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Nose to the Wind

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The older Harry got, the more he ruminated on his choices. A lot of that was almost certainly due to his isolation; a product of his own wish for privacy, outliving most of his few friends, and quitting his job teaching at a muggle grade school to teach those handful of young non-humans and humans with a talent for reading Death's book (who then left him to spread his teachings to others, and so it went).

His only remaining companions were the house-elf Aurora, and the avatar of Death, his lover Tom Riddle. And while Tom could keep him distracted while he was around, he had a job to do that all-too-often kept him away from Harry's Antarctic abode. Which Harry respected – it was technically his own fault that his dead lover had been made to take up Death's mantle – but it still left him a lot of lonely downtime.

It was just such a time, Tom gone out to collect the spirits piled up during the past couple hours of distraction, when Harry wondered what it would have been like, this life, if Tom hadn't had to die. If Harry, himself, hadn't been forced to reorder the entire world because of a prophecy saying he'd save the non-humans.

Not that he wasn't glad to have saved his people from the human governments' persecution, but for all that his people had gained freedom, his personal losses were...

Well, let's just say there were a lot of people who had saved him in his first life, who he'd brought about the deaths of in his second.

"Master Lord?" Aurora said, a concerned look on her face.

Harry reached up and touched the wet streaks he hadn't even realised had begun to mar his cheeks. "I'm fine, sweetie," he whispered around the block of a sob in his throat.

Aurora didn't look like she believed him, but she inclined her head anyway, familiar enough with Harry's refusal to be comforted by anyone.

What is it like to not always have to be strong? Harry wondered a bit inanely.

"Aurora doesn't understand the question," Aurora replied, and Harry realised he'd spoken out loud.

Oh, that was never a good sign. At least Tom wasn't there to mock him about 'losing your mind in your old age, Sol?'

Harry took a couple slow breaths, calming himself enough that he could speak past the block in his throat. "Don't mind me, Aurora. I'm just being an old man, regretting my life choices."

Aurora's ears drooped. "Master Lord regrets...everything?" she whispered, and Harry heard the lifetime of oppression that this house-elf, Kreacher's granddaughter, had never had to suffer in her words.

"No," he said, the word thrown down between them with such force, Aurora flinched. Harry closed his eyes and shook his head, made a concerted effort to gentle his tone as he explained, "I don't regret the outcome, but I regret the means. The lives lost."

"Master Death," Aurora said, and Harry glanced over at her to see her nodding in understanding. "Master Lord would rather he was..." she frowned.

"Not dead?" Harry suggested drily and she ducked her head. "Him, yes. A number of other people, too. You remember Bill?"

She frowned in thought, but nodded after a moment; she'd still been young when Bill had died fighting off a rebellion attempt.

"His father and one of his brothers both died in the war, before Tom. Others, too. People who never knew me, but whom I... They could have been my family, if I'd been less what I am."

"Parents? Brothers and sisters?" Aurora asked, very likely thinking of her own extended family; she'd drawn the short straw – or the long straw, she always insisted – to take care of Harry and his quiet home, while the rest of Kreacher's descendants lived in the UK, operating the werefolk wayhouses that still existed for those loners who wanted something like a pack without the hierarchy.

Harry thought of Molly Weasley, who hadn't spoken to him again after he came out as the Alpha Lord; of Ginny and Ron and Luna, occasional childhood friends who had never shown any interest in forgiving him for his hand in their changed world; of Hermione and Neville, neither of whom he'd ever met. "All of the above," he admitted quietly.

Aurora stepped forward and rested her hand on Harry's knee. She met his eyes and then said, very carefully, "I...am sorry."

Harry smiled down at her, so very fond of her unique form of comfort. "I know," he murmured, gently laying his own hand over hers. "There's nothing much for it. Not unless I want to, oh, I don't know, start over again."

Aurora's eyes widened even as Harry paused, realising exactly what he'd just said. Start over. Another chance to live his life, have the family he'd lost. Have Tom, alive and not duty-bound to corral recently-deceased souls.

He was getting old, there was no arguing with that, not with how he could no longer get down on his knees when Aurora or another house-elf he knew needed comforting. Almost all of the werefolk he'd grown up with had died decades ago, their bodies no longer able to survive the forced monthly change; Harry's saving grace had been his ability to shift against the moon.

"Tom will be furious," Harry whispered to himself.

"Why?" the voice of his lover asked, and Harry closed his eyes to keep from laughing. "What have you–?"

The sudden silence had Harry opening his eyes again. He found Tom standing just to one side, fingers clenched tight around the scythe that served as his mark of office, expression twisted with concern and anger. "Tom?"

Long, pale fingers reached out and cupped his cheek, thumb tracing the reminder of tears that Harry had forgotten about. "What's happened?"

Ah, Harry thought, resisting the urge to roll his eyes; Tom was half the reason he had to always be so strong, because the man couldn't seem to understand how to help Harry with his grief unless there was someone to kill.

"I upset myself," Harry explained, and the words came out tired.

Tom pulled away, wrapping both his hands around the scythe like it would protect him from Harry's emotions. "Don't do that," he ordered, as if he could direct Harry's mental state. "What have you done?"

Harry rolled his eyes and gently patted Aurora's hand to get her attention. "Tea, please?" he requested, giving her an excuse to flee the room before this confrontation.

Her eyes were bright with gratitude even as she ducked her head and hurried away.

Harry sighed, then held up a hand for his lover. "Help me up?"

"Why?" Tom demanded, even as he stepped forward to help Harry stand.

"I don't like you towering over me when I say something that's going to upset you," Harry reminded him, ensuring he had his balance before letting go of Tom's hand. Then he turned and walked towards the bookcase with Death's book on it, saying, "You know how I got my knowledge, that I lived a life in another reality before taking over the body of child-me here."

"I'm aware," Tom replied, voice tight with suspicion. "Why?"

Harry touched the spine of the book, the familiar sensation of human skin almost a comfort, despite the knowledge of how much it should have disturbed him. "I'm old, Tom," he said, refusing to turn around and see Tom's expression. "I'm old, and I'm tired."

"You're lonely," Tom insisted. "You just need to spend some time among people. Black can't come to you right now, I'm aware, but maybe you–"

"No," Harry interrupted, drawing old Gryffindor bravery around him like a cloak and turning to watch his lover go through the same agony Harry had once suffered. Except, this time, there would be no coming back, no vague possibility of finding his lover in the Realm of Death. "No, Tom. I'm tired."

"So you're going to die?" Tom shot back, and there was the anger Harry had known would come. "You're going to, what, completely give up because it's hard to get out of a chair on your own?"

Harry let out a laugh, too sharp. "What?" he snapped, and he knew getting angry wasn't the way to approach this issue with the former dark lord, but that had never served as much of a deterrent in the past, and it was clear this time would be no different. "You'd have me stay by your side until I'd withered away into a prune?"

Tom turned away, his anger palpable between them. "You should have been a vampire," he muttered.

Harry closed his eyes. "In what part of any of this have I ever had a choice?"

Tom was suddenly there, in his space, the blade of his scythe cutting into Harry's shoulder. He stared up into the familiar red-brown eyes, blazing with such fury. "You want to discuss choices, Potter?" he breathed, and the quiet nature of his tone was far more terrifying than yelling ever could have been. "Do you want to discuss who's been cursed with an existence we never wanted?"

Harry smiled, the twist of his lips bitter. "Once I'm dead, there will be nothing holding you to that form," he pointed out.

Tom jerked back, staring at Harry for a long moment in something like horror, before a doorway into the Realm of Death appeared behind him and he vanished into it.

Harry could have followed, could have opened his own doorway, but he turned away, instead. Sometimes, the better part of valour was to leave Tom to sort his emotions and thoughts out on his own.

-0-

Tom was there when Harry woke in the middle of the night, his sleep constantly restless. Death's avatar was no more than a shadow among shadows, but Harry knew he was there from the taste of death heavy in the closed room. "Tom," he called, keeping his voice down so Aurora didn't wake down the hall and come to see if he needed anything.

The shadow moved and Harry's bed dipped with Tom's weight. The scythe thudding quietly against the thick carpet on the floor was the only real warning Harry got before cool lips pressed to his. A thousand apologies and 'I love you's had been transferred in just this way, because no amount of time would ever make those phrases any easier between them.

"You want a third chance," Tom whispered once he pulled away, "don't you?"

"Third time's the charm," Harry agreed, trying to smile up at the shadow hovering over him.

"I can't come with you, you understand."

Harry closed his eyes; he'd wondered about that, after Tom had left. "But you'll be freed from your duties?" he asked.

"Yes." Tom cupped Harry's face, the action he'd stolen from Death when he took its place. "I can be reborn in this reality, as a new person with new memories, but I can't follow you; I'm too tied here."

Harry reached up and covered Tom's hand against his cheek, forced himself to ask, "Is it my fault?"

Tom snorted. "No," he admitted, and Harry could finally open his eyes, look up at his shadowed lover again. "No, most souls are tied to their home realities. You're just..."

"Special?" Harry suggested drily.

"Rather." Tom sighed and shook his head, the movement barely visible in the darkness. "You broke your ties to your home reality when you joined with Death."

Harry frowned and motioned to summon a weak lumos, just enough to see Tom's expression. His lover looked...resigned. As tired as Harry felt. " 'Joined with Death'," he repeated.

Tom nodded. "Becoming the Master of Death is one thing; accepting your dominion over it, learning its secrets, that's something else. A stronger bond."

"You joined with Death," Harry pointed out.

Tom shook his head. "I am but a part of Death, my Sol, bound to serve in this reality. You are Death's Master, keeper of its secrets; your very existence transcends the bindings of realities, simply because you once wished it so."

A lifetime ago, grieving and furious, Harry had made a choice, and that choice had, apparently, changed his entire soul. Such was...mind-boggling.

But, too, there was a forming emptiness in the space in his heart where Tom – this Tom – had taken up space. Just as there was hollowness where his family from another reality had once been, where Bill and Remus had been, where Dobby and two different Kreachers had been. He could see them all again, but they would never be the same.

At least I'll have them, Harry decided, because having to meet all those people all over again would never hurt as much as when he'd woken up after he'd transformed for the first time and found the ever-loyal Kreacher dead in the kitchen, or when Tom brought the news that Bill had been killed in the rebellion attempt twenty years after the end of the war.

He reached up and cupped Tom's cheek, a mirror of Tom's own touch. "If it's possible," he said, because he'd done some soul searching while Tom had been away, "I'd like a reality where I can hide, where I don't have to be–"

"The Alpha Lord? The Boy-Who-Lived?" Tom suggested, tone dry as aged paper.

"All of that. Any of that," Harry agreed, amused. "I want you, but I don't want us to start out as enemies."

"You want different parents?" Tom suggested and Harry scowled at him. Death's avatar flashed him a smile that was more than a little mean. "We'll sort something out."

"I'm not sure I want you involved in this decision-making process," Harry admitted and Tom laughed, as bright and happy as if they weren't discussing Harry leaving for good. Harry sighed and shook his head, resigning himself to his fate being in his lover's hands. "Bastard," he grumbled.

Tom turned and brushed a kiss against Harry's palm. "Shall I spend the night?"

Harry raised an eyebrow at him. "Don't you have people to be killing?" he asked.

Tom snorted. "They'll keep," he replied and they both smiled, sharing in the old joke.

Harry shifted on the bed, making room for Tom, and Death's avatar motioned to vanish his clothing, then slid under the covers with Harry. Harry rolled his eyes, but let himself be drawn into Tom's embrace without complaint.

-0-

"Master Lord?" Aurora asked as she slipped into his dark room. She was concerned, a bit, because he was usually up and about by now, but there hadn't been a stirring from him since she'd heard him and Master Death conversing quietly in the middle of the night.

She found the Alpha Lord laid out in the middle of his bed, a peaceful smile on his too-still face. One of his hands was wrapped lightly around a tarnished chain he'd worn since before Aurora had been born, which held two wedding bands, an engagement ring with a large diamond, and a golden band that seemed to be missing the black stone that had always been attached to it.

Aurora let out a sob, somewhere between broken-hearted and grateful; after yesterday, she'd half expected he'd pass soon. And, as much as she – as much as their whole world – would miss him, she could be content with the certainty that his bettered relations with Master Death the night before meant he was off to another, hopefully happier, adventure.

-o-0-o-
31 July 1980
-o-0-o-

Harry made a mental note, after his body finished aching from being pushed from his mother's body and he'd been left to rest, to make it a rule, should he choose to skip realities again, that he never have to suffer through being born again. Because that just...no.

Though, the fact that he was now promised a little over a year with his parents was... Merlin. Hearing hundreds of stories from Sirius and Remus as he'd grown up the last time could never compare to the promise of being able to remember them this time around. His dad's laughter, his mum's voice when she wasn't pleading for Harry's life... A thousand little gifts that he could never have believed he might receive.

Which, well, he'd called their spirits before, through the power of the Stone, but there would always be a difference between speaking to echoes and getting the chance to see them when they're so very alive.

But, ah, that would clearly have to wait; he didn't expect anything could win out against the exhaustion of a newborn.

-0-

"I can't wait for them to meet him," James gushed. Harry half expected his father would have been bouncing around the room in glee, save for the fact that he was holding Harry.

Harry was, admittedly, a little impressed with how careful James was with him. And, judging by the looks he sometimes caught Lily giving him when James wasn't looking, she was equally surprised. (That, or disbelieving that he wasn't freaking out about becoming a father. Harry's wasn't completely clear on what was going through her head, and he regretted that he likely wouldn't be able to get to know her well enough to ever find out.)

The floo lit up and the visitors James had been excitedly waiting for stepped through, one at a time: Sirius, Peter, and Remus.

"Hey, Prongs! Lils!" Sirius called, stepping forward with a careless sort of swagger, which Harry had never seen him move with in either of his past lives. Clearly, this was something Azkaban had robbed him of. (That, or the death of two of his best friends and the betrayal of another.)

Remus grabbed Sirius' shoulder, eyes trained on Harry and nostrils flared. "Impossible," he declared.

"Remus?" James replied as Lily carefully stood from the chair she'd collapsed into earlier and stepped up to her husband's side.

"What's up, Moony?" Sirius asked, glancing back at the werewolf with a frown.

"That can't possibly be your child," Remus insisted.

"I assure you, this is Harry James Potter," Lily replied, voice firm.

Remus turned to her. "A born werewolf?"

"Impossible!" James shouted, looking down at Harry with an expression of...horror?

Harry felt like a stone had just fallen into his stomach.

"Moony, that's poor taste," Sirius said, something forced in his tone.

"Test him," Remus replied, voice hard. He looked at Lily, then James, and his expression darkened. "No," he snapped.

"How else can you explain a born werewolf–" James started.

"You think I cheated on you?!" Lily shrieked.

There was a crack of a hand against skin, then Harry rather suddenly found himself held in his mother's arms, while his father nursed his reddened cheek. A part of Harry wanted to start bawling at how this was all falling apart, just because his curse had to follow him from reality to reality, but he resisted the urge. As callous as it might seem, he wanted – needed – to see what was going to happen.

Lily stepped forward, and something in her expression had Sirius and Peter hurrying out of her way. Remus stood his ground however, brown eyes sparking weakly with gold as he said, "It's not safe for you to go to St Mungo's, Lily."

Lily's arms tightened around Harry, pulling him closer, and the stone in his stomach lightened a bit at this show of unconditional love from the woman who would one day be forced to give her life for him. "I need to know. What if... what if there's some sort of special diet I need to put him on, or, or–"

"Full moons?" James said quietly, and Harry saw him coming to stand at Lily's side. He looked cowed, and a part of Harry crowed for joy at the power his mum had over his dad.

Remus shook his head. "I can find the information–"

"Information is only good with confirmation," Lily insisted. When Remus flinched, she quietly added, "It's not that I don't trust you, Remus, I just need a second opinion. Because this is..."

"Impossible," Remus agreed quietly.

"We'll all go," Sirius announced from behind Harry's parents. "Not even Voldemort would dare face all five of us."

Lily looked down at Harry so he was the only one who could see her roll her eyes. All the same, she agreed, "I suppose I can trust you four to keep Harry safe."

"And if we fail," James said in a stage whisper to Sirius, "she'll avenge us all and protect Harry on her own."

"N-not hard, o-once we've w-weakened him," Peter stuttered with false bravado.

Lily didn't bother hiding her eye rolling that time. "We'll be fine. Where's that mask we bought for him?" she added to James.

"Padfoot, top drawer just inside the kitchen. Moony, Wormtail, go on ahead and let them know we're coming and why," James ordered, and the Marauders scrambled to follow his orders as he turned to Lily and Harry, gently turning Lily so she was facing him. "Hey. We'll sort this out."

Lily swallowed and nodded. "I know. But I'm..." She hoisted Harry higher, holding him tight to her breast. "James," she whispered, quiet enough that only Harry and James could have heard her, "I'm scared. It's bad enough that–"

"I know," James agreed quietly and leant forward to kiss her forehead. "I know. We'll figure this out. If we have to, we can try to find a pack to protect him." He let out a broken sort of laugh. "That's a possibility I'd never have considered."

"I'm not leaving my son to be raised by wolves," Lily insisted, and Sirius' laugh warned of his return.

"I would threaten to tell Moony you said that, but I know he'll just agree with you," he said as he held out a strange sort of hair cover.

"Yeah, well, Moony has a thing about other werewolves," James muttered as he accepted the cover and proceeded to cover Harry's whole head with it, like an opaque bubblehead charm. "Right, all set. Padfoot, you want to go on ahead? Lily can follow, then I'll bring up the rear."

"Trusting me with the missus, Prongs?" Sirius teased.

"I'm screwed either way," James insisted while Lily snorted.

In retrospect, the cover made sense, given how dirty floo travel was, and how sensitive Harry's new body was. Too, he suspected it had some sort of one-way silencing charm on it, so any noises he made wouldn't upset the rather finicky direction magic involved. Still, it was uncomfortable, and he was feeling a little claustrophobic by the time Lily carefully took it off him in the St Mungo's lobby.

What followed was a good twenty minutes of magical tests – mostly checking to see if he was a werewolf, healthy, and (at Lily's request, likely to ease James' mind) a paternity test – a great deal of which Harry found himself dozing through. (Because he was still only a week old, for Merlin's sake, and it was boring, without the danger of those needles that muggles were so fond of.)

He did wake himself up to hear the findings, even though he knew everything would come back positive. (Though, he half expected his lycanthropy to come back negative, since it always had in the other realities. That said, Death had twisted his curse last time; Tom could well have added his own touch, just to irritate Harry.)

"Harry is, unquestionably, a Potter, and perfectly healthy," the mediwizard started, clearly aiming to force paternal attachment before he added, "He is also a born were. We won't know until he's old enough to transform what sort of form he'll take, given that neither of you have the curse."

"Until he's old enough?" Remus asked, while Lily cuddled Harry close, James' arms around her shoulders. "I'd heard something about born weres able to control their change, but I wasn't sure how true that was, or what that meant for their development."

The mediwizard sighed. "There's some good news and some bad news there, I'm afraid," he admitted. "Born werefolk can, indeed, control their own transformations, and they're not beholden to the full moon, though I've been told there is a certain discomfort in remaining human on such nights. Were transformations are rather like accidental magic, in that there is a clear stage in the child's development when he'll begin transforming when he's frightened or upset. That's around three or four for most children, and I very much suggest you find a were pack willing to take him around then, so he'll have no chance in infecting any of you during this stage. They can teach him how to control his transformations, so it will hardly be for life."

"Accidental magic and transformations all at once?" Sirius joked. "That'll be a right joy."

The mediwizard cleared his throat uncomfortably. "About that," he offered, and his tone earned him a very much captivated audience, "born weres are squibs. Harry will never attend Hogwarts."

Everything seemed to stop for Harry. No magic? Nothing? Only... Only my curse?

If any of the adults had a reaction to that news, it was completely lost to the wail that Harry had no interest in quelling.

Lily and Remus took him home after that, leaving James, Sirius, and Peter to finish hearing the mediwizard out. Harry cried the whole way home, mourning the one part of himself that he never would have willingly given up. Not for anything.

-0-

After finding out he was a squib, Harry settled in to find what little joy in life with his parents he could. On the plus, they had no need to go under Fidelius with Harry as he was, since there was no way Voldemort would ever consider a squib a threat, werewolf or no. They were still in danger, given there was a war and Harry's family was in the front lines, but Dumbledore gave James and Lily very few missions, citing them having a child as his reason. (Harry was, admittedly, extremely grateful, given that his only happiness was time spent with his parents.)

Lily became pregnant when Harry was about seven months old, and his brother, William Harrold, was born on the eleventh of November. James took to paying Will a lot of attention, ignoring Harry more often than not when his brother was nearby, and Harry knew he should have been jealous or upset, but he was really just marvelling at the fact that he had a brother. That his whole family had survived long enough to become larger.

"I'm sorry about Daddy, sweet one," Lily murmured to Harry at the beginning of October in 1982, while she was tucking him in, the apology something of a routine, any more. Will was already fast asleep in the crib across the room, and James had left with barely a glance in Harry's direction. "He's just got a very small attention span, and Will requires a lot of attention."

Harry just gave her the look he'd perfected a few months ago in response to the idiocy of his father, Sirius, and Peter. Remus too, sometimes, but he was usually able to at least pretend to be an adult. (He was Harry's favourite, after Lily, because he paid him more attention than he did Will. He was also Harry's godfather, simply because it had made sense to all the adults that the werewolf be godfather of the werechild.)

Lily let out a quiet laugh and gently kissed his forehead. When she pulled back, though, her expression was sad. "I wish he had more attention for you," she admitted before letting out an angry breath. "God! There's nothing wrong with not having magic!"

Will let out a discontent noise at the sound of Lily's raised voice, and she hurried over to soothe him back to sleep while Harry watched silently from within his crib.

"I know you don't understand, baby," Lily continued once she'd returned to Harry, brushing her fingers through his flyaway hair. "You're just hurt, and I completely understand that. I'm glad you're not taking it out on your brother, though."

Harry shook his head and peeked around her towards Will's crib.

Lily sighed and kissed his forehead again before gently pushing him to lay down. "Go to sleep, Harry. Will's safe where he is."

It would prove to be a rather erroneous assurance.

-0-

The sounds woke Harry first, decades of battle experience enough to affect him even as a two-year-old: crashes and shouting from downstairs.

Then came the smell of spellfire, sharp enough that his enhanced senses couldn't have helped but notice it, and Harry kicked aside his blanket, then grabbed for the latch of his crib. The panel slid down with a thud, and Harry was jumping down and running towards his brother before he could think any better of it. Where are Mum and Dad? he thought a bit desperately as he jumped up and struggled to pull himself up high enough to unlatch Will's crib; he had to grab his brother and find some place to hide them both.

The door of their room slammed open and Harry looked towards it hopefully, but the figure in the doorway wore a bone white mask, and Harry felt a flare of terror because Death Eaters were attacking.

"Well, well," the man in the doorway said, voice slick with violence. "Look what we have here. A baby out of bed."

Harry didn't need a guide book to recognise Walden Macnair, even though Tom's intervention meant he'd had little to do with the man during his previous life, despite how much he'd hated him. He jumped down from Will's crib and stepped forward until he was between the executioner and his brother. "Leave," he ordered, the first time he'd ever spoken in front of someone other than Will.

Macnair laughed and pointed his wand at Harry. "What a brave little lion!"

Harry snarled, the familiar sensation of a werewolf transformation making his bones tingle. "Not a lion," he informed him before he shifted.

Decades of practise couldn't make the transformation hurt any less, but it had taught him how to make the change near instantaneous, and he was rushing out of his clothing, jaws open wide, before Macnair could realise what had happened.

"Werewolf!" Macnair shouted as Harry got a mouthful of his robes. But he'd misjudged, forgotten how small he was as a pup, and he gave him a great kick to the belly before he could unhook his tiny teeth from his robes and try for something a bit fleshier.

His back hit the wall at the far side of the nursery and Harry moaned as he slumped, everything hurting. His ears were ringing, filled with the sound of someone screaming.

"Wretched creature," Macnair muttered, and Harry realised the screaming was his brother, woken by the noise.

Will, he remembered and forced himself to get up. His left forepaw felt like it was broken, but he ignored it as he hurried forward, growling. Keep him distracted, he told himself. Keep him away from Will. Mum or Dad will come soon.

But Macnair wouldn't allow himself to be distracted from the wailing baby, beyond flicking a blasting curse towards Harry. He howled as he hit the wall again, pouring every ounce of his anger and helplessness into the noise; he couldn't lose his brother!

A dark hole opened up next to Harry and the cloaked form of Death stepped out. "Finally," it said in its genderless voice, as it strode across the room towards where Macnair had frozen over Will's crib. "I thought you'd never call me, Master."

The change was agony, given how broken Harry's body was from hitting the wall twice, and his words were a definite snarl as he replied, "Just kill him before he hurts my brother!"

Death grabbed Macnair around the throat with one skeletal hand and raised him in the air. "It will be my pleasure, Master," it promised before starting back towards Harry and the doorway to the Realm of Death with its passenger, who had begun gurgling and scratching at Death's hand.

"And, Death," Harry added before the other could vanish, "we'll have words about you and Tom dropping me in a reality where I'm a squib."

Death's shadowed hood turned towards him. "Are you?" it asked before both it and the doorway vanished.

Harry stared after it for a bit, disbelieving. Then Will's whimpering registered and he tried to get to his feet, but the agony of his broken bones nearly paralysed him and he cried out as he fell over onto his side, sending another shock of pain through his whole body.

He took a deep breath, then forced himself to change back into his werewolf form, knowing it was far more durable, and staggered across the room and struggled up the side of Will's crib. He had to stop and pant for a moment, once he was on the mattress, but he didn't give himself long before he forced himself up to his paws again and slowly stepped close enough to lick Will's nearest foot.

Will wasn't unused to animals, given the number of animagi they spent time with, as well as Lily's cat, Puss-Puss, so it really didn't surprise Harry that his brother wasted no time in clinging to him once he'd shown he had no intent to harm the younger boy.

Harry had to bite back a whimper when Will's grasp reminded him of some of his pains, but he refused to push his brother away; Will didn't understand what was happening, and Harry could protect him better from higher up, anyway, since he could go after hands pointing wands at them from this height.

He remained stiffly at attention as Will fell asleep next to him and the sounds of battle quieted downstairs.

And then, from in the kitchen, he heard Lily cry, "James! The boys!"

Feet thudded on the stairs and Lily and James burst into the room, both covered with various wounds and the signs of spell damage, but alive. They looked to Harry's crib first, as it was closer to the ruined door, and Lily let out a strangled sound at finding it empty.

"Harry?" Lily cried even as she turned towards Will's crib. "Wi–? James!"

Then they were both standing at the edge of the crib, staring down at where Will was curled against Harry's side, fingers holding loosely to his stump of a tail. Harry cocked his head at them, then leant down and nudged Will's chin with his nose.

Will let out a disgruntled noise and made sort of floppy swat toward Harry's face, which had him jerking out of range before his brother could accidentally connect with something that hurt.

"Harry?" James breathed, sounding somewhere between shocked and awed.

Harry looked up towards them and gave a jerky nod, then looked down and licked the bottom of Will's foot, taking care to avoid the expected kick he got for his troubles.

But that effectively woke Will, and he blinked sleepily a few times before noticing their parents. "Mama!" he shouted, scrambling to get up enough that he could crawl towards their parents. Harry winced as his brother struck him a couple of times, but held still under the unintentional abuse.

Lily picked her youngest up without pause, checking him over for any signs that he was hurt.

That left James with Harry and, for the first time since Will's birth, he was the centre of his father's attention. "Hey, kiddo," he said, voice gentle, as he reached out to touch Harry's head. When Harry nudged into the touch – there was nothing wrong with him wanting some comfort in the form of physical contact – James wasted no time in scratching behind his ears for a moment. "You can change back now, Harry," he offered. "It's okay. There's nothing to be scared of any more."

