to the best of his ability.

“Mind, body, and soul-“ Hermione muttered. “You know, the houses at Ilvermorny – the American wizarding school – are supposed to represent the mind, body, soul, and heart. The components of a wizard - but 'heart' is a little dubious, I suppose...”

Harry nodded along as he had been doing.

“I wonder what it means, though – for the soul to travel. You know, it reminds me rather of astral projection. That’s a muggle concept. Well, muggle magical concept, I guess. It’s rather…” She waved a hand vaguely, a gesture he interpreted to mean that astral projection belonged to a field of study Hermione refused to give her time or interest.

“New-agey?” Harry offered.

“Yes. Although there’s precedent outside of New Age literature. Many, perhaps most, ancient cultures describe methods of traveling outside of one’s body in dreams or trances.”

Harry knew very little about muggle “magic”, about New Age whatever. He remembered when he was younger, and a New Age shop opened in town, and Petunia had shrieked at Dudley never to go near it (that Harry wouldn’t was a given) and written a sharp letter to the paper about pagans and declining moral standards and the children, corruption, etc. The shop hadn’t stayed open long, anyway. Very little local interest, and from what Harry had seen, they had sold mostly books and candles and rather tacky statuettes.

“Can they really do it? Muggles, I mean – can they… project?”

Hermione drummed her fingers on the table. “Well, no, not really. But if you view it as either a type of lucid dreaming or a form of meditation-"

“But that’s not what I’m doing.”

“Well, no, I don’t think that’s what she was trying to tell you. But it does tie into what she was saying.” She sighed. “It gives me something to look at, anyway.”

“Hermione,” he said, as a thought began to form, “Do you think that someone is… doing this? To me? On purpose, I mean. If we’re supposing that my… soul, or mind, or whatever is hanging about in this other Harry’s body for hours at a time, do you think someone could be summoning it?”

Hermione blinked. “That’s certainly a thought. If they are, they must have a motive.”

“That’s what I’m afraid of,” said Harry. He was thinking of what the Grey Lady had said about destinies. He could only think of prophecies when he thought of that term, and prophecies, in his experience, never meant anything good.

Eventually, Hermione grew tired of questioning him, and Harry just grew tired.

He took the Valerian root as Neville had prompted before bed, and he slept, hoping that in the other world at least things would be growing clearer.

-

He woke in the bed in the Gryffindor dorms, which made for a nice change. It was certainly less disorienting than waking up in a still-standing body.

There was, however, a very shrill alarm going off, which spoiled the pleasantness somewhat.

“Black!” someone shouted. “Cancel that bloody thing!”

“Happily!” Alphard shouted back. “Top of the morning to you, too, Dash!”

Harry fumbled around on the nightstand ‘til he found the wand and glasses there. Sliding the glasses on his nose, he threw the curtains around his own four poster open.

“Harry! My best friend, closest chum-“ Christ, he's a morning person, Harry thought.

He was very tempted to re-close the curtains. Instead, he rubbed the sleep from his eyes, slid his glasses back down his nose, and swung his legs over the side of the bed.

“Shut up,” someone said.

“I’ll meet you in the Great Hall when you’re ready,” Alphard stage-whispered. He was, for some reason, already dressed.

Harry got ready himself - the trunk had opened for him again, and he’d found his uniform and school things but little else of note. Then he made his way to breakfast.

The Great Hall was nearly empty; it was early still. He found Alphard at the Ravenclaw table next to Lyra, who glanced up from a book when he approached.

“Good morning,” she said.

“Hullo,” said Harry.

“We’re waiting on the paper,” said Alphard.

“Don’t talk with bacon in your mouth, you savage.”

Alphard tossed a bit of bacon at Lyra’s head. She deflected it with a wordless, wandless spell. Harry was impressed despite himself.

He helped himself to eggs and a piece of toast, wondering why he’d never tried sitting at other house tables in his own world. Of course, Luna had been one of his only friends outside of Gryffindor – and, truth be told, he wasn’t sure if sitting at the other tables had been allowed. Looking around the hall, he saw that he and Alphard weren’t the only ones – a few students in blue ties sat over at Slytherin’s, and a Hufflepuff boy joined a group of younger Gryffindors.

“There they are!” Alphard exclaimed suddenly as suddenly a storm of birds flew into the hall bearing mail.

One of the birds stopped at their table, dropping a copy of the Prophet next to Lyra’s plate. She was giving it a treat she’d procured from somewhere in her bag when a second owl landed suddenly on Harry’s shoulder.

He startled. The bird was a tawny brown with sharp yellow eyes that seemed to peer into his soul. He wondered if it, too, knew he was the wrong Harry Potter.

“Hullo, Loki,” said Alphard to the bird. Harry looked between them confusedly, then at a peck to his head, took the letter the bird was holding. It bent down and snatched a beakful of egg of his plate before flying off again.

“Your father’s owl has worse manners than Alph,” remarked Lyra from over the Prophet. Then, “there was a disturbance in Diagon Alley.”

“What sort of disturbance?” asked Alphard.

Harry was busy turning the letter over in his hand. The envelope was of thick, heavy parchment in a rich cream color. It wasn’t addressed, but the red wax seal bore a stamp he recognized vaguely as the Potter family crest. Between that and Lyra’s remark, he realized it must be from his dad.

He glanced up at the two teenagers, but neither were paying him any mind, Lyra still reading the paper and Alphard attempting to climb over the table to see it. Harry tore open the envelope, pulling out the letter and beginning to read.

Dear Harry,

Imagine me, your dear old dad, wasting away here in this draughty old house while you’re off at school, waiting to hear from you, and your first letter of the year to me is a transparent fish for information.

I nearly died of heartbreak, really I did.

Anyhow, you know I can’t give many details. Yes, there was a break-in at Gringott’s, but the culprit was caught. In fact, I can say that none of the vaults were even broken into, and no gold was taken from the bank whatsoever.

In other words - don’t worry, your inheritance is safe, though I may disinherit you if you don’t keep up more regular correspondence.

There is an ongoing case that’s been eating my time up, but it’s nothing interesting. If anyone asks, tell them it’s a raid on flying carpet sellers.

Let me know if you need anything from home. Write back soon. Tell Minnie I said hullo.

Love you,

Your embarrassing father.

 

Harry read the letter twice, running his hands over it.

He’d seen his mother’s handwriting. He’d never seen his father’s.

“Love you,” it said. He wondered if he could keep this, somehow – take it with him like he’d taken the newspaper. Maybe there was a trick to it-

“Harry?” said Alphard, interrupting his thoughts. “What’s it say?”

“It’s about the break-in at Gringotts." Apparently the other Harry had thought to write his father about the same thing. He wondered, again, what he was – doing, while Harry was in his body. Did he retain the memories, like Hermione suspected? Had Harry’s own intention to write to James somehow conveyed itself to this Harry?

“And?” prompted Alphard.

“Says nothing was taken and not to worry about it.”

Lyra, who had surrendered the paper to Alphard and was now watching them both, raised a speculative eyebrow. “But does it say what the thief was trying to take?”

Harry had noticed that, too. “No,” he said.

Alphard tried looking over his shoulder at the letter and Harry let him. There wasn’t much private there, after all – he figured James Potter’s gift for exaggeration was probably well-known.

Alphard laughed. “Minnie? I dare you to call McGonagall that.”

“Oh, please do,” said Lyra. “She’d take so many points that Ravenclaw might win the house cup for once.”

Harry looked over the letter again as Alphard moved away. He noticed, for the first time, something written at the bottom, in a lighter ink that was nearly hidden on the cream-colored parchment – letters, a very small MM

…Minerva McGonagall? Was it part of his dad’s joke? Or…

Or Mischief Managed, thought Harry. As soon as he did, he became aware of the way the parchment felt… alive, almost. It was enchanted, the spell-work making something like warmth seep into his hands. He’d felt that set of enchantments recently, on the parchment Lyra carried around with her.

It was the same set of spells as on the Marauder’s Map.

Harry stood suddenly, pushing away from the table. “I’m going to go grab my things,” he blurted out. The other two looked surprised but neither made to follow him as he practically raced from the Great Hall.

He walked as briskly as he could without being stopped by a Prefect all the way back to the Tower. Luckily, the halls were still mostly clear of students.

Once he was safely in the Common Room, which was empty but for someone sleeping in one of the chairs, he sat in a dark corner and pulled the letter from where he’d tucked it in his pocket. He drew out his wand and pointed it at the parchment. If his suspicion was correct-

“I solemnly swear I am up to no good,” he whispered.

The text of the letter faded away, revealing new words underneath.

Harry, it said, in James’ hand again, Need to talk. Meet me at the statue of the One-Eyed Witch at eleven tonight. Alone.

Alone was underlined – twice. Something told him that this Harry had a habit of telling his friends everything, too.

But what did it mean? Harry tapped the paper again, saying “mischief managed” – and it returned to its prior state as an ordinary letter.

Why would his father send him a secret message? Why did he want to meet at the entrance of the passage to Honeydukes?

Then Harry recalled something Lyra had said before, about students being afraid to write certain things in letters to their parents. If the mail was monitored, and his father wanted to tell him something he didn’t want anyone else to read –

Well, one way or another, Harry would be at that passage at eleven.

Now he just had to make it through the remainder of the day.

-

Getting through another school day in the other world was both easier and more difficult than he anticipated. Harry realized at some point as he gathered his schedule and books that for the first time since he’d arrived at Hogwarts, he no longer had another voice in the back of his head - the herb Neville had given him to try must not have worked like the Dreamless Sleep had. The presence that had given him some of the other Harry’s memories was gone, and his thoughts were alone.

Still, luck was on his side at least a little – he had Transfiguration first thing, a class he was reasonably good at, and he arrived just late enough that Alphard could only give him a skeptical look as he slid into his seat. The formidable presence of Professor McGonagall forbade anything else.

The class progressed normally, with the students attempting to turn pumpkins to turn into footstools. McGonagall gave them a lecture all the while about the various uses and complications of creating furniture via Transfiguration.

“Some talented witches and wizards,” said McGonagall, “Are capable of conjuring such things from what seems to be thin air. Of course, as Gamp’s Law tells us…”

“Hey,” whispered Alphard. Harry shot him a wary look, sure that he was about to ask why he’d run off so quickly. But all he said was “your hair looks dreadful.”

Harry raised a hand to his hair and patted it experimentally. It felt normal to him.

“Did you run out of potions?” Alphard went on, grinning like a loon. “I didn’t think that could happen. I was sure that you had some sort of family heirloom bottle – Neverending Sleekeazy’s.”

“Mr. Black,” said McGonagall suddenly, the room going quiet. “Is there something you’d like to share with the class?”

“Sorry, ma’am,” he replied. “Only... I was just speculating if a person’s hair – say Harry’s, here – could be transfigured into something else. For instance, a mop.”

McGonagall gave them both a stern look. “I think a bird’s nest would be more suited, Mr. Black.”

Alphard’s eyes widened as if he desperately wanted to laugh but was afraid to. Harry’s eyes widened because he couldn’t recall McGonagall ever cracking a joke during class. Well, now he had firsthand evidence that she favored their respective fathers terribly. He still wasn't calling her "Minnie".

“Are you quite done?” she asked. Alphard nodded a little frantically and she gave one last sniff before resuming her lecture.

At least Harry knew now why his otherworld counterpart always seemed to have better hair.

After Transfiguration came a free period, then lunch, then double Potions. Alphard demonstrated again his ability to talk endlessly about nearly anything, regardless of Harry’s response level, and by listening to the other boy and nodding along at the right places, he managed to make it through the day without doing or saying anything very strange or suspicious. Even Potions passed easily enough – the professor was one of the unfamiliar wizards Harry had seen at the Head Table, a man by the name of Burke, and while he wasn’t particularly pleasant, he was perfectly tolerable for someone who’d spent five years in Snape’s classroom.

At dinner, Harry got into a heated discussion about Quidditch with Nate Diggory, Alphard, and his other two roommates, Dashiel Swan and Wihelm Van Zandt. Afterwards, in the common room, all five of them wound up doing their homework the fire. If anyone noticed that Harry’s handwriting was worse than usual, they didn’t comment.

No one seemed to know quite what to make of the Defense essay they’d been assigned. Harry was still trying to choose a topic. What was a commonly held belief about magic that he knew to be untrue? He could write about Gringotts not being all that hard to break into, but that seemed especially unwise given the current state of events. Perhaps an essay on the Deathly Hallows and their existence – but of course, that, too, would raise more questions than it answered.

Maybe I should write an essay about inter-dimensional travel, he thought. Bit hard without any sources to cite but himself, though.

Well, he thought, if he left it undone that night, perhaps the other Harry would take it up the next day and chose a subject of his own.

Eventually everyone made their way to bed, and Harry pretended to take his pajamas into the four-poster with him before closing the curtains as if he would change in there. Instead, he lay there fully dressed, staring at the canopy.

Finally, it was fifteen minutes to eleven, and Harry slipped out of the bed, casting spells that Disillusioned him and silenced his footsteps. He crept out of the dorms and then through the Common Room, leaving the disapproving Fat Lady in his invisible wake.

At the statue of the One-Eyed Witch, Harry paused. He wasn’t sure if he was meant to go through the passage, or to wait for a signal – but then, before he could wonder for long, someone muttered a spell and a privacy ward came up around him. Harry held out his wand, a spell of his own on his lips, but then James Potter appeared as if from thin air, the invisibility cloak he’d been wearing draped over one arm.

So that’s where it is, thought Harry.

“Hey, kid,” his dad said. He was wearing Auror robes, and his hair was a far worse mess than Harry's own. “You got here all right?”

“Yeah,” Harry replied, blinking away that now nearly familiar feeling of joy/heartache/want. “Yeah, it was – fine.”

His dad snorted, presumably at his eloquence. "I always forget teenagers are so – teenager-y. How’re classes going?”

As if to prove his point, Harry could only say “fine” again. He really ought to be more offended at being taken for a teenager – except, of course, that he was pretending to be one, so.

"Good, good," his dad nodded. He looked around the corridor, as if checking for eavesdroppers beyond the boundaries of the privacy wards. “So.”

“You came here to tell me something?” Harry prompted. As much as he was occupied with studying the angles of the other man’s face, memorizing his expressions, he was also intensely curious about the secretive letter.

“Right, yeah.” His dad appeared to- steel himself, maybe? “It’s about the case I’m working on. I still can’t tell you much.”

“So why did you ask me here?” Harry replied, frustrated. He realized belatedly he did sound like a teenager – like himself at fifteen.

“Because I needed to wa- talk to you," he said. Had he meant to say 'warn'? "Have you had your defense class yet?”

He blinked at the sudden change in subject and the seriousness in his father’s tone. Did he know something about Riddle? “Yes,” he said, carefully.

“Did anything- unusual happen? I mean, did you notice anything?”

“It was a strange class,” he replied, honestly. It had been, after all, even ignoring the fact that it was taught by Voldemort.

“Riddle is a strange man,” his father said, so quietly he hardly heard it. Something flashed across his face – fear, maybe, or annoyance. Maybe both, mixed. Harry was struck by how much his dad looked like him - he could almost imagine himself with the same expression.

“Strange how?” he prompted.

His father seemed to shake himself, his expression clearing, though there was still an underlying tinge of seriousness to what he said. “Just- be careful,” he said. “You can’t trust him. Not Riddle. He might seem like a nice, clever man, but he’s... well. Just be careful.”

Harry gritted his teeth at the half-answer. He needed to know what Riddle was up to here, and now it seemed like his father knew, somehow, but wasn't telling him. “He works for the ministry, doesn’t he?” Harry asked suddenly. “Do you know him?” The idea was almost too bizarre to process, but what else could explain the cryptic warning he was being given?

James looked up at him, surprised. “He does,” he said slowly, not answering the other half of his question. “How’d you know that? He’s- not very well-known.”

“Lyra,” was all Harry said in reply. He could give half-answers too.

His dad snorted. “Of course. Malfoys. Well – yeah. Yeah, Riddle’s with the ministry. Which should let you know how serious this is. Don’t talk to him outside of class, alright? Do your work, be respectful, but don’t… listen to him too carefully. And for Merlin’s sake, don’t get any detentions.”

Harry knew all that, of course, but it sounded strange coming from his father. What did he know? “Should I be afraid of him?” Harry asked, doing his best to sound like a concerned schoolboy.

“I don’t know,” his father said after a long moment.

It sounded as if he really didn’t. It’s suspicion, then, Harry thought. Speculation.

He could also tell from the closed-off look on the man's face that he wasn’t going to be any more talkative on the subject, not now.

“What about the case you’re working on?” Harry prompted instead.

His father blinked at the change in subject. “Ah- yeah. That’s… like I said, that’s not any concern of yours. The break-in, either. That was all wrapped up.”

“I heard the suspect died,” offered Harry.

What happened next was very odd indeed. Something in James’ eyes looked… pained? Conflicted?

Harry wondered at that. Had it been his fault, somehow? Perhaps it was his job to guard the man's cell. Or... or, perhaps, he knew him-

“Yes,” his dad said suddenly, too curtly. Then, as if to distract someone –Harry, or himself?- he said, “There’s something else. There are these... pamphlets. Booklets. Someone’s been distributing them in public places, busy places. If you see one, you mustn’t pick it up. You’ll want to, there’s a compulsion charm on them, but you can’t. Set them on fire, if you have to.”

Harry hadn’t been expecting that at all. “But what are they? What do they say?”

“That’s not important – you just need to know the ministry’s really pis-, er, peeved about them. You can’t be caught reading one, right? Just leave it alone.”

Harry looked at him incredulously, suddenly reminded of Dumbledore’s warning to the students during his first Sorting Feast – that anyone who wanted to avoid a bloody death would stay out of the corridor on the third floor. Even then, it’d seemed almost like he was asking them to risk it.

“I know,” his dad laughed, but it sounded hollow. “I know that’s the worst thing to say to a kid. But you’ve got to trust me on this. Look, it’s not likely you’ll see one anyway – they’ve been scattering them all over Diagon, but no one’s spotted anything in Hogsmeade, not yet.”

“I’m not a kid,” Harry said. It was truer than his dad knew. “If you don’t want me looking for one of these booklets or whatever, then tell me what they say.”

His dad sighed. “It’s rubbish, Harry. Just – political shit, yeah?”

“From who?” Harry noticed he was raising his voice in his frustration. Here was a landmark – his first fight with a parent.

His dad, meanwhile, looked more evasive than ever. “A group calling themselves 'concerned citizens'. Like I said, it’s just rubbish.”

“Rubbish that you came all the way here to warn me about,” Harry pointed out.

He wondered suddenly if the pamphlets had anything to do with the “disturbance” in Diagon Alley that Lyra had told them about earlier. Alphard had brought it up again at lunch – the article was fairly vague, saying only that Aurors had arrived to disburse a gathered crowd.

Then James rubbed the back of his head with one hand, and Harry was momentarily disarmed, because the gesture was so familiar – Harry did that, too. Usually when he was anxious.

“I couldn’t not,” his dad said finally, quietly. He looked at Harry then, dead on. Behind his glasses, his hazel eyes were solemn. “Please,” he said. “For your old dad. Just- leave it be.”

“Alright,” Harry said, lying easily. There was landmark number two – properly lying to his father’s face. “I will. I promise.”

He actually did, for once, feel guilty about it.

His father looked skeptical, but nodded. “I should get going,” he said, finally. “And you should be in bed.”

“Whose fault is that?” Harry replied.

His dad grinned. “Cheeky. Don’t know who you got that from.”

Suddenly, Harry felt that he might cry. He turned away, hiding his face.

“C’mere,” said his dad, pulling him suddenly into a hug. “Be careful, Harry,” he said once more, emphatically, into his hair. Harry said nothing, breathing him in. It was over all too soon, and his dad half-shoved him away, grinning again. “Off with you, then.”

Harry nodded, not trusting himself to speak.

“I’ll see you soon, kiddo,” his dad said. Suddenly, with a practiced motion, he slid the invisibility cloak around himself, disappearing from the corridor. “Sweet dreams,” said his disembodied voice. Harry felt the wards fall.

“You too,” whispered Harry.

He made his way back to the tower in a daze, and, once there, nearly fell into the bed.

-

Morning came.

He didn’t notice anything odd, not at first – in the process of waking up, with his eyes still closed, a bed was a bed after all.

But as Harry blinked awake, he saw red and gold, a velvet canopy and not the ceiling of his flat.

He was still in the dormitories of Gryffindor Tower. A new day had dawned, and he was still in the other world.

Chapter Text

Now that he thought about it, Harry really should’ve expected something like this.

First there was the wizard’s vow he’d somehow managed to take on, then the trunk opening. If his existence in the other world was a disease, those would be signs of its progression. Now he’d fallen asleep and woken up still in the Gryffindor seventh year boys’ dormitory, a development in the illness that bode very poorly for its imminent cure.

Well, perhaps it was for the best, he thought. He had work to do here.

He spared a brief guilty moment wondering what Ginny and his friends would think back in his own world – for that matter, what would happen to him, the real him? Would his own body disappear while he was here, or would it lay there, empty? How long would it take them to notice?

He let himself be consoled, a little, by the idea that even if he were stuck here for a few days, his last evening with his friends had been a fairly good one. At the headmistress’ behest, they’d gone to dinner in the castle and eaten with the few professors who were present, catching up with Neville and Hagrid. The pudding had even managed most of a showtune before McGonagall stabbed it.

He did not spare any time at all entertaining the thought that he might be unable to go back. He didn’t dare.

With new resolution, he made a list of the things he needed to learn more about. Atop it now, after last night’s events, was the matter of why his father was so suspicious of Riddle. Then there was the eternal question of what Riddle was actually doing here, posing as a professor. Then, taking lower rank partly because Riddle was more murderous and therefore more of a pressing issue, and partly because he didn’t trust his own knowledge of advanced and theoretical magic in sorting it out, was the question of why the hell he was in another dimension in the first place.

And of course, after all that, he had questions about the pamphlets his dad had come all the way to Hogwarts to warn him about, and the break-in at Gringotts (which he might’ve dismissed, if not for the strange half-guilty half-afraid look the man’s face had taken on when they’d talked about it). Oh, and whether whatever mysterious case his father was working on had anything to do with Grindlewald’s men being in Diagon Alley a few days prior.

Last but not least, he needed to find a way to warn the other Harry’s friends about the looming threat of their Defense professor without getting hexed or carted off to either wizarding prison.

Oh. And he may or may not have to do homework.

And to think it was only Wednesday.

His first step was to get up and out of bed and get ready for the day. He noticed Alphard’s bed was empty – he must’ve been quicker in cancelling his alarm this time. He got dressed and then, figuring he may as well, rifled around in the trunk for a blue bottle like the one in the portrait of Fleamont. He couldn’t imagine going to the trouble of using a hair potion every day, but if it helped him pass as the other Harry...

Ten minutes in the bathroom later and he wondered if it was worth the effort.

“Don’t you look a mess!” said the mirror cheerily.

“Shut up,” he muttered.

“You have to comb it through,” it said back, undeterred.

Finally he made his way down to the Great Hall for breakfast. He found Lyra and Alphard both at the Ravenclaw table once more.

“Good morning,” offered Lyra.

“Lazy sod,” said Alphard.

Harry began piling sausages on his plate without a word.

“So, now that our other half is here-“ began Alphard.

“Not how fractions work,” Lyra interjected.

“Have you learned anything new from your minions? About, you know, the whole – thing.”

“I’m afraid I haven’t, no.”

“You’ll notice,” said Alphard in a mock whisper as he turned to Harry, “that she didn’t deny having minions.”

Lyra only toyed with the blue velvet ribbon tied in her hair and raised an eyebrow at her cousin.

If he were really their version of him, Harry realized, he’d be telling them about the strange meeting last night with his father, he was almost sure of it. He began to wonder if perhaps he should when the morning post arrived, a generic barn owl swooping down to drop a Daily Prophet on Lyra’s side of the table and a large, severe eagle owl with a package following after him.

“That must be from your mum,” said Alphard, gesturing at the package with a bit of toast. Lyra accepted it from the stern-looking owl and turned it over in her hands, running them along the thick silvery paper.

“Of course it is,” she said with a little smile. Harry noted that it looked like she was fond of her mother - more so than her brother or father, at least - which he supposed fit with what little he knew about Narcissa Malfoy.

Meanwhile, at the Slytherin table, Draco had clearly received a package of his own, although he was making a much bigger production of opening it. Alphard leaned over Harry’s shoulder to look and snorted.

“No, it’s not at all embarrassing to be seventeen and bragging about mummy sending me sweets, Zabini,” Alphard said in falsetto. “I don’t know what you mean. Here, Parkinson, have a sugar quill in the stead of my affections, as we all know I’ll never love anyone but myself.” “Why Draco, I’d be honored to take this Honeydukes tosh as a symbol of your intention to give me the key to your family vaults-”

“Have you given my brother a higher-pitched voice than Pansy?” Lyra asked. “And my mother doesn’t shop at Honeydukes; these are from Paris.”

“Everyone have a pasty as you overlook my obvious flaws of character and prematurely receding hairline, thanks,” Alphard went on, still in falsetto. Harry choked on a bit of sausage.

“Go on about his character all you like," Lyra said, "But I won’t have you insulting the Malfoy hair.”

“Oh, Lyra,” replied Alphard in his normal voice, “You haven’t got anything to worry about, you aren’t balding in the least. Why, you’re hairy as anything.”

“If you don’t shut up I won’t give you a macaron.”

“Have you got any chocolate?” Alphard replied, making grabby hands at the box. Lyra rolled her eyes and handed it over, glancing toward the Slytherin table herself.

“He’d better not marry Pansy. I’ll kill them both myself.”

“I thought she was your friend?” Harry hedged.

“She is, but they bring out the worst in each other. I was hoping Draco might begin some ill-conceived fling with a Hufflepuff. Someone too sensible to indulge him.”

“It’s never too late,” intoned Alphard wisely, effect rather spoiled by the macaron crumbs around his mouth. Lyra snatched the box away.

“It’s eight in the bloody morning, you fiend. Harry, would you like one of the coconut?”

Harry shrugged. “Sure, thanks,” he said as he accepted the sweet. He did like coconut.

“Point him in Midgen’s direction,” Alphard went on, “If he sees himself reflected in her glasses, he might be tricked into a betrothal.”

“He’s my brother, not a cockatiel.”

“You’re right, he’d be a niffler if he were anything. Maybe you could wrap Bones in gold foil like a chocolate galleon?”

Harry, wisely, said nothing, although he laughed a little around his macaron.

As they spoke, more students began to trickle into the Great Hall, and the Ravenclaw table began filling out. Alphard started gathering his things and Harry realized that was their cue to leave just as Astoria Greengrass came to sit beside Lyra, chatting with her about an assignment.

“Later, Lyra?” asked Alphard casually. A bit too casually, Harry realized – it wasn’t so much a goodbye as it was an indirect way of asking something.

“I have Astronomy tonight,” the girl replied, and again, Harry noted that wasn’t a direct answer. Alphard seemed to take her meaning, though, nodding and turning to go.

Putting the two together, Harry assumed it meant they were meeting up that evening. Just in case, he asked as they left the hall, “So, are we..?“

“What? Oh, yeah. NEWT Astronomy’s over at midnight, I think. We’ll have to go out after curfew.”

“Right,” Harry said, wondering how they’d ever managed in their younger years without the invisibility cloak, assuming they hadn’t taken up early study of the Disillusionment charm.

For that matter, he wondered if Filch was around – he hadn’t seen the caretaker or his cat.

After that, the day continued easily enough – Herbology was Herbology, Charms was Charms. At lunch, Harry ate with Alphard and noticed Lyra sat at the Slytherin table, next to Pansy Parkinson specifically, who she seemed to be deliberately engaging in busy conversation that did not at all involve Draco.

Afterwards, the two of them had a free period and Harry was considering his options. He could write to his father, demanding answers, though if the man were half as stubborn as his son it’d probably be a worthless endeavor. He could go to the library and look up books on dimensional travel – though if it were anything like the Hogwarts library of his own world, he despaired of finding anything useful, especially without his friends’ assistance. He could-

“-ry. Are you listening? Merlin, I swear you’re only half-here these days.”

“Sorry, what?” They were in the common room, and the other boy was leaning over the arm of his chair and staring at Harry at an uncomfortably close range.

“I asked if you’d written that essay for Riddle yet. It’s due Friday.”

“Oh. No, I have no idea what to write about,” Harry said honestly.

“I haven’t either. I’m thinking I’ll do it on nonverbal spells – about how it's not true that they’re not as powerful as verbal ones. A little obvious, I s’pose, but I’m pants at essays anyway. Quirrell hardly assigned any,” Alphard groused.

“I’ve always thought written work in Defense was bollocks,” said Harry. “Not like you can defend yourself with a scroll, if you’re attacked.”

“See, that’s solid reasoning, there! Think you can tell Riddle that?”

Then Harry recalled suddenly that he hadn’t managed to tell the other two about his meeting with his dad the night before.

“…about that,” he said. Then he glanced around the common room. It wasn’t especially busy this time of day, but other sixth and seventh years with off periods were present, strewn around the room working on homework and socializing.

Deciding, Harry cast a quick Muffliato, not bothering with a more complex spell.

Alphard gave him a funny look. “Harry-“

“Dad came to the castle last night,” he said quickly. “To warn me about Riddle. There was some other stuff – tell you later – but he specifically said not to trust Riddle.” Then he cancelled the spell, because Alphard looked as if he were about to throw a fit.

Harry,” the other boy hissed again. “Don’t- you know how suspicious that- if someone reports us!”

“They won’t,” Harry whispered intently back.

“What was that spell?” Alphard replied, more curiously now. “Wait- nevermind that, your dad was here? And he said- We have to tell Lyra,” Alphard concluded.

“Tonight,” agreed Harry. “But you needed to know-“

“Right. Yeah. Don’t mess around in Riddle’s class. I get it.” Alphard pulled back, sitting in his own chair properly for the first time instead of half-leaning over Harry’s. He looked pensive.

Harry felt a little badly for ruining his good mood. “So, the essay,” he tried.

Alphard took the bait. “Write about something you know,” he said. “Play to your strengths.”

But Harry didn’t know what his strengths were. Defense was his strength in his own world, and Lyra had said in this one that good at the subject, so he supposed he and the other Harry had that in common, but he couldn’t think of a topic related to Defense that he could write about, and that was the only area of interest he really had. Aside from being the subject of prophecy and defeater of Voldemort – neither of which applied here – he didn’t think there was much that made him special.

“Maybe you ought to go do some research,” said Alphard. “We’ve got half an hour yet before class.”

Harry, remembering that he’d wanted to go to the library earlier, leaped at the chance. “Yeah,” he said, “I’ll see you in class?”

Alphard gave him a wolfish grin that reminded Harry painfully of Sirius. “See you,” he said, and Harry grabbed his bag and ducked out of the common room quick as he could.

-

Once in the library, it occurred to him that perhaps a better use of his time would be to finish what he’d started that day in Grimmauld Place – to read whatever he could find on this world’s history. Now he knew, or at least suspected, where the split between this world and his own had happened – with Grindlewald somehow going undefeated and taking over magical Europe, from what he could tell. That still didn’t explain how he had, or answer any of Harry’s questions about what this world was like, what its ministry was like.

He had the sense that something dark and horrible lurked underneath the ordinary-seeming surface, he just didn’t know the extent of it, and it seemed dangerous to remain in ignorance.

Mind made up, he went to the history section and began looking for anything that might help. He selected a book unimaginatively called “Recent Events in Wizarding History” and began to read.

The book was largely useless, ringing of propaganda again, but he managed to find a list of the magical governments who'd participated in the "Unification Treaty" he'd read about before, as well as a text of the treaty itself.

We, the undersigned, it began, and went on to describe a set of conditions that, if Harry understood correctly, meant effectively that Grindlewald in his position of chancellor oversaw everyone, had the final say or power in everything. Each country retained its own governing force and "administrative bodies", whatever those were, but complied to another, overarching set of laws which the book referenced but did not deign to list. There was a good deal there about strengthening magic and traditions that Harry thought Ron would translate as more blood purity rubbish.

The universe – or this particular universe, anyway – seemed set on his never getting through a book, though, because he felt a chill at the back of his neck just a few minutes into his reading and turned to see the Grey Lady standing terrifyingly close to him.

“You again,” he said a bit sharper than he intended, taking a sizeable step back.

But the ghost only smiled, her lips curling up at the corners slowly, too slowly. “Hello." Then, "Oh, but you’re here.”

“-yes? Of course I’m here. Where else would I be?”

“No, you’re here. All of you. You haven’t got one foot in this world, one foot in that.”

Harry frowned as he considered the repercussions of what she was implying. “You’re not saying,” he said, with growing horror, “that I’m stuck, are you?”

“I’d never say that,” she replied. “But you are less…transparent.”

It was a strange remark, coming from a being who was herself see-through.

But Harry was afraid of falling into this trap again, of letting her spin a riddle inside a riddle until he was so caught up he forgot to ask her anything useful. So, quickly, he said, “Do you know what I’m doing here?”

“Reading a history book, I believe.”

He tried again, more forcefully. “Do you know if I’m here for a reason? Did someone do this to me, did they send me here?”

She blinked, a mechanical gesture that reminded him more of one of those porcelain dolls than anything human. “I’m a ghost, Harry,” she said. “Not a god. I do not know your purpose in being here, nor how you came to be so.”

“Right," he sighed. "So, you’re useless, then.”

Rather than looking offended, the ghost looked more amused than ever, tilting her head to one side ever so slightly. “I could tell you about history,” she said. “I knew some of those who wrote it.”

Harry glanced down at the book in his hands. “This was after your time, I think.”

“I learn. I change, even now. Is it for your assignation?”

“My assig- oh. You mean my homework? No. There’s only one assignment I have that needs working on.” He paused. He considered that she might be useful, after all – she’d lived a very long time ago, and sometimes time was all that was needed for stories to grow, for things to change meaning. “Do you know any – myths, I guess? Any stories about magic that people think are true but aren’t?”

“There are many things about magic that people are mistaken on. Human imagination is surpassed only by human hubris.”

He sighed. So much for that, then. He turned back to the book. Our fearless leader, one paragraph inauspiciously began.

“I was not finished. It seems to me that you know more about magics thought not to exist than most.”

“I’m not writing Riddle an essay about alternate universes,” said Harry. He shuddered even to think of it – what if Riddle became curious, found a way to travel to a world with a Voldemort and came back here with new aspirations?

“I did not suggest that,” said the ghost. “There are many things you know about that others don’t.”

He considered this. “You- other you- whatever, mentioned something about destiny before. Is that like prophecy? Is there another prophecy here?”

“I would not know,” she said. “But it is true that destinies often align in like ways.”

“Right. Well. I’m not writing about that, either. I don’t want to give the prick any ideas.” The last thing he needed was a repeat of the Department of Mysteries. “Nothing about the soul, either,” he added on further reflection.

“Hm,” the ghost said. “You could write about me. Tell my story. My word, I think, would be sufficient evidence.”

Harry’s first thought was that she was sounding more- just more, as time went on. Almost as if, as the conversation carried out, her capacity for normalcy increased.

The second was to wonder – “What do you mean, your story?”

“The story of my death,” she said simply.

Harry realized she must mean the tale of her stealing her mother’s diadem, how she came to be in the Black Forest, how Rowena sent the Bloody Baron after her.

“Oh,” he said. “I guess most people don’t know how you came to be – you. Or about… the Baron.”

He waited for her to grow emotional, offended, but she just stepped closer, until her ghostly robes nearly brushed his own. “Yes. I needn’t even tell you it again. I think you know it well enough.”

“I- you know what? Sure.” It was one thing out of the way, at least. “But wait,” he realized. “The diadem. If I tell people where you put it, they’ll try and find it.” By people, of course, he meant Tom Riddle.

"Lie,” she said. “Tell them that I did not say which forest, or where. I will say the same to anyone that asks.”

“Does that mean he didn’t ask, here? That he didn’t…” Harry trailed off, wondering again if it were possible that this Tom Riddle had never made his horcruxes.

“He did not ask about the diadem,” said the Grey Lady.

Which, of course, didn’t mean that he didn’t have horcruxes, only that he’d not made the diadem into one. There were still so many others; the locket, the ring, the diary...

The diary. Harry knew one way of ruling out, if not a horcrux necessarily, one of the sacrifices that had been used to make one.

He needed to see if this world had a Moaning Myrtle.

“Great,” he said to the Grey Lady in a rush. “Good. Thank you for the help. Now I have to go to the girl’s loo.”

Strange boy,” he thought he heard the ghost say as he ran out of the library.

-

Of course, when he arrived at the second-floor girl’s bathroom, he realized it was the middle of the day and someone might object to his being there. Indeed, it seemed busier than it had in his own time – while he stood there wondering what to do next, a Hufflepuff girl, third year or so, came out.

“Hey!” he called to her. She stopped and looked at him, a little wary. “Is that loo haunted?” he asked.

“Is… what?”

“Haunted. Is it haunted? Is there a ghost, in the toilets? Girl by the name of Myrtle?” The Hufflepuff went wide-eyed and turned as if to run away. “Cries a lot?” he tried. She squeaked and ran off. Harry groaned.

“If you wanted the girl’s loo to yourself, you could’ve said so,” said someone from behind him. Harry turned and saw the diminutive Cassie Maybe-Tonks standing behind him.

“Um,” he said.

“Though I don’t know what you’d do with it,” she went on. “There are plenty of boy’s toilets in the castle, and plenty of nicer girl’s ones besides. Then there’s the prefects' bathroom - I’ve heard it has a bath the size of a swimming pool.”

“I’m not a prefect,” Harry pointed out, deciding not to mention he’d been in that bathroom the day before last and would probably be there again that night. “Is the loo haunted or not?”

“Not that I’m aware of,” she said. “Though, would I know, if a ghost were haunting the toilet? Would it- watch?” she asked, ending on a horrified note.

“You would know,” Harry said dryly. “Believe me.” Then, realizing what she’d said, he grinned. No Myrtle. That meant one fewer possible horcrux.

Or, pointed out the sensible part of his brain that often sounded like Hermione, it means there’s a horcrux out there you know nothing about.

It means Myrtle is wandering around alive somewhere, he thought back pointedly. Living and horrible instead of dead and horrible, probably.

It was a small victory, but he’d take it.

“You didn’t say what you’d do with the bathroom,” Cassiopeia reminded him, still standing in the corridor with her arms crossed in front of her. She looked remarkably imposing for a twelve-year-old.

“Brew Polyjuice in it,” Harry replied.

She gave him a look like she thought he was lying to her and she wasn’t pleased by it. “You’re going to be late to class,” she pointed out finally.

Harry started, realizing that she was right, and turned on his heel, half-running towards the Defense classroom.

Well, he thought, this’ll make another first. Me running towards Tom Riddle, instead of in the other direction.

-

His good mood did not last into the Defense class, but then, he didn’t really expect it to. It was not an outcome that existed in any universe: Harry Potter walking into a room with Tom Riddle at the front of it, feeling comfortable and at ease and certain the hour wouldn’t end in bloodshed.

Instead, he kept his head down as best as he could while he made his way to the table Alphard had claimed near the back of the class, mentally thanking the boy for that foresight. He pointedly did not look at Riddle as he took out his textbook and a quill and parchment for note-taking.

“Did you find a topic for your essay?” Alphard whispered from beside him.

“Ghosts,” Harry whispered back.

“Ghosts?”

“The Grey Lady,” he added unhelpfully, and then Riddle was calling the class to attention.

“Good afternoon,” said the man, and Harry wanted to take a beater’s bat to his teeth. “Last class, we discussed nonverbal spells and the importance of thinking critically. Today, we’ll cover another topic of import – shields. I dare say you’ve learned about shields before, is that correct?”

The class made a general noise of consent, and Riddle smiled at them genially. “Good. Let’s see – the Protego charm? Yes. Then you’re familiar with the concept. So you ought to be able to answer this - tell me, what is a shield? Yes- Miss Patil?” he said, indicating the Ravenclaw twin, who’d raised her hand.

“A charm or spell that protects someone or something from danger, sir.”

“Perhaps a little vague, Miss Patil,” drawled Riddle. “What constitutes danger?”

“Er- something that would do you harm? Sir?”

“And what then is harm? No need to answer, Miss Patil, I’ll explain my thinking.” He stood and strode to the front of the classroom, hands clasped behind his back in much the same way as he had before.

“Let’s say that I’m administering an exam. You are all sitting it. I approach Miss Brown and inform her there’s been word from the head’s office that her brother has taken ill and is in St Mungo’s, and she’s to leave immediately after the exam. Now, tell me – do you think that my message would cause her harm?”

A number of students raised their hands. Riddle indicated Blaise Zabini, who Harry had rarely ever heard speak – in this world or his own.

“It would cause emotional harm, sir,” he said.

“And would that have any tangible effect?” Riddle prompted.

“If she let her emotional state affect her while writing the exam, her grade would likely suffer, which would affect her performance in this course, which might ultimately affect her NEWTs and thereby her future career,” he replied, sounding not at all sorry for the imaginary Lavender.

“Thorough,” remarked Riddle. “Yes, even if we do not go that far, it’s safe to say Miss Brown would be harmed – and with only a few words, and no ill-intent on my own part.”

“…is my brother okay, sir?” Lavender cut in.

“Only a hypothetical, Miss Brown,” Riddle assured. “I was unaware you even had a brother.”

“She doesn’t,” said Pavarti Patil from beside her. Lavender sniffed in reply.

Riddle, ignoring both girls soundly, turned his attention back to the class at large. “Do you understand why I brought up this scenario? Yes, Miss Bones-?”

“To demonstrate that it’s not just hexes that can hurt people?”

“Indeed. Danger comes in many forms and so, too, must our defenses against it. A shield is that which you are able to draw around your person in a time of need. First, you must recognize when you are in that need; then, you must identify the nature of the threat; and only after that will you be able to determine what sort of shield is best."

He smiled still as if he thought he were competing for Witch Weekly's award. Perhaps, Harry thought somewhat hysterically, he was. Maybe here he was Lockhart's main competition.

Christ. And there was that. Lockhart was probably alive here, running around obliviating people left and right. Even if he stopped Riddle, there were so many other terrible people about that hadn't been arrested or killed or taken into account. There was evil everywhere, badness everywhere. It was endless, a snake eating its own tail, an ouroboros of absolute bullshit.

“Even in the realm of magic," Riddle was saying, "Some shields work better against certain types of spells than others. For some curses, only a physical shield will do – it’s for that reason that many experienced duelists and Aurors learn to transfigure items in their surroundings into stone and metal, into strong barriers. A blade of grass, at the wand of an accomplished wizard, can become a formidable shield.”

He paused, and a number of students rose their hands. He chose Zacharias Smith seemingly at random.

“Do you mean to tell us that you’ll be teaching us how to create shields against words?” Smith asked in his usual haughty way. “Professor,” he added hastily. Harry thought Riddle must have let through a slip of his murderous glare when he wasn't paying attention.

“No,” he said curtly. “From my example earlier you may take another important lesson: there are things from which you cannot protect yourself.”

On that cheery note, Riddle split them into pairs and had them demonstrate their knowledge of previously learned shield charms. He made his way around the room, correcting forms and incantations as he went, prompting the pairs to try other spells if they knew them.

Harry found that Alphard was a proficient dueller – nothing like Harry himself, or even most of the people he’d taught in the DA, but better than most of their class. He threw stinging hexes at the other boy as he cast Protego and then tried a spell Harry hadn’t seen before that seemed to reflect minor hexes back at their caster.

When it was Harry’s turn, he thought about demonstrating some of the shields he’d learned in the Aurors but thought better of it, sticking to mostly Protego himself while Alphard alternated trying to hit him with stinging hexes and tickling charms.

He didn’t notice how involved he'd been getting until Riddle came to stand nearby and they both came to a sudden stop. He was so engrossed he hadn't even seen the man approach.

“Don’t let me stop you,” Riddle said lightly. “Impressive work.”

Alphard was only blinking at the man owlishly, so Harry stepped in. “Thanks,” he said.

“You especially, Mr. Potter,” said Riddle. “That’s quite a shield you have.”

Harry said nothing.

“Can you expand it?” Riddle asked. “If I were to stand against you and your friend both, would your shield hold?”

“Yes,” snapped Harry, certain that it would – at least, if Riddle behaved like an ordinary professor ought. Of course, there were no guarantees on that one.

Alphard, who seemed to have thawed out a little, threw an arm around Harry’s shoulder. The gesture was friendly, but Harry knew it for what it was, and thawed a bit himself at the show of solidarity.

“Harry here’s an excellent shield-er,” said Alphard. “He’d shield me with his life, he would.”

Riddle smiled, regarding the both of them like the reptile-man Harry knew him to be. “Is that true? Do you like protecting people, Mr. Potter?”

“It’s not about liking,” he said through gritted teeth. “It’s about doing what needs to be done.”

“Ah. A true Gryffindor,” Riddle said, and he could see that any other person would think he was paying Harry a compliment. He continued to stand there, rigid, until Riddle moved away again without another word.

For the rest of class, Harry made sure to keep his spells as low-powered as he could, and when Alphard landed a stinging hex on him, the smarting helped remind him to keep the hell out of Riddle’s scope of attention.

-

After Defense, he and Alphard returned to the common room.

“I genuinely think that Riddle is off his rocker,” said Alphard. “Like, whatever,” he waved a hand around in a vague gesture, “Notwithstanding, he’s all ‘someone’s going to approach you in battle and say your mum’s not really your mum, and you’re going to blow your own foot off and die’. Just – what?”

“He does have a point,” Harry said, then immediately hated himself for agreeing with Tom Riddle.

“Well, it’s lost on me. And there’s the other thing – why is he going on like we’re headed straight from Hogwarts into a bloody warzone? I can count on one hand the number of people in our class who want to be Aurors, even. Is this really going to help us on our NEWTs?”

Harry, who had gone straight from Hogwarts to a warzone, found himself in the uncomfortable position of agreeing with Riddle once again. “You agreed yourself earlier that essays for Defense were rubbish. Defense is supposed to be about learning to protect yourself, not passing an exam."

“The only thing I plan to defend myself against in the future is the disapproving stares of old biddies,” proclaimed Alphard, throwing himself on one of the common room sofas with an audible thump.

Harry didn’t think the other boy had noticed how Riddle seemed to be threatening him – seemed to be threatening them – there at the end. He must’ve understood on some level that Harry was on edge, with the way he’d thrown his arm over him and joked at Riddle until he walked off, but Harry didn’t think Alphard really had any grasp on the reality of the situation.

But then, how could he? He was a student who had probably never had a professor turn out to be a murderer.

Harry was resolved, then, to tell him and Lyra both about his father’s warning that night.

Dinner came and went, with Lyra absent from the hall again and Alphard distractedly looking around it so that Harry was able to avoid talking much at all. Afterwards, Harry actually devoted his time to writing a glossed-over account of the Grey Lady’s tragic story as his Defense essay. Alphard, who’d looked over his shoulder, was appeased with the explanation that Harry had run into the ghost in the library and spoken to her. After all, he’d seen the Grey Lady speak to Harry before in the hall outside Gryffindor Tower, and like all the best lies, it had a ring of truth to it. He ducked out once to visit the library for his own sources, and Harry took the chance to go over what he planned to say later, making sure the letter from his father with the hidden message was tucked into the pocket of his robes.

Eventually the time to pretend to go upstairs to sleep came, and Harry found himself dragged into Alphard’s bed while Van Zandt and Diggory slept and Swan went to go clean his teeth. Harry was momentarily startled when Alphard closed the curtains around them and cast a silencing spell, then confused as he withdrew a bag from his pocket.

“Gobstones time,” the other boy said, rubbing his hands together with visible glee.

Harry soon found that what Lyra had said once was true – Alphard cheated like a madman. Harry thought his father would be proud.

-

Just after midnight, the little black pebbles began to warm up, and Harry and Alphard crept out of the dormitory, heading towards the prefects’ bathroom and applying the usual spells along the way.

When Alphard knocked, no one answered. “Must’ve beat Lyra here,” he said. “Matricharia Chamomilla”, he intoned, and the door swung open.

Harry, surprised, said, “I didn’t know you had the password. Why knock, then?”

Alphard shrugged, already heading into the room. “To warn Lyra, if she were here.” He began to wander around the oversized room, picking up and setting down lotions and soaps, while they waited for his cousin to appear.

She arrived a few minutes later. “Sorry I’m late,” she said airily. “I had to retrieve something.” She turned and began to cast the now-familiar wards.

“Wait,” said Alphard, before she could finish, “I need to go use the loo.” He swept off the counter where he’d been sat suddenly and made his way to the door with a sense of urgency. Lyra shot him an indecipherable look.

“Er,” said Harry. “We’re...in? A loo?”

“I have to go to another one. I’m not going with you both here, that’d be proper weird.”

Harry shrugged, thinking that was fair enough, and started to busy himself transfiguring towels into cushions like he’d seen Lyra do before.

He heard the door snick shut behind Alphard and then, a murmur of something. First he thought that it was Lyra working on the wards again.

Wait, he thought then, she wouldn’t finish them now, Alphard isn’t back yet-

He dropped the towel he was holding and spun around, realizing that something was wrong as his wand was suddenly snapped out of his hand with a nonverbal Expelliarmus. He stumbled backwards and hit the marble counter with his hip, wincing in pain even as an unfamiliar spell wrapped him in cruel-looking vines.

Lyra Malfoy stood before him, eyes blazing, wand pointed right at his throat.

“Who," she spat, "Are you. And what have you done with Harry?"

Chapter Text

Harry reminded himself, for what felt like the dozenth time in less than so many days, that he was an Auror. A grown man, and an Auror. It was only that the information clashed so jarringly with the way he was currently wandless, incapacitated, and at the mercy of a sixteen-year-old girl.

“I can explain,” he said.

“I think you’d better,” said Lyra savagely. He was impressed at the depth of promise of bodily harm she managed to infuse in those few words.

“I am Harry Potter,” he began. “I’m just… not… your Harry Potter.”

She stared back at him unblinkingly.

Well, I might as well try.

“I’m from another dimension. Er, world,” he tacked on, remembering that purebloods like Ron didn’t know that term, apparently. “I’m- another Harry.”

“Another world,” she repeated, dryly. Her eyes were hard and cold, the sky on harsh winter’s day.

“It was an accident,” he said. “I don’t know why I’m here. I just woke up one day and… there I was.”

That’s your story? Really? Can’t do any better?” The vines around Harry tightened, dug in a little as if spurred on by their conjurer’s words. “Bullshit,” she said. The crude word sounded strangely cruder coming from her mouth.

“It’s the truth," he insisted. "If you have Veritaserum I’ll take it, I’ll tell you. Whatever you want to know,” he said. “I’ll take a vow,” he added, a little desperate.

Lyra pulled back a little, gave him a thoughtful look. “That’s the part I can’t figure out,” she said. “The vow. How did you manage that, exactly? Did you swear your own version of it? Nearly break it in front of Alphard on purpose?”

“The vow?” he repeated. Then, “The vow! That proves it, the vow, it transferred, somehow-“

“If that was acting,” she went on, “By the way he tells it, it was good acting. He says your face turned scarlet.”

“It wasn’t. It wasn’t acting. It was- I don’t know what, actually. I’m as confused as you are.”

“Oh, I rather doubt that,” she said. “I’m very confused. You see, at first I thought Harry had been Confounded. Then, that he was under the Imperius. So I watched him, very carefully, for signs. I cast a few cancelling spells when he wasn’t paying attention. And then there were the sweets-“

“What?” Harry interjected, alarmed, recalling the macarons he’d eaten that morning.

“Yes,” said Lyra, smirking now. “From my mother. Laced with a variation on the wit-sharpening potion. I told her they were to help me study, but that potion can help people under mind-altering spells fight them off. Alphard spent all morning watching you, though, and – nothing. It wasn’t adding up. I had almost convinced myself that I was wrong- that everything was in order, that Harry was just stressed, like Alphard thought, or tired, and then Cassie came to me saying that you – that Harry- was acting like a madman outside a girl’s toilet, talking about ghosts.

And do you know what else she said? That you’d mentioned Polyjuice.”

“-oh, shit,” said Harry, realizing what she must think. “I’m not taking-“

“I’m aware,” she snapped. “You’d need to re-dose every hour. Alphard assured me he watched you for at least that long, several times, and – nothing. But it must be something similar, hm? Some variant of your own devising? Harry had better be alive and in one piece, for your sake,” she spat, jabbing her wand under his chin again. “Tell me where he is.”

“I don’t know,” he said, even as he summoned up his magic, trying to will the vines around him to release. Finite incantatem, finite-

She forced his chin up with the tip of her wand. He was taller than her by nearly a head, and it only made him taller, but the gesture was still somehow intimidating. Sixteen-year-old girl, he thought bitterly. Auror.

“I don’t know,” he said again, a bit more harshly. “For all I know, he’s in my world right now, with my own friends, wondering what he’s doing there. I don’t- this isn’t my doing. I wish it was. I wish I knew what was happening. I fall asleep in my own world and then here I am, in the body of some other world’s Harry Potter, at his school, living his life.”

She pulled her wand but kept it pointed at him. He thought he saw something in her face – doubt, perhaps.

He sensed an opening. “What can I do to prove it to you?” he said calmly as he could, trying to level his breath, even his heartbeats. Then, a thought occurred to him – one he’d had before, admittedly under less duress. “Do you have a pensieve?”

Actually,” the girl said slowly, “Yes.” She regarded him carefully, as one might regard a dangerous animal.

“Let me show you, then. Let me show you my proof,” he said.

“Proof,” she repeated back to him. She narrowed her eyes then, studying his face.

“You believe me?”

“No," she said, and Harry's heart sank. "But," she went on, "the truth serum I brought isn’t quite as neat as Veritaserum. Too much, and it would leave you a gibbering mess. If you’re willing to show us your memories, that saves me – time. And clean-up."

Harry elected to ignore that, for now, and took the shot he was given. “You really do have a Pensieve?” he repeated. That had been one of the weaker points of Harry’s plan, so he wished he’d know that sooner. “Is it- you’re not going to break into Slughorn’s office, are you?” Actually, that might work in his favor. If she and Alphard were caught and he was still tied up in the bathroom come morning, some prefect would surely let him go...

“What sort of lunatic would break into the headmaster’s office?” she replied, incredulous. “I brought one to school so I could give Alphard a memory. Harry recalled their conversation in the ice cream parlor. It seemed like a million years ago now. "Please," he said. "Look, I swear, everything I've said is true. Get me the pensieve and I'll show you."

Lyra seemed to think for a long minute. Harry was afraid she would say no, but she gave him one last dirty look and said “I’ll have Alphard fetch it.” Then she checked the bonds on him once more and left the room in a sweep of robes. A moment later, she dragged Alphard back in behind her. Harry guessed she didn’t want to talk to him out in the hall, but she still looked between the two of them and himself suspiciously, clearly not wanting to talk about private matters in front of Harry, either.

“What was that privacy spell you used before, Ha- whoever you are?” asked Alphard. “It was dead clever.”

“Muffliato,” Harry said. “I’ll teach you.”

“Alphard,” Lyra hissed. “He is a hostage. Shut up.”

Alphard shot him a look that bordered on apologetic.

He doesn’t look like he wants me being murdered, Harry thought. He also thought that it might have to do more with the boy’s own conscience than any affection for him, but he’d work with what he could get. He gave the friendliest look he could muster at the moment in reply. It may have come across a little strained, since he was still fairly furious at being incapacitated by the boy's cousin, however just her suspicion.

Lyra glared at him and pulled Alphard closer, casting her own privacy spell and conveying her message – it only took a moment, wherein they hissed back and forth furiously, both gesturing at Harry in turn, and then the spell dissolved again and Alphard shot him another apologetic look before leaving the room.

While they waited for Alphard to return, Harry leaned backwards, spreading his hands out as best as he could. Already they were aching from being bound so tightly. He’d decided to relax in his bonds and stop trying to wandlessly vanish them as a show of faith and hoped that it wasn’t misplaced as he slouched as much as he was able against the vanity his back was to.

“I really don’t mean you any harm,” he tried, a little calmer now that he was pretty sure he wasn't going to be killed. “If you’d just let me go-“

“You lied to us. Even if you aren’t a spy or mad as a fucking hatter – and the last’s still up for debate especially – you still lied to us.”

“How did you know?” he asked Lyra, who had moved across the room to sit at the edge of the enormous stone bath. “If your spells and potions didn’t work, and you know I’m not Polyjuiced… what made you think something was wrong?”

“What gave you away, you mean?”

she snapped back.

“Er. Yeah. I thought I was doing alright, really.”

She narrowed her eyes at him.

“I mean- I was only lying because I was afraid of what you’d do if you knew. Not an unfounded fear, as it turns out,” he said evenly.

