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The Second String

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29 March, 1977

The moment the spinning maelstrom feeling of the portkey stopped, Harry collapsed, with Pel falling down beside – and nearly on top – of him.

His body hurt. Portkey travel wasn’t known for being gentle, and Harry groaned as he realized that several of the wounds Pel had clumsily healed were open and oozing blood again.

“Out of the way, oh, out of the way!” came an alarmed, brisk voice that seemed very familiar to him. Pale blue eyes suddenly appeared, scanning his face intently before narrowing in confusion. “You’re not a student …” The woman shook her head dismissively, a dark brown curl escaping from her bun. “Well, that’s for the headmaster. Onto the bed with you.”

Harry felt himself being levitated onto a bed and gazed up at the white ceiling. I know this place … I’m in Hogwarts! The Hospital Wing! Before today, Hogwarts was at the top of the list of places he did not want to be, but after Macnair…Wait, he interrupted his himself, holy shite, that’s Madam Pomfrey!

He managed to turn his head a bit and watched the woman – yes, she’s young, but that’s definitely Pomfrey – levitate Pel onto the bed next to him. Ab made to say something but she shushed him with a scowl. Grabbing an armful of potion bottles, she poured two into Harry’s mouth, ignoring his muffled protests that he could do it himself, and then did the same with Pel.

Pain and Calming Draughts, Harry’s mind supplied, as he felt the agony ebb away and his mind become woozy.

Pomfrey finally rounded on Ab, who put his hands up and protested that he wasn’t injured.

“Well obviously!” the woman snapped, her wand out. “I want to know who you three are, why a child is near bleeding to death, and how in the world you managed to portkey into my Hospital Wing!”

Aberforth hesitated.

“Now young man!” Pomfrey barked. Through the haze of the calming draught Harry vaguely appreciated the irony of the thirty-something Madam Pomfrey calling Ab a “young man.”

Ab glared, but obliged her. “I’m Aberforth Dumbledore,” Pomfrey’s eyes widened. “Boy’s name is Harry, he’s Peloother Pepst. If you get my fool of a brother down here, he’ll confirm that they were kidnapped earlier today, I went to get ‘em, and he gave me the portkey.” He stopped her as she moved immediately to the fireplace. “But before you do that, let’s make somethin’ clear.”

Harry squinted to make out what was going on, missing his glasses. It looked like Ab was pulling parchment out of his robes. “See this? I take it you know what it means, yes?”

Pomfrey nodded.

“Well, lemme be clear. I do not give you permission to discuss any aspect of his health or current physical condition with anyone besides myself. That means even my brother. As you said, boy’s not a student.”

The matron furrowed her brow, but nodded again. “Of course, Mr. Dumbledore. My Healer’s Vow and the law both now prevent that.”

Harry peeped over at Pel, who was watching him closely, though his eyes were also dull from the potions. Later, he mouthed.

Pomfrey’s impatient clucking brought Harry’s attention away from Pel. “Well, then, Mr. Dumbledore, you, call your brother for me. I’ll need to focus on them, if you please!”

She moved to Harry and cast a number of quick spells that he’d heard her cast over him in the past before. Her eyes widened. “But this indicates he’s a –”

Ab nodded as he went to the fireplace, but didn’t stop or turn around. “’Member that vow of yours and those papers, Madam. Don’t matter what he is, he ain’t a student.”

Her eyes were anxious as they darted back and forth, but she said nothing else until she started listing off his injuries in a more clinical tone. “Moderate concussion, compound zygomatic fracture – that’s your cheekbone, child – traumatic puncture just above the coracoid process but no significant complications, two broken and two cracked ribs, laceration to the chest damaging serratus interior, multiple lesser abrasions and lacerations by foreign shrapnel …”, she trailed off. “Short-term exposure to Cruciatus curse.” She sniffed. “And extreme exhaustion. Well, potions will take care of most of this, rest will help with what they can’t.”

He winced and groaned internally as she summoned an array of bottles to the bedside table. He’d had most of these potions before, and knew all too well what they tasted like. Pel snorted sympathetically at his face.

“I’ll be right there with you soon enough, my young friend.”

Harry only realized he’d drifted into a doze while watching Pomfrey bustle around Pel when raised voices pulled him out of it.