Harry shook his head, letting his ears droop, and held up his broken front paw carefully; he had no intention in changing back until he'd healed a bit, not with as much pain as he was in.

"James," Lily interrupted, sounding a little panicked, "there's a wand here. And the broken door–"

"Merlin," James breathed, taking a look around the room and very clearly only just then seeing the signs of a scuffle that they'd missed in their panic about Harry's empty crib. He looked back down at Harry, his eyes wide. "You protected your brother?"

Harry nodded.

"Gentle!" Lily ordered as James reached into the crib to pick Harry up. He was gentle, but so much of Harry hurt, he couldn't help but whimper as he was moved.

"I've got you, Harry," James whispered, cradling Harry against his chest. "I've got you. You're safe."

Harry drooped against his father's chest, finally allowing himself to relax.

"St Mungo's," he heard his mother say as he started to drift off, exhausted from the stress of fighting Macnair. "Now."

"Absolutely," James agreed and Harry fell asleep to the gentle rocking motion of his father's careful steps.

-0-

"Are you sure we have to send him away?" Lily complained for what seemed like the hundredth time, just before the portkey was due to activate.

James and Remus traded looks over Harry's head, while he caught his brother's eyes and made a face at him, making the younger boy giggle and wriggle in Lily's arms.

The portkey activated then, and Harry bit his lower lip to keep from spitting out some choice curses at the sensation. At least he was being carried by James – who had made a point of paying rather a lot of attention to Harry over the past week since the attack – so he didn't have to worry about falling over when they landed in a forest clearing, because he never had got the hang of portkey travel, not when he had other means.

"He needs to be trained, Lily," Remus insisted once they'd landed. "You don't want him accidentally transforming while he and Will are playing, do you?"

"He's not going to hurt Will," Lily shot back, something none of them could argue after how careful Harry had been with his brother while in wolf form.

"No, but he can't go to a muggle school if he can't control his transformations," James pointed out logically. "And Moony's contact did say it usually only takes four or five months." He snorted and ruffled Harry's hair, distracting him from the sound of people approaching. "Given how ridiculously smart you are, I'm sure you'll manage in less." Because James had decided, over the past week, that Harry's lack of speaking was not a sign of arrested development, but simply of a lack of desire to speak.

Which... Well, sometimes Harry wished his father would pay a little less attention to him, because when he cared, he saw a lot more than Harry was comfortable with.

"I don't like leaving him on his own," Lily muttered.

"What am I, chopped liver?" Remus complained good-naturedly. Then his head jerked up, sensing the approaching group that Harry had already noticed. "Here they come."

The group stepped into view around the trees a moment later. Two women and two men – clearly the elders of the group, though none of them could have been older than fifty – were in the lead, with a couple younger men and women staying under the trees, out of the clearing.

"I am Rolaf," one of the men offered as the other three elders stopped just behind him. He looked at Remus. "You are Loner Remus?"

Remus grimaced at the title, but nodded. "I am."

Rolaf turned to Harry then, golden-brown eyes meeting his unflinching stare. "And this is the were-born, Harry." He frowned. "He is young for the change."

"We were attacked," James said, his voice strained. "Lily and I were downstairs, and one of them got up to the boys' room. Harry transformed and protected Will."

Rolaf's eyes narrowed. "You recognised your brother?" he demanded.

Harry blinked. Was he not supposed to have? He nodded.

Rolaf watched him for another moment, then looked up at James and requested, "Please set him down." Once Harry was on his feet in front of his father, Rolaf ordered, "Transform."

Harry tilted his head to one side and gave the elder a look that he hoped made it clear he wanted to know why he should.

Rolaf looked like he might say something impolite, but one of the women stepped forward, touching his arm to keep him silent. "Harry," she said, her voice quiet and polite, "my name is Andrea. If you are capable of transforming, we would like to see it. Please?"

Harry considered his options: On one hand, he could transform and prove he had perfect control of his curse, which was clearly impossible and would set him apart even more than the fact that he was a were-born with two uncursed parents. On the other hand, if he proved he didn't need any training, he could go home with his family.

He remembered the attack, thought about what could have happened to Will if he hadn't been there, and clenched his jaw against the pain before he shifted form.

"Lycaon," the other female elder breathed as Harry crawled out of his clothing. He glanced up at her, curious – the word sounded familiar, but he couldn't quite place it.

"Harry," Andrea called, and Harry focussed on her, "can you understand me?"

Harry nodded.

"You know who you are? Who everyone here is?"

Harry very pointedly looked towards the other two elders that he hadn't been introduced to, then towards the crowd of onlookers in the trees.

Rolaf let out a loud laugh. "Clever little pup, you know what she meant."

Harry huffed and nodded.

"Harry," Remus called from behind him, tone dry, and Harry peered over his shoulder. "Are you going to speak in this form?"

Harry flashed him a wolfish grin, then shook his head.

"Told you he was smart," James whispered.

"What does all this mean, Mr Rolaf, Ms Andrea?" Lily asked, her voice strained.

"It means your son doesn't need our tutelage," Andrea replied a bit helplessly. "How he's able to control his transformation so easily, I cannot say, but he needs no teacher in this."

"He's made a habit of flummoxing everyone with his werewolf thing," James commented quiet enough that, had they not been surrounded by werefolk, it would have gone unnoticed.

"Excuse me, 'werewolf thing'?" one of the younger weres from the trees snapped, stepping forward. His eyes glinted golden, fingernails too sharp to be human, and Harry realised this was another were-born.

He let out a warning growl at the elder were-born, and he looked down, clearly surprised. "You don't care that he's insulting you? Insulting all of us?"

Harry huffed in disgust, then turned to Remus, trusting in him to explain.

Remus coughed. "Harry is the natural-born child of two uncursed," he offered. "Forgive James' rather undiplomatic way of putting things, but the fact is that Harry shouldn't be were-born."

There followed a long silence, during which everyone stared at Harry.

"Can we take Harry home, then?" Lily asked, breaking the silence and making a few of the werefolk startle.

"You may," Andrea agreed.

"When he starts talking, though," Rolaf added as Harry turned back towards his clothing, intending to get back into his jumper, at least, before he changed back; it was cold out, "I'd appreciate it if you'd bring him back. Maybe he'll have something interesting to say."

"One can only hope," Remus agreed quietly.

Once Harry was dressed again, he walked over to James, and his father wasted no time in picking him up and holding him close. It struck him then, that as much as his father had drawn away in the past year, he'd been as upset about the possibility of Harry leaving as Lily had been. It made him wonder how much of James' distance had been an attempt to keep from getting attached to the child he knew there was no way he could keep.

Harry wondered about Death's parting comment, and how him breaking this rule about his were-born-ness would change things.

Clearly, he needed to speak to his eternal servant again. And soon.

-0-

A party followed their return from the werefolk encampment, and Harry fell asleep early in to the festivities, so he didn't get the chance to call Death that night. But the house was absolutely silent the next morning when he woke, the adults clearly dead to the world, so he unlatched his crib, went to the loo – Lily and James were both very clearly waiting for Will to figure that function out, given how ahead of the curve Harry had been – then checked on Will. His brother was awake and quietly chewing on the ear of his stuffed black dog.

"Death?" Harry called, eyeing the latches of his brother's crib, far out of his reach.

Skeletal hands appeared above his head, easily unlatching and lowering the slide so Harry could climb up to sit with his brother. Will immediately cuddled close, eyeing the hooded figure with some upset.

"It's okay, Will," Harry whispered, petting the dark hair covering his head. "This is a friend of mine."

Will curled his hand in Harry's sleep shirt. "Hawwy," he mumbled, still eyeing Death uncertainly, "hungy."

"I know," Harry murmured, looking towards Death. "Dad hid a store of banana mush in the lower cabinet to the left of the refrigerator, so I could reach it if I woke up before him and Mum. Could you be troubled to get me one?"

Death let out a rattling sigh. "Only because you are my master," it insisted before vanishing. It returned a moment later, a small spoon and one of the banana mush cups in one skeletal hand.

"Thank you," Harry said as he accepted the gifts. He popped the cup open and spooned some out to feed Will, which he accepted happily. "Please explain what you meant by my not being a squib," he requested of Death as he kept an eye on Will, refusing to trust his brother to feed himself without making a massive mess.

Death's fingers clicked a rhythm against each other. "There are things you have yet to discover about this reality," it offered, and Harry shot the apparition a dry look before turning back to Will. Death let out a bone-rattle laugh, quiet enough to not chance waking James and Lily down the hall. "The Hallows never existed here."

Harry's hand jerked, splattering banana mush inside the cup and across his forearms and Will's face. Will let out a delighted laugh and wiped at his face while Harry turned to stare at Death. "Excuse me. How can the Hallows not exist? The Peverells clearly existed, given that my family and Tom both exist."

Death's shoulders jerked in a shrug. "Yes. And while they were crafters of magical instruments, certainly, their and my paths never crossed such that the Hallows would have been a part of the mortal realm." It paused, the deep shadows of its hood seeming almost to stare into Harry's soul. "Until you."

Will mumbled nonsense and tugged on Harry's sleeve, reminding him that he was supposed to be feeding his brother. "Until me," he repeated drily, eyes back on Will. "You're saying, what? I'm a Hallow?"

"They are as tied to you as I," Death explained, the patience in its genderless voice at odds with the rhythmic tapping of its fingers against each other. "In whatever reality, they will be drawn to you, to belong to you and be used by you as you please. When you entered a reality where they didn't exist, the power they should have had was drawn from me into you."

Harry assimilated that information as he used the spoon to wipe away a bit of banana mush from Will's chin. "So, I could become invisible at will, or call forth the spirits of the dead?" he asked.

"Yes. And, while it is true that your being born a werewolf ravaged your magical pathways before they finished forming, the Elder Wand will act as a conduit in their stead; you cannot use a wand, but your wandless magic abilities will be unparalleled."

Harry held the banana mush and spoon in one hand, holding out his other hand between himself and Will. "Lumos," he whispered.

Light, as bright as any wand-cast version of the spell, bloomed in his palm. Will let out an amazed sound and reached out to try and grab the light. A silent spell – one Harry never could have dreamed to cast wandless before – had the light transferring to Will's hand, and he squealed in delight.

Harry turned to look up at Death, refusing to be embarrassed by the grateful tears in his eyes. "Thank you," he breathed.

Death bowed. "Master, it was but my pleasure," it promised.

Harry took a deep breath, then asked, "And my access to your magic? That was always wandless."

"Think, Master," Death chided. "How many of your non-human students of my magic were non-magical?"

Harry squeezed his eyes shut, feeling like an idiot. "Right. I was clearly not thinking."

"You were depressed," Death allowed, and one skeletal hand reached out to cup his cheek, the gesture both familiar and not, after decades with another hand providing the action. "Master, trust that I would never leave you unable to defend yourself, that Tom could never have been so cruel as to leave you to misery in his absence."

Harry let out a quiet laugh and touched the bone fingers covering his skin. "I'm sorry, Death. I've done you a disservice."

"Master, I have already forgiven you," Death promised, and Harry knew it had.

The noise of movement from Lily and James' room reached Harry's ears, and he glanced towards the door.

Death slowly drew away, fingers lingering against Harry's cheek in a way they never would have before Tom had become a part of it. "You know how to reach me, Master, have you need of me."

"I do," Harry agreed. "Thank you."

Death bowed again before vanishing back to the Realm of Death, leaving Harry to, regretfully, vanish the ball of light that Will had been playing with.

Will gave him a broken look, his bottom lip trembling, and Harry sighed and offered him another spoonful of banana mush. "It's a secret, Will," he whispered. It was bad enough he was as much an impossibility as it was, were-born to uncursed parents; if he suddenly started showing magical talent, with no magical pathways, all hell would break loose.

Still, should Death Eaters attack again, none of them would get within ten feet of his brother; Harry could protect Will now.

.

Chapter Text

One nice thing about being able to become invisible at the drop of a hat, Harry quickly discovered, was that he could sneak out after he and Will had been put to bed and spy on their parents, honorary uncles, and any of their friends that dropped by in the evening to talk about the state of things in the world. Given, he had to cast some scent- and sound-blocking charms if Remus was in, but that was equally simple, now he knew he could.

As he'd expected, without Harry playing the part of boy wonder, Voldemort was largely winning. There were still pockets of resistance left, like the Order of the Phoenix, but their numbers were dwindling.

"I'm afraid I'll lead them to Andy and Dora," Ted Tonks admitted quietly. "I keep thinking it would be better if I didn't fight, but then I remember what they'll do to me if they have their way."

"Will and Dora, they'd probably be fine," Sirius added, tone dark, "but what about Harry? He's a squib. Voldemort will see him dead, same as you and Lily." He glanced towards Lily, expression apologetic.

"He's a were-born," Remus offered, head ducked down to watch where his fingers were folded together on the table in front of him. "A pack will take him in, will protect him; Voldemort's got too many allies among the werewolves to turn against them just because most of them are squibs or muggles."

"Still," Jacob Robins said, twisting his wedding band around his finger, "we can either fight and risk our lives and the lives of our families, or we can give in and hold still for the Killing Curse, all the while hoping our sacrifice will keep our families safe. There's bad choice at every turn."

"But is it fair to risk the children?" Amelia Bones asked, looking haggard. "This isn't their war, for all they're being dragged into it."

"But it is their war," James insisted. "By the very fact that they're born with magic – or born into the magical world at all – this is their fight. It's their future we're fighting for."

"How is leading them to the slaughter fighting for them?" Amelia shot back, and there were tears in her eyes, a reminder of the family she'd lost, for the too-young bodies she'd had to bury before their time.

Harry crept back upstairs, thinking over the debate. Back in the nursery, he looked towards Will's crib, and a lump in his throat nearly choked him.

He knew Voldemort, knew how utterly mad he was with his soul split too many times, knew how little sympathy he held for familial love. There was nothing any member of the Order could do to stop him from annihilating anyone and everyone who didn't bend a knee to him.

Harry touched his throat, where a chain of rings had hung in another life. One ring, horcrux and Hallow, the beginning of two separate collections. And Death's words, decades and another reality ago: "Your habit of collecting the horcruxes and keeping them in close proximity to each other has healed a great deal of the damage he did to his soul by creating so many."

Harry smiled a wolf's grin, showing too many sharp teeth for a two-year-old's mouth, and set about hunting down a toy he could spell to hold more than it looked like it could, yet was small enough that he could hide it on his person with no one the wiser. He'd spell it with as many protective spells as he could – both human and Death-based – and then it was time to go horcrux hunting. (Again.)

-0-

Harry spent the next couple weeks splitting his nights between spying on the adults and hunting down horcruxes. The locket and diadem were both easy, and he found a Peverell ring in the place of the Resurrection Stone, which seemed to hold the same purpose. The diary had served some difficulty only because Abraxas was still alive, so Lucius didn't have control of the office Harry'd found it in last time. A point me spell showed him to the right room, and his easy manipulation of both wandless and Death magic made acquiring it ten times easier than last time.

The cup, however, was much harder to find, as it wasn't in Bellatrix's vault. At a bit of a loss for where else it might be, he eventually resorted to calling on Death for a hint.

"He has yet to settle on protectors or unattended hiding places for both the cup and his most recent horcrux, the one that ended up a part of you in your past two lives," Death supplied.

"Oh?" Harry snorted and kicked his feet lightly against the lowered gate of his crib. "I shouldn't be surprised the paranoid fool went through with it. Well then, I assume he's keeping them in his base?"

"His bedroom, Master," Death agreed, hood dipping like a nod of acknowledgement. "They are well warded, but it is nothing you couldn't combat with little difficulty, given sufficient time."

"So, not at night," Harry muttered.

"Not tonight, Master," Death corrected, something almost mischievous in its genderless voice. "In truth, you need only await a night attack."

Harry grinned. "You really are my favourite, Death. Let me know when such is?" He glanced across the room at Will's silent crib, his brother long asleep. "Assuming it's not Will's birthday; I don't expect I'll have the energy to do more than sleep, after what Dad and Sirius have planned for his first birthday."

"I shall keep you apprised," Death promised with a short bow, then vanished.

Harry sighed, glancing down at the small blue cube – part of a set of cubes that fit inside of each other, which it hadn't been hard to create a lid for – that he was using as his horcrux storage locker. "Well," he whispered to it, "with luck, between me holding you lot together and Tom keeping the other two close, he'll be sane enough, if he catches me, that he'll be more curious about a two-year-old poking around his personal effects than feel threatened."

Yeah, because that always worked out.

-0-

Let it never be said that Tom Riddle didn't have a flair for dramatic anniversaries; his next late night attack fell on Guy Fawkes Day and, according to Death, involved blowing holes in the sides of the homes of ministry employees who were publicly against him.

Harry rolled his eyes, hoped no one he cared about would be hurt, then had Death lead him through the Realm of Death to Voldemort's bedroom. As Death had said, the wards were little deterrent to Harry, and he had the last two horcruxes in his cube within half an hour.

Before he left, he set a piece of paper down in the spot where the horcruxes had been. He'd spent a whole day agonising over what to write on it, especially since he didn't want Voldemort going on an uncontrolled murderous rampage. In the end, he'd settled on:

'Voldemort,
'They are safe. We'll talk when you're less likely to murder me for my theft.'

He'd drawn an approximation of the Elder Wand, as he remembered it, tipped with the blade of a scythe as his signature. He'd honestly thought about referring to himself as 'Lord Sol', but there was too much attached to that name for him to use it again. And, anyway, there was no way Voldemort would ever react well to someone who was calling themselves 'Lord' stealing his horcruxes.

-0-

Will's birthday was a chaotic event which, for all the hopes of their father and Sirius, had never been destined to end well.

All the members of the Order who had children brought them, and the kids were left to play in the backyard while the adults clustered in groups at a short distance. Most of the kids were Harry's age or a bit older, as the younger members of the Order and their families hadn't lasted as long, so they were less inclined towards patience when it came with dealing with Harry's little brother or his own silence.

"Haven't you learnt to speak yet, baby?" one of the boys joked as he pushed Harry.

Harry held his ground and pinned the boy with the stare that had had even his most rebellious werefolk baring their throats in another reality.

The boy stumbled backward. "What are you, some sort of freak?!"

Harry rolled his eyes and turned to join Will over in the lonely corner of the sandbox that he'd been left in when the older kids decided they didn't want to play with a baby.

"Hey, freak! I'm talking to you!" the boy called.

Harry sensed the projectile in plenty of time to dodge it, and it sailed harmlessly over Will's head. Will glanced up and, upon seeing Harry, gave him a wide grin and motioned towards him with his hands, babbling Harry's name and some nonsense that was as close to real speech as he could manage, beyond a handful of words.

Harry smiled back and held his hands up, palms out, for Will to slap his own hands against. Will giggled and did so a few times.

"What, are you both freaks?" the rude boy from before asked.

Harry clenched his jaw and refused to respond to that, though when he heard the boy shift to one side behind him, he copied the motion, keeping himself between his antagonist and his brother.

"Kenny, come on. Leave them alone," a girl tried.

"No!" the boy shouted, and Harry heard the girl let out a startled sound before she hit the sand. "Why should these little freaks be living so happy when Mum–!"

Harry sensed the object coming, but any attempts to move out of the way would let it hit Will, so he held still and took the hit, then spun and snarled at the boy, baring his teeth in a clear warning to back off.

Which was, of course, the part of the altercation that an adult spotted, and it started a shitstorm that ended with Harry scowling out the window of his bedroom, Will being held by Lily with the adults, and the other kids continuing to play, unbothered.

Harry felt absolutely zero shame in using his vantage point to cause minor magical incidents to get the boy who'd attacked him back, especially since no one would ever suspect him.

-0-

From what he heard in the evenings over the rest of November, Voldemort had seriously cut back on his attacks and the number of magical lives he was taking, though non-magical lives were another matter entirely. While Harry felt fairly certain he could visit the dark lord at the beginning of December, he was also rather fond of anniversaries, and he knew of an important one that was approaching. One that, with some help, he could use to get to Voldemort in a way that the dark lord would never expect. (Which might backfire, but he had to try.)

So he held out until the thirtieth of December, then dozed until a silent alarm he'd set woke him just before midnight. He slipped quietly downstairs to tug his winter cloak down from the rack in the front hall and put it on, pulling the hood forward far enough that it would shadow his face, though it wasn't deep enough to fully hide him. Only thus dressed, did he open a doorway to the Realm of Death and head towards the access to Voldemort's room.

He found the dark lord working at his desk, a tumbler of something alcoholic at his elbow. From behind, he appeared to have the bald and white-skinned appearance that the Voldemort of Harry's first reality had, which served well in distinguishing him from Harry's lover during his last life. He also didn't seem to have noticed Harry's entrance, and he raised an eyebrow at that before clearing his throat.

Voldemort jumped and spun around in his chair, wand held tight in his hand. But he was looking too high up to actually spot the two-year-old standing barely three feet away. "Who's there?" he demanded, voice hard.

"Happy birthday," Harry offered and Voldemort finally looked down, his wand lowering to point at him.

Voldemort blinked at him for a moment, then dropped his wand to his side and rubbed tiredly at his eyes. "The hell?" he complained. "Hallucinations, now?"

"Incidentally, I'm not an hallucination," Harry offered as he started towards a chair that looked like it might be comfortable, and also had a little bar along the front that he could use to boost himself up into the seat. "Which, yes, I'm aware that all hallucinations say that. I'd offer to poke you or something, but I'm not sure how much that would prove, given that sight isn't the only sense that can be fooled by your brain."

Once he'd made it into the chair, Harry turned to look back at Voldemort, only to find the dark lord openly staring at him. "Is there something on my face?" he demanded.

Voldemort shook his head. "Who are you. What are you?"

"Were-born, and not your enemy, which is all you really need to know for the moment."

Voldemort's eyes narrowed and he abruptly stood. "It is not up to you, child, to decide what I do and do not need to know!"

Harry tilted his head slightly. "Are you done?" he requested when Voldemort didn't say anything else, just stood there, looking imposing and angry.

Voldemort's lips curled up in a snarl. "Who. Are. You?"

Harry sighed. "Not your enemy," he repeated. When Voldemort pointed his wand at him, Harry scowled and snapped, "If you don't point that somewhere else, I will use your horcruxes against you. Don't test me."

Voldemort froze, his face seeming almost to pale even further, and his wand dropping from his fingers. "You have my–?" he breathed.

"One black diary, originating from a bookshop on Vauxhall Road; one gold ring with the Peverell coat on a black stone, likely having belonged to Cadmus Peverell; one gold diadem with a large sapphire, originally belonging to Rowena Ravenclaw; one gold locket with green gems in the shape of an 'S', originally belonging to Salazar Slytherin; one gold cup with two handles and a badger relief on one side, originally belonging to Helga Hufflepuff; and one steel dagger with a small ruby in the end of the hilt, originally belonging to Godric Gryffindor," Harry listed calmly.

Voldemort stumbled gracelessly into his desk chair, expending just enough energy to turn it towards Harry before drooping. "You're the scythe. A child."

"You appear very stuck on my age," Harry commented drily. "You're not the only child genius around here, Voldemort; you should know better than to be surprised by the brilliance of determined children."

Voldemort's eyes narrowed at the suggestion that Harry knew anything about his childhood, but that wasn't what he addressed. "Determined, boy? What are you intending for my horcruxes?"

Harry sighed. "You know, you did a very stupid thing, splitting your soul so many times," he pointed out, struggling to keep his tone conversational, rather than confrontational. "It rather dehumanised you to such an extent that you're no longer questioning the sanity of your own actions. In collecting them all in one place, I have managed to undo some of that damage, though I'm afraid this is as sane as you'll ever again be, without endangering your life by trying to accept the Horcruxes back. Which–"

The dark cloud of his soul re-entering Tom's body, the agony lining his face, the Resurrection Stone dropping soundlessly to the rug between them, Tom's lifeless body following.

Harry looked away, swallowing against the memory he would give almost anything to forget forever.

"No," Voldemort said, tone quiet. "It didn't sound like something I would be particularly interested in attempting." He shifted in his seat, and Harry looked back to find him leaning forward, eyes narrowed. "So my new clarity of thought is your doing. To what purpose?"

Harry shrugged, aware that he needed to tread carefully around this issue, or it could blow up in his face. "I need you to consider something from an unbiased standpoint and, as you were, you never could have."

Voldemort laughed, the sound grating, and Harry clenched his jaw. "Really?" the dark lord demanded, spreading his arms wide. "You wanted me sane so you can get a second opinion?"

Harry let out a derisive snort. "On the contrary, I wish only to provide you with some facts and hope you make the choice that will most please me."

Voldemort's eyes narrowed, and one hand flexed, as if longing for the wand laying on the ground between them and just to one side. "And if I don't make the choice you prefer?"

Harry shrugged. "Then we fight, you die, and the wizarding world will be left wondering what happened to you. Not my preferred outcome, admittedly, hence my waiting for you to be saner." He eyed the dark lord's murderous expression and sighed. "Please, don't take that as a threat."

"It's rather hard to do when you're holding all the cards," Voldemort snapped.

Harry offered him a smile and spread his hands. "Do I? Perhaps you may bank on the probability of a were-born pup surviving against a rather accomplished adult wizard."

Voldemort's scowl deepened. "How old are you?"

Harry considered that for a moment, wondering how much it would give away about him, then shrugged the concern away. "Two and a half."

Voldemort stared at him, clearly disbelieving.

Harry rolled his eyes and folded his hands in his lap. "If you would, consider the number of magical humans still remaining in Britain right now. Both sides, muggleborn and halfblood and pureblood, not werefolk. How long do you think that population will last if this war doesn't end?"

Voldemort shook his head and sneered. "You want me to, what? Capitulate to Dumbledore and his supporters?"

Harry sighed. "No, I know better than to expect that from you. I want you to offer them a truce; a promise of safety for anyone fighting against you – no matter their blood purity – and their whole family, should they turn themselves in within a specific, yet reasonable, timeframe."

Voldemort snorted. "Ah, yes, that's absolutely going to happen."

Harry just stared at him, waiting for the man to consider the options.

Voldemort stared back at him for a long moment, sneer firmly in place, but then his mind clearly started running, for he frowned and looked away, towards the door leading – Harry assumed – to the rest of his base. "Children," he murmured, looking back at Harry. "Promise a future for their children and they will flock to me."

"Yes," Harry agreed quietly, thinking of his own absolute loyalty to his brother. "But you'll have to hold to that promise; you'll have to enforce the fact that those children, no matter who their parents are, will be safe. If you fail them, even once, this war will begin again. And it will be a thousand times more bloody, for the second war will stand on the back of a dead child."

Voldemort closed his eyes, rubbing angrily at the bridge of his nose. "You think me unaware of how ridiculously attached parents get to their offspring?"

"She loved you," Harry told him, keeping his voice gentle, and Voldemort's eyes snapped open again to stare at him. "Your mother. There are magical means to induce a stillbirth, a potion that would have easily been within her skills. It would have saved her life; she chose to save yours, instead."

"Get out," Voldemort ordered.

Harry sighed and jumped off his chair. "No mother – no parent – deserves facing that choice, Tom. Please, for once in your life, find it within your heart to give someone the same chance your mother died to give you," he said before motioning for a doorway into the Realm of Death to open and, once he was through, close behind him.

On the other side, waiting for him, stood a sickly-looking woman whose eyes pointed in opposite directions. "Did you tell him?" she pleaded.

Harry reached up and lightly touched Merope's hands where they were twisting in the skirt of her dress. "Yeah. I don't know how much of a dent it made, but I told him."

Merope's eyes filled with tears. "Thank you."

Harry shook his head. "Merope, telling your son how much he meant to you on his birthday was a small price to pay for the chance to speak to his better nature." He sighed and pulled away, glancing over his shoulder at where the doorway had been. "I only hope it works; I don't want to have to choose between my family and Tom."

Merope knelt behind him and wrapped him in a hug chilled with death. Harry reached up and squeezed her arm in response, unbothered by the reminder of her lack of living warmth. "Thank you for giving him a chance," she whispered. "All that he's done, as horrible as he is..."