She paused as if deciding how to answer. After a long moment, she said, “Harry is my best friend. We’ve been friends since he was twelve. He’s been friends with Alphard since they were both in nappies. I knew something was wrong.”

Harry frowned in reply. “But- specifically?”

Specifically, y-he kept drifting off. One moment he’d be with us, the next… it was like he was somewhere else. Or someone else. I knew something was wrong. And then Kreacher said you weren’t Harry, and house elves aren’t wrong, not like that, no matter what Alphard thinks.”

“But you didn’t say anything! You– no, I remember that, that day, you weren’t even looking at me when Kreacher said it. You weren’t suspicious at all,” he insisted.

She gave him another incredulous look. “I’m not that bloody obvious, thanks. And of course I didn’t say anything – you- Harry– no, you, knew about secrets that could get us arrested.”

“But what made you confront me now? And after the potion and all that didn’t work?”

Lyra narrowed her eyes at him again, seemingly deciding if she should answer. She stood, suddenly, and he tried fruitlessly to back up further, but she just withdrew a square of folded parchment from her robes. “This,” she said.

I solemnly swear I am up to no good,” she said, and the Marauder’s Map unfurled before him, in all its familiar glory.

“Where did you get that?” he asked. Even if it wasn’t his – not his version, at least – he was angry at the intrusion, at the theft. That map had always been one of his most prized possessions.

“If you were really Harry,” she said, “you’d ask when. Not where. He keeps it in the same place – an enchanted pocket in his bag. After I spoke to Cassie, I sent a message to Alphard, and he met me while you were still in the Common Room.”

Harry recalled, now, a brief window of time where Alphard had left while he was writing his essay that night, claiming to visit the library. He’d been away perhaps twenty minutes.

“I got him to make sure you didn’t take your bag with you to dinner and I snuck into Gryffindor Tower and stole it then,” Lyra went on, and Harry remembered too that he hadn’t seen her at dinner. “Two strikes against you, really,” she added. “The first was that you didn’t notice – didn’t say anything about its being gone. The second was this.” She crossed the room towards him and held the unfolded parchment out where he could just see it.

His first thought was that the map ought to prove he was who he said – that he was a Harry Potter, even if he wasn’t theirs.

But then he found the prefects’ bathroom on the map, identifying first Lyra and then the spot where he should see himself. Harry Potter was indeed written there, but the ink was all wrong. It was smudged and strange. You could make out the words, but they seemed like a ghost of themselves.

“It’s been like that each time I check,” she said quietly. She wasn’t smirking any longer. “That’s what finally convinced Alphard.” She gave him a look then that neared deadly, as if remembering anew that he was an imposter.

"Why are you telling me all this?" he asked in an attempt to distract her. "You don't seem to believe me."

"It doesn't matter either way, does it? Either you're telling the truth, and you don't mean us any harm and Harry is safe somewhere, or you're lying and I kill you. Or Obliviate you, at least. Anyway - you seem to believe it. So either you're insane, or you're a very good liar, in which case I want to find out why you're lying and what you want from us."

Harry did not know how to reply to that.

Luckily, there came a soft knock at the door just as the scrawl of Alphard Black approached it on the map, and Lyra quickly stepped towards it. Alphard came in, removing his Disillusionment charm as he went, slipping gradually into view. He closed the door behind him and Lyra quickly began to set up the more elaborate privacy wards again while Alphard withdrew the pensieve from a cloak he’d apparently bundled it in. It was an enormous stone basin, nearly bigger than the sinks around them – a lightening charm must’ve been applied for him to carry it. He looked around the room as if deciding where to place it, apparently landing on the countertop that Harry was currently leaned against as the likeliest spot. He was careful to maintain as much distance as he could from Harry as he put the pensieve down on the marble counter.

“You really aren’t our Harry, are you?” he asked as he took a step away.

Harry felt oddly like he should apologize. Alphard looked hurt. But then, he wasn’t the one tied up.

“I really don’t mean any harm,” he said instead. “I want to help you, even, if I can.”

“Help us how?” asked Alphard warily. "Who are you? Lyra told me what you said, and it sounds mad, but - the map does still say Harry Potter, even if it's all... wonky. I've checked the spells on that map a million times, tested them, duplicated them - it doesn't lie."

“It says that because I really am another Harry," he said. "Where I come from- there’s things I know, right? About Riddle especially. Things that I could tell you, that’re important.”

“Hostages always try to negotiate,” interjected Lyra. “It’s a whole thing.”

“I swear,” Harry said. “Just let me show you.” If he could just get his bloody wand-

“Think about what you want us to see,” said Lyra. She moved towards him, and he realized it wasn’t an empty statement. She had her wand pointed at his temple, clearly intending to extract the memories herself.

He breathed long and low through his nose.

My life is a high-speed broom crash, he thought. But he didn't think he had any choice- so he cleared his mind and tried to focus on the memories he wanted to show.

-

“he killed your parents”–

A handsome boy in Hogwarts robes, a Slytherin tie, prefect badge gleaming. They are in a chamber deep underneath the school, and he is telling Harry we’re not so different, you and I. He takes his wand and spells out a truth in red letters-

I AM LORD VOLDEMORT

-and Harry skips ahead to phoenix song.

A ritual, in a graveyard, blood, flesh, bone. The cauldron roils and out steps something half-man, half-snake, all monster.

Dumbledore tells him about the boy who would be Voldemort, once-human, Tom Riddle, who’d applied for a job as professor once, who was turned away. Shows him a wardrobe on fire, a snake nailed to a door.

“I can make bad things happen to people who are mean to me. I can make them hurt if I want to…”

The final battle, a curse, all green cold light, rebounding-

-

He avoided, carefully, any mention of horcruxes, of the philosopher’s stone, of the prophecy. He hoped that even with those holes it would be convincing.

He avoided, too, Sirius falling into the veil, Draco holding his wand to Professor Dumbledore, his friends’ brief time in Malfoy Manor, Dobby. Best not to strike too close to home.

Then on further reflection, he summoned up his memories of home from the last week – him telling Hermione about his dreams, bringing his friends into his research, the paper he brought back with him. He placed special emphasis on memories that would show his presence in the other world was not deliberate. Then he added in the conversation with his father from the night previous, because, he thought, if after all this they still didn’t believe him, perhaps they’d believe James Potter when he said there was a danger in their school.

When he finished, he jerked his head away from Lyra’s wand. She lowered it to the pensieve wordlessly.

“So-" said Alphard, awkwardly.

“After you,” said Lyra. She shot Harry a final look before they submerged their heads, probably checking to see that his bonds were holding.

He waited for what felt like an impossibly long time. After a few minutes, he tried the wandless Finite again, this time muttering the words aloud. When that didn’t work, he switched to a summoning charm. He was rewarded by Alphard’s wand conspicuously twitching on the counter where it lay, but it only made an inch or so of progress towards him. He tried shuffling nearer, but the vines that bound him went all the way past his ankles, and any attempt at movement made him teeter dangerously.

The stone floor looked very hard indeed.

He eventually gave it up as a bad try.

Finally, finally, the two of them emerged. Lyra’s eyes were still narrowed at him, but now she looked considering. Alphard looked – flabbergasted, he thought, might be the word for it.

“What,” began Alphard, “in the fuck.”

And yeah, Harry thought that about summed it up.

"You're telling the truth," the other boy went on. "You're... you're really another Harry."

Yes," he hissed impatiently. "Will you let me go now?”

The other two exchanged a glance. Lyra’s mouth pulled to the side like she was thinking.

“Fine,” she said finally, cancelling the spell with a flick of her wand. Harry stumbled forward, rubbing his arms, which began almost immediately to tingle uncomfortably as they regained circulation.

“Now,” she said. “You’re going to explain.” Harry noted she still had her wand pointed his way.

“First off,” added Alphard, “why you didn’t tell us sooner that our professor is a fucking psychopath.”

“Well, I was getting to it,” said Harry.

He had the sense it was going to be a long night.

-

It was.

He’d expected they’d want to know more about Riddle, and he was happy to oblige. For all that he hated talking about himself and his past, the more emphasis he placed on Riddle and the threat he presented, he thought, the less time they’d have to spend looking askance at him, and indeed, the more details he fleshed out about the man who would be Voldemort, the more horrified Alphard looked, and the less hostile Lyra seemed to be.

He hadn’t expected that they – Lyra, specifically, would so stridently demand to know everything that he and his friends had discussed about the nature of his dreams and their theories on why he was having them.

“Obviously I want to know what you know about it,” she said sharply when questioned. “Because I want to get my friend back. I want you gone so that the real Harry can come back permanently without you peeking your head in.”

“Hermione did most of the research,” admitted Harry. “I’m not even sure what she looked at – just that she didn’t find anything.”

“Pity it’s you here, then. It sounds like we’d be better off with Hermione.”

From the moment they’d pulled out of the pensieve, Alphard seemed to vacillate between what Harry had come to know as his normal, and suddenly, eerily shuttered off. It seemed that he didn’t know how to deal with someone who was technically a stranger but wore his best friend’s face.

Lyra, however, who had always been cool, had excised all traces of fondness from her interactions with Harry.

He was surprised to find that he felt a little stung.

“She’s muggleborn, you know,” he said back. He wanted to throw it in her face, to feel vindicated when she said something nasty in reply.

Instead, she blinked at him without any trace of hostility. She looked… curious.

And Alphard was the one who spoke next. “Is she really? That’s fascinating.”

“Why, because you don’t think a muggleborn could be so clever? Because you think they – steal magic, or whatever shit?” Harry actually didn’t know what exactly Grindlewald’s regime had to say about muggleborns, or what the other two believed, but he supposed it couldn’t be good.

After all, they had grown up under some kind of fascist regime. They were both from historically dark families. He realized he’d been incredibly stupid to regard the two of them as – well, if not friends, then friendly. He’d trusted them, been alone with them, let them point their wands at him.

Stupid.

Alphard and Lyra exchanged a look.

“I’m not sure what you’re implying, exactly,” said Lyra slowly. “But we haven’t got anything against muggleborns, necessarily. We couldn’t, really. Neither of us has ever met one, after all. I suppose things are different where you’re from, but here, they don’t go to school with us, work with us; they – live separately, from the rest of society." Alphard nodded, adding, "We’re all raised thinking that they’re not like us, not at all.”

Harry had quite a few questions about the logistics of that, really – but he reigned them in, focusing on the relevant for the time being. “But what? You’re saying that you two don’t think that?”

“Er, no,” said Alphard, looking at him incredulously. He actually looked a little offended, Harry thought.

“Why not?” asked Harry, refusing to be – what, shamed?

“Because. If the chancellor’s people are insistent on something, that probably means it isn’t true,” Alphard replied. “They’re the ones who say that muggleborns pose a threat to society, who insist they live separately from us. I’ve always assumed that they must have real magic, strong magic – because if they didn’t, the chancellor’s army wouldn’t be so afraid of them.”

"Afraid?" echoed Harry.

"They ban the things they fear," said Lyra. It sounded almost as if she were quoting something. "The things they think might be used against them."

“And you really don’t believe them? That muggleborns are inferior?”

Lyra raised an eyebrow. “Not really. Do you?”

“Of course not!" said Harry. "My best friend is muggleborn. It’s not even – where I come from, Grindlewald’s dead. The dark lord I showed you is dead, too. And no one’s ever separated muggleborns from the rest of society. Well," he amended, "they tried, in the last war, but they didn’t manage it for long before we stopped them.”

“And I’m guessing your society’s not falling apart at the seams,” remarked Lyra dryly.

“-no.” Harry shook his head, confused. “Sorry, I’m still caught up on the part where you don’t actually believe this rubbish. But you still… you haven’t done anything about it, have you? About their not getting to attend Hogwarts? You’ve never even mentioned it, in all the time I’ve been here.”

“We’re teenagers – students. And no one talks about it. Not out in the open, most people never at all. What would you propose we even do, take to the streets, incite rebellion?” asked Alphard.

“I don’t know,” said Harry, but really he wanted to say yes, because that’s what he’d do.

“No offense,” said Lyra, “But you’re a bit of an idiot. We’d just be killed, quick as that, and no one would even remember what we’d done.”

“So you’re just doing nothing?” asked Harry indignantly. He was aware, distantly, that they were getting off-track – but he thought if these two weren’t willing to help him against Riddle, against their government, it was likely that no one would, and the idea of going it completely alone was, if not unfamiliar, then daunting.

And then there was the sheer wrongness of the idea that any version of himself might be such a coward, because if his friends were, surely he must be, too.

“We’ve been studying,” Lyra replied insistently. “And learning. Do you even know what we’ve done, our Harry and us? We’ve spent years gathering books that we’re not supposed to have, practicing spells that we’re not supposed to use.”

“Books?” repeated Harry.

“Books that we’d be arrested for even having,” said Lyra. “Not just spellbooks, muggle books.”

“You’d be arrested for having muggle books?” he asked. Then, as the thought occurred to him, “Where did you even get them, anyway?”

“Of course we’d be arrested,” said Alphard. “Charged with muggle sympathizing, no doubt. And the first ones came from Lyra’s library,” he added, shrugging. Then, "Merlin, but this is weird. The vow should be stopping us from talking now - it really must have transferred to you."

"At least there's that," said Lyra, in a tone that suggested that it was the only thing that had gone right that evening.

“The Malfoys had muggle books?” asked Harry, who was still entirely caught up on that detail.

“Shakespeare,” said Lyra, smirking a little. “We’ve never liked doing what we’re told.”

“And they didn’t have charms on them to keep them being copied – the muggle books never do,” grinned Alphard back.

“The rest we’ve found here and there. Knockturn Alley, dusty corners of Flourish and Blotts’ – places people have forgotten things. The Ravenclaw common room shelves held a copy of ‘Jane Eyre’ for who knows how long.”

“Once we even snuck out to muggle London,” said Alphard, uncharacteristically serious. It sounded as if it were a big deal to them. Lyra gave him a serious look back, and something silent passed between them.

“That’s why you took the vow,” Harry realized.

“Yes,” said Lyra. “For that, and everything else we've done. Studied, learned." "Like what?" Harry prodded. The other two exchanged a look again and said nothing.

“I thought you believed me,” Harry muttered.

“We do,” said Alphard. Lyra snorted.

“I believe you’re earnest, anyway,” she said, finally. “And I didn’t really want to deal with a body.”

“Thanks,” Harry shot back. “You know, I’m a fucking Auror, and four years your senior.”

“You must not be a very good one,” she mocked. “Because it was awfully easy, subduing you.” Harry seethed and reached for his wand at the reminder, then remembered belatedly that the girl must still have it. She raised an eyebrow at him in reply, having noticed his hand going to his pocket. He narrowed his eyes, prepared to try a wandless summoning charm again. Or maybe just try it the muggle way and tackle her to the ground, although he was supposed to be convincing them they were on the same side.

“Okay, okay,” said Alphard. He positioned himself between them. At some point, over the last hour of conversation, he and Harry had taken seats on the transfigured cushions on the floor while Lyra reclaimed her perch at the edge of the palatial bathtub. “Let’s… calm down, yeah? Look, we have a common – er, goal, here. We all want to get our Harrys In the proper places, and it’d be nice if we could make sure Professor Riddle doesn’t kill anybody while we’re at it.”

“And we need to find out why he’s here,” added Harry, momentarily subdued.

“Which you’re apparently our best expert on,” said Alphard, cheerfully. He turned back to Lyra and must have mouthed something, because the girl rolled her eyes and uncrossed her arms, assuming a less hostile posture.

“Fine,” she said. Then she turned to Harry. “Talk.”

-

It was nearly four in the morning by the time they grew too tired to speak any more. Harry had listed almost everything he could about Riddle, still leaving out the horcruxes and anything else he thought the others need not know.

“But why was he so obsessed with you?” Alphard had asked.

Unwilling to talk about the prophecy, still, Harry had shrugged. “Because he kept failing at killing me. Once he’s got his mind set on something…” he trailed off.

Lyra frowned. Harry suspected she knew it ran deeper than that, but she seemed unwilling to question him directly, leaving Alphard to interrogate him, instead.

Alphard had, in turn, fed him little bits and pieces about Grindlewald’s regime here and there. He was told that, like Voldemort, people rarely referred to the man by name unless they were speaking formally or writing, though it wasn’t a rule enforced by taboo. He learned that the man’s private army was called “The Hallowed”, or Geheiligten, which implied – though Harry didn’t say this – that his obsession with the Deathly Hallows remained intact.

Their conversation petered out over time. Harry was... exhausted. In more ways than one, really. He hadn’t realized how difficult it was, explaining things that were by now second nature to him, that everyone he knew knew about and had their own private vocabulary for besides. Just having to say things like “and then the Death Eaters – those were his followers, remember – invaded Hogwarts..” out loud was terribly, terribly strange.

He missed home, suddenly.

“I think that’s enough for one evening,” said Lyra, after some time. They made their way back to the dorms in the early hours of the morning, and Harry fell into bed, trying not to think of Ginny and Hermione and Ron and his comfortable flat and his life.

-

A new day dawned, and Harry was still in the other world. This time he found he wasn’t surprised as he woke in the Gryffindor dorm. Something told him he would be here awhile.

Alphard was already awake when he got up and began to get ready. “Hey, mate. Are you – ah..?”

“It’s me,” said Harry. “Er… the other me. The-“

“Right,” said Alphard. “Got it.” He sounded - disappointed, perhaps, but not wary, so Harry supposed that was a start. He turned away and began collecting his things.

Harry followed Alphard silently to the Great Hall when he was ready. He had waited for him without being prompted to, which Harry felt both grateful for and annoyed by. He got the impression that he wouldn’t leave Harry alone now that he knew he wasn’t really his friend - like he didn’t quite trust that Harry should be left to roam the castle where his real friends and family were.

On that note, when they got to the Gryffindor table and began to have breakfast, Alphard spoke up. “I reckon I should sort of – guide you, yeah? You can follow my lead so you know how to act around people. Lucky for you, Harry doesn’t really have many friends outside of Lyra and me, but my cousins and what talk to him now and then. And the boys in the dorms.”

“D’you think anyone’s suspicious of me?” Harry asked. It felt strange to openly talk about it.

“Not really,” assured Alphard. “Harry’s pretty quiet, most days. I don’t think anyone would think much of you – him – whatever – being quieter than usual. But it won’t do for, dunno, you to forget you’re meant to know Nathaniel Diggory, or something.”

“I know that I know Nate,” Harry replied, somewhat offended at the perceived slight.

Alphard shrugged. “Do you actually know him? I mean, in your world?” He nearly whispered the last, though they were alone at the table. Harry glanced around and decided it was safe to chance the Muffliato again.

Alphard’s eyes widened slightly at the charm but he didn’t prod Harry to cancel it.

“I don’t know him really, no,” Harry said once the spell was in place. “He doesn’t exist in mine. But I knew his older brother.”

“Cedric?” asked Alphard.

“Yeah,” he said, opting not to mention that he’d been indirectly responsible for the boy’s demise.

“Odd. Hard to imagine Cedric without Nate – he was real friendly to us in Nate’s dorm, first year.”

“That sounds like him,” said Harry. “I wonder-“ He’d wondered this before, when talking to Hermione about his ‘dreams’. Well, now was his chance to ask. “Why does it seem like all these people who were only children in my world have brothers and sisters here? Like Malfoy, for instance.”

Alphard looked pensive. “Well – everyone’s told it’s their duty to have as many magical kids as they can, you know? A lot of the older families don’t go in for more than two – but the idea’s still there.”

Harry supposed that made sense, if they didn’t have muggleborn and halfblood witches and wizards to add to their numbers.

He’d always wondered, actually, why people like the Malfoys only had one child per generation, if they were so obsessed with the concept of maintaining their lines. He voiced the last aloud.

“It can be more trouble than it’s worth,” suggested Alphard. “Having more than one heir. You’ve got to figure out who inherits what, and magic can make things difficult, because some things that are bound magically just can’t be split. Like, you wouldn’t want to give one kid your property, right, but the other some of your furniture and portraits – because the portraits are all tied into the property and its magic, and if you take them out, they lose some of their power.”

Harry frowned. “I didn’t know that.”

Alphard looked surprised. “Everyone knows that.”

“Raised by muggles, remember?”

“Oh. Yeah," said Alphard, a funny look crossing his face as if he were considering how different this Harry truly was from his own. "This is all so - weird. I can't believe..." he trailed off. "Well, anyway, that’s most of it – there’s also just people who don’t like children much, I guess. Lyra’s dad doesn’t – I think it was her mum that pushed for another. She probably did some kind of ritual to get a girl, too. The Malfoys hadn’t had a girl in ages before Lyra.”

“You can do that?” Harry asked incredulously.

“Sure. It’s properly dark magic, but if you’re Narcissa Malfoy, you can do a lot of things.”

Harry supposed that was true in any universe.

-

The rest of the day passed, slowly but surely, Alphard leading him around from place to place and steering his conversations with his housemates in a way that left Harry irritated at the implication that he couldn’t handle himself.

Sure, he hadn’t managed to convince Alphard and Lyra, in the end, but they were the other Harry’s best friends. He was certain that no one would could ever manage to convince Ron and Hermione that they were Harry, either.

Actually, now that he thought about that – well. He’d underestimated the strength of the other Harry’s bond with the two of them. Maybe he wasn’t as good a judge of character as he thought. It was that that had him biting back his irritation and taking Alphard’s cues all day. Lyra remained conspicuously absent, either plotting something – that was Alphard’s suggestion – or silently seething at the replacement of her own Harry with a shoddy imposter – that was Harry’s.

Finally, finally, it was night, and he was able to go to sleep. When he slept, he didn’t dream, and that was fine by him.

-

Morning came.

It would be his fourth full day in the other world, Harry noted, detached. It was Friday – the last day of lessons he had to trudge through, and then he’d have the weekend to do whatever he liked.

He wondered what the other Harry did with his weekends.

He followed Alphard down to breakfast, as usual, and began piling eggs on his plate.

“Good morning,” Lyra greeted the two of them cordially as she appeared out of nowhere and folded herself into a seat.

“Er,” Harry said, taken aback. “Good morning?”

“Nice of you to join us,” said Alphard. Harry noted that there was something sharp lurking under his cheerful tone. He glanced between the other boy and Lyra, wondering if they’d argued about something.

“Keeping up appearances,” replied Lyra, with a wide false smile. “It wouldn’t do for people to notice that I haven’t been talking with my two best friends.”

Ahh. They must have argued about him, then, Harry thought guiltily.

“Appearances,” said Alphard, snorting. “Right. Well, let’s all pretend everything is normal, then.”

“Let’s,” agreed Lyra.

Harry said nothing at all.

-

The day went on. Lyra continued to meet with them in the corridors, exchanging comments between classes – with Alphard, technically, but to a casual observer, she would seem to be speaking with them both.

They were all leaving in the Great Hall, pretending to behave normally – in this case, having just finished eating lunch – when Adhara Black approached.

Harry, who had never properly seen her up close, was amused by how much she, like Alphard, looked like her father, which was to say, he was amused by the realization of what Sirius would look like as a fifteen-year-old girl. Her uniform was immaculate, black curls half-up, and when she came to a stop in front of them, she crossed her arms, tapping long nails varnished in a dark violet over her sleeve.

“We need to talk.”

Alphard snorted. Harry wasn’t sure how to respond – or if he was even expected to. He glanced at Lyra, who quirked a tiny smile as if amused – not at the girl, he didn’t think, but about her.

Then she ducked into one of the many alcoves off the corridor and Alphard made to follow her, Lyra trailing behind, and Harry, for lack of anything else to do, followed them.

What exactly was it with the Black family and having clandestine conversations in alcoves?

When they came to a stop, Adhara turned to their little group with dramatic flare. “Hello, Alphard. Potter, Malfoy.”

“Addie,” said Alphard congenially in reply.

She gave him an irritated look, shot back, “Adhara, please. Unless you’d like me to start calling you ‘Alphie’ again.”

“I’m not fussed.” Alphard grinned at his sister.

She rolled her eyes, reached up and touched the prefect’s badge on her robes as if reminding herself it was still there. “Whatever. I didn’t come to exchange pleasantries.”

“But we’re off to such a start!”

She narrowed her eyes at him but apparently opted to soldier on. “I’ve just come to ask, like, a tiny favor. Really tiny.”

Alphard frowned. “For mum? Merlin, I haven’t even gotten detention yet, what could she want?”

“It isn’t about Mother. It’s about Dora.”

“-Dora?” Alphard blinked. “Really?”

“She wrote asking me to keep an eye on Cassie.”

“You’d need more than one eye to keep up with Cassie,” replied Alphard. “At least eight, maybe. Like a spider. Try transfiguring yourself into an acromantula, I’m sure you’ll manage.”

“You’re such a child, Alphard,” said Adhara, crossing her arms again. “My point is – I’ve already spoken with Cassiopeia, but Castor and Pollux are like, just as determined to wreak havoc, and they don’t listen to me. You’re the only person they really mind – and maybe you, Malfoy,” she conceded, looking at Lyra for the first time.

Lyra raised an eyebrow in response. “Why exactly did Dora request you look after Cassie? Aside from the usual.”

“There’s like, a work thing? Auror business.”

Harry perked up, his attention caught. He hadn’t known if Nymphadora was even an Auror here, but it appeared so. Also, this conversation was beginning to bear strange resemblance to-

“It’s all about this weird group going around calling themselves – oh, I can’t remember. Something ridiculous. Anyway, they’re plastering handbills all about like they’re advertising for a sodding pantomime.”

“We’ve heard,” said Lyra carefully. She, too, looked more attentive now. “Dora told you about this? Did she say anything else?”

Adhara shrugged, tossing her hair over one shoulder in what looked like a calculated mimicry of nonchalance. “Just that she thought they might come to Hogsmeade.”

“Cassie’s not old enough to go to Hogsmeade,” Alphard pointed out. “And the next Hogsmeade day’s not for weeks.”

“That’s never stopped the twins, has it? And she’s basically their disciple this year – her and that Selwyn girl. They’re going to lose us the house cup, I can already tell-”

“Did Dora say what the... handbills… were about?” Lyra interrupted. “Or the group?”

“Oh. Yeah. They’re calling themselves, like, ‘representatives of the people’,” said Adhara, with accompanying air quotes. “They’re saying it’s a ‘call to arms’. There’s some kind of list of people who’ve been sent to - you-know-where, in the last however long, and a list of people who’ve disappeared, or whatever.”

“Must be a long list,” muttered Alphard. A dark look came over his face.

Harry, meanwhile, was going over her words. Representatives of the people, a list of the missing, and you-know-where - might be Nuremguard...? It sounded awfully like what Potterwatch had done in his own universe.

He wondered if perhaps this group was the other universe’s equivalent. Or, he thought, they might even be the Order. Maybe they existed after all, even without Dumbledore around.

“Maybe we shouldn’t talk about this here,” suggested Lyra, shooting a pointed glance outside the alcove.

“Well, whatever, that’s all I know anyway,” replied Adhara. “And Dora said not to tell anyone.”

“You’re literally telling us, right now,” Alphard pointed out.

“Yeah, but she didn’t say not to tell family.” Adhara paused, squinted at Harry. “And Potter’s like, almost family. I guess. You’re always about, anyway.” Then she turned back to her brother. “So are you going to talk to the twins or not?”

“Yeah, sure,” he said with very little conviction. “Although I don’t know why anyone thinks they listen to me.”

She shrugged in reply as if to say my work here is done before making as if to turn and leave.

“Cheers, Addie,” Alphard said before she could go.

“Circe’s tits, Alphard. What did I tell you about calling me that?” She stalked away in a huff.

When she was gone, Alphard swore under his breath. Harry seconded it. Lyra pursed her lips, looking thoughtful. “That’s more information than we’ve gotten thus far,” she said. “But it raises more questions…” she trailed off, glancing around the hall again.

Harry cast a quick Muffliato, though it felt a little late – but he hadn’t wanted Alphard’s sister to have the same sorts of questions about the spell that Alphard had.

“We need to find somewhere that’s safe to meet during the day,” murmured Alphard. “We need to talk about this.”

At the last, Lyra shot Harry a look. He was pretty certain it said and since when is this asshole included in we?

But whether he was included or not, Harry agreed. They did need to find somewhere to talk that wasn’t the prefects’ bathroom, only accessible after hours.

And he had an idea.

“I think I might know a place,” he said. “I can show you.”

-

Any hesitation he might’ve had about showing Alphard and Lyra the Room of Requirement left when he saw their reactions.

Alphard, who he’d come to find was really taken with enchantments, paced around the room animatedly, prodding the sofas and armchairs the space had provided – Harry had done the thinking to get them in, and so the Room took on the predictable form of a mock Gryffindor common room. He muttered under his breath, exclaiming occasionally as he, at Harry’s prompting, willed things like parchment and quills and cushions into existence.

Lyra, though more reserved, was obviously just as fascinated. She had a more open look on her face than Harry had ever seen, eyes wide as she made her own slower route through the false common room. She cocked her head to the side and a chair became green, then blue. She took a seat, cautiously at first, then settled into the chair with the ghost of a smile.

“This is remarkable,” she said finally.

“This is a bloody masterpiece of magic is what it is! Harry, are you sure you don’t know whose work this is?”

Harry grinned at Alphard’s enthusiasm. “Nah,” he said. “Hermione thinks the Founders, probably, but we’ve never found out for sure.”

“It will certainly come in handy," said Lyra. She looked at him with something bordering on approval, and Harry was surprised to find that he was relieved. But then, these two were the only allies he had, here. "I’m going to ward it now,” Lyra said, interrupting his thoughts.

“Sure,” said Harry. Her short-term wards were delicate, complex, and more secure than anything he could manage with privacy spells of his own. Distantly, he wished that she’d been present in his own universe during fifth year – the DA would never have been caught, he thought.

“We haven’t got much time before our next class,” said Alphard. “Actually – Lyra, you haven’t got any free periods. Are you skivving off?” He asked the latter with clear delight.

“Only History of Magic,” she said. “I’ll copy Story’s notes.”

“No idea why you’re taking NEWT History, anyway.”

“Because,” she huffed. “I’m getting as many NEWTs as I possibly can.”

Alphard stuck his tongue out at her childishly. “Anyway, we can’t be late to Defense. Not now I know that Riddle might murder me if I am.”

Harry laughed unexpectedly at the morbid joke. It was, he thought, just good not to be holding so many secrets anymore.

The conversation with Adhara had broken some of the tension between them, somehow - the distraction of having something new to investigate, he supposed - but now things felt truly... well, normal. He could almost imagine that things were alright, if he ignored the part where he was in the wrong universe.

They spent the rest of their scarce minutes discussing the implications of what Adhara had told them – Harry describing the Order and Potterwatch in as much detail as he could manage without feeling traitorous.

"We could've done with this Dumbledore bloke here," Alphard mused. "I wonder what went differently?"

"I suspect he must've died a long time ago," said Harry, who'd already considered this a thousand times. "Or maybe he was never born at all. You've really never heard of him?"

“Not at all," said Lyra. "Him, or the Order of the Phoenix. I’ve never heard of there being anything like that here."

“But just because you’ve never heard of it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist,” said Alphard. Lyra frowned in reply. “Oh, come on, Ly. There are things that people won’t tell you because you’re you. Your dad might not work for the ministry, but he’s awfully cozy with it. He’s got seats, plural, on the Wizengamot. You can’t expect people will be in a hurry to go telling you about – rebel groups, or whatever.”

“I suppose that’s true,” she conceded. “But we still need to find out, somehow.”

“I’ll find out,” said Harry.

“Your dad does work for the ministry,” Alphard pointed out. “Well, not your – but. You know.”

“But I know more about this than either of you,” Harry replied, unconcerned.

“Sure,” Alphard said. He sounded unconvinced. “Anyway – we’re nearly out of time. Oh! Shit, Harry, did you finish that essay for Riddle?”

“Er, yeah, the other night,” said Harry, because he had.

“Good. Our Harry wouldn’t be best pleased if you brought his grades down.”

Harry snorted. “I’ll try. I wasn’t the best student, and I’ve never done seventh year.”

Alphard groaned. “Right. Well. I’ll help you where I can. And I’m sure Lyra-“ he shot a look at his cousin, who raised an eyebrow in reply. “…well, I’ll help,” he finished.

A thought occurred to Harry. “What does he want to do? Er, your Harry. After he graduates.”

“He doesn’t know,” said Alphard, quirking a smile as if at an old joke.

“…really? Not at all? But didn’t he have a career meeting, fifth year…?”

Alphard laughed. “Ah, right, yeah, what’d he tell McGonagall he wanted to try for, again?”

“Healer,” supplied Lyra, rolling her eyes. “Rubbish. He’s never wanted to be a Healer.”

“But – so he didn’t want to be an Auror, or anything?” He was trying to wrap his head around the concept that the alternate him might be just as lost as he was when it came to knowing what he wanted to do with his future.

“With his dad?” asked Alphard. “Nah, doubt it. He could always get an apprenticeship, I s’pose. His grades are alright and the Potters are pretty well-regarded. Or he could spend a few years doing nothing – Circe knows he’s not hurting for money.”

Harry was still considering that - the idea that even in a world without Voldemort, he wouldn't know what he wanted to do for a bloody living, as if that were so hard - when they left.

-

Defense began almost normally, with Riddle collecting their essays with a flick of his wand. To Harry’s surprise, he even spared them him strange monologing. In fact, he hardly spoke at all, just enough to instruct them on where to begin – they were divided into groups of four, and told to spend their time in mock duels, two against two. They were still practicing nonverbal spells and shields, though now they were meant to combine both, using nonverbal spells against their components and nonverbal shields where they could.

Riddle meanwhile seemed to spend the rest of the class alternating between marking their essays at his desk and glancing up at their progress, offering comments in passing.

Harry teamed up with Alphard against Lavender Brown and Pavarti Patil. Halfway through the class, Riddle told them to switch up their teams, and he ended up with Dashiel Swan against Blaise Zabini and Theodore Nott. It was, all told, actually a reasonably challenging duel, though it devolved into being mostly Harry versus the two Slytherins. Harry deliberately toned his skill down throughout, and Riddle only offered a few comments here and there – “Good form, Potter. Ah, Zabini, excellent footwork. Watch for the gaps in Swan’s- aha, Potter’s covered for him. Nice work, but Swan, you’ll need to hold your own…”

Then, at long last, the class was over. Harry breathed a sigh of relief as he stood, gathering his things and following Alphard to the front of the room. He felt the tension begin to ease from his shoulders.

They were nearly out the door when Harry heard a familiar voice behind him.

“Potter.”

He turned, dread just beginning to creep in. Riddle, still seated at his desk, gestured at him. “Wait a moment, please. Black, you may go.”

Alphard shot a panicked look at Harry, who raised his own eyebrows in reply as if to say I don’t know either. He stifled his own fight-or-flight response. He’s just a professor, it’s probably about my essay-

Alphard shot him one last look before leaving the classroom. Harry noticed with a pang of gratitude that he left the door open a crack as he went.

Then Riddle closed it with a flick of his hand, and the pang became something else.

Fucking- fuck, Harry thought as he closed his hand around his wand. Just a professor, just a professor-

“Potter,” Riddle said again. “Harry. May I call you Harry?” He smiled at Harry, who kept his face stone-still. Don’t draw his attention, he thought, and forced himself to nod.

“Harry, then," said Riddle. “Please, take a seat. There's something I'd like to ask..."

-

Chapter Text

Harry stared at Tom Riddle unblinkingly, and then looked away again just as quickly, remembering his Legilimency skills. He recalled his Occlumency training as well as he could, hoping to god that Riddle wouldn’t see any need to test his shields.

“You wanted to ask me something?” he said finally.

“Indeed,” Riddle said. “I have a request. You see, I can’t help but notice you’re above and beyond most of your peers in my subject. I know we’ve only had three classes together so far, but I’ve found myself very impressed with the talent you’ve displayed.”

-oh god, thought Harry, because of all the possibilities he’d considered, being complimented really wasn’t one of them. Why was Riddle trying to flatter him? Was he going to ask him to become a Death Eater?

“I’d like to recruit you,” Riddle said.

Harry nearly choked, trying to formulate a way to say “sorry, I do not wish to become one of your evil lackeys” and still leave the room alive.

What he actually got out was “sorry?”

“Ah, excuse me, I’m getting ahead of myself,” said Riddle, smiling charmingly at Harry once again. “You see, there’s only so much hands-on practice you students can get in the classroom, and in defense, I believe hands-on practice to be of upmost importance. Therefore, I’ve been working on devising a way to give students more experience – and I thought an extracurricular group would be the best bet.”

Extracurricular – was that his way of referring to the Death Eaters? It was not, technically, incorrect.

“I’d like to start a dueling club, Harry,” Riddle went on at Harry’s probably inscrutable look. Hopefully inscrutable. If he looked as horrified as he felt, he may as well just-

“Wait. What?”

“A dueling club,” Riddle repeated. “And with your particular skillset, I was hoping you might assist me. I’d serve as faculty mentor, of course, but it would help tremendously to have a talented student lead the sessions themselves – I have a rather busy schedule, I’m afraid.”

“You… want me to help you… run a dueling club?”

“Yes,” said Riddle, very patiently. If he thought Harry was behaving like the flobberworm he felt like at the moment, his face didn’t show it. “I was thinking Thursday evenings – students in third year and up would be best-"

A gentle ding, like the sound of a bell being hit, rung through the room suddenly.

Riddle frowned, a look of consternation crossing his face. Harry gripped his wand in his pocket on instinct. But then he said, “Ah. That’s my Floo. I’m afraid I have to answer that.” Riddle rose in a sweep of robes.

“-right,” Harry said, standing quickly.

“Do think about what I’ve said, though, Harry. I think you’d be an excellent match.” Then he left the room through a side door to his office, not waiting for a reply.

Harry stumbled out of the classroom, still not entirely sure of what he’d just experienced.

“Harry,” he heard someone hiss, and there was Alphard, tucked into – another bloody alcove, Merlin, where did the Black cousins find all these? Still, Harry darted over obligingly.

“You’re alive,” whispered Alphard.

“…yes?”

“Well, what did he want?”

“He wanted…” Harry trailed off, still having a hard time believing it himself. “He wanted to ask me to join a dueling club,” he finished, incredulity apparent in his tone.

“-what? Hogwarts doesn’t even have a dueling club.”

“Exactly,” said Harry. “He wants me to help lead it.”

Alphard blinked slowly. “…sorry? He wants you to… be president… of a dueling club? That, what, he’s forming?”

“Yeah,” Harry said, because that was about the gist of it.

“Merlin’s crusty left elbow, Harry, I thought he was going to string you up by your toes. I thought he was going to kidnap you and take you to his dark lair.”

Harry laughed, suddenly, at the absurdity of it all. “In my world, he might’ve, but really- my toes?”

“My mum says I’ve got a good imagination,” Alphard grinned back. “Actually, Lyra says that, too. Actually, come to think of it, I think sometimes Lyra compares notes with my mum.”

“-Jesus,” said Harry. “Let’s get out of here, yeah?”

-

If you were to ask Harry James Potter how his week was going, he’d say strangely, thanks. For the last – he wasn’t sure how long, actually, perhaps two weeks, perhaps more, he’d been tireder than usual. He’d had a strange feeling sometimes like he was watching the events around him unfold as if from at a distance, as if he were underwater and blinking upwards through the ripples to the shore.

Sometimes he’d start and feel like he was waking up again after falling asleep standing.

Sometimes, he thought he dreamt properly. When he came to, he couldn’t remember what he’d seen, exactly, but he was left with impressions – of voices he didn’t know, the smell of burnt toast.

He thought maybe he was going mad. He considered telling his father, even – that was how strange it was, because for a teenage boy to tell his father anything meant things were desperate indeed. He hadn’t, in the end, not wanting to worry him – his father had been very occupied with work, the last few weeks, shutting himself away in his office for hours on end. Sometimes Harry pressed his ear to the office door and thought he heard his father inside talking to himself.

Now, he wondered if he shouldn’t have told him after all, because his first night at Hogwarts, he’d fallen asleep, and…

-and then, well, he wasn’t sure.

He only knew that now he was awake after sleeping for what felt like a very long time, and he was not in his bed in the Gryffindor dormitories at all.

Harry had allowed himself a good moment to panic. He’d laid very still for that, then, when it was apparent that no one was coming, he jumped out of the bed all at once and went for his wand. He’d found, instead, another wand, reddish and in need of a good polish, but when he waved it, sparks shot out, which meant he ought to be able to use it. Then he looked around him and realized that he had absolutely no idea where he was. He wasn’t in Alphard’s house, certainly – his mum would never stand for the crumbling walls or the dust bunnies that lurked in this room’s corners. He wasn’t at Lyra’s, either, though that was more of a given, because it was impossible to wake up at Malfoy Manor and not know you were in Malfoy Manor – the ceilings alone gave it away, and the bedding was mostly monogrammed. He did not know where he could possibly be. It looked like nowhere he had ever been. It looked… muggle, almost, in the way that he imagined muggle houses might look when he read books about them. Not like the rambling country homes of “Jane Eyre”, but maybe a bit like Winston Smith’s flat in “1984”. It was just this side of terrible. “1984” was one of Harry’s favorite books, but he rather hoped that this place wasn’t anything like it.

Then there were the clothes. Harry looked down and found that he was in someone’s grody trousers, only they weren’t quite like any trousers he’d ever seen, either. They reminded him a bit of quidditch kit, and they were all stretchy around the waist. Actually, if they hadn’t been full of holes, he might like them. They were very comfortable. And his shirt – well, that was alright too, he thought, plucking at it. It was a Holyhead Harpies shirt, and he’d always admired that team. Perhaps if he’d been abducted and was being held for ransom, he could win his captor over by waxing poetic about the virtues of Gwenog Jones.

Although, if he’d been abducted, his abductors were doing a shit job, because he was free to wander out the bedroom door, which he proceeded to do. The rest of the space he was in was much the same – though, he found, passing through the kitchen, it definitely wasn’t a muggle’s. Or he didn’t think that muggles had charmed iceboxes or self-boiling kettles, anyway.

Then things grew stranger still, because Harry made his way into the sitting room, and there, on the mantle, while checking for Floo powder, he found photographs. Of himself. Only it wasn’t himself at all – this Harry had a pair of glasses that looked in half the photos like they were held together with – bits of something wrapped around the frames? And there was a scar on his forehead, and he had really, really awful hair. He looked a lot like his dad, actually, at least in the last. And then there were the other people in the photos – he didn’t recognize any of them, not the gangly red-headed boy who had an arm around Harry’s shoulders in one, or the girl with remarkably bushy hair who hugged him in others, or the woman who was just as ginger and freckled as the boy in some of the photos but much, much prettier. As he watched one picture, the last woman gave the other Harry a peck on the cheek, and he blushed.

Harry resolved that if anyone that beautiful ever deigned to kiss him (the incident with Susan Bones in fourth year didn’t count, thanks) he would absolutely not blush. Merlin’s sake.

And then he noticed the other photos.

There was one with his father when he was very young, standing with another person who was unmistakably Alphard’s dad. They were both boyishly handsome and grinned at the person taking the picture like they didn’t have a care in the world, and Harry thought that he’d really like to take this and show it to Al – he would like to see it. There were two other men in the photo he didn’t recognize, but that wasn’t all that strange, really – he’d always known his dad had friends before he was born. His dad was forever going on about how parents were real people, after all, usually punctuated with a sigh of feigned exasperation like he suspected Harry wouldn’t believe him.

The second photo with his dad, though. That was strange. Because his father had his arm around an unfamiliar woman with very familiar green eyes, and – oh.

Harry had never known his mother had red hair.

Before he could contemplate this further, the fireplace flashed green, and Harry instinctively took a great step back as someone came through the Floo.

The figure stepped right out onto the hearth rug without so much as a by-your-leave (Lyra would have a fit) and Harry recognized him as the gangly redheaded boy from the photos, although he was much less gangly and actually more of a man, really.

“You’re awake!” the man said. “The alarm Hermione set went off, but I wasn’t sure – well, thank Merlin, anyway, she was about to ship you off to St. Mungos, and – why are you looking at me like that, mate?”

“No offense,” said Harry slowly. “I mean this in the politest way possible – but. Who the hell are you?” Also, he thought, where the hell am I, and who is this doppleganger, but those could wait for a moment.

The redheaded man gave him a startled once-over. “Oh,” he said after a long moment. “Balls.”

-

“Well, on the bright side, you’ve not been murdered.” That was Alphard. It was the end of the day, now, just past curfew, and the two of them were waiting in the Room of Requirement for Lyra to appear so they could discuss their latest revelations.

“Yeah, that’s pretty much the only bright side. Riddle wants me to lead a fucking dueling club, under his watch. What – even could he want? From this.” Harry tugged at his hair. Then he reached up and loosened his uniform tie, taking it wholly off and tossing it into a corner of the room.

“But it’s kind of- I mean, it might be a good opportunity, yeah? You get to keep an eye on him, see what he’s up to.”

“Maybe,” said Harry. “But I doubt he’s going to start killing students in front of me, or teaching them Unforgiveables. Well,” he amended. “Actually, I did have a defense professor do that last, once.”

“You what?”

“Long story,” Harry said. “Anyway. I already pretty well agreed to it, or at least Riddle will think so-“ he sighed. “Now, have you thought about what I said, about the map?” Earlier, Harry had asked after the marauders map, which it turned out was in Alphard’s possession after the previous night, Lyra having entrusted it to him. If he’d known earlier, Harry would have implored the other boy to open the map then and there outside Riddle’s office to see if the person who’d called his Floo had stepped through. He’d really like to know who might be in contact with Riddle.

“We’ve got to take turns watching Riddle’s office on it, see if we spot anything suspicious, and see if anyone visits.”

“Mate, here’s the thing, staring at the map all day on the off chance that it might show us something is like – just this side of bonkers.”

“I’ve done it before,” Harry insisted. “It worked out alright then.”

“Did it?”

“Well…” Harry trailed off. “Look, it’s better than nothing. You’re right. I’ll do the dueling club thing, stay close to Riddle, figure out what he’s up to.” He’d had worse plans, to be honest. Actually, now that he thought of it, it wasn’t such a bad idea, leading a dueling club. He could teach the students to defend themselves much as he had in his own. It seemed as if they might need it soon, if they didn’t already. And when he thought back on it, teaching the DA was really one of the high points of his Hogwarts career. That was, of course, a low hurdle, but…

“Brill. Actually, you know, barring the fact that the faculty sponsor is evil incarnate, it’s not a bad idea, a dueling club – I’ve always wanted to join one.”

“Really?” asked Harry. Alphard was pretty good in Defense, but he didn’t seem like the dueling type, necessarily.

“Yeah,” the other boy said. “My… my dad, he was a good dueler. Just thought it would be… dunno.”

“Oh,” said Harry. “Er. I’m sorry. About your dad. When did he…” and then he trailed off, because sensitivity wasn’t his strong suit, and the memory of his own Sirius’s death still set something aching in his chest.

“When I was nine,” said Alphard. He pulled his bottom lip in with his teeth. “You ah – knew him? My dad? I mean, in your world…”

“Yeah,” Harry said. He’d forgotten that he’d excluded his memories of Sirius from what he’d shown the other two in the pensieve. He hadn’t wanted to field questions about the man’s stay in Azkaban, or his escape, and certainly not about what they were doing in the Department of Mysteries. “He was my godfather,” he said.

“He was here, too,” said Alphard. “Your dad is mine. Oh. Wait. You said – er, your parents, they died when you were little, didn’t they? Does that mean that Dad…? Were we brothers, because that’s brilliant – but oh, I don’t exist in your world, do I.” Harry had told the other two that, as succinctly as he could – he wanted to head off any questions about their alternate selves.

“He was sort of my guardian for a bit, yeah,” Harry said. “But I never really lived with him. He was, er, rather indisposed.”

“Indisposed?” repeated Alphard. He was leaning forward, now, elbows on his knees. Harry recognized the glint in his eyes for what it was – the sort of hunger that comes from not knowing as much about your family as you should, the kind that prepares you to fight for any scrap you can get.

Yes, Harry knew that well.

Oh, Merlin. He had to tell him something. “He was in Azkaban,” Harry admitted. “But he wasn’t guilty – he was wrongly accused, and he never got a trial.”

Alphard leaned back. “Azkaban,” he repeated slowly, almost at a whisper. At first Harry thought he was horrified by the knowledge, expected him to say it couldn’t be or not my dad, but – then Alphard’s expression turned… hopeful?

“I wonder,” he said. “I wonder if…” Alphard looked up and began speaking quickly. “There are a lot of parallels, right? Between your world and this one? Do you think – what was he in Azkaban for? Is it something he might’ve done here?”

“It’s kind of a long story,” Harry said. “It’s… are you alright?”

“Or been accused of.  Anyway, not having a trial is pretty much the norm, here – the trials we do have are mostly a sham-“ He cut himself off, turned to Harry with a pleading look. “Harry, please? I want to know if – if my dad is in Azkaban, that might be… he might be alright. You know? I always thought…”

The gears in Harry’s head came to a screeching halt. “Wait – what do you mean? I thought he was… you know. Dead.”

Alphard shot him a quizzical look. “Oh. No. No… I thought you knew. He’s not… he’s missing. He disappeared when I was nine, and no one’s heard from him since.”

Harry blinked rapidly, processing this new information. “He’s alive?”

“Maybe. I don’t know. I thought… well, when people disappear, here, it usually means they’ve been made to disappear. They saw something, or said something, and… yeah. They just vanish. Sometimes they’re in Nuremguard, sometimes…”

“They’re dead,” Harry finished. He remembered, now how Alphard had gone still when Lyra had mentioned the “enforcers”, before. When they’d talked about people disappearing into the night. Suddenly it all made sense.

He remembered, too, that Alphard had never said outright that Sirius was dead. Harry had just assumed. Although, if what he said was right, then he was as good as.

But then, everyone had thought that his Sirius would be as good as dead after a decade spent in the dementors’ company, and they were wrong, weren’t they?

“Yeah,” Alphard whispered. “But Azkaban. That’s not… that’s not as bad.”

“He broke out, in my world,” Harry said. “Sirius. He broke out of Azkaban when I was thirteen.” Then he immediately felt guilty, because the look Alphard gave him was full of such hope.

“I don’t know if any of that is true, here,” Harry pointed out. “There’s a lot that’s different, too.”

“No, I suppose you’re right,” said Alphard after a moment. “Well, I suppose we have bigger things to worry about at the moment.”

And Harry recognized the cast that came over his face, then, too. Indeed, he knew all too well the face of someone deferring their problems to another day, someone consigning their feelings to be dealt with later.

I guess we have more in common than I thought.

-

Yes, Harry thought. This was a very strange week.

He hadn’t believed the red-haired man – whose name, it turned out, was Ron – when he first began to explain that Harry had apparently traded places with their own Harry, who’d started out dreaming about his world – Harry’s world – about a week and a half prior, seeing it all through his eyes and eventually interacting with it.

Ron had grown tired of arguing with him in record time and had conjured up a mirror, then, and Harry blinked in startled shock at the sight of the other Harry, the weird scar-headed and terrible-haired one, looking back at him.

“Okay,” he said finally. “Okay. I’m in another world. I’m. Trapped? In another world.”

And he really wished that his friends were there. Lyra, at least, might know what to do. Or she’d find out – and he was comforted, briefly, by the thought that if the other Harry were in his world, then Lyra would definitely have figured it out by now and would be working to solve things from her end.

Then he was less comforted at the realization that if she thought someone had stolen his body, or whatever, she might very well have already murdered him.

He chanced a look at the very tall man who was now stuck face-first in the fireplace calling someone named – Harmony, maybe? – and decided that he would not mention that last to the other Harry’s friends. Ron was shockingly nice, actually, for a bloke who’d just found out that his friend was probably stuck in another universe, but he also looked as if he could turn very fierce at a moment’s notice. He reminded Harry a bit of his dad, actually.

“Oh, thanks. I think. I was an Auror for a bit before I quit.”

Harry had not realized that he’d spoken this last aloud, or that Ron had emerged from the fireplace.

“What do you do now?” he asked.

“Work in a joke shop,” Ron said, grinning.

“That’s brilliant,” Harry smiled back. He meant it.

“Thanks, mate,” said Ron.

There were probably worse people for your alternate self to be friends with, Harry thought.

Hermione, and that was her name, arrived at long last. Her hair was even more impressive in person, and she had a beaded purse that looked like the sort of thing Lyra might take to a party, but when she opened it, she began to draw a frankly terrifying number of things out.

“Er,” said Harry. “So. Hermione. Like ‘A Winter’s Tale’?”

“You know Shakespeare?” asked Hermione, giving him a startled look.

And Harry was startled, too, because usually the vow stopped him from talking about anything he’d read that he wasn’t supposed to – unless he was alone with Lyra or Alphard, and there was no physical or magical way for them to be overheard.

-but Ron had said that one of the ways they’d known the other Harry was really interacting with his world and not just watching it was that he’d struggled with the vow as if he’d taken it himself, and that was – he wasn’t sure what that meant, actually. That he would have to be very, very careful, at the least.

Hermione seemed to notice his distress. “There’s no Grindlewald, here,” she said simply. “Or any weird sort of dictatorship, for that matter. We have a thoroughly democratic, if ineffectual, government. Also,” she tacked on sharply, “I’m a muggleborn.”

“Oh,” said Harry, because it was a lot to take in. “Well. That’s… good?”

And suddenly Ron was bent over laughing. “Merlin,” he cackled. “The gift of understatement. It must be a Harry Potter thing, don’t you think?”

Hermione glared at the man – her boyfriend, it turned out – until he stopped laughing, and Harry resolved to show Lyra his memory of that glare as soon as he got home, because she would study it. Then she turned to him and began to give him the weirdest lecture he’d ever sat through in his life, essentially summarizing their Harry’s last week and a half, whilst also giving him pertinent details about his life.

“We’re not going to have you roaming around pretending to be Harry,” she said once. “It won’t work.”

“I’m not a bad actor,” Harry said, although he wasn’t really offended. “I was in a panto at Hogwarts, once.”

“Oh, do they still do those in your universe? They had to stop, here, when- oh. Right. Well. Anyway- it’s not that, it’s just that our Harry’s very well-known. He’s famous, actually. Also, he’s an Auror, and it would be completely unconscionable to let you go to work in his stead. We've told his coworkers that he has spattergroit, anyway."

“He’s famous?” Harry echoed, trying to think of things he might possibly be famous for. He reckoned it probably had something to do with the scar, which, while faded and a bit old-looking, seemed like a curse scar, and therefore probably came from him doing something pretty badass. He hoped, anyway. Weird to think he might ever become an Auror – he couldn’t imagine working with his dad.

“Well, yes,” Hermione was saying. “He’s – very famous. Oh, I suppose we may as well tell you…”

This launched another very long, but surprisingly cohesive lecture during which Harry began to wonder if he weren’t having an incredibly odd dream after all, because it was full of such improbabilities that if it were a novel, he’d say it was poorly written.

“Have you made flashcards, love?” Ron grinned at Hermione at one point. Harry wondered what a flash card was. Was it a bit like an Exploding Snap card, or-

Hermione sniffed. “Didn’t have time,” she said. “This was one of my predicted outcomes, though-“

“You knew Harry might switch places with me entirely?”

“Not knew, just suspected it was a possibility.”

“D’you know why it happened, then?”

“We suspect it was an interaction between valerian root and mandrake leaf,” said Hermione, wincing. “Our friend Neville gave Harry the valerian to help him sleep, only he didn’t know about the mandrake, and-“

“And mandrake leaf and valerian are key ingredients in a medical-grade stasis potion just short of the draught of living death,” Harry supplied. Then he whistled under his breath. “Merlin, it’s a wonder I’m awake at all.”

Hermione looked surprised. “Er, yes,” she said. “Of course, these are hardly normal circumstances.”

“You must not’ve had Snape for potions,” said Ron. “Blimey, our Harry wouldn’t know that, would he?”

“What’s a Snape?”

“Nevermind that,” said Hermione. “The point is – there’s nothing to worry about now, Voldemort is quite gone and Harry and the rest of the Aurors spent a good year rounding up the rest of the Death Eaters. But we still can’t have you roaming around where reporters might try to speak with you. Or well-wishing fans, or- oh, god, I just realized, we need to tell Ginny you’ve woken up.”

“Who’s Ginny?” Harry asked, still trying to wrap his head around the idea of being famous.

“My sister,” said Ron at the same time as Hermione said, “Your girlfriend.”

“…well,” said Harry, realizing that must be the pretty woman from the photo. “That must be awkward.”

Ron shrugged. “I got over it. Ginny’s going to be furious she wasn’t here for this, though.”

“Where is she?”

“Training. She’s a Chaser for the Holyhead Harpies,” said Ron. “This last week was her week off – she had to portkey back yesterday.”

Harry blinked. He looked down at the Harpies shirt he still wore. The other Harry’s girlfriend was a quidditch player? “That’s amazing.”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “Boys.”