“… don’t give a troll’s fart about the politics! You’re the Chief Warlock of the bloody Wizengamot, I know you can make this happen!,” Ab was shouting.

“And you, Aberforth, know that these things are never that easy.”

“Only because bastards like you make them complicated!”

He peered around the darkening Hospital Wing carefully. The Dumbledores were across the room, obviously arguing. Pel was asleep, his mouth open and drooling into his gray hair. Madam Pomfrey burst out of her office and shot a glance at Harry.

“Gentlemen! I don’t’ care who you are, you will keep your voices down in my Hospital Wing! You’re disturbing my patient!”

Ab looked over at Harry and scowled back at his brother. “Well, the lad should be disturbed by all this. Fuck knows I bloody well am!”

At that Dumbledore also gazed in Harry’s direction, and immediately softened his face into a smile.

“Ah, you’ve awakened, my boy. My apologies for disturbing you, though I must say we are so very glad to see you alive and relatively unharmed, Henry.”

“Harry.” The headmaster blinked. “My name is Harry, sir, not Henry.”

Dumbledore touched a hand to his head as he shook it apologetically. “I beg your pardon, Harry.” Harry caught Ab rolling his eyes. “However, child, it saddens me to admit that there will likely be some, ah, complications from your day’s adventure. Some of your choices, alas, will not be met with praise, I suspect.”

Well now I am disturbed

“What do you mean sir? A Death Eater kidnapped and tortured me. He planned to kill me. I didn’t choose any of that.”

The headmaster sighed. “I know, my boy, I do know. Yet although we cannot always choose what happens to us, we can choose how to respond to it.”

Harry felt distinctly wrong-footed in this conversation. “I’m sorry, sir, but I don’t understand. What –”

“Enough!,” Ab snapped. “We’re goin’ home. Now. You okay to Floo, lad?” He didn’t wait for a response. “Pepst, you degenerate, wake up! Time to go!”

Pel’s eyes lolled open and he instinctively looked around for his pint. “Huh? Whuzzgoin’ – Merlin, Ab, I just got to sleep!”

“Sleep later. We’re goin’! Get your arse up and over here.”

Madam Pomfrey was goggling at the scene and finally found her voice again. “Absolutely not! Albus, both my patients are suffering from multiple injuries, including torture curses. They’re not leaving until I authorize it, and I most certainly do not!”

“Neither are students or staff, Madam,” Ab growled. “By rights neither should even be here in the first place. You’ve done what needs to be done for ‘em already anyway, and for that we thank you. We’re goin’.”

The matron looked to Dumbledore for support, but he simply shook his head as Ab helped Harry up from the bed. Harry noticed with satisfaction that he really did feel better already. Sure, he wanted to sleep for a week and his entire body felt deeply bruised, but the pain wasn’t too horrible and his hands had stopped shaking.

Ab helped Harry and Pel into the fireplace and grabbed a handful of Floo powder. “Again thank you for your attentions, ma’am. If you’d be so kind, send any potions either still needs to the Hog’s Head, and bill the pub for ‘em.” Pomfrey nodded with a murmured “of course.” Ab turned to his brother and spoke in a cold, quiet voice. “Albus. You do this for me. You do it. And if you can’t stop it, for fuck’s sake, you make it come out right.”

He didn’t wait for a response, but threw the powder down with a barked “Hog’s Head!”.

Ab and Pel were looking at him expectantly.

Harry gulped and picked absently at the soft woolen blanket tucked around him. Though largely healed, it seemed every inch of his body was tender and sore.

As soon as they had returned to the Head, Ab had sent an owl to Quisby, ordering him to “get his arse over here and man the pub” for the night, then impatiently ushered the two injured males up the stairs to the one room in the inn that Harry was not allowed to enter.

Aberforth’s private bedroom was not what Harry had expected. Its smallness was accentuated by the heaving bookcase in the corner, but offset by simple earthen tones of the room. A touch of brightness was added by the yellow and black Hufflepuff scarf that hung in the corner. There’s no way Ab was a ‘Puff, Harry had marveled in disbelief, he’s got to have been aahuh. Really, what House would Ab have been in?

The man had immediately transfigured his double bed into two singles into which he deposited Harry and Pel before conjuring himself a squashy armchair. He had tossed each of them a Pepper-Up Potion.

And now the two men were looking at him.