Harry carefully extracted himself from her arms and gently held her chin with one hand, pushing his hood back with the other so they could lock gazes. "He is only as horrible as I am, Merope. I'm simply giving him the same chance he's given me," he told her, thinking of that other Tom, who had loved him enough to let Harry move on without a hope to ever find each other in future.

Merope swallowed and nodded. "Still."

Harry smiled and agreed, "Still," before stepping away. "I need to get home and get some sleep; knowing my family, it's going to be a long day tomorrow."

Merope smiled back and inclined her head, leaving Harry to pick his way across the Realm of Death alone. It wasn't neglect; nothing there would dare try to harm Death's Master.

-0-

When Voldemort made his offer of amnesty for his opponents on the fifth, he was not quiet about it. Harry spotted it on the front page of the Prophet, heard it read on every wireless station Lily tried, looking for someone playing music, and James mentioned over dinner that there'd been flyers all over the ministry, with an especially large bunch in the auror department, where James and Sirius both worked.

Their adult friends started dropping by shortly after dinner, with Sirius leading the charge. He picked up Will and blew a raspberry into his stomach, then turned to where Lily was washing the dishes James brought her. "So?"

"So what?" Lily shot back, looking strained.

The floo activated again and others in the Order started stepping through, everyone offering apologies for dropping by unannounced. Though, clearly, Lily had expected them.

"Harry, why don't you take Will to play in the living room," James called as the kitchen and dining room started to get a bit overcrowded.

Harry nodded, knowing he could hear the conversation from there, and slid out of his chair on the far side of the room from the doorway to the living room. He walked up to Sirius and tugged on his robe, staring pointedly at his brother.

Sirius flashed him a smile that spelt trouble. "Say please, Harry."

Harry rolled his eyes and clucked his tongue, catching Will's attention. The younger looked vaguely uneasy about the crush of people, and when he saw Harry standing beneath him, he immediately squirmed in Sirius' arms, reaching for his brother. "Hawwy! Hawwy, down!"

Sirius sighed good-naturedly and knelt to set Will on his feet next to Harry. "You win this time, my little mime," he informed Harry as he helped steady Will.

The minute Harry made to lead his brother through the forest of adult legs between them and freedom, though, Will baulked, shaking his head and clinging to Harry's hand. Harry considered him for a moment, then sighed, kissed his forehead, and gently freed his hand so he could transform into a wolf.

As he'd expected, the presence of a changed werewolf in the room very rapidly formed a path for them out of the room, and while Will still looked uncertain, he trusted Harry-the-pup to get him through safely. Possibly, Harry thought with some amusement as they made their way out of the room, because we're both moving on four paws. Or, well, two hands and two feet, for Will.

Really, he knew, it was more likely a product of Harry protecting his brother in this form the night of the attack, which was still recent enough that Will equated Harry-the-pup with protection. Which... Well, Harry was okay with that.

Out in the living room, Harry and Will settled in to play with one of their balls for a bit, Harry remaining in wolf form because it was comfortable enough, and he didn't have any clothing to change into, having left his robe in the dining room. (With luck, Sirius would think to pick it up for him.) Eventually, however, Will started yawning, so Harry helped boost his brother up onto the couch and dragged a blanket over him so he could sleep, one hand curled around Harry's tiny tail.

Through it all, Harry kept half his attention on the conversation in the kitchen, which went back and forth about the topic for quite some time.

Shortly after Will dozed off, the living room floo activated. Harry immediately placed himself on the edge of the cushion, between the fireplace and his brother, teeth bared. As the visitor stepped through, however, Harry relaxed, recognising Dumbledore more from his robes – soaring phoenixes on a dark blue background – than anything else.

"Goodness!" Dumbledore exclaimed once he'd cast a quick cleaning charm over himself and caught sight of Harry and Will. He tensed, hand tightening around the handle of the wand he hadn't quite slipped fully away, then very carefully asked, "Harry?"

Harry nodded, then cocked his head to the side in a silent request for an introduction.

"I'm Albus Dumbledore, a friend of your parents. I assume they're in the dining room with the, ah, party?"

Harry snorted and nodded, then moved back to his original place at Will's side, so his brother could hold his tail again.

"You seem to have a rather effective guard-son," Harry heard Dumbledore say to James and Lily, breaking the silence that had fallen at his arrival in the dining room.

"He's a little protective of Will," Lily agreed tightly.

Dumbledore sighed and a chair screeched against the floor. "I expect that some of you are considering taking Voldemort's offer of amnesty."

"We have our families to think about, Albus," Ted Tonks agreed, voice strong, and Harry wondered how much of his determination had come from Andromeda, who likely missed her sisters, to some extent, and thought the promise of amnesty would serve as a bridge between herself and Narcissa, if not her and Bellatrix. "He specifically said muggleborns would receive the same forgiveness and offer of citizenship as pure- and halfbloods."

"It's Voldemort," snapped a woman whose name Harry didn't know. "He'll never hold to his end of the bargain." She huffed. "Albus, please. Talk some sense into them."

Dumbledore sighed again. "This is not a move I could ever have expected Voldemort to make, honestly. As much as I want to tell you to turn your backs on his offer, I cannot, in good conscience, ask you to continue risking the lives of your children in a war that, from all appearances, no one will survive long enough to win."

The Headmaster sounded as tired, now, as he'd ever sounded during Harry's first life, and Harry closed his eyes and let his head droop. For all that he needed his family to take Voldemort's offer, he was sorry to hear such exhaustion in the voice of one he'd respected in his youth, despite their differences. Though, truly, that was the price of war, and Harry was grateful that Dumbledore was willing to at least admit that he thought Voldemort might be speaking the truth in offering amnesty.

"In the end," Dumbledore continued, "it can only ever be your own choice, whether you wish to step off the battlefield. I won't pass judgement on anyone, either way." A chair scrapped against the floor. "Whatever you choose, I wish you – each and every one of you – the greatest of luck."

Harry opened his eyes to watch as Dumbledore walked back into the living room and to the fireplace. He grabbed a pinch of floo powder from the jar on the mantle, then paused as if in thought, before turning to Harry and meeting his eyes with a serious stare. "Harry, no matter what, you keep your brother safe. It doesn't matter if you don't have a speck of magic, you'll find a way, if you think it's worth it."

Harry stared after the man as he tossed the floo powder into the fireplace and stepped into the green flames.

-0-

As Harry gently set the paper in the centre of Dumbledore's desk, he couldn't help but be amused by how much he was turning into something not unlike a muggle spiritual medium, passing on messages from the dead to the living. Then he turned and left back into the Realm of Death.

'Albus Dumbledore,
'Ariana wanted me to tell you she forgives you, for everything. Aberforth too, if you'd like to pass on the message.
'p.s. - he'll always be worth it'

(The last was maybe a little too telling about who he was, assuming Dumbledore would even connect it to his parting comment, especially given his age, but a part of Harry couldn't leave him without an answer, not with Voldemort's win as likely as it was.)

-0-

Voldemort's offer of amnesty was good until the end of February, which really just gave everyone more time to debate over it. Surprisingly, in the Potter household, it was James who was the holdout, insisting he didn't want to chance Lily's life for a questionable promise of safety in future.

"It's true what you said," James tried for the umpteenth time, "the boys and I will be fine, one way or another. But if he's lying, if he's going to turn his back on anyone, it's going to be you, Lils!"

Lily continued her current practice of ignoring her husband, instead focussing on changing Will's nappy while Harry dangled a toy in front of his brother's face and grinned as he tried to grab for it.

James sighed and turned away, dejected.

Harry glanced between his parents, chest aching, then nudged Will and nodded towards James a few times, until the younger got the message and screeched, "Dada! Dada, back!"

James looked back towards them and, when Harry motioned him over, despite Lily's frown, he came. "Harry, what–?" he started.

Harry grabbed his father's hand, then his mother's, and set them one over the other before bringing them over so Will could high-five Lily's hand, which was on the bottom. Harry very firmly set his own hand on the top of James', then looked between them with a determined expression.

Lily and James traded confused looks, then Lily ventured, "All for one and one for all?"

Harry rolled his eyes, but nodded.

"What, we've got to stick together?" James asked, scoffing, but he didn't pull away from their hand pile over Will. "Funnily enough, I did, actually, get that memo."

"No," Lily said slowly, watching Harry. "We can protect each other best together, but we have to each acknowledge that it's our own job to help where we can."

Harry sighed and shrugged; close enough.

Lily wrapped her hand around Will's, her hold gentle, yet protective, and turned to face James more fully. "James, I know you want to protect me, but you can't do that if you're dead. And neither of us can protect Harry or Will if we're both dead. Maybe Voldemort will renege on his promise, but even if he does, at least you'll survive to keep these two safe. In the grand scheme of things, isn't it better that they have one parent, rather than none?"

James closed his eyes and swallowed. "Dammit, Lily."

"Language!"

James snorted and opened his eyes to smile sadly at her. "All right. We'll accept the amnesty. Should we try dragging Sirius, Remus, and Peter with us?"

Lily looked towards Harry, who started nodding as hard as he could. She laughed, which made James turn to look, then laugh as well.

"I guess," James managed around his mirth, "that's a yes."

"I guess so," Lily agreed as she picked Will up.

James picked Harry up, then whispered into his ear, "And you, just because you're not going to Hogwarts, doesn't mean you're allowed to turn into a slimy snake."

Harry decided sticking his tongue in his father's ear was the only appropriate response to that, even if he did spend the next ten minutes tasting earwax.

-0-

Peter, surprising everyone except Harry, was the quickest to agree that going to Voldemort was the best option. Remus capitulated pretty quickly, after a private word with Lily, but it took all of the adults combined to convince Sirius, and he still looked surly when they got to the coordinates they'd been told to head for, Harry and Will being brought along with simply because there was no one who could stay behind and watch them. (Anyway, there was a sense of 'if this is a trap, at least all five of us will be there to protect the kids' amongst the group.)

A Death Eater with a bag of portkeys was waiting at the coordinates. He jerked in surprise at their arrival, took a moment to stare over the group of them, then grunted and fished a circular chain out of the bag, large enough that everyone could get a handhold. "Rules is, you keep your peace upon arrival, everyone else keeps theirs. If someone draws a wand on you, you may defend yourself, but leave retaliation to the Dark Lord. Do you all understand that?"

When everyone had nodded, James and Sirius somewhat grudgingly, the Death Eater handed over the chain and, once they were all touching it, tapped it with his wand to activate it.

They appeared in a tall, medium-sized room with no furniture, save two large fireplaces on the wall across from the door. Another Death Eater entered the room after a moment and requested, "Please follow me."

They were led, this time, to a massive room with a high ceiling and large windows – all of which were currently covered in drapes – lining one wall, which Harry suspected had once been intended as a ballroom. It currently had a throne on a dais at the far end, which Voldemort sat upon, looking – to Harry's experienced eyes – so very bored. Around the room, Death Eaters were tossing curses back and forth in groups of two or three, but they all stopped as their guide led their party forward, towards Voldemort.

The dark lord straightened, eyes narrowing as he looked them over. "James and Lily Potter, Sirius Black, Remus Lupin," he murmured, showing he recognised them. Then he turned his gaze on Peter, who ducked his head. "Wormtail."

Everyone in their group turned to stare at Peter as he stuttered, "M-Master."

"You lying little rat!" Sirius snarled, hand going for his wand, but Remus jumped forward and stopped him, hissing reminders to keep his peace in the manor into Sirius' ear.

Voldemort smirked at their little byplay for a moment before flicking his wrist to send Peter away. He scurried from the room gratefully, and Harry would be honestly surprised if any of them saw him again before the end of the year.

"I suspect that you have come to lay claim to my promise of amnesty," Voldemort said, his tone careless.

Lily stepped forward, chin up, arms tight around Will. "We have. For the fi– four of us, as well as James and my sons."

Voldemort glanced towards Will, then Harry. He was just starting to look back towards Lily again when he stiffened and focussed all his attention on Harry. "He was the other one," he stated, tone cold. "The other boy born at the end of July in 1980."

James tightened his arms around Harry. "He's a squib. He's no threat to you."

That didn't seem to soothe Voldemort, only made his eyes narrow. "Were-born, I heard. He'd be, what, two and a half?"

Harry bit his tongue to keep from reacting; he should have known better than to give Voldemort any true information about himself.

"About that, yes," James agreed, his voice tight. "Are you going to uphold your promise, or are we to fight our way out of here?"

Voldemort stared at Harry for a long beat, before finally looking up at James, then over the other three adults in their party. "Mrs Potter, you have a friend among my followers; I gave my word three years ago to give you the option to live, should we ever again cross wands." He considered her for a moment, while the Marauders traded uncertain frowns. "It seems I shall be holding to that promise." He leant back in his chair and waved a negligent hand at them. "From now until the moment you raise a wand against one of my people in other than self-defence, you six are under my protection." He glanced between Harry and Remus, then added, "Do try to avoid biting anyone, though I can be brought to forgive moon madness."

"And James and I?" Sirius demanded. "We're aurors."

Voldemort narrowed his eyes. "I'm aware of your day job, Black," he hissed, and the nearest Death Eaters shuddered at the undercurrent of Parseltongue.

"Stunners," James said, and Voldemort's glare turned on him. James' arms tightened minutely around Harry, but he didn't flinch. "We can't not do our job, but we can promise to use nothing more damaging than a stunner if we're called out to answer a summons to a battle. If we catch someone with something more damaging for doing misdeeds without their mask, we can't be held accountable for not knowing who your people are, but if their allegiances are clear, we'll use stunners."

Voldemort considered that for a moment before waving an irritated hand towards them. "Acceptable." He turned to the nearest Death Eater. "Take them back to the receiving room so they can apparate out."

"My Lord," the Death Eater agreed with a low bow, then he motioned for them to follow him from the room.

"I know you now, Scythe," Voldemort said at just the right volume that only Remus and Harry, with their werewolf-enhanced hearing, could hear him.

Harry was high enough in James' arms that he couldn't resist peering back, over his father's shoulder. Voldemort was watching him, red eyes blazing, and Harry narrowed his eyes at the dark lord, letting a hint of gold shine through his own eyes. Voldemort's mouth twitched, threatening a smile, and Harry couldn't help but wonder where this future would lead.

He supposed there was nothing to do but find out.

.

Chapter Text

Things calmed down for the Potters after they accepted Voldemort's offer, as they were effectively out of the Order. They still kept up with the news, and James still went to the ministry to be an auror, but they were...well, almost happier. Lily certainly smiled more often when she didn't think Harry or Will was watching her.

After a week, many of their Order friends started dropping by, admitting they had also accepted Voldemort's offer. Some of them seemed ashamed, or discontent with their choice, but most of them seemed relieved.

Voldemort didn't try making any further contact with Harry, which he appreciated. He was still occasionally giving himself a mental smack for his carelessness, but he suspected Voldemort was just pleased to have caught Harry out. In all fairness, they now both had something to hold over the other's head, which put them on the sort of equal footing that Voldemort wouldn't like, but could stand for a while.

One afternoon in June, while James was at work, someone knocked on the door. Lily frowned towards it, then glanced over at where Harry had been absently playing with blocks with Will. He met her eyes and nodded – he'd keep an eye on Will and get him out if it was trouble – and her mouth quirked. "Your father is right, you are far too clever for your own good," she informed him as she stood.

Harry shrugged to himself and caught Will's uncertain frown. He reached over and poked his brother's nose, then smiled once he had the boy's attention. Will wiggled his nose and giggled before reaching over to poke Harry's nose back.

"Severus?" Harry heard Lily say, and he couldn't help but jerk in surprise. He knew the man had requested his mum's safety, but he'd never have expected Snape would come by the Potter residence.

"Lily. Is it– Might I...possibly come inside?"

Lily didn't reply for a long moment, clearly debating, before she let out a sigh and pulled the door open further, letting the man in. "I suppose so."

Snape had dressed in black slacks and a dark button-up, his childhood in the muggle world showing through best in his knowledge of how to dress like one. Harry ducked his head to hide his expression, not sure how he appeared at seeing the man in something other than robes for the first time.

"Harry, Will," Lily called and they both looked up. Will gave Snape an uncertain look and shifted closer to Harry, setting the pile of blocks they'd been working on tumbling between them. Lily sighed. "This is Severus, a friend of mine. But we can't let Daddy know he visited."

Will turned to Harry, who offered him a smile and nodded, then pressed his finger to his lips. "Seccet?" Will guessed. When Harry nodded, he beamed and turned back to Lily to declare, "Seccet!"

Lily eyed Harry suspiciously. "I wonder who taught you that word."

Harry put on his best innocent expression.

Lily shook her head, amused, and turned back to Snape. "The quiet one is Harry, my eldest, and the talkative one is Will."

Snape's expression was pinched. "I do see the resemblance to their father," he offered.

Lily rolled her eyes and shoved his shoulder lightly, the action the sort of familiar one that friends shared. "For Merlin's sake, Sev. I swear, I don't know who's the youngest in this room right now, you or Will." Snape made a face. "Did you want something to drink?"

"Anything but tea," Snape decided, looking towards the kitchen.

Lily nodded. "Harry, keep an eye on your brother for me, okay?"

Harry nodded and picked up a block to wave in Will's face, bringing his attention to the knocked over tower, which Will then proceeded to mumble sadly over as he started to fix it.

"They'll be fine," Lily said, leading Snape out of the room.

"Harry doesn't talk?" Snape asked, and Harry was surprised to hear a note of honest concern in his voice.

"Not to any adults. James and I are both convinced he speaks to Will when we're not there to hear, because Will sometimes lets drop words he didn't hear from us, Sirius, or Remus, but he's very careful about it." She snorted. "He's remarkably good at getting his point across without words, and the mediwizard assures us he can speak, so we've decided not to worry about it. When he wants to start talking, he'll start talking."

"Very well," Snape allowed and they were both quiet for a moment.

"Why are you here, Sev?" Lily finally asked.

"This was the first chance I've have to visit since I heard you accepted the Dark Lord's offer," Snape said, the words sounding honest. "You know how it is at Hogwarts, busy all day, every day, and I didn't want to chance getting thrown out by–" He coughed, likely stopping himself just before he called James a name. Harry rolled his eyes.

"I keep forgetting you're teaching at Hogwarts," Lily admitted. "Well, as you can see, we're just fi– Oh my God. It was you."

"What was me?" Snape asked, cautious.

Out in the living room, Harry let his teeth show in a mean little smile; he'd been looking forward to the moment his mum figured out who had asked Voldemort to spare her. That it happened while Snape was in smacking distance was just...too perfect.

Let it never be said Harry wasn't a vindictive little fuck.

"You told Vol–"

Snape let out a sharp noise.

"Oh, give it up, Sev. Voldemort. You told him to spare me."

"Yes," Snape ground out.

"Why?" Lily demanded, voice sharp enough that Will jerked his head around, eyes going wide, and Harry had to scramble to find something to distract his brother from his upset, lest he miss the rest of the exchange.

Snape took a deep breath. "I know. About the prophecy, I knew. I knew that you– I knew that Harry would be a target. So I–"

"Asked your lord to spare me while he killed my son, and very likely my husband," Lily deadpanned.

"...yes."

"Out," Lily said, her voice steady.

There sounded a crack of apparation from the kitchen, then Lily stepped out into the living room. She stood in the doorway for a long moment, looking lost, before walking over to Harry and Will and dropping to the ground next to them. "Mummy needs a hug," she admitted just before a tear tracked down her cheek, and Harry immediately went to her, not even the least bit bothered by how tightly she held him.

"I love you, Harry," she whispered into his hair. Then, louder, "I love you both so much," and Harry knew that was meant for Will.

"Muma!" Will called, throwing himself into the space next to Harry. "Love Muma! Love Hawwy!" he declared.

Lily let out a wet laugh while Harry grinned at his brother and poked his nose.

Then Harry looked up at Lily and very obviously touched his chest, over his heart, then pointed at her. Her smile softened and she kissed his forehead. "I know, baby."

Harry decided, right then and there, that when he finally decided no one would worry about how mature he sounded, the first thing he was going say to his parents was that he loved them.

-0-

Harry was just lying down to sleep after having watched the clock on the wall of the nursery tick over to midnight, marking his turning three, when he heard something settle heavily outside the window closest to his bed. He turned to frown at it, only for whatever was there – an owl, he suspected – to tap on the glass.

He huffed and jumped down from his bed, then hurried over to open the window. "Shh, my brother's sleeping," he ordered as he started shoving the window open enough that the rather large black owl could get in.

The owl eyed him for a moment once the window was open, then stuck out one leg, which had a small box tied to it. Harry raised an eyebrow at that, but obediently accepted the offering. As soon as the owl was unburdened, it turned and jumped from the narrow ledge, vanishing into the night before Harry could finish closing the window.

He cast a couple detection spells at the box on his way back to his bed, and when they came back clean, he shrugged and opened it.

A small silver charm in the shape of a scythe rested on some cotton padding within.

Harry clapped a hand over his mouth to muffle the laugh that he couldn't help but make, amused beyond words. "Cute," he whispered to the absent dark lord, before pulling the charm out to look it over. It was a normal scythe, rather than the Elder Wand with a scythe blade that he'd adopted as his signature.

Harry didn't bother suppressing a smirk as he went hunting for paper and the crayons to write a note for Voldemort to find in the morning:

'You got the handle wrong, but I'll forgive you this time, considering I doubt you got a particularly good look at it before you burnt my last note. Have a refresher.'

-0-

Harry didn't hear from Voldemort again, which made him a little sad, admittedly, but he was distracted from the matter at the end of August when Lily announced at breakfast, "I'm pregnant."

James had clearly already known, and Will didn't yet understand what that meant, so the announcement had been intended for Harry, who gave his mother a wide-eyed look that made her laugh. He grinned and nodded, showing he understood the message; he would have a new brother or sister within nine months. He was...actually kind of looking forward to it.

-0-

At the beginning of December, Harry started wondering about whether or not he should get Voldemort a gift. He knew Tom, in his last reality, had been torn about accepting them – lacking people willing or knowing to send them to him, standing against the general belief that dark lords didn't do birthdays, Harry had always suspected – and he assumed this Voldemort would be similar, though it was likely he knew more people who had attended Hogwarts with him, and so was more likely to receive gifts.

Well, Voldemort had sent him something, taunt or not, and Harry had always enjoyed screwing with Tom when it came to gifts, so he'd send something. As for what, well, that was the question.

He spent a week calling up the dead in the evenings, starting with those closely related to Voldemort, then branching out, trying to find some sort of 'treasure' that he'd appreciate.

In the end, he found a wizard who was quite happy to direct him to where Gellert Grindelwald's journals from his time leading his own war had been stashed. Within were a number of spells that had likely never gone past Grindelwald's inner circle, if that far, as well as some other little tidbits that he knew Voldemort would appreciate.

He asked Death to come wake him once Voldemort went to bed, then snuck in and left the book on the man's desk.

He didn't expect a thank you, and so wasn't disappointed when he didn't get one; Death was more than capable of letting him know that Voldemort had spent the rest of his birthday and the first two days of the new year squirrelled away in his rooms, reading the journals.

-0-

Christopher John Potter was born on 27 March 1984. Harry got to hold him after James, who subtly supported his arms for a moment, before apparently recognising that Harry's werewolf strength meant he didn't need the help. Harry thought his newest brother was kind of gross, but also kind of adorable, and he kissed Christopher's forehead, sealing a silent promise to keep him safe, before handing him back to Lily.

By the middle of April, he was already serving that duty, as Will decided he hated how much attention the new baby was getting and he had to be a little shit about it.

All. The. Time.

Harry played referee as best he could, taking any and all blows Will aimed at Chris without complaint, beyond a disapproving frown aimed at his middle brother.

"You never went through this phase," James complained one afternoon to Harry, both of them watching where Will was pouting in the corner, stuck in time-out for ten minutes. Lily had walked into the dining room to feed Chris, tired of Will screaming every time he saw their mum holding the infant.

Harry sighed and shrugged; of course he hadn't been a brat, he'd never actually been two.

James let out a dramatic groan and slid down in his spot on the couch, so he was almost more lying than sitting. "Do you think Voldemort would be willing to babysit?"

Harry couldn't help but let out a startled laugh, and when he caught his father's grin, he lightly smacked his shoulder and shook his head.

"You're right, Mum would never let us get away with it."

Harry rolled his eyes and turned back towards Will, wishing his brother would get over this phase quickly.

-0-

Near the end of May, Chris came down with a nasty cold. It got to the point, one weekday afternoon, that Lily had to run him to St Mungo's, leaving Harry in charge of Will.

"Where's Muma?" Will demanded once the flames of the floo had died down.

"She's taking Chris to the healers."

"Why?"

Harry considered his brother for a moment, seeing an opportunity that was horrible, but might solve some of his problems. "He's going away because you hate him," he deadpanned. "Mum took him to say goodbye where you wouldn't ruin it."

Will's eyes went wide. "I– No! No! No! Muma! No! Love Chris!" he wailed, running towards the fireplace.

Harry watched him for a moment, expression stony, before he admitted, "I lied, Will. Chris and Mum will be back soon. But you need to be nice, or he might really go away. And then Mum and Dad will hate you."

Will crumpled to the floor and burst into tears.

Harry sighed and walked over to hug his brother. When Will clung to him for the first time since Chris was born, he tightened his hold. "Give him a chance, Will. I know he makes stinky poos and wakes us all up at odd hours, but so did you, once. And I like you just fine."

Will didn't respond, only cried and cried until he'd exhausted himself and fallen asleep.

Harry shook his head and carefully manoeuvred his brother onto the couch, covering him with a blanket and sitting next to him to pet his hair.

Lily came back almost an hour later, looking ragged. She was holding Chris tight in her arms, but Harry was relieved to hear his breathing was much easier once she'd taken off the floo mask. "Hey, Harry," she whispered as she carefully sat next to him and tilted Chris so he could get a good look at the baby. "He's going to be okay."

Harry swallowed and nodded, gently taking one of the tiny hands in his.

"Was Will trouble?"

Harry shrugged and nodded, then looked pointedly at where he was sleeping next to Harry.

Lily sighed and kissed his forehead. "I don't know what I'd do without you some days, baby. Thank you for managing him all the time."

Harry shifted carefully to his feet, wary of waking Will, and kissed his mother's cheek.

Lily smiled at him. "I love you too, sweetie," she offered before getting up. "I'm going to go put Chris down. Should we move Will to his bed?"

Harry considered that for a moment, then shook his head; he didn't expect Will to nap for much longer, and the trip to their room would likely wake him pre-emptively, which would make him more grouchy than usual.

"I bow to your greater judgement," Lily teased before leaving to put Chris down.

In the end, Harry's – admittedly cruel – gamble paid off, and Will calmed down. He still had a habit of throwing temper tantrums at the drop of a hat, but he took to treating Chris like spun glass. Lily and James both shot Harry the occasional curious look, but since he was still holding his silence, they didn't bother asking.

-0-

Harry didn't get a gift from Voldemort for his fourth birthday, but he couldn't even pretend to be upset about the fact; he knew how Voldemort felt about birthdays. He'd decided to continue sending the man books, though, and started looking into procuring some interesting tomes through those in the Realm of Death, using nights when he wasn't talking to the dead or worried about one of his parents checking on him to hunt books down.

Things on the warfront finally died down in September, when Dumbledore and his handful of supporters still poking at Voldemort and his, finally turned themselves in, trading their lives for the safety of all of the current students at Hogwarts. Snape was made headmaster, and a number of the professor positions were filled by Death Eaters.

Snape came knocking one afternoon during the winter holidays, while James was at work. Lily frowned in the direction of the door, but she still got up to answer, and Harry suspected she'd been waiting for him to drop by again. "Severus?" she greeted, voice starting out hard, but turning into a worried sort of question by the end.

"Lily," Snape replied, and he sounded done in.

Harry looked up to watch as his mother let the current headmaster in, frowning at the exhaustion lining his face.