Then they debated a little while longer about what they ought to do with him. Harry was offended, in a vague, distant way, that they thought he couldn’t just… look after himself, really. He could be left alone in the flat for a bit. It was hardly as though reporters were going to start coming through the Floo.

“It’s not that,” Hermione insisted. “I’d just… feel better if you were around someone else for the day, and I’ve got to go to work, and Ron has to open his shop.”

“We could try Neville,” suggested Ron.

“No, he’s at Hogwarts.”

“Luna?”

“Oh, god, no. Luna would – I’m not sure what she would do, actually.”

“Luna Lovegood?” Harry cut in.

“Yes. You know her?”

“She’s friends with Lyra. She’s very nice, you know. She’d probably just make me some sort of bracelet out of hair.” Harry was actually rather fond of Luna Lovegood – of all the Ravenclaws he knew, Lyra aside, he thought she was certainly the most fun.

“That’s what I’m afraid of,” said Hermione.

“I remember hearing she was in the States, come to think of it,” said Ron. “Mum, maybe?”

“Oh!” said Hermione. “Oh, not your mother, no, she’d go mad if she found out that Harry was trapped in another dimension- but…” she trailed off, gave Harry an assessing look. He squirmed, somewhat, though he’d never admit it. It was only that she reminded him a little of McGonagall.

“How do you feel about muggles?” she said, at long last. Her narrowed eyes suggested that there was very much a wrong answer to that question.

“…curious?” replied Harry honestly, having never actually… well, met a muggle.

“Excellent,” said Hermione briskly. “We’re taking you to my parents’. They are dentists – those are healers for teeth, they won’t stand for any nonsense, and if you’re so much as rude to one of them I’ll make you regret you were ever born. Understood?”

“Er. Yes?”

And that was how Harry came to be standing outside of a small, neat house in the suburbs between a stern-faced Hermione and a Ron who he rather suspected was trying not to laugh. Harry thought it was really impressive how precisely their shrubs had been trimmed, for not having magic.

When the Grangers – who were perfectly polite and frankly rather ordinary and wearing clothes that made Harry glad he’d let Hermione talk him into putting on the other Harry’s strange shirt and trousers, as mortifying as the experience had been – opened the door, Hermione’s stern look suddenly turned a bit embarrassed.

“I… probably ought to have called, first,” she admitted, but she soldiered on, explaining the situation to her parents, who had by then invited them all in for a cup of tea. Harry thought it was quite good, although he was busy giving the kitchen on the whole a once-over.

“I expected we’d be babysitting for you two someday,” Mr. Granger was saying, “but not quite like this, I admit.”

Ron had turned rather red and Hermione was getting there herself.

“Will you be alright, Harry?” Hermione turned to him and asked. She seemed intent on not looking either of her parents in the eye, at the moment. Harry gave her what he hoped was a brave grin in return.

“I’ll be fine,” he said. “This kitchen is fascinating. D’you think you could tell me how that – that’s the stove, yeah? How it works? It runs on electricity, right?”

Mrs. Granger laughed. “Just like you at about age three or so,” she said to Hermione, and Harry wasn’t even terribly offended.

-

Lyra arrived at long last, apologetic, sweeping through the doorway and sealing it behind her.

“I’m sorry I’m late,” she said. “The twins turned Snowball white and Adhara cursed them bald and Draco didn’t want to lose house points so he came and found me to turn them all back instead of going to Pomfrey or Burke, can you believe?”

“The gall,” said Alphard, but his heart didn’t seem to be in it.

She frowned at him, then Harry. Harry drew back a little and she frowned harder.

“Harry,” she said. “I think this meeting needs some refreshments, don’t you?”

“The Room won’t summon food,” he said.

“Right, then let’s go to the kitchens. Alphard, you stay here.”

Harry started to protest, but Lyra gave him a sharp look and Alphard did seem like he needed a moment alone. “Alright,” he said finally.

He followed her out into the hall, silently and invisibly. He wished there was a way to keep the map with them – he thought probably thrice a day about how badly he wanted his cloak here.

“Do you know where the kitchens are?” he whispered as they descended a staircase.

“Yes,” Lyra said back shortly. “You – Harry – showed me.”

Harry pondered that for a moment and soon they were at the fruit-laden still life, and sure enough, Lyra cancelled her disillusionment charm and sort of tapped the pear with the brisk efficiency of someone who’d been doing it for years.

Once they were inside, she requested food and drink from the house elves with equal efficiency. They seemed happy to oblige and said nothing about the pair of them being out after curfew, which suggested to Harry that they were familiar with the scenario.

While they waited, Lyra took a seat at one of the rough-hewn wooden tables, and Harry reluctantly followed. Sure enough, she rounded on him the moment they’d sat down. “What did you do to Alphard?” she asked.

“We were talking about his dad,” Harry admitted, not seeing a way around it. “I didn’t know that he was, ah, missing. I assumed that he was dead. He is in my world.”

Lyra looked surprised, as if that hadn’t been what she was expecting. “Oh,” she said. “That would do it. He… took it very hard, you know, when his dad disappeared. I remember he spent most of that summer at your – at Harry’s house. Harry’s dad taught them both to play Quidditch and let them fly around their grounds like madmen.”

“That sounds brilliant,” said Harry, quietly.

She shrugged. “He’s a good man, Harry’s dad. Even to me, and I know he thinks my father’s about a half step up from a fungal infection.”

“He wasn’t always,” said Harry. “In my world.”

“Yes, well, this isn’t your world, is it?”

“No,” Harry said, because he’d been thinking about that a lot, lately. “It’s not. If it were my world, my dad would be… I dunno. Fighting, I think. He and my mum stood up to Voldemort three times in my world.”

“So, what? You think it’s wrong that he’s not?” the hostility that had briefly fled was edging back into her voice.

Harry shrugged uncomfortably. It was difficult to reconcile the hero-worship he had always had, would always have for James Potter with the reality of him. With the man, here, who apparently worked for the ministry, who knew that Riddle was up to no good but did nothing about it. Who seemed to keep his head down in a way that the man Harry knew wouldn’t even have been able to.

He told Lyra as much, and was surprised at the sudden anger that came over her face.

“There’s more than one way to be brave, you know,” she said. “I don’t think Harry’s dad is a coward for valuing his son’s life over his own honor; his safety over his integrity. I don’t think he’s a coward for not wanting his son to grow up an orphan.”

“That’s not what I said-“ he interjected, but Harry was thinking about what Ron had said not so long ago – that there was more than one way to do good. Had he believed him?

“No, but it’s what you meant, isn’t it? The thing is, you don’t know James Potter. Not this James Potter. He isn’t yours.”

“What, and you do?” Harry said back, hackles rising. “He’s still my father. Or he’s a version of my father, anyway.”

“You’re wrong,” said Lyra. “And yes. I do. Because Harry – my Harry – is my best friend. James Potter is the man who raised my best friend, and I know him. I know that he was a bully in school, because he told Harry as much, and then he raised him to be kind. I know that he was reckless because he raised Harry to be careful. He taught him all the secret passages of Hogwarts regardless, because he wanted Harry to be safe, and when I was eleven and homesick Harry showed me how to get into these kitchens and taught me to ask the house elves for hot chocolate and he sat with me and pretended he didn’t see me crying into my mug. Tell me, how many twelve-year-old boys do you know who’d do that?”

Fine,” he said, because she looked like she might curse him, and because he didn’t want to start shouting in front of the house elves. They might send them back to their dormitories with a snap of their fingers, for all he knew. “Sorry, I guess.” He was considering her words, too, trying to imagine what it was like for the other Harry. What it was like to have his dad as a real, proper father.

She snorted, the fierce look on her face shattering. “You guess.”

“He sounds nice,” Harry offered. “Your Harry.” It felt strange to say. But then, he thought, he couldn’t imagine showing Malfoy’s little sister to the kitchens, in his own world, if he’d had one. He didn’t think of himself as an unfriendly person, exactly, but for the most part his friends had been people who’d… happened to him.

Lyra gave him a sideways glance. “Kind,” she said finally. “Not nice. He has a terrible temper and he’d argue with a tree if it offended him. I suspect you’re rather alike, that way.”

Harry struggled not to take offense.

“Don’t upset my cousin again,” Lyra added. “Or I’ll hex your bollocks off.”

“Christ’s sake,” Harry said. “I didn’t mean to. Also, a little rich, isn’t it, saying I have a temper?”

He really thought she’d yell at him again, but she grinned, suddenly, instead, and Harry realized that he’d never seen her smile like that before. Properly, with teeth. He suspected that few people had.

“Obviously,” she drawled, “we’re friends for a reason.” She cut herself off, rolled her eyes. “My Harry and I, I mean. Circe’s sake, it’s so hard – I wish we could call you Potter, or something, but then I’d forget and do it in front of the wrong person.”

“Your brother calls me Potter, in my world,” Harry said. “In school, he was always – Potter, your face is offending my fine sensibilities, and what.”

Lyra laughed. “Oh, that sounds like Draco. Good to know he’s a prat in every universe.”

“An absolute prat,” Harry said. “He made my schooldays hell. Actually, though, in retrospect, I think it was sort of refreshing, having an enemy who was just a teenage boy dicking about instead of trying to murder me.” He opted not to think long on the many ways in which Draco Malfoy had tried to murder people, lest he get into an internal debate about his ambiguous morals again – he’d chosen to set that aside, after the war, and he didn’t at all feel like picking it up any time this decade.

“Our Harry doesn’t like him much, either, but I don’t think Draco’s ever given him the time of day, really. If anything, he’s just annoyed at me for spending time with Gryffindors.”

“How did that happen, anyway?” asked Harry, suddenly curious. “I mean, I know Alphard is your cousin, but- how’d you and Harry become friends?“ He recalled the “memory” with an eleven-year-old Lyra confronting him after her sorting. “Was it because you were sorted Ravenclaw?”

Lyra gave him a considering look. “In a sense. Alphard’s been my favorite relative since we were children, and Harry and I had met before, once or twice – at Al’s birthday parties, mainly – but when I came to Hogwarts, and I was sorted into Ravenclaw, Alphard didn’t even blink, he just took to showing me around and introducing me to everyone as his cousin. And Harry was the same. He showed me all the secret passages he knew of, and the kitchens, like I told you, and he taught me some really excellent jinxes that his dad had taught him, just in case.”

“You chose Ravenclaw, though, didn’t you?”

“How did you know that?” asked Lyra warily.

Harry was aware she might not take kindly to him knowing one of her secrets. “I saw the other Harry’s memories, a few times,” he said carefully. “I saw one where you asked him about choosing Gryffindor and said that you’d picked Ravenclaw, that the hat gave you a choice, too.”

“I did,” she said, slowly. “But… I nearly regretted it, after. Delphinus – Cassie’s older sister, she was in fourth year at the time – pulled me aside and asked me if I knew how hard I was making things on myself. Their eldest sister, Dora, had been in Hufflepuff, and she’d never heard the end of it. And I did know, really, but I had to. I had to...”

“Prove yourself,” Harry offered, because that was what he thought she’d said.

“That’s a very simplified version, yes.”

“It offered me Slytherin, too,” Harry said. “In my own world.” It wasn’t a secret he normally gave lightly, but he had the sense that she was trusting him with rather a lot, here, and – well, it seemed like a good idea, somehow, to offer something in return.

Sure enough, she gave him another considering look. “Did it? How interesting. I suppose you two really are alike, then.”

“So you became friends because you had that in common?”

“Not exactly. We chose for different reasons - It’s not that I chose not to go into Slytherin, but rather that I… chose Ravenclaw instead. Harry said ‘anything but’ – but me, I would’ve been happy in Slytherin, technically speaking. There are two kinds of choices, you know – the kind where you chose something because you want it and the kind where you chose something despite what you want.”

“So – what, you wanted to be in Slytherin?” Harry considered what that meant. He remembered what Dumbledore had told him once on the same subject – it’s our choices that make us who we are. What did it mean, then, to choose against your desires?

“It would’ve been easier,” she said. “I would have had friends there – I do have friends there, now, but that took time, and effort.” She narrowed her eyes at him then. “You’re judging that, aren’t you? Harry did the same thing, you know – he asked me why I’d ever want to be in Slytherin. And I said Malfoys always had been, and he said you’re not like other Malfoys, and I had to tell him why that wasn’t the right thing to say.”

“Isn’t it? You aren’t, I don’t think. I mean, I only know your mum and dad and brother in my world, but they’re all sort of awful. No offense.”

“They can be a little awful, but not because of their name or the house they were in in school. And anyway, if you like somebody for being what you’d consider one of the good ones, do you really like them at all? But maybe I’m a hypocrite, in the end, because I wanted to be different. I didn’t want to be in my brother’s shadow.”

“But you still chose,” Harry insisted. “You still… wanted to be something else.”

“What I wanted was to make friends in every house, to make connections without being judged before I could begin – and Ravenclaw is about as neutral as you’ll get. The hat laughed at me, you know, and said that was the most Slytherin thing it’d ever heard. But that label would have gotten in the way, so I thought very hard about all the afternoons I’d spent holed up in the family library until it gave in.”

Harry just sort of scratched at the back of his neck uncomfortably, unsure of what to say. He’d… never actually made friends with a Slytherin, in his own world, or anybody who he thought would want to be one, barring Teddy’s grandmother, maybe. He’d never come to terms with his own near-sorting, either.

“Circe, you’re even giving me the same look,” she sighed. “Just because I’m ambitious doesn’t mean I don’t care about my friends, you know. I do. Including all the ones in Slytherin, and it’s not despite their being in Slytherin, either. Or why did you think I spent time with Pansy and Daphne and all the rest?”

“I don’t know, I sort of thought you were… using them for information, I guess?” It was certainly an impression that he’d gotten.

“And that was alright with you? It was okay if I were acting the Slytherin so long as I didn’t want to be one.”

And Harry paused, because – if you read between the lines, that was what he’d said, more or less. It wasn’t what he’d meant, though. Or was it?  

“Why’re you telling me all this?” he asked finally.

“Because,” she said simply. “You asked why we were friends. Because the other Harry knows all this and understands it – rather, he came to understand it. It’s not something that comes to him naturally, you know, understanding me? But he walked himself through it. He made himself do it, and that’s why we’re friends.”

Harry frowned. He could imagine that, actually. He could practically see himself working through it, coming to be friends with the girl beside him after taking careful stock of all the things she revealed and hid, that she was insistent on and unashamed of.

Perhaps it wasn’t such a novel idea after all. If there was more than one way to be brave, who was to say there wasn’t more than one way to be clever, or ambitious, or loyal?

“We’ve been in here for an age,” Lyra said suddenly, standing up and brushing off her robes. The house elves had indeed long since prepared a basket for them. It had appeared quietly on the table as they argued, and she picked it up now. “Shall we?” She made her way around to where he still sat, offering him the hand that wasn’t holding the basket.

It was a strange gesture, coming from a girl nearly a head shorter than him and quite a lot lighter. He blinked at it. Her fingers, outstretched, reminded him suddenly of her brother – age eleven, offering Harry a handshake.

He’d made the right choice, then, he thought. Perhaps Draco had grown up to be – well, if not good, then not entirely bad, either, but at age eleven, he’d made the right choice.

Now Harry was twenty, and he took Lyra Malfoy’s hand.

Her manicured nails pressed briefly into his palm as she pulled him up. She gave him another smile, and he thought this one was true, too.

He did not know if this was the right choice, but it felt like it might be.

This was not his world, he realized. The people in it were not his people, and he was not theirs.

But perhaps that was alright, and if it wasn’t, then perhaps it would come to be.

-

“This world is excellent,” Harry proclaimed hours later when Hermione stepped through the Floo to collect him from her parents’. He was on the couch across from the fireplace in the sitting room, surrounded by Highlights magazines from the Grangers’ dental practice’s waiting area.

She raised an eyebrow as she dusted the soot from her work robes. “So – everything went alright, then?”

“Nothing’s on fire, even,” he grinned. “Your parents are really nice, actually, and Hermione. Television. I’d read about it, of course, but the books don’t do it justice.”

She laughed and stepped around him towards the main hall. “Where are mum and dad, anyway? Wait, did you spend all day watching telly?”

“In the kitchen, I think, and Merlin, no, I wish. Your mum made us go out for lunch – fried rice! Rice, but it’s fried! Hermione! It’s brilliant.”

“They must’ve been in a generous mood,” she said. “When I was younger, they were very much about health foods.”

“Are you saying fried rice isn’t healthy? I’m kidding,” he tacked on hastily at her incredulous look. “But really. It’s all so-“ he trailed off, waving one hand frantically through the air and running the other through his untidy hair. He realized he probably looked like his dad, Merlin’s balls, but. “Overwhelming,” he said finally. “In a good way. I watched football. Football! I’d heard of it, but it’s one thing to hear and another thing to see people running about without brooms; it’s all a mess. And then your mum put on Pop Idol. Have you seen Pop Idol? Al’s aunt would go spare for it.”

Harry had pretty nearly done so himself, and he didn’t even care about music, not really. Lyra had talked him into joining Flitwick’s choir for a whole term once in his fifth year, and that was an unmitigated disaster – he was tone-deaf, as it turned out.

“His aunt?” Hermione asked. “Actually, now that I think of it, who is Alphard’s mother? Our Harry never mentioned, if he knew.”

“If he’d met her, he would’ve mentioned. You don’t meet Aurora Black and forget about her. Her maiden name is Warbeck – her sister’s Celestina Warbeck?” Harry wondered if Al’s aunt was as famous in this world as he was in their own.

“The pop singer?” asked Hermione incredulously.

That answered that. “Yeah,” said Harry. “Al gets us tickets to her shows, sometimes. Not really my sort of music, mind, but she’s really nice about things like that. And that’s what I’m saying, she’d love this Pop Idol stuff. I wonder if we could figure out a magic equivalent. Wizards don’t know what they’re missing out on, without telly.”

He was aware, distantly, that he was doing his best Cassie impression at the moment, but really, the football. That’d been great, even if he hadn’t been able to decide what team to root for.

Hermione was still shaking her head in disbelief. “It’s weird enough imagining Sirius being married with kids, but that’s…”

“Don’t tell anyone I said this, but Al was definitely born pretty quickly after they were married, if you know what I mean.” He ought to feel guilty, but that wasn’t even a well-kept secret in his own world.

Hermione snorted, then. “I’m – alright, that makes sense, actually. Of course Sirius would get a rock star’s sister, ah… in the family way,” she concluded delicately.

Then she turned and gave him a funny look. “I can’t get over you- your being you. It’s so odd, imagining our Harry being like this.”

Harry frowned. “Bad odd?” He found himself a little disappointed at the idea that his other-self’s friends didn’t like him.

“Oh, no,” Hermione quickly assured him. “Not at all. I suppose Harry’s just always had a lot on his plate. He does have a brilliant sense of humor, when he chooses to show it.”

“No offense,” Harry said, “but it sounds like he’s had a bit of a crap life.”

“He’s absolutely had a crap life,” she sighed. “I’m not sure it’s ever stopped being crap. The war’s over, but his job is stressful, and reporters hound him every time he steps outside his flat.” Then, a little guiltily, she said, “Sorry. I’m not sure why I’m telling you this.”

“Because it’s sort of like telling me about me?” Harry replied. Then, more seriously, he added, “He’s lucky, though, to have good friends. Sounds like you lot make it bearable.”

She gave him a warm smile in reply. Hermione was really a rather nice person, he thought, even if she was twice as scary as Lyra.

“Can you explain something to me?” he asked, before he could forget it.

“Oh! Certainly. Is it about the telly?”

“Oh, no, your dad was really helpful about that, he gave me the manual to read. No, it’s about this,” he said, waving a Highlights in the air. “Can you tell me, what exactly is the deal with this Goofus and Gallant?”

-

Alphard seemed to be in a much better mood when they returned to the Room of Requirement. He was studying the map again, prodding it with his wand, muttering under his breath.

“There you are!” he said as they came in. “What’d you get?”

“Treacle tart and pumpkin pasties,” Lyra said.

“Oh, I love pumpkin pasties,” said Alphard, putting down his wand and leaning forward.

“I know,” said Lyra, as she set down the basket. She swatted his hands away as he went to grab it, taking out the plate of treacle tart on top.

“Here,” she said, setting the plate down in front of Harry, who’d taken a seat in one of the chairs nearest the fire.

He blinked. “Those’re my favorite,” he admitted.

“I thought they might be,” she replied.

Harry was still considering the implications of Lyra’s new friendliness towards him when Alphard made a sound of exclamation. "Mmrph!"

Honestly, Alphard,” replied Lyra, “Don’t speak with your mouth full. What on earth did you just say?”

“I said that I almost forgot to tell you, Harry’s weird plan paid off. I saw someone,” Alphard declared, “On the map.”

“What, in Riddle’s office? Really? Who was it?”

Harry dropped the tart he was eating and leaned over the map as if the name might still be there. “D’you remember their name?” he asked.

Harry got the sense that he was deliberately drawing it out. “Well?” demanded Lyra.

“Couldn’t forget it,” said Alphard, who was grinning now. “It’s not every day you see someone named ‘Wolf Wolf’. What were his parents thinking, I wonder?”

What?” asked Harry. Surely not-

“Remus Lupin,” confirmed Alphard. “There was someone in Riddle’s office, maybe twenty minutes past – name of Remus Lupin. Honestly, of all things.”

-

Harry and Hermione were just about to head back to the other Harry’s flat when a silvery boar just sort of – appeared, suddenly, darting through the room and towards them.

“Is that a corporeal Patronus?” asked Harry, awestruck. He reached out as if to touch the thing and then drew his hand away at the last minute, unsure if it would make the Patronus dissolve. He settled for staring intently instead.

Hermione squinted at the thing. “Yes, I think that’s Ernie’s – he works in the department next to mine. What…”

NOTT IS OUTSIDE YOUR OFFICE,” the boar opened its mouth to say. “SAYS YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO MEET WITH HIM.”

“Oh, for-!” Hermione exclaimed. “I am n- oh. Oh. Oh, Merlin, I actually was supposed to meet with him. I completely forgot! How could I forget? And what am I meant to do with you?”

“In my experience,” said Harry, “it’s not unusual to have gaps in memory, where Nott’s concerned. Took me four years to even notice he existed, and then it was only because he said something rude to Greengrass and Lyra turned his ears to cabbages.”

Hermione gave him an incredulous look. “…honestly, he’s not so bad,” she said finally.

“No, but he’s not memorable, is he? Anyway – I have my dad’s cloak, still,” he said. Hermione had shoved that on him before they’d left the other Harry’s flat, telling him to throw it on if he saw anyone who wasn’t her parents. “It probably won’t take long, will it? I’ll just sit in the corner and be quiet.”

Harry had decided not to point out, again, that he was an of-age wizard and could in fact be trusted on his own for an hour or so. He had an ulterior motive, though: he wanted to see this other world’s ministry, if he were being honest – he wanted to know how different it was.

Hermione cast him a quick frantic glance as if assessing his truthfulness. He gave what he hoped was a reassuring thumb up, because she really did look frazzled. “Oh, all right,” she said finally. “It’ll be a tight squeeze, though – my office is the size of a storage cupboard.”

It was indeed. As Harry made his way to an empty spot behind Hermione’s desk, he nearly upset several stacks of files, and then there were the books.

“Merlin,” said Theodore Nott, who Hermione had delayed in the hallway while Harry slipped through the door she’d conveniently left open just prior. At twenty or so years old, he looked much the same as he did in Harry’s own world. “I’d heard you liked books, but this is-“

“They’re for a research project,” Hermione said quickly. “Please, have a seat.”

“Research?” echoed Nott curiously, leaning over to peer at some of the titles. “What’s got you researching time and – what is this? Dimensional Theory?”

“It’s a muggle subject,” said Hermione. “I’m studying alternate universes.” Harry startled at that, but Nott didn’t look in the least bit surprised, so he supposed her honesty wasn’t a bad tactic.

“Right. You know,” Nott said, in a bored sort of way, “There’s a book you might want to read, all about really complex magic for traveling through time and other worlds and things like that. Theoretically, I suppose, but if you’re interested in that sort of thing-“

Even from behind her, Harry could tell that Hermione was making a face that said she was very interested indeed. “Do you know where I might find it?”

“The Malfoy Library,” said Theodore Nott, who had the good grace at least to look sheepish after.

“Oh,” said Hermione disappointedly. “Well, perhaps I could find it somewhere else. Do you know the author?”

“Rowena Ravenclaw,” he said. “Supposedly.”

“The Malfoys have a book of Ravenclaw’s?” Hermione seemed unable to keep the eagerness out of her voice. Harry was surprised, too – it seemed like the sort of thing that Draco, at least, would have bragged about, and Lyra would have tried to sneak off and read once or twice.

“Oh, yeah,” said Nott. “They keep it heavily warded – it’s sort of a family secret. I only know because Lucius once hit the Firewhiskey too hard and wound up showing my father. It might be a fake, of course, but my father said it was pretty convincing.”

And again, though he couldn’t see her face, Harry could imagine how it’d fallen. “Right,” she went on, in a forced professional tone. “Well, that’s very interesting, thank you. Shall we get on with our meeting, now?”

Hermione and Nott went on for a half hour or so about merpeople, of all things – “They’re talking now about a treaty,” Nott was saying, “I don’t know what your representative said, but my family has been fishing in that lake for generations” – while Harry thought, and counted the ceiling tiles, and then thought some more.

Eventually, their meeting was over and Nott was shaking Hermione’s hand with less contact than was strictly polite. She turned away from where she’d left him at her office door, her strained smile slipping from her face. “Colloportus,” she said, and the door clicked closed behind her.

“Sorry that took so long,” said Hermione as Harry slipped off the invisibility cloak. “I don’t know what he expects us to do – honestly, it’s not as if he didn’t know the merpeople weren’t sentient-“

“Er, right,” Harry said, cutting her off. He’d already gotten the impression that she might go on about the sentience of merpeople for a very long time indeed, given half a chance. “But what about the book he talked about?”

She frowned. “What about it? It sounds as if it’s one of kind, doesn’t it?”

“It sounds,” he said, “like it’s your best shot at getting me and your Harry switched back. Or at least, a better lead than you’ve had so far.”

“But there's no way we can get into the Malfoy library,” groaned Hermione. She’d seized a strand of hair that had escaped her bun and was twisting it rather viciously around her finger. “Even if they were inclined to grant favors to – anyone, really, I’d be at the last of the list. I’m a muggleborn who punched Draco in the face, once.”

“-did you really? That’s excellent,” said Harry, and it really was. He tried to layer his best approximation of a same age Draco and Hermione into one scene – he assumed it was during their Hogwarts years – and- oh, but he was getting off track.

“Maybe we can’t get into the Malfoy library,” he said, “but I know someone who can.”

“Your friend? But – that won’t work. She’s not here.”

“True,” Harry conceded. But, he thought, there had to be some way- he felt like the answer was there, just at the tip of his tongue. He’d been thinking about it for the last thirty minutes.

“Maybe Helena Ravenclaw knows something about it,” said Hermione. “Harry and Ron said she wasn’t very helpful, but-"

“The ghost?” and Harry’s head shot up, because everything had suddenly coalesced. “The ghost! That’s it. Hermione, you said the ghost can – what, communicate with her other self, yeah?”

“Presumably,” she conceded. “But…”

“So, what’s to say she can’t communicate what we tell her? What if go find her and ask if she can pass a message to the Helena Ravenclaw in my world, and she can pass along that to your Harry and my friends?”

Hermione’s eyes widened. “I can’t believe I didn’t think of that! It might not work, but-"

“But it’s worth a shot,” finished Harry, grinning. Hermione looked at him like he might be a genius, and really, strange as it all was, he thought this was shaping up to be an excellent day indeed.

-

Remus Lupin. He could not believe that Remus was here – he had been here, in Riddle’s office. But – why? Why was he there, why was he talking to Riddle, why anything?

“How long was he there, again?”

“Like I said – maybe five minutes. He popped in, Riddle was there, their dots were pretty much in place for a few, and then he popped out again – must have been coming through the Floo.”

“Nothing makes any goddamned sense,” groaned Harry.

“Mate, join the club,” said Alphard, who was still reeling from Harry’s explanation of who, exactly, Remus was in his own universe.

“I can’t believe you were taught defense by a werewolf,” added Lyra.

“He was the best teacher we ever had,” Harry shot back.

“Okay, right, but by the sounds of it, you had some incredibly rubbish teachers,” Alphard said.

“He was a really good friend of my dad’s,” Harry pointed out again. “And yours.”

“Now that isn’t surprising. Given the chance to befriend a werewolf, yeah, my dad would.” Alphard looked far more cheerful at the mention of his father than he had earlier. Harry wondered what he’d thought about while he and Lyra were away in the kitchens. He hoped the other boy wasn’t planning an Azkaban breakout.

“If there was a way to rub it in Walburga’s face, maybe,” Lyra was saying.

“-she is dead here, right?” Harry interjected. Then, realizing that was perhaps a bit insensitive, he added, “Sorry.”

“No, she’s very dead, and we’re all glad of it,” Alphard was quick to say. “Well, maybe Uncle Regulus isn’t, but he’s a special case. The rest of us were terrified of Granny Walburga. She once used a sticking charm to keep me, Addie, and the twins in our seats while she lectured us all on comportment for five straight hours. And it held! She was a menace with sticking charms.”

“...that. Explains a lot, actually,” said Harry, thinking of the bizarrely strong sticking charm that hung her portrait to the walls of Grimmauld Place. She must’ve stuck the canvas up herself before she died.

Harry had resorted to cutting that chunk of wall out entirely.

“We’re getting entirely off track,” said Lyra. “The question is-”

“What a possible werewolf and probable halfblood was doing in the castle talking to a definite ministry employee and likely sworn enemy of both those categories of people?”

“-yes, Alphard, thank you.”

“I have,” Harry said honestly, “no idea.”

“Well, add it to the bloody list, then,” said Alphard. Lyra withdrew the piece of parchment-that-wasn’t-the-map from her robes and unfolded it.

“All for one and one for all,” she intoned quite clearly as she tapped it with her wand.

Harry raised his eyebrows. “Really? The Three Musketeers?”

Alphard shrugged. “We were thirteen,” he said. “We’d just read it.”

“Here,” Lyra said, handing him a quill. “You can write it.”

The top of the parchment still said FIELD NOTES, but now he saw a bullet-point list of things like “Riddle: what does he want?” and “mysterious pamphlets?”

Harry took the offered quill. “Why was Remus Lupin at Hogwarts/how does he know Riddle?” Harry added to the list.

“Your handwriting is terrible,” remarked Lyra. Harry laughed.

Alright, so he was stuck in an unfamiliar universe peopled with near-strangers, and Tom Riddle was his professor and faculty mentor of the club he’d now accepted leadership of, and he had no idea how he was going to get home.

But, he thought, things could be worse.

Actually, he considered, as he grabbed the last of the treacle tarts and Lyra seized her quill again, adding notations of her own to the list, this really wasn’t so bad after all.

Chapter Text

Dear Dad,

Harry hesitated. “Alphard,” he said, “do I – er, does your Harry, does he call my dad ‘dad’?”

“So far as I know,” hedged Alphard. They were alone in the common room. It was Sunday afternoon, and the tower windows cast diffused light over everything, softening edges.

The day before, Harry had been reminded – in the form of an overly cheerful Nate Diggory, who clapped him on the shoulder at breakfast with a force no one ought to be able to muster before nine in the morning on a weekend - that he’d said he would try out for the Gryffindor quidditch team. Apparently, the other Harry had been seeker his third through fifth years and taken last year off to focus on his NEWT-level course load – something he couldn’t imagine ever doing. Alphard didn’t play, himself, but was oddly invested in Harry trying out. “Our Harry’ll be furious if he gets back and you haven’t even given it a shot,” he said. “He’s talked about playing seventh year for ages – that’s when the scouts come for professional teams.”

“Does he want to play professionally, then?”

“He doesn’t really know – but I think he wants the option. Are you any good?”

“Yeah, I’m alright.”

And so he tried out, feeling ridiculous as he did, but giving it his all regardless because he didn’t want the other Harry to miss his chance.

He may have overshot a little., if the incredulous looks of Lyra and Alphard, who’d watched from the stands, were anything to go by.

“’Alright’, he says. Honestly.” Alphard was still teasing him about it that night at dinner. “I’m pretty sure you broke a record, back there. Nate about pissed himself. Why aren’t you a professional quidditch player?”

Lyra had offered the use of her pensieve again, “in case you’d like to show Alphard a compilation of your greatest catches.” Alphard did not seem to notice or mind the sarcasm and assured Harry he’d like that very much indeed.

Now Harry was taking his first real bit of free time to compose a letter to his father. He was going to attempt to, as subtly as he could manage, figure out if Remus Lupin was a friend of his father’s in this universe. He didn’t think he’d get far outright asking if he knew why the man was at Hogwarts or what business he’d have speaking with Riddle, considering how close-lipped his dad had been about… everything, but he had to at least try asking if “Remus Lupin” was a name that rung any bells.

Because – and it was a funny thing, he hadn’t noticed it before – the marauders map here did not have the same message as his own. It was devoid of any mention of Mssrs. Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs. When Harry’d explained the nicknames and their significance in the Room of Requirement Friday evening, Alphard had suggested that perhaps they didn’t include the information to make it harder to trace the map back to its makers, or to the notion that they might be Animagi.

“Harry’s dad gave him the map before he came to Hogwarts. I’m not sure that he ever meant for us to study it as much as we have – as much as I have,” he said, and Harry had also learned that Alphard was responsible for replicating the charms on the parchment that Lyra carried around. “I’m not sure this thing is entirely – well, legal.” He went on, “And I don’t know if he and my dad were Animagi. Or friends with the other two you’re talking about.”

Given how hard it’d apparently been for Alphard, Lyra, and the other Harry to finish gathering all the information they needed to complete the Animagus transformation – it had taken them the better part of the past two years – it was possible that his father and Sirius weren’t Animagi here at all. And if Remus hadn’t gone to Hogwarts, would they have even had the motivation to try?

“I hope they did manage it,” Alphard said. He sounded wistful. Harry thought he must be imagining having something in common with his father.

He knew the feeling.

“Okay,” he said now. “So. Dear Dad…”

“Stuck on that bit still, are you? Merlin, your handwriting. Maybe we should say you sprained your wrist playing quidditch. Try holding your quill a bit more – there, like that.”

“Oh, shut up. Dear Dad…”

How are you? Hope you’re well. Had quidditch tryouts yesterday – think I have a good shot at seeker again.

Classes are going alright. We’ve got a project in Ancient Runes and another one in Transfiguration, and we’re about to begin brewing Felix Felicis in Potions.

By the way, my friends and I were looking at the map the other day and we spotted an unfamiliar name on it – Remus Lupin? I thought it sounded familiar, but I’ve never seen them in the castle and I was wondering if you knew who they were.

Well, I’ve got to go now. Homework to do.

Hope to hear from you soon.

Harry

Alphard snorted as he read the letter over Harry’s shoulder. “Well, it's as subtle as a mountain troll and it looks like you’re a terrible correspondent, but I can vouch for Harry being a pretty awful one, too.”

Harry grimaced. “I don’t know what it’s like, writing to parents,” he admitted. At least with Sirius he’d had things to talk about – the tournament, Voldemort. He missed having dependable topics like those on hand.

Alphard grimaced back. “Sorry. Well, that’s a start. Our Harry is more excitable, though, I think. He’d go on a bit more about the tryouts.”

Harry sighed. He pointed his wand at the letter and said “Tergeo”, sucking the ink back out of parchment, and he began the letter anew.

-

Monday arrived, and Harry was antsy, impatient with questions and the lack of answers to them, and so he kept asking Alphard more benign things to distract himself.

“Why’s there only one of the – what do you call it? Field Notes thingie?”

“Easier to get rid of, that way, if we need to. I built in a self-destruct spell. That’s why Lyra carries it – she’s the least likely to be suspected of anything, and the least likely to be searched. If anyone ever asks her what it is, she’ll go on about my father this and Board of Governors that until they drop it, and if not – all she has to do is say the word and it’ll burst into flames.”

“And you made it yourself – third year, you said?” Harry was suitably impressed.

“Yeah," shrugged Alphard. "I copied a lot of the spells on the map, tweaked them a bit.”

He’d come to realize that Alphard was really clever with anything that had to do with enchanting objects. The communication stones were all his work as well, and he had quickly mastered the Protean charm that Harry had showed him and was working on adapting it to something Runes-based and adding other features to his own version of the DA coins for their class project.

“Is that what you want to do, then, when you graduate Hogwarts? Enchant things?”

Alphard shrugged. “I s’pose. It’ll always be a hobby of mine at least – technically, I’m heir of the House of Black, so I don’t really have to do anything. I’m meant to just smarm about and charm people and invest, or whatever. It’s a pity Adhara’s not the oldest, because she’d be loads better at it.”

By the time Defense came, Harry was very nearly ready for it – or at least, the challenge that maintaining his composure during it entailed. At least it wasn’t boring.

At the start of the class, Riddle handed back their essays – well, spelled them over to each student’s desk; he’d hardly deign to pass them out himself. Harry was surprised to see that he’d gotten an O on his and a little note: “Very interesting.” He snorted. He had to wonder how interested Riddle really was in the story of Helena Ravenclaw if it didn’t include any mention of where she’d hidden her mother’s famous diadem.

Alphard leaned over and glanced at his paper. He swore under his breath. “I’d forgotten to ask you about that – did you really write about ghosts?”

A ghost,” Harry replied. “The Grey Lady.”

“Lyra’s said she hardly ever talks to anyone outside of Ravenclaw,” said Alphard curiously. "It was properly weird that night when she came to us outside the tower - that was you, wasn't it? Not our Harry?"

“Yeah. We have a bit of a history,” said Harry wryly. There wasn’t time to explain before class properly began.

Riddle taught them two new spells – Fulgari and Brachiabindo, both types of binding spells, because, as he explained at his usual great length, “the most effective fights are over before they have begun. Disarming and binding your opponent should never be considered cowardly options…”

Much to Harry’s chagrin, Riddle asked him to practice the spells as demonstration, but then, at least he wasn’t demonstrating them on Harry. He only had Harry use them first on practice dummies and then on a Ravenclaw girl Harry didn’t remember having ever seen or spoken to by the name of Shafiq.

“So, you’re an Auror, right?” asked Alphard quietly under the din of the roomful of students shouting spells at one another later.

Fulgari,” said Harry, shooting a magic rope at a patient Alphard, who gave the bindings an experimental tug and offered a “well done” in reply. “Yeah,” Harry said. “Why?”

“Just wondering. Doesn’t seem fair, does it?” the boy grinned. “But then, Lyra really did get the jump on you-“

Harry groaned. “Christ. Don’t remind me.”

“Ah, nothing to be embarrassed about. Mind cancelling these? – Thanks. Anyway, she’s really a good dueler, when she wants to be.”

“She attacked me from behind,” Harry pointed out.

“Yeah, well, that’s why I said when she wants to be- she’s more for shooting you in the back, when she can. She’s the best I know at nonverbal spells – no incantation, no warning for your enemies, and all that.”

“Maybe she should be an Auror.”

Alphard laughed aloud. “What a terrible idea.” Then, “You know, my dad- my dad was an Auror, too.”

“Really?” Harry was genuinely surprised. He’d always suspected that Sirius being an Auror in his world had more to do with the war effort than any genuine interest on his part. He imagined that Sirius without the war would probably do more or less what Alphard had described earlier – swan about, mostly, perhaps working on his flying motorbike.

“Yeah,” said Alphard. Then he glanced around the room as if remembering that they ought not talk about anything too private here of all places. “Well, anyway. Let’s try the other spell, now.”

Soon the class came to and end, and Harry wasn’t even wholly on edge when Riddle signaled to him to stay behind. He nodded at Alphard, who gave him a firm nod back and ducked out into the hall. Harry wouldn’t be surprised if he found him after hiding in that same alcove.

“Professor?” Harry asked. To a casual listener, he would’ve even sounded polite.

“Harry,” Riddle replied with what had to be false cheer. “Please, have a seat. Have you thought about what we spoke on last time?”

“Yes, sir,” Harry said carefully, sitting as close to the edge of the seat – all the better for springing up if need be – as he could manage without seeming suspicious.

“And?” Riddle prompted.

Harry breathed through his nose. He’d practiced this; he knew what he wanted to say. “What would… helping… entail?”

Riddle smiled slowly clearly pleased. He leaned back in his chair, steepling his fingers together. “Well,” he began, “If you’d be interested in leading the club, I would assist with a general curriculum and, of course, and supervision where necessary. I would be happy to leave you students to your own devices, for the most part.”

“So I’d teach them and you’d step in occasionally,” Harry translated into normal human language, perhaps a little too bluntly, because Riddle shot him a look that might have been warning.

Harry focused on his strangely humanoid features in reply – the greying streaks in his otherwise black hair, his sharp nose.

“Yes,” said Riddle. “I have less of a standard dueling club in mind, more of a supplementary defense course. I think it would behoove the students to learn to use spells and practice them against each other in less of a defined setting – real duels, real fights, after all, don’t follow arbitrary rules or take place in classrooms,” he said, smiling as if at some private joke. “And,” he added, “in my experience, we only feel free practicing magic that naturally away from the supervision of those in a position to grade us.”

And Harry almost, almost laughed aloud – it was a close thing indeed – because he was describing the DA. Riddle was absolutely and inexplicably describing the DA. “Alright,” he said, as soon as he trusted himself to speak. “I’ll do it.”

“Excellent,” said Riddle. “I’ll begin informing the other students next class. Do you think you’d be ready to begin next week? Thursday evening, say – eight o’clock?”

“-sure,” replied Harry, who began racking his mind for what he might start out with. They’d already covered shield charms in class, and the disarming charm seemed like a paltry start for a seventh year.

“I’ll inform you when I know what space we’ll be using, then,” said Riddle. “Horace – ah, sorry, Professor Slughorn – should be letting me know any day now.”

“Professor Slughorn?” Harry echoed before he could stop himself. There was just something- absurd, about imagining Riddle answering to Slughorn. Of course, he’d have to be – Slughorn was headmaster, and he a professor, but…

“Yes,” Riddle went on, as if he saw nothing strange in the interruption. “Professor Slughorn was very pleased with the idea of a dueling club; it’s been a very long time since Hogwarts had one. Not since my own schooldays, in fact.”

Harry looked at Riddle and must’ve appeared curious – and he was, but he was only wondering if Riddle had somehow had anything to do with the club being cancelled, then – Harry wouldn’t put it past him. At any rate, Riddle said, “I was a student once, yes,” sounding bemused. “Professor Slughorn was my Head of House, in fact. I’ve enjoyed having the chance to catch up with him.”

“Is that why you took the job?” Harry blurted out, suddenly having a vision of Riddle gleaning information from Slughorn. He’d done it in Harry’s own world with the horcruxes; who was to say what an older, cleverer Riddle might manage?

“In a sense. Professor Slughorn contacted me asking if I knew of anyone suited to the position. I’m sure he didn’t expect that I would be interested in the position myself.”

Harry had the uncanny thought that everything in the last statement was, if not entirely comprehensive, honest.

It was a little terrifying.

“Why not?” he asked. And he was really going off-script, now. Veer left, veer left! shouted a voice in his head that sounded rather like Hermione if she were captain of a ship. He had a brief hysterical mental image of Hermione in full pirate garb, peg leg and eyepatch included.

Riddle gave him a look like he'd swallowed something off and Harry realized that he’d accidentally made eye contact. The older man may or may not have seen his pirate-Hermione via Legilimency. I hope you’re as confused as me, he thought snappishly once he’d broken contact and his occlumency shields were firmly in place.

“I am not a teacher by trade,” Riddle said slowly, after a long while. His words seemed to twist in the air, sinuous as a snake, full of hidden meaning.

Harry said nothing. At his complete lack of response, Riddle cocked his head to one side.

“Of course. You would know that already, wouldn’t you?” and Harry had a brief moment of panic before Riddle went on, “Your father works for the ministry, does he not? He must have heard of me.”

“He’s an Auror,” Harry managed.

“I can’t say I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting him,” Riddle replied. “But I’ve heard he’s very good at what he does.”

“He is,” Harry ground out, though of course he didn’t really have any way of knowing.

“No wonder you’re such a talented student, then,” Riddle said in return. Then, when Harry clearly had no intention of replying, he said, “Well – I won’t keep you. I’m sure young Mr. Black is waiting.”

Harry sucked in a breath, but Riddle said nothing else. At the apparent dismissal, he collected his bag and made to leave.

“I’ve heard Mr. Black’s father was a talented Auror, too,” Riddle said, just as Harry was at the door. “It’s a pity, what happened to him.”

What did happen to him? Harry wanted to turn around and ask – because he was suddenly sure that somehow, if anyone knew, it was Riddle.

He opened the door and left without a word instead.

-

Dear Dad,

I’ve been playing mind games with your murderer. Or he’s playing mind games with me, really. And like an idiot, I’ve been sitting there, letting him

What would you say if you knew who he really was?

What would you say if you knew I wasn’t really your son?

Tergeo,” said Harry, siphoning the ink away.

-

“What about my mum?” Harry asked finally.

He, Lyra, and Alphard were all in the Room of Requirement again. Alphard was trying something new with the message coins, and Lyra appeared to be working on star charts.

“What about her?” asked Lyra, glancing up from her parchment.

“What happened to her?” It had taken him a long time to work up to this question – one he wasn’t sure he wanted an answer to. He’d assumed, long ago, that she must be dead here too when he heard no mention of Lily Potter and saw nothing of her in the other Harry’s room. But I’d assumed Sirius was dead, too, he reminded himself.

Lyra shifted uncomfortably where she was seated at the low table the room had provided. Harry braced himself – he rarely saw her visibly uncomfortable and didn’t think it bode well.

“She died,” she said simply after a long pause. “Just after Harry was born.”

He nodded tightly. He hadn’t really gotten his hopes up, anyway.

“How?” he asked.

“Oh,” said Lyra, blinking. “I… don’t really know. She was ill, I think. It might’ve even been – well. Having Harry?”

Harry frowned. The idea of his mother being gone was nothing new, but her dying in childbirth? That was. She had always seemed to him, even if he’d never known her, too… vivid, for that, too vital.

“Do you know much about her?” Alphard cut in, having abandoned his work as well. “I mean… I know she’s, er, not around in your world, either, but… Harry’s dad doesn’t talk about her really, and he doesn’t even have any pictures, I don’t think. If there’s anything you know we could tell him about her…”

Alphard,” Lyra hissed.

“No, it’s alright,” said Harry, even if his throat felt constricted. He hadn’t considered this possibility, but the other Harry deserved to know. “She was…bright. Everyone who knew her said she was really clever. And kind. And I’ve- we’ve, I guess, got her eyes.”

The words were paltry. It didn’t feel like enough, but Harry knew that nothing would ever be enough.

“Thank you,” said Alphard, shifting closer to Harry in what he supposed was a comforting gesture. “It’s not been easy for our Harry, growing up without knowing anything about her, and her being the last of her line he doesn’t have anyone else to ask.”

Harry shrugged. “Yeah. I know how that is.” Then, after a long moment, something occurred to him. “Wait, her line?”

“Er- yeah. Her family? What was her maiden name, again—”

“Evans,” said Harry. “She was muggleborn.”

What?” said Alphard.

“Mayfair,” said Lyra, whose brow was crinkling now. “Her name was Alice Mayfair.”

Harry was thrown for a loop yet again. “My mum’s name was Lily Evans.”

“…are you sure?” asked Alphard. “What’re the chances, you and our Harry having different mothers?”

Harry recalled suddenly a similar conversation with Ron and Hermione and Ginny not so long ago.

“Of course I’m sure,” said Harry. “Like I said, I’ve got her eyes – and I lived with my aunt, her sister, for years because of a stupid blood ward.”

“-I’m not even going to touch on that right now,” said Lyra. “But- Alphard is right. The chances are slim.” She paused, raised the quill she was still holding to her mouth as if she would chew on the nib, then quickly lowered it again. “I would guess,” she said slowly, “that the same is true here, too. If I recall correctly, Harry’s dad just sort of – vanished, after Hogwarts. He left for a few years, saying he was going to travel, and at some point he wrote his parents saying he’d been married, and then not long after he returned saying that his wife had died and he had a son. Harry’s grandparents had passed away by then and… well, I suppose no one really knew better, did they?”

“You think he lied,” said Alphard. “You think Harry’s mum was really- er, a muggleborn?”

“Well, have you got any better ideas? It’s not as if anyone we know ever actually met Harry’s mother.”

“Except his dad, presumably.”

Yes, Harry thought. Except him. It all seemed to come down to James Potter, in the end.

It seemed Hermione had been right after all. No one knew Harry – this world’s Harry – was a halfblood. And, apparently, there was some sort of elaborate cover story involved.

It was difficult to even be surprised anymore.

Lyra gave him a speculative look. “Don’t mention this to anyone,” she said. “It would get Harry kicked out of Hogwarts, you understand? And worse.”

“I know,” Harry said, irritated at being treated like an idiot. “I wouldn’t.”

“Sorry,” she said, not sounding very sorry. “But… it’s serious.”

“You think it’s true?” asked Alphard. “You think his dad’s really hidden that, all these years?”

“I don’t know.”

-

Dear Dad,

What are you hiding? What did you do?

Who am I? Who is your son?

-

“Has Mr. Potter answered you yet?” Alphard asked the next day over breakfast.

Harry put down his forkful of egg and cast his eyes to the heavens – or, at least, the ceiling of the Great Hall, towards the narrow windows the post owls flew through. “Mr. Potter?” he repeated.

“I can’t call him James, can I? Well, I could. He’s told me to.”

“Do you know him well?”

“’Course. Well, as well as anyone knows their best friend’s dad, I expect.”

Harry nodded absently. He imagined Mr. Weasley. “Is he- a good person, d’you think?”

Alphard blinked. “Er. Yes? I think so. Is… this about the thing with Har-your mum?”

Among other things, thought Harry. It was about that, about Riddle, about Remus Lupin.

“He hasn’t answered me,” he said finally.

-

The thing was – the thing was, Harry had never understood what Hermione might call nuance. Ambiguity. He’d never understood shades of grey. He’d admired Severus Snape, after the war; he’d publicly vouched for his loyalty to Dumbledore, swore on it, even, in the dual courts of law and public opinion. But that was out of a sense of – duty, really. Duty to his former headmaster, who he thought would have wanted him to, duty to his mother, who’d been Snape’s friend once and had been described to Harry more times than he could count as kind. Kindness, he’d heard, went hand-in-hand with forgiveness.

And it was much easier to understand a spy when they were dead – when they’d died at the hand of a common enemy. People were much easier to forgive when they weren’t there.

It was easier to forgive his father when he thought about him being a schoolyard bully when he’d never really known him, easier to forgive Sirius for – well. Being Sirius, impulsive and ridiculous and cruel, when he wasn’t there.

But when Harry was forced to face it, when things came down to it, he didn’t understand people who hid their motivations, people who cloaked everything they did in layers of double-meaning.

Lyra had said that there was more than one way to be brave; she said that Harry’s father – that this James Potter – was concerned with keeping Harry safe and not drawing attention, and that that in itself was a form of bravery. And – well. He understood that, on an intellectual level, but he couldn’t help but feel strange when he saw Lyra at the Slytherin table smiling and leaning into Pansy Parkinson to hear something she was saying, flicking her hair over one shoulder and smirking at Blaise Zabini. Because how could you be well-meaning and good and also be friends with Zabini, whose mother murdered her husbands for a living?

But then, too, there was Luna. Luna Lovegood was bolder in this universe, he thought. When she came to sit at the Ravenclaw table on mornings when he and Alphard were already there, she smiled at them, asked them to pass the clotted cream. She looked Lyra in the eye when she spoke to her, and Lyra looked right back, and Harry wondered how much of this Luna’s bravery came down to there being a girl in her year who he suspected had always listened to her, right from the very start.

So he couldn’t outright dismiss, either – whatever it was Lyra was doing, courting friends in every house, smiling at people just so and doing what it took to get in their good graces. He’d seen her have a friendly conversation with Susan Bones in the hall and one day he came to lunch to find her eating amicably alongside Lavender Brown and two younger Gryffindor girls he didn’t know, and he couldn’t say anything was wrong in that, exactly. It was alright for – for some people, he supposed. But-

He did not like the idea of his father living a lie.

He realized that could accept the idea that people did what they had to do to survive, so long as he didn’t have to know about it while they were doing it. So long as he found out about it afterwards, ideally after they’d done something grand and bold and brave, something showy that said but this is where my loyalties really lie. Something like what Snape had done, something like Regulus Black creating a fake horcrux and going to his death.

Perhaps he was a hypocrite, in the end. That was another word Hermione liked.

-

Was my father like you? Could he have been?

-

“What’re you planning for the first dueling club meeting?” Alphard asked, drawing Harry out of his reverie.

“I have,” Harry said honestly, “no idea.”

“Well, know any more spells we might not? Introduce us to the ways of your world, strange visitor.”

Alphard was in a particularly good mood. He’d gotten the coins he was working on to duplicate their messages with only runes. Now, he’d said, he was going to work on their alerting the people holding them somehow.

“Er. The Patronus Charm?” said Harry finally.

“Wait, really? You can do a Patronus?”

“Why? That’s not illegal here, is it?”

“Oh, for- muffliato,” Alphard waved his wand and the privacy spell took effect. “Ah, look, I got it.”

“Good job,” said Harry. “So – illegal?”

“No,” snorted Alphard. “Just bloody difficult. You really want to start out the club on that foot?”

Harry shrugged. “It’ll waste time, anyway.”

Alphard sighed. “I was rather hoping this would be a proper thing, you know, not just an excuse to keep Riddle off your back. But, I suppose the Patronus would be useful. The ministry uses dementors as especially terrifying guard dogs, now and then.”

“I know,” grimaced Harry. “And anyway – it is a good spell to learn. And it’s not as hard as people make it out to be. You just need a properly happy memory and loads of practice.”

Alphard hmm’d. “They say your Patronus and your Animagus form are often similar or the same, you know.”

“Yeah, my dad’s were, and McGonagall’s.”

Professor McGonagall is a- you know what? I’m not even surprised. Anyway – maybe it’ll be a bit of a sneaky look at what our forms will be. Er –  if you’re planning on trying the transformation with us, that is.”

Harry had nearly forgotten about the Animagus work. He tried curling his tongue under and inward for a moment to see if the mandrake leaf was still there. “S’weird,” he mumbled.

“Knock it off,” said Alphard, elbowing him. “Let’s pester Lyra later and see where she’s at in the next stage – she’s supposed to be identifying a time for us to perform the actual spell, you know? It’s got to be during an electrical storm. She’s done all this mad arithmancy stuff trying to figure out when one might happen.”

“There’s a potion, right?” asked Harry, who vaguely remembered as much from the notes.

“Yeah,” said Alphard. “Doesn’t take long to brew, thankfully. We should be able to manage it in the Room of Requirement – I still can’t believe that was here in the castle all along; do you know what we might’ve done if we’d known about that?”

Harry laughed.

“I’m serious! We’d – well. Probably be in deeper shit than we are now, to be honest, nevermind.”

“How’d you start with all of this, anyway?” asked Harry, genuinely curious. “The Animagus stuff, the books…”

“I dunno, really,” admitted Alphard. “I’m not sure when it started. I’ve always liked experimenting with magic, and Harry’s always been really dead set on finding out the truth about everything, just… curious, I suppose. And Lyra’s got a need to prove herself. I guess between the three of us, it was just sort of inevitable.” Then he cast a wary glance around the room. No one was so much as looking in their direction, but Harry had noticed that Alphard was by far the warier of the two friends he’d made in this world. He thought he understood it now a little, knowing what he did about Sirius.

“I’ll give you personal lessons on the Patronus,” Harry offered.

Alphard grinned.

-

Harry suffered through another class with Riddle, who gave them another cryptic lecture on the art of subtlety, the importance of not revealing one’s hand too soon, and he turned in a Transfiguration essay and re-potted something poisonous and viney in Herbology.

Time passed, in other words, and he felt himself sinking into something like routine.

And finally, finally, he received a letter from his father.

Harry,

Sorry I didn’t write back sooner. I’ve been busy with work, the usual, etc. – boring rubbish.

Brilliant news on the seeker thing – you ought to know, yeah, by now, if you made the team? Write back and let me know! I’m proud of you, carrying on your old man’s legacy.

Only joking – we both know you’ll make your own legacy.

On the last thing – yes. I do know a Remus Lupin, or rather, I did. He was in my year in school. Gryffindor. He left our fifth year – transferred, maybe. I’m not sure why he’d be in the castle, but I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about.

Be good, and give Minnie a kiss for me. Update me on the quidditch, right? I’ll get back to you as soon as I’m able.

Love,

Your dad.

“Hm,” said Lyra, later that night in the Room of Requirement. Harry had called a meeting after getting the reply letter. “Transferred.”