“You promised you’d explain, ‘tell us everything,’ yeah?,” Ab grunted. “So talk. Now.”

Harry wanted to protest that he was too exhausted to have this conversation now, but the looks on the older men’s faces assured him that such an excuse, even if true, wasn’t going to fly.

Well, Ab is lying to cover up what I did to Folteren and Unsonsy. Guess I wouldn’t wait around either if it were me.

His hands started shaking a little, though this time it wasn’t the vestiges of Unsonsy’s Cruciatus. The sudden lump in his throat seemed to be made from thick, scratchy wool that soaked up every bit of moisture. His eyes darted to the walls, but they were bare and unadorned. I wish Ariana were here.

The two men were still looking at him.

He closed his eyes, fumbling in his mind for how to begin, where to begin.

Just tell them the truth. Tell them everything. You’ll feel better when it’s over, he encouraged himself.

“Okay.” Breathe. “My name is Harry, er, Harry James…Potter, that is.”

Both men exploded.

“You’re one of those ponces?!” Ab shouted.

“There’s no way ol’ Fleamont would let –” Pel began.

Harry glared at Ab for the ‘ponces’ comment. “Shut up! You want to hear the story or not? Don’t interrupt or we’ll never get through it!”

The men grumbled but shut their mouths.

Okay,” Harry muttered, “Like I said, my name is Harry Potter and,” Breathe dammit! He felt like Hagrid was sitting on his chest. “And I was born on July 31st … 1980.”

Peloother started giggling helplessly. Ab just stared.

“Yeah, er 1980. My parents –”

“Stop right there,” the bartender said in a level voice. “Accio Firewhiskey!”  He flicked his wand to open his bedroom door and a few moments later a bottle of Ogden’s soared in and into his outstretched hand.

Harry raised an eyebrow at Ab, who just shrugged. “Where this story seems to be goin’, I expect I’ll need it.”

“Pour me one,” Pel piped up.

It was Harry’s turn to laugh nervously.

“Okay, so my parents are James Potter, oh Jesus, stop making that face Ab!, and a muggleborn witch, Lily Evans.” Neither man seemed to know her, though both were still shaking their heads over his surname.

They’re freaking out just because of who my dad was and my birthdate. This is only going to get worse.

“When I was fifteen months old, a family friend betrayed us to Voldemort, who came to our house. He killed my mum and dad, and then, well then he tried to kill me. With, uh, a killing curse. But it didn’t work.” Harry paused as the men exclaimed and glared until they quieted. “Some people said it, I don’t know, rebounded or something. Well, whatever happened, I got this scar,” he lifted his fringe, “and everyone agreed that Voldemort had been defeated and, well, people said it was because of me. They called me the ‘Boy-Who-Lived.’”

The men stared. Ab took another drink.

“I want a look a the scar, please,” Pel requested weakly.

Harry fidgeted. He hated when people gaped at the thing, but this was Pel, so … “Yeah. Okay. But let me tell the story first.” At Pel’s nod, he continued.

“Thing is, though,  I didn’t know about any of this for a long time! They sent me to my relatives – my mum’s muggle sister and her family – and my aunt and uncle don’t, uh, like magic much, so they never told me, and I didn’t know I was a wizard until my eleventh birthday. That was also the year I later found out that Voldemort wasn’t really dead. Just sort of, er, disembodied.”

The words were coming out easier now, Harry noticed.

Ab looked thoughtful. “So you were raised Muggle, yeah?” He snorted. “Well, that ‘splains some of what was naggin’ me about you.” When Harry gave him a puzzled look, he snorted again. “You say muggle things all the time, act like a muggleborn and smile all stupid when you see new magic. When I found you in the snow you were ramblin’ on about television. Plus, Wigol told me you knew all about the thing when you stayed at his place for the day. Squibs are magic-raised, a’ course, so you shouldn’t’a known any of that, least not as well as you did. But people, especially when they think no one is watchin’ or when they’re drunk or hurt, show you what comes natural to ‘em. Muggle stuff comes natural to you. An’ there was stuff – general stuff – about our world you just didn’t know. Sure as shit should’a known ‘bout how squibs are treated if you really were one.” He paused to sip his whiskey. “Anyhow, get on with it.”


Apparently, Harry wasn’t as accomplished at playing the squib as he had thought.