Will scrambled up from where he'd been playing with a magical toy Sirius had bought him for his third birthday the month previous and came to stand at Harry's side, watching the newcomer uncertainly. "Harry, Harry, who?" he asked in what Harry assumed was supposed to be a whisper.

Harry pressed his finger to his lips.

Will's eyes lit with understanding. "Is Secret. Dada, no."

Harry snorted and nodded, privately hoping Snape got stuck with the name 'Secret' from his brother.

"Sev, you remember Harry and Will?" Lily offered and Snape nodded. "Will, this is Severus, Mum's friend. Do you remember him?"

Will nodded. "Secret. Not tell Dada."

Lily smiled. "Very good. Harry, can you go check on Chris for me? Bring him to the kitchen if he's awake."

Harry nodded and looked down at Will curiously. His brother's face lit up, so Harry smiled and motioned for Will to follow him upstairs to check on their youngest brother.

"Chris was born in March," Harry heard Lily explaining as she and Snape moved into the kitchen. "Sit down, Sev; you look like you're about to fall over."

"You're not far off," Snape admitted tiredly. "I'm sorry to come by – I'm sure you're still furious with me – but I needed to see the face of a friend."

"You're headmaster now, right? I expect that's stressful."

Snape sighed. "You have no idea. The Dark Lord didn't make sending Death Eaters with a fondness for children a priority."

"Oh no," Lily replied, sounding honestly upset about that.

Harry, remembering how the students had suffered in his first reality when Death Eaters had taken over the school, winced, even as he picked a cooing Chris up. He wondered if sending Voldemort a message would fix things at all.

"Wanna hold," Will insisted.

"After Mum's seen to him," Harry promised.

Will pushed out his bottom lip and widened his eyes. "Wanna hold!"

Harry gave him his best unimpressed stare and intoned, "William."

Will slumped and followed quietly as Harry carried his drooling littlest brother down to their mother.

"Thank you, Harry," Lily said as she accepted Chris.

"Wanna hold," Will said, looking hopefully up at Lily. "Harry said no."

Harry hushed his brother from where he was getting some baby food for Lily to feed Chris.

Will's eyes went wide and he quickly corrected, "Harry didn't said. Wanna hold."

Snape let out a startled laugh while Harry covered his eyes. It was a good thing he knew his parents had long suspected he spoke to his brothers, because as soon as Will started talking, that secret was out.

Lily chuckled and gently ruffled Will's hair. "You can have Chris after Muma's finished feeding him, sweetie," she promised, before accepting the food and spoon Harry had brought her. "Thank you, Harry. Why don't you get Will and yourself some juice and go back to the living room while I talk to Sev?"

Will let out a whine. "Wanna–"

Harry gently tugged on a lock of his brother's hair and, when Will turned to look at him with watery eyes, he shook his head, then pointed at the fridge.

Will sniffed. "Wanna hold," he whispered.

Harry nodded in understanding, then pointed at the fridge again and mimed drinking something.

Will slumped, but let Harry lead him over to the fridge. When Harry pointed to the different options – with helpful pictures on the front, so the boys could pick what they wanted when they, supposedly, couldn't read – Will perked up and got excited about the juice. Which Harry had expected, hence why he'd wanted Will to pick.

He managed to get his brother out into the living room without any more demands to hold Chris, much to his relief.

"He's still not talking, I see," Snape commented once they were out of sight.

Lily sighed. "No. Or, well, not to any adults. Will seems to think Harry talks all the time, and I suspect that Chris will be of the same opinion, once he's old enough to tell us so."

"Perhaps, by then, Harry will speak to you, as well," Snape offered.

Lily snorted. "I certainly hope so, but the betting pool Sirius and James are running between themselves favour him not talking until he's a teenager, and only then as an act of rebellion."

"Yes," Snape remarked drily, "I suspect those two adolescents would be amused by the whole affair."

Lily laughed, and the two fell to reminiscing about their school years for a couple hours, broken only by Lily calling for Harry to come take Chris and, yes, Will could hold him, but only if he was sitting down.

Snape left half an hour before James was due home, looking much better for the visit. Lily looked happy, too, and Harry suspected she'd needed to make up with her childhood friend as much as Snape had needed to spend some time with a friendly face.

With that in mind, he spent some time after dinner, while James was playing with Will and Lily was sitting with Chris, writing a letter to Voldemort in dark blue crayon and signing it with his scythe in bright green:

'We've discussed the importance of seeing to the safety of children in keeping another war from breaking out; consider looking into hiring less violence-inclined witches and wizards to fill the vacant positions at Hogwarts.'

He would deliver it that night, or have Death deliver it in his stead, should it look like it was going to be one of Chris' restless nights.

-0-

For Voldemort's birthday, Harry found a handful of Atlantean books, which he'd had an interesting time getting, given that they had been in the Atlantis ruins, which were completely submerged and layered in enough protective wards to keep both muggles and wizards from ever finding them. Using the Realm of Death as a travel option made the wards a minor hurdle, and having access to one of the few Atlanteans who hadn't yet entered the rebirth track to point him in the right direction had avoided it entirely.

Opening a portal underwater, however, had held Harry back for a good week, and also served as a constant source of amusement for Death, judging by the noise it kept trying to stifle every time it came across Harry while he was wet. (Which was pretty much every time he tried a new spell to protect himself; Harry would have claimed mutiny, but it was actually sort of a treat, making Death laugh.)

Luckily, the books in Atlantis had all been saturated in spells protecting against water damage, so he was able to find a number of pristine tomes, once he found a room that the ocean creatures hadn't got into. One of the books he found was an Atlantean/Latin dictionary, which he'd grabbed for Voldemort; not everyone had been gifted Death's knowledge of all languages, after all.

He hunted down doubles of what he could, then made permanent copies of everything he couldn't, for himself. Because they all looked super interesting, and he wasn't going to chance reading them when he was sleeping in the same room as his two brothers, one of whom was still in the habit of waking up crying some nights. Maybe once he was old enough that it wasn't suspicious to find him with a book that he could disguise one of the tomes as, he could start reading them; if his last life had taught him anything, it was patience.

He slipped in to Voldemort's room to leave the pile of six books, plus the dictionary, as soon as Death came to tell him it was clear. There was a note there for him, held in place with a new scythe charm, this one with the Elder Wand as its handle. Harry considered it for a moment, arms still full, before shifting everything to cast a couple detection charms over it. It lit with two different alarm spells, but nothing harmful, and Harry flashed a wolfish grin as he removed the alarms.

He traded the books for the note and charm, then opened the parchment, figuring it was best to read it here, in case he needed to respond in some way.

'Scythe,
'How in Salazar's name are you slipping past my wards? What was that black portal you opened? Kindly desist with your sneaking about.
'I've handled the Hogwarts staffing issues. The group of Death Eaters were never meant to last more than the one term, but perhaps that was too much. Better to disrupt their term partway through, than force them to suffer a full term of threats of violence.'

Harry grinned to himself, then hunted down some unhexed parchment and a quill with an ever-full spell on it to write a message back.

'There's magic involved. Duh.
'I appreciate your attention to the problem. Did you remove your hex on the Defence position, too? (Or removing the class entirely, actually, might be more your style, now I think of it.)'

He set the note on top of the pile of books, then left for bed.

-0-

In January, during one of Will's occasional tantrums, he performed his first bit of accidental magic. He'd been screaming for one of the chocolate biscuits that Lily had only just pulled out of the oven, and Harry had been trying to get him into the living room so he could be distracted by toys until they were cool enough to eat, when, without warning, the baking tray slipped from Lily's hand and shot towards Will's outstretched hand.

Lily's horrified shout warned Harry about the danger and he acted on instinct, yanking Will out of the way of the hot tray. It flew past them and slammed into the wall, leaving a dent behind as it clattered to the ground, spilling biscuits all over the floor.

Will stared after the near disaster for a moment before bursting into tears.

Lily rushed over to them, her eyes wide. "Will! Baby, are you okay?" she cried, running her hands over him to make sure he was in one piece.

Will quieted a bit and clung to Lily, tears soaking her blouse.

Lily turned to Harry then, eyes still bright with concern. "It didn't touch either of you?" she requested and Harry shook his head. She breathed a sigh of relief and held out her arm for him, drawing him into a hug against her side when he came close enough. "Thank Merlin," she whispered, pressing a kiss to Harry's forehead. "You did a good job, Harry."

Harry reached out and gently petted Will's hair. He didn't react other than to quiet further.

Once Will fell into an exhausted sleep and Lily had put him down, she finally set about cleaning up the mess left behind, shooing Puss-Puss away from his investigation of a broken biscuit. "I guess we're going to have to keep a closer eye on Will for a bit," she said to Harry, who, after ascertaining that the biscuits were cool enough for him to pick up, had knelt next to her to help clean up. "Goodness, accidental magic is the last thing we need on top of his tantrums."

Harry nodded tiredly; he was not looking forward to managing his brother when he could actually get the things he started screaming for.

Lily startled him by pulling him into a tight hug. "Merlin," she breathed. "When I think of what might have happened if you hadn't been there–" She let out a choked noise.

Harry looked up, only to find his mother was crying. He bit his lip and hugged her as tight as he could, wondering if maybe that was when he should start talking. Would it help at all, her hearing his voice?

And then Chris started screaming from his playpen in the living room, reminding them that they'd been ignoring him. Harry gently slipped out of Lily's grasp and patted her arm before leaving to see to his youngest brother.

-0-

The first time no one was there to get Will out of the way when he summoned something, was also the last time he pulled that trick. The broken hand was healed easily enough, after a trip to St Mungo's, but his memory of the pain wasn't so easily fixed. And, while Harry regretted that Will had got hurt, he couldn't bring himself to regret the outcome.

After the third day of watching Will's listless wanderings, however, Harry pulled him aside away from Lily and said, "Put your hands up, like this."

Will stared at him for a long moment, but when Harry continued standing with his hands held out in front of him, palms up, fingers gathered together at the top, he gave in and copied the stance.

Harry nodded. "Good. Now force your fingers apart really fast."

Will did as asked, and Harry cast a silent spell to cause sparkling lights to shoot out of his palms at the motion. It was a relatively harmless bit of magic, he knew, and once Will thought the action caused the lights and expected it to work in future, his magic would put action to expectation.

Will's eyes went wide, lighting with joy, as Harry had hoped. "Muma!" he shouted, dashing from their bedroom and barrelling down the stairs fast enough that Harry was half afraid he'd stumble and fall.

Lily was suitably impressed by Will's new trick, and Chris thought it was brilliant, which kept both him and Will entertained until James got home. He also exclaimed over the trick, and called Sirius and Remus over to see. Will was on the top of the world.

"It's a little horrible, how they all flock to Will just because he can make light, isn't it?" Remus offered as he sat down next to Harry on the couch, where he was working with a box of crayons and the colouring-in book he'd got for Christmas.

Harry considered his godfather, uncertain how to get across how unbothered he was by the fact that he was effectively a squib, and that he was just glad that Will was casting magic that wasn't likely to end in bodily harm. In the end, he just shrugged and turned back to his colouring.

Remus sighed and ruffled his hair. "Your aunt doesn't have magic, you know. She and your mum fell apart when your mum went to Hogwarts. When she got to learn how to use her magic."

Harry glanced up at him curiously, wondering where Remus was going with this.

"We could see if you could visit her for a bit. Get to know the non-magical part of your family."

Harry raised his eyebrows at Remus. Really? Visit Petunia? Is he mad? He snorted and set his colouring supplies aside, then slipped off the couch and changed form, teeth gritted against the pain.

Remus let out a startled laugh. "Right. I guess you're still magical enough in your own right."

Harry huffed, then turned and wandered over to Chris' playpen, where he was sitting and watching Will make lights for the adults. Harry jumped into the pen and nudged Chris' arm with his nose, catching his attention. His brother babbled gleefully at him and dragged him into a hug, which Harry allowed with resigned amusement. As long as Chris didn't start crying because he was feeling neglected.

-0-

When Harry went to open his presents on his fifth birthday, he found an unexpected extra slipped in with the familiar new clothing, colouring-in books, and toys: a long, thin box with only his name written on the tag. The adults all looked concerned about the gift, taking it from him and looking it over with both eyes and spells, but Harry had recognised the handwriting.

"Well," James said, handing the box back, "it's not dangerous. Go ahead and open it."

Harry carefully did so, half expecting Voldemort to have snuck some sort of spell on it that wouldn't have been noticed by anything his father had used. But there were no spells, only a folded piece of expensive paper and a wooden wand carved to look like the Elder Wand. He froze, staring down at it in disbelief. How had Voldemort–?

Right, Harry reminded himself as James took the box back, muttering about idiots giving children wands, I've been drawing it for him. I didn't think my crayon attempts were that good, but I did use a quill last time.

"James, wait," Lily ordered, and Harry glanced over to see her drawing out the paper that had been left with the wand. She unfolded it to read, and Harry's eyes widened when he realised that Voldemort had written in a stylised form of Atlantean, which used a different alphabet, on the back. A note that was only meant for Harry to read, assuming he actually understood the language. (Not a problem, but Voldemort didn't know that Harry understood all languages.)

'I looked into your medical records. You're completely un-magical. Explain how you're getting past my wards before I use your family against you.'

Harry scowled at the message until he was distracted by James holding the wand out to him. "Here, Harry. Say lumos."

Harry raised both eyebrows at his father, disbelieving, but James just grinned at him, so he turned to look at his mother instead.

"It's a wand for squibs," Lily explained. "There's only five spells it will cast, at your direction, and it has to be recharged periodically, but it'll let you use magic."

Harry blinked down at the wand as he accepted it, touched by the remarkably thoughtful gift. Given, it was technically unnecessary, but still. This was not the sort of thing he'd ever have expected from Voldemort, no matter how sane he was.

Lumos, he thought at the wand, and the tip lit with a bright light.

He sat still, staring at the light, while his parents, Sirius, and Remus all cheered and laughed.

Will came to sit next to him, reaching out and poking the wand. "Harry makes light, too?" he asked, looking hopeful.

Harry smiled and hugged his brother.

After everyone had calmed down, James took the wand back and promised, "Once everything's put away, we've shown you what you can use it for, and we settle on some safety rules, you can have it back. Is that fair?"

Harry sighed in regret, mostly because it was expected, but nodded and set about collecting all his new things. Will, excited about Harry's new toy, scrambled to help him, and Harry shot him an amused look as he dropped a couple things on his way and nearly tripped over them.

The wand, it turned out, could technically cast six spells, because he could use nox to end the light spell on the tip, or let go of the wand, thereby ending the spell. (Conservation of power, Harry assumed.) The other spells were protego, episkey, ferula, and rennervate. A reasonable store for a child with an accident-prone younger brother who had just discovered his accidental magic. Too, if they ended up in the middle of a fight, he could cast the shield spell and get his brothers to safety while Lily and James did what they could, without concern for their children.

Because none of the spells were offensive, Lily and James agreed that Harry could keep the wand with him. "But, if you use it for more than an hour in one day, let one of us know, so we can check the charge," James cautioned. "I'd rather be over cautious, than find out you got into a situation and your wand ran out of juice when you most needed it."

Harry nodded in understanding and let his father conjure a wand sheath for him to keep it in, giving him a quick demonstration of how to use it to get the wand from the magically expanded pocket inside.

Harry walked away happy, then proceeded to drain the wand almost entirely because Will wanted to play with lights and see the shield, and Harry kind of wanted to be able to show off magic, for once.

James and Lily were resigned, but Harry was made to promise that he wouldn't do that again.

-0-

Harry wasn't able to slip away the night of his birthday, with all the excitement, but he did go to visit Voldemort the next night, stepping out of his doorway to find Voldemort's wand pointing at him. "See," Harry complained as the doorway closed behind him, "this is why I always come when you're asleep."

Voldemort sneered at him, but lowered his wand and relaxed back into his desk chair. "Normal people aren't stupid enough to go opening magical portals in my private rooms, Scythe."

"I do, actually, have a name, you know," Harry pointed out as he climbed onto a chair that was sitting a bit out of arm's reach of the dark lord. "You know it, now, too. As you've made a point of informing me."

"Act like Harry Potter should act and I'll consider it," Voldemort shot back.

Harry laughed. "What, mute?"

Voldemort snorted. "You? Mute?"

Harry shrugged. "Well, yes. I don't trust myself to remember to dumb myself down enough to avoid my parents asking questions I'm unprepared to answer. Refusing to talk is the lesser of two evils, so I keep my mouth shut."

Voldemort stared at him for a long moment before shaking his head and looking at the space where the doorway to the Realm of Death had been. "The portal. How does it get past my wards and how are you able to affect it, being a squib?"

Harry sighed and laced his fingers together in his lap, trying to remember exactly what he'd decided to share, to keep Voldemort from involving his family. "It's not human magic. Well–" he tilted his head to the side "–it may be more proper to say it's not living magic. One might call it soul magic, I suppose, since you access it through the manipulation of your soul's connection to Death, but Death, itself, refers to it as death magic, so."

"Death magic," Voldemort repeated, unimpressed.

Harry smiled and nodded. "Exactly." He motioned to form a doorway between them, in a different spot from the first one. "The doorway leads to the Realm of Death," he explained, and Voldemort jerked back, his expression caught somewhere between horror and disbelief. "You can probably get away with traversing it, so long as your horcruxes remain in the living world, but I don't expect it would feel comfortable."

"And yet, you have no such qualms," Voldemort snapped as the doorway closed again.

Harry shrugged. "No. But I spent a large portion of my last life learning how to manipulate Death's magic. Given that my lycanthropy followed me into this life, effectively making me a squib, the fact that I've retained my knowledge of death magic, and that such magic doesn't require the same magical pathways that mortal magic does, has been something of a blessing in disguise. I may not be able to cast a shield spell, but I can get away from opponents, or kill them by pushing them through one of the doorways."

Voldemort rubbed at his face, the action oddly human, given his quasi-snake appearance. (At least he still had a nose; that had been the most disturbing part of the Voldemort Harry had fought in his original reality.) "Reincarnation, with access to magic that can be equated with necromancy." He looked up. "Who were you?"

Harry shook his head. "Respectfully, none of your fucking business."

Voldemort's mouth quirked at one side. "Yes, I somehow expected you'd say that. Does the scythe mean anything, or is that also a secret?"

Harry considered that for a moment, then shrugged. "The handle is one of the wands I used in life, the scythe is, as one might expect, a nod to my familiarity with Death." He rubbed his chin. "Can I trust you not to let slip any of this to my parents without having to resort to holding your horcruxes over your head?"

Voldemort narrowed his eyes. "You are rather unexpectedly attached to them, given your extensive knowledge of darker magic."

"Not really," Harry admitted quietly. "I'd never had a family, before. Well, not one that actually liked me. It's nice, having people who care about me, who'd worry if I've skinned my knee, and celebrate a tool that allows me a facsimile of magic." He met Voldemort's blank stare. "You can't say you wouldn't jump at such a chance."

Voldemort swallowed and looked away. "You dare to assume?" he said, no heat in his voice.

"I talk to the dead, Voldemort," Harry pointed out. "They flock to me, when I cross the Realm of Death, especially those who are aware I know one of their loved ones. Sometimes, they tell me stories. Other times, they ask me to pass on a message."

"My mother," Voldemort whispered.

"Merope Gaunt. Well," Harry corrected thoughtfully, "I suppose she's Merope Riddle, since your father never actually set about annulling the marriage."

"Surprising," Voldemort said, voice bitter. "He seemed the sort to have cut all ties to her the moment he could."

Harry pressed his lips together, uncertain what to say to that; Tom Riddle Sr had re-entered the rebirth lottery at his first chance, according to Merope. But only after saying a pile of nasty things to her, once she'd hunted him down. Anything he might say about Voldemort's father would only serve to feed his ire.

Voldemort pressed his thin lips together tight enough that they completely vanished, for a moment, then straightened. "I have no interest in involving your parents in my affairs, so long as they continue to uphold their end of our bargain. So long as you can ensure the safety of my horcruxes, I see no reason to share anything I know of your existence to anyone else." He frowned. "The prophecy. It never referred to the Longbottom boy, did it?"

Harry closed his eyes at the reminder of Neville's death; as the only feasible child of prophecy, so far as Voldemort was concerned, he'd borne the full brunt of the dark lord's paranoia. "No. It was always meant to refer to me."

Voldemort was silent for a long moment. "You said, two years ago, that you're not my enemy. How truthful were you?"

Harry sighed. "Very. I have no quarrel with muggleborns, but as both werewolf and akin to a necromancer, I find fault with the magical government as it has been in the past. So long as you don't begin hunting me for what I am, and my family remains safe, I see no reason to stand in opposition to you. Rather, you might consider me something of a shadow supporter, should you ever have need of my...particular talents." He flashed a smile full of teeth at Voldemort.

Voldemort snorted. "Unlikely, but I suppose one never knows; is there a more immediate way I might catch hold of you, save leaving messages in a dead language on the back of instructions for a gift?"

Harry laughed. "That was quite inspired, I must admit, though you chanced my not actually knowing the language."

"You found useful books, I hypothesised that you at least had access to a dictionary of your own."

Harry inclined his head. "Something of the sort. As for contacting me, you can leave a piece of parchment with my scythe on it in a clear spot of your desk. One of the dead will pass on the message that you wish to see me." Voldemort nodded. "Do keep in mind, however, that I help mind my brothers during the day, so I can only come at night. And, even then, I'm currently sharing room with them, so I may not be able to get away if someone's suffering from restless sleep."

"My condolences," Voldemort offered, sounding only vaguely sorry for Harry's troubles.

Harry snorted and slid out of his chair. "If that's all?"

"It is."

"Then I shall bid you a good night," Harry offered, motioning for a doorway to open next to him.

Voldemort made a face. "Good night, Scythe."

Harry snorted at the continued use of his signature as a name, then stepped through to the Realm of Death and turned towards home.

.

Chapter Text

Magical children were often, Harry'd learnt from listening in on his parents' discussions, taught the basics at home, before being shipped off to Hogwarts at eleven. James and Sirius were both all for that model, but Lily was firm about wanting Harry to get some socialisation with other non-magical children by attending the local muggle primary.

"You remember what happened the last time he spent time with magical children," Lily reminded her husband when James tried to say they could invite over some of the adults they knew with kids, if it was socialisation she was worried about.

James snorted. "What? He went were-child and scared the kid shitless?"

"Language, James!"

Given that the conversation was taking place after Harry and his brothers had been tucked in, he thought the admonition somewhat unnecessary, but expected his mother was just trying to call his father out about his cursing any time she caught him.

James sighed, and Lily quietly pointed out, "He's a squib, and you know how magical children react to that. Give him the chance to make friends that won't see his inability to use magic as a sign that he's worthless."

"Okay, Lils. We'll try it your way."

They'd had to fake a paper trail to make sure Harry could start in September, but it wasn't a hard task when you could use magic. So, on the second of September, Harry found himself standing outside the Godric's Hollow primary with Remus and Lily – each burdened with one of his younger brothers – saying goodbye for the day. He didn't make a fuss, resigned to the forced education, but Will was practically inconsolable, and Harry felt for his godfather.

Harry motioned for Remus to kneel and, when he had, gently poked Will's nose. Will's eyes crossed a bit, still tear-filled, and Harry leant in to kiss his forehead, then pressed a finger to his lips.

"Secret?" Will whimpered.

Harry shook his head and brushed his thumb over a line of tears.

Will slumped back in Remus' arms. "Don't wanna go," he insisted.

Harry nodded in understanding, then firmed his expression and pointed between Chris and Will.

Will blinked, confused for a moment, before his eyes widened. "I protect Chris!" he declared.

Harry grinned and nodded.

Will wiggled in Remus' arms, trying to get a better look at where Chris was dozing in Lily's arms. "Muma, I'm protecting Chris. My job."

Lily smiled in relieved understanding. "Okay, but you can't protect him if you're crying."

Will scrubbed his hands against his cheeks. "Not crying! Protector!"

'Thank you,' Remus mouthed as he stood again.

Harry just grinned at him and waved before turning to head into the school.

However, school proved to be far more of a strain than anyone had expected, what with Harry's vow of silence. He butted heads with his teacher right at the start, when he refused to say his name or talk about himself. The other kids didn't seem bothered by his silence, perfectly content to fill it with their own chatter and screeching, but the teacher was clearly displeased.

He let himself be talked into playing house with a couple of girls, and tossed a ball around with a group of boys during their outside time after lunch. He followed directions to the letter, so long as no one was trying to make him talk, and was generally friendly and polite to everyone.

He waved to his new friends as they all parted ways at the gate, searching through the gathered adults for the one(s) they called theirs.

"Harry!" Will shouted before barrelling into his stomach.

Harry managed to keep his balance, barely, and wrapped his brother in a hug.

"Muma said Chris is sleepy, so she stayed home," Will chattered as he led Harry back to where Remus was waiting for them. "But me and Uncle Moony came because Uncle Moony said somebody has to come and he was looking at me so I said I can come and Muma can protect Chris for me and she said okay but Uncle Moony has to come too and Uncle Moony said that's a good idea because there is gone be lots of people and four eyes is better than two."

Harry grinned at Remus as they reached him and he rolled his eyes and asked, "Did you, perchance, give your voice to Will?"

Harry laughed, because, yeah, his brother had a serious case of motor mouth sometimes. Still, Harry's experience at school suggested that wasn't uncommon; rather, he was the odd one, which he already knew.

-0-

The following weeks matched his first day of school fairly closely: Harry got along with all of the other kids, and he was happy to participate in class, so long as he didn't have to talk. His teacher set herself on something of a warpath in regard to his silence, punishing him for it by refusing him playtime or a snack. He didn't particularly care, but some of his new-found friends got upset on his behalf, especially the girls who liked to drag him over to play house, as none of the other boys were willing to play the daddy.

Harry didn't report the abuse to his parents, though he was perfectly capable of writing them a note, or passing word on through Will, mostly because he just didn't care. He'd suffered far worse during his first life, both during primary school and at Hogwarts, and while a part of him understood that he had people in his life, now, who would rain hell down upon the heads of other adults lording their authority over him, he didn't see the point in going out of his way to complain about missing a couple of snacks.

That said, other kids in his class weren't so tight-lipped, and so other parents heard about it. And while the Potters weren't particularly involved in the community, and they'd never once attended church, they'd always been friendly towards their neighbours. So word filtered through the parents with children in Harry's class, the other parents in the area, and to a couple of their neighbours who, having a better than passing familiarity with Harry's silence, thought to ask Lily, "Has Harry mentioned that his teacher is being downright cruel to him?"

There followed a long silence, during which Harry turned a horrified gaze towards where his mother had been working with her front garden, while he minded his brothers in the yard.

Lily turned to look at him, and her eyes narrowed at his expression. "Harry, come here," she ordered, tone firm.

"Uh-oh," Will whispered, and Chris copied him before giggling.

Harry sighed and walked over to his mother and the neighbour, Ms Talbot, head hanging and feet dragging.

"You need to find some way to explain this to me, right now," Lily informed him. "What does Millie mean, your teacher's being cruel?"

Harry sucked his lower lip between his teeth to chew on, then mimed writing and pointed towards the house.

"Yes, fine," Lily agreed, a hint of resignation in her tone.

"He'd rather try writing the information?" Ms Talbot asked incredulously as Harry hurried into the house.

"He'll do anything to avoid speaking," Lily complained.

"I really don't know how you do it sometimes, Lily."

Using his worst handwriting and a crayon, Harry scrawled out the pertinent details, then brought it back outside.

Lily read it over with a frown, then pinned Harry with an expression that said she was furious, but most of it wasn't aimed at him. "Of course it's because you won't talk. But, Harry, why didn't you tell me?"

Harry shrugged and ducked his head, having no good response.

Lily sighed and used a finger under Harry's chin to lift his head. "Baby, I know Dad and I have given you a lot of responsibility, with your brothers, and you're good at handling problems on your own, but when an adult is being mean to you, you need to tell one of us, okay? Just like you'd let us know if Will or Chris broke a bone, there are some things that it's not your job to take care of. That's why Dad and I are here."

For some reason Harry couldn't hope to define, his eyes filled with tears.