“I didn’t know people could transfer,” Harry admitted. “What, to Durmstrang? Beauxbatons?”

“It happens,” said Lyra. “Rarely. More often people transfer into Hogwarts who were previously home-schooled.”

Home-schooled?” asked Harry. He couldn’t imagine wizards home-schooling. But, then, they didn’t have anything like primary school, so he supposed they all did until the age of eleven. He recalled Ginny mentioning lessons with her mum offhand, but he wasn’t sure what they’d been lessons on. Rudimentary mathematics? History?

“Yes,” Lyra was saying. “It’s not unheard of for people to leave to be home-schooled, as well – perhaps that’s what he did? It’s usually girls who do, though – ones who’ve gotten into trouble.”

“By trouble,” Alphard added at Harry’s blank look, “she means the sort that lasts about nine months and brings a little witch or wizard into the world. I don’t suppose your dad’s mate left for that.”

“Er. No. But – I don’t know. Maybe someone found out he was a werewolf?”

“Or a halfblood,” Lyra offered. “Either would render him ineligible to attend.”

“That’s another thing,” said Harry. “How’d he get in in the first place if he were a halfblood? If what you’re saying is true, that ought to have been impossible.”

“Our Harry got in,” Alphard pointed out. “And you said Riddle’s a halfblood.”

“Moot point,” said Lyra. “Riddle attended Hogwarts in the late twenties to early thirties, Harry said – the law that forbids halfbloods from attending wasn’t in place until 1945.”

“He still holds a position in the ministry, though, which is weird enough,” said Alphard.

Harry, who hadn’t considered this point previously, began speculating himself. Lyra interrupted. “The point is, it isn’t impossible. There’s no way to know, magically, if someone is a halfblood or pureblood. If they falsify records or lie about their parentage, anyone could, theoretically, get into Hogwarts.”

“So he got in, and then he left,” summarized Alphard. “Either by choice or by force.”

“Doesn’t really answer much, does it?” said Harry glumly.

“I disagree,” said Lyra. At Harry’s speculative look, she went on. “Someone with those sorts of secrets could be blackmailed, easily. They could be bought. For all we know, that’s what he was doing with Riddle- Riddle might be the one holding his strings.”

“Not Remus,” Harry insisted.

In his own world, Remus had been sent to spy, though, hadn’t he? But that was on fellow werewolves – not Death Eaters. Not Voldemort. Then again, perhaps he was working for the Order of the Phoenix, if they existed here, or whatever shadowy organization had been leaving those pamphlets, assuming they weren't the Order, and in a world without Snape – in a world he was pretty sure was without Snape, anyway – who was to say that Remus might not be that same kind of double agent? He refused to believe that Remus could be bought, but he could believe that he was a spy, maybe.

Harry rubbed his eyes underneath his glasses. He didn’t know what to think.

The letter from James Potter hid more than it revealed. It raised more questions than it answered.

The usual, then.

-

Harry made seeker. Lyra thought she’d identified two possible dates for them to attempt the Animagus transformation. Alphard had managed to melt a galleon, somehow, trying to get it to heat up with runes alone. “Needs something to stabilize it,” he’d said. “Is that a real galleon?” Lyra had asked incredulously. “Those are meant to be un-meltable.” Alphard shrugged.

Their next big break – if you could call it that – happened quite by accident.

It was the following Wednesday evening, the day before Harry was meant to lead the Dueling Club’s first meeting, and they were making their way towards the Great Hall. Lyra had met Alphard and Harry near Gryffindor Tower and they were all headed to dinner.

Suddenly, her sleek leather bag seemed to move, and with an ear-piercing screech it erupted, spitting out a ball of black fur that took off in a streak down the hallway.

“Oh, for- that blasted cat!” Lyra exclaimed, taking off after it.

Harry followed on instinct, and Alphard trailed after them both.

“Why, exactly, did you have Adhara’s cat in your bag?” Alphard asked breathlessly as they raced around a corner.

“Because,” Lyra hissed in reply, “She’s in the library tutoring a group of first years, and she doesn’t trust the poor thing alone in the dorms after the twins turned him white.”

“Snowball is a ‘him’?” asked Alphard.

“-of course he’s- that’s not important now, is it? We have to catch him!”

“Could try a summoning charm,” Harry pointed out, less out of breath than the other two by merit of having been in quidditch practices recently.

“Inhumane on a living creature,” said Lyra in a tone that reminded him very much of Hermione. “Anyway, what if he’s behind a door by now?”

“Pity the map doesn’t show animals,” panted Alphard. “Where are we?”

“It shows Animagi,” said Harry, rather unhelpfully.

Lyra was still racing ahead of them, and then she slid to a sudden stop. “Shit,” she said emphatically. “Al – do you have the map, by chance?”

“Wh- oh,” Alphard replied, because they were in a familiar corridor now.

“That’s the defense class ahead,” hissed Harry, wondering how he managed to spread his own terrible luck to everyone around him. What were the chances?

“Indeed,” said Lyra. “But I’m sure Snowball rounded this corner and every other door is closed…”

Muffliato,” said Alphard. Harry was beginning to think that he’d altered the entire course of this universe by showing those two that spell.

Lyra dragged them both out of the center of the hall, casting some sort of spell of her own. The edges of the world around them blurred, and Harry guessed it was some sort of visual-impeding ward, rendering them difficult to see but not invisible. Alphard drew the map out of his bag and opened it.

They quickly identified the defense classroom and Riddle’s office beyond it. “I don’t see him,” whispered Alphard.

“No,” said Lyra, “Not anywhere nearby, either…” she trailed off, biting her lip. “Right. Well. The coast is clear, then, isn’t it?”

Alphard shot her a panicked look. “Stay out here and keep watch, then,” she said, not unkindly. “Use the stone to warn me if you see Riddle coming near.”

“I’ll go with you,” Harry quickly offered. She shot him a surprised glance, then nodded.

They made their way to the defense classroom door, Harry feeling somewhat ridiculous as they did. Surely, if Riddle did appear, they had a ready-made excuse for being in his classroom after hours… but the idea of being caught sneaking around still made Harry’s pulse race.

Lyra snaked a hand through the open door and cast a spell Harry couldn’t hear – some kind of detection spell, he guessed. Then she opened the door the rest of the way.

The class was empty and dark. They stepped inside, Lyra whispering Lumos and casting it in a glow of artificial light. “Do you see him?” she asked Harry.

“No,” he said. “Let’s split up; I’ll take the back and you take the front.”

She nodded her agreement and they parted ways.

Riddle’s classroom was almost entirely devoid of decoration. There were nothing but tables and chairs for Harry to look under by the light of his own Lumos as he made his way towards the back of the room. Still, the shadows seemed to shift and blur as his light flicked over them and away, and it was exceedingly difficult to determine what was shadow and what might be a small, black cat.

Then he heard a sound like the scrabbling of claws on stone, and crouched below one of the back-most tables only to come face-to-face with a set of glowing eyes.

Got you,” he said as his hand shot out and by grace of seeker reflexes managed to grab the cat around the middle before he got away. The cat was still perhaps a few months old, and so while he squirmed like the dickens, Harry was able to keep hold of him in one hand with his wand-light aloft in the other until he met with Lyra on the other side of the room. “I found him,” he said somewhat unnecessarily as he approached.

She was standing with one hand on the door to Riddle’s office, a strange look on her face, and didn’t acknowledge Harry’s arrival in the slightest.

“What is it?” he asked, a little uneasily.

She blinked, turning to him as if just noticing he was there. “There’s something here,” she said after a moment, running her hand over the door.

“What sort of something?”

“Wards,” she said simply. “Come on,” she said, pocketing her wand and grabbing Adhara’s kitten from him with both hands, drawing him to her chest as she stepped away from the door. “I’m putting a tracking spell on you, you menace,” she said to the cat.

Then she left the room, Harry trailing behind her. She pinned the kitten to her chest with one hand and re-drew her wand to cast a spell back into the room just before adjusting the door so it was open a crack, like they’d found it.

“What was that?” asked Harry, “And what were you doing back there?”

“It’s a spell that will eradicate traces of our magical signatures, at least for any cursory means of detection- and I’ll tell you in a moment. Come on, let’s get Alphard.”

They collected Alphard and Harry waited impatiently while Lyra shot a number of purplish-blue spells at the protesting Snowball. “Well?” he asked as she drew a package of Ice Mice from her bag and gave one to the kitten.

“Well, what?” asked Alphard. “Did something happen in there?”

“Lyra said there were wards on Riddle’s door,” Harry replied.

“And? He seems like a secretive bloke, that’s hardly a surprise.”

Harry silently agreed, but Lyra had looked pensive while she studied that door.

“Not on the door,” Lyra finally said. “On something inside. I couldn’t say what, from through the door, but they were remarkably complex. Subtle. I wouldn’t have noticed them during class with all the ambient magic in the room, not even if I’d touched that door then.”

“So he’s sneaky, we knew that,” argued Alphard. “He has wards to keep people out of his office – big deal.”

“No,” Lyra said firmly. “Those are the type of wards you put on objects you want to protect. They aren’t for keeping people out of a space – they’re for keeping people from taking something.”

Alphard frowned, then. “Something. You think he’s hiding something in his office? Why not put whatever it is in his private quarters?”

“I don’t know,” she said.

“Fewer people would look in his office,” Harry pointed out. “But you’re sure, about the wards? How can you know what type they are just from… standing at the door?”

“Lyra knows a lot about wards,” Alphard offered at Harry’s skeptical look.

“I’ve studied them,” she replied nonchalantly, and Harry recalled the complicated temporary wards she’d erected every time they’d talked in the prefects’ bathroom.

“Alright,” Harry said, willing to concede the point. “So Riddle’s protecting something, then. The question is – what?”

“Does it matter?” asked Alphard. “Whatever it is, it’s not really our business – oh, don’t look at me like that. It seems to me having him in the school is dangerous enough as it is without us going out of our way to poke our nose into his things.”

“It could help us figure out why he’s here, though,” insisted Harry. “It could be why he’s here.” His mind began racing. What if Riddle was hiding a horcrux – here, in the school? It wasn’t as if he hadn’t done that before.

Lyra, meanwhile, chewed her bottom lip. “I’m not sure there’s any way to find out, short of breaking in and lifting the wards on whatever it is. They would conceal the object and its purpose.”

Could you lift them?” Harry asked. Because he was convinced, then, that they needed to find out what was in that room.

She glanced up at him, furrowing her brow. “Possibly,” she said. “Probably, even. But I’d need a lot of time to do it.”

“What about during the dueling club meeting tomorrow?”

“No,” she insisted. “That will only last for an hour, an hour and a half at most – I’d need more time than that, to be safe. Those wards felt intricate. I wouldn’t want to cut it close.”

“Please tell me you aren’t actually considering this,” said Alphard. “Oh, Merlin,” he went on at a look from Lyra. “You are.”

“Do you really think it’s important?” Lyra asked, turning to Harry.

“Yes,” he said firmly. Whether whatever was inside was a horcrux or not, anything Riddle was going to great lengths to hide must be important, and they needed answers.

“Then you’ll have to figure out when he’ll be out of the castle next,” she said.

“What? How?”

“Ask him. Get close to him. It’s our best shot,” she said, as if it were as easy as that.

Harry groaned, letting his head fall backward ‘til it hit the wall behind him with a thunk.

“Mrrow,” Snowball said from somewhere in the vicinity of his shoes, as if commiserating.

-

“And what do you have planned for this introductory meeting?” asked Riddle conversationally as he unlocked the door to the massive room Slughorn had assigned them for the dueling club.

Apparently it had been a ballroom, once. Riddle had confided in Harry that he felt it was a shame that the school no longer held annual dances like it used to. Harry had imagined Riddle in dress robes at the Yule Ball and nearly stabbed himself in the ear with his wand to be rid of the image.

“I thought I’d start with the Patronus Charm,” Harry said with a confidence he did not feel.

Really? How… fascinating.”

“It’s useful,” insisted Harry, “and it requires focus. I thought it’d get people in the right frame of mind.”

“I think you’re right,” said Riddle. “It will certainly let them know that this won’t be an ordinary dueling club.”

“…right,” said Harry, a little unnerved at the experience of Riddle agreeing with him. “Er. I’ll just… set up, then,” he said, although there was nothing present to set up for.

“Do you require the use of a dementor?” Riddle asked in passing as he strode into the room and pushed the few bits of furniture that had been stored there to the side with flicks of his wand.

Harry spluttered. Did he have dementors at his disposal?

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” he said finally.

“No, I suppose not. A boggart, then?”

Harry blinked. He had actually meant to ask Riddle that when he worked up the nerve to – he hadn’t expected the man to have the idea himself. “Er. I was going to start with the incantation and practice this time,” he said truthfully. “I don’t think anyone will be ready to actually cast – but, er, for next time, yeah, that would… be… a good idea.”

“Hm, I imagine you’re right. The Patronus is a tricky charm to master. Well, I’ll leave you to it then, shall I? Ah, look, your first student has arrived.”

And sure enough, Ernie Macmillan of all people was poking his head through the door. “Potter?” he asked. “What are you doing here?”

Of all the things for this world to mirror mine in– Harry thought, but he did not have to reply, because Riddle beat him to it. “Mr. Potter is one of the top defense students in your year,” he said, smiling congenially at Macmillan. “I’ve asked him to lead this session.”

Ernie frowned but seemed unwilling to speak against the professor. “Um, alright then. What are we learning, then?”

“Why don’t you wait and see?” said Riddle, beating Harry to the punch once more.

Harry blinked as Riddle swanned out of the room again, and a group of girls he thought were in fourth year or so trickled in. Well. That happened.

He was distracted from his thoughts by the steady trickle of students coming through the door. At least half of them gave him strange, speculative looks, but no one else spoke up about his presence towards the front of the room.

At five minutes after eight, Alphard – who’d appeared at some point early on and hovered near the front of the group – glanced at a pocket watch he withdrew from somewhere in his robes and gave Harry an encouraging sort of grin.

Right, Harry thought.

He cleared his throat. “Hullo… er. Everyone. Welcome to the first meeting of the dueling club. We’re going to start out with something a little different…”

And as with quidditch, everything clicked into place. This was a comfort zone Harry had forgotten he had – teaching, demonstrating.

"Hold your wand like this," he said. "Hi - are you lot third years? Excellent. I'm Harry. Now, this is a hard charm, so don't feel badly if you don't get it for awhile..." 

He moved around the room, demonstrating, correcting, and when he reached the area where Alphard and all of his dorm mates were standing - and really, Harry was shocked at the turnout, it seemed like half the school was here - Alphard gave him a silly mock bow. 

"Professor Potter," he greeted. Harry swatted at him. "No, wait, wait, I want to know how my grip is!"

"Awful," said Harry, but he smiled despite himself. Then something exploded on the other side of the room, and-

"How did you even manage that?" he was asking a Hufflepuff girl, genuinely baffled. "Oh, no, don't cry, for heaven's sake-"

He wound up splitting the mass of students into groups, and assigning other sixth and seventh years who'd gotten the gist of the charm and managed wisps of smoke to monitor the various sections. He felt a little wary leaving Luna in charge of a batch of third years, but one of them had set a table on fire, somehow. "What memory are you using?" Luna asked the girl. "It doesn't have to be real, does it, Harry?"

"Er, no. It can be imagined," he said, blinking at the familiarity of her dreamy tone.

"Good," said Luna, smiling, "the best memories are, I think." Harry nodded and resisted the urge to give her a pat on the shoulder.

He was enjoying this, really and truly. 

The thing was, Harry had always felt as though his hands were empty – as though he had nothing to give other people. It was, perhaps, an irrational fear, something born of being an orphan, and then of being the chosen one, more title than flesh-and-bone boy.

He’d always sought to overcome it by coming up with new ways to share whatever he could – sweets on the train, his gold, his prize winnings with the Weasley twins. It was never entirely satisfying, but he gave and gave anyway.

But this – this was something real that he could offer. He could share his knowledge, he could share magic, or at least the means with which to produce it. And if he was tired at the end of the hour, it was only the kind of tired that could be slept off.

It wasn’t bone-deep, he didn’t feel hollowed out, like he did sometimes after a long day at work.

When the club meeting was over, he was flushed from pacing through the room, student to student, and his throat itched from speaking, but he felt good in a way that he hadn’t in a very long time. He grinned unselfconsciously at the students that stopped to thank him and say goodnight.

“That was fantastic,” said Alphard later, who’d stayed behind to help him clear up. “I’m going to practice in the Room and see if I can’t get ahead.”

Lyra appeared, too, as if summoned, although she hadn’t been at the meeting – she said she was working on something else, and would come next time. “I heard people discussing it in the hall,” she agreed. “Apparently you’re quite the teacher.”

Harry scratched the back of his head sheepishly. “I like doing it,” he said. “Teaching. It’s, er – I missed it, I guess.”

“And the Patronus,” Lyra went on. “They’re talking about that, too – what it means that you’re teaching it.”

“How so?” asked Harry, a little uncomfortably.

“Well, its primary function is to ward off dementors – and the ministry effectively owns the dementors, so…”

Harry caught on. “Alphard said it wasn’t illegal.”

Lyra raised an eyebrow and then her wand, constructing a privacy spell quickly, something more solid than the Muffliato. It buzzed. Harry supposed that was alright, since they were in an out-of-the way room alone. “It’s not,” she agreed. “But it is a little risky. I hadn’t really thought of it this way until I heard those students talking, but it could be construed as… well, a statement.”

“Riddle didn’t say anything about it one way or another,” Harry pointed out.

“Well, he’s rather fond of statements himself, isn’t he,” Lyra mused.

“It actually does fit in with his sort of ‘trust no one’ thing, you know,” Alphard said.

“You still think he’s doing those lectures on purpose,” inferred Harry. “That it’s some type of anti-propaganda.”

“Does it matter if something is done on purpose?” a voice behind them asked. “Which is more important, I wonder – effect, or intent?”

Harry whipped his head around, wondering who had broken through their privacy spells, but it was only the Grey Lady, standing just behind them in her usual eerie fashion. Behind her, the door to the room was still firmly shut.

“Lady Ravenclaw?” Lyra asked, clearly taken aback.

Oh, right. Harry had never mentioned his encounters with the ghost to Lyra, and he had Alphard had only spoken about them in passing, barring the one time the ghost came to him in front of the other boy.

There wasn’t time to explain now, though, because the ghost spoke again. “I have a message for you, Harry Potter.”

“A message?” he repeated warily.

“From my other self,” she said. “Only which self is the other? Is every shape which we take true?”

“The message,” Harry cut in. “What is it?”

She regarded him with the full force of her gaze, her eyes hollow and black and bearing down on him wholly, and Harry took a hasty step back.

“Your friends spoke with me,” she said finally. “Your friends, and your self.”

“My…self,” he echoed, darting a glance at Lyra and Alphard. His friends?

“Your other self,” she said again. “And the girl you call Hermione.”

“Wait, you spoke with Hermione?” He stepped forward again, eager. He hadn’t even considered the possibility, but now that he thought of it – why wouldn’t the ghost be able to pass messages through worlds?

“Oh, yes. Some time ago and far away – or perhaps it was just a week. It’s hard to know.”

“What did she say?” he pressed on. He wondered if he’d be able to pass on a message of his own – tell the others that he was safe.

“She asked if I would tell you about a book - a book my mother wrote. It sits in Malfoy Manor, in your world – perhaps here, too. They seem to think it might help you.”

“Who is they? And did they say why?” Harry asked. He was aware of Lyra stirring beside him, probably at the mention of her family home.

“My mother wrote on the subject of time travel, world travel – more so than any witch or wizard before or since. I imagine that is why.”

Harry had neither the time nor the energy to ask why the ghost hadn’t told him this before, when he was asking her about traveling between worlds.  He knew, somehow, that question would not yield a fruitful answer.

“Did ‘they’ say where they acquired this information?” he was surprised to hear Lyra cut in.

“Theodore Nott,” replied the ghost. “By way of his father, I believe. I remember his father. I remember each of your fathers…” the ghost trailed off both in word and spirit. She seemed, suddenly, more transparent.

Harry was not surprised when she gave them one final look and then vanished, but the other two were, Lyra noticeably drawing back and Alphard jumping.

“Morgana,” the boy hissed. “Is she always like that?”

“More or less,” replied Harry. Then he turned to Lyra. “Is that true, what she said about Rowena Ravenclaw’s book?”

“I have no idea,” said Lyra, frowning. “It… wouldn’t surprise me. My family has collected rare books for generations. That’s just the sort of thing they’d hoard – it’s odd that they wouldn’t have mentioned it, but not unheard of, and Theo’s father and mine are friends in this world, so I don’t see why that shouldn’t be true in yours…” she trailed off, and Harry tactfully chose not to mention that both men were Death Eaters, in his. “Theo generally tells the truth, too. He’s honest nearly to a fault.”

“Could you get it?” Harry went on, “If it’s at the manor?”

“I’m not sure,” she said. She shook her head as if to clear it. “It would be behind heavy privacy measures, if it’s in the manor. There’s a warded section of the library where we keep things of that nature, and I’ve never actually seen past those wards…” she trailed off again.

“You wouldn’t have a chance to find out, anyway, until the Yule hols,” Alphard pointed out.

“Right,” said Lyra, who looked somewhat relieved.

“You couldn’t write and ask?” said Harry, who felt the sinking sensation of disappointment. Christmas was a long way off.

Lyra laughed, then, a hollow sound. “No,” she said. “No. If you think your father is secretive, you ought to meet mine. He wouldn’t tell me anything.”

“I have met him,” Harry said. “Well, a version of him.”

“Something tells me he’s the same in every world,” Lyra said, smiling wryly. “He’d insist upon that, if he could.”

Alphard snorted. Then, he said, “Do you think that your ‘other self’ means that Harry – our Harry – is in your world?”

“It sounded like that, didn’t it?” Lyra asked, quietly. “I wonder if he’s safe.”

“If he’s really with Hermione, he’s safe,” insisted Harry. “My friends wouldn’t let anything happen to him.”

“Do you think they know who he really is?” mused Alphard.

"Hermione would have figured it out straight away," said Harry. "Or Ron, even. Or Ginny - oh, god, I hope Ginny wasn't there." He winced, imagining that particular meeting taking place. 

"It took us over a week," Lyra said. She gave him a pointed look as if to ask if he thought they were less observant than his own friends.

"Er," responded Harry, ever a diplomat.

Lyra rolled her eyes. “Anyway. I think that’s enough excitement for one night, don't you two?”

Alphard slung an arm around Harry’s shoulders as they walked away. “Mate, I’ve got to hand it to you – things certainly haven't been boring since you showed up.”

“No,” agreed Harry. “Welcome to my life, I guess.”

-

Chapter Text

“Hogsmeade weekend,” Lyra declared as she set a stack of books down on the table in the Room of Requirement with a thunk.

“…exists, yes,” said Alphard. “What on earth are those? Have you bribed your way into the Restricted Section again?”

Lyra gave her cousin what Harry thought might be the least impressed look of all time. “Hogsmeade weekend,” she repeated. “The first one of the year is coming up, and Riddle is going to visit the village.”

“He is?” asked Harry.

“He is,” repeated Lyra, “because you are going to make him do so.”

“Er, what? How?”

She shrugged. “No idea. I’ve left that part of the plan up to you, since you know him best and see him most often. For all we know, he’s already planning on it."

“And what is the rest of your assuredly genius plan?" asked Alphard. "Which, you know, you have yet to tell us the reason for.” He was still giving the stack of tomes a wary look.

“This,” Lyra said with a smirk, withdrawing a large glass bottle from her robes.

“…is that Polyjuice?” Harry asked.

She blinked, clearly not having expected Harry to recognize it on sight. “Were you not kidding, when you told Cassie you were going to brew some in the girl’s loo?”

“No, I already did– in my world, second year,” he said. “Or, well, I helped. Hermione did most of it.”

“Second year?” echoed Alphard.

“I have no words,” said Lyra. “Anyway – I didn’t brew this; I stole it from Draco.”

“Why did Draco have Polyjuice?” asked Harry.

“He likes to make complicated brews in his spare time,” she said, rolling her eyes. “It ‘relaxes him’, apparently. I replaced it with something similarly vile-looking. Let’s hope he never has a mind to try it, because it’s whatever Gamp brewed in our Potions class, and – well, frankly, I doubt it’s poison, but it’s hardly fit for consumption, either.”

“I’ve heard Gamp burnt a hole in someone else’s cauldron, once,” said Alphard with a far-away look. “From across the room.”

“Yes, well,” Lyra pressed on, “The point is – we’re going to give this to two stand-ins who will go to Hogsmeade as Harry and I, forming an alibi, and then we're going to break into Riddle’s office while everyone is there and see what he’s hiding.”

“Oh,” said Harry in surprise. “That’s a good idea, actually.” It was the sort of idea he’d have had, if he knew they had access to Polyjuice.

“What? No, that’s a terrible idea. You’ll be caught for sure, and who would you even use?”

“Calm down, Al. It’ll only be for a few hours – and I was thinking we’d use the twins, actually.”

“That’s the worst bit so far! The twins can’t be trusted to something like this secret!”

“They can if we offer them something in return,” said Lyra smugly.

“Like what?” asked Alphard with narrowed eyes.

“Access to the Gryffindor dormitory,” she shot back with a falsely innocent look. “It’s the only one they’ve not managed to get into and I have it on good authority they’re dying to do so.”

“They’ll fill our sheets with itching powder,” replied Alphard, frowning.

“And I’m sure you and Harry are both wholly capable of handling Zonko’s finest. Honestly, you make it out like they’re some sort of demons – they’re just third-year boys, and they look up to you, you know. You’re the only other male cousin in the family and top of your year in two classes besides. I’m sure you can deal with them for three hours.”

“Are you really?” asked Harry. “Top of the year, I mean.”

Alphard gave him a sheepish grin. “Yeah – Charms and Transfig. Draco beats me in Potions and Runes, the swot, and you – er, well, our Harry, has Defense pinned down.”

“Congratulations on proving my point,” said Lyra. “You’re a talented wizard, and I’m certain you can watch over the twins while Harry and I find whatever Riddle’s hidden.”

Alphard looked like he wanted to argue, but in the end just shook his head as if giving it up as a bad deal. “What’re the books for?” he asked.

“Research,” said Lyra. "Of various sorts."

Later, when Alphard was distracted again with his work on the coins, Harry dropped into the chair next to Lyra. “You’re really not worried about this at all?” he asked her in a low tone. He trusted that she was capable of breaking the wards – well, he thought he did, anyway – but he knew that the most confident people often cracked under pressure.

Her eyebrows raised. “Worried? About breaking into the office of someone who can probably have me arrested and thrown in Azkaban with a word at best and might kill me at worst? Of course not,” she drawled. Then, “Are you worried?”

“I’ve done much worse,” he admitted. “I broke into Gringotts, once.”

“You what?”

“Yeah,” he said. Then, just to see the look on her face, he added, “My friends and I rode out on the dragon they keep down there.”

“You’re actually the maddest person I have ever met,” she said. “I’m almost impressed. Have you met my aunt Bellatrix? You’ve got very fierce competition.”

Harry blinked. “Er, yeah. Actually, it was her vault we broke into.”

Lyra burst out laughing. “Oh, Merlin. That’s one for the pensieve.”

Harry winced, realizing that he’d have to keep her from finding out why they’d needed to steal the cup from her aunt’s vault so badly if he wanted the horcrux thing to remain secret. Then another thought occurred to him, and he jumped at the distraction. “Is she still married to Lestrange here? They don’t have kids, do they?”

“Bellatrix?” she asked, sounding surprised. “No. I mean, she’s married to a Lestrange, yes, but no, they don’t have any children. Circe, can you imagine?”

“I’d really rather not.” He shuddered.

Lyra hmm’d, looking thoughtful. “We never did figure out why Gringotts was broken into at the start of term, you know. Maybe it’s not as difficult as you’d think, though, if you managed it- oh, don’t give me that look, it’s just I suspect you’ll say you were ten, or something.”

“It might not have anything to do with Riddle or anything else,” Harry pointed out, though he found he didn’t really believe it. “Although,” he added, not really seeing why he shouldn’t, “in my world, it was broken into by someone after the philosopher’s stone, only the stone had already been removed. Voldemort went after it again while it was at Hogwarts.”

Lyra looked skeptical. “The philosopher’s stone was being kept in a bank? And then someone brought it to Hogwarts?”

“Apparently? I’m not sure why, actually.” 

“Well,” said Lyra, “If by chance that’s what we find in Riddle’s office, that answers two questions at once.”

Harry started. Why hadn’t he considered that possibility? He wondered what he’d do if it were the stone- steal it? Destroy it? Stick it in a package and send it off to be returned, hoping a post owl could locate Nicholas Flamel?

“Oi, what are you two whispering about over there?” interrupted Alphard.

“Harry’s plan to get Riddle to go to Hogsmeade,” Lyra lied easily.

Oh. Balls. He did actually have to come up with one, didn’t he?

-

Alphard had been practicing his Patronus in the Room of Requirement after hours, taking Harry up on his proffered extra tutoring, so by the time the third dueling club meeting rolled around, he had already been producing a near-corporeal Patronus for a few days.

“I think it’s got a sort of cat shape to it, maybe,” Alphard mused.

“It’s a pig,” said Lyra matter-of-factly from where she watched them from her perch on a sofa.

“It’s too small for that!” protested Alphard.

“A rat, then,” she said.

Lyra had been taking the club meeting time to perform research of her own, though Harry wasn’t entirely clear on what. He assumed the most likely candidate was what she’d begun to refer to euphemistically as “his situation”. He was fairly certain that the other students who’d overheard the term were under the impression that he was suffering from some sort of unfortunate magical malady, a suspicion that was confirmed when Cassiopeia sent him a get well card during breakfast one day. The card had shot sparks into the air and sung a whole verse before Alphard tipped a glass of pumpkin juice over it.

“I think Lyra’s Patronus will be a peahen,” said Alphard in confidential tones once. “If she ever manages the thing, of course.”

On the day of that third meeting, Harry was pleased to see that Alphard wasn’t the only one who’d been practicing. A number of the students produced silvery clouds that verged on proper animals. He thought they were learning a bit quicker than the DA had in his world, though that might be because there were sixth and seventh years present, here.

“Good work!” he kept saying as he made his way through the groups. He was almost certain he could see the traces of Luna’s hare in the cloud she produced, especially when it seemed to dart forward and around the third years she was monitoring, to their noises of approval.

When he made his way to Alphard, he noticed that the other boy didn’t seem to have done anything yet.

“I was waiting for you,” he explained with a suspiciously cheeky grin. Then, with a wave of his wand and an “Expecto Patronum!” a cloud of starlight shot forth…

…and coalesced into sleek silver animal with a long body, short legs, and two pointed ears.

“It’s a pine marten, I’m pretty sure,” said Alphard as it wound around their legs. “I thought it was some sort of mink, at first.”

“Al, that’s brilliant!” Harry said, grinning and clapping the other boy on the back.

“Thanks,” he said in return. “I thought it might be... well, a dog, you know? But I’m really pleased.”

“I’ll have to show you how to send messages with it next,” said Harry.

“You can do that?” asked Alphard, surprised.

“Oh – er,” Harry said, realizing that that particular bit of magic was pretty well exclusive to the Order and former DA members, in his own world. “Well, I’ll show you, at least, later.”

Alphard seemed delighted at the suggestion as Harry moved to continue making his way around the room.

“Alright, so you’ll want to point your wand a little higher – that’s it—"

-

Before Harry knew it, it was October. Over the weeks, he had played his first Quidditch game, led two more sessions of the dueling club – now only half of them still worked on the Patronus Charm, while the rest practiced from a long list of spells that Lyra and Alphard had helped him to compile – and exchanged another set of strange, half-hearted letters with his father.

Do you have any more news on that Gringotts break-in? he asked, and in return, his father wrote back, saying he’d heard Gryffindor won their first match and that he’d send him something soon in congratulations.

That Thursday evening was Harry’s last chance to speak with Riddle outside of class before the first Hogsmeade weekend of the year, and that was how he found himself sitting across from the man’s desk, vanishing most of the contents of the pot of red ink that Riddle used to grade essays while he waited in the Defense classroom.

Harry had been using that vanishing spell so frequently, lately, that he was able to do it nonverbally. He hoped that meant Riddle was unable to detect it. The whole thing was a rather long shot, but it was the best plan he’d been able to devise that wasn’t likely to get him killed.

The ink disappeared, and Harry waited.

Riddle, meanwhile, returned from the storage closet where he’d stashed the trunk he was keeping the boggart in between dueling club sessions. “Here it is,” the man announced, floating the trunk in front of him. “Are you prepared for the meeting, otherwise?”

“Yes,” Harry said quickly. “Er. Sir. Are you planning to come?”

Please say no, please say no- Riddle had only attended one of the meetings so far, but the experience had been so nerve-wracking that Harry had managed to explode a practice dummy with an overpowered Expelliarmus.

“I hadn’t planned on it, no. I’m afraid I have quite a bit of grading to do.” Riddle crossed over to his desk and took a seat, turning to the pile of parchments and lifting his quill.

“Hm,” he said, frowning at the near-empty pot of red ink. “I’ll have to order a replacement soon.”

Harry was so baffled his ridiculous plan was working that he blinked stupidly for a long moment. “Oh!” he said, suddenly, recalling the latter part of his “Er. They sell that type at Scrivenshaft’s, you know. I mean. You might save on delivery fees, if you get some in Hogsmeade this weekend.”

Riddle looked up from his desk, his dark eyes seeming to sear into Harry, and Harry glanced away. “Yes,” the man said. “I imagine they do. I may as well visit the village, I suppose. I haven’t seen it in many years.”

“Oh, well, y’know. It’s brilliant. Lots of… shops, and things.” Harry resisted the urge to fidget or, possibly, slam his head into Riddle’s desk.

“Quite,” said the man dryly. “Well then, if that’s all…”

“Right,” said Harry, rising quickly from his seat. “Thanks for the boggart. Off to- lead, then.”

His heart raced all the way to the ballroom where the meeting was to be held. He honestly couldn’t believe he’d actually pulled it off.

-

Saturday arrived and Harry was more anxious than he thought he’d be.

“It’s just that it’s close to Halloween, you know, and Halloween is not, as a rule, a very good day for me,” he explained to Lyra and Alphard over breakfast.

“How’s that?” asked Alphard, who was digging into his porridge with abandon.

“Something always happens,” he replied vaguely. Then, because the other two were giving him inquisitive looks, he added, “Trolls, basilisks, you know.”

“I’m sure I don’t,” said Lyra. “Was that really a basilisk then, in that memory you showed us?”

“Wait, when?” interjected Alphard.

“Yeah,” replied Harry. “In Salazar Slytherin’s chamber. I killed it, though.” Then something occurred to him. “Er. Actually, I suppose it’s still around, here.” He blinked. What if Riddle decided to set it on someone?

“Oh, that memory,” said Alphard. “I nearly forgot that in all the- what am I saying, hold on-“

“You ought to write a book about your life,” said Lyra. “You’d make a fortune.”

“There sort of are books about me,” Harry admitted. “They don’t have all the details, though. My friends and I, we left out rather a lot when we were describing – er. Events.”

“Can we go back to the giant man-eating snake in the school?” asked Alphard.

“Anyway,” Lyra said, steadfastly ignoring him, “It isn’t Halloween. Not yet. And everything will be fine. We just have to follow the plan.”

“Am I the only sane one around here?”

Hi, Al,” said Castor or Pollux Black, who appeared suddenly as if from underneath the Ravenclaw table. He actually might have been under there, Harry thought. “Who’s sane?”

Alphard gave a sort of yelp and spat porridge in his cousin’s face.

“Oh, gross,” whined Castor/Pollux. “See if I ever do you any favors again.”

-

Harry had never tried minding children – well, that wasn’t entirely true, he’d watched Teddy for Andromeda a few times, but he’d never tried minding more than one child at once. At any rate, he could only imagine that if you took two five-year-olds, gave them a small fortune’s worth of magical fireworks and dungbombs, and then dosed them both with Pepper-Up, you might get something akin to Castor and Pollux Black.

“I need to know,” Lyra was saying, and it was funny that they were locked away in the prefects’ bath again, because this was the first time outside of that incident where she’d held him at wandpoint that he’d heard her raise her voice, “WHICH one of you has the potion with my hair in it, and which one of you has Harry’s. NOW.”

“Why?” asked one of the twins, and Harry had lost sight of where the potion even was anymore. They’d prepared the separate flasks some time ago, slipping one of his hairs into one bottle and one of Lyra’s into the other, but the bottles had long since disappeared into the depths of Castor and Pollux’s pockets, and they were at something of an impasse.

He thought that the potion that had turned clear and blue was likely Lyra’s, and the murky grass-green one was probably his, but he couldn’t be certain, and he was also a healthy distance away at the moment, having decided that it was best just to stand back and watch the proceedings.

“For the last time,” Lyra said, brandishing her wand at the pair of them, “It’s so we can transfigure your robes before you take the potion.”

“Why can’t we get dressed the proper way-” “-yeah, transfigured clothes are always itchy, Ly.”

“Because I won’t have you seeing me in my underthings! Now which one of you is which?”

“But you can always tell transfigured things want to go back to what they were—"

“-Castor?”

“Imagine that, one day you’re an ordinary set of robes—”

“No! You’re Pollux, aren’t you, you’ve still got a bit of porridge there by your ear- no, don’t wipe it off, Hecate’s sake-“

“—then the next thing you know, you’re all fancy and silk—”

“Will you both stop moving!”

One of the twins shrieked, although whether it was in response to Lyra’s prodding him with her wand or his brother’s hitting him with a tripping jinx was unclear. “You’re going to give my robes an identity crisis!” screamed one of them rather nonsensically.

“Alright, both of you!” Alphard cut in suddenly, having finally managed to put out his hair, which had been until that moment mildly aflame. “Tell us which of you has which potion, there’s good lads, and stay bloody still and let us transfigure your kit before my wand hand slips and I hex your bollocks off.”

The twins exchanged a look, and finally, the one on the right – the one with the bit of porridge by his ear, Harry thought – said “I’ve got yours, Lyra,” brandishing the blue bottle.

“Excellent,” said Lyra, straightening her robes primly and beginning to transfigure his to match. “Thank you. But which of you is Castor and which is Pollux?”

“Does it matter?” one of them replied.

“You know what?” said Lyra, “No. No, it doesn’t, and I absolutely don’t care. We’ve got ten minutes left for you to take the potion and get out of here. Alphard? Please go to Scrivenshaft’s while you’re in Hogsmeade and buy me one of their best sympathy cards, would you?”

“Erm, what?” asked Alphard, glancing up from where he was turning one of the twin’s ties Ravenclaw bronze-and-blue. They’d moved around again, so one could really only hope it was the right one. “Why? Has someone died?”

“I’d like to send my condolences to your aunt and uncle,” she said. “For,” she went on, waving a hand in the twin’s direction, “their entire existence.”

That set off another round of squabbling, which was halted only by one of the twins growing long, blonde hair and the other shooting up half a foot and tanning. “I could get used to this!” said whichever one had transformed into Harry.

“What’s that?” said the one who’d become Lyra. She pointed her wand at his throat and shot a bright yellow spell at him. “Awk!” he cried indignantly, voice suddenly several octaves higher. “What have you done to me?”

“Oh, you sound like a bird, Pol,” grinned, apparently, Castor, finally clearing up that question. “Not the lady-sort, mind, but more of a pigeon.”

Lyra sighed deeply. “It’ll have to do,” she lamented. “Try and keep quiet, will you? Don’t talk to anyone but Alphard.”

“Alright,” agreed Pollux, a little too easily, “But what is that, on Castor’s head?”

“What do you mean?” Lyra frowned, clearly assuming something had gone wrong with the potion. Harry squinted at Castor. He didn’t see anything off – the younger boy looked just like Harry, or rather, this world’s version of Harry. He was blinking a bit vaguely, though, which reminded Harry to pull a spare pair of glasses out of his pocket and hand them over. He’d found them in his trunk earlier, where Alphard said they’d be.

“Thanks,” said Castor-Harry. “You’re blind as a flobberworm, you know.”

“I know,” said Harry. Castor shrugged at him as if to apologize, and suddenly he saw it. Was that-

“A scar?” Lyra leaned over to Castor and pulled the familiar messy black hair away from his head. “Why on earth…”

Sure enough, a lightning bolt scar sat on his brow, just where Harry’s would in his own world. She shot him a confused glance.

“Must be a mishap with the potion,” Alphard said, not very convincingly. “Keep your hair over it, Cas, alright? We ought to get going now,” he added pointedly, giving Lyra a meaningful glance.

“Right,” she said, shaking her head. “Go on. Remember to re-dose every hour.”

“Aye, aye,” squawked her double, grabbing his brother by the shoulder and steering him towards the door. Harry thought they looked a little too eager. Alphard shot them another look that said either pray for me or I hope you know what you’re doing, or perhaps both, before closing the door.

“I hope we don’t come to regret this,” Lyra said.

“Why are they like that, anyway?” Harry asked. “I never met Regulus, but he sounded pretty – straight-laced, to me.” Right up to the part where he’d betrayed Voldemort, of course. Now that he thought of it, the note he’d left behind did reveal a certain taste for dramatics…

“I have no idea,” admitted Lyra. “I think it may have something to do with Dora – she doted on them terribly when they were younger.”

“That almost makes sense,” Harry mused. “Tonks would be a bad influence.”

“Tonks?” repeated Lyra.

“Oh – er, that was her name, in my world. You mean Nymphadora, right? Andromeda’s her mum?”

“Yes,” said Lyra. “But why on earth would she go by Tonks?

“That was her surname,” he said, belatedly hoping she didn’t latch onto the past tense. “Erm – her dad was a muggleborn. Ted Tonks. I guess that’s not true, here?”

“No,” she said. “How strange. No, their father’s name is Hubert Grimblehawk.”

Grimblehawk? You’re sure? And you’re sure he’s – well, properly their dad, and not like…” Like my alleged mother, he didn’t say.

“Almost positive,” she said. “Delphinus looks just like him.”

“Weird,” said Harry, who was still somewhat amazed that Tonks managed to have an even worse name in this world. Nymphadora Grimblehawk, honestly. He wondered if she was still more or less the same person – she sounded like it.

“Speaking of weird,” she said, rounding on him. “That was your scar, wasn’t it? Not Harry’s – yours. Do you have any idea how that happened?”

“Not a clue,” he said, honestly. “That hasn’t happened to me. I’ve always looked just like your Harry while I’ve been here, so far as I know.” He paused, thinking. “Although,” he said after a while, “In the beginning, it was like I – wasn’t all him. I couldn’t open his trunk, so we didn’t have the same magical signature. Maybe there’s still a bit of me in me, and the potion picked up on that?”

“Maybe,” she agreed, but she frowned in a way that suggested she was skeptical. “We’ll… set that aside, for now,” she said. “Everyone ought to be heading out to Hogsmeade in the next few minutes, and I’d like to get to Riddle’s room as soon as we can. Have you got the map?”

Harry brandished the marauders map diligently, and they both leaned in as he unfolded it, speaking the familiar words, letting the corridors of Hogwarts unfurl in ink before them.

“Riddle’s in the main hall now,” murmured Lyra. “Well away from his office. Let’s go.”

-

They arrived at the defense classroom without incident. It was locked, but opened with an Alohamora, since, as Lyra pointed out, people rarely took the time to break into classrooms when they were so many empty ones open throughout the school.

“I’ll set my own wards out here, first,” she said, “which will alert us if anyone comes near – house elves, too,” she added, due to a prior suggestion from Harry.

It took ten minutes for that part alone, but Lyra had clearly practiced performing the spells she wanted to use, because it was all done in one continuous go. Then, they turned to the office door, and Lyra cast a silvery-white spell she said was meant to detect what charms might be on it.

“Pretty basic stuff,” she muttered, then, with her lower lip between her teeth, she set about taking those down, too. Harry was content to perform his part of the task – watching the map for anyone approaching even the corridor. Lyra had explained that her wards would do to contain most bursts of magic and keep them from being detected outside of the room, but if something went wrong, the aftershocks would be noticeable to anyone nearby.

“Okay,” she said finally. “That’s the door. I don’t think he’s really all that worried about people getting in here, from what I can see, but I’m going to check for any other devices just in case.”

“Devices?” asked Harry.

“Sneakoscopes, that sort of thing – charmed objects. They’re a shoddy defense and a wizard like Riddle probably wouldn’t bother, but it never hurts to check.”

Harry was beginning to understand why she’d insisted that they needed more than an hour and a half.

Eventually she indicated it was safe to enter the office proper. “Detection spells, now,” she said. “I think the magic’s all coming from the desk – but better safe than sorry.”

Harry looked around the office while she tried to determine the source of the wards. It was small and not especially interesting – it held only a fireplace on one side, a desk and desk chair, and two bookcases, which Harry perused as she worked.

He hadn’t really expected Riddle to have a bunch of dark magic books in his office for anyone to see, but it was still amusing to note that he had things like “101 Uses of Magical Moulds” on his shelves. Harry did note that each book seemed to be exactly the same distance from the edge of each shelf, as if someone had lined them up with a ruler.

“Definitely the desk,” Lyra said after some time.

“Wards,” she’d told him previously, by way of explanation, “are magic with an anchor – smaller or temporary ward sets can be anchored to a spell, in which case all the other spells will branch out, in a sense, from that one. Larger wards, like on houses and properties, tend to be anchored to something physical, like a ward stone. Either way, you find the anchor and you find your starting point. They can be lifted or tweaked or broken from there.”

Now she muttered to herself furiously as she waved her wand around the desk drawers. “It’s this one,” she said finally, indicating the top-most drawer.

“Whatever it is must be small,” said Harry, because the drawer in question was the shallowest of the four, perhaps eight centimeters deep.

“Mm,” she agreed. “These sorts of object wards don’t mix well with expansion charms, so probably.”

“Now what?” asked Harry,

Lyra tugged at her plait absently. “Now,” she said, “the real work begins.”

‘…I’ll just stand here, then.” Harry said.

“Remember what I said,” she told him. “If the ward matrix starts collapsing, I need you to help hold it up-“

“Right,” he said, since they’d gone over as much a dozen times.

“And if it explodes, duck under something – pull one of the shelves over you, if you have to. No shield charms; they might interact with the wards.”

“And blow up the whole castle,” said Harry drolly.

“Well, most of it, anyway.”

Passive as his role was in the entire thing, it was still rather fascinating watching Lyra work. At a whispered spell, an intricate network of colored light appeared around the top-most desk drawer, like a spideweb in rainbow. Flicks of her wand seemed to push certain strands forward while others pulled back, as if the spider in question were walking along the web, tugging at it.

“The goal,” she’d said, “is to work our way in, not to alter them permanently in any way – we don’t want him to know we were there, after all.”

Harry had been skeptical of the possibility of that and said so. “He’s pretty smart, much as I hate to admit it. Won’t he have allowed for that possibility?”

“Maybe,” she conceded, “but most wizards forget that wards aren’t like locks so much as they are like… walls, I suppose. There’s always a window, a way to peek in, and if there’s not, you can tunnel under them.”

Now as he watched he thought they might actually have a chance. The whole room thrummed with energy, and it was clear that she knew what she was doing. “Intricate work is sort of Lyra’s specialty,” Alphard had said when he wasn’t busy refusing to acknowledge that the other two were going through with their plan, which he’d declared “absolutely bonkers”.

She’d shrugged. “Patience,” she said. “Anything’s possible if you’ve got enough of it.”

An hour in, Harry’s eyes were watering at the sting of magical energy in the room and, as well, from the effort of staring at the map for so long.

“I’ve nearly got it, I think,” she said finally. He watched as she seemed to twist her wand and the net of spells…parted, somehow, strands pushing closer in to one another like the wool of a sweater to reveal a gap.

“Aim your wand just there—” Lyra said, indicating with her left hand. “Now… open the drawer.”

How?”

She did not turn away from the desk, but he had the sense she was rolling her eyes at him. “Summon it?” she suggested.

right. “Accio,” he murmured.

The drawer slid open.

“You’re sure this’ll work?” he asked, anxious to see inside but not at all to be cursed. A memory of Dumbledore’s blackened hand entered his mind unbidden.

“Don’t touch anything,” she said back. “Just… one moment,” she said, waving her wand, and the ball of light surrounding the desk drawer vanished.

“They’re still there,” she said, at his skeptical look. “But we ought to be able to see inside now.”

Harry came forward, to the point where he was nearly flush with the kneeling girl’s back. He leaned over her shoulder, peeking in the drawer. It was dark in the room without the wards’ light, and after a moment, he cast a quick Lumos, glancing at Lyra to make sure that it was safe to do so.

She nodded, and he looked again.

The drawer was nearly empty, but for a single white hankerchief and an object smaller than a sickle resting on it. It was a ring – gold band, black stone. It was the Gaunt ring, one of Voldemort’s horcruxes.

“I’m guessing it’s the ring he’s protecting,” Lyra said wryly, “not the hankie.”

Harry was still staring at the thing. Bloody buggering- horcruxes, he though. Of all the blasted-

“Harry?” She turned slightly, not moving her wand, to look at him. “You recognize it,” she said with dawning awareness. “What is it?”

“Something- bad,” he said, mouth dry. “Really dark magic.”

She furrowed her brow. “Are you sure? I don’t sense any dark magic. I know spells for that, though, if you want to check.”

Of course, Harry, being an Auror, did to. He thought it fruitless but began to cast dark magic detecting charms anyway.

After a moment, he blinked rapidly at the ring in the drawer, because none of them turned up anything at all. And, now that he thought about it, he didn’t sense anything, either.

“I think it’s just a ring,” he said finally. “I mean – in my world, Riddle…” he paused. “Cursed it. But it’s a family heirloom of his.”

Lyra raised an eyebrow. “It’s not even a nice-looking ring, to be honest. If it’s not cursed, what’s he doing hiding it under all this?”

“There was… another purpose for it,” Harry said slowly. “But Riddle – my world’s version – didn’t know that. He just had it because it was his family’s, I guess, and then he did the… ritual… that made it so dark.”

“But it did – it does – do something important?”

“Yes,” Harry conceded, because in the wand-light, he could see the faint etching of the symbol of the Deathly Hallows. It was present on the surface of the black stone, just as in his own world. Whether it was a horcrux or not, the ring was still almost assuredly one of the hallows. The question is, does Riddle know that? Harry couldn't see any reason for him to have the ring under such stringent security if he didn't.

But he had no time to ponder further, because suddenly, a silvery form shot through the door of the office before them and came to a halt in front of the desk.

Harry started wide-eyed at Alphard’s Patronus. When he’d last left off teaching the boy, he hadn’t quite mastered sending messages with it, but it seemed that he must have now, because the marten opened its mouth and began to speak.

RUCKUS IN HOGSMEADE. PEOPLE WITH PAMPHLETS; THEY’RE SENDING US BACK TO THE CASTLE. EVERYONE’S ALRIGHT, BUT GET OUT OF THERE.”

Shit!” muttered Harry, withdrawing his wand and extinguishing the light.

“We have to go,” said Lyra, worry written all over her face.

“Al said they’re alright,” Harry pointed out. “We have to be quick, yeah, but- fuck! We need to take the ring,” he insisted.

“We can’t,” she hissed back. “We can’t risk it – any anyway, you said yourself that Riddle didn’t even know what the thing did in your world. How do you know he hasn’t gotten it hidden just because it’s a family heirloom?”

“That hardly seems likely,” shot back Harry, but he was willing to concede that it probably wasn’t worth the risk to take the ring with them. Not if it wasn’t a horcrux. “Alright,” he said finally. “Let’s get out of here, then.”

“I’ve got to get these back in place as fast as I can,” Lyra said, already beginning to draw her wand in an intricate pattern through the air. She’d closed the drawer wandlessly some time before. “Keep an eye on the map.”

Harry studied the map with renewed fervor as Lyra chanted behind him. He almost felt the wards settle back into place, like a blanket, just as the name Tom Riddle finally appeared right at the boundaries of Hogwarts.

“He’s back on the grounds,” Harry said. “With McGonagall and the rest of the teachers. Looks like Slughorn is heading out to meet them,” he added, seeing the man’s name head with haste he didn’t know Slughorn could muster towards the entrance.

“Nearly done,” said Lyra. “I just have to… there,” she said, finally, sighing it what sounded like relief. “Merlin, never again.” They walked quickly from the office, making sure all the locking spells there previously were in place, and then they re-applied invisibility and silencing charms on themselves, heading towards the Room of Requirement as per their previous agreement that they’d meet back up there with Alphard as soon as all was said and done. Of course, that plan might have been somewhat altered by the events in Hogsmeade, Harry thought with a twinge of concern, but he smothered it down at the reminder that Al’s Patronus had said they were alright.

When they were safely inside the room, Harry was surprised to see Lyra fling herself at a sofa in the way Alphard often did. “Explain,” she said without prelude.

“I can’t tell you,” insisted Harry, whose heart was still racing from the near-run back to the Room.

“Oh, for…! You were happy to sit back and let me risk my life and my magic to get a glimpse at that thing, so the least you can do is tell me what it actually is.”

Harry decided it might be best to have a seat, himself. He leaned back in the chair, rubbing his hands over his eyes beneath his glasses.

The thing was, he thought, the Deathly Hallows – well, they weren’t really a secret, were they? Nor was knowledge of them inherently dangerous, unless you were especially ambitious and wanted them for yourself. And if this world was anything like his own, Grindlewald probably had the Elder Wand, which meant the likelihood of anyone gathering all three without defeating him was- well, slim to none.

“Have you ever heard of the Tale of the Three Brothers?” he asked finally.

She blinked. “Yes?”

“You know the Deathly Hallows, then? The gifts that Death gave them?”

“…yes,” she said, after a pause. “Is this relevant?”

“Unfortunately,” Harry said. “So – the hallows. They’re real. The ring is one. Grindlewald’s wand is another. And the third, the cloak - my dad has it. The Potters were descended from the Peverells, just like the Gaunts – Riddle’s mother’s family.”

“The Deathly Hallows,” she repeated slowly. “The chancellor’s wand?- oh, Merlin. That’s… why he’s unbeatable, isn’t it,” she said, with what sounded like horrified resignation.

“How do you know this?” Lyra asked finally. “Because your father has the cloak?”

“I had it, in my world,” Harry said. “I inherited it. Technically, er- I had all of them, at one point.”

“You had all of them,” she echoed. “Wouldn’t that make you…”

“The Master of Death? Maybe, yeah. Not sure, actually – I didn’t keep them all, just the cloak.”

Lyra looked at him as if he’d grown a second head. “And you didn’t think to mention this before?

“It didn’t seem relevant!”

“It could be why you’re here! Think about it- Harry’s father has the cloak, and Riddle clearly has the ring, so if someone were to perform a spell or ritual to summon ‘the Master of Death’, well, there wouldn’t be one in this world to summon, would there? If they worded it just right, or put enough power in, who’s to say they wouldn’t end up with you instead?”

“I don’t even know if I was the Master of Death. Or am, whatever. I never had them all at once, not really, and I disarmed Voldemort, in the end, but he was never the proper master of the elder wand – he killed one of my professors because he thought he was, but the last person to disarm its proper owner before that was… er, your brother, actually?”

“…Draco? Really?

“Yeah,” said Harry. “You can see why I didn’t think it was important.”

“No, I can’t see! Even if it your coming here has nothing to do with you being master of the hallows, their existence is still relevant to our general situation. Suppose that Riddle here knows Harry’s father has the cloak – word spreads, after all, and someone must have seen him use it at some point. He could be targeting you – targeting Harry, specifically, because he knows that James Potter has the cloak and wants it.”

That… that made sense, actually. “But why go to all the trouble to come here and teach, if all he’s after is the cloak? Why not just go after m-Harry’s dad?”

She shook her head. “Who knows? Perhaps he thought James passed the cloak on to Harry already. Perhaps he didn’t want to risk attacking an Auror directly, and he intended to use Harry as leverage, instead.”

And if that sounded a little far-fetched, well, Harry had been witness to stranger plans on Tom Riddle’s part and even more unlikely circumstances drawing the two of them into one another’s orbit. In fact, on that note… “There’s something else,” he said, before he could think better of it. “There’s… a prophecy. In my world. About me and Riddle. You said that if someone were to cast a ritual or spell with enough power that they might… pull me here, so if they were trying to summon someone and the prophecy meant I fit the criteria better…”

Lyra looked at him as if he’d grown a third head. “What is it, exactly? What does it say?”

“It’s about ‘the one with the power to vanquish the dark lord’, etc. It said that Voldemort would mark me as his equal, and that one of us would have to kill the other. Which he did. And I did. So.”

“Mark you as his equal,” she repeated, slowly. “The scar?”

“Yeah,” replied Harry, surprised she’d picked up on that so quickly.

“Do you have any reason to believe the prophecy might have carried over here, or that it applies here?”