Putting that annoying thought aside, he went on, running through his reintroduction to the wizarding world, his arrival at Hogwarts, and his pursuit of the person he was sure was intent on stealing the Philosopher’s Stone. When Harry first mentioned the stone’s being at the school, he caught Pel and Ab giving each other a look, but plowed onwards, trying to stick only to what was strictly necessary. Both men puzzled over his description of Quirrell – Voldemort for a bit.

He moved on to his second year. This time he cut out even more of the tale – did they really need to know about Dobby, or Moaning Myrtle, or Aragog? With a cringe, he told them about being a Parselmouth, but that bit couldn’t be avoided. Neither seemed all that interested in it, to his great relief. Instead, both were far more concerned and deeply confused by the actions of the diary and the appearance of memory-Riddle.

“Wait!,” Pel cried. “This Riddle is Voldemort?! Wasn’t Riddle the one you said earlier used a Cruciatus on you?”

Harry nodded awkwardly, “Yeah, but he doesn’t do that for a few more years.”

“So, you’re saying that Voldemort is a muggleborn?!” The man seemed torn between hyperventilating and giggling.

“Stuff it Pel. Yeah, he is. Albus told me the real name of this upstart Dark Lord some years back. Get on with it, lad.”

When Harry described the basilisk, both men made for the slowly emptying bottle of Ogden’s with another shared glance, but they thankfully didn’t interrupt him. After he admitted to being pierced by the beast’s fang, Pel just whispered that Harry needed to work on keeping sharp things from stabbing him, advice with which Harry entirely agreed. Ab seemed furious when Fawkes appeared, but only scowled and said nothing.

Third year went quite a bit more quickly. Sure, Sirius was important to Harry, but there was no need to go through the whole year, and Harry wanted to move on with the story so that he could ignore the deep pang that came with thinking of his Sirius, not the young idiot currently lounging up at the school. He managed to get through the short narrative without even talking about Professor Lupin in any great detail.

Then there was fourth year. This will be harder, he thought, and it was. Death Eaters at the World Cup. The Tri-Wizard Tournament. The death of Barty Crouch Sr. The labyrinth. Cedric, Pettigrew, an arm bleeding red on pale skin, a cauldron, a resurrected Dark Lord. The dual and the ghosts that came with it. Barty Crouch Jr. A disbelieving ministry, a summer spent alone in an information blackout.

Throughout the sordid tale, neither man, for once, interrupted. They sat and listened and drank.

Breathe. “And then one night I was walking in our neighborhood and I ran into Dudley, my cousin. We had an argument, but then … then the Dementors came. Two of them. I don’t know why they were there, or who sent them – Voldemort, maybe? – but they were suddenly there. I tried, I swear I did, I tried to cast my patronus but … but this time I couldn’t believe my happy thought enough, I guess.”

Ab and Pel were listening hard, their eyes wide.

“And so one of them Kissed me.”

Pel dropped his glass.

“It was … weird, really. The Dementor almost seemed sorry or something. It kind of spoke, but in my head, y’know, and said ‘a soul for a soul.’ And that the ‘price was fixed.’ Oh, and something about how they were only monsters because they were made to be, or something. I thought I was done for because everything sort of disappeared and was so still. And then everything got fast again and it hurt. I woke up right where I’d been attacked. Except it was 1976, not 1995.”

Ab put his head in his hands.

“I took the Knight Bus to a friend’s parents’ house – they’re the ones who gave me those clothes, see – but then I realized that I could seriously muck up the entire universe just by being here, make it so that my friends, or me, or whoever isn’t even born. So I freaked out and went to Hogsmeade only because it was the first place I thought of. And then I hid in the cave Sirius had used. I just didn’t know what else I could do, see? I was afraid it’d be way too easy to change the timeline if I tried to go to Hogwarts, and that if Dumbledore or the Ministry found out about me, that they’d, I don’t know, stick me in a cell or a laboratory somewhere. And then you found me instead. And, well, I guess that’s about it.” He cut himself off, suddenly nervous. “I mean, you … you do believe me, right?”

“Aye,” was all Ab said, mumbling the word through his hands.

The silence in the room was thick.

“I mean, I swear, I am sorry that I let you believe I was a squib – though you came up with it, really – and that I lied to you, I really am sorry! But I just … I just don’t know what to do and I’m, well, I’m really scared,” he finished lamely.