"Oh, Harry," Lily breathed and pulled him into a hug. "I'm not angry at you, sweetheart. You're a good boy."

Harry nodded against her shoulder. He knew she wasn't mad, though he expected she was at least a little disappointed in him, but that wasn't the reason for the tears.

Someone who cares, he decided. Sirius had tried to fill that spot in the last reality, but Harry had been too angry and hurt from his first life to let him, especially with the weight of the hopes and dreams of every non-human already resting on his shoulders. Now, here, Lily and James wouldn't let him push them away, wouldn't let him take any more responsibility than watching his brothers entailed. There was a sort of freedom in that love.

For the first time in decades, Harry felt an ember of anger for that Voldemort – for all Voldemorts – who had given in to his paranoia and denied him this.

Maybe, Harry considered as Lily pushed him back towards Will and Chris, there's something positive about being a squib.

-0-

The final Monday of September, the thirtieth, found Harry being walked to his classroom by Lily and James, both wearing their 'angry parent' face. Sirius was home with Will and Chris, since Remus was recovering from the full moon the night before, but he'd been quick to offer additional stare-down support, had James or Lily deemed it necessary. (Lily had been the one to suggest he might be better served managing babysitting duty, given Remus' incapacitation, but it had been clear that she'd appreciated the offer.)

"Mrs White," Lily said when Harry's teacher turned to face them, a surprised and wary expression painting her face.

She caught sight of Harry, then, and her expression tightened. "Mr and Mrs Potter, I presume."

"You presume correctly," Lily agreed with the sort of cold smile that Harry really hoped was in his own repertoire. "We need to discuss your treatment of Harry."

"Oh?" Mrs White said, her voice edging towards nasty. "Is he finally ready to participate in class discussions?"

"Harry doesn't talk," James informed the woman, his voice hard. "He never has talked, to anyone, but he's perfectly capable of making himself understood. If you're having a problem with that, it's on you, not him."

Mrs White's face took on a distinct red shade. "Being able to talk is a necessity in the world, Mr Potter; if your son is having trouble with that concept, perhaps it's time you looked into schools which cater to special needs children."

"Harry is not a 'special needs' child," James spat, and Harry closed his eyes, afraid to watch the coming train wreck. "He's a smart boy, who just doesn't feel like talking!"

Mrs White smiled patronisingly. "Every parent thinks their child is smart, Mr Potter, but that's not always the case. You need to learn to accept the facts for what they are."

"James!" Lily snapped, and Harry opened his eyes to see his mother holding his father's arm tightly, James halfway through the motion to call his wand out of its holder. Mrs White had taken a step back, looking like she was only just realising that using more tact might have been the better option.

James took a deep breath. "We tried," he said to Lily and her mouth thinned before she nodded. He looked down at Harry. "Do you have anything in this classroom?"

Harry considered that for a moment, then nodded and went to collect the picture he'd drawn of his family off the board where everyone's had been put up. It had hardly been a masterpiece, art never having been his best subject, but he was attached to it.

When he returned, Lily reached down to pick him up, and he let her without complaint. Then they left the classroom together, removed him from the school's list of active students, and headed home. Will was ecstatic to have him home again, and Harry couldn't help but admit – to himself, at least – that a part of him had never liked having his brothers out of sight all day while he was at school.

That night, however, after debating with himself for a bit, he sighed and called, "Death?"

The apparition appeared after a beat, its stance seeming almost hopeful, Harry thought. "Master?"

"Mrs White. I don't want her dead, but if you have some way to torment her for a while, some way to make her skip town, maybe..."

Death let out a quiet, rasping laugh. "Consider it done, Master."

Harry flashed it a smile. "This is why you're my favourite."

Death let out another quiet laugh, then left Harry to climb under his covers and go to sleep.

-0-

A couple of afternoons later, while Harry was kicking a ball around in the back garden with Will, Lily walked out of the house, a couple of the kids that had been in Harry's class trailing her. "Harry, Oliver and Noah here were wondering if you'd be willing to come out and play with them and their friends the next street over. I said it was okay."

Harry looked at the two kids and pointed towards Will, who was looking a bit dejected.

"Your brother can totally come," Oliver agreed, and Will perked up.

"If your mum says it's okay," Noah added, always one to check with the nearest adult before he did something.

Lily laughed at the pleading looks Harry and Will both turned on her. "Go on, then. I could use a quiet day."

Harry rolled his eyes, since she'd still have Chris to make a fuss at the drop of a hat, but he could understand her looking forward to having two fewer kids running around for a couple hours.

As they were approaching the group of kids playing some kickball the next street over, Harry leant over and whispered in Will's ear, "No lights."

Will pouted. "Why not?"

Harry pressed his finger to his lips.

Will sighed, but nodded. "Secret," he murmured.

Harry smiled to himself; who knew something he'd taught his brother when he was just learning to talk and Harry had needed him to not mention the occasional appearance of Death would have stuck so well.

-0-

Snape came again that December, once Hogwarts was out for the holidays. Between the early hour and the lack of snow, most of the kids were still indoors, so Harry and Will were sitting in the living room. Harry was colouring in one of his books, watching as Will kicked a ball around with Chris. (Chris, amusingly enough, had followed Harry's example of being the quiet child – though he was plenty willing to talk, when he wanted something – so most of the noise in the house came from Will, especially if his imaginary friend, Tom, was "visiting". And, yes, Harry had choked the first time he'd heard his brother's friend's name.)

The knock on the door startled Chris into missing his kick and he overbalanced, landing hard on his behind. Harry and Will were at his side before he could react to the shock, comforting him quick enough that Lily wasn't even aware that anything had happened as she opened the door.

"Okay, Chris?" Will pleaded as Chris' face scrunched up. "You're not hurt, you're okay."

"I've got you," Harry whispered, quiet enough that only his brothers could have heard him. He picked Chris up, and he clung to Harry's neck as he somewhat awkwardly – Chris was getting too big for Harry to carry him around, really – brought him back to where Harry had been sitting with his colouring things and sat back down, his brother in his lap. Will followed after him, kneeling next to Harry and petting Chris' hair as Harry turned to a new page in his colouring-in book and offered it and a crayon to Chris.

"Everything okay?" Lily asked as she walked past, Snape trailing her.

"Chris fell, but he's okay," Will reported.

Harry smiled reassuringly, while Chris ignored everyone as he went to town with his crayon on the picture Harry'd opened the book to.

Lily smiled back. "Okay. Are you going out to play with your friends today?"

Harry considered that for a moment, then looked between Snape and Chris.

"I'm pretty sure I can manage Chris even with Sev around," Lily commented, clearly amused. Snape snorted next to her, watching the interaction with dark eyes that looked almost fond. (And far less tired than last year.)

Harry shrugged and nodded, then pointed to the clock sitting on the table behind him and to the side a bit, holding up two and then three fingers.

"In a few hours," Lily translated, and Harry nodded. "Okay. Let me know when you're heading out."

Harry nodded his understanding and returned his attention to watching Chris 'colour' the page he'd been pointed to, while the adults went into the kitchen. Will was helpfully offering Chris new crayons after a few scribbles, so the picture had turned into a hodgepodge of colour.

"I think he's worse than I was," Will informed Harry, sounding quite proud of that fact.

Harry rolled his eyes, remembering the time Will had got a hold of one of Harry's colouring-in books and used up an entire box of crayons scribbling over coloured and un-coloured pictures; he somehow doubted Chris would ever top that.

-0-

For Voldemort's birthday that year, Harry had found some intact scrolls under the hardened lava at Vesuvius. They'd been saturated with fading preservation spells, and the room they'd been hidden in had muggle repelling and notice-me-not charms that were still active, explaining how no one had found them sooner.

"He seems to be waiting up for you, Master," Death offered after Harry had napped for a couple hours, intending for Death to wake him once Voldemort had gone to bed, so he could slip the gift in unnoticed.

Harry raised an eyebrow at that. Oh? Well then, I suppose we've left him waiting long enough.

Voldemort was, indeed, still up when Harry stepped into his room. He turned around as the doorway closed behind Harry, wand not in his hand, for once. "Do you have someone watching for me to go to sleep?" the dark lord asked, tone conversational.

Harry chuckled and stepped forward, holding out the bag of scrolls. "It makes gift-giving many times easier when there's no expectation of a thank you, I've discovered."

"I wouldn't know," Voldemort admitted as he accepted the bag and peeked inside.

"No," Harry murmured as he hopped up into a chair, "I don't expect you've given a great many gifts over the years."

Voldemort shot him a suspicious look, then shook his head and took out one of the scrolls. "What rare and impossible gift have you unearthed this year, Scythe?"

"Just some scrolls that survived Vesuvius," Harry admitted with a casual shrug. Voldemort shot him a startled look. "I can't promise how interesting they might be, but their owner has been sitting around in the Realm of Death, waiting for her spells to wear off so someone would find the room they'd been hidden in. When she heard I was looking for rare stores of knowledge, she got word to me that they existed and where to find them."

"You don't read them before you give them to me?" Voldemort asked, regretfully setting the bag aside.

Harry snorted. "I'm five, Voldemort. Anyone catches me reading Atlantean tomes or ancient Roman scrolls, there's going to be questions." He shrugged. "I kept copies of what I could find in Atlantis; once I can get away with reading thicker books, or my brother figures out how to cast illusions on things, I'll start in on them."

Voldemort grimaced. "I suppose, were you magical, you would have already cast illusion spells."

"Maybe," Harry agreed, unbothered. "Or maybe not; my wandless magic skills were never the best." When Voldemort nodded, looking thoughtful, Harry drily added, "While I appreciate the wand you sent, and fully intend to use it, should the occasion arise, I believe the ever-changing need of illusion spells would be too complicated for even you to properly attach to a wand."

Voldemort startled, then allowed a wry smile. "You may be correct."

Harry nodded and scratched at his nose. "Was there a reason you were staying up, other than in hopes of ambushing me when I tried sneaking your gift in?"

The dark lord snorted, looking far too human with amusement lighting his pale face. "Minor curiosity, on my part: Did your parents start you at a muggle school this year?"

"Ah." Harry sighed and nodded. "They did, but my teacher took exception to my muteness. Mum and Dad pulled me out, and Uncle Remus has been dropping by during school days to help Mum teach me some things. They're kind of teaching Will, too, since he's there and I don't really need that much help."

"Will is...?"

"Ah." Harry shifted in his seat. "I have two brothers: William is a bit more than a year younger than me, Christopher is not quite four years younger. Will started showing accidental magic in January."

Voldemort nodded, his expression saying he was internalising the information. If it hadn't all been a matter of public record, Harry might have considered lying, just to keep the dark lord on his toes.

"Was there a reason you were asking about my schooling?" Harry enquired.

Voldemort glanced over his shoulder, towards the piles of parchment on his desk. "Some things occurred to me."

When the dark lord didn't continue, Harry sighed. "Are you going to share, or shall I just wait for my parents to start whispering behind closed doors at night when they think my brothers and I are sleeping?"

Voldemort snorted, turning amused eyes on him. "You spy on your parents?"

"Werewolf hearing; so long as they think we're asleep, they don't bother with any spells to keep me from hearing whatever bad news has come up. It's actually how I found out that a large portion of the Order of the Phoenix would be willing to take an offer of amnesty if they could be promised that their children would be safe."

Voldemort raised his hairless eyebrows in response. "I'd wondered why you were so certain that would bring results." He tapped a finger against his thin lips a few times, looking thoughtful, then nodded to himself and stood. "You said, your first visit," he said as he paced over to where a map of the United Kingdom, Ireland, and parts of the continent was attached to the wall, "that I have to keep the children safe to secure the adults."

"Not exactly, but the meaning is near enough," Harry allowed.

Voldemort offered him a cold smile. "It worked," he said. "I whittled Dumbledore's forces down to nearly nothing, and when I promised to make a wizard's oath, trading the lives of him and his remaining followers for the promise of safety for any current Hogwarts students, they came willingly."

"And you sort of upheld your promise."

"Be silent," Voldemort hissed, splaying his fingers out over the map, covering the part of Scotland where Harry knew Hogwarts resided. "My promise was sufficiently held, as indicated by my continued ability to use magic. Unlike some." He offered Harry a nasty smile.

Harry rolled his eyes. "Yes, yes. Super impressive, holding your ability to summon objects over the head of a five-year-old." He faked a yawn. "Speaking of, have you any idea how far past my bedtime it is?"

"Cute," Voldemort retorted, scowling, as he turned his attention back to the map. "I don't expect you're aware of how small this year's class was?"

Harry frowned, remembering what Snape had whispered to his mother while they'd been holed up in the kitchen. "Nine first years." Voldemort offered him a surprised look. "Headmaster Snape and my mum were friends in school; he comes over at the start of the winter holidays and they catch up."

"Werewolf hearing," Voldemort murmured to himself, nodding. "I allowed halfbloods, but no mudbloods. Between that and the war, we were lacking in incoming witches and wizards." He met Harry's eyes. "At current, the trend will hold. I can...suggest that current families aim for more children, but that's still an eleven year period with a limited number of graduating students entering the workforce. If any battles break out between now and when they finish Hogwarts, there won't be enough to cover all the job openings."

Harry nodded to himself, frowning. "You need the muggleborns to have an effective flow of wands, but there's no way your supporters will stand for it, not the way they feel about muggleborns."

Voldemort snorted. "I can force them to accept it, but they won't be happy, and the last thing any of us need is a rebellion while our world is still healing from the past decade."

Harry rubbed at his eyes; he hadn't realised exactly how long the war had dragged on. "Merlin, yeah. Fuck."

Voldemort let out a choked noise that sounded suspiciously close to a laugh.

Harry offered him a tired smile. "Can you find a way to spin things so they keep their mutterings as nothing more dangerous than mutterings?"

"That is the question," Voldemort agreed, turning back to his map. He traced his finger along the path that the Hogwarts Express took between Hogsmeade and London. "It occurred to me, too, that accepting the mudbloods into our society would do nothing for us if they simply decided to return to the muggle world after."

"Difficult to do, without a muggle education," Harry commented, and Voldemort snorted. "Though, yes, there are ways to get around that. And, too, if they don't feel welcomed in the magical world, they're not likely to want to stay." He'd known plenty of magical sorts, after the war in his first reality, who had felt too spooked by everything they'd gone through, so had returned to the muggle world. Too, in his second reality, plenty of magical people – muggleborns and halfbloods, for the most part – had felt uncomfortable working beside non-humans, and so had turned to the muggle world, considering it the lesser of two evils.

"Without the promise of pureblood acceptance, we would need to force a connection," Voldemort said, turning to Harry with bright eyes. "When they would get their first Hogwarts letter, they will instead be given a choice: come to the magical world and not be allowed to return to the muggle world until after they've completed their education, or have their magic bound and all memory of magic obliviated from them and their parents."

Harry's eyes widened, surprised at the idea. "Less chance of accidental magic cover-ups over the summers, no muggle parents abusing their children over the holidays, and they'll have seven years of very limited muggle exposure. It's..."

"Genius?" Voldemort suggested, smug.

Harry rolled his eyes. "I have one concern, and a couple suggestions."

The dark lord turned away, his smug expression morphing into a scowl. "Yes, I somehow expected that."

Harry snorted. "Don't get me wrong, it's brilliant, but there is a single factor you don't have sufficient familiarity with to consider: Familial bonds. The children and their parents aren't going to want to cut off all communication for seven years. You can explain owls to them, maybe, or set up one day a year where the families can meet with their kids in a neutral location."

Voldemort sneered. "That completely–"

"No," Harry interrupted, eyes hard as he met the dark lord's disgusted look. "If you told me that I was going to have to spend seven years neither seeing nor hearing from my parents and my brothers, just so I could have magic, I would tell you to go fuck yourself. And I would give nearly anything to have magic again, Tom."

Voldemort snarled at the use of his given name, and Harry bared too-sharp teeth at him in response.

Voldemort looked away first, his shoulders slumping. "One day a year," he muttered, turning back to his map. "Christmas?"

"Some time in there would have the greatest impact," Harry agreed, forcing his voice to remain even. "Maybe the first weekend? Not when the train's out, but the weekend after? Send out letters at the beginning of the month, letting them know when and where, and asking them to reply, so you know which children are going. Aurors posted means nothing can get out of hand, and no one can try stealing their child away." He sighed. "Still, consider allowing post. Maybe something limited? Just over the summers, with the excuse that you don't want it interfering with their schoolwork?"

"I'll consider it," Voldemort allowed.

Harry nodded; that was more than he could have hoped for. "One of my suggestions was that you make it clear to the families and the children, when you collect them, that this would only be for seven years. If you'll allow any sort of contact during that time, make that clear, too. You're going to get more agreements if you tell them it's not forever."

"Obviously."

Harry inclined his head. "My other suggestion is that you ask current magical families if they're willing to host muggleborns during the holidays."

Voldemort turned to look at him, expression thoughtful. "Give them deeper ties?"

Harry smiled. "Exactly. Let them see how magical families work, how a magical household functions, how we celebrate holidays." He shook his head. "But let it be with families who have kids themselves. Preferably in the muggleborn's year, but within a couple years either direction will do. Then they'll have someone to relate to, someone their own age who they can turn to if they've got a question. And the parents, those who have some compunctions about offering shelter to a muggleborn, will be more welcoming if they've got their own kid watching their actions."

Voldemort was nodding slowly, clearly liking the idea. "An essay as summer homework, covering everything they learnt, will help ensure things stick, and may help to spot any abuse."

Harry couldn't help but smile at that brief glimmer of concern for the children in question. "Also, give them a name that they can send an owl or floo message to, should they feel unsafe. It won't stop everything, but it will give them options."

"Yes. I'll have something sorted out before December of next year."

Harry nodded. "I'll leave it to you. Was that everything?"

"No," Voldemort admitted, returning to his chair. "It occurred to me, as I was thinking about the mudblood problem, that I don't know a great deal about the handling of squibs."

"Yes," Harry agreed drily, "we're something of the dirty secret you shove in the attic and hope never figures out how to open the trap door."

Voldemort eyed him with amusement. "Or throw to the nearest wolfpack, in some cases."

"Those children have at least one were parent," Harry pointed out. "Less throwing, more walking arm-in-arm with occasional howling for echolocation."

Voldemort let out a startled laugh. "Do they really?"

Harry snorted and shook his head. "Not in human shape, not usually. But, sure, if you get lost from the pack, you're going to howl or make some sort of noise so everyone else knows you're looking for them, and they'll howl back so you know where they are."

"Sensible," Voldemort allowed before shaking his head. "Are you getting more of a muggle or magical education, at this point?"

"I don't expect they differ much, as young as I am," Harry replied a bit drily. "Learning letters and numbers, basic reading and writing skills." He considered the question for a moment as Voldemort nodded, frowning. "I think I understand where you're going with this, though; I'm getting the same education that my magical brother is getting, but with less 'Stop creating dancing lights at the drop of the hat, William, it's really distracting'."

Voldemort chuckled. "Does he really?"

Harry grimaced. "Better than uncontrolled summoning of everything in sight. I taught him the light spell after he broke his hand trying to catch something he'd summoned."

"Ah, yes. Slightly less dangerous use of excess magic."

"Slightly," Harry agreed, amused. "We're not covering history or world events or anything, but, again, age. Still, I've always understood everything, and I've a fair foundation in the magical world, as well as a reasonable knowledge of the muggle one–"

"You were muggle-raised?" Voldemort asked, his eyes glinting.

Harry rolled his eyes. "You're not going to figure out who I was, Voldemort."

"You don't know that."

"At any rate," Harry interrupted, "most of what I'm picking up outside of lessons has been magical in nature. However, my brief stint in a muggle school did net me some friends, and I pick up muggle trivia when I play with them during the afternoons and weekends. Too, having a muggleborn mum helps some, as we've always had a telephone, and about half of the appliances in our house, as well as the lights, run on electricity. The things that a few spells cast in the vicinity of them won't completely fry beyond all repair."

Voldemort nodded. "So, most of your muggle knowledge at this point comes from your mother and those friends you made through muggle school. That...does serve as some assistance."

Harry cocked his head to the side. "What are you up to? And how much of an effect is it going to have on me?"

Voldemort smirked. "Minimal, I expect, given you're treated less as a 'dirty little secret'." He shook his head, expression turning more serious. "Most of the stories of squib childhoods that I've heard involve a very limited magical learning and no muggle learning at all – assuming they're not left in a muggle village as soon as the prognosis is given – coupled with neglect and loneliness, and end with the adult squib being tossed towards the ministry in hopes that they can find a menial job that a squib can do and involves little in the way of intelligence."

Harry sighed. "That doesn't surprise me."

"But you don't approve, I expect?"

Harry raised an eyebrow at the dark lord.

Voldemort snorted. "It is something we share," he admitted. "I was considering passing a law that all squibs receive a mixed education until they're of age to receive a Hogwarts letter, had they magic, whereupon they're given the option to continue living in the magical world, likely apprenticed to some magic-free duty, or they can choose to join the muggle world."

"Ask if the muggleborn parents who are sending their child to Hogwarts would be willing to do a seven-year exchange," Harry realised, straightening in his seat. "We're not common enough to fill every empty space, but some families will have a child they can continue to care for, as well as a glimpse into our world that they otherwise might not have had. And the squib gets a family that doesn't reject them as faulty."

Voldemort inclined his head. "Wereborns, I expect, will have their own system in place, but it's an alternative they can consider for those children who would prefer living in the muggle world, eventually, so long as there are clear safeties in place against accidents or abuse. And squibs will be guaranteed at least an education until they're eleven, and the chance to get away from a bad home situation after that."

Harry smiled to hide the way his heart ached at this show of how much Voldemort cared about abused kids when he wasn't ruined by having too many horcruxes strewn about the country. "Specify that magical families either look into local muggle schooling, or find out if there are any muggleborns willing to manage private study; I wouldn't trust a pureblood, or even most halfbloods, to provide a sufficient muggle education. Especially not to a squib."

Voldemort grimaced. "Indeed. And any mudblood tutors will have to have some current familiarity with the muggle world, I expect, or it won't do much good."

"Very true." Harry hummed. "Maybe put a 'get the child out of your house for hours every weekday' spin on the muggle school idea? It's a better option in regards to getting them social skills and some sunlight." He considered Voldemort as the man nodded in understanding. "Speaking of people who need sunlight."

Voldemort's expression didn't change for a moment, clearly distracted by trying to figure out how best to get purebloods to consider muggle schooling the better option for their squib offspring, but then he started, caught Harry's stare, and scowled. "Isn't it past your bedtime?"

Harry laughed. "Was there anything else?"

Voldemort shook his head, scowl easing. "If something occurs to me which I am unable to either work out on my own, or cannot find someone more likely to serve as an assistant in these matters, I shall leave a note for your watchers."

Harry nodded. "Good night, then. And happy birthday."

Voldemort snorted, turning away.

Harry shrugged and hopped from his chair directly in the Realm of Death, then headed home, generally pleased with how the next year was looking.

-0-

The legislations about muggleborns and squibs hit all the major news outlets of the magical world on the sixth of January, a great deal of curiosity surrounding the originator of them, given that Voldemort hadn't declared them as his, which Harry wondered at. They went through the ministry, taking minor hits from purebloods left and right, but suffering little change from such by the time they came before the Wizengamot in early February. They were both passed on the thirteenth, again with little change.

And then it became clear why Voldemort hadn't signed his name, as the laws were shown to him for final approval, given he was basically the leader of the magical United Kingdom (though they did still have a minister, who everyone knew was in the dark lord's pocket). Harry realised that the laws never would have made it as far as they had if the purebloods had known Voldemort had drafted them, because they were expecting him to bin them on the spot. Whereas, sending them through the whole circuit without a known author, gave the half- and muggleborns working along the route the security to suggest changes or voice their thoughts.

"It's never going to happen," Lily said bitterly over lunch on the fourteenth, after the wireless reported Voldemort had the laws for final review. The whole Potter family had been avidly following the drama – save Chris, who didn't understand what the big deal was – because Harry was a squib and that law would be certain to affect him. James had even managed to get a copy of the law before it went through the Wizengamot, which was how Harry knew that it, at least, had seen very little revision. "He's never going to pass it. Not the muggleborn law. He might pass the one for fair treatment of squibs," she added, offering Harry a strained smile, "but I honestly don't think he cares enough about how mistreated most are."

Harry ducked his head, having no response to that. A part of him was cackling at the events, because he knew where the laws had come from, knew there was nothing holding them back now, save for Voldemort's convoluted sense of drama.

"It'll pass," Will insisted, though he only sort of understood, Harry knew.

"We can't be cert–" Lily started.

"It will pass!" Will shouted, and a mini explosion sent his half-eaten sandwich into the air. Chris giggled quietly when it landed in front of him, and Harry quickly reached over to take it away before Chris could try sticking it in his mouth, as he had a minor allergy to mustard, and Will always insisted on mustard on his sandwiches. No matter what they were.

"William, we don't shout at the table," Lily informed him, putting on her strict face, "and we certainly don't throw food, magically or otherwise."

Will slumped in his seat. He glanced over at Harry as he returned the abused sandwich and whispered, "It'll pass, Harry. It'll be good."

Harry smiled and ruffled his brother's hair. And, when Lily turned her attention to Chris, Harry pressed a finger to his lips and winked.

Will, who could probably be convinced that Harry had hung the moon, had someone cared to try, grinned widely and nodded.

-0-

Voldemort kept mum for the weekend, letting the purebloods have their momentary victory, then passed both laws Monday morning.

"Oh my God," Lily breathed, staring down at The Daily Prophet, which had arrived a little late due to the last-minute news addition.

James was standing at her shoulder, reading over the news himself and wearing a flummoxed expression, which was slowly brightening with happiness.

Sirius showed up shortly afterwards, grinning wide enough to split his face in half. He picked Harry up as soon as he reached him and spun him around in the air while Harry held on for dear life. "That nasty old bastard got all of them! I went by Grimmauld Place just to hear Mum screeching like a banshee. Merlin, I'm half tempted to suggest we make Voldemort an honorary Marauder for pulling that sh– Ah. Prank. For pulling that prank. Sorry, Lils."

Lily rolled her eyes. "Put Harry down before he throws up on you, Sirius. You'd deserve it, but still."

Harry was set back into his chair and he held his head while Sirius hugged Lily and ruffled Will's hair.

Remus showed up while Sirius was talking, loudly, with James. "Hey, pup. Sirius get you?" he asked, gently rubbing Harry's back.

Harry grimaced and nodded as he let go of his head, feeling a little steadier.

"Are you going to be okay?"

Harry nodded, then offered his godfather a bright grin.

Remus smiled down at him. "I heard. It's awesome news for a lot of people. Not much change for you, mind, though your mum might try to get you back into the muggle primary, now."

Harry made a face. But, then again, he would have a different teacher.

"We'll see. Maybe James will manage to talk her out of it," Remus offered.

Harry shrugged, deciding he would be willing to give muggle school another try, if he had to; it wasn't like they were sending him off to live with the Dursleys.

.

Chapter Text

On the weekend before Chris' second birthday, the Potters received an unexpected visitor.

Everyone was indoors, because – surprise, surprise, it was March – it was gross out. Harry had a picture book in his lap, Will leaning against his side and mostly managing to read it out loud, with Harry letting him know when he got something wrong, then helping him figure out what the word was, all without actually speaking. (Sirius seemed to think it was the greatest thing ever, and liked to sit across from them and watch, though he wasn't there that afternoon.) James was 'helping' Chris play with magical blocks that changed colours, while Lily hummed along to the wireless in the kitchen while making something sweet. (Harry wasn't completely clear on what, but it smelled delicious. James had already tried to get a taste, only to be chased back to the living room by sentient knives, so Harry wasn't even going to try, even though he knew his mum wouldn't turn knives on him.)

Everyone in the living room looked up at the knock. Harry looked at Will, who answered by furrowing his brows and pressing a finger to his lips. "Secret?"

Harry bit his lip against a giggle and shook his head.