“There isn’t even a Voldemort, here, so far as we know,” Harry argued.

“But it says dark lord? Not Voldemort, in the prophecy? It could apply to Riddle even if he didn’t use that name?”

“Well, yes,” he said uneasily. Then, remembering something, “The ghost – the Grey Lady – she did say something, once, about how ‘destinies are tied to the soul’. She told me that… er, there was something about souls being the same in every place. She was trying to explain how she knew what her other self knew, and she sort of implied that I was… traveling between worlds because my soul was connected to the other Harry’s soul?  Or… something, I don’t know, honestly.”

Lyra’s eyes widened and she shot up straight on the couch. “I’d almost forgotten about the ghost! And- oh, for- Soul magic? Really? Merlin. This is much more than I signed on for.”

“What do you mean, soul magic?” Harry asked. “What does that mean? Do you know why I’m here?”

“No,” she said. “But I think Riddle has something to do with it. I think he’s a better candidate for your supposed summoner than someone who called you here because you’ve defeated a version of him. We know he has interest in the hallows, we should assume he knows about the Potters being in possession of one, and an alternate version of him has a soul-bond with you.”

“Soul bond?”

“A prophecy, Harry. Destiny – whatever. And ‘mark you as his equal’,” she said, eyeing him speculatively. “Your scar is more than just a curse scar, isn’t it?”

“I can’t tell you,” he said, firmly. “I can’t- it’s not safe.”

She rolled her eyes at him. “I’m awfully good at finding things out, you know. You may as well tell me now.”

“It’s- it does have to do with souls,” he admitted, hoping that would stave her off. “You’re right about that.”

She shot him a disapproving look but carried on. “It sounds to me like we ought to talk to that ghost again.”

Harry found himself reluctantly agreeing with her assessment. He’d been meaning to track down Helena Ravenclaw again, anyway. “Now?”

“No, we ought to wait for Alphard, first.” She frowned as if remembering for the first time that he, and her other cousins, had been forced to leave Hogsmeade under unusual circumstances. “Can I see the map?” she asked.

They set it out again, and soon Harry found Alphard – he was with Draco Malfoy and Susan Bones in the headmaster’s office.

“Draco and Susan are Head Boy and Girl,” Lyra explained at his confused look. “I assume Slughorn called them in so they could report what happened in the village. I don’t know why Al is there, though… oh, and there’s Adhara? And- oh, odd. Shacklebolt is an Auror, isn’t he?”

“They must’ve called the Aurors,” Harry said. “Do you think Alphard is having to speak with him?”

“Or Adhara,” she mused. “Since Al’s seventeen, he can act as her de facto guardian with the Aurors if need be. Their mother’s in France right now, anyway.”

They had a brief moment of panic when they couldn’t locate Castor or Pollux, but then they found the two of them in the Gryffindor dorms. Lyra sighed. “Don’t touch anything in that tower until you’ve checked it.”

At long last, Alphard appeared in the seventh floor corridor, alone, and Lyra shot to the door and nearly pulled him inside.

“What happened?” he asked. He looked a little windswept but otherwise none worse for the wear. Lyra gave him a once over before nodding as if satisfied.

“I ought to ask you the same thing,” she said when her inspection was complete. “And did you have to speak with the Aurors? We saw you with them and Adhara in Slughorn’s office.”

“Oh, right,” he said. “Er- Well, Addie sort of confronted one of the…oh, I don’t know what to call them. The people in the alley, with the pamphlets? One of them was spelled some words on a wall, too...”

“She what? Is she mad?”

“Apparently, Merlin’s shorts. She must’ve inherited more of the Black temper than I realized. She said she had a date with Liam Jugson and was put out about their presence in the alley cutting it short. One moment I’m watching her and Jugson from across the Three Broomsticks – by coincidence, mind, don’t let the twins convince you otherwise – and the next thing I know there’s all this shouting in the street and she runs outside and I follow and there she is, waving her wand one of the malcontent’s faces.”

“What happened?” Lyra asked.

“Nothing, really,” said Alphard, running a hand through his hair. “I ran over to, you know, defend her and what, and I pointed my wand at this bloke and he just sort of looked at me and said ‘we don’t mean you any harm’ and apparated away, quick as that. It was all over so fast.”

“Can you describe him?” asked Harry. “Or was he wearing a mask?”

“Mask? No. He just looked like a regular man – sort of scarred, though.”

“Scarred?” Harry repeated, running something over in his mind. “Was he – sort of worn-looking? Brown hair, amber-colored eyes?”

Alphard gave him a funny look. “Yeah. I think so, why?”

“That sounds like Remus Lupin,” said Harry. What could it mean?

“Oh,” said Alphard. “That explains it, then.”

“Explains what?” Lyra cut in.

“Well, he looked at me and Addie sort of like – you know, how when people who knew your parents give you a once-over like they’re thinking you’re their double?”

Harry nodded. He did know that look, actually, or the gist of it.

“Makes sense,” Alphard went on, “If he knew our dad.” Then he flopped into one of the armchairs, sighing. “It’s been a long afternoon, mates.”

“But you said no one was hurt?” Lyra reaffirmed.

“No – the Aurors said as much in Slug’s office. I got the impression it was part of some sort of pattern, because they seemed to know exactly what we were going to say before we said it.”

“Dora and Harry’s dad both mentioned that there have been previous incidents in Diagon Alley,” Lyra pointed out.

Lyra and Alphard went on while Harry was lost in thought about Remus and the mysterious organization that had appeared in the village. Were they the Order? If so, why were they terrorizing school children instead of… fighting Grindlewald’s forces? He couldn’t recall the Order ever having anything like organized ambushes in his world, but then, without Dumbledore, who could say? They might be led by Alastor Moody, for all Harry knew, and that could mean all sorts of things for their modus operandi.

“-ry? What’s this that Lyra’s saying about the Three Brothers…?” Alphard asked. Harry started, not having noticed their shift in topic.

Then he sighed and prepared to tell the whole story for the second time in so many hours.

“And that’s why we need to speak with that ghost again,” Lyra said as he summed things up.

Alphard groaned. “She scares me, to be honest.”

“Oh, really. You can run off to protect your sister against adult wizards but you can’t face a ghost?”

Alphard grumbled at Lyra. “Fine, lead the way,” he said, getting up once more to join them.

Lyra turned to Harry. “Do you have any idea where to find her?”

“Ah- not really,” he admitted. “She just seems to short of… show up. Bu I once walked over to Ravenclaw Tower when I needed to see her and she appeared.”

“That sounds like our best chance, then.”

They left the room and took off in the direction of the Tower. The halls were still emptier than usual, a glance at the map before they departed revealing that students were clustered in their Common Rooms and the Great Hall, probably discussing what had happened in Hogsmeade.

When they arrived at the corridor outside the Tower entrance where Harry had managed to summon the Grey Lady once before, Lyra turned to him expectantly.

“-er. Right,” he said. “Um. Lady Ravenclaw?” he said aloud, mimicking the title that the other two had both used previously, feeling a bit stupid. “We’ve got some questions?” he tried.

Lyra, meanwhile, was constructing some sort of privacy spell – the air around them shimmered like a soap bubble. “I’ve not got the energy for anything else,” she said absently.

“Hello,” said a voice that seemed to come from all around them. The bubble shook, violently, like it would pop. Then the Grey Lady materialized right at the center of it, in the center of the triangle that the three of them formed by standing.

Harry thought he heard Alphard moan “why” but directed his attention to the Ravenclaw ghost before she could decide to vanish again. “Hello,” he said back. “We’d like to talk. If that’s alright.”

“We have questions about something you said to Harry previously,” Lyra said, inserting herself into the conversation. “Two things, actually.”

The ghost cocked her head to the side in a now-familiar gesture. “Yes?” she breathed.

Lyra seemed to steel herself. “We’d like to ask you about the prophecy. Harry’s prophecy.”

“You mentioned destiny, before,” Harry added. “You said…” he trailed off, struggling to remember her phrasing, “destinies align in similar ways,” he said finally. “You said you didn’t know if there was a prophecy, here, but you never explained what that meant, about destinies.”

“It meant what I said,” the Grey Lady replied. “That destiny is destiny, in any world.”

“But in mine,” Harry said, “I completed the prophecy. It’s over, it’s done with.”

“Prophecies do not disappear just because they’re complete,” said the ghost.

Lyra cut in as if sensing Harry’s growing frustration. “Alright – essentially, you don’t know if Harry’s being here has anything to do with his prophecy or if it even applies in this world. But it might. Yes?”

“Yes,” the ghost said, almost congenially. “It might.”

“Okay – so, what, then, of the book that you told us about? Your mother’s book? Does it contain information that might have brought Harry to this world, or that might send him back, either way?”

“It might,” the ghost said again, like an echo. “I do not know.”

“Has Riddle asked after it?” Alphard cut in. At Harry and Lyra’s looks, he shrugged. “What? If it’s so rare, if he used it, he’d have to have heard about it somewhere.”

“He did not ask,” said the Grey Lady. “Not me, at least.”

“Which doesn’t mean he doesn’t know of it – he could’ve learned from somewhere else, from my father, even. And,” Lyra pointed out again, “even if it’s not the source of whatever brought Harry to our world – even if Riddle has nothing to do with it – it still might help us.”

“He asks many questions,” said the ghost as if observationally. “He would have little problem finding the answers he wanted, if he knew where to ask.”

“Riddle?” said Harry. “You said he didn’t ask you about the diadem, right?”

Lyra shot him a funny look and Harry ignored her. Let her wonder for now, he thought.

“Not that.”

“He asked you about something else,” said Lyra, turning her fierce gaze on the Grey Lady now. “’Not that’, but something else.”

Harry started. He hadn’t picked up on that quirk in her phrasing, not with how oddly the ghost spoke in general.

And then, strangely, the ghost seemed to withdraw. Her normally still expression shifted to something that Harry thought might be – guilt. “Yes,” she said finally after several seconds.

“The Hallows,” Alphard said suddenly. “That’s what he seems to be interested in, yeah? And who better to ask about ancient artifacts-“

“Than a ghost,” finished Lyra quietly.

Harry looked at Helena Ravenclaw. “Did he?” he asked, insistently. “Did he ask you about the Hallows?”

“The dark lord here does little to disguise his interests,” was her non-answer. “He calls his men the Hallowed.  The geheiligten. His symbol has fallen from common memory, but it is not gone entirely – nothing ever is, if you know where to look.”

“And Riddle knew where to look, didn’t he?” Harry inferred. “He asked you about it, and, what- you told him? Just like that?”

“I told him whose symbol it had been, before it was stolen,” she said simply. Then, after another long moment, she added, “I admit that it might not have been wise to do, but it was many years ago, now.”

“Why did you tell him, then?” he asked, and he didn’t really expect a clear answer – after all, every time they’d talked before, the Grey Lady had disappeared just after offering whatever crucial piece of information she seemingly came to give. It would adhere to the pattern if she vanished then.

But to Harry’s surprise, the answer came. “Because,” she said, “I believed he’d be the one to defeat the dark lord.”

“Grindlewald?” asked Lyra with evident surprise. “Before – you were talking about Grindlewald. About his symbol. You’re calling him the dark lord,” she said, and it wasn’t quite a question.

“Why did you think Riddle would defeat Grindlewald?” Harry asked – the concept was so strange he could hardly wrap his head around it. One dark lord defeating another – but then, hadn’t they speculated that Riddle’s class seemed strangely counter to the ideals set forth by the ministry – the ministry which Grindlewald ruled over?

“He might have,” was the half-answer that came. That time, she did vanish with it. This time, though, as she disappeared, the bubble Lyra had created around them vanished, too – not with a pop, but with a great sucking noise, as if it had been drawn inwards, inhaled.

“Gah!” spluttered Alphard, as they were all struck with the traces of residual magic, like splashes of something to the face.

Lyra only blinked, slowly, and Harry ran his hand through his hair and shook his head.

“Every time,” he said morosely. “Every time. She says something strange, I spend too much time thinking about it, and it turns out to be useless, anyway.”

“I wouldn’t say that was useless, exactly,” Lyra said after a long moment. “We have confirmation that… you-know-who is indeed interested in the you-know-whats and that he has been for a long time.”

“I haven’t heard that title in a long time,” muttered Harry.

“Back to the room, then,” said Alphard, cheerlessly.

“Afraid so,” frowned Lyra. “Let’s… get something to drink, first. I think we’ll need it.”

“Oh, to the kitchens then?” replied Alphard, perking up. “Yes! They never send the good tea in with breakfast.”

“I was thinking whiskey, actually,” said Lyra dryly. “But you’re right – tea first, drinks after.”

Harry thought that sounded like a pretty decent idea.

-

“I think,” Lyra was saying, some time later, “that we have to find that book in the manor, one way or another. It might not include the exact ritual we need, but it’s also possible that there was no ritual, and that Harry and… Harry, switching places, is… well, not an accident, per se, but a trick of magic we don’t understand. And if that’s the case, we’ll have to do something ourselves in order to get them switched back.”

“You don’t sound very sure,” Alphard pointed out.

She grimaced. “It’s not that I’m not sure – I just really don’t want to break through those wards.”

“But you’ve already proven you’re good with wards today,” said Harry. “Brilliant, even.”

“This is completely different,” she insisted. “It’s one thing to break into a stranger’s possessions, another entirely to break into my family’s. You don’t understand, Harry. If what Nott said was true, about the book, those would’ve been wards cast by other Malfoys, probably added to over generations. Everything I know about wards I learned from our library. Anyone who was protecting something for my family would’ve had access to those same sources and then some.”

“But you have you try – you said so yourself. I hardly see how this is scarier than breaking into Riddle’s things, anyway.”

“Because it’s my family,” she said again, as if that explained everything.

“You’re more frightened of them than Riddle?” asked Harry. He knew the Malfoys could be somewhat intimidating, but…

“No – it’s not about that… I don’t – I don’t always agree with them, but they’re my blood. I don’t know how to explain it. Maybe I am afraid. I don’t know.”

“But Harry – your Harry – he’s your best friend. Isn’t he as good as family, to you? I know my friends are to me.”

Yes. He is. It’s just…” she trailed off.

“You know, in my world, your mum – Narcissa – she saved my life. She lied to Voldemort’s face for me, all just to make sure that Draco was alive. I don’t know much about her, really, but I always figured she must be a pretty good mum if she’d do that. There aren’t many people who would look the dark lord in the eyes and lie to him.”

“What’s your point?”

“That loyalty – the sort that makes us do mad things for the people we love – is something you come by naturally. Maybe your family would understand.”

“If I stole from them, they wouldn’t understand. Anyone else, maybe. As long as I wasn’t caught.”

Alphard snorted. He had said nothing else, apparently understanding Lyra’s stance better than Harry did.

“I’m not saying no,” she said finally. “I still think we have to. But it’ll require really, really careful plotting and a lot of work. Yule break will be our best chance, so we've got until then to come up with a plan.”

Harry nodded, just happy they had somewhere to start. Yule was a long way off, but... well. He had the impression that he might be in this world for even longer, if they did nothing at all.“We’ll do whatever it takes,” he said. “Thank you,” he added. “I know you’re doing it for your Harry, not me, but… thanks.”

Lyra shook her head. “It’s at least a little for you. If nothing else, we can’t have you staying in this world too long – your terrible luck might spread somehow. And,” she said, as Harry laughed a little, “thank you, too - for telling me that. About my mother.”

Alphard, who had been watching them both quietly, took a long sip of his tea and then sighed, once, deeply, into the steam.

“Right,” he said. “Breaking into things. That’s what we do now. We steal things. Excellent.”

“Technically,” Lyra pointed out, “we’ve been stealing things for ages. This won’t even be the first time we’ve stolen from my family’s library. The stakes are just a bit higher, now.”

“Stealing literature is one thing,” Alphard said. “That’s just – engaging in non-traditional education, really.”

“Literary theft is still theft,” Lyra shot back. “Stealing another sort of text is-“

“Oh!” Alphard said suddenly, interrupting her. “You've just reminded me- how could I forget? I blame you two accosting me, of course, but—" Alphard leaned over to where he’d discarded his outer robes and began searching them for something.

“What’ve you got?” Harry asked.

“This,” Alphard said, withdrawing what looked like a folded-up bit of paper and brandishing it, “is what those people were in the alley for. Castor grabbed one in the chaos and I nabbed it off him saying I was going to give it to the Aurors. I didn't of course. It’s one of those pamphlets, finally. Don’t worry,” he added, “I took the compulsion charm off.”

Harry’s eyes widened as Lyra snatched at the thing. Finally, indeed. They would, at long last, find out first hand just what that mysterious group’s agenda was.

“How odd,” Lyra was murmuring, turning the pamphlet over in her hands. “Adhara was right, that is a strange name…” He leaned over expectantly, wondering if it really was the Order and if they’d actually printed their name on promotional material, of all things.

And Harry choked on his tea. The name emblazoned on the front was not that of the Order, but it was a group he’d heard of.

The Knights of Walpurgis.

-

Chapter Text

“Let’s just… sum up, then. Professor Riddle, who may or may not be a dark wizard, is after the Deathly Hallows. An organization with the same name as one that Riddle was head of in Harry’s world is going around leaving propaganda all over the place, and a former friend of both Mr. Potter’s and my dad’s is working with that organization. Also, ghosts are creepy.”

“That about does it, yeah,” Harry agreed. “Could I-?” he gestured with his empty glass to the bottle of Firewhiskey sitting on the table.

“Help yourself,” said Lyra, who was sprawled over one of the couches in the least dignified pose he’d ever seen from her. She levitated her own glass towards herself.

“Great,” said Alphard. “Excellent. Well. At least we know what page we’re on.”

“You seem to be taking this well,” said Lyra.

“I’m screaming on the inside,” Alphard replied, slouching down further into his armchair.

“I think we should clarify the type of propaganda we’re dealing with,” Lyra said, holding the pamphlet aloft. “A 'List of the Fallen', like Dora mentioned. An analysis of the state of the economy and how it’s stagnated over the last century – interesting addition; they’re covering their bases. I had no idea we were doing so poorly. And listen to this: ‘Those who do not move do not notice their chains’. Is that a muggle quote? I think that’s a muggle quote.”

Harry spelled an ice cube into his whiskey. “I hate that it sounds…”

“Reasonable? I hate when people don’t cite their sources, personally.”

“Well, it’s not calling for the slaughter of muggles, at least,” said Harry. Then he clutched his head as if to stave off headache, because he’d expressed approval, however grudging, of something that he was pretty sure Riddle wrote – well, about 80% sure, which was surer than he was of most things, lately. “Fuck Riddle,” he said finally.

“Yes, how dare your dark lord be reasonable about our dark lord,” snorted Alphard. “Actually, no, you know what, as those words come out of my mouth-"

“Do we believe what the ghost said, about Riddle having the potential to defeat Grindlewald?” That was Lyra.

“I’d believe he had the potential for it,” Harry said. “That doesn’t mean I think he would. Whatever this is, his motives can’t be good.”

“Well, what else do you think he’s angling for, with this?” asked Alphard. “With the Knights, or whatever. Also, side note – what a terrible name.”

Death Eaters was worse,” said Harry.

“A coup,” Lyra suggested. “An actual government coup. He wants people to go against the ministry before he makes whatever move he’s planning, so that when he challenges Grindlewald – which he has to, if I understand, to get the wand – he isn’t met with as much resistance.”

“And what on earth are any of us meant to do about it?” asked Alphard. “Say ‘no, he’s wrong about the muggles and the ministry and all; everything’s just grand’? That'd be disingenuous at best, harmful at worst.”

“I say we let him,” said Lyra, to Harry’s surprise. “Let him go through with it.”

“What?” said Harry. “No. If he was, it wouldn’t be for… altruistic reasons. It has to be because he wants the wand.” He couldn’t think of any other reasonable explanation for The Knights of Walpurgis to essentially be playing the role of the Order in this universe – Riddle had to want something, and he had to want it badly enough to be willing to play revolutionary. The only thing it could be was Death’s wand.

“Well, obviously,” Lyra said. “But so what? You think he’s the leader of this little rebel group, he’s a ministry official, he’s managed to land a spot teaching at Hogwarts and now he’s slowly amassing a loyal group of students. So, frankly, it seems to me like he’s in a good position to pull it off, eventually.”

“But he’ll just replace him! He’ll just become the new chancellor, or dark lord, or whatever he wants to style himself as.”

“Right, yeah. Like.. what’s it,” said Alphard. “Cutting off a hydra’s head. Except hopefully he won’t multiply and become ten Riddles, that’d be proper weird.” That's more likely than he thinks. He'd only been a few Horcruxes short of being ten people in his world, Harry thought with dark amusement.

“Need I remind you that this isn’t your world, Harry?” said Lyra. “Look – don’t be offended, it’s just – this is, ultimately, our problem to deal with after you’re gone.”

“Do we know that, though?” mused Alphard. “Maybe the prophecy applies here and he is meant to take down Riddle. Somehow.”

“Technically speaking, I believe the phrase ‘dark lord’ here would refer to Grindlewald,” said Lyra. “That’s what the Grey Lady seemed to indicate.”

“So Harry would have to defeat Grindlewald, then?” said Alphard. “Tough luck, mate.”

“No, there was another bit in the prophecy. About my parents. It wouldn’t apply to anyone but Voldemort.” Harry frowned and took a sip of his drink. “It doesn’t matter, though. I don’t want to leave you all with… two dark lords running around, doing who knows what.”

“Well, we’ve already had one for the better part of a century,” Lyra said pragmatically. “And he’s getting on up there in age – he’s over a hundred, I believe. Eventually he’ll die. And, again, sorry, but this isn’t your call. Or ours, for that matter. What would we even do to stop Riddle?”

Harry decided not to point out that there were many ways to keep one’s self from dying. After all, Grindlewald hadn’t tried any of them – so far as he knew – in Harry’s dimension, so was to say he’d try them here?

“The fact remains that no one else we’re aware of is in that kind of position,” Lyra went on. “You’ve shown us these glimpses of your world, and I’ve seen two things. One is that, ultimately, we’re better off without the chancellor, although that’s really a given, and the other is that Riddle is a terrifyingly powerful wizard. Shouldn’t this be what you want, really?”

“I wouldn’t want to depend on him to do anything,” Harry said.

“Someone or something would have to stop Riddle as soon as he won,” mused Alphard, who looked a little ill. “Or we’d be in the same boat again.”

“Well, point three,” said Lyra. “Harry’s also shown us that Riddle doesn’t play well with others and he’s mad as a hatter. Even if he did gain control, he couldn’t hold it.”

“I’m not sure that’s really something we ought to root for,” Alphard said warily. “If there’s a power struggle, it’ll get bloody, and he doesn’t seem to be above extreme measures.”

“Exactly,” said Harry. “He could start another war that goes on for years. And he’d have the Elder Wand when he did it – Grindlewald was defeated in my world even with it, so it’s not genuinely unbeatable, but it’s close.”

“This is all technically beyond our control for now, anyway,” said Lyra. “Maybe we should shift focus to the rest of it.”

“Right. Things we can control,” said Alphard. "Remind me what those are again? “We can’t let Riddle get the cloak," said Harry. "We might not be able to control the wand, but he can’t get the cloak.”

“Agreed,” Lyra said. “Which means keeping him away from James Potter.”

“Which shouldn’t be hard,” Harry pointed out. “He obviously distrusts Riddle. Do you think I should warn him, about the cloak..?”

“Is it possible he already knows, and that’s why he’s so weird about Riddle’s being here?” asked Alphard.

“I doubt it. I think it has more to do with him knowing Riddle is in charge of the Knights. I bet he does, somehow – maybe Remus is a spy.”

“At any rate, you also need to look out for yourself around Riddle,” Lyra said. “Do try not to let yourself be kidnapped and held for ransom.”

Harry frowned, remembering the trap that had been set for him fifth year. No, he wouldn’t put it above Riddle at all to make James Potter believe his son was in danger and offer an exchange – him for the cloak. At least they didn’t seem to share any sort of psychic connection in this universe. Although, there was that thing with his scar appearing… what did that tell him?

“Alright, new new subject,” said Alphard, who was now lying on the floor with his face pressed into the rug. “Everything is depressing.”

“Is that your subject?”

“No, it’s a fact.”

“Ravenclaw’s book,” supplied Harry. “We’re settled on that?”

“I’ll get it,” Lyra said. “I’ve decided. It has to be sometime over the break, when the Manor is busy enough that no one notices.”

Alphard rolled over. “The ball?”

“That was my plan, yes.”

“What ball?” Harry asked.

“My family holds a ball every New Year's Eve,” Lyra said. “Sometimes our Harry attends, sometimes he doesn’t – it usually depends on what his father’s doing and whether he lets him. He’s not on good terms with my family, exactly.”

“Right,” Harry said. “I’ll make sure he lets me, this year.” It seemed like an easy enough task. “So during the ball, we’ll go to the library…?”

“And steal the book, yes,” Lyra said. “Al, I need you to keep working on those coins. We’ll need a way to communicate with each other.”

Alphard gave a half-hearted wave from the floor. “Nearly done,” he said.

“Harry…” she trailed off, scrunching her nose. “Yes, I think that ought to be your job. Gather every memory you can that you think might help us, when it comes to Riddle and his lackeys. I want to know what we’re up against.”

“We’re not going to fight them,” said Alphard warily.

“We might not have a choice,” replied Lyra. “Perhaps it won’t happen anytime soon, but they’re gaining power, and eventually, Harry has to return home. His memories might give us the advantage we need once he’s gone.”

“I’ll do it,” said Harry firmly.

“Good,” said Lyra. “Someone pass me that bottle, I don’t trust my summoning charm right now.”

-

“Remind me again about the man you said defeated your Grindlewald,” Lyra said. The fire in the Room of Requirement was down to embers, and Harry wondered if it would fade out entirely if they stayed.

“Albus Dumbledore,” Harry said. “He was headmaster of Hogwarts, too, when I went there.”

“So this man defeated one of the darkest wizards in history and then… went right back to teaching school?

“That’s about the sum of it, yeah,” said Harry.

“Was Slughorn still about, teaching potions?”

“Oh, no – not til my sixth year, anyway. No, our potions professor was a bloke who – well, he was a Death Eater and he hated me, it’s a bit of a long story.”

“He was a- when did you find out? What happened?”

“Dumbledore knew, he knew when he hired him.”

“…are you sure this Dumbledore was an ‘alright’ headmaster?”

“He had his faults.”

“Rather. I think I’ll stick with Slughorn. At least his faults don’t extend beyond his being easy to bribe.”

“He’s a bit of a coward, too, isn’t he? When I met him he was hiding out as an armchair.”

Lyra made a skeptical noise. “An armchair? When was this?”

“Er, just before sixth year? Professor Dumbledore took me around his house to try and convince him to come teach potions again – he’d been in retirement. Anyway, Slughorn didn't want to be found, so he'd staged it to look like his house had been attacked and transfigured himself into a chair.”

“He took a student to a prospective employee’s home to-… you know what? Nevermind. I still say I’m all for Slughorn, even if it turns out he gets his kicks transforming into a nice chaise lounge now and then.”

Harry decided it really wasn’t worth arguing. He hadn’t especially enjoyed being used against Slughorn that way, either, after all.

Meanwhile, from the floor, Alphard let out a noisy snore. He had fallen asleep some time ago.

“One of us ought to wake him up,” Harry said half-heartedly.

“Mm, I suppose so. He gets fussy if he sleeps on his hair like that. Says it’s bad for the volume.” Lyra sighed, shifting in her chair to face Harry. “Look,” she said. “I… agree, with Alphard, that even thinking about fighting in whatever struggle is coming is absurd. No,” she said, when Harry began to speak. “It is. I’m not saying that it might not happen, but it is, and I won’t take your opinion on what is and isn’t ridiculous for Hogwarts students to do when you’ve basically spent every hour since I’ve known who you really were revealing increasingly alarming anecdotes about your own school years. My point is, the mere concept is terrifying, but I do not go into things unprepared. I refuse to. So I’m going to do whatever it takes to be, at the very least, well-informed about what might happen. I need you to show me everything you can.”

“I will,” said Harry, confused – because he’d already offered to show Lyra as many memories of Voldemort as he could manage. Of course, he’d be editing out the horcruxes, but he still felt the less anyone knew about those, the better. If Riddle didn’t have them here – and Harry really didn’t think he did, didn’t think that he’d be biding his time teaching school and writing booklets if he did – then it was best never to bring them up at all. What if he told the others and Riddle used Legilimency on them, plucked the idea from their minds? It would only be a matter of time before he was trying to figure out how to make one all over again, and something told Harry that he’d manage it even quicker as an adult than he had as a teenager.

“Not just about Riddle,” Lyra said. “About your war. About Dumbledore. About your version of Grindlewald, anything you can recall about him. Please. I don’t ask favors lightly, and I’ll do my best to repay you by helping you return to your world. If it requires a ritual, I’ll perform it. But I need this.”

Lyra’s dark blue eyes bore into Harry and he saw the seriousness there, the intensity. She’d do whatever it took to keep her friends and family safe – he could see that now. But she wasn’t a fighter, not really. Harry thought that if she were able, she would take everyone she cared about away from England, away from Grindlewald’s magical Europe, and sequester them safely on a tropical island somewhere.

He – did not want to fight, technically. He wanted to go home, now, more than ever; he did not want to walk into a battle. But he also couldn’t leave, not like this. It might not be his problem, his world, but it was as familiar to him as his own face; he knew the struggle against darkness better than the scars on the back of his hand.

Nearly everyone Harry knew thought that he was was fearless, or reckless – they used the terms almost interchangeably. When he stepped in front of curses in the field, when he dove into action seemingly without thought, that was what they said – but Harry felt fear. He knew fear. It, too, was as familiar to him as his face. He felt anxiety, he felt apprehension, it was only that he was propelled upwards and onwards by a weird sense of inevitably, a sense which he had let guide his life. That he had to let guide his life – and that was what he had never been quite able to get across to anyone. If he didn’t surge forward, if he stopped to think and wonder why me, why this, he usually broke things or yelled at people he liked. Better to let luck take him through the motions.

Harry was afraid. He was afraid, but he was unable to turn his back. He did not know what would happen next – he imagined a wand on his outstretched palm, Point Me spell on his lips, and the wand span and span in circles, never stopping.

“Okay,” he said finally. “I’ll show you. But I want to know everything you can tell me, too. About this Grindlewald, about your world – all of it. Just in case.”

Lyra nodded slowly. She gave him a look that might have been gratitude. Then, after a moment, she said, “I’m going to be working on other things, too. Research. I’m going to start with seeing if I can have someone find out what happened to Albus Dumbledore in this world – if he ever existed at all.”

“You can do that?” he asked in surprise. He would have thought that she would have done so before if it were possible, but then, thinking further, he realized that she likely wouldn’t.

Until recently – until that evening, in fact – neither Lyra nor Alphard had suggested in any way that they might do anything about Grindlewald or his presence. He supposed neither of them had believed it possible. Now that had changed, somehow, at some point, and he wondered what it meant.

“I might not find anything,” she admitted, shrugging. “I know people who know people who work in the ministry and ought to be able to access birth and death records, that sort of thing… but if someone wanted them to disappear for a particular person, they’ll be long gone. I’ll have to be careful to make sure that no one knows exactly who’s behind the questions I’ll be asking.”

Harry remembered something as she spoke. “You might try books on Transfiguration, too. In my world, Dumbledore was a Transfiguration prodigy – he’d published some work before he even left Hogwarts, I think.”

Now it was her turn to look surprised. “Oh. Brilliant. I might even be able to find something in the library here. Well, that’s not such a bad start at all.” The she broke off, yawning. It was nearly dawn by then.

“Thank Circe it’s Sunday tomorrow,” she said, muffled by her hand over her mouth. “Ugh. Go wake Alphard, will you? I’ll clean up.”

-

A month ago – what felt like ages ago, now – Harry had struggled to come up with a synonym for shifty. Now, as he sat across from Tom Riddle, he thought the man’s name could easily serve as one. Riddle was the definition of shifty – of enigmatic, suspicious.

Harry found himself nearly missing Voldemort. At least the monster had only had two discernable emotions – smug superiority and murderous rage. Riddle the man was able to at least play a range of sentiment startlingly well.

Currently, he was playing at companionable mentor. It made Harry’s teeth ache.

“I’m pleased with the progress you’ve made with the dueling club,” Riddle was saying. “Nearly everyone fifth year and up has performed a corporeal Patronus. Very impressive, indeed.”

“Thank you,” said Harry, who was considering keeping calming potions on hand for the next time Riddle called him into his office. Or perhaps he might learn a wandless cheering charm he could use on himself – only it was incredibly difficult to maintain his Occlumency shields and give suitable answers to the man.

“If you ever desire extra lessons, work outside of class or the club – I would be happy to assist.”

Harry blinked at the suggestion. “I thought you were busy… sir,” he said. It was true enough and seemed unlikely to make Riddle angry, unlike his genuine response, which took the form in his head of inarticulate screaming.

“I’m never too busy for my best students,” said Riddle, smiling gently at Harry as if he were his most beloved pupil. “I find that fostering learning always pays off in spades.”

“I thought you hadn’t taught before?” Harry asked. Bollocks, he thought just after. That sounded snarky. “Er- I mean…”

“Don’t worry, Harry. I know what you mean. You’re correct that I haven’t been a professor, but I have long been invested in the futures of young people. I’ve always offered what assistance I can to those who I feel… have potential.”

Harry stared at him incredulously. Was he admitting to amassing followers? But of course, no one who didn’t know about the Knights would take it that way.

Harry looked away quickly, gripping the edge of his chair, trusting his long robes to hide his hands.

“Do you have plans for the break, Harry?” Riddle asked eventually, breaking the silence.

And he could not possibly guess why Riddle might want to know that. Finally, he said, “I’m going home, I guess.”

He had not actually spoken to James Potter about any Christmas plans, but he knew he needed to be away from Hogwarts so that he could attend the Malfoys’ New Year ball. He was doubly certain getting away from the castle was a good idea now, with Riddle’s asking – for all he knew, the man planned on using him to get the cloak from his father, somehow, while everyone was away.

“Of course,” Riddle said smoothly, and if he were disappointed it certainly wasn’t written on his handsome features. “I understand you’re very close to your father.”

Harry clenched one hand into a fist and stared down at the desk, forcing himself to remain calm. “Yeah,” he managed to say after a moment. “I am.”

Riddle made a hmming sound at the back of his throat. “It isn’t easy, growing up an only child, with no mother… I’m well aware of that, myself.”

Harry’s brain stalled.

“I apologize. I didn’t mean to upset you. I only meant to say that I understand. I, too, lost my mother when I was very young.”

“Sorry,” Harry said shortly, surprised he was able to keep a straight face as he did. He noted absently that Riddle didn’t mention his father. I suppose you murdered him here, too.

“Think nothing of it,” Riddle replied. “It’s been many years, now. I only tell you because I want you to know – you and I, we have more in common than you realize.”

Harry almost laughed. It was, after all, not the first time he had heard Tom Riddle utter those words.

At least there wasn’t a basilisk this go round.

“You may go, Harry,” Riddle said after a moment. “I look forward to the next meeting of our little group.”

Our, thought Harry, as he quickly gathered his things and managed a polite nod to Riddle as he made his exit. He really wants to drive that home.

I wonder why, Harry thought as he made his way out to the hall. What motive could Riddle have in this universe to try and convince Harry they were cut from the same cloth? It must have something to do with the cloak. He was convinced, now, that Riddle knew James Potter had it, somehow. There was no other explanation for the singular attention he offered Harry.

He was still turning that over in his mind when he ran into Lyra and Alphard.

Lyra looked delighted, even smiling at him when he approached, and Alphard seemed apprehensive and excited both, his hair uncharacteristically ruffled.

“What?” Harry asked, short-tempered after the strangeness of his meeting with Riddle. “What’s gotten into you two?”

“Come on,” Al said, seeming not to notice or mind Harry’s tone. “To the… you know.”

Lyra rolled her eyes and nudged him with her arm. “Subtle,” she hissed.

“Oh, whatever. Come on, let’s go!”

Harry followed obediently to the Room of Requirement, trying to work out what they were so excited about. Had they discovered something, about Riddle or the Hallows or the Knights?

Lyra turned to him as soon as the door was closed. “Our month is up,” she said. “We ought to be able to start the rest of the transformation, now. I’ve made calculations and consulted the weather witch’s reports in The Silver Eagle – much better paper than the Prophet, by the way, I’ve got a subscription now – and we ought to have the electrical storm we need to complete the process on November 21st.”

Now Harry realized what all the excitement was about. “The Animagus stuff? We’re ready?”

“Nearly,” said Lyra. “I still have to complete this potion. How are you at potions, by the way?”

“Pants,” said Harry.

“Oh,” she frowned. “Pity. Our Harry’s alright at them. Oh well – Al can help.”

“I can, can I?”

“Harry, what’s wrong?” Lyra asked, ignoring Alphard’s protests. “You seem off – did Riddle say something?”

“Only that we have so much in common,” Harry replied, willing the room to come up with a squashier chair than the ones it currently held. When Lyra entered first, it took on the guise of the Ravenclaw common room, whose sofas seemed designed to keep students awake while they studied late into the evening. “Sorry,” he said. “Tell me more about the transformation. Why do we need a storm?”

“We have to take the potion during an electrical storm – it’s all in the notes; haven’t you read them?”

“Er – no.” Harry was reminded of Hermione suddenly and found that he missed her terribly for the first time in a while. He thought about his friends, about Ginny, often. He wondered what they were doing, if they were alright, if they were interacting with his alternate self. But now he felt their absence acutely. Something about Riddle, about his oddness, just drove home to Harry that this wasn’t his universe, that he was alone, that no one here knew what he knew about the devilish gears that ticked in Tom Riddle’s mind. Hermione would have analyzed that conversation ‘til it begged for mercy. Ginny would have made a joke about Riddle’s too-straight teeth. Ron would’ve sympathized, would’ve slapped him on the back, would’ve gotten him a cup of tea or better yet, a stiff drink.

“You alright?” Alphard asked, coming to stand by Harry’s chair. Harry did not respond. Alphard conjured up a chair of his own, and pulled it next to Harry’s, and reached into his satchel. “C’mon,” he said, “I’ll let you copy off my Charms homework. Did you start that essay for Herbology yet? Here’s the thing about tentacula…”

-

Mid-November, it began to snow.

Against all odds, Harry found himself nostalgic for the sight of Hogwarts in the snowfall. It was lousy weather to play quidditch in – lousy weather to do anything in, really – but it was beautiful. It was not quite sticking yet, only fluttering around the grounds in little flurries.

“I love it when it’s like this,” Alphard admitted as they made their way back from the greenhouses after a Herbology class. “Makes me sad to think that this is my last year.”

“Yeah,” said Harry. “I miss it.” He tilted his head towards the sky, let the snowflakes brush against his eyelashes.

“Do you? Even with everything waiting for you out there – well,” Alphard corrected, “your out there.”

“Everything?” Harry echoed. “I’ve got a shitty flat and a job I hate.” He missed his friends terribly, but he would always have them. This - Hogwarts - he no longer had, not in his world.

“You said the other day you missed your coffee machine,” Alphard pointed out. “Meanwhile, I didn’t even know there was such a thing – I’m going to make a prototype, when this is all over with – and your job is saving people, which, you know, sounds like it’s sort of your thing.”

Harry pressed his lips together. The snow fell on them, melting immediately, cool, seeping into the corners of his mouth.

“It’s not my thing by choice,” he said finally, licking the snow from his lips. “It was… I don’t know. It’s not that I don’t care, it’s just… a lot of choices have been made for me.”

“Prophecies are like that, I guess,” said Alphard. “It sounds terrible, having your fate chosen for you.”

“It’s not that I don’t want to,” Harry said. “I want to help people, really. I can’t just sit back when I’m needed. But I never got a choice about being needed. Everyone’s always looked to me to save them. Does that make sense?” He didn’t think Alphard would understand – he couldn’t – but he felt like saying it anyway.

“I suppose it’s a question of how far you’re willing to go,” Alphard said. “To help people. To meet expectations. It’s a question of what you’re willing to sacrifice to that end.”

“Everything,” said Harry without thought. “I was willing to die, once.” I did die, once.

Alphard gave him a considering look. “If you permit me a moment to be cliché,” he said, “It sounds like you’ve spent plenty of time considering what you were willing to die for, and very little time thinking about what you’d live for.”

“Are those any different?” asked Harry. If they were, he didn’t see it – his friends, his chosen family, that was what he lived for. Wasn’t it?

Alphard only shrugged, closing his eyes and tilting his head back in an imitation of Harry. “I couldn’t tell you,” he said finally, snow falling on his tongue.

-

“Hey, Tiny Harry. What’re you up to?”

“I wish you wouldn’t call me that,” Harry groused, swinging his dangling leg and pulling the pen he’d been chewing on from his mouth. “I’ll have you know I’m taller than your Harry. By a good two inches.”

“Harry makes up for what he lacks in height with spirit,” came the reply. “Anyway, you’re three years his junior – who knows what might happen?”

“That doesn’t make any sense. People grow as they get older, not shrink.”

“I ought to introduce you to my Great Aunt Muriel – she’s the size of a garden gnome by now.”

“Not what I meant—"

“OI, GINNY!” shouted someone through the Floo.

“COMING!” Ginny Weasley shouted back.

Merlin, but these people’s floo etiquette, Harry thought.

It’d been about a month now in the strange new world. All things considered, Harry thought he was doing alright. Now that they trusted him not to run off, the other Harry’s friends left him to his own devices more often than not – Ginny was here now only because she claimed that she’d rather spend time with a bizarro teenage version of her boyfriend during her weekend off than be roped into doing chores at her mum’s house. Harry did his best not to take offense. Ginny was a bit… brusque, he thought the word might be, but she was really rather kind under that. She teased him terribly but didn’t seem to hold it against him that his presence here meant her Harry’s absence, and from what he’d seen, she pretty much teased everyone. Sometimes she’d talk about Hermione’s old boyfriends and the other girl would turn positively red. “It’s to keep her from getting a big head,” Ginny hissed to him conspiratorially. “I can HEAR you!” Hermione would shriek back.

“McClaggen is awful,” Harry told Hermione consolingly. “I’ve never liked him – our version, anyway. Ron’s much nicer.”

“I didn’t date Cormac McClaggen! It was one party, and I only took him to make Ron jealous, anyway!”

“Oooh, did you now?” Ginny replied, smiling like the kneazle that caught the canary.

“Oh, for!—”

Yes, Harry thought as Ron Weasley stepped through the Floo, things here weren’t so bad. There was telly, and takeout, and Hermione brought him all the muggle books he could read, seemingly delighted that someone was asking. He was going a little stir-crazy since he didn’t dare venture outside unless he was flooing straight to someone’s, but at least he didn’t have any homework.

He hoped that the other Harry was doing his homework. He didn’t think that Lyra would let him get away with not doing it, but it sounded as though the other Harry was extraordinarily stubborn.

Harry himself was perfectly reasonable, he thought. (Stubbornly).

“’Lo, Tiny Harry,” said Ron, grinning at him as he stepped into the living room. Harry groaned and gave it up as a lost cause. “Are you doing the Prophet’s crossword? Blimey, you must be the only person under a hundred that does those.”

“Percy does them,” said Ginny as she sat back down at the foot of the sofa where Harry was perched.

“And? I don’t see your point,” Ron replied.

Harry had not yet met Percy Weasley, though he knew all about him, just as he knew about the other Weasley siblings. Bill he had met – along with his wife, Fleur, and their daughter. He’d also met George, and read about Fred in books, and seen postcards from Charlie Weasley who apparently worked with dragons of all things. Harry was fairly certain that was the best career imaginable, and he rather wished he’d opted to take NEWT-level Care of Magical Creatures so that he could pursue it himself. Lyra would probably skin him and turn him into a handbag if she heard that, and Alphard would worry so much his hair would go flat, but- dragons.

“How’s practice?” Ron asked, turning to Ginny.

And this was another thing that Harry loved about the extended Weasley clan: they nearly all could talk your ear off about Quidditch. Not Hermione, and not, from what he had heard, Percy, but Ron certainly could, and Ginny was an actual professional player. For the Harpies. Harry had been awestruck the first time they met, both by that fact and the fact that she was really rather pretty, prettier even than Lyra, he thought, or Daphne Greengrass, who he’d had a crush on for all of third year. “So you’re the fake Harry,” Ginny had said, and Harry had – well, apologized, sort of, but also snorted some of his tea up his nose. She’d rolled her eyes at him. “It was bad enough living with a teenaged Harry the first go round,” she said shortly. “First sign of melodrama and I’m shooting you with a bat bogey hex.”

“What,” Harry had replied, “is a bat bogey hex?”

“I can show you,” Ginny shot back, grinning with all her teeth.

“Ginny!” Ron had said. “Merlin’s balls, be nice to the kid!”

“Is that as gruesome as it sounds?” Harry went on. “Only, if it is, I’d really like if you could teach me – there’s this bloke named Smith who’d really do with some hexing—”

“Hm,” Ginny had said, giving him a second look. “Well, if you promise to hex Smith…”

Now she was talking about the Harpies’ season and Ron was talking - rather nonsensically, Harry thought - about the Cannons. Perhaps the only thing he didn’t understand about Ron was his devotion to the Chudley Cannons. Even the flat he shared with Hermione was dotted with things in that perverse shade of orange. He could practically imagine Alphard saying “well, there’s no accounting for taste”.

He hoped, too, that the other Harry had tried out for Quidditch in his stead. It was probably a long shot – surely he had other things to worry about – but Harry really did think his chances of making seeker again were good this year. Had been good. Merlin, but he hoped he made it back before the year was out – he would hate for the other Harry to take his NEWTs for him. He didn’t think the other boy, or man, or – whatever – was dim, by any means, but he’d found some of his old essays while looking for spare parchment, and this world’s Harry really didn’t seem to care about school. Or giving thorough answers, or penmanship.

“You alright?” Ron asked him.

“Yeah,” Harry replied, offering him a smile. “Just thinking about NEWTs.”

Ron’s answering look wavered somewhere between amused and alarmed. “I’m glad I never took them,” he said. “Couldn’t pay me enough, really.”

“Don’t worry,” Ginny said, giving him what he thought was meant to be a reassuring kick. “You’ll be back before that.”

Harry nodded, doing his best to believe her. “It’ll be Yule soon,” he said, looking at a point over her shoulder. “I wonder what he’ll do…”

Ron and Ginny exchanged a look. “You know,” Ron said, “Harry’s never… had a Christmas with his family before. I mean, I know your dad’s not quite his family, but…”

“Oh,” Harry replied. He hadn’t considered that. “In that case… I hope he gets to stay that long. My dad always goes all out – decorates the house top to bottom, has a mountain of presents.” He would miss it, he thought, but he’d had sixteen of those holidays. He could certainly spare one.

“I reckon we can probably get away with bringing you to the Burrow again for the hols,” said Ron. They’d told the press and the other Harry’s job that he was suffering from a bad case of spattergroit, but that explanation hadn’t passed muster with Molly Weasley, the matriarch of the Weasley’s family and, apparently, the other Harry’s sort of adoptive mother – so they’d had to tell her, instead, that Harry was suffering from some sort of breakdown and needed a vacation from things. And that meant they had to bring him to the Burrow for dinner, where he’d met her and the present Weasley siblings and partners.

Harry had done his best to imitate an older version of himself mid-crisis, and apparently he’d done alright, because Molly had only hugged him an alarming amount and given him three helpings of very good pudding.

“I’d like that,” he said honestly, thinking of the pudding. “Maybe we can play games again?”

Ron groaned. “I wish Hermione’d never shown you Monopoly, if I’m being frank.”

“But it’s fun!” Harry protested. “Muggle games are brilliant, and they don’t even explode!”

“They do when you play them,” said Ginny dryly.

“That was an accident,” insisted Harry. “I didn’t mean to animate my pieces—”

“Where did you even learn to play games?” Ron asked. “Every time- even gobstones, Merlin, I had no idea you could cheat at gobstones…”

“Alphard’s dad,” admitted Harry. “He taught us loads of things like that – I think Al’s first real bit of accidental magic was when we were playing poker, actually.”

“…poker?” asked Ron. “What’s that?”

Ginny, on the other hand, seemed to know perfectly well what it was and gave him a shrewd look. “I thought you said your Sirius vanished before you were even at Hogwarts.”

“Oh, yeah. We were seven – seven-year-olds are terrible at poker, as it turns out.”

They were cut off by another person stepping through the Floo unannounced, although there was really only one other person it could be. To head off any accidents, they’d restricted the Floo at Harry’s to only let in Ron, Ginny, and Hermione.

“Hi, love. Good day at work?” Ron enveloped Hermione in a hug before she could even dust her robes off.

“Fine, I suppose,” Hermione said, shaking him off. “Though Farley, in his infinite wisdom, decided to try and draft a bill regarding the welfare of trolls without even consulting me—"

Suddenly, a silvery shape burst into the room. Ron, Ginny, and Hermione all drew their wands immediately, but it was only a Patronus – a cat form that Harry thought felt oddly familiar. It opened its mouth and began to speak. “MISS GRANGER, YOU AND MR. POTTER ARE… WANTED… IN MY OFFICE,” it said, in a voice that was unmistakably Professor McGonagall’s. “ONE OF OUR GHOSTS APPARENTLY WISHES TO SPEAK WITH YOU.” You could practically hear the incredulity in McGonagall’s tone. “This is most irregular,” Harry imagined her saying.

“Do you think it’s the Grey Lady?” Ron asked when the Patronus disappeared.

“Who else?” asked Hermione. She looked thoughtful. But then, Hermione often did. “Well – should we all go, do you think?”

Ginny shrugged. “Let’s see what she has to say. Come on, Tiny Harry.”

“Will you ever stop calling me that?”

“Mm. Probably not.”

Harry sighed. “Will one of you at least teach me the Patronus spell, then?”

-

The Animagus potion had not, by any means, been the most difficult or disgusting potion that Harry had ever witnessed the brewing of. Lyra had forced him to join her after curfew to collect dew from the Forbidden Forest, and she claimed the moth chrysalis it needed had cost her a small fortune, but all told, he was surprised by how easy it was. The hardest part of their time waiting until the storm needed to complete the process was remembering to recite the incantation every sunrise and sunset. Ensuring that he was alone – or in the lone company of Lyra or Alphard, anyway – every sunset was trickier than it sounded. But he had managed it – they had all managed it – and soon it was November 21st, and it was storming.

“It’s supposed to rain all day,” Lyra had said openly at breakfast. After all, she was only discussing the weather.

Alphard had given the ceiling of the Great Hall a speculative look. On it, storm clouds rolled.

“Really it’s ideal to do this outside,” Lyra said later as they gathered in the Room of Requirement. The room had taken the form of a clear, empty space. “Presumably, in case your form happens to be too large or too – difficult, to maneuver indoors. But I thought we’d best not risk it.”

“Difficult?” asked Alphard.

“Well, you could be a fish,” she pointed out. “Actually, perhaps we’d ought to ask the room for a pond at least…”

“Oh, honestly, whose Animagus form would be a fish?”

“Crabbe and Goyle gape rather a lot, don’t you think? It’s not un-fishlike.”

Harry had given little thought to what form he might take, if this actually worked. He’d been busy – teaching, showing Lyra memories, doing homework, playing quidditch. Time had passed quickly, and this day had come before he knew it.

He supposed a stag was the surest bet, given his Patronus.

Outside, thunder cracked.

“Right,” Lyra said suddenly, turning serious. “I think – I think it’s time.”

“It’ll be fine,” Harry said. “My dad and Sirius managed this and they were right idiots.”

“Oi, my dad wasn’t an idiot,” responded Alphard, but Harry thought he looked grateful.

“Well, mine was,” said Harry, shucking off his outer robes and gesturing for Lyra to hand him the potion.

“Our robes go with us, right?” asked Alphard skeptically as he took his own bottle.

“That’s my understanding, yes,” Lyra said.

“Merlin. Yes,” Harry said. “McGonagall used to transform the first day of class as a trick. Trust me, the robes changed with.”

“Imagine seeing her starkers,” Alphard said.

"Oh god," Harry said.

“I really feel as if there ought to be more… ceremony,” said Lyra, regarding her own vial skeptically. “This took us years to prepare for, you know?”

“Shall we toast, then?” asked Alphard, only a little teasingly. Harry realized for the first time how strange it was that they were letting him participate in this with them. He supposed they had no choice - he had been there, with the mandrake leaf under his tongue, and their Harry was not - but still, it felt almost as if he were intruding.

Lyra looked at them both. She nodded, once, sharply. “To change,” she said, raising her bottle.

Harry and Alphard echoed her, somewhat awkwardly. It was an odd toast, and Harry recalled suddenly the conversation he’d had with Hermione after his second “dream” – about what the Animagus transformation “represented” in it, about what its illegality in the other world meant.

You’re afraid of change,” Hermione had said. “You’re afraid to change, afraid to even learn how to change…”

Being afraid doesn’t mean I won’t still manage it, Harry thought back in a much-belated reply.

And then he tossed his head back, swallowing the potion in one go.

-

“That was incredibly unnerving,” remarked Harry as he came through the Floo, joining the rest.

“Agreed,” said Ron. “Bloody buggering ghosts. I’m going to take up a career as an exorcist, really I am.”

Ron,” scolded Hermione. “We’ve just received some very valuable information, if you hadn’t noticed.”

“Didn’t say it wasn’t valuable,” Ron shot back. “Only that I hope to Merlin I never again have to sit in on a meeting with someone who’s been dead for some centuries.”

“It was kind of Professor McGonagall to let us use her office.”

“Kind? That was the oddest part! I felt like I was going to get detention.”

“Can we focus on the important matters?” Hermione said. “We’ve just learned that Harry is safe and well—”

“—that a ghost claims he’s safe and well,” Ron said, “not sure they’re experts, being dead and all—”

And that he received our message, and the others are going to locate Ravenclaw’s book.”

“And that their Riddle is after the Deathly Hallows. That seems, you know. Important,” Ginny finally chimed in.

“I’m still going to need you lot to explain more about the Hallows,” Harry said.

“How are you with Runes?” asked Hermione.

“…I’m… alright? With them?”

“Good,” she said briskly, striding suddenly towards the Floo again. “I’ll be right back.”

“Er,” Harry said.

“Don’t worry,” said Ron. “She’s only getting some books.”

Hermione returned just a few minutes later, sure enough, with an armful of tomes, all rather old and dusty looking. “Here,” she said, thrusting one at him.

“Tales of Beedle the Bard,” Harry read. “I’m still having a hard time wrapping my head around the chancellor getting his ideas from a children’s story. And your dark lord, too, apparently.”

“The ghost sounded rather… contrite,” Hermione mused. “I suppose she feels sorry for telling Riddle about the Hallows.”

“She should,” said Ginny. “Who knows what he’s done trying to get them.”

“I don’t know,” Hermione replied. “If he’s really known about them since his school days, like she said… well, it may actually be better than if he’d focused on… other… things.”

“Other things?” Harry echoed.

“It isn’t important,” Hermione said. Ginny snorted.

Harry sighed.

Well, he could hardly expect them to tell him everything. If he’d learned anything about this world, it was that these three kept secrets – especially secrets regarding their Harry.

He supposed they weren’t all that different from his own friends that way.

He couldn’t help but wonder how they were faring.

-

Harry was falling. Or no – no, everything else was falling. Harry was still.

The world grew around him, expanded, the room suddenly the size of a small universe. Or maybe not. He had the sense that he could cross it swiftly, easily. He turned his head sharply -

Sharp. His vision was sharp, his-

Claws? No-

He could not recall the word, only that they were hooked and hard, only that he knew they could grip, grip and hold, steady-

He wished there were a tree, a branch for him to perch on. And then – there was. It sprang fully formed from nothingness, much as he had.

Only, no, he had not come from nothingness. He had come from Harry. He was Harry, a boy man, who walked on two legs, who saw things flatly and without near so much detail. Harry remembered who he was, and what he was doing, and willed himself to get a better bearing on his surroundings.

His head, he found, could not quite take in the rest of his body. His eyes were planted firmly on either side of it, and he could turn, and he could look around him, but he could not see himself.

But he could see the tree. Harry looked at it and felt its distance from him and felt how quickly he might close it. He regarded this as a good idea. He spread his wings, and flew.

Oh – wings. Right. Right. As he landed on a high branch, Harry considered what sort of bird he might be.

He thought of an owl, first. He would always think of owls first, when it came to birds. But no – he had not felt his head swivel when it turned, and he was…small, he thought. Smaller than most owls. And that ruled out, too, most raptors. He didn’t think he was a hawk or eagle.

Suddenly, he became aware that something was moving at the edge of his vision. He turned and saw a bright white streak race across the stone floor. The floor, as he watched, turn to grass and dirt, and the streak was overcome by a smaller, darker one. Artificial moonlight shone down on the scene, and he wondered whose idea that had been.