The silence continued. Pel was looking intently at Ab, whose face remained in his hands.

“I, uh, I, if you want me to leave, I’ll just go. I can … well I’m nearly paid up to you, but I can figure out a way to pay you back for the potions I got today.” Harry forced himself to stop rambling and made to stand up, his whole self feeling like an exposed scrap of nothing.

“Sit your arse back on that bed, boy.” Ab commanded in an … odd tone.

Harry sat, breathing fast, his eyes downcast. Waiting.

He nearly jumped out of his skin when Ab started laughing.

“Seriously! It’s not that funny! Hell, it’s not funny at all! Let’s see how I react if you get Kissed by a Dementor, you old bastard!”

It had started out as a low, insistent chuckle, but soon Ab was laughing uproariously, his whole body shaking as tears streamed down his face. At first, Harry had been alarmed and more than a little concerned for the man’s mental health. He’s over a hundred maybe, right?  Did I break him?  Five minutes on, Harry had had quite enough of the old man’s apparently uncontrollable amusement at what was, after all, Harry’s life.

And sort-of-death.

Or whatever.

Peloother just sat on his bed, eyes distant. 

Aberforth made a valiant effort to rein in his laughter, took one look at Harry, and promptly buried his head in his hands once again, shoulders shaking.

“Really? Really?” Harry huffed back into his pillows.  

“I – I – I’m sorry lad … I’ve worked a pub for more decades than I’d like to count, and of all the ridiculous shit I’ve heard, that one takes it!”

“But you said you believed me!”

Ab mopped at his eyes and took a few heaving breaths. “Aye, I do. But hearin’ shit like that, what else can a sane person do other than laugh?”

Harry opened his mouth to offer suggestions for a number of more welcome responses, but Ab waved him off.

“I am sorry, lad. It’s just after what happened earlier I had you pegged as a wizard who’d been hidden in the Muggle world to keep you safe from Death Eater parents or some such rot, though that didn’t fit so well with what I’d seen of you ... Guess I should’a been more imaginative!” He started laughing again. “Merlin, boy, wraiths, killer diaries, basilisks, Dementors, time travel, killing curses! I just don’t know where to start!”

“I do,” Pel said, his quiet, serious voice a shocking contrast to Ab’s. “We start by making it absolutely clear that you,” he nodded to Harry, “ are never to speak of this to anyone else. Ever.”

Harry blinked. “Well, it’s not I like plan to. I wouldn’t even be telling you if I didn’t have to.”

Pel scoffed furiously. “You could have come up with another lie to explain your magic usage, don’t be a fool! You didn’t have to tell us all this. You told us because you wanted to.” Harry made to protest, but Pel angrily cut him off. “Lie to us all you want, but don’t lie to yourself!”

He nodded dumbly, thoroughly confused by Pel’s behavior. He was always so jovial and kind, and now he seemed to be seething.

“You were right to be worried about what would happen to you if those in power found out about any of this.”

Harry’s voice suddenly couldn’t rise above a whisper. “Why?”

“Because if the Ministry were to discover your past, the Unspeakables would follow right behind them,” Pel hissed. “If you were lucky, you’d just be confined to the bowels of the Department of Mysteries for the rest of your life, to be poked an’ prodded an’ experimented upon. If you were unlucky – well, in any case, your life would effectively be over. Period.”

My God, the man looks absolutely terrified.

“How – how do you know all this, Pel?”

The man laughed without a trace of humor. “‘Cause it’d be a man like I used to be who’d wrap up your case all nice and neat an’ present it to the Ministry with a big red bow on it.”

“Pel here used to be a barrister. Represented the Department of Mysteries for a while,” Ab broke in quietly. “It’s why the Death Eaters captured him. They wanted information.”

Holy shite, Pel was a lawyer? For, like, the magical version of MI5?  ‘Anthropologist of men’ my arse.

“So believe me when I tell you that you are never to speak of the results of the Dementor’s Kiss with anyone else ever again. Shit, tellin’ us was the height of self-indulgent stupidity! In the future, I don’t care how much you like a person, how much you trust them, how much you’re sure they’d never betray you, you understand, boy? One wrong word an’ there’s no one who could help you!” Pel’s eyes were wild and bored straight into Harry.

Terror finally set into Harry’s stomach and he nodded slowly. “I understand, Pel.”