James got up and answered the door as Lily came to the doorway between the living and dining rooms. "Peter?!" James exclaimed.

"Heya, Prongs," Peter's voice said from outside, muted by the falling rain. "Can I come–"

"No," Lily snapped, stalking forward, spatula in one hand held like a wand. (Harry half suspected his mum could use it as one, too, if she was determined enough.) "Harry, take your brothers upstairs."

"What?" Will complained, drowning out Peter's hopeful plea.

Harry shook his head and pointed towards the stairs as he went to collect Chris. Chris was as happy as Will to be forced to leave, but Harry could pick him up, and Will followed when Harry frowned at him until he moved.

Upstairs, away from their parents, Harry quietly explained, "Peter was Dad's friend, but he started telling their secrets, so Dad and Mum haven't spoken to him in..." He shook his head. "Before Chris was born."

"Why's he here now?" Will demanded, while Chris made an adorable pouty face that Harry was pretty sure was his version of a scowl.

"I don't know," Harry admitted before he sighed. "I can make a guess, but it's complicated and political and involves a lot of stuff that you don't fully understand yet."

Will made a face. "Nuh-uh. Don't care that much."

"Yes, I rather thought that would be your response."

Will stuck his tongue out at Harry, then walked off to look at the shelf of picture books against one wall, while Chris toddled off to find a stuffed animal to chew on.

Harry snuck out into the upstairs hall and poked his head into the stairwell, listening to see if he could figure out what was going on, but someone had thought to put up silencing charms, and he scowled. He could get past them easily, but he was uneasy about leaving his brothers alone just because he wanted to know what was up with the rat. He did take a deep breath, though, and ascertained that Peter had managed to talk his way into the house. Likely, Lily was more willing to play nice when Harry and his brothers were out of sight, and therefore out of spell range, and he suspected his parents were as interested as Harry in why Peter would come back now.

So, sighing, Harry resigned himself to a watered-down version later and went back to their room to keep an eye on his brothers.

-0-

Reading between the lines of what Lily and James explained over dinner, Harry surmised that Peter, now that Voldemort was willing to side with squibs and muggleborns, had hoped to find a warmer reception from his former friends. Which, well, was most certainly not what he found, but he did manage to worm his way into a second chance, as Lily offered, "You'll meet him when he comes for a visit next month. If he freaks you out, Will, you have Mum's permission to summon something into the back of his head."

Will grinned widely, while James laughed and Harry rolled his eyes. Chris attempted to roll his eyes too, but he just ended up going cross-eyed, and Harry had to look away before he laughed.

-0-

Peter returned on the tenth of April, and James let him in with a strained smile. Sirius was performing his self-given duty of sitting on the couch and smiling like all hell was about to break loose in the general direction of the front door, Will sitting next to him and trying to emulate his expression (which he managed a little too well for Harry's comfort, honestly). Meanwhile, Harry and Chris were sitting on the floor, pushing a ball back and forth, and Lily and Remus were in the kitchen, gathering snacks and drinks.

Peter swallowed upon seeing Sirius, and offered a shaky smile. "Hey, Padfoot. It– It's been a while."

"Has it?" Sirius replied, still smiling nastily. "I hadn't noticed your absence."

"Sirius," Remus chastised as he stepped out of the kitchen with a tray, Lily behind him. "Hello, Peter."

Peter visibly relaxed at the lack of open hostility. "Remus. Lily. Hi."

"Peter," Lily replied stiffly as she sat her tray on the coffee table. "You remember Harry," she offered once her hands were empty, motioning as she spoke, "and Will, I expect. The youngest is Chris."

"I do remember you two," Peter agreed. "You've grown a lot. Do either of you remember me?"

Will shook his head and answered for both of them as Harry helped Chris pick out some food, "Not me, but Harry remembers you. He said you were telling Muma and Daddy's secrets on them."

Peter looked rather taken aback. "I wasn't– I–"

"Tell the truth, Wormtail. Assuming you even can," Sirius ordered, his smile turning into something more approaching a snarl.

Harry reached out and grabbed Will's arm, tugging him away from his and Chris' godfather.

"Stop," Lily snapped, looking towards Harry and his brothers. Chris was clinging to Harry's shirt, distressed by Sirius' tone, and Will was looking confused by the turn everything had taken in response to his matter-of-fact comment. "If you want to have a spat, you can do it outside, but it won't be around the boys, and it certainly won't be in the house! There's enough magic being thrown around this house with Will's lights."

Will, expectedly, took that as his cue to flick out some lights over the food and tea offerings, flashing a winning smile he'd stolen from Sirius when Lily gave him a resigned look.

"That's amazing!" Peter called, sounding honestly impressed.

Will, who usually couldn't resist praise, shook his head and admitted, "Harry showed me how."

Peter wasn't the only one to shoot Harry a startled look, because Will had never explained how he'd figured out his trick, but he was the only one to say, "But, how could Harry teach you anything? He's a squib."

The adults turned incredulous looks on Peter, as if disbelieving he would be so crass regarding Harry's disability.

Harry rolled his eyes and wrote a quick note on a napkin, then handed it to Sirius once he got his attention. Sirius snorted in amusement before reading out, " 'Question not the Harry, for the Harry knows all things. Also, the tea is getting cold.' "

"Well, he's not wrong about the tea," Lily admitted, and the adults all converged on the nibbles while Harry ushered his brothers out of the way, their snacks and tea already settled (though Harry had to carry Chris' tea with his own).

"You're still not speaking, Harry?" Peter asked once everyone had settled. He'd ended up sitting on the floor, as no one had bothered magicking him up a chair, and he didn't seem much inclined to do so himself.

Harry shrugged and shook his head.

"He talks to Chris and Will," Remus offered with a fond little smile for Harry, "but that's it. Even the neighbourhood children seem to believe he's completely mute."

Peter offered Harry a shaky smile. "Trying to prank the Marauders?"

James snorted. "Hard to prank someone when we've already caught on, Wormy," he pointed out. But then he seemed to think about it for a moment and turned a suspicious gaze on Harry. "You."

Harry put on his most innocent smile.

"Now he's pranking you, Prongs," Sirius offered, while Will and Chris both laughed, Will leaning against Harry's shoulder. "Let it go."

Peter shook himself and shifted to take something out of a pocket. "Forgot that I bought something for the boys," he offered before taking out his wand and unshrinking what turned out to be a smallish briefcase. "Everyone likes colouring-in books, right?" he added a bit helplessly.

"They do," Lily agreed as James accepted the case and passed it down the line to Will, who gave it a frown and made no move to take it.

Harry rolled his eyes and poked his brother in the side before accepting the case. He clicked it open and all three of them peeked inside.

Will let out an excited shout and grabbed for the colouring-in books and colour wands, which were magical in nature. Which meant you touched one of the wands to the page, and everything between the nearest black lines turned that colour; great for backgrounds and changing a colour after you decided you didn't like it, but not so much for making any designs or changing what the picture was in any way. Harry thought they were lazy, and had made a point of only accepting muggle colouring-in books and materials, but Will loved the bloody things. (Chris had never had opportunity to use one, since Will had used up all the ones they'd originally been bought, and he was happy enough using the muggle sort, that no one bothered getting magical toys that one of them refused to touch.)

Harry gently swatted Will's hand and, when he turned to Harry with a pout, Harry pointed at Peter. Will sighed, then offered Peter an honest smile and said, "Thank you! Harry won't use them, because he says it's colouring for idiots, but I like them."

Peter let out a startled laugh. "Right," he agreed, looking at James. "Too clever for his own good."

James glanced towards Harry, who was collecting his and his brothers' tea things while Will pulled out the colouring supplies and urged Chris to join him. "You have no idea," James said.

Things rather devolved into 'how is this person we all knew' discussions after that, so Harry rolled his eyes and went to collect his own colouring things.

-0-

Harry's sixth birthday was the first celebration Peter joined them for since his colours had been shown. Will had decided that he actually liked 'Uncle Wormy' – a name that Sirius had insisted on the first time he heard Will referring to him as 'Uncle Peter' – and Harry tolerated him for his brother's sake. Chris didn't seem to much care either way, though he did enjoy the magical colouring supplies he kept providing. (The adults, unsurprisingly, were generally all of the same mind as Harry: they weren't fond of Peter, but they were willing to try it out, and so long as he got on with the children, he was welcome. Not that they were obvious about it where Harry and his brothers could see or hear.)

Voldemort had sent another gift that year, in a box the size of a colouring-in book. Harry eyed it suspiciously, even as James picked it up and turned it over, frowning. "Another one," he complained, clearly remembering the similarly unsigned gift from the year before. He sighed and handed it back to Harry. "Well, let's see what it is this time."

"Another one?" Peter asked quietly as Harry carefully slid the paper off.

"This is the second unsigned gift Harry's received. No one will admit to sending them to him," Lily explained.

"And if Harry knows who it is," Sirius muttered, "he's not saying."

Inside the box was a thin notebook with a hard cover and a muggle biro. Harry raised an eyebrow at the biro, then flipped open the cover of the notebook. The paper within was lined, and Voldemort had left a note on the first page, written in Atlantean, same as his last personal message to Harry:

'I suspect you'll get some use out of a talking notebook, given it's easier to dumb yourself down in writing than it is speaking. Write what you wish on the page, crossing out anything you don't like, then tap the symbol in the corner, and it will speak the words out loud for you. It only works with the supplied biro, and the magic is in the binding of the book, so any pages ripped out will lose the ability. The book has an infinite number of pages, so don't concern yourself with running out.
'If you bring it with you next time you sneak into my private rooms, I'll tie it to you, so there's no chance of any muggles getting a hold of it and activating it.'

Harry stared at the message for a long moment before shaking his head at how unbelievably nice this Voldemort was when he felt like it. Then he turned it to the next page and considered what he wanted to write. When he remembered his decision that his first words be that he loved his parents, he grinned and set pen to paper.

The adults were still discussing Harry's mysterious benefactor – current bets were on it being a werewolf, given how few magical people Harry'd had any real interaction with – when Harry finished, and he cleared his throat, looking at them expectantly until they all shut up and looked at him.

"So, it's a book," Sirius said, clearly unimpressed.

Harry grinned, then pressed the biro against the symbol that had started flashing at the top of the page as soon as he'd started writing on it. "Mum, Dad, I love you."

James' eyes went wide, while the other Marauders looked on in shock. Lily, though, crunched through discarded wrapping paper and wrapped Harry in a hug. "I love you too, baby," she said, her voice wet.

"So," Sirius said, failing at sounding casual and unimpressed, "it's a talking book."

"Someone out there really likes him," Remus commented quietly as James joined Lily in attempting to squeeze the life out of Harry.

When Harry finally managed to escape his parents so he could put his things away, Will joined him, wearing an uncertain frown. With Remus in the house, Harry wouldn't chance talking to his brothers unless it was absolutely necessary, so he just tilted his head to one side in question once they'd got upstairs.

"It sounds like you," Will explained, pointing at Harry's new notebook. "It's your voice."

Harry blinked at that, then snorted and leant close to whisper in his brother's ear, "I'm not surprised."

Will's eyes went wide and he whispered back, "You know who it is?"

Harry nodded and then – finally having dropped his things onto his bed and having both hands free – opened to the first page he'd used and wrote, 'You wouldn't remember him. Don't tell Mum and Dad.'

Will frowned at the page for a long moment, quietly sounding the words out under his breath. Once he figured it out, he nodded in understanding and pressed his finger to his lips.

Harry smiled back and pressed his finger to his own lips before motioning with his head that they should re-join the family.

Chris had followed the adults into the kitchen, looking hopefully towards the cake, but Lily refused to cut it until Harry and Will joined them.

"So, pup," Sirius said as Harry settled into his spot at the table, "how does the notebook work?"

Harry ignored him for long enough to blow out his candles, then innocently opened to Voldemort's Atlantean note and pointed at it.

"They are...very pretty scribbles," Sirius allowed, because the Atlantean alphabet bore little resemblance to the Roman lettering that English used.

Harry put on a confused expression, then turned to a new page and used it to ask, "You can't read it?"

"I–" Sirius shot him a suspicious look. "No. No, I cannot. I take it you can?"

Harry nodded and had the notebook say, "Of course. It's the directions for how to use the notebook. If you can't read it, you'll just have to wonder forever."

Sirius huffed and gave James a helpless look. "He's spent too much time around me."

James grinned at him. "We could ban you from the house, if you think it would help."

"Yes, please," Remus muttered.

"Seconded," Lily declared.

"Traitors to the cause!" Sirius declared and everything devolved.

The next time he had the chance to go up to his room, Harry pulled the first page with Voldemort's note out of the book and hid it in one of the blocks he'd attached to the bottom of his bed frame, the one which had the Atlantean books inside. The container with Voldemort's horcruxes was next to it, and another block with possible gifts for Voldemort was on the other side of that. They'd all been hit with a notice-me-not charm, to keep anyone from snooping under his bed for a lost toy and finding them.

He stopped by Voldemort's room a couple days later, after James and Lily announced that he would be trying the muggle school thing again that September, so the dark lord could key it to him. Voldemort was clearly amused, though he understood Harry's determination when he explained that he'd be going back to muggle school.

-0-

Harry's new teacher, Ms Nilsen, seemed a little uncertain about how to handle Harry's 'disability' at the start, but the children who had remained friends with Harry during the intervening year were quick to assure her that it wouldn't be a problem. Harry was also happy to prove that his parents had taught him to write, and he was perfectly capable of communicating that way, if his usual game of charades didn't work.

Will was an absolute misery, according to Lily, and while Remus was willing to come by and teach him things while Harry was at school, Will had decided he didn't care if Harry wasn't there to help him. He would perk up when Harry got home, walking back from the school with his friends, but still. That wasn't any help to Lily while Harry was gone.

"I'm half tempted to pull you out again," Lily admitted to Harry quietly one afternoon the second week of term. "It sounds horrible, me pulling you because your brother can't deal with you being gone, but I'm about at my wit's end with him."

Harry tapped his pencil against the homework he'd been working on, wondering if there was anything he could do to help. He remembered how the muggles had developed various means of immediate communication over distances, in his last reality, with their mobile phones and the little messages traded between them. The goblins had developed a similar system, given the difficulty in using owls while much of your life was spent underground, using goblin magic. Harry'd wondered, off and on over the years, if there was a way to do something similar with human magic, but between house-elves and having a limited number of people he'd really cared to keep up with, he'd never been bothered enough to try. Now, though...

'Give it until the end of term. If Will doesn't get better, at least you won't be pulling me mid-term?'

"Fair enough," Lily decided and left Harry to his work.

-0-

Between schoolwork, dodging his brothers and parents, and being dragged out to play with his friends, it took Harry a little over a month to figure out how to spell two – three, once he realised he couldn't leave Chris out, and it would be easier to spell all of them at once, rather than adding his in a couple years – pieces of paper so they could trade messages. He felt like he should have managed it quicker, but he sighed at himself and shook his head; technically, he was a squib, so he shouldn't have been able to pull this off at all.

He caught a bit of time in the loo one afternoon after the project was done and – disguising himself to look more like a midget adult than a child, and taking some money he'd borrowed from his parents' room – went into London to rent an owl to send the slim package.

He'd managed to time everything perfectly, as the owl arrived not long after Lily and James had gone back downstairs after tucking the three boys in. It tapped on the window next to Harry's bed, and he slid out of bed to accept the package while both of his brothers perked up, curious eyes reflecting the light of the almost-full moon.

Harry held still long enough to make sure their parents hadn't heard anything, then stepped quietly across the room. He sat on the end of Will's bed, close enough that Chris could hear him in his crib. "I may have mentioned to my benefactor that I miss being able to talk to you two while I'm in school," he offered, and both of their eyes lit up.

Harry smiled and opened the package, letting four pieces of paper fall out onto his lap. The only one with writing on it was a section he'd copied out of one of his Atlantean books, but it served his purposes for looking like a letter from Voldemort, explaining how to use the papers.

Once he'd finished appearing to read it, he picked up the three papers and pointed to the row of letters at the top: H, W, C, and E. "We'll each have to smudge a little bit of blood on ours," he cautioned, "but once we do, you write the message you want to send, then you tap the letter of whoever you want to send it to. It's got a sort of endless store of ink inside which it uses to write any incoming messages, and it soaks the ink back up again once you've cleared the message, so its constantly replenishing itself."

Will patted his arm. "Just...show us?" he requested, looking confused.

Harry winced, reminded that his brothers were not-quite-five and two; even if they'd understood the magic that went into the project, they didn't care about the hows, so long as it worked. "Let me get my knife," he whispered, and hurried back over to his side of the room, to get the quill-sharpening kit Sirius had got him as a joke. He pulled out the small knife and brought it back over to Will's bed. "Like this," he whispered, nicking his thumb and smearing it over the 'H' on one of the papers.

The paper glowed briefly and the 'H' vanished, then it fell dormant. Harry stuck his thumb into his mouth, licking the wound to speed up his preternatural healing a bit, then turned to Will. "Just a prick," he promised, and Will took a deep breath before nodding and holding his hand out to Harry.

Harry quickly nicked his brother's thumb with a clean part of the blade and carefully guided it down to rub over the 'W' on one of the other sheets. As the paper glowed and the letter vanished, Harry used his fake wand to heal the wound.

"There's one for you too, Chris," he offered to his youngest brother. "Even though you can't really use it yet. We can wait until next year, when Will starts attending school, before doing yours?"

Chris considered that for a long moment, looking uncertain.

"I'll read you any messages Harry sends," Will promised.

Chris nodded at that, and smiled. " 'Kay," he whispered. "Get later. Sees now?"

"Yeah," Harry agreed, pulling two biros out of his pocket, which he'd had in there since he'd changed for bed. He handed one to Will, then sat back down on his brother's bed, tilting the paper so they could see what he was doing. "Write a message," he instructed, writing, 'Hi, Will! :)' "Then you touch your finger to the person you're sending it to–" he touched the 'W' "–and–"

Text appeared on Will's paper. He immediately scribbled something back and his scrawl appeared on Harry's paper after a moment. 'It works!' he read and grinned.

"Hey, one last thing," he cautioned as Will turned to hide his paper somewhere. When Will turned back to him and Chris peeked over the top of his crib again, Harry pointed to the 'E'. "If you want to erase a message, because it's getting too crowded, or someone's coming to see what you're up to, you touch the 'E', then the message you want to get rid of, then the 'E' again." He showed them how by erasing his own message. "If you need to clear it quick, tap the 'E' twice real quick."

Will did that to his, and his paper cleared of everything but the row of letters at the top. "That's cool," he decided, grinning up at Harry.

"It really is," Harry agreed, clearing Will's message to him, so his own paper was blank.

Will set his paper and biro on the bed, then wrapped his arms around Harry. Harry hugged him back, just barely managing to hold his strength back so he didn't hurt his brother. "Thank you," Will whispered, sounding choked.

"Oh, Will," Harry whispered, and kissed the top of his brother's head. "I don't like seeing you lonely, any more than I like leaving you and Chris all day. But we've all got to leave eventually, that's a part of life." He tapped Chris' unused paper on the bed next to him, the paper crinkling. "There's nothing I can do about that, nothing I can do about going to school, but we can still keep in contact. Still promise we'll always be there for each other." He looked up at Chris. "All three of us."

" 'Ever," Chris promised.

Will nodded and pulled back far enough he could look between Harry and Chris. "Forever and ever," he swore.

After that, there wasn't much else to do but all go to bed. Harry slipped Chris' paper in with his completed colouring-in books, where no one was likely to find it, and slipped his own paper into his backpack. The paper with the Atlantean scribbles he crumpled up and tossed in the bin. If Lily got curious and opened it, it would tell her nothing interesting, especially since the only dictionary currently not down in Atlantis itself, was residing with Voldemort.

-0-

Will was...extremely chatty the next day, and it was probably for the best that Harry didn't actually need to pay attention to his lessons, because his brother wasn't inclined to give him a moment's peace. He'd, wisely, cast notice-me-not charms on the papers while he'd been working on them, adding exceptions for himself and his brothers, which was likely the only reason no one wondered why he was constantly writing on a single piece of paper, which kept writing back.

During the following day, with Will's mood much improved, Remus came over to try and teach him things. Will started out refusing, complaining to Harry that Remus was trying to make him read when he could be talking to Harry, but Harry rolled his eyes at his brother and pointed out, 'You're reading now. Go wow Uncle Remus with your reading skills so I can focus on my own lessons for a bit. If you have trouble with anything, you know where I am. ;)'

He knew his brother well enough to expect that Will had huffed a bit and pouted to himself for a moment, before realising Harry was right and agreeing to read with Remus for a bit. He also knew Will well enough to know that, once Remus distracted him with a book, he'd forget about writing Harry for at least an hour, which would give him plenty of time to catch up in the class work they were supposed to be doing.

Brothers, he thought, trapped between fondness and exasperation.

-0-

The day Snape came for his yearly visit, while he and Lily were in the kitchen, Will brought a piece of paper over to the corner of the living room where Harry was reading one of his Atlantean books, well-illusioned to look like a chapter book for young readers to anyone thinking to peer over his shoulder. (He'd figured most people would expect his reading speed with the simpler books to match near enough to his speed with the actual thing, that no one would wonder at how regularly he turned the page.) He looked up as Will sat down next to him, cocking a curious eyebrow at him.

Will worried his lower lip for a moment, then held out the piece of paper, which Harry was surprised to recognise as the bit of copied Atlantean he'd thrown in the bin two months back. "Can you teach me?" he requested.

Harry blinked at his brother a few times, then carefully closed his book. After a quick glance towards the kitchen – this was not a conversation he could have via writing or charades – he motioned that they should stand and head up to their room. Will frowned, but nodded, so they both got up and made their way upstairs, Chris trailing after them once he'd realised they were leaving the ground floor.

Upstairs, Harry took the paper from his brother and ran his fingers over the fancy script. "It's Atlantean," he explained to his watching brothers, "the lost language of the people of Atlantis. I've always been able to read it, I don't know why, but when my benefactor found that out, well..." He shrugged. "It was a good way to keep Mum and Dad from finding out who he is."

"Dangerous?" Chris asked, looking worried.

Harry considered that for a moment, then sighed and sat on the floor. "He's very dangerous," he admitted, and both his brothers gasped as they joined him on the floor, "but he doesn't mean me any harm, doesn't mean any of us harm. That said, he and Mum and Dad have never really got on, so it's best they remain unaware who he is. Okay?"

They both nodded, wide-eyed and ever-so trusting. Harry felt a little dirty skirting around the truth about this, but he also knew they were far safer not knowing that Voldemort had taken an interest in the well-being of their elder brother.

Harry sighed again, looking down at the paper in his hand. "I don't know that I can actually teach you Atlantean, Will," he admitted, because the only language he'd even vaguely taught someone else was Death's language, and learning that was more about having and unlocking your own innate ability, than it was memorising grammar and vocabulary.

Will slumped, looking wholly dejected.

Harry bit the inside of his mouth. "I can teach you the alphabet, though," he decided, because that only had a few more characters than the Latin alphabet, and it matched up relatively well. "You can use it as a code, practise by writing your messages to me in it."

Will brightened a little at that. "Mum and Dad'll never know what we're saying!"

Harry smiled and nodded. "Exactly. An alphabet just for us."

"And Chris, too, once he can," Will insisted, looking over at Chris.

Chris nodded.

Will turned back to Harry. "Can we start now?"

Harry shrugged and got up. "No time like the present," he agreed, and both of his brothers smiled widely. "Let's go back downstairs, though, so Mum doesn't freak out if she looks out to see us. I'll write you up a guide and we can practise writing notes back and forth, okay?"

"Yeah!"

So they went back downstairs and Harry ripped a sheet out of his speaking notebook to write up a guide for Will, then sat back with his messaging paper and book, and waited for Will to, painstakingly, trace out the complicated shapes of the letters he wanted. Harry was easily able to correct his shapes or how he spelt a word, all without speaking, and would go back to his book while Will worked on another message, or translated one that Harry had written for him.

It was an interesting learning experience all around, especially as Harry's mind, burdened with language skills that were Death-given and absolute, often tried to translate the symbols as Atlantean, first, before realising the words were English, even if the alphabet was not. He had to learn to train himself to see the letters translated into their Latin counterparts separately from translating the language itself, and it was a challenge he'd never undertaken before. Which, as old and travelled as he was, new experiences were always a treat.

He began to wonder, as Will improved, if he could teach his brother Atlantean, the actual language. It could prove fun, if Will was willing to put the work into it.

Well, he decided as a new message from Will appeared, we'll revisit the idea once he's learnt the alphabet well enough that he doesn't have to look at the key. And, too, it's not really something we should tackle until summer, when I won't have to split my attention between him and my lessons.

-0-

Harry gave Voldemort some stone tablets from Mayan temples for his birthday that year, with a translation of all of them.

"He has no idea how you managed the translations," Merope told him when Death let Harry know she'd wanted to talk to him. Her eyes were bright and happy, so much more alive than she'd been when Harry had first come across her, staring listlessly through the veil at Voldemort's sleeping form. "He's half convinced himself that you had someone here translate them, but then he looks towards his stack of Atlantean books and starts to question it again. It's so very much fun to watch."

"Has anyone ever told you that you're a terrible mother?" Harry teased, amused. "I'm pretty sure you're not, actually, supposed to enjoy your son's misery."

Merope scoffed. "What do you know about being a mother?"

Harry snorted. "Not a damn thing," he admitted before shaking his head. "Did he leave a note out demanding my presence or anything?"

"Not yet," Merope admitted, reaching forward and trying to get Harry's flyaway hair to behave for a moment. Harry just smiled at the attempt, resigned. "How was your New Years?"

"Chaotic. Uncle Sirius decided, last year, that the best way to ring in the new year for us kids, since kissing wasn't a thing, was to throw us into the air and catch us."

"Oh dear."

Harry nodded. "Will thinks it's great fun. Chris and I hid behind Uncle Remus and he was nice enough to protect us."

Merope laughed, and Harry couldn't help but grin at her happiness; after everything she'd gone through in life, and her lonely existence in the afterlife, Harry thought it was only fair that he sit and amuse her for an hour or so.

"And that, Master, is why you are my favourite," Death thought to him privately, nowhere in sight.

Well, there was no way Harry was begging off any time soon, after that.

-0-

For Harry's seventh birthday, Voldemort sent him a potions kit.

"I don't like this person," James declared as soon as Harry pulled the cauldron out of the too-small box.

Lily snorted. "Ignore your father, Harry," she suggested as Harry found the letter Voldemort had put in the cauldron with various necessities. "What does it say?"

The letter was in Atlantean again, so after he handed it off to Will to puzzle over – Harry had taught him a few simple words already, though Will was finding learning a language far harder than learning an alphabet – he put biro to paper in his notebook and had it explain for him, "It occurred to my benefactor that being a squib doesn't keep me from making potions, and Mum did pretty good at it in school. If I'm never going to attend Hogwarts, it doesn't matter when I start learning potions making, so I might as well have the option to start learning whenever I'm interested."

"I like this person," Remus decided.

"Seconded," Lily agreed.

"You two do not get to keep doing that," Sirius insisted, looking more amused than anything else.

"But...potions?" James complained.

Lily pointed a stern finger at him. "Don't even. You do not get to ruin one of the few magical things Harry doesn't need a crutch for, just because you haven't grown out of your boyhood rivalry."

"It wasn't a riv–" Sirius managed before Lily hit him with a silencing charm.

"No talking, Sirius," Lily ordered calmly as she turned a glare on her husband.

James curled his shoulders inwards. "Harry?" he asked, failing at sounding anything but cowed. "Would you like help carrying your new potions supplies upstairs?"

Harry considered the cauldron for a moment, then shrugged and nodded; he could carry it himself, certainly, but it was probably kinder to give his father a few minutes away from his mum, while also letting him win some points for not being a complete prat.

"Mum's right," James said upstairs, as he set the cauldron down, "I shouldn't talk bad about potions. I don't like someone who's really good at it, but Mum likes it." He sighed and offered Harry a smile. "If you decide you want to be a non-magical potions master, you do it, Harry. And don't you ever let me or anyone else keep you from trying something new, just because they don't like it, okay?"