The dark streak pounced at the white, and Harry, startled, first thought that they were fighting. Then the moon grew brighter and he recognized the darker blob as a – a pine marten, he realized. It must be Alphard. Which meant the white thing was Lyra-

And then it shifted, turned, and became the girl herself, and the darker thing became Alphard, who seemed to be laughing and scrabbling at the dirt.

“Get off me, you prat!” Lyra said, shoving her cousin away. She was laughing too, though, a bright barking sound.

“Sorry,” Alphard said, not sounding sorry in the least. “Instincts took over.”

“In no way is attacking a fox in a pine marten’s repertoire of instincts,” she replied, rising and brushing dirt off herself.

“You knew!” Alphard accused. “You knew what your form was? I was hoping I’d get to tell you.”

“Lie to me, more like,” she said primly, straightening her robes. “I wasn’t certain, but I assumed – my Patronus was a fox, too.”

“You never even told us you were practicing the Patronus, you hag. When did you have the time? Anyway – do you see where Harry went? I’m assuming he’s not a great bloody deer or we’d see him around somewhere.”

Harry perked up at the mention of his name – literally, it seemed to be a quirk of his animal self’s character- and flew down to meet them. He was really getting the hang of flying, he thought. It was nothing at all like flying on a broom, but just as exhilarating – all air under his wings and rush.

“Oh, how darling!” Lyra said when he landed a few feet away.

Harry ruffled his feathers in a huff. He still wasn’t certain what he was, but he didn’t want to be called darling. He willed himself to transform, and felt his bones ache and then he was himself, in a pile on the ground.

He shuffled up, spitting out a bit of soil that had stuck to his lip somehow. “Well?” he asked expectantly. Then he grinned despite himself, because they’d done it. This was real – this was… this was something he could keep, something he could take back with him, probably, and even if he couldn’t, he would do this again in his own world, he decided. He would fly.

“You’re a bird,” Alphard supplied helpfully. “And I’m a pine marten and Ly’s some sort of white fox.”

Am I white, really? I wonder – usually one’s form is an animal native to their region, and I’m hardly from the Arctic… anyway,” she hurried on, at Harry’s pointed look, “you’re a goldfinch, I believe. I’m not sure what type precisely, but you’re brown with red and gold markings.”

“A goldfinch?” he repeated. Harry prodded the idea, nearly cocking his head to one side before he realized that was more bird-him than human-him. He was a songbird? He ruffled his hair with one hand absent-mindedly, trying to decide if he was disappointed. He could fly – that was a point in the form’s favor. And, he supposed, he was small enough it’d be easy to sneak around.

“It’s inconspicuous,” Lyra said, as if catching his train of thought. “Quite handy, really. An arctic fox won’t be near as useful.” She couldn’t stop grinning, though, which pointed towards her not being displeased at the outcome.

Yes, Harry thought. He might've been disappointed, once, that he didn't share a form with his dad - but his dad had learned the transformation so that he could accompany his friends in the Forbidden Forest. Harry - Harry had his own reasons, and his own needs. Being able to fly, to go unseen - those things suited his needs rather nicely.

“So… shall we try that again?” said Alphard. He shifted, a pine marten standing in his place, before either of them could reply. The marten opened its mouth and showed off its tiny pointed teeth in a mimicry of a smile.

Lyra rolled her eyes and then turned to Harry. There was, Harry thought, something of a fox’s slyness in the gesture.

“Want to see if I can catch you?” she said.

And he was already mid-air.

-

Some time later, Harry was walking through the furthest reaches of the grounds with Alphard. It was a Saturday, and there was no quidditch match to play, and they had little else to do. Alphard talked about transforming into his Animagus form and testing his skills in the snow, to which Harry said “what skills?”, and Alphard had replied by dumping a handful of snow down the back of his jumper. Harry was still trying to get it all out when the wall of shrubbery they were passing suddenly gave a shudder. The leaves parted way and someone stepped in front of them.

Alphard shrieked. Lyra, who had emerged from the shrub, gave him a pained sort of look. “Morgana, it’s only me.”

“Did you just come out of that bush?” exclaimed Alphard. “What are you doing, creeping about in the foliage? Why is my whole family mad?”

Hush,” Lyra hissed back. “Quick – test if we’re alone, will you?”

“Why me?” he shot back. Then he sighed. “Call me Ishmael,” he said – bizarrely, Harry thought. “Some years ago—never mind how long precisely—having little or no money in my purse…”

“Right, that’s good enough,” Lyra said. “Muffliato.”  Harry realized suddenly that Alphard must have been testing for the presence of others nearby by attempting to break the vow – he was quoting something, thought Harry. A muggle book. It sounded familiar.

“Moby Dick,” said Lyra at his absent look. “I wouldn’t suggest it, for whatever it’s worth. Anyway – I came to tell you that I finally got word back from the person I had looking into Albus Dumbledore.”

Harry started. “Really? What did they find?”

“Very little,” said Lyra. “There’s a record of his death but no specific date – my source informed me that they’d guess by the parchment itself that it might have been around the turn of the century, though.”

Harry swallowed, his tongue feeling suddenly thick. “Around the time of his first duel with Grindlewald. Suppose he must have lost, then.”

Lyra nodded. “That was my guess, too.”

“There goes the chance of calling him up and asking if he’d take care of the problem for us, I guess,” Alphard said. Lyra shot him a pointed look. “Well? I’m assuming that’s not all you found out, or I’d be in the castle eating roast.”

Lyra’s eyes brightened. “No. No, I found out something much better. You see, the source I asked – they know someone who works in Gringotts, too. They thought to ask them – Gringotts has its own records, of course.”

“It does?” asked Harry, surprised.

“In a sense, yes,” agreed Lyra. “They don’t necessarily keep birth and death certificates, but they do hold vault records. Every vault that’s ever been opened, closed, or merged with another, and, of course, major transactions.”

“Oh,” he said, not entirely following. “Well – what’s that got to do with anything?”

Alphard was the one to explain. “If you know when someone’s private vault was opened – trust vaults, things like that – that usually tells you when they were born. When it’s closed or all the funds are sent elsewhere, you can assume they’ve probably died. Even in bigger family vaults, large sums of money moving around usually mean something’s happened – someone’s married in or out, inherited something or given away an inheritance.”

“But you already knew he was dead,” said Harry, frowning. “What else could his vaults have told you?”

“They didn’t tell me anything,” Lyra said mysteriously. “Because that contact wasn’t able to get into the records at all.”

“Ly, please spare us the dramatics,” Alphard said.

“Oh, fine,” she huffed. “They weren’t able to get in because the records were closed. Sealed off, guarded to the hilt – the important part, though, is why they were guarded. You see, it’s a recent measure by the goblins… taken after that records room was broken into at the end of August.”

“The Gringotts break-in,” Harry said with dawning realization. “They broke into the records?”

“Not a vault at all,” she agreed. “Your father wasn’t lying when he said they didn’t steal any gold. It seems they weren’t after gold in the first place.”

“But I don’t understand. Why would someone want to access those records so badly they were willing to die for it? What could they possibly learn from them that was worth that?”

“I asked that myself – and the person I spoke with believed that they might have been after information about the Founders, possibly their famous artifacts, or some other ancient treasure. It was the oldest of Gringotts' records that were accessed.”

“The Founders?” Harry could not deny the possibility that someone – such as Riddle – might be after Slytherin’s locket, or the diadem or cup, or even Gryffindor’s sword. But - “Would knowing about their vaults really help someone find their artifacts?”

Alphard gave his cousin a shrewd look. “It has nothing to do with the Founders, does it?” Then he turned to Harry. “Harry – think about this. You’re looking for a valuable object passed down through a particular family whose primary line died out long ago. You need to trace their line, then – see where it split, where it merged with others, where parts of it died out. By seeing where their gold moved, over the years, you see where its heirlooms likely moved, too, and eventually you can narrow it down to that family’s last living descendants…”

“You’re talking about the Hallows,” he realized. “You think – what, Riddle broke into Gringotts to trace the Peverell line? To figure out where the cloak might have gone?”

“Had someone break in,” Lyra corrected. “They were caught – but that doesn’t mean we can assume they didn’t pass the information on. The thief had no chance to smuggle out gold, but there are many ways to pass on names without leaving the spot.”

“You think he knows for sure, then, that the Potters have the cloak,” Harry said.

“I think,” she replied, “that we ought to assume he does.”

“It could’ve been anyone,” Alphard said. “We have no way of knowing it was Riddle or that it was about the Hallows at all – it could be coincidence.”

“But it happened the day before he began teaching at Hogwarts,” said Harry. “Right? And that letter to the Board of Governors went out the night before school started – for all we know, Riddle wasn’t hired until that day.”

“It could be a coincidence,” said Lyra. “But if it is…”

“It’s one hell of one,” finished Harry. And then he realized this was, perhaps, the first solid proof that something was happening, something beyond speculation, beyond whatever the Knights were doing. He was certain now that Riddle was looking for the cloak, the last hallow that would be, to him, an unknown. He had to be behind the break-in, he had to have come to Hogwarts shortly after it for a reason.

He wasn't sure where this left them, but Harry felt suddenly that they weren't so lost.

-

Soon after that, Alphard finally completed his work on his variant on the DA coins.

“I finished the ones I’m giving Professor Babbling ages ago,” he said. “Those are basically just like the ones you described to me, only with runes instead of charms – hope you don’t mind.”

Harry shrugged. “Hermione’d find it interesting, probably.”

“Right. Well – these are layered with runes and charms. You can change the mint date to give a day and time, like with Harry’s, but you can also change the words on them to convey a message. They still heat up when they’ve been changed, but with the charms work I’ve done, I’ve been able to tie them into your magical signatures so that only you can read what they say.”

“Is that what you kept prodding me with your wand for the other morning?” Harry asked, leaning over to look at Alphard’s handiwork.

“That and because you’re a lazy sod who never wakes up in time for us to get the fresh bacon,” Alphard said.

Lyra was giving the coins an impressed once-over. “That’s tricky work,” she said admiringly.

Alphard glanced away sheepishly. “Yes, well. Loads of practice. Anyway – here, let’s test them out.” He handed them each a gold galleon, tapping his own with his wand and carefully intoning the word “Bacon.”

Harry turned over the coin in his hand and squinted at where it ought to say Great Britain.

It did, in fact, say bacon.

He grinned. “These are amazing. I wish we’d done more work on ours, they would’ve come in such handy.”

“These will certainly come in handy,” Lyra said. “Al, I take back everything I’ve ever said about you – you may just be a genius.”

Alphard shrugged, his dark curls falling into his eyes. “Not everything, surely,” he said. “Anyway, thank Harry for the idea. Now which one of you wants to go out and test this from a distance?”

-

The last Hogsmeade weekend before the Christmas hols approached, and Harry found himself being dragged along for last minute gift-shopping.

“Have you gotten Lyra anything?” Alphard asked offhand as they browsed the selection in Honeydukes. Lyra was over at Gladrag’s, allegedly buying Draco a tie. Alphard had suggested the kind that shot up and tried strangling the wearer when they said something embarrassing. She said she’d take his suggestion under advisement.

“Er- no?” Harry wasn’t certain on the etiquette surrounding purchasing one’s alternate self’s friends Christmas presents. He did have gold – or rather, the other Harry had gold, and Harry had found the pouch in his trunk – but he wasn’t sure what he’d even get with it. “Am I supposed to?”

Alphard held up a handful of sugar quills. “These are her favorite,” he said. “I’ve already gotten her a few books and mum picked her up a scarf in Italy, so you can get her these if you’d like. It’s just that I’m pretty sure she’s gotten you something.”

“Oh. Right,” Harry said, accepting the quills. “Yeah, I suppose I can do that. Did she really get me a gift?”

“I think so, yeah,” said Alphard has he moved over to the selection of cockroach clusters. Harry certainly hoped those weren’t meant as a gift. “If only for appearances,” he added. “I’m sure your dad’ll notice if you don’t get anything from your friends, after all. I got you something, too – not for appearances, mind, I think you’ll actually like it. Suppose you won’t be able to take it back with you, but I think our Harry’d like it, too.”

Harry glanced around the shop awkwardly. He hadn’t gotten Alphard anything, either. “I think I’ll go pay for these and meet up with Lyra,” he said.

“Hmm?” said Alphard, who was busily inspecting a variety of flavored lollies. “Oh, right- see you soon then.”

Harry bought the sugar quills and let the shopkeeper wrap them in festive paper for an extra sickle, then made his way outside.

The village beyond was bustling, full of students and professors alike carrying packages and chattering merrily. Aurors dotted the streets, presumably to ward off any further incidents from the Knights of Walpurgis, but the overall atmosphere was irrepressibly cheerful. Outside the joke shop, Professor Sprout cast warming charms over a handful of third years Harry recognized from the dueling club, and as he passed the Three Broomsticks he caught a glimpse of McGonagall and Sinistra inside having steaming cups of warm cocoa.

Lyra emerged from Gladrags just as he passed it and offered him a smile, waving one of her mittened hands.

Harry waved back. “Hi,” he said. “I’ve got to get something for Alphard.”

“What are you thinking?” she asked as she tapped her package with her wand to shrink it and tucked it into her pockets.

“Dunno,” he said sheepishly. “I was hoping you could help?”

Lyra rolled her eyes. “Boys,” she said. “Let’s try Tomes and Scrolls – there’s a new book on experimental charms out that I bet he’d like.” She tucked one of her hands into the crook of his arm and dragged him away.

Fifteen minutes later, they emerged from Tomes and Scrolls, Harry carrying the book he’d gotten for Alphard and Lyra carrying four of her own that she’d gotten for herself. Harry thought, not for the first time, that if she could only meet Hermione, they’d get along splendidly.

They walked through the snowy streets back towards Honeydukes where they’d last seen Alphard. Harry glanced around them, keeping watch as they went. He hadn’t let his guard down entirely the whole time they were in the village. He believed everyone who’d said that no one had been hurt by the Knights thus far, ridiculous as it seemed assuming Riddle was at their head, but he thought that could change any moment. That was why he nearly jumped out of his skin when someone appeared suddenly behind them, calling his name.

He turned, hand already on his wand, and sagged in relief when he saw that it was just his father. James Potter stood just behind them, for some reason, wearing his red Auror robes. Harry wondered if he’d been one of the Aurors guarding the village that day. He was startled to see him here, having last seen him in person right at the start of term. They'd only exchanged a handful of perfunctory letters since.

“Hullo, Harry,” his father said. “Hello, Miss Malfoy,” he added with a charming smile at Lyra. “Would you mind if I borrowed my son a moment?”

Lyra shot Harry a look – either to ask if he’d manage or if he knew why his father was here, he wasn’t sure which. Harry shrugged in reply - he was confused and a little alarmed, but he'd be alright. “Of course,” Lyra said just as charmingly. “We’ll meet you at the Three Broomsticks when you’re done, Harry.” She gave him one last look before walking off, and Harry turned to his dad.

“Is everything okay?” he asked.

James’s eyebrows shot up as if Harry had asked him to sample one of Hagrid’s rock cakes – an exaggerated face of surprise. “Of course! Nothing’s the matter, I was just popping by to give a message to one of the Auror squad and thought I’d say hello while I was here.”

“Oh – er, yeah. Sure,” Harry replied awkwardly, shifting foot to foot.

“Let’s go to the Hog’s Head, shall we? Less busy, and anyway I haven’t seen old Aberforth in years.”

Harry’s head shot up at the mention of Professor Dumbledore’s brother. “Yeah, alright,” he said, and his father turned and headed that way, leaving Harry to follow.

As they walked to the pub, James peppered him with questions about school and quidditch, asking how his classes were going, how many games Gryffindor had won, and what he thought their chances were at the house cup. Harry answered each one obediently, doing his best to get out proper replies instead of stuttering strangely at the still unfamiliar presence of his father. He was still describing their last match against Slytherin when his dad pulled him into the pub and ordered a pint for himself at the bar.

“I s’pose I should ask if you want one,” he said to Harry. “You’re of age and all.”

“Erm, butterbeer’s fine,” said Harry, who actually could go for a pint but thought it best not to imbibe lest he say anything off in front of his father.

With their drinks in hand, they made their way to a table in the back. His dad drummed his fingers on the grimy surface and asked Harry another round of questions, this time about his friends and Puddlemere United’s season. “Yeah, Al’s doing great,” Harry said, scratching at his head. He wished that his friends were here so that they might draw some of the attention away from him, nice as it was to have such an ordinary conversation with his dad. “Er – he’s finished our group project for Runes already. To be honest, I didn’t do that much of it.” James laughed and said that sounded like him. “He gets that from Sirius – not that Sirius was studious, mind, but once he set his mind on something…”

“So,” James said when they were halfway through their drinks. He took on an uncharacteristically serious tone. “I’m not sure how to say this, so I’ll just get it out…”

Harry panicked, his heart racing in his chest. Did James know something? Did he know about Harry?

“—I think it’s best if you don’t come home over break,” he said instead, to Harry’s surprise. “It’s just that I’m so busy with work, and I won’t be around much, and I want you to have a proper holiday. There’s no need for you to stay at the castle; I’ve already asked Aurora and she’d be happy to have you. You can take the train with Alphard and stay at Grimmauld.”

“Oh,” said Harry, his heart sinking.

Technically, his staying at Alphard’s would be better for their plans. He wouldn’t have to talk his father into letting him go to the Malfoys’, and the man wouldn’t have the prolonged chance to study Harry, to note that something was off about him.

Still – it stung. His last shot, his only shot, at ever having a Christmas with his parent, and it had been taken away. He hadn't realized he'd gotten his hopes up - he rarely let himself - but here he felt something dashed anyway.

“I’m sorry, Harry – I really am,” James was saying. “But I’m sure you’ll have loads more fun without me breathing down your neck anyway, yeah? And if I recall correctly, the Black family holiday dinners are something to behold. Just be sure to watch your food, yeah? I’ve heard Reggie’s twins are even worse than Sirius and I were back in our school days.”

“Yeah,” Harry agreed absently, hiding his expression with his butterbeer. He hoped he didn't look as forlorn as he felt - Merlin, but he was too old to be so upset over Christmas.

“I’ll make sure your gifts get to you on time,” his dad added. Harry realized he hadn’t gotten the man a Christmas gift – he wondered what on earth one got one’s parents for Christmas. Were you expected to get them gifts? 

And then as he dove down that rabbit hole of thought, Harry heard something.

“James?” he thought he heard someone call out. The sound was strangely muffled, though, and his father did not look around the pub as if for the source of the voice. Instead, he blanched, the hand he’d curled around his drink loosening and shooting towards his robes.

“Ah – I’ve got to – I’ll be right back,” his dad said, shooting out of his chair. Harry frowned and cursed the fact that he didn’t have the cloak yet again – never mind that it was probably for the best considering Riddle and his presence in the castle.

Perhaps what he’d just seen was some kind of Auror business, but Harry was awfully suspicious - he needed a way to follow his father. He cast a quick Notice-me-Not charm instead. It’d have to do. Then he ducked out of the booth and towards the front of the pub, where, from the gap between them, Harry saw his father dart through the pub’s front door.

Harry swore and followed him, wishing too that he had the extendable ears the twins had invented. Perhaps Alphard could make some of those-

Then the door swung open, a group of students making a big spectacle of coming inside and stomping snow from their boots, and Harry was able to dart around them and duck behind a half-dead pot plant near the door of the pub.

His father, standing a few feet off, was looking at his hands – or no, he was looking at something he held in his hands.

And then Harry heard the voice again. “-know you” he thought it said. “But I’ve—"

It seemed to be coming from whatever his father held. Harry narrowed his eyes, trying to make out the thing. He caught a glint where the light hit it – whatever it was, it was reflective.

Then it hit him, all at once. The mirrors. It was one of the enchanted mirrors that his dad and Sirius had created.

But who was he speaking with?

Harry edged closer, trying to make out the voice.

“I’ll be back as soon as I can,” his father was saying. “I’ve got to say goodbye to Harry—”

 Who else might his father use those mirrors with? Harry didn’t know of any friends he had in this world, technically – it had been implied that he was on friendly terms with Alphard’s mother, but the voice he’d heard from a distance was definitely male. Could it be Remus, perhaps? Was that why his father had been so reluctant to write about the other man – were they still in contact?

In his curiosity, Harry leaned forward a little too closely, and James’s head snapped up. He saw him and just as quickly pocketed the mirror, making as though he were only shoving his un-gloved hands into his pockets for warmth.

“Hey, kid. Following me?” asked James with false cheer.

“Oh. Erm. Sorry – I was just… wondering if you were alright,” Harry said, feeling a bit foolish, but also curious, and- angry. He was tired of being lied to, kept in the dark.

“Fine,” said James brightly. “Pint just hit me a bit hard, is all. Needed to get some fresh air. Listen – I have to get back, I’ve still got to go in to work again tonight.”

“Right,” Harry said, still seething. Then, because it occurred to him that if they recovered Ravenclaw’s book and found a way to get him back to his own world after the break, this might be the last time he saw his father, he softened someone. “Thanks for meeting with me,” he said. “I’m… er. It’ll be alright. Happy Chr- er, Yule.”

Harry realized in that moment that he must have gotten his terrible acting skills from his dad, because James’s face cycled rapidly through what looked like sadness and guilt before landing finally on a false grin. “Happy Yule, kiddo,” he said, leaning forward to envelop Harry in a hug.

Harry let it happen, remembering to bring his arms up to return the embrace after a moment. He did his best to memorize every detail.

The snow fell all around them, and Hogsmeade looked every bit the perfect Christmas card village it always did come December. James drew back and Harry took in the sight of him, in his heavy winter coat and scarf, cheeks red from the cold and streaks of melted snow over his glasses.

The village behind him looked like it belonged to a happier world than Harry had ever known. Together, the cheerful houses and red-cheeked man painted a picture, and Harry gazed at it as if from behind glass.

Harry was not quite ready to leave this scene behind. But, he realized, he would never be ready, not really. It was easier at that moment than it might have been otherwise, had he not known that Lyra and Alphard were waiting for him at the Three Broomsticks, and, he thought, it was easier knowing he could keep this picture forever.

“Goodbye, Dad,” Harry said.

-

Chapter Text

“There you are!” Lyra greeted Harry and Alphard as they approached the train station in Hogsmeade. The winter holidays had arrived, and they were all set to board the train. 

“Sorry we’re late,” Harry replied. “Al had to find his dress robes.”

Lyra regarded her cousin quizzically. “Why did you even bring your dress robes to school? There aren’t any formal events planned this year.”

“A gentleman is always prepared,” replied Alphard. “Anyway, Harry took twenty minutes fussing with his hair.”

“You said your mum would notice if I didn’t do something with it.”

“Would either of you care to place a bet on if my mother will pick me up at the station?” asked Lyra as they hauled their luggage onto the train. “I’ll put two galleons on her sending a house elf.”

Harry found himself wondering suddenly – “Do you have an elf named Dobby?”

“You’re acquainted with my house elves? What ridiculous thing did you do to manage that? Did you start a gobstones league with them? Sign a treaty? Have they adopted you into the elf nation? Do you have an honorary elf name – Potty, perhaps?”

Actually,” Harry replied sharply, “he saved my life, once.”

Lyra shot him a beleaguered look. “You’re explaining as soon as we find a carriage.”

Which was how Harry found himself behind privacy wards that Lyra erected in their carriage explaining the events of his friends’ capture and brief imprisonment in Malfoy Manor.

“The Snatchers sound nasty,” said Alphard, whose face had taken on a grim cast.

“They were,” said Harry simply. But they had been simple thugs, too, he thought - from what he’d seen, Grindlewald’s men were more intimidating. “Anyway – Dobby got us out, in the end. He saved our lives.” He decided not to talk about how Dobby had died doing it. He wasn’t sure he wanted to.

Lyra nodded slowly. “He’s always been a remarkably strange elf. Harry, you know, my aunt might be at the New Year’s Ball. She doesn’t always show, but if she does…”

“It’ll be fine,” Harry insisted. “I’ve been alone with Riddle probably a hundred times now, yeah? If I can handle that, I can handle Bellatrix. Do you have any other insane relatives I ought to worry about?”

“Loads,” said Alphard, looking more cheerful. “Actually, I brought these,” he added, pulling something from his pockets.

“Photos?” asked Lyra as she peered over his arm.

“Family photos,” agreed Alphard. “I thought we ought to show Harry the people he’s meant to know before Yule and the ball so there aren’t any mishaps.”

“Good idea,” Harry said, leaning forward.

“Where did you get all these?” Lyra asked.

“Cassie, mainly. Remember when she was nine and got a camera?”

“Ugh, do I. She took pictures of anything that moved.”

“She was drunk on power,” Alphard agreed. “Anyway – Harry, let’s start with this one,” he said, holding a picture of an unfamiliar woman aloft. She had dark hair and eyes, but bore no resemblance to the Blacks that Harry knew. “Embryne Sewlyn Black,” said Alphard. Harry, alarmed, wondered if the woman was related to Dolores Umbridge. Hadn’t she claimed to be descended from the Selwyns? “The twins’ mother,” Alphard went on. “If you forget her name, just think ‘in brine’. I’ve always rather thought she looked like a woman who’d pickle you, given half the chance…”

By the time their train reached the King’s Cross station, Harry could identify Alphard’s mother (Aurora, apparently, was sister to the singer Celestina Warbeck, who Harry had vaguely recalled from listening to the wireless), Hubert Grimblehawk and his daughters Delphinus and Nymphadora (“don’t call her that if you value your limbs being in place”), and a whole host of other Black family relations.

None of them were there when they left the train, barring Narcissa Malfoy, who stood on the platform with a pinched look on her face. It morphed into something – well, if not warm, then at least softer, Harry thought, as she spotted Lyra and strode forward, lilac-colored robes fluttering gently as though the platform was subject to a breeze, which it certainly wasn't. There has to be a spell for that, thought Harry.

“Hello, darling,” she greeted Lyra, resting an elegant hand on the girl’s shoulder. “Alphard, Mr. Potter.”

“Good afternoon, Cousin Narcissa,” greeted Alphard politely. Harry only nodded, hoping it would suffice. Narcissa didn’t spare him much of a look, anyway.

“Mother,” replied Lyra. “May I have a moment to say goodbye to my friends?”

“Of course,” the woman said breezily. “Is your mother here, Alphard?”

“No; she had a meeting to attend – Harry and I will be apparating ourselves and Adhara’s staying with the Greengrasses for a few days.”

Ah – that explained the lack of other relatives present, thought Harry.

“Give her my regards, then,” replied Narcissa as she stepped away to give them privacy.

Harry regarded her from the distance. He could see why he’d thought Lyra looked so much like her mother, when they’d first met, but she was infinitely more expressive, even when using her best manners in the public eye. Her features seemed somehow less sharp for it.

“You owe me two galleons,” Alphard whispered to her.

“You never took the bet!” she hissed back. “Menace. Anyway, look around – I’ve never seen so many parents here. It must be because of the recent… activity. People must be growing worried. They’re all here to collect their children personally.”

“Not my mum,” said Alphard, brow furrowing.

“Well, you and Harry are both of age,” said Lyra consolingly. “I’m sure she thinks you can handle yourselves.”

Alphard only shrugged. “I suppose.”

“Right – well. Goodbye, you two. I’ll see you for Yule.”

“You will?” asked Harry, surprised.

“Oh – yes, I always come by for a quick visit,” she replied. “In the hours before dinner. We won’t stay for the meal, unfortunately, because Malfoys must have a ten-course feast for every holiday, but…”

Harry snorted. “See you soon, then,” he said, and was surprised when she leaned forward suddenly to give him a quick hug. She gave Alphard one, too, ruffling his hair lightly as she went, to his dismay. “Bye!” she said again before turning to where her mother waited. Narcissa took her arm and apparated them both away with a sharp turn.

“Shall we?” asked Alphard. “Wait, you can apparate, can’t you?”

“I’m twenty years old,” replied a despairing Harry. “Of course I can.”

“Sorry! It’s only I forget – and what a bad influence you are. Drinking with students, encouraging us in our rule-breaking.”

“Oh, shut up,” Harry said, knocking him with his shoulder. “You two would be like that either way. I never smuggled whiskey into the castle.” He’d broken about a million school rules anyway, but that was beside the point.

“What did you even do for fun?” Alphard pondered.

“Tried not to die, mainly. You’d be amazed how much time it takes up.”

When they arrived at Grimmauld Place, Harry was relieved to be greeted by Kreacher instead of Aurora Black, since it meant more of a chance to collect himself before doing his best other-Harry act. Alphard seemed – not disappointed, he didn’t think, but resigned when Kreacher announced that Mistress Black was still attending her mysterious meeting before popping upstairs with their trunks.

“What does your mum do?” Harry asked when the elf was gone.

“This and that,” replied Alphard. “She doesn’t have a job, really, it’s more like – she’s fashionable for a living, I suppose. She spends time with my aunt Celestina and other famous people, and gets spotted wearing robes by up-and-coming designers, and has her picture in Witch Weekly a lot. Just now she’s probably meeting with someone who wants to know her opinions on the latest plays, or attending a restaurant opening, or something.”

“Oh,” said Harry, who wasn’t aware anyone could make a living doing that. He supposed the Black family was hardly hurting for money, though, no matter how lucrative being fashionable may or may not be.

“Sorry,” Alphard said with a sigh. “I don’t mean to sound so put-out. My mother’s really lovely – you’ll like her, everyone does, and she adores you, or our Harry anyway. It’s just…”

“You wish she was here,” Harry surmised.

“Yeah,” he readily agreed. Then, after a moment, he looked sheepish. “But what an ogre I am, complaining my mum’s not around enough, when you’re… er.”

“An orphan?” Harry replied, who didn't take offense, knowing Alphard hadn't meant it badly. “It’s alright; you’re allowed to miss your mum.”

“When you put it that way I sound like I’m about seven! Honestly. Right – you want a tour? Or no, you said you’d been here before.”

“Yeah, I own my world’s Grimmauld Place, technically,” Harry reminded the other boy. “But go on and give me a tour anyway – this one’s much nicer. Fewer severed heads.”

“…do I even want to know? Oh, whatever – let’s go see the receiving room, if you need to use the Floo for anything, it’s in there…”

By the time their tour led them to the fifth floor, having involved lots of detours and segues into stories about the histories of certain rooms and artifacts, Harry was famished. His stomach rumbled audibly and Alphard cackled and then summoned Kreacher to ask if his mother was home yet and if she’d said anything about dinner.

“Mistress told Kreacher to prepare dinner for Young Master Black and his guest if she was not home at the normal hour,” replied the elf, eyeing Harry suspiciously. “Mistress Black is not home. Kreacher will prepare dinner now.”

Harry took in the elderly house elf’s wary gaze. He remembered suddenly that the last time he’d been in this house, Kreacher had declared in an outburst that Harry was the wrong Harry, that he’d been able to sense that somehow.

“Kreacher,” he said, before the elf could pop away again, “When I was here last, you said something was odd about me. Is it still… er, off? Am I?”

Kreacher’s eyes bulged. “Potter boy asks Kreacher if he is odd. Yes, I think, he must be odd, to ask Kreacher—”

“I mean in the same way as last time,” Harry said quickly.

Beside him, Alphard looked between him and his elf and seemed to groan. “Answer the question, please, Kreacher,” he said finally.

“…no,” said Kreacher at long last. “Not odd like before. Odd, but not wrong. Before, you was not being Harry Potter. Now, you are…” he trailed off, looking pained. Harry could only assume he was not up to describing whatever it was that Harry was now.

Alphard seemed to arrive at the same conclusion, because he said, “Alright, you can go, sorry.” When Kreacher vanished again, he turned to Harry. “Harry, really. Must you?”

“Sorry,” said Harry, still unsure if the information they’d gleaned meant anything. “Is he going to tell your mother, you think?”

“Not necessarily,” said Alphard, confused. “You’ve never had a house elf?”

“Erm,” Harry said, “No? Technically, I suppose I have – well, him, or my version, but I’ve never properly lived at Grimmauld, so…”

“Hm. Well, no, house elves typically don’t tell on their masters – even the children – unless not doing so goes against previous orders from their main master or mistress. Most parents give their elves a sort of blanket order to tell them if their kids are doing anything properly dangerous or illegal, but they’re not going to go reporting every strange remark to your parents, no.”

Kreacher still shot him a patently dirty look when he called them into “the family dining room” – a smallish, almost informal dining room Harry didn’t recall from his own world’s Grimmauld, near the kitchen – for dinner.

Harry didn’t especially want to be on the elf’s bad side and so thought about what Hermione might do in his shoes. “Thanks,” he said, when a dish of roasted potatoes appeared on the table with a snap of Kreacher’s gnarled fingers. “This looks great.”

Kreacher’s look only grew dirtier. “Potter boy,” he muttered under his breath, vanishing again.

“Excellent. Now my elf thinks you’re abusing illegal potions,” said Alphard brightly as he spooned creamed corn onto his plate. “I can tell already this is going to be an exciting visit.”

-

The next day, Harry woke to Alphard pounding at the door of the guest room next to his where Harry had been set up. Harry groaned and rose from the bed, opening the door a crack.

What?” he asked.

“C’mon, hurry up and get dressed! Mum’s home finally and we’re having breakfast.”

Harry grumbled something inaudible and made to search his trunk for appropriate robes. He was really growing to hate wearing robes all the time. Jeans, Merlin, he missed jeans. Finally, wearing his cleanest set, in a dark blue, and having cleaned his teeth with a spell and fussed with his hair some, Harry joined Alphard in the hall.

When they arrived at the table in the family dining room again, he found himself embarrassingly glad he’d made the effort. Aurora Black sat at the head of the table, sipping at a cup of coffee. He’d seen pictures of her the day before, but Cassiopeia’s bizarre, blurry shots taken at odd angles (“she hung upside-down from a chandelier to get that one, I think”)  did not do Alphard’s mother justice. She was inordinately beautiful, with Alphard’s same honey-colored eyes and matching golden hair swept back from her face with a series of glittering pins Harry thought must be made of real diamonds. Her lips were painted red, and her nails matched, and all in all she was much more made up than a person ought to be before eight in the morning, but she made it seem as natural as though she did it every day – which, Harry thought, she very well might.

When she saw them, a radiant smile spread over her face. “Sweetheart!” she said, rising to meet Alphard. She rushed over and clasped him to her chest, which Alphard accepted with grace, though it required some stooping on his part. “I missed you!” she said as she stepped away, not before planting a kiss on his forehead. “Oh, love, I’m so sorry I wasn’t able to meet you at the station yesterday. And Harry! You must think me such a terrible hostess.”

Harry blinked back at her. “Ah. I’m… yes? No. I mean, that is to say, that’s alright?”

Then to his alarm, she seized him by the upper arms and leaned forward in a cloud of perfume as though to kiss him too. Luckily, she only pecked the air by each of his cheeks in a European fashion.

“Mum, come on, let him go,” Alphard groused. Harry shot him a grateful look, then wondered if there was any glance he could use that might convey his distress that the other boy hadn’t told him his mum was a bloody supermodel. Hermione and Ron would’ve managed it, he thought. As soon as Ron stopped gawping.

“Sorry, Harry darling,” replied Aurora, loosening her grip on Harry. “I know you boys are getting too old for me to manhandle.”

“It’s alright, mum,” replied Alphard, who still had a scarlet lipstick print directly in the center of his forehead. “Did Kreacher make those scones I like?” he went on, turning to the table.

“I asked him to especially,” his mother replied, smiling at him as if he’d just paid her the highest compliment. “And Harry, we’ll have treacle tart with dinner – if that’s still your favorite?”

“Erm, yeah,” said Harry a little helplessly. Alphard snorted into his scone, the bloody traitor.

-

“Remember,” Alphard said. “Don’t call it Christmas – it’s weird, no one does that; it’s Yule, right?”

“I remember,” Harry insisted. It was the day before the big Black family Christmas – Yule – dinner, which Aurora Black was hosting this year, and Alphard had spent much of what time of it Harry had been awake coaching him on what to say and do around his various relations.

It was only noon, and Harry had a headache.

Adhara had arrived yesterday and seemed to spend much of her time chasing Snowball around the house while swearing under her breath. Alphard had pestered Harry into finishing his homework their first few days there, and Aurora Black, when she was home, swanned through the library where they’d sequestered themselves and plied them with sweets and praise for being so studious.

“Wish we were at your place,” said Alphard. “Harry’s place,” he corrected. “Potter Manor has amazing grounds; you can fly anywhere you’d like in them. I don’t know why my family wanted to build this place in Islington.”

“I like it here,” said Harry. He did, in fact – sometime during the first night he’d spent there, someone – he suspected Kreacher – had covered the house head to toe in festive décor. Now all the bannisters were wreathed in evergreen branches, and on every surface were blood-red poinsettias and ribbons and holly. A dusting of fake snow fell continuously in the main family sitting room where a large tree decked with charmed candles that never blew out sat. Under it was a massive pile of gifts, and around it flew little fairies, who Alphard’s mother left shallow dishes of honey and milk out for every night.

It might not be his home, or rather, the Potters’ – but it was quite homey. He’d never seen Grimmauld Place so lovely. Harry had never especially admired or aspired to wealth – he had money, but only because he’d inherited it, and he’d been telling the truth all those years ago when he said to Ron that the Burrow was the best house he’d ever been in. But magic, he admired – and there was something about this house with its richness of history and tiny magical details that caught at him, now that it was stripped of the dark magic and morbid mementoes that plagued it in his own world. The moving carvings on every doorframe and staircase, the array of paintings that shifted and shimmered and winked as you passed them - they made Harry wonder if perhaps he wouldn’t like to live somewhere like this someday.

And, as well, around every corner there seemed to be some marker of the other Harry’s time with his closest friend. Alphard’s room was as full as the other Harry’s had been with photographs of himself and his friends, and Harry spent a good bit of time watching as pictures of the other Harry tugged Lyra into a hug while she tried swatting him away and threw his arm around Alphard congenially while the other boy grinned and ducked under.

He wondered for the hundredth time what he was like, the other Harry. He looked happy.

Alphard said things like “Here’s our chess set – there’s the scorch marks, from when my dad taught us chess” like they were nothing, like memories were something you could spin from thin air instead of sweat and blood. “One of the first Regulus Blacks,” he’d say, pointing to a painting. “Harry insulted his robes once and he chased us all round the house shouting, frame to frame – didn’t stop ‘til we hid in the entry hall by the portrait of Granny Walburga. He tried to come into her frame and she screamed like a banshee ‘til he ran off, though I’m still not sure if she was screaming at him or us…”

Now he was recalling every Yule past, trying to remember pertinent details that some cousin or another might reference to Harry. “Last year the cousins were all here to open gifts and Harry came by and gave Dora a stuffed badger. It ate Cassie’s hair ribbons,” he said. “And he gave Delphinus a teapot, only he never said why, but they both cackled about it for hours…”

“Am I expected to get them gifts, too?” Harry asked in alarm.

“Oh, I thought of that,” said Alphard, with a wave of his hand. “I got loads of things while you were having a drink with Mr. Potter. They’ve already been sent off - it's just mum and Addie and us for Christmas morning, this time."

According to him, Harry had never joined the Black family for the entire winter hols, or for Christmas dinner proper. He often visited the Black family on Christmas and exchanged gifts – sometimes along with his father – but he’d never spent the whole break at Alphard’s before. This revelation brought the question of who James Potter had spoken to that day with the enchanted mirrors once more to the forefront of Harry’s mind.

He needed most of his attention to focus on getting through this Christmas dinner, and later on helping Lyra steal the Ravenclaw book… but still, his thoughts wandered now and then to that day.

Maybe, thought Harry, he was planning something. Maybe he had something to hide?

Kreacher appeared in Alphard’s room then, summoning them to lunch and giving Harry a look like he thought he might compliment him or explode on the antique carpets, or something else unseemly.

“Am I doing alright around your mum?” he asked when the elf vanished. “Do you think she suspects anything?”

“Nah,” Alphard said. “Harry’s always been a bit tongue-tied around her – she thinks it’s sweet. Just don’t let her walk all over you. Most people do. You know, she always said that was why she married my dad – because he treated her like an ordinary person. ‘Course, she said it was because he was so big-headed himself…”

Harry offered him a crooked grin, thinking that sounded like Sirius. He’d found it was best not to bring Sirius up, but to let Alphard mention him of his own volition now and then. It was strange – the alternate Sirius seemed to Harry even less like his own than James seemed like his father. Without having spent time in Azkaban, without being disowned and leaving his family at age 16 – because that, apparently, hadn’t happened here, though if that was because Voldemort’s war hadn’t been there to  serve as a catalyst, or for some other reason, Harry didn’t know – he sounded like the boy people had told stories about, the charming rake that had been James Potter’s best friend, and not at all the haunted man that Harry knew.

Until the moment he vanished, Harry supposed.

In the dining room, Aurora Black read Witch Weekly while Adhara deconstructed cucumber sandwiches on her plate.

“Addie, if you’re only going to have the cucumber, why bother?” Alphard asked as he took a seat. Harry slid in next to him.

“He’s right, darling – we could have Kreacher make you something else.” Aurora lowered her magazine. “And what have you two been up to this morning?”

“Studying,” said Alphard, which wasn’t far from the truth.

“I’m sure I don’t know where you get that from,” she said, glancing back at Witch Weekly. “Hmm. Begonias in winter, really? Just because one can doesn’t mean one should- Al, would you mind terribly, next time you’re at Lyra’s, telling me what sort of centerpieces Narcissa has out this time of year?”

“What, for the New Year’s party?”

“Oh no, I’m sure for that she’ll do something appropriately – dramatic. I wonder if she’ll have those moving ice sculptures again. No, only if you visit before the break is over.” Then, murmuring to herself, she added, “whatever happened to camellias? I like camellias…”

“When are Dora and Del getting here?” Adhara asked her mother.

“Midmorning tomorrow,” Aurora said. “Andromeda will bring Cassie by after, sooner to when the twins arrive.”

“Oh, brilliant, have the hellions all show up at once,” muttered Alphard.

“You’ll look after them, won’t you, darling? Make sure they don’t get into too much mischief.”

“Why does everyone think I can look after the twins?” asked Alphard miserably. Privately, as he knew better than to voice it, Harry thought he must be the best at it out of anyone because to his knowledge no one had ever discovered that it was Castor and Pollux who had accompanied Alphard to Hogsmeade that fateful day.

“I’m sure you’ll do admirably,” his mother said.

“He isn’t even a prefect,” Adhara interjected. “And he’s not in Slytherin – he’s not the one who has to deal with those hooligans in his house. Nothing phases them! No matter how many points I take, they never listen to me.”

“Addie, dear, there’s more than one way to influence,” her mother replied, smiling prettily. “You must learn what someone values before you can ever hope to guide them. Castor and Pollux haven’t got any interest in the House Cup, so taking points won’t give them pause.”

“Neither does hexing them,” Adhara muttered darkly.

Aurora sighed once, deeply, into her tea.

Harry was reminded strangely of what Tom Riddle had said about shaping the minds of youth, as if Aurora Black’s philosophy was a lighter variant of Riddle’s. He wondered if he could just set her on the man – perhaps she’d dimple him into submission.

“Was your mum in Slytherin?” Harry asked Alphard later as they mucked about in an upstairs study, killing time until dinner and the arrival of Nymphadora and Delphinus Grimblehawk.

“How’d you guess?” snickered Alphard.

“I’ve never spent this much time around Slytherins before,” admitted Harry. “It’s weird. No one says what they mean and everyone is terrifying.”

“Mate, that’s not just Slytherins. Lyra’s the scariest person I know, frankly. And wait ‘til Dora shows up – she was in Hufflepuff.”

“She was in my world, too,” Harry said. He was actually very much looking forward to meeting alternate-Tonks.

-

Finally Christmas day came, and after breakfast, they all gathered in the family room to open gifts. Harry had never had a Christmas so extravagant. Aurora Black had a veritable mountain of gifts for each of her children, from trinkets and robes from around the world to books to enchanted wand holsters, and that wasn’t even accounting for everything Alphard and Adhara received from other friends and relatives. Even Harry received some of that bounty. He was surprised and pleased to find that Alphard gave him a book on defensive spells that would prove very useful should he have to keep teaching the DA. Inside was written “to my favorite not-a-professor”. Harry grinned despite himself. Lyra sent him a stack of Chocolate Frogs, ruby-inlayed cufflinks, and, mysteriously, a book on wards. The note inside that text cleared up at least some of the mystery – “Few magics are lesser-known or more useful than these,” it said. “I hope you have time to study them, at least a little, and that they prove handy for you – wherever you end up.”

There was also a card from his father accompanying another stack of gifts. “Happy Yule, Harry!” the card began.

“Sorry I couldn’t be there with you – I promise to make it up to you over your birthday. I mean Quidditch World Cup tickets level of make-up – but forget I said that, will you? Or pretend it’s a surprise, when the time comes.

See you soon,

Love,

Dad”

Harry read it over with mixed emotions. It was a strange feeling being disappointed by someone that you’d only met a few months prior.

In the end, he still cared more about the card than the presents themselves, reading and re-reading it.

The day from there on passed after that in a veritable whirlwind. Aurora seemed to be everywhere at once, and though Harry never saw her appear frazzled, she had, at some point after tea, decided that the color of the wallpaper in the power room off the main hall was no longer to her liking and charmed it at least a dozen times before landing on a shade of green that he was fairly certain was the original.

“Best not to mention it,” whispered Alphard when he pointed that out to the boy. “When she gets like this, there’s no telling what’ll happen. Don’t stay still too long, or she might decide you’d be better as a blonde.”

At some point the two of them changed into their dress robes – Harry’s father had sent him two sets with his Christmas gifts, and Alphard had suggested the less formal of the two, telling him that the other set was probably meant for the New Year’s Ball. “I reckon he figures you’ll attend,” shrugged the other boy. “Mum always goes, anyway.”

“Was I even invited, technically?” mused Harry.

“Oh, I’m sure an invitation was sent,” Alphard said. “To the Potter Family, most likely – your family’s respectable enough that the Malfoys aren’t going to snub you outright, at least.”

Harry found himself musing on that, wondering if the same would hold true if, in his own world, his dad hadn’t married his mum. Or at least if no one had known about it. It might. Perhaps that was a perk of being a halfblood – not having to go to fancy events except for when he was strong-armed into attending something war-hero related by the ministry. 

At least these robes didn’t itch.

Then, near tea-time, his chance to meet the other world’s Tonks arrived with a bang. He was playing a game of chess in the library with Al when a tremendous noise came from downstairs.

“That must be them!” Alphard said, jumping up. Harry followed him as he ran down to the first floor, wondering what on earth could have made the sound in a universe without that cursed troll-foot umbrella stand. He was somewhat delighted to see not-Tonks hopping around on one leg in the foyer, swearing and pointing her wand at an up-ended festive topiary.

“Buggering – who puts a tree there, anyway?” shouted the familiar woman.

“It was nearly a meter away from you, Dora,” said the girl standing beside her. She had light brown hair and an upturned nose with a smattering of freckles – Harry supposed she must be Delphinus. “Honestly, I’m not sure how you managed to knock it over.”

“It jumped out at me!” declared Dora as her sister returned the potted topiary to its former spot with a wave of her wand.

“Hullo, ladies!” said Alphard as he landed in the foyer with a leap down the last few stairs.

“Al!” greeted Dora cheerfully, seemingly forgetting her injured foot. “C’mere, you!” She lunged forward as if to hug the boy, who ducked aside. “Oh, hullo Harry,” she added as she grabbed Alphard in a headlock, waving with her spare hand, and Harry returned her grin and gave a wave in reply.

Delphinus Grimblehawk, who looked to be 19 or 20, greeted them both more sedately, offering Harry and her cousin a warm smile and inquiring after Adhara.

“She’s chasing after Snowball again, I think – Lyra covered him in tracking spells but they’ve all worn off.”

“Oh, she wrote me about him! I want a cat,” sighed Delphinus. “I’m off to find her. Tell Aunt Rory hi for me.”

“Where is your mum, anyway?” asked Harry.

“Haven’t seen her,” replied Dora. “We Apparated to the stoop – Delphinus swears the Floo would’ve ruined her robes. Personally, I think she’s just trying to get me splinched.”

Have you splinched yourself lately?” asked Alphard in a tone that suggested it was a common occurrence.

“Pfft,” replied Dora. “An eyebrow or two – beauty of being a metamorphmagus, kid. They grow back!” As if to prove her point, she grew both her eyebrows out suddenly, each one lengthening like a tiny beard to form hair-curtains over her eyes.

Harry was pleased to see that she still had that ability here. It seemed the more things changed, the more they stayed the same.

“Merlin, put those back,” complained Alphard. “You look like that awful little dog Aunt Embryne insisted on buying when Uncle Reg took her to China.”

“Oh, I loved that thing!” said Dora, shrinking her eyebrows back to an ordinary length but turning them blue, as if by way of compromise. “Whatever happened to it?”

“I’m not unconvinced she turned it into a footstool,” replied Alphard. “How’s work?” he asked in a total non-sequitur, and Harry perked up, wondering if Dora might be tricked into telling them something important about the Knights of Walpurgis.

Awful,” she said. “Last night I got called out to Cecil Heidengart’s house just to get lettering off his walls. It was a nasty bit of charms work, mind, but honestly! They should’ve sent a trainee for that. Or a cursebreaker, for that matter.”

“What’d it say?” asked Harry curiously. He recalled that Alphard had mentioned offhand that one of the people who’d been part of the disruption in Hogsmeade had painted something on a wall, but the other boy had never said what exactly. He wondered if the incident was related.

“Oh, something dreadful, nevermind that. My point is that I’ve got better things to do, you know?”

“Isn’t Heidengart in the Wizengamot?” asked Alphard.

“He’s got half a dozen seats, yeah, as he reminded me several times over the course of the evening.”

“Did it have anything to do with that?” Harry asked.

Dora furrowed her brow. “Curious little buggers, aren’t you?”

“Not at all,” said Alphard easily. “Just making sure my favorite cousin’s not doing anything terribly dangerous.”

Dora seemed not to mind the rather obvious distraction, rolling her eyes. “If my mother asks, I’ve been making tea for all the senior Aurors and twiddling my thumbs. She’s not best pleased, you know, about how many hours I’ve been putting in… really ought to move out soon…”

“My dad’s been working a lot, too,” said Harry, trying his best to sound put-out by it. It helped that he was irritated at the man’s evasiveness in the few letters they’d exchanged over the term.

Dora sighed, running a hand through her hair, which was chin-length and gray at the moment. “Yeah, I’d bet. We’ve all been doing overtime – Scrimgeor’s set on us covering everything so the Chancellor’s men won’t have call to show up in Britain more than they should.”

Harry and Alphard exchanged a quick look. “When you say everything…” Alphard began carefully, “You mean like the skirmish in Hogsmeade a couple months back?”

Dora frowned as if realizing she’d said more than she meant to. “Forget I mentioned it,” she replied. “It’s nothing concerning you.”

“It concerns us if these people show up in Hogsmeade,” Harry pointed out. “We were there.” He hadn’t been, technically, but she need not know that.

“Just stay out of their way if it happens again,” she said more insistently. “Look, this isn’t something you ought to be poking into – but they haven’t been violent, so far. It’s all been little booklets and things painted here and there. Just keep out of it and it’ll be fine. We’re close to catching them, anyway.”

“What do they want?” Alphard asked, more bluntly. Harry, for his part, wondered how “close” she meant.

“Oh, who knows?” she shrugged, laughing, thought it sounded forced. “To change the world, I suppose – isn’t that what these sorts always want? I want them to stop drawing attention here from the capitol.”

“Come on, Dora,” pleaded Al. “We’re behind some of the best wards in Britain. We’re all family – well, Harry’s mostly family. You can tell us.”

“There’s nothing to tell,” she shot back, with a sharpness uncharacteristic of the Tonks Harry knew. “Just because we’re family doesn’t mean – look. There’s some things you just can’t talk about, yeah? Even behind wards and doors. The walls have ears, kiddo. And I know Auror Potter would agree with me,” she added, giving Harry a pointed look. “He’d want you to keep your head down and be safe.”

“What’s safety in an unsafe world?” asked Alphard under his breath.

Harry wondered if he were quoting something. Dora shot him a speculative look. “I’m going to go find Aunt Rory,” she said, and she took her leave.

Harry played over the conversation in his head, trying to think of if they’d learned anything useful. “That thing you said you saw someone paint in Hogsmeade,” he said. “Did you make out what it was? What it said?”

Alphard shook his head. “No. Maybe we ought to see if Lyra will let us use that pensieve when we get back to school. I can go over my memory of it, see if I catch anything.”

If we go back,” Harry pointed out, lowering his voice. “If we get Ravenclaw’s book, we might find a way to get me home before next term.”

“Oh. I forgot about that,” said Alphard. He appeared conflicted. “Not that I don’t want our Harry back…”

“But there’s the question of what I’ll be leaving you lot with,” Harry said, understanding.

“And what he’ll be coming home to,” agreed Alphard. “It’s not that I want you fighting our battles for us, it’s only that… well. You seem better equipped to deal with this than our Harry is. Than any of us are, certainly.”

“I don’t know about that,” admitted Harry. “I’m able to deal with dark wizards, not… politics and saying one thing when you mean another.”

“Doublespeak,” said Alphard. “It’s called doublespeak. You get used to it.”

The never-ending day continued with Lyra and her family arriving for a quick visit – only her, her mother and Draco, mercifully; Harry wasn’t sure how he’d respond to the appearance of Lucius Malfoy.

They met in “the blue sitting room, not the gold” and Narcissa, almost immediately after her perfunctory greeting, engaged Aurora in what was either a spirited catching-up or an extremely polite debate.

“Father is calling on a business associate,” explained Lyra as she sat between Harry and Alphard. Draco poked at the ornaments on the hearth as if annoyed that he hadn’t been able to skive off with his father. Harry couldn’t help but laugh a little – he’d never seen the boy so bored.

“Did you like your gifts?” Alphard inquired politely.

“Very much so,” she said with equal formality. “And you two?”

“I liked the book,” Harry supplied. “The one on wards – I’m going to read it when I have a chance.”

Lyra hmm’d noncommittally. “The best gifts are those we wouldn’t have considered buying ourselves,” she said. “Are you two ready for the ball?” she asked, lowering her voice.

“Not really,” replied Alphard, darting a look at where his mother and Narcissa Malfoy stood.

“I’m sure it will be fine,” Lyra murmured in reply.

“We’ve got the coins,” said Harry. “And there’ll be loads of people there, right?”

“Over a hundred,” Lyra agreed. “I’ve heard even some foreign dignitaries are slated to attend.”

“That does not inspire confidence!” Alphard hissed back. “What foreign dignitaries? Not—”

“No Germans, no,” Lyra dared whisper in reply.

They were interrupted – though Harry suspected the conversation would not have gone much further – by Regulus Black’s family appearing, and then, not long after, the remainder of Andromeda’s. Soon the sitting room was quite full indeed with family members catching up with one another. Cassie and the twins almost immediately darted off somewhere but the remaining group all exchanged greetings, everyone but Dora and Del giving Harry a strange look as they did, apparently wondering what he was doing there.

“Mr. Potter’s really swamped at the ministry, lately,” said Dora, turning her hair red and green to her mother’s dismay.

“Dora! Could you please, just once, wear a seemly hairstyle for dinner—”

She winked at Harry exaggeratedly and he gave her a grateful look in return.

Eventually it was time for the Malfoys to leave for their own Yule meal, and Lyra bade Alphard and Harry farewell.

“I have every faith in you two,” she said as she gave them both a hug goodbye. Harry realized as she did that really, the plans they’d laid out relied on her most of all – her ability with wards, her knowledge of her house. He hoped that faith was not misplaced. For the first time he really thought about how badly it might go if they were caught. He couldn’t help but recall how terrible his last “trip” to Malfoy Manor had been. He wondered – did he trust her? Did he dare?

Strangely, made even stranger by seeing her move to stand beside her mother and brother, to which she clearly bore a resemblance, not only in features but in bearing, in manner – he thought he did.

People weren’t their families, he supposed. Or at least, he amended, they weren't only their families. They were some kind of tapestry woven of a hundred sorts of threads, bits of everyone around them and bright, shimmering bits of things that were wholly themselves.

Then they were called into the larger, formal dining room, which had been decorated with gold centerpieces and linens in a rich, emerald green.

As they sat for dinner, Harry got his first proper look at Embryne Black, Regulus’ wife, and Hubert Grimblehawk. Embryne did indeed look like a woman who was both related to Dolores Umbridge and would, given half a chance, extract your liver to use in an especially nasty potion. Hubert, on the other hand, was almost bizarrely congenial, smiling and snub-nosed like his middle daughter, with a shock of greying blonde hair. When the first course appeared with a flourish of magic, he actually clapped.

Andromeda appeared to sigh from her place beside him.

“Such enthusiasm!” declared Aurora. “Happy Yule, everyone. Please, let us, as they say… “dig in”?”