Pel watched him closely for a few moments and sighed. “Well okay then. Now,” he continued briskly. “You’ve given us quite a bit of information, an’ I frankly don’t have the strength to think through all of it tonight. I suggest Ab and I think of our questions and we return to this conversation on a day when you an’ I haven’t been tortured.” After Harry nodded again, he turned to Aberforth. “However, I don’t think I’m wrong in saying there might be some issues with the Ministry because of what happened today.”

Ab grunted. “Albus pretty much admitted he wouldn’t be able to stop ‘em if the ‘Gamot got it into their heads to come after the boy for Macnair. I think he’d be able to get outta trouble eventually, but it might not be pretty.”

Well fuck.

Pel gave Ab a pointed look. The old bartender sighed and moved to sit on the foot of Harry’s bed.

This can’t be good.

“I was goin’ to, ah, show these soon, lad, but I was waitin’ for the right time,” He pulled the parchments he had flashed to Pomfrey earlier out of his robes. “Seems time’s up.”

Harry curiously looked down at the top sheet, which was emblazoned with the sigil for the Ministry of Magic.

Approval for Custodianship of Minor Squib

The undersigned applicant ABERFORTH GAIUS DUMBLEDORE as of  24 MARCH 1977 is approved as custodian of the minor squib HARRY  [NO SURNAME] until such time as the applicant dissolves custodianship or the squib achieves its majority in the Muggle world.

By signing, the applicant agrees to:
a. instill in the squib a clear and accurate understanding of its place in wizarding society.
b. provide adequate food and shelter appropriate for a child of its standing.
c. act as an intermediary between it and wizarding society.
d. consider and promote options for the integration of squib into non-magical society.

By signing below, the squib acknowledges its acceptance of the applicant as its custodian, with all the rights and privileges over its person as the position grants.

Aberforth had already signed the approval form, apparently more than a month before. Another line contained the signature of a witness – Peloother P. Pepst. A single blank line at the bottom waited for Harry’s name. He flipped through the rest of the small pile of parchment. They all looked like official application forms, full of legalistic language and subsection after subsection (even the word “subsection” made Harry nervous).

What the hell is this?

“What the hell is this?”

Ab cleared his throat. “You’ve paid your debt to me, an’ I think you might’a guessed that you were paid up long ago. But it was cold, so I kept you here. An’ I ain’t goin’ to apologize for that. But I knew you’d be leavin’ soon, arse all fired up to go back to a bloody cave for whatever reason. Thought, well, I thought I’d give you another option. If you were interested. You ain’t half shit company, and the regulars like you. An’ the goats. Thought you might want to stay on the Head, that is.”

“This – are you adopting me?”

“No!” Ab exclaimed, “and be careful with that word. A wizard can’t adopt a squib, s’ against the law. This is just custodianship – it’s the only way an adult wizard who isn’t a blood relative can legally look after a squib child. Form’s a new thing. Came out of the Squib Marches a’ the 60s. Used to be that any wizard could just claim any unattached squib kid, less regulated than house elves they were. You can imagine, well, things usually didn’t go well for kids claimed like that. They only managed to get the form passed because the pureblood bastards liked the terms. Look at ‘em, for Merlin’s sake. Pile of shit, but we can work ‘round them easy enough.”

Harry looked again. They were horrible. “It. Its standing. Its place.”

Ab nodded at Harry’s grimace. “No, the form hasn’t done much for squibs, not really. Sure, the purebloods made a stink about the requirement of a squib’s signature, but one compulsion charm later and you got yourself your very own squib kid. ‘Course, there’s not many unattached squibs, but I’m sure some poor lost souls are falling through the cracks.”

“So,” Harry said slowly, “if I sign this, what exactly does that mean for me?”

Ab shrugged. “Means nothin’ really changes from the way it’s been. You can stay here, work ‘round the inn and pub, though we’ll have to figure a way to teach you magic. I won’t letta charge a’ mine be uneducated if I can help it.” He paused. “An’ if you decide you want to go back to your cave or somewhere else, I won’t stop you.”