Harry nodded and walked forward to give his father a hug. Some days, the way James acted, it was hard to tell if he wasn't just a very big Potter kid. But, other days, he would say or do something that proved that he was every inch father material, despite everything.

"Let's go get some of that cake," James decided, and his grin was more kid than parent, but Harry expected that the chance to eat some of his mum's cake was deserving of that reaction.

.

Chapter Text

In September, Will started primary. He was absolutely ecstatic to walk to school with Harry and not be forced to wave goodbye at the gate, and Harry couldn't help but grin at his enthusiasm. Will sent him sporadic notes throughout the day, but it was nowhere near as often as he'd been doing at the end of Harry's last year. It was also all in Atlantean script, which Harry was mildly pleased with, but figured the true test would be him continuing to do so, even while being taught the Latin letters.

At the end of the day, Will met him at the gate, just in front of the gaggle of waiting parents, and they fell in together with the neighbourhood kids that Harry usually walked home with; Lily and Chris had walked them to school that morning, but Will had been adamant that he could walk home without her, like a big boy, and since Harry already knew the route just fine, she'd agreed.

"Harry?" Will asked later that afternoon, while Lily was otherwise distracted.

Harry glanced up from his illusioned Atlantean book curiously.

"Can you teach me more words during the day?"

Harry considered that, turning his gaze back down to his book, but not actually seeing it. He'd taught Will the sort of words he thought were the easiest, so far: yes, no, thank you, please, variations on hello and goodbye. An idea occurred to him and he slipped his talking notebook out from under the cover of his book. 'Write me a word you want to learn, and I'll tell you the Atlantean word for it,' he wrote, not letting the book speak it out loud, since he knew Lily was close enough that she might hear. 'We can use the holidays for declensions and sentence structure, if you've got a good enough vocabulary. Okay?'

Will made a face at the mention of figuring out how to actually speak or write the language properly, but nodded all the same. He glanced up to watch as Lily walked down the stairs with a basket of laundry and turned the corner to go into the laundry room. "Can you teach me to speak it?" he asked once Lily was again out of sight.

Harry raised both eyebrows at that. 'What brought this on?' he wrote, because Will had only previously seemed interested in writing Atlantean.

Will ducked his head and pressed his fingers together. "One of the girls in my class speaks another language. It seems cool."

Harry nodded in understanding. 'At night,' he offered, 'I can teach you how to pronounce the words.' He pinned his brother with a stern look, then wrote, 'It won't be quick to learn, as you're discovering. You have to work at it. And it's not the same language as the girl in your class.'

"I know," Will whispered. "But I–" He slumped slightly, before looking up at Harry with a sort of broken-hearted hopeful expression. "You always know everything. I want to know everything too."

'Not everything,' Harry insisted, then reached up to poke Will's nose, earning him a scowl.

"Close enough," Will complained, turning away.

Harry pulled out his message paper and wrote, 'Give me time, Will, and I'll teach you all I know.'

It was almost an hour before Will wrote back, 'I know.'

-0-

The weekend following Will's sixth birthday, Chris made his toys float.

"Oh dear," Lily murmured as Will let out an excited shout and ran over to try and teach his brother how to make the lights he so favoured.

"At least it's not summoning things?" James offered somewhat helplessly.

"Small mercies."

Harry grinned at his parents' complaints as he walked over to see if he needed to 'help' at all in teaching Chris to make lights.

What followed was a week of lights bursting into existence at the drop of a hat, until Lily got fed up and informed the two, "Next person I catch casting lights outside of your room is sitting in time-out for an hour."

Will tried to be sneaky about casting lights around the house, but still ended up in time-out twice. When Lily escalated his punishment to no sugar for twenty-four hours after she caught him, he decided getting away with the contraband magic wasn't worth the danger.

Harry thought the whole thing was hilarious, and had to keep stifling his amusement throughout the whole affair.

'I wonder if I could teach them how to magically lock and unlock doors,' he wrote to Remus one afternoon.

"Your mum would kill you," Remus informed him, but his eyes glinted with amusement. And, while no one taught Harry's brothers, Remus must have mentioned the idea to Sirius and James, because Harry caught them both, on separate occasions, magically locking doors around the house. He rolled his eyes and walked on, wondering at the childishness of the male adults he was surrounded by.

-0-

When Snape dropped by that December, Lily stopped in the living room, watching where Harry was reading. He glanced up at her, feeling her gaze, and she smiled, then asked, "Sev, what's the best beginning potions book you know?"

Snape's eyebrows raised and he looked between Harry and Lily. "Potions are certainly within his abilities, but I don't expect your husband would appreciate him learning."

Will snorted from where he was working on translating some Atlantean Harry had given him earlier. "Dad was not amused by the cauldron," he agreed.

Snape turned a questioning gaze on Lily and she coughed. "Harry has a...we refer to them as a benefactor. They've been sending Harry gifts for the past few years, things that are..." She trailed off.

"Very helpful, given my disability?" Harry had his notebook say, and Snape started.

"A notebook that will speak whatever he writes," Lily offered, shaking her head in amusement.

"That is an impressive bit of magic," Snape admitted, coming over to kneel in front of where Harry was sitting on the floor. "May I see it?"

Harry shrugged and handed the notebook over; he removed incriminating notes regularly, and most of them ended up on his message paper, anyway, which he was using to mark his place in his book.

Snape looked it over with experienced eyes, Lily coming to stand behind him. "This is a most impressive bit of magic," he finally decided, handing the notebook back. "It can't have been easy to make."

Harry shrugged, having no idea exactly how Voldemort put it together, but knowledgeable enough about the spells that went into it, that he fully agreed with Snape's assessment.

"And you have no idea who it is?" he asked Lily as he stood.

Lily shook her head. "They appear in the pile with the rest of his gifts over night, only Harry's name on them. The first note was written in English, but these last two have been written in some form of code."

Snape, proving he was capable of noticing everything, suggested, "The code Will is working with?"

Will jerked and looked over guiltily. "Uhm..."

Lily frowned and walked over to see. She sighed after a moment and looked at Harry, resigned. "Of course you're teaching your brothers."

"The alphabet, not the language," Harry had his notebook explain. "I can't teach the language, I just know it, but I can the alphabet."

"What language is it?" Snape asked.

Harry blinked and shrugged. "How should I know?"

Snape narrowed his eyes at him, and Harry made a point of refusing to meet Snape's gaze, though he knew Death wouldn't let the man go rooting around in his thoughts. "Does your benefactor give any indication as to whom they are in the letters?"

Harry replied, in all honestly, "Never." Because Voldemort had never even alluded to who he was in any of the letters left with Harry's gifts, save for an occasional mention of his private rooms.

"The gifts have all been helpful, so far," Lily offered as Snape stared down at Harry, as though waiting for him to break; Harry responded by turning back to his book. "We're not worried about them right now."

Snape sighed. "You might consider looking to some sort of security wards, anyway. Something to keep out malicious gifts. Though, if you don't know how the gifts are getting in..."

"Yes, I know," Lily agreed tiredly, and Harry winced. "I'll mention it to James, though, tonight. It's not a bad idea, especially as the boys get older. I keep thinking it might be nice to find magical children their age, but it didn't end particularly well last time."

"Harry's a squib," Snape guessed.

"A squib and mute," Lily agreed. "And a werewolf, on top of everything else, though that's only obvious when he feels threat– Severus?"

Harry looked up and found Snape giving him a look that was somewhere between disgust and horror. Harry frowned at him and turned to write in his notebook, "Mum's gonna kick you out again."

Snape cleared his throat. "I hadn't been aware," he admitted. "It is...disconcerting."

"Wereborns, like Harry, are different from your average werewolf," Lily offered, and Harry heard them moving off, towards the kitchen. "Let's sit down and I can explain a few things, okay?"

Harry found a message on his paper when he looked down at it: 'Secret has a problem with werewolves? :('

Harry sighed and wrote back, 'Uncle Sirius played a very mean prank on him in school which almost made Uncle Remus bite him while he was transformed. He's scared, and I can't very well blame him. Mum'll handle it.'

'I hope so,' Will replied. 'I kind of like Secret.'

'We'll see if you still like him when you get to Hogwarts. He's boss of the school.'

'I'm going to make him like me super lots before then!' Will declared, and Harry couldn't help but laugh.

-0-

For Voldemort's birthday that year, Harry had been transcribing verbal stories which had been lost to the deaths of those who'd told them. They were a bit less adult than he usually aimed for, but he'd thought they were interesting, and he knew half of Voldemort's fascination with these things was their rarity.

Voldemort had made a point of waiting up for him again, so Harry didn't bother hiding his arrival when he finally gave up on waiting. "Happy birthday, Voldemort," he offered as he handed over the book.

Voldemort set his wine glass to one side and raised a sparse eyebrow at the offering. "This doesn't look nearly as old and fragile as your usual findings."

"It's not," Harry admitted. "I've heard rumours of a cache of documents that were said to have been lost in one or another of the fires of the Library of Alexandria, but I'm having trouble nailing down anything definite. Those, though, are a collection of stories passed on in the verbal tradition, which were lost to the deaths of those who knew them. Fairy stories, for the most part, but no less rare than intact scrolls found at the base of Vesuvius."

Voldemort considered that as he flipped through a couple pages. "They're all in English?"

"I translated them." Harry shrugged. "A number of them were told to me in languages that have since died out, and it was easier for me to translate them into English, than it was to hunt down all the dictionaries you would need."

Voldemort pinned him with a hard stare. "How many languages do you know, Scythe?"

Harry smiled. "I have no idea. I may have done a ritual in my last life that granted me knowledge of any language spoken by someone who has died." A minor lie, given his gift had been one of many from Death itself, granted to its Master, but he'd seen a ritual in Death's book that wasn't dissimilar in function.

Voldemort cursed and rubbed a hand over his face. "That explains...so much."

Harry snorted. "I rather expect so." He made a face. "Having never learnt any of them the normal way, however, means I'm having some difficulty in teaching Will and Chris Atlantean." Because Chris couldn't write or read any of it, but he'd been quite insistent in staying up for their lessons on pronunciation.

Voldemort raised both eyebrows. "You're teaching your brothers Atlantean? Why ever for?"

Harry pointed a finger at the dark lord. "It is entirely your fault. You keep putting notes in my gifts that are written in it, and Will decided he wanted to learn it. Especially when he found out that it's not a language that many people know."

"You're passing your secretive nature on to your siblings," Voldemort accused, his eyes glinting with amusement.

Harry snorted. "Between Dad and Uncle Sirius sneaking around and setting up various pranks, and Mum sneaking Snape in for tea once a year, I really don't think I deserve all the blame."

Voldemort snorted, trading the book for his wine glass. "On the topic of Severus, have you got any use out of the potions set?"

Harry shrugged. "Some. I'm not allowed to use it unsupervised, and Mum wanted to find me the perfect book to start with. Snape made some suggestions, when she asked him, and she got them for me for the holiday." He made a face. "She keeps quizzing me on safety."

The dark lord shook his head, clearly amused by Harry's irritation. "And imagine, you're attached to having parents."

Harry rolled his eyes. "If you're going to start mocking me, I'm going to bed."

Voldemort snorted. "Go on, then. I have a childhood to relive." He touched the cover of the book Harry had brought.

Harry flashed him a sharp smile. "Would you like me to read you one until you fall asleep?"

Voldemort scowled and opened his mouth to respond, but Harry was already jumping into a doorway into the Realm of Death.

"You should have stayed, Master," Death commented once the doorway was closed again. "He might have let you climb into bed with him when you, inevitably, fell asleep."

Harry wagged his finger at his servant. "Weren't you the one suggesting I avoid emotional entanglement with the man?"

Death shrugged, fingers clicking against the handle of its scythe. "That was then, Master, this is now. You are not Lord Sol, and he is not that Tom. Everything changes."

Harry motioned to his seven-year-old body. "And yet, everything stays the same."

Death ducked its hood in an approximation of a nod. "You will grow, Master."

Harry snorted and shook his head. "Yes, well, I don't expect I'll have to worry about him finding anyone else in the meantime, do I?" He turned to head towards his home.

Death fell into step at his side. "Nor have you concerns about him dying, so long as you keep his soul."

"True enough." Harry let out a quiet laugh. "I am rather skilled at tying him to me, aren't I?"

"Master," Death replied, touching Harry's shoulder and bringing him to look up into the shadowed hood, "you are most skilled at tying everyone to you."

Harry laid his own hand over the one on his shoulder. "Alas, charisma is not something either Tom or I have lacked." He sighed and motioned for a doorway to open into his bedroom. "Good night, Death."

Death squeezed his shoulder. "Good night, Master."

Harry stepped through into his room and let the doorway close behind him. As he changed into his sleep shirt, though, he heard one of his brothers sitting up, and he froze.

"Harry?" he heard Chris call.

Harry sighed and crossed the room to check on his youngest brother. "Hey, Chris. I'm sorry if I woke you," he murmured, casting a subtle sleep spell on him as he brushed his fingers through Chris' red hair.

Chris yawned. "Is 'kay," he mumbled, letting Harry push him back down to his pillow. "Who was man?"

"What man?" Harry asked, frowning. Did Chris see–?

"With the stick," Chris managed around another yawn, his eyes falling shut.

"That's just a friend of mine. Go on to sleep."

"Sleep," Chris agreed before dropping off.

Harry sighed and glanced towards where the doorway to the Realm of Death had been. "Caution, Potter," he murmured to himself. "You're not infallible."

-0-

The following Thursday afternoon, when Harry and Will got in from playing with their local friends, they found Chris whispering to himself in the corner while Lily, who was charming some objects for friends, watched him with an amused smile. Chris didn't react to Harry and Will's arrival, but Lily came over to them. "Welcome home, boys. Your brother seems to have made a new friend."

"But there's no one here," Will complained, pouting as he let Lily help him out of his winter things.

Harry, plenty capable of undressing himself, paused for a moment to consider his youngest brother. Ah, he realised after a moment, he has an imaginary friend. I suppose this was about the same age as Will was when he started talking with 'Tom'. (Tom had vanished shortly after Harry and Will began going out to play with the neighbour kids; Harry suspected one of the other children had made enough of a deal about Will's imaginary friend that Will sort of...retired him.)

"Chris has an invisible friend, Will. You remember your friend Tom?"

Will frowned. "Yeah."

"Chris' friend is the same. Why don't you go see if he'll introduce you?

"But I wants a snack, Mum."

Lily glanced towards Harry, who rolled his eyes. Her mouth kicked up at one side and she offered, "Why don't you collect Chris, then, and you can all have your snacks together."

Will huffed a bit, but when Harry started towards their brother, he hurried to follow. "Chris!" he called. "Snack time!"

Chris started and looked up for a moment, expression guilty, before he turned back to the empty space he'd been focussing on and whispered, "My brothers are home. You should go." He tilted his head slightly as Harry and Will reached him, as though he was listening to something he was being told. "Okay," he whispered before turning a bright smile on Harry and Will. "You're home!"

"Uh-huh," Will agreed, reaching down and tugging on Chris' arm until he got up. "And we're hungry! Mum said we can't eat until you come too, so you have to come and get a snack with us or I'm gonna make something super ba–"

Harry clapped a hand over Will's mouth and pinned him with a stern frown.

Will slumped. "Not gonna do nothing," he mumbled against Harry's hand.

Harry patted his head, then motioned that Will should precede them into the kitchen, which he hurried to do. Harry rolled his eyes and Chris let out a giggle. When Harry glanced at him, Chris rounded his hands over his stomach, miming a large one.

Harry snorted in amusement and shook his head before gently tugging Chris along with him into the kitchen.

Once they were all seated around the table with the tea and digestives Lily had served, Harry pulled out his speaking notebook and asked, "Did your friend go home, Chris?"

Chris started again, dropping his digestive into his tea. He focussed on fishing it out, even as he quietly asked, voice strained, "You saw him?"

Harry raised an eyebrow at that, even as Lily hurriedly assured him, "None of us saw him, sweetheart."

Chris turned wide eyes on Harry, and he shrugged and touched his ear.

Chris slumped. "Oh," he sighed. "Harry heard."

"Only your side of the conversation," Harry was quick to promise. "Your friend is very quiet." Because he'd already learnt, with Will, that playing along about there being an invisible person around was the best thing he could do, when it came to imaginary friends.

Chris smiled at that, clearly proud of his new friend. "He is," he agreed. "Sometimes, I can no hear him and I has make him say things again. It's 'cause of his hood, I thinks."

Harry raised an eyebrow at that, curious, but Chris seemed to have realised he'd revealed too much, because he turned his attention to his tea and left Will to fill the silence after a moment.

After dinner, Will made it his duty to irritate Chris into drawing a picture of his invisible friend, which Harry should have put a stop to, probably, but he was sort of curious, himself. When Chris finally caved, Harry wasn't the only observer who came over to see, as both James and Lily had also kept mum about Will being a pest.

The person Chris had drawn wore a full black robe, with the hood up and completely shadowing its face, hands hidden inside too-long sleeves. Harry felt a chill go down his back, recognising Death, and when he met Will's wide eyes, he knew his brother, too, had recognised the figure, though he likely only recalled brief glimpses of the apparition.

"Looks like Snivellus," James decided.

Lily rounded on her husband like an avenging angel. "James Charlus Potter! I did not just hear you calling Severus that vile name!"

James slumped. "It does," he mumbled, only for Lily to hit his arm hard enough that the three boys all winced. James proceeded to whimper and pout his bottom lip until Lily stalked off in a huff. Which, Harry knew, meant she had been about to either smile or cave, but refused to play along on account of her fondness for Snape.

After James had gone after her, Will and Chris both turned to Harry. "Snivellus?" Chris asked.

Harry quickly wrote in his talking notebook, 'Dad means Secret, Mum's friend. Do NOT call him that. He will go mental.'

Will read the note to Chris in a whisper, then both of them nodded, wearing their serious faces. Harry suspected he'd have to watch Will the next time Snape came over, just in case he felt like pushing a few buttons, but felt fairly certain that neither boy would pick it up like they had 'Secret'.

Lily still hadn't forgiven James by bedtime, so they said their good nights separately. After they'd both left, Will climbed out of bed and came over to Harry's, like he usually did for Atlantean lessons, Chris trailing. But, when Will sat on Harry's bed, he was scowling. "When did Chris meet the cloaked man?" he demanded.

Harry blinked. "He hasn't."

"Saw him," Chris whispered, climbing onto the bed next to Harry and clinging to his arm. "Harry said is his friend."

Will held his scowl for a beat longer before he slumped and put on a pathetic expression. "Can we meet him?" he pleaded.

Harry closed his eyes and rubbed at them with the hand Chris didn't have a death grip on. Introduce his brothers to Death? It wasn't that he didn't trust Death with them, because he knew the apparition would never hurt someone Harry cared for, but he didn't know how his brothers would react to finding out who the 'cloaked man' was. And, too, Harry didn't want Lily and James finding out about it.

"Master," Death called, rather saving Harry the trouble of deciding.

"It's him," Chris breathed.

Harry opened his eyes to frown at his servant. "Really?" he complained.

Death offered a shrug, showing off hands empty of its scythe. "Sometimes, Master, you need to be pushed," it offered, even as Harry's brothers both gasped.

"What's wrong with his hands?" Will asked Harry, eyes wide.

Harry sighed. "Will, Chris, this is Death–"

"Death Death?" Will blurted out, while Chris pressed tighter against Harry's side.

"I am," Death agreed, genderless voice unflappable. "I ferry and watch over the souls of the deceased."

"Is he here to h-hurt–" Chris started.

"No," Harry answered, voice firm. "Death is my friend, and he will never hurt either of you."

Death bowed. "It is as my Master has decreed."

"Master?" Will asked, eyes darting between Harry and Death.

"Death and I have a...complicated relationship," Harry offered, grimacing at the simplicity. "But, yes, he listens to me, in as much as Death will ever listen to a mortal."

Death let out a bone-rattle laugh. "Indeed, Master; there are some laws not even your demands could break."

"I'll live," Harry returned drily, and Death rattled another laugh.

Will slid off Harry's bed and reached out to touch the black cloak. "You're solid," he whispered, staring up at the shadowed hood.

"At this moment," Death agreed, "but I need not be." Its hood tilted up, looking towards Harry. "I will not apologise, Master."

Harry sighed. "No, I didn't expect you to. But I think, perhaps, it is time for you to see to other duties."

Death ducked its head in a bow, then stepped backwards, into a doorway that opened for it.

Will started to follow Death, and Harry couldn't swallow a quiet, horrified sound as he jumped off the bed, sending Chris sprawling, and grabbed Will's shoulder, yanking him back hard.

There followed a moment of absolute stillness as the doorway completely vanished, then Will let out a whimper and clutched his hand to his chest.

Harry turned his brother so they were facing. "Let me see, please," he whispered.

Will revealed his hand as Chris came over to join them, showing two shrivelled fingers. "Will!" Chris whimpered, reaching out to try and touch.

"Shh," Harry soothed, gently catching Chris' hands before he could touch the decaying flesh. "I can fix that," he promised, meeting Will's terrified eyes. "May I?" He held out his free hand for Will's wounded hand.

Will's lips trembled and he lightly rested his hand in Harry's. "Hurts," he gasped out, and a tear spilled from one eye.

"I know, kiddo, I know," Harry murmured, having suffered a decaying arm when he was first learning Death's magic. Death had healed him, back then, because Harry hadn't known enough to do it himself. This time, he knew exactly what to do, trained through the act of healing multiple apprentices suffering from similar wounds, and he freed Chris' hands so he could cup Will's wounded hand between his. "This might look scary, but I promise it'll help, okay?" he offered, meeting Will's broken stare.

Will nodded. "Trust," he whispered before letting out another quiet whimper.

Harry turned his gaze on his cupped hands and, very carefully, opened a mini doorway to the Realm of Death at the tip of Will's damaged fingers. Chris gasped and grabbed a fistful of Harry's shirt, gentle enough that he didn't disrupt Harry's work.

For anyone without the proper protections in place, the Realm of Death was a quick, though agonising, death, as contact with it leached away the very essence of life from the body. For a brief touch, that meant nerve death, necrosis. Even with magic, it was completely irreparable, as no magic could truly return life to that which had died.

But life was part and parcel of death magic, and returning it was as simple as taking it away, so long as there was still some life left in the body somewhere. Fingers were easy, and Harry vanished the doorway after barely a minute, Will's fingers whole again.

"They're going to be tender for a couple days," he warned, gently rubbing warmth back into Will's fingers, reminding the blood where it needed to go. "But you're going to be okay."

Will pushed forward and thudded bodily against Harry's chest, wrapping his arms around him. Harry hugged him back hard, closing his eyes as he heard his brother's muffled sobs and felt dampness leak across the front of his shirt.

"Oh, Will," he whispered into his brother's hair, "I'm so sorry. I'm so, so sorry."

Chris walked around and hugged Will from behind, one hand still holding tight to Harry's shirt, and he resigned himself to needing to change before he finally went to bed.

After another few moments, Will drew back, scrubbing his hands hard against his wet eyes. "Wh-what–?" he tried to ask, voice shaking.

Harry sighed. "Let's sit down," he suggested and led his brothers back to his bed. They curled up on either side of him, and he wrapped his arms around them, squeezing their shoulders. "The black space, the portals that Death travels by, lead to his realm, to the Realm of Death. Contact with it hurts living creatures, unless proper protections are put in place." He took a deep breath and looked between his brothers. "Please don't touch one of those doorways again unless either Death or I are holding your hand, okay? Because we can protect you then, but we can't do anything if you touch it without us."

Will immediately shook his head. "Not touching it again. Ever."

Harry smiled tiredly at him. "Not a bad policy, admittedly, but if you have no choice – if you have to touch the doorway – take my hand, or call for Death, okay? We'll keep you safe. I swear."

"...okay," Will agreed at last, though he didn't sound pleased about it. Not that Harry blamed him.

Chris tugged on his shirt. "How did you fix?" he asked.

Will gave a violent twitch. "Hey, yeah. You can't use magic!"

Harry rolled his eyes at his brother's lack of tact. "You're both correct, and wrong," he offered, and Will jabbed a finger into his side. "Ow," Harry complained, though the pain was minimal. "I was intending to explain, you little terror, if you'd be patient?"

"I is patient," Chris offered helpfully from his other side.

Harry barely resisted the urge to roll his eyes again. "There are two types of magic that we can all use. The kind that's taught at Hogwarts and other schools, is what you might call 'living magic'. You need a body to be able to use it, and that body needs to have the correct channels for directing the magic. I lack those channels, so I cannot use that magic. That magic is physical, is focussed on affecting things you can see with the naked eye, like changing the shape of something, or healing a cut.

"The other magic we'll call 'death magic'. It requires only a soul to use, so even a muggle could access it, but the physical body does serve as something of a block to the access of that magic, so most living creatures can't use it. Those who can are usually feared, because death magic affects the intangible, the soul, and there's no way for your average witch or wizard to defend against it."

"You can use Death Magic?" Will guessed, staring up at Harry.

Harry nodded. "Yes. It lets me travel through the Realm of Death unharmed, and heal the effects of it on other people, among other things." He squeezed his brothers' shoulders and looked between them. "No one can know, not even Mum and Dad, okay? Because if they find out, I'm going to have to go away."

"For how long?" Will asked, although his eyes said he already knew the answer.

"Forever," Harry said with complete seriousness. Because he would run away before he'd let his family suffer for housing a child whose hands were dripping with as much blood as Voldemort's. Assuming James and Lily would even let him stay, once they knew; their shades might have accepted him in that last reality, but there was a large difference between accepting him from the cold embrace of death, and accepting him when they were both plenty alive and had two other children to care for.

Chris pressed his hand against Harry's chest, over his heart. "Swear," he said, hazel eyes serious. "I never tell. It's secret."

Will's hand covered Chris'. "Secret," he agreed, voice firm. "We swear, we'll never tell anyone."

Harry found himself blinking away tears, and he pulled his brothers close. "Thank you," he whispered, so very grateful for their unconditional loyalty.

They stayed like that until Chris and Will had both fallen asleep. Harry honestly considered, for a moment, letting them stay there all night, but he knew they wouldn't thank him in the morning, when their bodies complained about the awkward sleeping position, so he put them both to bed in their own beds. He did cast a minor numbing charm on Will's hand, so it wouldn't wake him up if he knocked it into anything in his sleep.

As he climbed into his own bed, he ordered, "Don't tempt one of my brothers into your realm again without the proper protections."

Death appeared next to his bed, reaching out with skeletal hands to pull the blankets up over him. Harry raised an eyebrow at the action, but didn't fight it. "I apologise, Master. It is not the first time they have seen you use the doorways, and I foresaw one of them coming to touch it after you had passed through and were not there to fix the damage. Sometimes, the practical lesson is the best, no matter the pain involved."

Harry sighed and caught Death's hands as it started to pull away. "I'm aware, which is why I'm not yelling. But, for future, let's aim to protect them from that particular folly from the start, rather than having to clean up after."

Death let out a quiet rattling laugh. "I shall endeavour to remember how protective you are of them, Master."

Harry snorted and let go of Death's hands. "I feel like I should make a joke about you living to give me a heart attack."

Death let out a sound like a dying gurgle, and Harry grinned at it. "Your sense of humour inspires, Master. Shall I attempt to buy back your favour with a gift?"

Harry raised both eyebrows at that. "You always have my favour, Death."

Death inclined its hood. "The favour of your brothers, then."

Harry looked past Death towards Will and Chris' beds on the opposite side of the room. "Oh? Like what? I'm nearly certain even you can't grant protection from your realm without the recipient doing the work of learning the magic involved."

"That is correct, but I might ease the learning of a language, should it be of interest."

"You're going to give them a cheat?" Harry tutted, though he was grinning.

"Master," Death complained.

Harry reached out a hand and Death met it, cradling his child's hand between full-grown skeletal fingers. "How much of a cheat are you thinking?"