“Hughbie,” said Dora to her father, “Would you mind passing the butter?” The butter dish rose on four legs and marched her way. “Thanks, Hugh!”

“That wasn’t me!” declared the baffled man, his pointed beard all a-tremble. Harry noticed Alphard shoot the twins a suspicious glare, but neither had so much as looked up from where they were eating something flambeed – Harry was terrified to think it might be peacock.

Cassie, who was seated on Harry’s right, tugged at his sleeve. He bent his head curiously. “I wouldn’t touch the gravy if I were you,” she whispered.

“…erm, thanks?” replied Harry, and turned to relay the message to Alphard.

But alas, it was too late – the gravy bowl began to spark.

“Boys…” Embryne began, turning her dark eyes on her children. “Did you—”

Before she could finish, the dish exploded.

-

When at last Kreacher had cleared the final bits of food off the dining room walls, and the pudding course had been served, and Embryne had threatened Castor and Pollux with their removal from Hogwarts and homeschooling under her personal instruction, Harry decided that this wasn’t the worst Christmas he’d ever had. He wasn’t sure if Aurora and Andromeda, who had retired to the conservatory with spiked nog to commiserate, quite agreed, but it was certainly eventful, he told Alphard as they made their way upstairs to their respective rooms to retire for the night.

“Actually,” said Alphard with good cheer, “I think that’s the least eventful family dinner we’ve had yet. Also, you’ve got a bit of gravy on your collar.”

-

Before they knew it, December 31st had arrived and with it the New Year’s Ball. Harry anxiously dressed in the robes his dad had sent and then, on further thought, added the cufflinks Lyra had given him.

“Are you nervous about the – you know, thievery thing?” Alphard asked Harry as he fiddled with his own robes.

“No, the party,” he said seriously. “I’m awful at them.”

Alphard seemed to regard that as ridiculous but said “just follow my lead”.

Aurora Black declared herself “nowhere close to ready” when Alphard made to check on her and so the two of them made to floo by themselves, leaving Adhara to go with her mother later. Harry couldn’t help but feel strange about stepping into the enormous fireplace as Alphard said, clearly, “Malfoy Manor!”

They arrived in a vast, empty receiving hall quite like the one at Grimmauld only at least five times the size. This was, Alphard explained, the only night of the year where the wards were lowered so that guests could enter the manor directly.

Harry gazed around him at the Malfoy ancestral home as he and Alphard got their bearings. It was, unlike Grimmauld Place, more or less the house he recalled – cold, austere, impossibly expensive-looking. Everything was marble and metal, black and white. It, too, had been decorated for the holidays, he thought as Alphard led him through a maze of corridors, but its decorations took the form of white-frosted silver branches and glittering oversized snowflakes suspended in midair. As they approached the ballroom, Harry heard a swell of orchestral music and the hum of voices. The doors swung wide and revealed the party underway within.

“There are the ice sculptures, like mum said,” remarked Alphard. “Oh, Merlin – do you see the dragon? Ten galleons on Draco whining for that one.”

“I’ll bet he keeps it after,” Harry replied.

Alphard grinned, but he seemed tense. “Right,” he said after a moment. “Let’s not linger in the doorway. Make a show of being here, talk to people – we can do that – then it’s just a matter of waiting for Lyra’s cue.”

This was the way they’d planned it weeks before in the Room of Requirement: Harry and Alphard, on their arrival, would go around the ball being sure to be seen. Lyra, who would already have made her rounds earlier in the evening, would have slipped off by then to the library, where she’d begin the process of removing the wards. At its most crucial stage, she’d summon them to help – Harry was to join her inside, because he was thought to have the quickest reaction time and would be able to either shield them both if magical backlash occurred or disarm and stun someone if a human opponent appeared. Alphard would stand guard outside and warn them of anyone approaching. When all was done, hopefully without event, they'd return to the ball as if nothing had happened.

Despite the number of familiar faces in the ballroom - none of them, he noted with relief, being Bellatrix Lestrange's, even - Harry was happy to let Alphard take the lead in socializing as he’d suggested.

“Hello, Mr. Diggory – yes, happy New Year! Is Nate around? Oh, yes, I’d heard about Cedric – mm, yes, you must be quite proud…”

Harry was surprised by just how many people asked after Alphard’s mother. Apparently, she really was very nearly a celebrity. If the Slug Club had existed in this universe, he thought, the boy would’ve been a shoo-in for it.

“Harry!” said Alphard suddenly after they’d finally gotten away from an over-excited Dedalus Diggle.

“What is it? Is it the coin? Is—”

“No, Harry; look! Canapes!”

“…for fuck’s- right, let’s go talk with Zabini.”

“Circe’s sake, why?”

“Because, you’ve said before he was a gossip, yeah?” Harry replied. “Let’s go have a scandalous word with him; that way he’ll tell everyone we were here.”

“About what?” Alphard asked, secreting away several canapes.

“I’m sure we’ll think of something,” Harry said. “I’m very good at being gossiped about.”

Finally, Harry felt the coin grow warm in his pocket and begin to rattle around. Alphard nearly dropped the bit of cheese he was holding, and Harry, who’d decided he’d rather be in a stand-off with ten Death Eaters than go to another ball for the rest of his life, was all too happy to pull him back out the door.

Once in the hall, he was forced to let Alphard take the lead because he had no idea where the library actually was and neither wanted to risk taking the coins out of their pockets until they were well away from the crowd. Harry felt like he’d crossed four Quidditch field’s worth of marble floor by the time they finally arrived at a set of ornately carved double doors and Alphard stopped.

“This is where we part ways, I think,” he said. Then he offered him a cheeky salute. “Best of luck, mate. Remember: SOS means someone’s coming, hide, and three exclamation points means it’s one of the Malfoys and you’ve been caught, and also hide, but Lyra will stay out and take the blame.” They'd decided that their cover story, in the event of the latter, was that Lyra, curious Ravenclaw that she was, couldn't resist the allure of secret tomes.

“Yeah, really brilliant code, that,” said Harry, fingering his coin.

“Like to see you do better,” Alphard shot back. "Anyway - good luck, okay?"

With a final nod, Harry opened the door.

The library beyond was two stories tall – almost as large as the one in Hogwarts, with gleaming black floors and lanterns that cast an eerie blue light. Now that he was out of sight, Harry took out the galleon and let the navigational charms woven in tug him in the right direction. He struggled to hear Lyra or anything else in the room, but it was so quiet you might’ve heard a pin drop.

Finally, he came to a dark corner where a tall, spindly ladder rose into nothingness. He looked at the coin, then the ladder, realizing he was meant to climb. With a sigh, he shoved the galleon back into his pocket and hoisted himself up.

The ladder wove dangerously back and forth as he ascended into fathomless black. As he drew higher, Harry realized the blackness wasn’t natural – it was done by magic, some sort of spell that worked similarly to the Instant Darkness Powder Fred and George had once made. Eventually he was forced to work his way blindly, hand over hand. He could no longer see the ladder or the library around him at all, and whatever he was climbing towards was still just as indiscernible. If felt as if he climbed for a very long time in the utter darkness. Somehow it seemed he’d risen more than a mere story.

Then, after a long while, the darkness parted suddenly. Harry blinked and clung to the ladder for dear life, then, as his eyes adjusted, made out a strange alcove in front of him, perhaps the size of Hagrid’s hut. It was lined with dark wooden shelves that seemed, somehow, both less elegant and more oppressive than their counterparts below, as if they were soaked in spells that would do nasty things to anyone who dared touch them.

He supposed that they probably would.

And, of course, in the midst of it was Lyra. Her airy gold dress robes were entirely at odds with the alcove, and her back was turned to him, revealing her elaborate crown of braids but not what she was currently doing.

“…hello?” he called out.

Lyra spun on the spot. “There you are!” she said. “Oh, just in time – I managed to take off the spells that keep anyone not family out. But, well, that’s apparent, since you’re here. I’m working on some of the others now.”

“And the wards?” Harry asked as he swung a leg cautiously over the ladder and to the floor in front of him. Finding it solid, he disembarked from the wobbly ladder entirely, already lamenting that he’d have to climb down it again when all was said and done.

“I haven’t begun on them yet,” she said. “There were a whole host of anti-intruder curses to manage, first. Luckily, those will be easy to put back when we’re done and removing them doesn’t alert the ward-holders. I’ve already come up here a few times over the break to study them.”

Harry moved closer, realizing that she was standing in front of a specific shelf with a glass-fronted door.

“Is it in there?” he asked, taking stock of the bookcase. It seemed in some way apart from the others, and not just because of it being the only one with doors. The air seemed to shimmer around it, he realized, marking it as being even more heavily enchanted than the rest of the alcove.

“I believe so,” she murmured in reply. “The enchantments stop one from viewing the titles, but I’ve checked each shelf, just in case, and I haven’t found anything near as rare as a Ravenclaw manuscript. If it’s anywhere in this library, it will be here.”

“Hermione would love this place,” Harry remarked, casting a glance around him. “There must be some awfully rare things here.”

“Books few human eyes have ever touched,” Lyra agreed. “I only wish that I had time to browse.”

“It’s your house, isn’t it?”

She nodded slowly. “I’ve never been up here before this last week, though. My blood lets me up the ladder and into the room itself, but nearly everything here is bewitched in some way. I think I’ll wait until I inherit the library properly to go exploring again.”

“Er- isn’t Draco the eldest? Won’t he get the manor?”

Lyra turned and smiled slyly at him. “The manor, certaintly. The library… well, not if I have my way. I’m the Ravenclaw in the family, after all.” Then she turned sterner and faced the glass-fronted bookcase once again. “I’m going to start working on the wards, now,” she said by way of warning. “You might want to stand back.”

As she began her work, air thrumming with magic and coming alight with strands of color just like before in Riddle’s office, Harry looked around the room, taking stock of the books that he could read the titles of.

Well, sort of. A good number of them weren’t in English. Some seemed to be French or German, some in Runes, some in languages he didn’t recognize. On one strangely built bookcase with shelves that were slanted instead of horizontal, a handful of tablets made of clay or stone were displayed.

Yes, Hermione would have a field day in here. Harry wondered absently what the chances of her ever bullying Draco Malfoy into opening his library to the public might be. Malfoy Sr. was in prison in his world, after all. Perhaps after Narcissa passed?

Perhaps half an hour in to her work, Harry felt the coin heat in his pocket. He drew it out again, wondering what the message might be. Had someone strayed near the library?

Something’s happening,” said the coin. Harry frowned. This was neither of their agreed upon messages. What was he meant to do? Did they need to leave, or would Alphard handle whatever it was? No further message came to clarify.

“Lyra?” he asked finally.

“I feel it,” she replied, sounding as though she were gritting her teeth. “I can’t let go right now – if I do this whole thing might collapse on us. What does it say?”

“’Something’s happening’,” Harry repeated duly.

“Oh, for – Alphard! Circe, what does that mean? Send him a message back.”

“Right,” said Harry, drawing out his wand and tapping the coin with it. “What is it?” he said aloud.

Don’t know,” came the reply. Then, just as quick, the words disappeared. In their place came another phrase: “I hear something. Screaming?”

Harry's heart skipped a beat. “Lyra,” Harry said again urgently, “he says someone’s screaming.” Harry did his best to resist the urge to grab the girl and run, knowing that if he did the wards would collapse all around them and the ensuing magical backlash could be deadly. Adrenaline pounding, he tapped the coin again. “Who’s screaming? Can you see anything?” The message cut off, the last word reading “Anyth—” but he thought the other boy would get the point.

Lyra, for her part, was still chanting. “I can’t do anything,” she said in a break, sounding as tense as Harry felt. “Not now. Maybe you should go see- it might be a false alarm, maybe the twins set another prank?”

“Maybe,” he replied, the Auror in him was itching to go. “You’ll be alright if I leave?”

“Go,” she said firmly. “Fly down – it’ll be faster, there aren’t any Animagus wards here. If it’s a false alarm, come back as soon as you’re able.”

“I'll be quick,” Harry replied, and then, grateful she’d thought of it, he shifted into his Animagus form and with a last glance at her flew out of the alcove and away.

He made it to the door of the library in just a few seconds, landing and shifting to human again nearly as fast. He opened the door carefully, wand drawn.

The hallway beyond was empty.

“Alphard?” he called out. There was no reply.

“Shit,” said Harry emphatically. Then he, too, heard a sound – not Alphard, but a might crash. It sounded like shattering glass, like a window breaking or a chandelier falling to the ground. “Shit,” he said again. Quickly, he disillusioned himself – he didn’t dare risk transforming in the open, not until he assessed how dire the situation was.

Harry took off running in the direction he thought the sound came from, realizing as he did that he thought it had come from the ballroom, and hoping he didn’t get lost in the winding corridors along the way. Some point he thought might be halfway to the party, someone else turned a corner running towards him and nearly collided with his invisible form.

Alphard almost screamed, but Harry quickly clapped a hand over his mouth. “It’s me!” he said, cancelling the invisibility spell. “It’s Harry! What’s going on?”

“Fuck!” Alphard said in reply. “Where’s Lyra?”

“Still in the library,” Harry hissed back. “She couldn’t stop where she was. Too dangerous. What’s happening?”

“There’s people in the manor!” said Alphard. Now that he’d come to a full stop, Harry saw the panic written in his features. “I didn’t make it back to the ballroom – there were people outside, a load of people in black cloaks.”

“Who?” Harry replied, dragging Alphard behind him, looking for a safe spot to hide or recalibrate. He tried the knob to one of the many doors in the hall and found it locked.

“I think it was the Knights,” said Alphard. "I saw one of them write something on the wall."

Really? I thought they were – non-violent, so far,” Harry replied, only half-focusing on what he was saying. He tried another door and found it, too, locked. “Alohamora,” he said, but it didn’t budge.

“Not that I was sticking around to find out,” Alphard said, “But I didn’t see them curse anyone – they were just, I don’t know, breaking things? I don’t think they’re here to duel.”

Harry had no time to consider that, because another resounding crash came from just around the corner. He got into a battle stance, pulling Alphard behind him. “Draw your wand!” he told the boy.

Someone else came running around the corner, but it was clear in a moment that they were only a guest of the party. He was an older man, dress robes in tatters like he’d tripped over them and ripped the hem at some point in his flight.

“Run!” he screeched at the two boys as he darted down the hall.

“Wait!” cried Harry, grabbing the man by his sleeve as he passed. “What’s going on? Who’s here?”

“Chaos!” said the man, even as he tried to prize Harry’s grip from his sleeve. Harry held fast. “They’ve broken all the windows, they’ve put up Apparition wards! We’re trapped here! Trapped!”

“But is anyone hurt?” insisted Harry as the man tugged, thinking that if the windows were broken, they weren’t really trapped, were they?

“Chaos!” he screeched again, finally freeing himself with a rip of his sleeve.

“Where the bloody hell’s he even going?” asked Alphard as he ran off. “There’s not a Floo that way or anything.”

“People panic in things like this,” said Harry grimly. “Right. We need to figure out what to do. You find a place to hide, I’ll go see what’s going on.”

“Bollocks that!” said Alphard. “I’m going to go get Lyra and get out of here.”

“Right, right, fine,” Harry said, nodding, already turning back towards the hall Alphard had run from. “Good, just stay out of sight.”

“What? No, Harry, listen, you’re coming too!” cried Alphard, tugging at his sleeve.

“I’m an Auror,” Harry hissed back. “This is my job!”

“You’re not one here! The real Aurors will be here soon to take care of – whatever this is! Dora’s here, I bet she’s sent off a message already.”

“What about your mum? Your sister?” Harry shot back, rather unkindly. At the look on Alphard’s face, he regretted it. “No, look, it’s alright. Let’s go get Lyra first, alright? Then we’ll come back for your family.”

“Sure,” said Alphard rather miserably as he let himself be dragged back along to the library.

Harry felt a nasty sense of déjà vu as they raced to the library, throwing open the doors with little subtlety this time. He was reminded of the attack on Hogwarts, of battles. He wished they’d prepared for this – that they’d brought brooms, perhaps, or…

Harry transformed again and flew up to the hidden alcove without a word of explanation to Alphard, but he sensed the boy climbing the ladder quickly behind him.

It would be nice, too, if his companions weren’t frightened kids. Harry already felt a twist of guilt in his stomach for, however inadvertently, leading them into danger.

“I’ve got them to a place where I can hold things still,” Lyra said to him by way of greeting as he landed back in the room and transformed. Sweat shone on her forehead and Harry suspected she’d pushed harder than she’d intended to. “What’s going on out there?”

“The manor is under attack, I think,” he said shortly. “Alphard thinks it’s the Knights. It seems like they might just be smashing things up.”

A number of emotions flickered over Lyra’s face then. She seemed to settle on anger. “What in all seven hells are they doing in my house?” she asked finally, and Harry realized the source of the anger was that.

“I’m not sure,” he admitted. “But we need to go – it’s not safe. Can you get the book?” If not, they’d need to leave it and run, but Harry did hope this wasn’t all for nothing.

“I ought to be able to,” said Lyra, just as Alphard finally climbed up and joined them. In the cold blue light of the room, he looked even worse than Harry recalled, hollow-eyed and desperate.

“We need to get out of here,” he said.

Lyra gave his distraught countenance one look and then turned back to the bookcase. “Finestra!” she cried suddenly, shattering the glass.

“Merlin!” shouted Harry, jumping back.

“What happened to ‘they’ll never know we were here’?” said Alphard.

“That was before the manor was invaded,” said Lyra, already pulling books from the shelf systematically, discarding the wrong ones on the floor among the slivers of broken glass. “Let them think it was the intruders,” she said.

“Search a bit faster, maybe?” Harry suggested.

“Do you read middle English? No? Shut up, then,” she snapped back. “No,” she said as she pulled another book from the shelf, “No- oh! I think…” she trailed off, pulling a very slim volume out. It seemed to be bound in a dark, glossy leather that gleamed opalescent where the light hit it.

Dragonhide, thought Harry, who had never seen a book covered in the stuff before.

“I think this is it,” said Lyra, tone reverent.

Unfortunately, they had no time to admire the priceless artifact. She seemed to realize that as she only spelled up a cloth to wrap it in before shoving it into her robes.

“Right,” Harry said. “Come on.”

“Really starting to hate this ladder,” remarked Alphard as he descended first.

“Me, too,” agreed Harry, who had decided he might as well climb down with them.

When they arrived at the ground floor of the library, they all looked around as if to say what now?

Then, suddenly, Lyra called out “Dobby!” and the house elf appeared with a crack. Harry, startled, turned to look at her. “What? You told us he saved you, once – he can get us out, can’t he?”

“What about my sister and mum?” asked Alphard, shooting the elf a skeptical glance.

“Missy!” Dobby was saying, meanwhile. “Missy is not safe, there is being bad men in the house—”

“Yes, Dobby, we know,” said Lyra patiently. “Can you tell me where my family is? Mother and Father? Draco?”

The little creature tugged at his ears. “They’s be under the manor, Missy. They’s be telling Dobby to find you, but Dobby could not, there is being magic in the air—"

“Right,” said Lyra, nodding firmly. At her lack of surprise to the latter, Harry surmised that she’d cast some sort of anti-house-elf spell while she’d worked upstairs, like she had in Riddle’s office. Either she’d cancelled it or they were beyond its reach, now. “They’re safe in the dungeons, then. What about Alphard’s mother and sister? The rest of our family?”

“Mistress Cissa is telling Milly to find Missy Black and the others,” said Dobby, who was now wringing his hands in his pillowcase. “We’s bringing you downstairs—”

“That’s my mother’s elf,” explained Lyra to Harry. Then, to Alphard, she said, “Do you trust that? Can we go, or do you want to go enter the fray yourself?”

Alphard glanced between Harry and Lyra, and then to the elf, as if trying to formulate a response. “I don’t…” he said, a little desperately.

“It’s alright,” said Harry, recognizing his distress. “I’ll check myself, I’m going anyway.”

Are you?” asked Lyra, pointedly.

“Yes!” Harry replied. “Go with him,” he said, gesturing to Dobby, “It’ll be—”

He was cut off by the library doors swinging open. “Hide!” he hissed, ducking behind the nearest shelf.

“Dobby, don’t show yourself unless I say so,” Lyra whispered to the elf, who vanished suddenly – whether leaving the room or turning himself invisible, Harry didn’t know.

“Who—” whispered Alphard.

The blue lanterns of the library flickered brighter as someone entered the room. They were wearing a long, black cloak and their face was hidden – not by a mask, like a Death Eater, but by some sort of magic, thought Harry. It seemed as if a spell kept their face cast in shadow no matter which way they turned.

The three of them held their breath as the figure – the man, thought Harry, by the build – strode in and began making his way through the shelves purposefully. Harry thought he saw the man shoot the corner where the secret alcove lay a glance, but he made no move towards it, perhaps knowing that, as Lyra had said, strong magic there usually kept intruders out.

No, whatever he was after, it did not lay in that corner. Instead he walked towards the center of the library, flicking his wand as he went and sending books flying and crashing to the floor. It appeared almost as if his point were to create as large a mess as he could.

Chaos”, the man in the hallway had said, and Harry saw now what he meant.

Then, just a minute or so after the first man had entered, another figure came through the open door.

“Sir—” the new figure said. Harry didn’t recognize the voice, but thought it sounded like a youngish man.

“Yes?” replied the first man. Harry’s eyes widened and he glanced at the other two. They exchanged a look, all recognizing that voice – it was Tom Riddle.

“We need to leave,” the second person said. “The Aurors are on their way.”

“I say when we leave, Richard,” Riddle replied, his voice going cold. If only it were a few octaves higher, thought Harry, he would sound like Voldemort.

“—yes, sir,” the figure – Richard - replied hesitantly. “I… is there anything you need here?”

Riddle paused, seemingly in thought. “No,” he said after a long moment. “I have business here. Alone.”

The figure nodded and ducked out of the room.

At least he never said “my lord”, thought Harry bitterly.

Riddle paced on heedless of the other man’s departure, continuing to fling books to and fro as he left. As he neared the far wall, he cast the same glass-shattering spell Lyra had before at one of the windows, and it burst outwards.

Soon he was very near the row of shelves along the side wall that Harry and the others hid behind. Harry felt one or both of them tense at the man’s approach.

But then, just as he was about to cast a stunning spell at the man to protect them, Riddle’s attention was caught by something else – a new person coming through the doorway. They, too, wore a black cloak with their face obscured. Riddle appeared irritated at their appearance, but then something in him seemed to quiet, as though he were pleased.

Harry noted absently that he was disconcertingly apt at reading Tom Riddle's body language.

“The Aurors are here,” the new figure said, lingering towards the front of the room. A woman, Harry thought. He squinted. Something about her was familiar – he thought he recognized her voice.

“Very well,” replied Riddle, shifting as though he would leave.

And then someone slipped, pushing into the shelf they were behind, and it creaked, the sound ringing out in the large room.

Riddle turned their way with a whirl of robes. Before he could think better of it, Harry darted out from behind the shelf with his wand drawn, pointing it at Riddle. “Don’t come any nearer,” he said.

“Mr. Potter,” Riddle replied smoothly, seeming somehow unsurprised and smug, tone such that even with his face obscured Harry had no doubt at all as to the other man’s identity. Then, for some reason, Riddle turned to the woman still in the doorway.

Harry?” the figure said.

And as a lock of familiar hair escaped the figure’s hood and caught the lantern light, Harry realized where he’d heard the voice before.

“…Mum?”

Chapter Text

Harry stepped forward almost unconsciously, and the woman on the other side of the room did the same. She reached up with one hand to tug down her hood, and Harry found himself looking at the face of Lily Potter – or Evans, or…

My mother, he thought simply. Of course that was not quite true either, but it was truer than anything else he might speculate.

For a moment, it was as if Tom Riddle didn’t exist at all. He could only stare at Lily – the red hair spilling around her cloak, the green eyes they shared. She was older than he’d ever seen her, with laugh lines and something else that might have been worry written on her face. He couldn’t comprehend her presence there – somehow, it was altogether stranger than seeing his father.

Then his mother spoke up – spoke to Riddle. “Don’t hurt him,” she said. “He’s—” she stopped short, as though some secret still remained, as though Harry hadn’t called her mum only a moment ago.

Harry, meanwhile, would never, so long as he lived, be able to put into words the relief he felt when his mother did not call the man sir.

“I know who he is,” replied Riddle. “I don’t mean your son any harm; I’m sure he won’t tell anyone what he saw here this evening. After all,” he said, “We three – we are none of us supposed to exist in this world.” He turned back to Harry and gave him what seemed like a conspiratorial smile. At some point he, too, had lowered his hood. “Though,” he added, “That will soon change.”

“What’s going on?” Harry hissed. “Why are you here? What are you—” Though he couldn’t afford to take his eyes off Riddle completely, he directed his questions at Lily. He could have asked any of the same of Riddle, but he hardly expected the man to answer.

“You know who I am,” Lily said. It wasn’t a question. Then, after a long moment, she said, “Ask your father, Harry.” She looked very much as if she wanted to say more.

“He knows?

“He’ll explain it to you,” she said hurriedly, casting another glance at Riddle. “I’m so sorry, but I have to go.”

“I’m sure you’ll meet again,” Riddle cut in. “Soon, I think. But for now, I suggest you return to your family – or should I specify your father? It seems you have more of it than you realized. At any rate, I’m sure you have a bit of… catching up to do.”

Riddle turned to leave and then paused. “Ah,” he said. “One more thing—”, and Harry tensed as the other man raised his wand.

“Homenum Revelio!”

At the spell that would reveal human presence in the room, Harry raised his own wand, expecting Lyra and Alphard’s presence to be registered, but nothing happened.

“I see we didn’t have any eavesdroppers this evening,” Riddle said. “How fortunate.”

Harry’s mother looked back at him once more and Harry was sure his own expression must be as inscrutable as hers. Then, just as quickly as they’d appeared, both vanished again with a resounding crack.

Realizing that he, too, ought to leave – he could not risk being questioned by Aurors – Harry turned back to the row of shelves he’d left Lyra and Alphard hidden behind. He went around the row once more and saw no sign of them.

Did Dobby manage to get them out without making any sound?

But then he noticed an unfamiliar case tucked between two shelves. It was rather like the ornamental bookcase that they’d found Ravenclaw’s book in, only without the glass-fronted doors.

On it, atop two wooden stands dotted with tufts of dried grass, were a matched set of suspiciously familiar-looking animals – a white fox and a pine marten, both still and poised as if they’d been preserved as trophies.

Lyra?” asked a dumbfounded Harry. “Alphard?”

And at that, both sprung from the shelf, turning back as they landed.

“…how—"

“I’m sure we mentioned before Alphard was brilliant at Transfiguration,” replied Lyra, straightening her robes. “He turned a few books into a case.”

“Er. Well. Quick thinking?”

“Yes, well, a Malfoy would never go in for something so tacky as taxidermy, but I doubt Riddle knows that.”

“What was that, Harry?” Alphard hissed. “We heard you talking to him – and a woman. What...?”

“My… mother was here?” he replied, still a little stunned on multiple fronts. Then he heard noises out in the hall, shouts – it seemed the Aurors had finally arrived.

Right. They needed to get out of here. “Is Dobby still—”

“Oh, yes. Dobby!” Lyra called.

Dobby rematerialized soundlessly, still somehow in the act of wringing his hands. “Dobby is taking yous down to where Master and Mistress is?”

“No,” Lyra said, after a moment of thought. “No, I think… I think we need time to talk. To think. Dobby, take us to Potter Manor.”

“What?” Alphard asked, just as Harry began to nod – the idea appealed to him more than the Malfoy’s basement, but then, most things did. “Why?”

“Because Mr. Potter will be here, presumably, with the rest of the Aurors. It’s safe, and we’ll have it to ourselves. Dobby, can you take us all at once, or..?”

“Dobby can be taking you if you hold hands,” replied the clearly distraught elf. When this was all over, Harry thought, he’d have to see if he could convince Lyra to trick her father into freeing him.

Lyra grabbed Harry’s left hand and Alphard’s right. Alphard still seemed rather stunned. Dobby snapped his fingers and then, with little ceremony, they re-appeared again outside the front gates of a stately home. Harry realized that he had never seen the exterior of Potter Manor before, but now wasn’t the time to drink it in. “This is being as far as Dobby goes,” said the elf.

“Thank you, Dobby,” Lyra said by way of dismissal. “Please don’t say anything to Mother and Father – we’ll owl them soon and tell them we apparated to Harry’s as soon as things started to go awry.”

Dobby seemed displeased at this but left without protest.

“Harry, you’ll have to let me in,” said Lyra when he’d gone. “Or I hope you can, at least – our Harry would be keyed into the wards, but…”

“Er, right,” Harry said, reaching a hand towards the gates. He gave them an experimental push and they swung open. Relieved, he said, “Do I just…?”

“Just think about how you’re allowing me inside. Alphard already ought to be keyed in, right?”

“Yeah,” agreed Alphard.

Harry did as much and when he stepped through the gates, Lyra and Alphard followed him without issue. Then the three of them walked quietly up the drive to the massive double doors of the house, which also opened at Harry’s touch. They lingered in the entry hall awkwardly afterwards as though none of them knew quite what came next.

“My mother will be beside herself,” Alphard pointed out once they were inside.

Lyra sighed. “Tell her you’re in too much of a state to apparate home now and you want to spend the night at Harry’s,” she said. “She’ll believe it. It’s my mother we ought to worry about. Hopefully she’ll be too busy with Aurors to care so long as I tell her I’m safe.”

“And what do we do when Mr. Potter gets home?” asked Alphard.

“If he makes a fuss we tell him that we know his secret,” Harry cut in grimly. “He’s lied to everyone for seventeen years. I’m sure he won’t mind lying to your parents for a night.”

Lyra raised an eyebrow. “You’d blackmail him?”

Harry winced. When it was phrased that way – but… “Yes,” he said finally, firmly. “Over this, yes. This is about more than my mum being muggleborn. This is… what do you bet he knew she was part of Riddle’s group? That he knew just what Riddle was up to for that reason?”

“They might not’ve been in contact all these years,” Alphard pointed out.

“But she said to ask him to explain – he obviously knows something,” reasoned Harry.

From somewhere in the house, a clock tolled. Twelve times – it was midnight.

“Happy New Year,” said Lyra humorlessly.

Then, abruptly, Harry burst into laughter, remembering something he’d been told long ago. The other two looked at him, alarmed. “It was his birthday,” he finally said. “Riddle. December 31st is his bloody birthday.”

“I suppose that was his present, then, breaking into my house and destroying it. My birthday is in April,” said Lyra. “I think I’d like his head on a platter for it.”

I’d like everything to stop being terrible for one minute,” said Alphard.

“Good luck,” said Harry, not unkindly.

-

In silent agreement, they eventually made their way to the stone-lined room on the topmost floor of the house where Alphard said Loki, James Potter’s owl, was most likely to be found. Sure enough, he watched them imperiously from an owl perch as Lyra and Alphard each scrawled hasty letters to their parents notifying them of their whereabouts and intentions.

Loki flew off with their letters and then the three of them retreated to the other Harry’s room, where Alphard sprawled on the bed in a way that suggested he’d done so often and conjured up a chair so that Lyra could sit. Harry drew the desk chair near, completing their circle.

“What now?” he asked finally.

Lyra pulled out Ravenclaw’s book. Harry had almost forgotten she still had it, and Alphard seemed to have as well, if the way his eyebrows raised was any indication. “I suppose we ought to read this,” she said. “It’s our best shot at getting you home.”

“But that doesn’t solve anything to do with Riddle,” Alphard pointed out. “He’s obviously interested in Harry properly now, and he knows about his mum. He could use that against him and have him kicked out of school. He could ruin his life.”

“What does happen to muggleborns and halfbloods here?” asked Harry suddenly, realizing that he’d never gotten a clear answer on the subject. “I mean… where are they? Where do they live, what do they do?”

Alphard and Lyra exchanged a look. “They live at the fringes of society, essentially,” Lyra said, chewing her lip. “They aren’t allowed to attend Hogwarts, or work in any respectable businesses or the ministry. If they’re found with wands the wands are snapped and they’re sent to Azkaban.”

“Some live in the muggle world,” added Alphard, “And some do menial work in the wizarding world – building things manually, farming, that sort of job. They have to be approved by the ministry to do that and if anyone’s caught speaking with a muggleborn outside of what’s necessary for them to do their work, they’re both punished.”

“There are probably a lot of muggleborns that no one knows about, though,” Lyra added. “It’s only the ones that do big, obvious accidental magic that are caught and registered.”

“So my mum might not be… registered? What does that mean, exactly?”

“Only that there’s no official record of her,” said Lyra. “She’d still be in trouble if she were stopped by Aurors, or if she tried to do pretty much anything that needed identification.”

“Which raises the question of how she met Harry’s father,” said Alphard. “Halfbloods probably aren’t common because it’d be really difficult just for a pureblood to even meet someone muggleborn. I’ve never really heard of one before… now.”

“Glad to be an anomaly,” said Harry wryly. “But then… Riddle is too, isn’t he? He said something about that – about how none of us were supposed to exist.”

“Technically, he might’ve been given official pardon or even special identification if he’s as old as you say,” Lyra pointed out. “I believe that a few halfbloods born prior to the Unification Treaty and ensuing legislature were – but it’s still strange he managed to get into so high a position.”

Harry shrugged, supposing there wasn’t much point speculating on that. “The point is he’s got an undue interest in a Harry Potter and even if me and your Harry switch back that probably won’t stop, and he’ll be in danger.”

“We’ve got him in a bind though, haven’t we?” Alphard asked. “You saw him – you could tell the Aurors he was one of the Knights and get him locked away for life, probably.”

 “I did,” Harry admitted finally. “He took off his hood. But so did my mum – if I were questioned about him they could ask me if I recognized anyone else, and I’d have to implicate her.”

“I would guess that’s what he’s betting on,” said Lyra. “It technically still gives him the upper hand.”

“Unless we testified against him,” said Alphard.

The other two turned to him.

“What?” he asked defensively. “He doesn’t even know Lyra and I were there. We didn’t see his face, but we heard his voice. It might be enough, and we don’t know what Harry’s mum looks like or even what name she goes by, so we wouldn’t be able to give the Aurors anything useful on her.”

Harry hadn’t even considered that possibility. It seemed… wrong, somehow, to have Riddle arrested like a common criminal. It might remove him from the equation, but it seemed both unfitting and like playing into the hands of a corrupt government.

“If they arrested him, he might name his followers just to reduce his sentence,” Lyra said.

“Right,” said Harry more decisively. “He’d name my mum and Remus and who knows who else.” He did, under any circumstance, want that to happen. Perhaps he'd never have a chance to get to know this world's Lily - not if she were on the run with Riddle's group - but the other Harry deserved a chance to, someday, somehow.

“There’s also the part where we were committing a crime when we heard him, anyway,” said Alphard, disheartened. “And hiding as Animagus, although our vow’d stop us talking about that.”

“Would it?” Harry asked curiously. “Does it hold up to Veritaserum?”

“It holds up to anything,” Lyra said, a note of pride in her voice. “It’s not just an ordinary Wizard’s Oath – it holds up against Legilimency and every truth potion or spell. It’s still in effect if one or more of us dies, and we can add to it – add new secrets to the oath as we go. We would’ve added nearly everything to do with you, honestly, if it weren’t for the fact I’m not sure how it’d react to you not being our Harry.”

“And it stops you talking even if you don’t know someone is listening in,” Harry added, remembering. “Like with Nate Diggory in the dormitories that day. That’s really brilliant.”

“Yeah, works with eavesdropping spells, too. It really is pretty clever. Our combined forces at work,” said Alphard, sounding more cheerful. “My charms stuff, and Lyra’s thing with layering spells, and Harry – he came up with a lot of the wording and circumstances to account for, crafty bugger.”

Harry shook his head as though to clear it. “We’re going off track again. The question is, what can we do about Riddle? If we can’t have him arrested…”

“Our only other option is to kill him,” said Lyra matter-of-factly. “Which you, by my understanding, are the resident expert on.”

Harry grimaced. “I’m… not really sure about it,” he said honestly. “It was one thing in my world destroying his horcruxes and watching his own spell backfire. I’m not… I’m not really up to killing him in cold blood, not when he looks so human.”

“If I thought I could, I’d do it,” said Lyra.

“You would?” asked Alphard. He didn’t sound judgmental, only curious.

“To protect Harry? Yes. In a heartbeat. I suppose I might still try… do you think we could have a house elf sneak poison into his food over dinner, back at Hogwarts? They’re much more helpful than I thought…”

Harry snorted. “I wish it was that easy.” Sometimes, when they’d all had a few too many glasses of wine, Ron and Hermione would take turns wondering how things might’ve gone differently if someone had just thought to bring a gun to any one of the fights with Voldemort over the years. (Ron, of course, had to have it explained to him what a gun was, but after he was really on-board with the theory).

Ginny, meanwhile, remarked that Voldemort would’ve had a much easier time of killing Harry if he’d just done anything else but cast the killing curse on him when he was a baby. “You were, what, a year old? He might’ve tried tossing you down the stairs, to be frank.”

“Look, if we’re going to be sat here discussing how best to off our defense professor, can we get a bite to eat?” Alphard asked. “Those canapes were hours ago, now.”

Lyra gave him an incredulous look. “I don’t understand how we’re related, sometimes.”

“Er,” Harry said. “Don’t suppose you know where the kitchen is, here?”

“Yeah, best not disturb Mimsy,” agreed Alphard. “She might go alerting Mr. Potter we’re here.” Harry supposed Mimsy must be the house elf he'd seen before.

They all went, stepping out of Harry’s room and making their way down the hall and towards the grand staircase.

“All these stairs,” Alphard complained. “Maybe, Harry, you can just—” and then he cut off, spluttering and turning red in the face.

“Al?” Harry asked, startled. Was it the vow affecting him, he wondered? “What are you trying to say?”

The other boy grabbed at his throat and gestured as if to silence them both.

“Someone’s here,” hissed Lyra. “They must be.”

“Shh!” said Harry, who was trying to peer over her shoulder into the dark hallway beyond. It was probably only the elf, he thought, but it was impossible to make anything out without casting a light. He thought he heard a muffled footstep, but he couldn’t be sure.

And then two things happened at once: the first was that James Potter, who seemed to be alerted by someone or something of the three friends’ presence in his home if his urgent manner was anything to go off, came thudding up the stairs to the third floor of the house, skidding to a stop before them and giving them all a panicked look.

The second was this: an unseen entity bumped into one of the spindly little ornamental tables in the hallway, upsetting it and knocking the pot plant on top over. It crashed to the floor, the pot shattering to pieces and scattering about the hall. It might almost have been passed off as a spell gone awry or even a house elf’s mistake if it weren’t for the markedly human voice that rang out, saying “fuck me, ow!”

A third thing happened as Harry took in items one and two, looking between James and the seemingly empty hallway beyond, registering that voice and thinking that not only did it sound oddly familiar, it reminded him of one he’d heard recently. Suddenly, the puzzle pieces that had been rattling in his head for weeks now slotted together, and the picture they formed presented itself, fully-realized and whole:

Sirius Black was not dead. If he had ever been in prison, he was not now. He was, instead, a few meters away, in the hall of Potter Manor, and, if Harry wasn’t mistaken, wearing James’ invisibility cloak.

This was what James Potter was hiding. This was why he’d asked Harry not to come home over the break. This was who he’d been talking to with the mirrors that day, and this was why he was standing now agape at the three of them, as if in horror that they’d discovered his secret.

What was more, Alphard seemed to have recognized the voice, too.

Dad?” he called out, in a strange echo of Harry that evening of his first dream.

For a moment, Harry half-expected to jolt awake. It was as though things had come full circle – so, then, should the circle not close? Should this not prove a dream after all?

But he remained standing, remained there in the other world, and Alphard moved as though to step forward and seize the cloak from off the hidden form, and James moved as if to stop him.

This, finally, spurned Harry into action, and he turned to James Potter. “I think,” he said to the man, “That you have a lot of explaining to do.”

-

“I seem to have the only person who hasn’t had a relative show up out of nowhere tonight,” remarked Lyra with false casualness as she poured herself another cup of tea. “I don’t suppose either of you know of a long-lost uncle of mine I ought to expect? A secret brother? No?”

Sirius and James both gave her long-suffering looks. “Does she have to be here?” Sirius asked, for perhaps the fifth time.

“Yes,” answered Harry and Alphard in unison from where they sat on either side of her on a couch. They were in one of the Potter family’s sitting rooms, the group of three sitting across from the group of two, as though in a stand-off.

“Why, Cousin Sirius, aren’t you pleased to see me? It’s been so long.”

Alphard had, in the last half-hour, remained almost entirely silent. He kept shooting his father desperate looks, seemingly checking that he was really there and hoping he’d come up with a better excuse for his eight-year absence at the same time.

Harry, too, found himself staring, but for very different reasons.  

He remembered how Hermione had accused him of being “conflicted” months ago when his dreams began. Conflicted about, among other things, Sirius Black, the man who’d come into his life only to die, the father figure he’d never wholly been allowed to have.

In this moment, Harry thought he was the least conflicted he’d ever been – for while this man looked like his Sirius, more so than James had looked like his James and Lily like his mother, he was also, clearly, not. He was close in age to the Sirius Harry had known, and he, too, looked haggard and worn, like he’d spent time in hell – perhaps he had been in Azkaban, after all.

But he was not Sirius, because he was not, to Harry – this Harry – who Sirius had been to him.

To this man, Harry Potter was only his best friend’s son, or his son’s best friend. His long, black hair was familiar, and his startling grey eyes were, but the look in those eyes was not, because he did not stare back at Harry as though he were someone he’d thought of often over the years.

He hardly looked at him at all. As he and James Potter told their story, Sirius only had eyes for his friend and for his son.

And what a story it was. It begun to unfurl when Harry, Alphard, and Lyra confronted James Potter - who seemed to have half a mind to obliviate them all - and convinced him with a barebones description of their encounter with Lily and Riddle that they already knew more than he’d thought, all the while managing not to spill Harry’s own secret. Or perhaps it started, really, when Sirius, at James’ behest, took off the invisibility cloak, and his son saw him properly for the first time in nearly a decade. Or maybe its start came when they all made their way to this sitting room, where Lyra had called for Mimsy and demanded tea.

Wherever the telling of it started, the story opened with two idealistic young men graduating from Hogwarts, their hearts set on becoming Aurors. It seemed that here, too, they dreamt of heroism, and here, too, Sirius Black dreamt of thumbing his nose at his parents by taking on a dangerous job ill-suited, by their judgement, for the scion of the House of Black.

But before they began Auror training, James and Sirius wanted to travel. They wanted to set out on one last adventure – because in this universe, thought Harry, James and Sirius were also carefree. They were wealthy, ambitious, and clever, and the world lay at their feet. They began their tour of magical Europe, taking in the sights, going to foreign Quidditch games and meeting witches and wizards from near and far.

And then they ran into someone they had not seen in many years: Remus Lupin.

“You have to understand, we’d really believed it when we were told his parents drew him out of school – voluntarily,” said James. “So when we saw him, years later, in the dark corner of some manky Irish pub, skittish as anything and looking like he’d been through the ringer, our first question was what’s wrong, mate, what’s happened?

And Remus, acting on instinct, made to run off. But he was over-tired and weak, and James and Sirius were easily able to subdue him.

“We thought he’d run into trouble,” said Sirius. “That he’d gotten on the wrong side of an Enforcer, or something – he looked like there were hellhounds at his heels.” Harry saw a flash of Sirius' intense brand of loyalty in that - it was clear that if Remus had been in trouble, despite not having seen him in years, he'd have done whatever he could to help his old friend.

Eventually, they said, the two of them were able to get the truth out of Remus Lupin – the truth being that he was a halfblood, that his father had forged documents regarding his birth, depending upon a second cousin in Wales who’d died when he Remus was a baby for a cover story. When this was discovered, his father was arrested, and Remus was withdrawn from Hogwarts. Then, as a particularly cruel punishment, ministry Enforcer Walden McNair had ordered a werewolf, a few of whom were apparently kept by the ministry as guards, to bite the boy.

Harry was startled to hear this – to hear that Remus, in this universe, had become a werewolf in a different way, that it had still happened – as if fate had it out for him.

Apparently it wasn’t the first time such a sentence had been given. The new werewolves were cast out in the wilderness without wands. Most died during their first full moon. The remainder were doomed to live half-lives, unable to get back to civilization for aid – though, of course, civilization would be loath to offer it anyway. In this world, it seemed, werewolves had even fewer rights than in Harry’s own.

But Remus had survived. Or perhaps it was more accurate to say he’d been saved – by a group of strangers, of werewolves like him, other people with creature blood, half-bloods, muggleborn. A ragtag band, but one with surprising resources. They were able to give him a safe place to change and a potion that Harry recognized by description as a variant of Wolfsbane.

And, of course, the strangers had a leader: Tom Riddle.

When Remus told them all this, James and Sirius, who’d led, frankly, sheltered lives up to this point, were dumbfounded: by their newly sharpened awareness of the realities of their world, by the trials their once-friend had been through, and by this mysterious leader’s heroism.

“We thought it sounded – incredible, you know? Here you’ve got this man who’s lived half his life secretly helping people who’ve got no one else, giving them places to live, the means to survive – it sounded too good to be true.”

“And it was,” Harry surmised.

“Yeah,” said James. “It was. Because they owed their lives to Riddle – and he never let them forget that. All these people, they owed him a debt, sometimes literally. So he’d have them do things for him – it was little things, back then. Spying a bit here, telling him who they’d seen talking to who.”

“They were happy to do it,” Sirius cut in. “That was the thing – we didn’t think anything of it, not then, and neither did they. Remus said this man had saved his life, and James and I—”

“Our eyes were opened,” finished James. He sounded half-mocking, as though bitter at this iteration of his past self.

“In our defense,” Sirius said. “It was a good cause. It is. So much of it was for good…” He trailed off, looking distant. Harry noticed him doing that throughout – gazing off, vague, as though recalling something that wasn’t quite painful, but wasn’t quite pleasant either. This wasn’t a half-mad Sirius, but there was still something off about him.

At first, Remus did not tell them much about the Knights of Walpurgis. He did, however, introduce a curious James and Sirius to those of his circle who were willing. As much as James and Sirius wondered about them, about the lives they led, about their cause – they wondered about the two pureblooded wizards, too.

“There were some purebloods in their lot,” said James. “People who’d found them, one way or another – people who were slated to go to Azkaban who disappeared right before they could be arrested, because Riddle arranged it, that sort of thing. But they were rare.”

Among the people they met was a beautiful red-headed witch named Lily Evans. The rest, it seemed, was history, destined to play itself out in any universe – they fell in love, James wrote his parents saying he was traveling a bit longer, and he became an informal member of the Knights while Sirius, begrudgingly, returned home – his father had recently died, and his mother insisted he come take on the mantle of family head.

James remained. And then Lily, accidentally, dangerously – for them both - became pregnant. Luckily, Riddle was still away from their base in Ireland then – he often was, by nature of his day job – so it was easy to hide Lily’s condition. He had never known of James’ involvement with his little group at all.

Harry wondered how Riddle had found out. He clearly had, eventually. Had he known all along, this year, while he’d tried situating himself as Harry’s mentor?                                             

Suddenly he thought back on the conversation they’d had long ago where Riddle tried to relate to him, telling Harry his own mother was gone… had he seemed even more smug than usual, or was that only his imagination?

“So what then,” said Harry. “So my mum had me – what then?”

“And then,” said James simply, “I went home, and I didn’t tell anyone where I’d been or what I’d been doing. I couldn’t do anything else. I had to, for you, Harry, you understand? I had to do everything I could to protect you. And I didn’t want to leave you there with your mother, to lead that… half-life. Neither of us wanted that. We wanted you to go to a proper school, to learn, to be safe.”

“So you were never going to tell… me?” Harry asked. It was strange – he felt he had to ask, but the sense of betrayal did not run a deep as it might have. As this tale unfolded, he was more acutely aware than ever that this Harry’s life was not his own.

“Maybe someday, I would’ve,” murmured James lowly. “Maybe… when you were older. I wanted you to meet your mum.”

“Have you been in contact with her, all this time?” He felt a pang of fury on the other Harry's behalf.

“No, of course not. It’s not safe, not for either of us... I couldn’t… I haven’t talked to her at all, since I left.” He paused, and then after a moment, asked, "Did she... look well?"

Harry shrugged. "Er, I think so. Yeah." He had no metric to go by, but she had seemed healthy and whole from the glimpse he'd gotten of her.

It turned out that James modeled his own cover story after the one used for Remus – he pretended the mother of his son was a woman named Alice Mayfair, one of the purebloods in the Knights who’d been killed by a stray curse during a reconnaissance mission gone awry. Sirius corroborated his story, claiming to have been witness at their wedding, and used his expertise in charms work – expertise he’d once used to make a very special map of Hogwarts, expertise his son inherited, to forge all the necessary documentation.

“Alice was a friend of your mum’s,” James said. “A lovely woman. I don’t think she’d have minded, in the end.”

And there their story ended, the pieces of the puzzle together at last, forming a picture of two young men who had a brief foray into radical politics before returning home to settle down, each of them with an infant son of their own.

Except that that wasn’t all.

“Why did you disappear, then?” asked Alphard of his father when James and Sirius finally stopped talking. “What happened? Where have you been, because you’ve surely not been in Potter Manor for eight years.”

“James stopped talking to Lily and the rest,” said Sirius, after a long pause. “But… I didn’t. I kept in touch with Remus. I… we met up, over the years. I helped him when I could, gave him gold, that sort of thing.”

“You what?” asked Alphard. “You – are you insane?”

“I couldn’t leave him without a friend here!” shouted Sirius. “I couldn’t…Look, over time, things got worse, okay? Riddle got worse, the things he asked people to do became more dangerous – and then he started withhold Remus’ potion from him, telling the others not to give it to him unless Remus had done as he was told. I couldn’t just cut him off.”

“So what, you chose him over your family? You ran off to take care of your friend and left us behind?”

“No!” Sirius said, jumping suddenly from his seat. James reached over and grabbed him by the back of his robes in a practiced motion, pulling him back to the couch.

“Sirius,” James warned. Sirius, for his part, looked at Alphard desperately. He’d been like that since the cloak was pulled off him – looking at Alphard like he wanted to convince him of something, or seize him in a hug, or both. Alphard held as much distance between them as the sitting room allowed.

“I was caught,” Sirius said finally, scrubbing a hand over his face. “I was – I was caught, talking to Remus, meeting up in a pub, and I tried to play it off like I was arresting him, but I couldn’t get the other Auror to leave me alone, and I couldn’t think of a way to get Remus out of there without implicating myself, so I tried to stun the Auror. I was going to obliviate him, but it turned out he’d called for backup, and they showed up right as I was pulling my wand on him… it looked bad. I panicked. I grabbed Remus and apparated out of there. I couldn’t go back after that – I followed Remus to one of the Knights’ safehouses instead, and I just… waited. Eventually Riddle showed up. He knew what had happened, somehow, and he offered to… let me join them. It seemed like the only choice I had.”

“Then why didn’t we ever hear about this? Why didn’t… why didn’t the ministry come to tell mum, to say what you’d done, to question us? We had no idea what happened to you. You just vanished. Mum started telling people you were killed on a mission just so they wouldn’t give us funny looks anymore. Do you have any idea what it was like, not knowing?” Alphard leaned back after his outburst, looking tired and confused and distraught.

Sirius looked helpless. “I don’t know. I don’t know why nothing was done, why none of those Aurors ever talked. I’ve wondered sometimes if Riddle didn’t hush it up somehow, just so that he could hold that over me, but he never said. But I was afraid, all those years, that if I reached out to your mum, or to James – that he’d find out, that he’d undo whatever he might’ve done.”

Alphard snorted. Harry thought he looked like he’d rather start shouting. He found he had to admire Al’s self-control.

“But now you’re here,” said Lyra, breaking the tension. “Why?”

“I was asked to… find something,” Sirius said evasively. “Something Riddle wanted. I got it information to him, but then I was caught. The Aurors showed up, but they didn’t recognize me, not yet, I’d taken Polyjuice. Still, I thought I was a goner for sure… if they didn’t send me to Azkaban right off, Riddle would surely have me killed for failing. But then I realized James was one of the Aurors.”

“I leaned over to apparate him to the ministry,” cut in James, “and then he whispered something to me – something, ah, that only I’d know,” he said, trailing off sheepishly.

Harry realized something with a start. “You were the one that broke into Gringotts’ records! And you,” he said, turning to his dad, “what – staged his death? Snuck him out of his cell?”

James and Sirius looked alarmed.

“Er, Harry, mate,” said Alphard helpfully, seemingly happy to focus on someone else’s problem for once, “The papers never specified that it was the records, remember?”

“How did you know?” asked James quietly.

“Riddle is after something of yours,” said Lyra succinctly. “We figured that out ages ago. We’ve been doing our own investigating.” Now it was Harry and Alphard’s turn to look incredulous. “What? This was going to go on ages, and any excuse we might’ve come up with wouldn’t pass muster.”

“We might’ve said Dora told us!” exclaimed Alphard.

“Oh. Well. I suppose. But it seems like we ought to tell them, anyway. If you,” she said, glancing at James, “Are taking on this much risk already, you ought to know Riddle is after you.”

“Do you think we ought to tell them… everything?” Harry asked.

“What do you mean, something of mine?” asked James.

“What do you mean, everything?” asked Sirius, equally wary.

“The cloak,” said Harry, who had begun to resolve that yes, they should tell the two men – at least about the Hallows. James deserved to know he might be in danger, and both had enough secrets of their own that it hardly seemed a risk for Harry and Lyra to admit they’d broken into Riddle’s office.

My cloak? My invisibility cloak?” asked James, baffled.

“What did Riddle ask you to look for in the records?” Harry asked Sirius.

“A few old families,” said Sirius, who still appeared cautious. “Most of them had died out ages ago, but he wanted any records that would help trace where their things had gone.”

“And the Peverells, were they one of them?” Harry reasoned it made sense that Riddle wouldn’t have Sirius search for only one family – he wouldn’t entrust the information that the Peverells specifically held importance with anyone.

“Yeah,” said Sirius slowly. “Why?”

I’m descended from the Peverells,” said James. “The Potters are. You’re saying,” he said, turning towards Harry and the others, “That he was after something of the Potters’? But what?”

“Have you ever heard of the Deathly Hallows?” asked Lyra.

“They’re a children’s tale,” frowned James.

“I’m afraid not,” she said, smiling without humor. “And your cloak is one of them.”

James burst out laughing. “Wait, so that’s what you’ve been investigating? You think I’ve got Death’s cloak? Merlin, kids, I hate to tell you this, but…”

“They’re real,” said Harry, seriously. “Riddle has one. Grindlewald has one. And you – you have one, too. Riddle wants the cloak, and I’d bet he wants the wand. I’d bet this is what all of this is leading up to. He doesn’t give a whit about muggleborns or werewolves – he wants Grindlewald vulnerable so that he can get the wand. I’d bet he’s waited all these years, biding his time, so he can duel him when he’s old and weakened.”

“You seem to know an awful lot about him,” remarked James, exchanging an inscrutable look with Sirius. "Pretty incredible conclusion you've come to.

Harry shrugged. “I’ve been leading a dueling club with him all year,” he said. It was a paltry excuse, but it did distract James from the question of why Harry knew so much about Riddle's plans.

“You what?" he spluttered. "After I said to stay away from him?”

“Yeah, well, you hardly told me why, did you? We had to find out about the break-in and everything else ourselves!”

“You shouldn’t know about the break-in!” Sirius interjected. “You can’t even know I’m here! If anyone finds out-”

“We could take a vow,” offered Harry, recalling their earlier talk.

“Absolutely not,” said Alphard. “No. I won’t! You,” he said, turning to his father, “Have to tell mum and Addie. It’s not fair to them.”

“Alph—” his dad began.

“No! Addie barely remembers you, you know that? I can’t believe—” He broke off again, with a desperate, angry look. Lyra leaned over to press her shoulder against his.

“Surely you can’t expect to hide in Potter Manor forever,” Lyra pointed out more sensibly.

“He can stay as long as he needs,” insisted James, sounding terribly earnest.

“Does Riddle know you’re alive?” Harry asked.

“He shouldn’t,” said Sirius. “James even got a body from St. Mungo’s, transfigured it…”

“But he makes it a habit to know things he shouldn’t,” said Lyra. "I'd say you’re not out of the cauldron just yet.”

“We should never have told you any of this,” James said, paling. “We should have…”

“What? You should have what? Kept lying to us, not told us my dad is alive, Harry’s mum is alive? We aren’t children! Do you have any idea what we…” Alphard cut off, turning red. For a moment Harry thought he was only angry, then he realized it was the vow again.

“You’ve already taken a vow,” Sirius realized too. “What have you done? What are you…” he narrowed his eyes, for whatever reason, at Lyra specifically. “What have you gotten my son into?”