Pel cut in. “It’s more than that, though Harry. See term 3? Well, I think we can bet the Ministry is going to come after you for Macnair, an’ they might try to do something to Ab because of the other two he’s saying he killed. First, this protects Ab, because its his job to ‘act as your intermediary.’ If he comes under fire we can argue that his rescue of you constituted his fulfillment of a contractual obligation. If that doesn’t work, well, one could make the case that he was just retrieving what essentially is his property.” Pel spat out the last word.  “Second, this might help protect you as well, because you’re now connected to a wizarding family. You don’t take his surname, of course, but having such a connection could help you if they pursue this ridiculousness.”

“But I’m not a squib! If I sign it, will the contract, I don’t know, kill me or take my magic because I’ve violated its terms?”

The two men looked at each other and laughed. “Bloody hell, Harry, this isn’t the Goblet of Fire,” Pel said. “It’s a squib form. Not like the Ministry cares. There’s no magic involved, just ink and parchment.”

Harry rolled all this over in his head. “You were a barrister, Pel?” The man nodded. “If you were me, would you sign this?”

Pel looked at him carefully. “Ab, would you give the boy and me a moment?”

As the door closed behind the bartender, Pel turned to Harry. “Yeah, Harry I would sign it. This does open you up to an incredible amount of abuse by the applicant, so I would normally say absolutely not, but this is Ab. Ab won’t take advantage of you. He asked me to get these together more than a month ago because, I think, he was worried about you. And more than that, I think he just doesn’t want you leave … He likes you, and he wants to help.” He chewed thoughtfully on his lip. “And given everything else that’s happened to you before you arrived here, I think you’re better off with Ab than you would ever be alone.”

Harry looked at the form, a strange throbbing welling in his chest. I’ve always wanted a grown-up. It should have been my parents, or Sirius, or the Dursleys, but it wasn’t. Ab could be my adult.

Images from the last four months popped into his head. Ab getting him shoes, the hot chocolate after the pub fight, him sleeping next to Harry all night after he broke down, Christmas … He raised his eyes and looked vaguely around the room before he caught sight of the dreadful carving of Amaltheia that he had given to Ab. It was on the man’s dresser, next to a small framed picture of Ariana.


I think … Ab’s already my adult. I just hadn’t noticed it yet.

And he signed this a while ago. Before he knew who I was in my time. Before he knew there was anything special about me.

He pursed his lips to keep his smile from growing, though Pel was looking at him knowingly.

“Yeah, well then I’ll sign.”

Ab came in later with a tray full of potions and hot chocolate for the both of them.

“Thanks, Ab. Oh, and Doris works the first night shift at the Ministry counter usually,” Pel remarked. “If you can rustle up an owl, I can send her these forms immediately so that she can backdate them to February and have ‘em lost in the files by morning.”

A flash of a small smile appeared on Ab’s face, Harry was sure of it, but it melted away just as quickly. Instead, he just grunted and made to head out with the parchments.

He’s happy! I know he is! Maybe … maybe something good can come out of this mess with Macnair.

Macnair …

The man’s name echoed in Harry’s head. There was something there, something that suddenly felt horribly, unspeakably wrong. Harry shivered away from picturing the man’s face, but there it was, dead and white on the cell floor.

There it was, mouth gaping through a Death Eater mask as he looked on the newly-risen Voldemort.

There it was, grinning maliciously as he sharpened his axe in preparation for Buckbeak’s execution.

Oh dear God. Macnair!

“Macnair!,” he cried out pure terror. “Macnair!”

I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. Oh God. Oh God. I can’t breathe.

“What? Lad, what is it? Harry!” Ab was at his side, blue eyes wide and concerned.

“Macnair!” I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.

“Dammit, lad, what?” Pel bit out.

“I killed Macnair!”

The two men frowned in deepening concern.

“Nothin’ to feel guilty about, lad, we know –” Ab began.

Harry had to make them understand.

“It’s 1977!” he managed to choke out. “I killed Macnair! But – but – but I met him a few times in the 1990s!”

Dawning horror spread across Ab and Pel’s faces.

Harry shuddered as he voiced his nightmare, struggling not to vomit. “I’ve changed the timeline. My timeline. For sure.” His whisper felt like a scream.

The room was filled with the quickened breaths of the trio. Finally, Pel spoke up with surprising calm.

“Well, I suppose it’s all right.”

Harry and Ab wheeled on Pel in shock.

The man shrugged. “Harry killed Macnair hours ago. I’m no expert – I just worked for ‘em – but I’m guessing that if it were a problem, either the universe would have, I don’t know, imploded or whatever then. Or our Harry would have just vanished then. But it didn’t an’ you’re still here. So I suppose it’s all right. Either way, nothing for it now but to toast to the continued existence of existence, lads, and to the fact that the universe apparently doesn’t revolve around Walden Macnair.” He flipped the cork out of the bottle of Firewhiskey and took a long pull. It was Harry’s turn to laugh helplessly – really, what else could one do? – and grab the bottle from Pel for himself.

Ab left, papers in hand, muttering darkly about time-traveling teenagers and alcoholic barristers.

Much later, long after Harry had fallen asleep, Ab came in with another round of potions.

Pel cocked a sleepy eye open at him. “Again?”

“Shouldn’t fuck around with Cruciatus. Drink up.”

The barfly grimaced but obeyed. “You going to wake him for his doses of piss?”

Ab snorted what Pel knew translated as a ‘yes,’ but didn’t move toward the sleeping teenager.

“His is quite the story, isn’t it?” Pel commented casually, watching Aberforth watching the boy. “Soon you an’ I should have a talk about what all that future history means. A basilisk in the school. Dementors running amok, sending boys back in time. All that about Voldemort. A lot of it we can let slide, but those things … something should be done, some people told without implicating the boy.”

“Boy’s probably right, though, ‘bout not meddlin’ with the timeline if we can help it. Don’t want to try to do somethin’ good only for Harry to, what? Pop away into nothin’?” He sighed. “At any rate, We can’t trust my brother. I don’t know what he was playin’ at with the boy, but a lot of that doesn’t sit right at all with me.”

Pel nodded slowly. “Nor me. Your brother … your brother is a great man. But for a long time now, since the Unspeakables, I’ve been of the opinion that every man who ever had a statue made of him – or gotten a Chocolate Frog card with his picture on it – was a son of a bitch in one way or another.” (*)

Ab snorted. “Too right, mate.” He stood and quietly roused Harry, who woke only enough to down his potions before flopping over, dead asleep again. “You think they’ll come for ‘im?”

The old barrister regarded the sleeping teenager for a long moment. “Yeah. Yeah, I think we can bet on that.”

30 March, 1977

Rough hands yanked Harry awake. He was being manhandled to his feet before his bleary mind screamed Macnair!  Twisting his body, he attempted to find a better defensive position even as he heard Pel should, “No, Harry! It’s just Aurors!”

He stilled and looked around, his wretched eyesight straining. Three figures in crimson Auror robes surrounded his bed. Pel was on his knees on his own bed, reaching out to Harry. Ab was fuming in the corner, flanked by two more Aurors.

The Auror who was manhandling Harry, completely unconcerned about the boy’s obvious half-healed injuries, had his wand raised and pointed at Harry’s chest. “I’m sorry!” Harry gasped out. “I – I thought I was being kidnapped again.” The man’s expression didn’t change. Instead, he intoned in a bored voice, “Squib who goes by the name Harry. You are under arrest for the murder of a pureblood wizard. You are to be taken to the Ministry for processing.”

Before Harry could say anything, the Auror shot a golden spell that wrapped around him like ropes before fading out of sight. As the man moved to lead him away, Harry found that he couldn’t control his body – it simply followed the man in precise, perfect steps. He tried to flex his hand into a fist. It remained limp at his side. “Ab? Pel?” He couldn’t keep his apprehension from bleeding into his voice.

“Just procedure, Harry,” Pel said, “Don’t worry, my young friend, I’ll see you as soon as I can and we’ll get this matter all cleared up. Just remember that the price is fixed, even though you, as a squib, can’t see that.”

What? What the hell does that mean?

He had no time to puzzle over Pel’s strange repetition of the Dementor’s words. Harry tromped downstairs after his captor, followed closely by the other two Aurors, his heart beating so hard that he wondered if he would have a heart attack. Behind him, the remaining Aurors were saying something to Ab about taking his statement at the Ministry, but Harry was moved towards to the door before he could hear anything else. The group exited the pub into the morning sun. A few residents of Hogsmeade who were up early paused to gape at the scene.

“Oi! ‘S ‘e a Death Eater?” an old man called out.

The lead Auror’s expression didn’t change as he pulled a feather duster from his robes that could only be a portkey. “No, sir. This one’s just a murderer.”