“Leave her alone! You can fuck right off,” hissed Alphard. “You were gone, and she was here for me. My friends were here, so you can leave them be.”

Sirius drew back. “It’s not as though I wanted—”

“I don’t particularly care what you wanted,” said Alphard. He clenched the edge of the sofa cushions, noted Harry. His knuckles were turning white. “I don’t care about anything else you have to say.” Then he stood, suddenly, and walked out of the room, leaving his grimacing father behind.

There was a long moment of silence, and then James turned to them. “Right,” he said. “Lyra – we still have time to get you home.”

The Malfoys had penned a curt reply to Lyra’s letter some time earlier, which Loki had delivered straight to this room. It said she was welcome to stay with the Potters under these “unusual circumstances”, and Lyra had inferred from it that they were irritated, but otherwise occupied, likely with putting things back in order. Either that, or they didn't want another family member in the house to be questioned by the Aurors - but it worked in her favor regardless. Aurora Black had written a much lengthier reply, and James begrudgingly scrawled some assurances himself while Sirius looked pointedly away.

“No,” said Lyra. “I’m not leaving Alphard, and he’s not in any state to go home right now. Not unless you want Aurora to find out your secret.”

James gave her his own narrow-eyed look.

“I wouldn’t kick her out, if I were you,” Harry cut in. “She’s not the only one who knows your secrets.”

James turned to him. “You’re threatening me now?” he asked. Harry felt a pang at the man’s betrayed look. He’s not my father, he reminded himself firmly. Although… if all went to plan, Harry would go home and his counterpart would take his place, and James would always think that his son had done this to him.

Perhaps that wasn’t fair to the other Harry, even more than it wasn’t fair to James.

Lyra must have sensed that Harry was about to do something rash, because she grabbed his arm suddenly and began to tug him up with her.

“I think we could all use some sleep, don’t you?” she said. “It’s been a long night, and we’ve all got plenty to think about.”

“Yes,” said Harry, because it was true. He felt as though his entire world had just been turned upside down – only, of course, that it was not his world, and he was beginning to feel a little grateful for that, because what a mess it was. “Yeah,” he said again. “I’ll… er. Show you to the guest room,” he said, struggling for a reply that would suit.

Lyra rolled her eyes at his attempt, but her back was turned to James and Sirius, who were still caught up in their own worlds, anyway – both of which collapsing in a different fashion.

“Goodnight, Harry,” called James as they left, as though by reflex.

“Goodnight,” he managed in reply.

-

Harry found Alphard in the other Harry’s bedroom. Lyra had vanished on the second floor, claiming to be performing some sort of nighttime rituals but saying she’d come find them both when she was done.

“Sorry,” mumbled Alphard into a pillow when Harry opened the door.

“Er – it’s alright,” Harry said, closing it behind him. “You’ve got more right to be here than I do, frankly. Are you… okay?”

Alphard made a noise, muffled by the pillow, that might have been a laugh or a scream. It was hard to say.

“Right, yeah, stupid question,” Harry said quickly. Awkwardly, he came to stand beside the bed. “Do you want to talk about it?” he tried, channeling his best Hermione.

Alphard raised his head and then turned over, flopping onto his back. “I don’t know if I can ever forgive him. I don’t know if I can. I just… all this time, I’ve felt like a bit of me was missing. I thought about him coming back a hundred times, but it was never like this."

“I know how that feels,” offered Harry. “Sort of, I mean.” He had to piece it together out of the bits he did have – he’d done plenty of being angry at people for hurting him when he’d trusted them, like Dumbledore, and he’d done plenty of missing, too. He thought, in the end, he had a decent approximation.

“Would you forgive him? Will you forgive your dad?” Alphard asked, seemingly blending Harry together with his own friend, for a moment.

Harry hesitated. “He’s not my dad, is the thing,” he said, finally. “I mean… maybe my dad might’ve been like him. I don’t know. There’s no way of knowing. But he’s his own person, concerned with his own son. I don’t know if I’ve got any right to forgive him or hold a grudge, one way or the other.”

Alphard gave him a sympathetic sort of look. “You know,” he said, “he doesn’t have to be your dad to be… someone. To you. I mean, Ly and I, we aren’t your friends, are we? Not your other friends,” he said hastily at Harry’s start of a protest. “But we’re still friends, huh? I mean, I’d like to think so anyway. So maybe you can think of this James Potter as, I dunno, a sort of… relative, an uncle or something.”

Harry pondered that. It was a comforting thought, somehow. It felt like he was being granted permission for something he hadn’t known he wanted. “I thought I was meant to be giving you a pep talk,” he said finally.

“Yes, well, you’re rubbish at it,” Alphard replied, shooting him a quick smile. His face turned serious again. “Look… I’m angry, really angry at my dad for what he’s done. But… I don’t know. I’m also glad he’s alive. I’m probably going to be angry for a really long time, but no one can stay angry forever.”

“That’s… really sensible of you,” said Harry.

“Oh, I do plan on milking this for as long as possible, you know. And just wait ‘til mum finds out,” he said, with renewed cheer. “She’s going to make him buy her a bloody herd of Abraxans, probably. Personally, I think I’ll angle for a gem-encrusted Firebolt.”

Harry snorted. “Yeah, that sounds a bit more like you.” Then he blinked. “Actually, you know, it sounds a bit like Sirius.”

Alphard shrugged, a little helplessly. “What can I say? I’m my father’s son.”

-

When Lyra reappeared, she was wearing the strange sort of night-robe Harry’d seen on witches before. “How did you…?”

“Magic,” she said. “So… Al, are you…?”

“I’m alright,” the boy said. He’d since risen from the bed and grabbed one of the books from Harry’s shelf and was flipping absently through it.

“Really?”

He shrugged. “Or I will be. Whatever. Are you? Your house was just wrecked a few hours ago."

"Why do you think I'm here?" she asked quietly. Harry, meanwhile, felt a bit guilty he'd almost forgotten. He had no particular love for Malfoy Manor, but he supposed it was her home, after all. "I don't want to see the state it's in," she admitted. "But we’ve got more pressing issues, haven’t we?”

“It’s gotten more complicated, hasn’t it? Now that Mr. Potter and… Dad… know about him, about what he’s after, they’re not going to let us chase after him, are they?”

“They don’t need to know,” said Harry. “Whatever we decide to do, we’ll just sneak off—”

Alphard sighed. “Would it be so wrong to let them handle it? I wouldn’t normally suggest it, but – I think we can trust them to do a thorough job. They’ve got just as much at stake as any of us do. More, even.”

Harry did not know how to explain how little faith he had in anyone – James and Sirius included, and he counted them, even these versions of them, among the few people he trusted. Instead, he said, “I wouldn’t want them to have to. They’ve been through enough.”

“Look,” Alphard said. “You aren’t famous here – you haven’t got a reputation to uphold. So far as anyone’s concerned, Harry Potter is just a teenage boy, a Hogwarts student. No one would blame him – blame you – for letting trained Aurors handle it.”

“But I’m not just a boy, am I?” replied Harry, frustrated. “And I never was. And anyway, I never did anything for my reputation. I did what I did because I had to. Because no one else was going to.”

“Surely,” Lyra cut in, “it gets exhausting, saving the world all the time.”

Harry shook his head. “Whenever I was fighting, whenever I was… doing stuff like that, it was the only time that things made sense. The world’s all wonky and nothing makes sense normally, but when I’m putting things right…” Harry didn’t know how to put this into words – he didn’t understand people, didn’t understand how they let terrible things happen or why so many of them said one thing when they meant another. But when he did something that he knew was genuinely, irrevocably right, for a moment, everything clicked into place.

“So you want to go after a man who’s been establishing a sort of power base for decades, by the sounds of it, without help?” Lyra asked.

“I didn’t say that,” said Harry. “I… if I had help, I dunno. It’d be alright. I usually did have help, when I went against Voldemort.”

“Not from what I’ve heard,” she said. “Not really, anyway. You had the help of a bird and a hat and friends your age. Your stories follow a pattern, and in that pattern, I can’t help but notice the near-absence of competent adult wizards. It seems to me that a child shouldn’t have to fight monsters with the help of a few school friends and magical contrivances.”

“But I’m not a child.” Regardless of if that had been true, once, Harry was… past it. Quite literally. He would never be a child again, so what did it matter, he wondered, what had happened when he was?

“But your father – Harry’s father – will see it that way. He thinks you’re his son, and believe me – he would do anything to protect you.”

“If I may—” said Alphard, suddenly. “Sorry. Riveting debate, really. But here’s the thing: why don’t you just tell them? Tell them that you’re not really teenage Harry, that you’re an adult who’s fought dark wizards before and all that.”

“Yeah, I’d already considered it,” Harry said. “But what if they don’t believe me? Or what if they do, and they panic and curse me for being an imposter, or whatever?” A repeat of the scene in the prefects' bath with two Aurors instead of a pair of teenagers sounded wildly unappealing.

“Then we handle it,” said Lyra, simply. “If that’s what you want to do, I think we ought to do it – all of us, here, tomorrow. Alphard and I will vouch for you, and if they don’t want to believe us, then we leave and handle things on our own, no great loss.”

“It’d be a nice distraction,” Alphard said. “If they blow up it’ll really draw my mind off my own problems.”

“They probably know more about Riddle – this Riddle – than you do,” Lyra pointed out. “At least where he can be found when he’s not at Hogwarts, how to contact him…”

“What are you suggesting we do?” asked Alphard warily.

She shrugged. “I have a few ideas. What if there’s a way to get him away from the Knights? To let them carry on with… whatever they’re doing, I suppose, so long as it’s actually helping, without him at the head? They could become a legitimate political party, when Grindlewald is gone… they might change things for the better. There has to be way to get rid of him without hurting or implicating any of them, don’t you think?”

Harry considered that for a moment. His gut feeling that anything Riddle was involved with was rotten all the way through conflicted with his feeling that nothing Lily and Remus and even Sirius and his dad had been part of could be entirely bad. He was still reeling over the story James and Sirius had told - not just over the questions it answered and raised, but at the complexities it contained, the way it wound about. When people you've trusted are liars, and people you've hated save someone's life, what are you left to think?

He wished that things could just be straightforward – just good and evil, right and wrong, black and white.

He wondered, distantly, if they ever had been.

-

The next morning, after a restless night’s sleep, the three of them asked James and Sirius to meet again in that sitting room, just as they’d planned.

“I think we ought to just tell them outright,” Alphard had said. “They’ll appreciate bluntness. Keep your hands on your wands, though, in case they try anything.”

And so that was what they did.

“What’s all this about?” James asked, frowning at the three of them.

“Harry,” Alphard said. “He has something to say.”

Harry steeled himself, taking a breath. “I’m not your son,” he said finally.

James raised his eyebrows, and then frowned again. “Oh – Harry. Kid, I’m – look, I’m so sorry I didn’t tell you about your mum. Later,” he said, casting a pointed look at Lyra and Alphard, who sat on either side of Harry, “Later, we’ll talk about it as much as you want, yeah? But I promise, I’m still your dad, and you’re still the kid I know—”

“No, he literally is not,” Lyra cut in, seemingly exasperated at the emotional display. “This is Harry Potter, but he is not our Harry Potter. He’s from another universe, he switched places with our Harry sometime in August, and he has been here since. No, we don’t know why, or how, but we’re looking into how to get him back.” She paused and turned to Harry. “I think that about covers it, don’t you?”

Sirius and James exchanged a look. “It this your idea of a joke?” asked James after a long moment. “I know we’re all in need of a laugh right now, but…”

Harry, growing tired of this, raised his wand. “I swear on my magic that my name is Harry James Potter, but I am not the Harry Potter of this universe,” he said quickly. The air rippled with magic, briefly, a touch of something sharp and acrid in the room assuring them the vow was real and true.

He couldn’t be certain but he thought Lyra might have snorted from where she sat next to him. Alphard groaned.

James looked alarmed and he thought Sirius grabbed his wand.

“Er, I swear on my magic I don’t mean anyone in this room harm?” Harry added, still holding his own wand.

“Mate! There’s a limit to how many vows anyone should take in a five-minute span, you know,” said Alphard.

What?” James said. “Who—”

“Yeah, I’d like to know that too,” said Sirius, who glanced between Harry and James as though deciding his next move.

“Oh, you’re in no position to talk about secrets,” drawled Lyra. “But settle in anyway, because this while take awhile…”

-

Harry had expected the surprise, the outrage, the betrayal, even, written in James Potter’s features when he realized he’d written to and spoken to and hugged and cajoled someone who was not his son.

He could almost have anticipated Sirius’ suspicion, too – he’d always been a suspicious man, if not cautious.

What he had not expected was that, after a retelling of events, interrupted near-constantly with questions from the two men, Sirius would say this:

“I think that I might know why you’re here.”

Harry, stunned, turned to him, and the whole room fell quiet.

Well?” asked Alphard, finally. Harry was glad he did, because for a moment, the wary look on Sirius’ face fell away into something hesitant but open.

“There was a ritual that Riddle asked me about,” he said, fidgeting and reaching up to tug on one of his dark curls in a familiar motion. Harry realized, startled, it reminded him of Alphard. “A few months ago," he went on. "It would have been… early August, I think. He thought I might have seen it, in the Black family library. It was an old one, really rare, a Viking spell.”

“And?” Harry asked. “Had you? What was it? What did it do?”

“I had, sort of, in passing – I remembered bits and pieces of it, but I made as though I hadn’t. I wanted him to describe it, see, before I told him anything. It was a war ritual – not a dark one, not really, but a complex one. It was meant to bring victory, to give its caster what they needed to triumph over an enemy or win a battle.”

“’Give its caster’…” echoed Lyra, thoughtfully. “And it was that vague?”

Sirius nodded. “Like a lot of ancient rituals, yeah. It would have the caster hold what they wanted to accomplish in mind, and then, at some future point, they were meant to receive something – a weapon, an opportunity – that would aid them.”

“I don’t see what this has to do with me,” Harry admitted.

“Because if it was that open-ended, and Riddle cast it, it could have brought you,” said Lyra. “You could have been the thing received, because depending on what he asked for, you might have met the terms of the ritual best.”

“It could do that? Bring a person, and from another world besides?”

“He might’ve overdone it,” James put in. “He’s pretty powerful, right? And if he’s really after the Hallows, like you say, and he tried to use this to get them…”

“He might have phrased it in such a way that it summoned an actual person best-suited to gather the Hallows together,” said Lyra. “A person who’d done it before. Or perhaps even he just requested a circumstance where he'd meet the owner of the cloak - and, for some reason, it called you instead of your- instead of Mr. Potter.”

“Do you think he knows?” Harry asked. “Do you think he knows that it might’ve brought me?”

“It wasn’t long after that that he started planning the break-in at Gringotts,” said Sirius, leaning in and seeming to forget, for a moment, where he was and who he was with in his eagerness to help. His eyes were alight. “He might have cast it for luck with that. He got the information he wanted, anyway.”

“And a job at Hogwarts, besides – close to the Potter heir. He might consider that the sort of luck the ritual would bring. No, I doubt he’d think it was you as a person,” Lyra agreed. "He seems like the type not to consider people an asset, not like that..."

“If that’s really why Harry’s here, does that mean that we can get Riddle to break it?” asked Alphard. “To break the ritual, send him back? Or – or does it mean that Riddle, er, dying, might do the trick?”

“No,” said Lyra slowly. “No, this doesn't sound like that sort of spell – even if we sought to undo it, it’s possible that it would only destroy Harry, or at least vanish him. And there’s no guarantee we’d get our Harry back, either – even if you,” she said, turning to Harry, “Went back to your world, there’d be nothing to summon him here.”

“So then we're back to square one,” groaned Harry. It had felt, for a brief moment, as if everything were sliding into place finally. But of course it couldn't be that simple.

“Not exactly. We know why you might be here, and if we’re right, we can speculate that attempting to get you back won’t break some other sort of ritual that could lash back. But we’re still going to have to use this,” Lyra said, drawing the glossy black Ravenclaw book from her robes.

“What is that?” asked James, peering at the book.

“A text by Rowena Ravenclaw,” said Lyra smugly. “I’ve already begun to read it – it includes more theory on time and space magic than anything I’ve ever seen. It seems in her later years, she was obsessed with it.”

“Maybe she sought to travel back and save her daughter,” said Alphard, who’d long since learned the story of the Grey Lady from Harry.

“Maybe,” Lyra agreed, glancing between him and Sirius.

“Where’d you get that?” James asked. “If it’s real, that must be worth hundreds of thousands of galleons.”

“Stole it, obviously,” Lyra said. “From my family.”

James raised his eyebrows at that. “From Malfoy Manor?”

She hmm’d in agreement. “Harry and Al helped,” she said, smiling innocently.

“Oi!” Alphard said. “All I did was keep lookout.”

“I’m a little proud,” admitted James. Then a funny look crossed his face as though he realized Harry wasn’t his son to be proud of. “So – how much of that have you read, then?” he asked as though to distract himself.

“Very little so far,” Lyra admitted. “It’s in Middle English, it’s rather slow going.”

“Middle- agh, of course it is. Why couldn’t she write in Latin?” complained James.

“You read Latin?” Harry asked him, surprised.

“’Course! Helps with spell-craft. You don’t?”

“Raised by muggles,” Harry said, shrugging. They hadn’t gotten to that bit of his story. James gave him a strange look.

“So I’m the only one here who can read it?” Lyra said before anyone else could interrupt. “Unfortunate, but just as well, since its pages are spelled against copying. I’d not want any of you lurking over my shoulder – no offense.”

“Do you read Latin?” Harry asked her.

“Of course,” she said matter-of-factly. “And French – the Black and Malfoy families both teach it.”

“Did you keep up with your French?” Sirius asked Alphard. It was the first direct question he’d really asked the boy, Harry realized.

Alphard shrugged, but he had the least stricken look on his face Harry’d seen since they entered a room with Sirius in it again. “Qu'est-ce que tu en penses?” he asked. Sirius appeared delighted.

“Right, so you’ll be responsible for reading the book, then,” Harry said to Lyra. “The rest of us…”

“The rest of us come up with something to do with Riddle,” finished James.

Harry shifted uncomfortably in his seat, realizing that, whether he liked it or not, he’d just signed on for quasi-parental interference anyway.

James, as though sensing his discomfort, glanced up and offered him his familiar cheeky grin.

Harry gave his own half-hearted smile back.

And as the day went on, a plan began to form.

-

Chapter Text

It sounded like the start of a joke – two teenagers, an Auror, a man on the run, and a dimension-traveling Chosen One walked into the room, and…

Well, Harry had no idea what the punchline might be.

“It seems to me we have three options,” Alphard was saying. “The first is we do nothing—”

“Yeah, no,” Harry voted.

“—the second,” Alphard went on, “is we wait and see what Riddle gets up to next and go from there—”

“A viable option, as long as his next move isn’t to attack Harry,” Lyra put in. She was seated a little away from the rest of them, pouring over Ravenclaw’s book – they were all in the library of Potter manor, and Harry noted absently that he’d not spent this much time in libraries in years. He was reminded, almost fondly, of the search for Nicholas Flamel, and for the Chamber of Secrets, and the whole fiasco that was the Tournament…

-his fondness waned, a bit, as he kept thinking.

“I can handle Riddle,” Harry replied belatedly. Alphard was already speaking over him.

“Or, third, we do… something… straight away, before the three of us,” he said, indicating himself, Lyra, and Harry, “have to go back to Hogwarts and sit in class with the bloke.”

“…right,” said James. “Still not really sold on the ‘we’ bit as it is. Harry, I suppose you can help, but—”

“Not you, Al,” said Sirius, shaking his head. “Absolutely not.”

“If you leave me out of this, I’m telling mum you’re alive,” Alphard said. “Up to you.”

Sirius looked furious, but James, for some reason, laughed. “Cor,” he said. “You really can’t say you don’t deserve that.”

“I’m your father—” Sirius said to Alphard, ignoring his traitorous best friend.

“Exactly,” said Alphard, shrugging. “You’d do the same thing, wouldn’t you.”

“That’s my point,” added James. “My mum always used to say ‘you’ll understand when you have a child just like you!’.”

“This isn’t funny,” Sirius said.

“It is a little,” said Lyra, glancing up from her book again. “Not productive, mind you, but funny? Certainly.”

Sirius breathed deeply through his nose, nostrils flaring. James leaned over an elbowed him in the ribs. “Hey!” he said. James mouthed something at him the rest of them couldn’t see and he sighed, slumping over.

“Look, whatever we do,” James said, “We’re not going to be dueling Riddle. Not in any sort of straightforward way. So it’s not as though we’re asking you two to fight—”

 “Why not? We’ve got five against one,” said Alphard, frowning. “Or three against one, even, if you left me and Ly out of the fight proper, and all three of you have Auror training.”

“Nah,” Sirius said, “James is right. He’d figure out a way to call in backup, or else have some other trick up his sleeve. If we’re fighting him, we’re not doing it fair, because he won’t.”

“You’re considering something more… underhanded?” Lyra said, cocking her head to the side curiously.

James and Sirius exchanged a look. James scratched his chin, thinking. “Yeah, more or less. Something sort of… Slytherin, like.”

“Any ideas?” Sirius asked the girl sarcastically.

“I’m a Ravenclaw,” she shot back.

“…really?”

“Really,” she said. “But, since you asked so nicely, I might have some ideas.”

“I think we ought to do this, whatever it is, straight away,” Harry spoke up again. At the other’s looks, he doubled down. “Or I will. If you don’t want to help, don’t. But school starts up again in a few days, and if I have to face Riddle in class or in dueling club, I’ll lose my mind. Anyway, the less time we give him to come up with something to do, the better.”

Sirius nodded slowly. “You might be right,” he said finally. “The more time we give him to plan…”

“And he’s got leverage over Harry, now,” Lyra added. “Now that he knows that Harry knows about his mother…”

“Better to act before your opponent knows you’re even moving,” Alphard put in, apparently in agreement.

Sirius blinked at him. “I taught you that,” he said. “But about gobstones, not… whatever this is.”

“It’s a multipurpose saying,” Alphard argued.

“Okay,” James cut in. “Okay, so sooner, rather than later. Lyra, you said you had ideas?” He broke off, shaking his head. “I can’t believe I just asked that…”

“It’s a brave new world,” she said unsympathetically. “Anyway. Before I say anything – Sirius, have you got any idea what exactly Riddle’s been up to, lately? He has plans, clearly. Do you have any knowledge of them, or…?”

“Well, last I was in contact, he was staging those forays into Diagon and Hogsmeade with the pamphlets—”

“Yeah, what was that all about?” Harry cut in. “What was his goal, there?”

Sirius ruffled his hand through his hair. “Awareness, I suppose. He’s been making bigger, more public appearances, getting the name out there. It seemed like he was building up to something, but he wasn’t the sort to share what.”

“And… what? You just went along with all this?” Alphard asked.

“Not quite,” Sirius insisted. “It was – look, he was hardly ever there, was the thing. Even his messages were infrequent, brief. Whatever game he’s playing, it’s a long one – for the most part, we were left to ourselves, and we went about finding ways to get food and gold, to take in people who needed it, that sort of thing. If it weren’t for Remus, I might not have even cottoned on to the ulterior motives he had. The fact is he’s got a lot of people who are loyal to him, if for no other reason than he’s the only person they can work for.”

“But it changed, recently,” Lyra interjected. “You’re not sure why?”

“No. Only that he seemed to be speeding things along.”

James looked thoughtful. “You know – in… I think it was May, of last year, there was an appearance the Chancellor was supposed to make. He was supposed to come speak with the DMLE. I remember because I was quite dreading it, you know – but then he never came. His people contacted Scrimgeor and said he had another engagement, but word went ‘round that he’d actually taken ill, and every appearance he’s made since has been… brief.”

“He was at an event at St. Mungos in August,” said Harry. At the others’ looks, he said, “What? It was in the Prophet.”

“No, you’re right,” said James. “But it’s all been things like that – ribbon-cutting, hand-waving, for the last few months, now I think of it.”

“You think he’s sick, still?” Lyra asked.

“That could be it,” Sirius mused. “Riddle’s making his move because he thinks the Chancellor might not recover, whatever it is.”

“To get the wand, he’d have to win its allegiance in a duel,” Harry pointed out, now thinking himself. “He’d have to do it before Grindlewald died.”

In a strange sort of way, it made sense. He didn’t know why Riddle had been willing to bide his time for so long – perhaps the stakes were too high, or perhaps his desire for glory was lessened, here – but his time would be running out if Grindlewald were dying.

“That would explain him suddenly researching the Peverells and asking Dad about that ritual, too,” Alphard said. “He must be feeling pressure.”

“We can work with pressure,” Lyra mused.

“I think we ought to find out the exact nature of that ritual, before we do anything,” James said.

Sirius said, “Well, there’s a copy still in the Black library, so far as I know.”

“I can get it,” Alphard offered. “I need to tell mum… I need to tell her I’m alright, anyway.”

Sirius started and Alphard rolled his eyes at him. “Don’t worry, I won’t tell her about you. I wouldn’t dare ruin the moment she hexes you to the moon.”

“I know I’ve put you in a terrible spot—” Sirius began.

“I’ll be back soon,” Alphard said, cutting his father off and dashing out of the room.

Sirius made the kicked-puppy face Harry recalled only dimly. James elbowed him again and then turned to Harry as if for a distraction.

“So, Harry – er, can I call you Harry…?” James rubbed a hand through his hair awkwardly, standing it on end. And he gave me his social skills, as well. Excellent.

“That’s fine,” said Harry quickly. “Er, should I…”

“Erm, you can call me James? I s’pose, if it’s not too strange for you.” Harry made a non-committal sort of sound. He’d probably avoid calling him anything at all, if he could manage it. “So, Harry,” James went on, “Why don’t you tell us a bit about yourself?”

Lyra perked up. “Oh,” she said with obvious joy. “This ought to be fun.”

“How do you mean?” James frowned.

Harry sighed deeply.

“For starters,” Lyra said, still sounding overly delighted. “This – all this? Isn’t even the strangest thing that’s ever happened to him.”

“Surely you’re joking,” said James. “This isn’t the strangest?”

“Doesn’t look like she is, does she?” Sirius said.

Harry rubbed his eyes beneath his glasses. “There was a prophecy in my world that said I had the power to defeat Riddle – well, the Dark Lord, which is what he’d become. He tried to kill me when I was a baby because of it, his spell backfired, he wanked around for a decade as a spirit, possessed my professor, was tossed out of that body when I stopped him from trying to steal the philosopher’s stone, and it all went downhill from there, really.”

“You’re getting much better at this,” said Lyra approvingly. “Although I noticed you left out the bit with the basilisk, which is my personal favorite.”

“There was a basilisk,” Harry said drily. “I stabbed it.”

“Dragons, too,” she added cheerfully.

“One dragon,” said Harry. “One. Unless you count Norbert, but he was only a baby.”

“Sorry, are you implying you’ve encountered a dragon named Norbert?” Sirius asked.

“Hagrid named him – wait, have you got a Hagrid, here? – he got hold of a dragon egg.”

“Of course he did,” said Sirius bemusedly. “And of course we do. Glorious beard on him. Always thought it was full of secrets, but apparently it’s just full of dragon eggs. Good to know.”

“All this is true? Way to carry on the Potter legacy,” said James. “But where in Merlin’s name was I when you were stabbing basilisks?”

Harry winced. “You were – are - dead,” he admitted finally. “Before this whole… thing… I’d not really met you. Or mum, for that matter. She, er. She died, too, when I was a baby.”

James gave him a sympathetic look, and Harry’s heart raced in his chest. He hadn’t wanted to tell him that – hadn’t wanted… he wasn’t sure what it was he didn’t want, exactly, but perhaps pity, something he’d always hated, or false affection bourn of someone looking at him and seeing their son’s face.

He hadn’t minded the affection when James thought he was his Harry, when he knew it was freely given and truly meant, and perhaps that was wrong of him, but -

“Did you defeat him in the end?”

“Yeah,” he said, relieved that that was all James had to ask.

“Good,” said James, rather fiercely. “And you’re all in one piece. That’s – that’s good. I’m sure your James would be proud.”

Harry swallowed around the lump in his throat and nodded.

“Sounds like he takes after you terribly,” Sirius threw in, laughing. “What was that you were saying about understanding when you have a kid as bad as you were…?”

“Dunno about that,” said James, shaking his head. “Dragons. You’re a whole other breed,” he said to Harry.

Harry noted that nothing brought people together quite like mutual incredulity over the bizarreness of his life. He shrugged. Might as well, if it cheered them up—

“There was another dragon, actually, in Gringotts. You know the one? Right, so, my friends and I had broken in and were making our escape, and then there’s this dragon in an awful state, and here’s us needing a way out of there…”

-

“What did I miss?” Alphard asked cheerfully as he reappeared in the library some time later. Harry supposed seeing his mother might have brightened his mood.

“Harry was just telling us about the time he rode a Thestral from Scotland to London,” Lyra said with equal cheer.

“Oh, is that why you look so pale, Mr. Potter? No offense.”

A thestral,” said James. Sirius looked, at a glance, as though he were trembling, and Harry noticed Alphard shooting him a concerned look, then rolling his eyes once he realized his father was only shaking in silent laughter on the couch.

“Yeah, so, hate to interrupt, but I found the book,” said Alphard. “Or I think I did, but there aren’t many Viking texts translated into Latin in the Black library, believe it or not.”

Sirius abruptly straightened, taking in the weathered leather-bound book in Alphard’s hand. “I think that’s it!” he said. “I remember the cover. Merlin, last time I saw this… must’ve been about your age. Can I have a look?”

Alphard tossed it over unceremoniously and made to re-join Harry on his couch. “Listen,” he said to Harry and Lyra, who had moved her own chair near enough she could lean over the arm of the sofa and join them in a quiet conversation. “I was thinking, earlier, when I talked to mum… Riddle, we’ve got to draw him out, right? Somewhere away from the ministry and away from his lackeys, by himself would be ideal. And now he knows Harry’s seen his mum, seems to me he’d reckon that Harry would do just about anything to see her again.”

“I dunno,” Harry said, frowning. “He’s never really understood, er, human things. Family ties, and all that.”

“Well, it seems like this version of him is alright at pretending, at least,” said Alphard.

“He did say something about me and her meeting again soon,” Harry recalled. “But what’s that got to do with anything?”

“He thinks we should set up a meeting between you two under the pretense that you want to see your mother,” Lyra said.

“Oi! It’s my plan, at least let me say it!” Alphard objected.

“But then he’d bring my mu-Lily, wouldn’t he? No,” he said firmly. “Absolutely not, I won’t have her getting involved.”

“Seems like she’s involved, anyway,” said Alphard, not unreasonably. “And if he is planning on bringing her somewhere, that means he won’t risk meeting out in the open. So we get him somewhere private, then…”

“Then?” asked Harry, cautiously going along for a moment.

“Dunno,” the boy admitted, “I was sort of hoping the rest of you would have something.”

“I’ve got it!” Sirius cried from across the room just then.

“Let me see!” said James, jumping up and seizing the book from him. For a moment they looked like nothing so much as overgrown schoolchildren. “Yeah, yeah, I see what you mean – right, and here’s the incantation here… if you left this, what’s this say?”

“Er, it’d translate to… objective, I reckon.”

“Objective, yeah. If you left that open-ended…”

“Still weird, though – why would it bring him a person?” Sirius asked, squinting at the page as thought it might answer him. “Why, when you own the cloak and it could’ve – dunno, contrived to have Riddle run into the Aurors, or have Lily act as go-between, or…”

“Could have something to do with the prophecy Harry mentioned,” James said, glancing up. “Don’t know much about Divination, but that seems not-insignificant.”

“I’ve also had all the Hallows at one point or another,” Harry added, though personally he was beginning to find why to be a fairly unhelpful question. How might be more useful. “You think that’s the ritual he did, then?” Harry asked Sirius, along that train of thought.

“It’s the one he asked after, at least,” said Sirius. “And it looks do-able, for him at least.”

“So can we undo it?”

“No,” Sirius said, frowning. “No, it’s like Lyra said – we can’t reverse this, and even if we could, it wouldn’t send you back. We’ll have to do something else.”

“Right,” Harry said, figuring it’d been too much to hope for anyway. “Well. Al, why don’t you tell them about your plan?”

“About my- oh! Yeah. My plan. So,” Alphard began again…

-

James, as it turned out, found the idea of bringing Lily into things just as disagreeable as Harry had.

“It’s what he’d believe,” argued Lyra, waving a quill in the air. “He’s not going to buy that Harry just decided to up and join his little club after the fiasco at the manor – but he must’ve seen he wanted to talk to his mum, because he hinted at giving him the chance himself. This is our best chance at getting him alone, or mostly.”

“I don’t want to put her at risk!” James insisted. “She’s got nothing to do with this!”

“He’s probably right, there’s no need—” Harry added in.

“Oh, honestly! You’re each as bad as the other! You don’t even know if he’ll bring her along!”

James and Harry both stopped arguing for a moment to exchange a glance. James raised his eyebrows as though to say can you believe this? Harry gave a startled laugh in reply, realizing the gesture felt familiar. He’d made the same face at Ron behind Hermione’s back dozens of times.

If we do this,” James said, finally, something funny crossing his face as though he’d come to a realization himself, “If. We give Lily a way to get out – a way to leave straightaway, if she does come, before anything happens.”

“She won’t take it,” said Harry with certainty. After all, they were talking about a woman who, in another universe, had faced Voldemort without so much as a wand. He doubted this version of her was any more willing to stand down.

“Amazing,” Lyra muttered. “You come by your stubbornness from both sides.”

“You’re one to talk,” Sirius said. “Did I ever tell you about the time your mum didn’t get the Yule gift she wanted and swore a vow of silence? Lasted three months, and her only seven at the time. Cissy was always one of my favorite cousins, you know.”

“I’m already regretting this,” grumbled Alphard, slouching lower into his seat.

“Don’t,” replied Lyra. “It was a solid idea. If everyone would stop being so ridiculous for a moment…”

“Fine,” Harry said. “Fine, alright, we do what we can to give L- Mu- her a way out, and let her decide for herself. Then what? What do we do with Riddle?” If they weren’t going to fight him, and they certainly weren’t going to kill him – because despite everything, that idea still left Harry very uneasy, particularly with the uncertainty as to whether Riddle had even killed anyone, here – then what did that leave?

“Memories,” suggested Sirius. “We could round up some incriminating memories, write to have him meet ‘Harry’ somewhere, meanwhile James hands the memories over to the Aurors and lets them know where Riddle’s going to be. They arrest him, throw him in Nuremguard, and there we have it.”

“Not sure I like the idea of using my job in this—” James began.

“You work for a corrupt government, Jim,” Sirius countered. “May as well use it to your advantage.”

“There are so many flaws in that plan you could strain your tea with it, anyway,” Lyra said to Sirius. “Sorry,” she added when he began to protest, “but it’s true. Whose memories do we use? Yours, and let people know you’re alive?”

“I could say I was under the Imperius—”

“Because that would work. No, you’d get locked away, too. Same with Mr. Potter – he’d be subject to questioning, and all they’d have to do is ask how he knows Riddle and he’s tossed in Nuremguard, too. Anyway, we’d already thought of this and it’d just get all the rest of the Knights rounded up and locked away, and haven’t you said they’re not all bad, Sirius?”

“Most aren’t,” Sirius begrudgingly agreed. “I suppose you’re right. Then what?”

And then the wheels in Harry’s head began to turn. “What if we created new memories?” he asked.

James frowned and leaned forward. “What do you mean?”

“I mean,” Harry said, “What if I do meet him, and I trick him into saying something really incriminating. Something that’d get him locked up for life, like Sirius said. Then I give the memories to you, and you wait to give them to the Aurors until we can figure out how to get me and your Harry switched back, and when he gets here, don’t tell him anything for a while. That way even if he’s questioned about Riddle he can honestly say he doesn’t know anything. Once Riddle’s locked away properly, you can catch him up.”

“But then they’ll wonder why he doesn’t remember whatever James has shown them,” Sirius pointed out.

“Maybe,” Harry said, “but they could think he was memory charmed, right?” he asked, slowly, thinking back on his experiences with Obliviate. He was pretty sure it would work, anyway. “Point is, he wouldn’t be able to tell them anything incriminating. Not about any of you or his mother or Remus – because he wouldn’t actually know it.”

“I think that might actually work,” said Lyra, sounding impressed. “It’s a bit convoluted, but as long as we’re able to manage Harry talking to Riddle and leaving safely…”

“That’s a big if,” James pointed out. “I’m not sure I like the risk. Yeah, kid, I know, you’re an Auror,” he said, before Harry could object. “But you’re in my son’s body, and frankly, I’d rather not have anything happening to it.”

“I’ve done much riskier things. This is… this is simple, really,” insisted Harry. Then, after a pause in which a memory played before his eyes, he added, “But I don’t suppose any of you have Felix Felicis?”

“Liquid luck?” asked Lyra. “Draco might, but I’d have to go back to the Manor to get it… whatever for?”

“Long story,” Harry said. “Anyway, it’s probably not necessary.”

“What kind of magical creature was involved in this story?” Alphard asked gleefully.

“An acromantula,” Harry said, cringing a bit. “It was already dead.”

“Amazing,” said Alphard and Sirius nearly in unison. They shot each other matching hesitant looks before Sirius cracked a grin that Alphard slowly mirrored.

Really, Harry thought. He should look into telling his life story at meetings between warring nations. Treaties would be signed.

-

With the bare skeleton of their plan laid out, they then had to flesh out the rest of it.

“I’ve never much been one for planning,” Harry admitted, rubbing his eyes which had gone cross from staring at parchment too long.

“You don’t say,” Lyra replied.

“More of a go in, wands blazing sort of bloke? I can appreciate that,” James nodded. “Wait, no, what am I saying? Have a care, would you? Maybe a change in career, too – sounds like you’ve had enough excitement for one person. Have you ever thought of, dunno, breeding pygmy puffs? Sounds like a nice living, doesn’t it?”

“I’ll consider it,” said Harry drily. “Honestly, I had been thinking about a change.”

“Professional Quidditch player,” said Alphard. “Still voting on that one.”

“I say you submit yourself to the Department of Mysteries for testing,” Lyra said. “Anyway, I think it’s time you start on that letter we talked about…”

-

Dear Professor Riddle,” Harry wrote…

-

“Mimsy!” Sirius called, and a wide-eyed house elf popped into the room. “We need more tea, please, Mimsy, or we may die.”

“Master Black is being a terrible exaggerator,” Mimsy said sternly. “But Mimsy is bringing tea, anyway.”

“Bless you, bless you,” said Sirius, pretending to kiss the ends of her pillowcase as she scurried off.

“Sirius! What have I told you about bothering my house elf?” James asked, peering at him over his glasses. A long streak of ink reached across his face.

“If you’d been that nice to Kreacher he wouldn’t have threatened to poison you so often,” Alphard added.

“Merlin, is that old bag still alive?” Sirius asked.

“And kicking, sometimes literally. Harry traumatized him last week,” Alphard added.

“Good for you, Harry!” Sirius said, leaning over to thump him on the back.

“I didn’t mean—” Harry began.

“Ah!” Sirius said, cutting him off as a tray appeared on one of the tables in the library, Mimsy herself conspicuously absent. “Tea!”

-

You said my mother and I would meet again soon. I’m not sure if this is what you meant, but you’re the only person I can ask…”

-

“You’re sure this will work?”

“Lyra’s right; he’ll believe it,” said Harry, who sealed the missive he’d just written with a drop of scarlet wax.  “We’ve got to trust Sirius that the letter will actually get to Riddle this way…”

“It will,” said Sirius. “He’s got mail wards set up everywhere he goes, but this is how we’re meant to reach him in an emergency.”

“He might figure out you’re alive, you know,” Lyra said. “Who else would have told Harry how to do this?”

Sirius shrugged. “If this works, it won’t matter. Anyway, I doubt he’d be surprised if Remus taught James back then—”

Harry whispered an incantation and tapped the letter with his wand. “Here goes nothing…”

-

“I don’t know how to get in contact with her, and my father won’t tell me. I haven’t told him anything about you and I promise that I’ll keep your secret, but I need your help…”

-

 “These are incredible,” said James, whistling as he turned one of Alphard’s coins over in his hand.

“Wish I had time to make more, but…” Alphard trailed off, shrugging under the praise like he always did.

“These’ll be fine. You know, you’re better at Charms than your dad, even,” said James, reaching over to grip the boy by the arm in a friendly gesture.

“By a mile,” Sirius agreed readily. “Can you tell me how you managed to get this Nordic rune and this one – what is it, Danish? – to work in conjunction? Never did much with runes, myself…”

-

“…If you’re willing to speak with me, meet me at the address below – it’s an old, empty house in our village, without any wards. No neighbors for miles…”

-

Portus.”

“You’ve got to teach me how to do that,” Alphard said as he watched his father use an un-registered wand to make an illegal portkey. “Seriousl- oh, Morgana’s sake. Forgot I can’t use that bloody word around you.”

“After you graduate,” Sirius said, grinning wolfishly at the reminder an old, private joke. He gave the charmed necklace one last prod of his wand as though to test its stability. Nodding as though pleased with his work, he turned to Alphard. “Pass me the next, will you?”

-

“…so you ought to be able to Apparate straight there without a problem. I understand if you can’t bring my mum with you straightaway, but I hope you and I can at least talk…”

-

“You know what they say in the Aurors about plans with a lot of moving parts?” James asked, conversationally.

“That they’re doomed from the start. It’s a rhyme,” Harry said. Worse than Ginny’s valentine to him second year, but it was a rhyme. There was a verse about “simple and sweet, that’s the treat!”, too – he hoped whoever had come up with it had been cursed.

“They do that one in your world too?” James asked. “Awful, isn’t it?”

Harry laughed. “The worst.”

“I happen to think our plan is half-decent,” Alphard said. “The decent half being the one I came up with…”

-

…and if you’re worried about me being seen, don’t be. My father has an invisibility cloak that I can borrow.”

-

(“You’re sure about this?” Alphard had asked.

“Mentioning the cloak will bring him. I’m sure. We’ll just leave it here and I’ll say I wasn’t able to get it.”

“And you can say you’ll bring it next time, which gives him incentive to let you leave in one piece,” Lyra pointed out.)

-

“10 King’s Way, Pucklechurch, South Gloucestershire, England.”

-

“What now?”

“Now we wait.”

-

They did not have to wait very long, and the answering letter was short and to the point.

-

“Harry –

I believe we have much to talk about. I’ll be there.

- T.R.”

-

Stay back,” Sirius cautioned Alphard as they went over their plan a final time. “I mean it. I don’t particularly care if you feel like listening to me right now, for your mum’s sake at least, stay back and keep hidden.”

“We’re all going to be keeping hidden,” said Alphard sensibly. “We don’t want Riddle knowing we’re there.”

“I still don’t like the idea of bringing you two,” James said, glancing between Lyra and Alphard.

“You need the extra wands,” Alphard said. “If something happens.”

James frowned. “At least one of your parents knows where you are, you—” he said, turning to Lyra.

Technically, my parents believe I’m with Alphard, Harry, and you. That’s factually correct.”

“If your father ever finds out, he’ll probably murder me and bury me in those bloody gardens of yours,” James groused.

“Hardly,” she replied. “He’d never leave evidence behind. He’d burn the body, clearly.”

“Please tell me this is from experience,” James said. “Please, I’d love to lock up Lucius Malfoy. Er, no offense.”

Lyra rolled her eyes. “Sorry, Auror Potter, but I’ll not have you arresting my family. Anyway,” she added cheekily, “Malfoys are never caught.”

James made a sort of strangled sound in his throat.

Sirius snorted and turned to Alphard. “Al, can we…” he trailed off, nodding towards the doorway of the library. “Talk? Just for a moment.”

“…er, yeah,” said Alphard. “Alright.”

-

Harry was surprised when James rounded on him in the room off the entry hall where Harry was going through an array of outer-robes that had been surreptitiously charmed to deflect spells. He was looking for one, at James’ suggestion, to wear to his meeting with Riddle.

“Look,” James said. “I’m not really good at this sort of thing…”

“Neither am I,” Harry said quickly.

“Right,” said James, with a quirk of his lips. “Sorry, then. You must’ve gotten that from – well, the other me. If he was anything like me me – I s’pose I shouldn’t assume…?”

“I think he was a lot like you,” Harry admitted. “In the… the ways that counted.”

James nodded. “Weird to think about, honestly. Another me running around out there… Anyway. Sorry. I’m going off track. My point is, you’ve not had someone to look out for you, clearly, and I just wanted you to know… I’ve got your back out there. But don’t do anything risky, yeah? Keep to the plan, keep safe.”

“I’m an adult,” insisted Harry. “I don’t need anyone looking after me.”

“Just barely!” said James. “When I was twenty, I thought I knew everything, too – everyone does. But – you’ve got a long life ahead of you, yeah? When all this is over… look, I can’t lie to you, I’m anxious about my kid. I want him back as soon as we can manage. But if we’ve got a spare moment, let’s have a sit, talk awhile. I can’t pretend to be your James. I can’t replace him. But if you’d like, I can get to know you.”

Harry blinked. “Yeah,” he choked out finally. “I’d like that.”

James nodded and grasped him by either shoulder in an odd facsimile of a hug. “Good,” he said. “Good. So. Let’s get through this, right? In one piece, if you don’t mind.”

Harry tried to give his best encouraging grin in reply.

If it looked just like James’, they both pretended not to notice.

“It’ll be fine,” he said. “If nothing else, I’ve got really spectacular luck.”

-

“What’d he want?” Harry whispered to Alphard later, as they prepared to leave.

It was half past seven.

“My dad?” asked Alphard. “To – tell me a few things, in case he, er, ‘died a tragic, heroic death in there’, is how he put it.”

“No one’s going to die,” said Harry firmly. Then he realized that perhaps he ought not to have said it, but really. What could go wrong? This was the least dangerous thing he’d ever done concerning Riddle. Frankly, it was almost anti-climactic. If it all went smoothly he might be a little let-down despite himself.

“Things don’t usually go the way we plan,” said Alphard, smiling wanly.

That, Harry did agree with, and the plan they’d spent the last few hours drawing out- though aided quite a bit by the experience of James, attention to detail of Lyra, and magical know-how of Sirius and Alphard – was convoluted and strange and more than a little mad.

“If you don’t want to come—” he started to offer.

“No, I do! It’s just… sudden. Everything. It’s all very sudden.”

“But you were right – school starts again in a few days. This is the best time. We might even be able to swap me and your Harry back before school begins and then you’ll never have to see Riddle again.”

Alphard laughed, a bit too high-pitched. “Right. Just catch Riddle, and then go back to studying for NEWTs. Sounds great. Perfectly normal and totally fine.”

“You’d be surprised,” Harry shrugged. “I’ve gone back to Hogwarts under weirder circumstances.”

-

“It’s time to leave,” James said finally. They were all gathered in the front hall of Potter Manor, the last of their preparations complete. “Everyone ready? Sirius, Lyra, Harry, you have your coins?”

Lyra and Harry rolled their eyes and made a show of checking their pockets.

“Jim, has anyone ever told you you’re a bit of a mother hen?” asked Sirius good-naturedly as he checked his own.

“I’m ignoring that,” the man replied. “Everyone got their portkeys? Harry, you got a robe? Good, good… right, what else?”

“Let’s all wish ourselves good luck,” Lyra said. “We’ll need it.”

“It’ll be fine,” insisted Harry. Honestly. They were all lucky they didn’t have a Voldemort to contend with.

-

It was ten minutes to eight, and Harry was alone and invisible in the front room of a dilapidated mansion on the outskirts of the village where Potter Manor stood. Its window frames, empty of glass, gaped like unblinking eyes at the night, and every gust of wind that blew outside set the whole house creaking. If there had ever been magic in this home, it had long since dripped away, leaving behind only a cold, quiet shell that felt oddly still to Harry, who’d become so used to the moving, shifting hum of power that encompassed the places where he had lately spent his time.

In the depths of the house hid the others – the lot of them under a quick set of wards Lyra had constructed, which Sirius and James and hesitantly agreed were fairly good. They ought to keep Riddle from finding them if he cast Homenum Revelio again, and they had two of the communication coins and four Portkeys between them in the form of simple pendants on chains. Really, it was the best thought out scheme Harry’d ever taken part in.

“Remember,” James had said, just before Harry left for the room where he was to wait for Riddle, “Wait until he says something we can get him with, then make your leave and let us know as soon as you’re out.”

“I’ve got it,” Harry had whispered. Was this what having a parent was like? he wondered absently. In his pocket was the sixth and final Portkey, which he meant to offer Lily if things somehow went awry. He fingered it anxiously now as he waited for Riddle to appear.

Finally, he heard the conspicuous pop of Apparition outside. That must be him, thought Harry, and then, and he’s come alone.

Disappointment and relief were mingled in his chest.

He did his best to stand his ground and act as though he were only the ordinary sort of nervous one might be if they were meeting their teacher who also happened to be the head of a top-secret group on the side. It said quite a lot about the state of his life that he actually had experience to draw from on that front.

Finally, Riddle appeared, striding in through the doorway of the dilapidated house as though he owned the place.

“Harry?” he called out. “Why are you waiting in the dark?”

“Er,” Harry replied, lowering the hood of his ordinary cloak. It was too dark to make out Riddle’s face, so he couldn’t tell if the man were disappointed at the sight. He doubted he’d show it, if he were. “Sorry. I didn’t want to draw attention to myself, in case anyone else showed up.”

“Indeed,” Riddle said slowly, drawing his wand. Harry grabbed his own reflexively, but the man only cast some sort of light spell – it wasn’t a lumos, whatever it was. Instead it seemed to conjure a long string of greenish light which wrapped its way around the ceiling of the room and hung there, looking like nothing so much as especially grim Christmas lights.

“You’re alone, then?” Harry asked, doing his best to sound casual and somewhat let down.

“I’m afraid so,” replied Riddle, who lowered his own hood. His stride and voice were so distinctive Harry hadn’t doubted it was him for a moment, but his face had been hidden just as it had at Malfoy Manor until that moment. “I apologize,” he said, “but I didn’t think it best to bring… Lily… until I knew precisely what the circumstances were. I’m told you know what a precarious place she occupies, so I’m sure you understand.”

Harry drew a long breath. It was always horribly unnerving, talking to the man, but he needed to have him say something they could use, so he had to keep going. “I understand,” he said. “My dad, that is, he told me about… about her, that she’s muggleborn. I didn’t say anything about seeing you,” he added quickly. “He just thinks I saw her in the library, the other night.”

Harry hoped to Merlin, or God, or whomever might be listening at that moment, that his Occlumency shields held.

“Clever of you,” Riddle said softly, smiling his terrible snake-smile. “I imagine it was quite a shock to learn that you’re a halfblood – unless you already knew? You did recognize Lily, I couldn’t help but notice.”

“I’d seen pictures of her,” Harry said, thinking fast. “Dad keeps some hidden. But I didn’t know about her being muggleborn, and he told me her name was Alice.”

“Ah, yes, I discovered as much when I looked at your records,” said Riddle offhand. “Imagine my surprise – I knew Alice Mayfair, you see, and had never known her to have a son.”

Harry blinked. He had not considered whether Riddle might have seen through James’ story. Had James? He supposed James Potter must never have thought the one man who would know the truth behind Alice’s death would also have motive to look at Harry’s birth records.

Suddenly, Harry was very glad he’d come here – that he’d switched places with this world’s Harry Potter. Because sooner or later, he knew, Riddle would have put that together. He would have had all the leverage he needed to get James Potter to give him the cloak.

Harry had to deal with this now.

“I was… shocked,” he said, echoing Riddle’s words, “yeah. To find out I was a halfblood.”

There. That might do it – if Riddle tried to sell him on the Knights of Walpurgis, Harry could take that memory –

“I am one, as well,” Riddle said instead, shocking Harry entirely. “I seem to recall saying once we had quite a bit in common.”

“…you are?” Harry asked, and he didn’t even have to feign surprise. He knew about Riddle’s status, of course, but had no idea why the man would tell him. Unless, Harry thought uneasily, he didn’t mean for Harry to walk away from this. He’d better bring up the fact that he hadn’t brought the cloak soon.

“I am,” Riddle agreed easily. “I’m sure you’re wondering how I’ve achieved such status in life despite my origins.”

“Oh. Yes,” said Harry. Please be something really, really illegal…

Riddle must have mistaken the source of his eagerness, because he shook his head lightly and clucked his tongue. “Ah, I’m afraid it’s not a path you can follow. When I was very young, still in Hogwarts, I discovered something very interesting about my heritage.” He paused, as though for affect, and looked as though he might begin pacing the way he did at the head of his classes. “Years later, after the Chancellor had risen to power and some of his people came to… usher me away, for lack of a better term, from society at large, I was able to plead my case with this fact. I’m a direct descendant of Salazar Slytherin’s, you see – and the Chancellor, though not a graduate of Hogwarts himself, was quite intrigued by my story. Like many powerful men before him, he was fascinated by the Founders, and despite being a halfblood, I am the last of Slytherin’s line. It was enough for him to seal my records and grant me special permission to live as I would.”

Harry was intrigued despite himself – not at the story of Riddle’s heritage, because of course he’d already known, but at the way the man seemed to manage, in any universe, to claw and scrape his way to a position of impeachable power. “You’ve managed quite a lot,” he said.

Riddle cocked his head and smiled, clearly taking it as a compliment. “I have,” he agreed. “But you see how your case is not like mine. Still, I sympathize. I’d like to help you, if I can. There is something that I can offer you, I think…”

“What’s that?” Harry asked, sure that this was it.

But before Riddle could say anything, something happened. First something made a high chiming noise, at which Riddle drew his wand. "Someone's here," he said, and Harry, startled, wondered if he had picked up on the others' presence all of a sudden.

Then magic hummed in the air all around them, as if someone had strummed at the chord of a harp. Then again, then again –

“Wards,” Riddle said quickly, turning toward a window. “Anti-Apparition wards. Anti-Portkey, too. Harry – does anyone know you’re here?” he asked, turning back.

“No,” replied Harry on instinct, but then after a beat, he realized he didn’t know why any of his group would place such wards around the entire house. So then who…? His heart began to race in his chest. 

“Aurors,” Riddle said, answering that question. “They’re outside.”

“Wait, what?” They certainly hadn’t planned for this. What should he do?

“I’ll deal with this,” Riddle said smoothly, striding back towards Harry with a flap of his robes. “Do you have the invisibility cloak you mentioned? I think you ought to use it now.”

“I wasn’t able to get it,” Harry said, just as he’d practiced, although now he almost wished he had. If he couldn't use his portkey...

Something – anger? – flashed across Riddle’s face, but it vanished again just as quick. “Nevermind, then,” he said. “But you still ought to hide.”

What?” asked Harry, blindsided by the uncanny show of concern from Riddle.

“Run, Harry!” the man insisted. “Hide! I know your father is an Auror, but we have no way of knowing what they want - so go, and keep out of the way!"

“What are you going to do?” Harry asked, and then nearly kicked himself, because it was Tom Riddle, for God’s sake – what did he care? Just an hour ago he'd been plotting to have the man arrested himself.

Riddle smiled grimly. “Whatever I have to,” he said, raising his wand and moving towards the door.

“Right,” Harry said, just as another shrill hum of magic rang through the air. And then he turned and ran from the room, darting up the stairs and towards the back bedroom where he knew the others were – after all, if nothing else, he had to warn them.

Lyra’s wards were well-cast enough that if he hadn’t known the room at the back of the house existed, he wouldn’t have been able to find it at all. As it was, he saw the door as it seemed to melt from nothingness, and he was able to seize the handle and fling it inward. “It’s me!” he called out quickly, in case anyone had drawn their wands, but the room beyond was empty.

He stared around it, wondering where they had gone and how he might leave, too, and then suddenly the empty room was no longer empty. In an unnerving display of magic, the four occupants of the space came into existence around him as if they’d always been there.

No – make that five occupants.

“…what are you doing here?” Harry asked Lily Evans incredulously, because sure enough, there she was, perched at the foot of the dusty bed the house’s former owners must have left behind.

“Oh, thank God,” Lily said, standing and looking him over. “You’re alright! If I’d known…”

“Bit of a long story, but Lily here called the Aurors,” said James, who ran his hand through his hair as though he wasn’t quite sure what to make of things.

“You what?” Harry asked. “You… on who?”

“I read your letter just after Riddle disappeared – he was at our… at our headquarters,” she said, evasively, “and he received something and said suddenly he had to leave. I was able to get hold of it and saw it was from you.”

“She was afraid Riddle was going to oblivate you, or worse,” Alphard added in. “So she called the Aurors.”

“But… what’d you tell them?” asked Harry. He was still reeling from the fact that a version of his mother was sitting a few feet away.

“Oh, nothing true,” she said, frowning and wrapping a