Death let out the sound of a last breath, it's version of a sigh. "For every word of English, they would know the Atlantean translation, with verbal and reading separate, as it is for them in learning English. The rules of sentence structure and declension will form naturally over time, though you may help it along."

Harry considered that for a moment, rubbing the pad of his thumb over one of the connections between the bones of Death's fingers. "That's a lot to do for a couple mortals with no connections to you, Death."

Death touched Harry's chest with its free hand. "You share blood and favour, Master; that is connection enough for so simple a gift."

Harry smiled at that, because only Death could consider nearly immediate knowledge of a language a 'simple' gift. "Let me put the offer before them, first. While I'm sure they'd accept it, I don't want to spring it on them while they're sleeping."

Death inclined its hood. "In this, Master, I bow to your judgement."

Harry snorted. "Go kill something. Wendigos, maybe. We don't need them, right?"

Death rattled a laugh and pulled away, stepping back into a doorway that opened for it. "Indeed we do not, Master. I shall cull them in your name," it promised, its scythe appearing in one hand.

"And this, Death, is why you'll always be my favourite," Harry murmured as the doorway closed.

"As you shall always be mine, Master," Death whispered into his mind, and Harry smiled and turned over to sleep.

-0-

Surprising absolutely no one, Chris and Will were completely on board with the idea of learning Atlantean with barely any effort on their part. Harry rolled his eyes, but he really couldn't talk, not when Death was the one who'd granted him absolute knowledge of every language that had ever existed, even those for which there were no written records, like the languages of magical beings like phoenixes.

Death granted his gift that night, and after sleeping on it, Harry's brothers were speaking Atlantean as easily as they could English. And it didn't go unnoticed, because Will was involved and he was a motor mouth.

"Harry," Lily said about ten minutes into breakfast, during which Will had switched between English and Atlantean no fewer than twelve times. (Harry had been counting.) "Would you like to explain to me why your brother is speaking something other than English? And why you and Chris seem perfectly capable of following him?"

"Busted," James coughed into his hand.

Harry, game face on, calmly wrote in his notebook and had it say, "I have no idea, Mum. They just woke up like this."

Lily stared at him, unconvinced, but Harry had mastered the art of lying through his teeth about his abilities in his last life, and this was no different.

That said, Will and Chris weren't so practised, and cracked about two seconds after Lily thought to turn her stare on them:

"It was a gift, from–" Will started and Harry closed his eyes.

"My friend," Chris broke in, and Will's mouth snapped shut with an audible click. Harry opened his eyes again to find his youngest brother was pointing at the picture he'd drawn of Death-as-his-imaginary-friend, which was hanging on the door of the refrigerator. "He scared us. Wanted to say sorry."

"Your friend," Lily deadpanned, looking back at Harry.

Harry shrugged, doing his best to look as honestly flummoxed by this turn of events as anyone else would be.

"You know, I don't remember raising a Slytherin," James commented, and Harry shot him a wounded look.

"You're grounded, all of you," Lily decided, and Chris and Will immediately let out angry sounds, while Harry frowned. "For a month," Lily added. When Will and Chris just got louder, Will letting out a sparkle of lights, Lily snapped, "I will make it two months!"

Will and Chris shut up, both ducking their heads. When Lily turned to look at Harry, he met her angry eyes without flinching, and James let out a quiet whistle that earned him a glare of his own.

"If one of you wants to tell me the truth, they'll no longer be grounded," Lily offered, looking between Will and Chris.

Harry glanced over and found Will and Chris staring at him, both looking upset and torn. Harry closed his eyes and looked away, afraid to watch them choose between his secret and their fun. Because promising to keep a secret in the safety of their dark bedroom, where secrets curled up in the corners and multiplied overnight, was one thing; keeping that secret under threat of punishment was something else entirely, especially when the secret-keepers were only six and not-quite-four.

"It was Chris' friend," Will said, and there was determination in his voice. "He scared us, because he's got bone-hands. I bet he's got a bone-face, too, but he doesn't want to show. And he felt bad, 'cause we were all scared, except Harry, because Harry's never scared. Harry's brave. And Chris' friend, he said he'd help us learn Harry's language. Maybe we can be brave now, too."

"Wanna be brave," Chris agreed quietly.

"Telling the truth is brave," Lily offered.

"Then we are brave," Will insisted, and Harry saw fire in his hazel eyes when he finally looked over. "We're not lying, Mum."

Lily threw her hands up in the air. "Right. James, you handle them for the day. And remember, they're grounded," she ordered before stalking from the kitchen. They heard her apparate a moment later, and Harry and his brothers turned to their father.

James sighed. "Right. Will, Chris, go upstairs and start collecting dirty laundry. Harry, help me clear the table. Maybe, if we get this house clean while Mum's gone, she'll lighten your punishment."

Will and Chris muttered complaints in Atlantean as they left, dragging their feet the whole way.

Harry helped James without complaint, ferrying dishes over for his father to wash, then drying them and stacking them to the side for James to put away.

"How much of that was a lie?" James asked after a while.

Harry considered that as he dried a glass. Once he set it aside, he motioned like he was stretching something.

"Less a lie, more stretching the truth," James guessed, and Harry nodded. His father sighed and ruffled his hair. "You were a lot less trouble before your brothers figured out how to talk for you."

Harry snorted, figuring that would seem true, from a parental standpoint. Which, well, it wasn't, because he had always been this much trouble, he just had a lot more trouble hiding his misdeeds when he had accomplices.

James squeezed his shoulder, then leant down to whisper in Harry's ear, "You do realise that it's now completely and utterly your duty to keep your brothers from doing something stupid, right? Because we can no longer understand them if they don't want us to."

Harry raised an eyebrow at his father, because it had always been his job to keep Will and Chris safe.

James laughed and turned back to the dishes. And while Lily didn't rescind her punishment entirely, she was willing to lessen it to two weeks, rather than a whole month, after she got home to a clean house. And James must have talked her out of pursuing the matter, because she didn't bring it up again, though her lips would press thin whenever she caught Will and Chris speaking in Atlantean.

.

Chapter Text

The rest of that school year passed fairly uneventfully. Harry did finally get to start making potions, with Lily or Remus' supervision, a little before Chris' fourth birthday. On Will's orders, Harry made a potion that would turn the drinker's hair neon orange for the day, and Will slipped it to Chris, who got Sirius to drink it on account of it being his birthday and him being allowed to order people around. Sirius thought it was fantastic, but Lily did say no more potions to change hair colour. (Remus, on the other hand, was completely willing to help Harry make potions to change the colour of skin, eyes, fingernails, tongues, or whatever else they could find, and they spent the next couple of weekends pranking various members of the household. Lily gave up forbidding colour changing potions once she discovered Remus was in on it.)

By July, Lily had mostly stopped looking disapproving when she caught Will and Chris speaking Atlantean, and a couple late-night excursions had let Harry discover that his parents were trying to create their own dictionary of Atlantean, basing it on context clues when one of his brothers had to use English words for a concept that didn't exist in Atlantean, or it was pretty obvious what they were talking about.

"It's impressive work," Death offered when Harry asked it how their work was coming along, having been unable to actually get a look at the dictionary they'd been building. "They're wrong on a couple counts, and their spelling is atrocious, but they're not doing too badly, given they don't know anything about the language's origins."

Harry nodded to himself and rubbed his fingers along the edge of his robes, staring off into the darkness of the Realm of Death. "I see no reason to try stopping them," he decided. "As careless as Will and Chris are with it, any more, I doubt anything I do will stop Mum and Dad from forming some sort of record eventually."

"A most wise assumption, Master," Death agreed.

Harry glanced up at it. "Rather." He sighed and looked down at the stretch of robe he'd been worrying. "I expect I should be proud of their accomplishments, given how little they know about the language, but I think I'm more resigned than anything. Irritated, a bit."

"No one likes sharing their secrets, Master," Death offered, one skeletal hand squeezing his shoulder.

Harry snorted. "Quite true," he agreed, leaning in to Death's touch. "I suppose there are some things even I can't expect to keep from the people I live with."

Death rattled a quiet laugh. "Master, I believe it is because you are who you are that you have such difficulty hiding such things."

Harry scowled and side-eyed his servant. "And what is that supposed to mean?"

"Simply, Master, that you do not wish to hide yourself from those you most love."

Harry slumped, unable to disagree with that assessment. Because he didn't like lying to his family, for all he believed he needed to, to keep them safe. To keep them his.

"You're the one," a voice called, and Harry jerked his head up to find a heavy-set man with a well-tended beard standing in front of him. A rosary hung around his neck, half hidden in the folds of his dark robes, and he held a thick tome in one hand, pages turned at odd angles within it. "The one who is looking for the rarest of tales. Those treasures of the written word which have been hidden away from humanity."

Harry blinked and nodded. "That's me, yeah. Do you know of one?"

The man held out the tome, his whole bearing one of a man giving away the greatest of treasures. "The work of two lifetimes," he explained as Harry accepted it. "I have waited forever to find someone who will treat it as lovingly as it deserves, and now I have, I may pass on to the next life, may I never again recall this empty between." And he turned and walked away, fading as he went, on to his next life.

Harry turned to Death, both eyebrows raised. "I can't give something from the Realm of Death to Tom, not when he knows nothing of your magic. It'll decay the minute I leave the room."

Death inclined its hood in a nod. "Perhaps then, Master, you should begin copying the work over to a book created in the mortal realm."

Harry looked down at the book, page corners poking out at all angles. "Is it worth it?"

"Master," Death offered, cupping his cheek, "I believe you will discover it very much worth the effort."

Harry smiled up into the shadows of Death's hood, holding the book tight against his chest. "Speaking of secret-keeping."

Death rattled a laugh. "You would never forgive me, should I give you every answer."

"True enough," Harry admitted before stepping back, towards a doorway that obediently opened for him. "Go ferry some souls, Death." He glanced down at the book. "It seems I have work to do."

"As you will, Master," Death agreed before vanishing.

Harry chuckled to himself and returned to his darkened bedroom. After checking to make sure his brothers were both soundly asleep and not faking, he conjured a permanent book to rewrite the gift in and settled down on his bed to read the tome a bit before he went to sleep; it was too late to start transferring it over right then, honestly. And there, on the very first page, was written: 'Here bygynneth the Book of the Tales of Caunterbury'.

"Oh, holy fuck," Harry breathed, staring down at that simple line of text. That had been Geoffrey Chaucer. And the book he held in his hands – the work of two lifetimes – was the book that he'd never finished in life. This was The Canterbury Tales.

Another thought occurred to Harry and a mean little smile spread across his face. "Tom is going to shit bricks when I give this to him." He covered his mouth to stifle a mad little giggle, then settled in to read the text; this was one book he was absolutely going to read before the dark lord.

-0-

For Harry's eighth birthday, Voldemort sent him a pack of rare potions ingredients.

"What, does this person think we're too poor to get the best ingredients?" James muttered. "What can he even make with this stuff, at his current level?"

"I don't know of any potions," Lily admitted, frowning at the offerings.

Harry ignored them in favour of reading Voldemort's brief note: 'I'm aware that your family hardly wants for money, but even these ingredients would serve as an unnecessary drain on your finances. That said, observe the attached.'

Harry frowned and turned the note over. There was a small pouch attached to the back that, when Harry touched it, ejected two new sheets of parchment. One was written in Atlantean, and appeared to have been directly copied from one of the books he'd given the dark lord, while the other was an English translation of that page. Harry glanced over the Atlantean version, only for his eyes to widen when he realised what Voldemort had found.

"Moon Easing?" Will translated, having come up behind Harry to read over his shoulder. "What's a 'moon easing' potion?"

"Harry?" Lily called, and he looked up to find all of the adults looking at him and Will. "What does the note say?"

Harry just handed over the English translation of the potion, grateful that Voldemort had thought to include it, especially considering that translating Atlantean didn't come naturally to the dark lord.

"Merlin," Remus breathed, reading over Lily's shoulder. He turned wide eyes on Harry, and Harry smiled at him in understanding. "Your benefactor, pup."

"It's a potion to ease the pain of a werewolf transformation," Lily explained for James, Sirius, and Peter, all of whom had turned to her as soon as Remus had spoken. "And it's... It's within Harry's skill level, it looks like, and uses most of these ingredients."

"...I'm beginning to like this person again," James decided, and the adults all laughed. "Is this going to turn into a potion-making day?" he asked Harry.

Harry considered that, then shrugged and mimed blowing out candles.

"Cake first," James translated, nodding. "I can get behind that plan."

"Put your things away first," Lily ordered as they all started to get up. "Remus, would you take the ingredients to the lab?"

"Certainly," Remus agreed.

Will and Chris were quick to help Harry with his new things, and they all went up to their room together. Once they'd dropped everything on Harry's bed, for him to sort later, Will tapped the letter from Voldemort. "Is he Death?" he asked, every inch curious.

Harry shook his head. "No," he whispered, mindful of Remus, but aware that even werewolf hearing had a range, and the potions lab in the basement was far enough away that there was no chance of the elder werewolf hearing him, no matter how recently the moon was. "They've never even met, though my benefactor is aware that Death is my friend."

Will nodded his understanding and they all went back downstairs for cake.

Privately, Harry wondered how much longer it would be before he was introducing his brothers to the dark lord.

-0-

For Will's seventh birthday, Lily and James finally tried introducing magical children to the family again. They'd managed to find, through various sources, children who were between Will and Harry's ages, rather than picking through their former-Order friends, and they kept the numbers down. Which was how Harry finally became acquainted with the youngest two Weasleys and Luna, among other younger children who reminded him vaguely of those he'd known during his first life.

Ron was, expectedly, sour about the obvious riches of the Potter family, while Ginny tried to hide behind Molly or Ron as much as possible, clearly uncomfortable with all the new faces. Luna was about as absent-minded as Harry knew she would be, and spent most of the party weaving flower chains out of thin air, which Harry considered an impressive piece of accidental magic. He pointed Chris towards her when he caught his youngest brother pouting at the lack of kids his age, and Luna was quite happy to teach him her trick; Harry foresaw everyone in the family wearing flower crowns for the next couple months, and couldn't quite bring himself to regret that life choice.

Victoria Frobisher was Ginny's age and came from the same sort of social class as the Potters, which provided a rather stark contrast to Ron's upset, and she wasted little time in making him as red-faced as she could. Geoffrey Hooper, who was a little younger than Will, but would be in his year at Hogwarts, was practically as much of a chatterbox as Will was, and they got on swimmingly, showing off various magical tricks they'd developed.

For the most part, Harry kept himself apart from the other children, beyond directing Chris towards Luna, or catching the attention of an adult right before Ron exploded at Victoria.

"Your eldest isn't very friendly, is he?" Geoffrey's father remarked to James after an hour.

"He's quiet," James replied, sounding unbothered. "And the last time he met magical children, it didn't end well; I expect he's just being cautious."

A hand tugging on Harry's robe tore his attention away from the conversation, and he looked down to find Ginny staring up at him, tears in her eyes. Harry tilted his head to one side, mouth turning down in a confused frown.

Ginny's bottom lip trembled, but she took a deep breath and quietly said, "Victoria is being mean."

Harry nodded, quite aware of that issue.

Ginny revealed her elbow, which had a faint abrasion and grass stains on it. "She took my bracelet Mummy gave me," she offered before a couple tears rolled down her cheeks.

Harry turned to look for Molly, but the woman had gone inside with most of the adults, likely to refill their drinks or food or something. James, Geoffrey's father, Sirius, and Peter were the only ones still outside, none of whom Harry expected Ginny would be very comfortable going to.

Harry could have gone inside to hand Ginny over to Molly, or he could have caught the attention of one of the remaining adults himself, for all that the options were far from ideal. But he was who he was, and the adults clearly weren't going to stop Victoria from picking on the Weasleys (they'd actually been saying something about how cute it was, seeing Victoria pick on Ron). So he hopped down from the picnic bench he'd been sitting on and pulled out his wand.

Ginny's eyes widened. "You have a wand?" she breathed.

Harry offered her a small smile and gently caught her arm so he could cast a quick episkey on the abused skin of her elbow.

Ginny's gaze turned awed as Harry slipped his wand away. "Thank you," she said, before apparently remembering that hadn't been the only thing Victoria had done, for her expression fell again. "My bracelet, though..."

Harry nodded and offered his hand for her to hold. When she took it, he started across the garden to where Victoria was mocking Ron's clothing. Ron was just starting to turn that particular shade of red that never ended well, and Harry let go of Ginny's hand so he could step between them, pushing them both back a couple steps.

"Hey!" Victoria shouted and pushed him back.

Harry didn't move a centimetre, and he turned to glare at her when she stepped back, her eyes going wide. Harry touched his wrist, then pointed to Ginny, who had walked over to stand next to a scowling Ron.

"What? What about the little poor girl?"

Harry raised his eyes to stare at the sky for a moment, wondering how this was his life.

"My sister's bracelet," Ron demanded, coming up to stand next to Harry. "You took it."

Victoria snorted. "So? It's too pretty for a Weasley."

When Ron moved like he was going to run forward and punch the girl, Harry grabbed his shoulder and held him back, turning his own glare on Victoria.

"What?" the girl complained, shifting back a step. "You can't be siding with them. Come on, it's just a bracelet."

Harry just kept glaring at her.

"What's going on over here?" James called as he approached.

"They're bullying me!" Victoria cried, tears appearing in her eyes.

Harry couldn't stop a growl at that lie; he didn't bully people!

"Whoa, whoa, wait a minute!" James said as Ron jerked away from Harry and Victoria let out a terrified noise. His father's hand came down on his shoulder, and Harry turned to scowl up at James. "Claws in, pup," James ordered.

Harry very pointedly showed off his hands, which were completely human.

"You know what I meant," James said, tone dry. "What's going on?"

Harry huffed and pointed to Ginny, who was hiding behind Ron, both of them looking uncertain.

Ginny seemed to shrink a bit under James' gaze, but she rallied herself when Harry gave her an encouraging nod. "Victoria stole my bracelet. Harry was trying to make her give it back."

James turned to Victoria, who looked more panicked than upset, and held out a hand. "Bracelet."

Victoria grumbled and took it out of a pocket. "Fine," she snapped. "You can have your ugly bracelet!" Then she threw it at Ron.

Harry broke out of James' grip and caught the bracelet before it could hit Ron in the eye.

"I think it's time for someone to go tell their mother that they're a little brat," James commented as he caught Victoria's hand. "Come along, Miss Victoria."

Harry held the bracelet out to Ginny, who took it with a big grin. "Thank you!" she chirped.

"How'd you catch that?" Ron demanded.

Harry shrugged – werewolf reflexes mixed with seeker training, he knew, though he was hardly going to explain that – and turned to return to his earlier seat.

"Wait!" Ron called, and Harry looked back at him, tilting his head curiously. "I'm Ron," the boy said, offering his hand.

Harry blinked, surprised, and accepted the hand to shake.

"You don't talk much, do you?" Ron complained.

Harry smiled a bit apologetically and shook his head.

"Are you gonna go back to sitting and watching?" Ginny asked quietly, bracelet clutched to her chest.

Harry shrugged and nodded, because what else was there really for him to do? He couldn't conjure flowers out of thin air like Luna and Chris – well, he could, but that wasn't a secret he was intending to share – and he couldn't really join Will and Geoffrey in their fast-paced chatter.

Ron glanced to the side for a moment, then asked, "Do you want to play with us? I mean, I don't know what you have around here to play with, but we could do something, right? Throw a ball around or whatever."

Harry considered that for a moment, before an idea occurred to him, something that they could drag Will and probably Geoffrey over for. He held up a finger to suggest Ron wait for a moment, then ran over to where Sirius was tormenting Peter.

"Hey, pup," Sirius offered when Harry tugged on his arm to get his attention. "What's up?"

Harry pointed to the shed where they kept the brooms, then motioned to the two front corners of the back garden, where two heavy stones sat. The stones held notice-me-not and muggle repelling charms, which the adults would activate when someone wanted to fly on brooms in the garden. It wasn't foolproof, but it was up to the ministry's standards, and everyone knew better than to fly high enough to be spotted.

Sirius grinned. "Quidditch game?"

Harry shrugged and nodded.

"Sure. You gather teams, I'll get the brooms."

Harry huffed and rolled his eyes, then pointed towards the kitchen window, where he could see most of the adults gathered.

Sirius sighed. "You are way too young to care if your parents are okay with you flying around the back garden."

Harry did his best impression of Lily's disapproving look.

Sirius laughed. "Yeah, okay, good point. Let's go see who wants to play, then get permission from their parents. Then we'll sort out the brooms and wards, right?"

Harry nodded and they went about doing so. As he'd expected, Ron, Ginny, Will, and Geoffrey were all excited about playing, and Luna didn't care. Chris was interested, but Lily said no when they asked, because she would let him on a broom just to fly, but she was not okay with him playing with the bigger children. Which left them with an odd number of players, until Victoria put forth her plea to play. Ron and Ginny clearly weren't on board, but Will argued for it, and Harry was something of a believer in second chances, for obvious reasons.

The game ended up being a lot of fun, considering they were limited to a three-on-three set. Harry played keeper for his side, figuring it would be hard to play a chaser when he couldn't speak to his partner, and Victoria ended up as keeper for the other side. Harry only let one ball through – a gift for Will, who groaned about pathetic birthday presents once they were back on the ground – but Victoria had some trouble blocking her goal against two very determined Weasleys with a grudge, so Harry's side won.

All things considered, the party was determined to have been a success, though Harry didn't expect they'd be seeing Victoria again. The Hoopers lived on the other side of Godric's Hollow, though Geoffrey was home educated and Harry expected they would be seeing a great deal more of him, given how well he and Will had got on.

As for the Weasleys and Luna, well, Harry expected only time would tell, though he was hopeful that he'd see them on birthdays, at the least.

-0-

Snape came for a visit at the start of the winter holiday, just like every year. He showed interest in the potion Voldemort had given Harry, and was more than willing to offer up some of the rarer supplies from his personal store, should the Potters run out and have trouble hunting them down, which Lily politely turned down. "It's bad enough Harry's got one benefactor; if James found out you knew enough about things to send us ingredients we needed, he'd blow a gasket."

Privately, Harry agreed with that assessment, though Snape was quick to try arguing around it. He rolled his eyes at the both of them and went out to play with the neighbourhood kids and his brothers outside.

About two hours after Snape had shown up, Death warned: "Your father is coming home early."

Harry jerked in surprise, then turned and ran for his house, because he might still hold a slight grudge against Snape for his first life, but his mum considered the man her friend, and James would not react well to finding Snape in his house, having tea with his wife.

He slammed into the house and dashed into the kitchen, sudden enough that both Lily and Snape jumped, standing from their seats and reaching for their wands.

"Harry?!" Lily cried, surprise turning to concern.

Harry shook his head at her and grabbed Snape's arm, then dragged him out the back door without pausing to explain, because he didn't know how much time he had.

Snape yanked his arm free once Harry loosened his grip out in the garden, turning Harry to face him with a grip that would have hurt a normal human child. "Explain yourself, right now," Snape snarled, black eyes blazing with fury.

Harry knelt and, in the hard dirt beneath them, scratched out, 'DAD HOME GO'.

Harry heard the crack of apparation, and when he looked back up, Snape had vanished. He let out a relieved breath, then scratched his boot through his message, erasing it, and hurried around the house and back to where he'd been playing with the other children; Lily would understand when James got home, and Harry being near the house, while his brothers were playing the next street over, would only make his father suspicious.

Thank you, he thought to Death.

He felt the sensation of skeletal fingers against his cheek and smiled.

-0-

"Well," Lily said the next morning, after James had left for work, "how about we four make a trip today, hm?"

Harry and his brothers all gave their mum questioning looks.

Lily smiled and ruffled Harry's hair. "Severus is always visiting us, I think it's about time we returned the favour." She snorted. "He deserves an explanation for being rushed out of the house yesterday, if nothing else."

Harry shrugged, unwilling to apologise for his abrupt removal of Snape from the kitchen the day before. (Also, honestly, rather glad his mum wasn't questioning it too much.)

"We get to see Secret's house?" Will asked, looking excited.

Lily laughed. "Even better; we're going to Hogwarts."

Will and Chris traded excited looks before Will started asking questions about the school, slipping between Atlantean partway through and making it nearly impossible for Lily to keep up. Harry had to look away to hide his grin, helplessly amused by his brother's excitement.

"English, William," Lily tried, but she was grinning nearly as wide as Harry's brothers.

A question occurred to Harry and he quickly pulled out his speaking notebook to ask, "Are you ALLOWED to take us to Hogwarts over the holiday?"

Lily's grin softened into the sort of mischievous smile that was more common on James' face. "There's only one way to find out," she replied, and Will and Chris both giggled. "Right, all three of you, run upstairs and get colouring supplies or something that you can do quietly, in case we end up staying for a bit."

They hurried upstairs to do as they were told. Chris and Will both grabbed their magical colouring supplies, while Harry picked out the illusioned Atlantean book he was currently reading, as well as the next one in his stack, though he doubted they'd be staying quite that long, sliding them into a bag with his brother's things and his talking notebook.

Back downstairs, Lily dressed them all in their warmest clothing and boots, explaining, "We're going to have to walk to the castle from the Three Broomsticks. If Severus was expecting us, we could floo directly into his office, but since that's not the case..." She shrugged. "You three have plenty of energy; I'm sure you'll make the walk fine."

"And we'll have to become good at it when we start going there, right?" Will asked.

"You and Chris, yes," Lily agreed.

Will pouted a bit and grabbed for Harry's hand, which Harry allowed with a fond smile.

Lily took a moment to check them all over, then got into her own cloak and led the way to the floo. "Right, Will, you and Harry'd best go together, since Harry won't speak. Keep hold of each other."

"Where are we going?" Will asked as Harry took a pinch of the floo powder that Lily was holding down to him, both of them tightening their grip on each other's hand.

"The Three Broomsticks," Lily reminded them.

Will nodded his understanding and they turned to the fireplace. Harry tossed in the powder and Will called, "The Three Broomsticks," in his firmest voice as they stepped into the green flames.

They arrived safely on the other side and got out of the way. Madam Rosmerta joined them just as Lily and Chris stepped through, and her concerned frown turned into an understanding smile. "Lily! This is unexpected."

Lily smiled. "Hello, Madam Rosmerta. I had a thought to visit Severus up at the school. Figured the boys might like to see the place."

"I'm sure he'd appreciate seeing you," Madam Rosmerta replied with a wink. "I won't delay you, then."

"Thank you. Come on, boys," Lily called, leading the way to the door.

Chris didn't even make it to the school gate before he was begging to be carried, and Will made a face and complained, "Baby."

Harry gently swatted his shoulder and shook his head when Will looked over at him.

"Sorry," Will mumbled.

Since Lily didn't say anything, Harry assumed that neither she nor Chris had heard the comment, so he let it go.

The gates were closed when they reached them, and they wouldn't open when Lily tried pushing on them, but when Chris reached out to help, they swung open on silent hinges. "Well, then," Lily said, shaking her head and looking down at Harry and Will. "I guess it's good to know that the gates will always let children in."

Harry nodded, fully agreeing that that was a good thing.

"It was believed," a familiar voice offered from behind them, "that all children should have a safe place to retreat to, should they be in need of such."

Lily stiffened and turned. "Voldemort," she said, a world of distaste in her voice.

Voldemort's responding smile was not particularly friendly. "Mrs Potter." He looked over Harry and his brothers, very pointedly not stopping on Harry. "I see you've added to your number again, since last we met."

"Come here, boys," Lily ordered, and Will and Harry moved closer to her.

Voldemort's not-so-nice smile widened. "As much as your manner irritates me, Mrs Potter, rest assured that I have no intention to harm your sons."

"Yet," Lily spat.

"Yes, well, the future is ever in question, isn't it?" Voldemort agreed, and his eyes very obviously focussed on Harry. "Not even seers seem able to predict things, any more."

"He's no threat to you!"

Voldemort let out a sharp laugh, the sort that didn't provide any comfort for his audience. "I'm aware." He stepped past them, onto the grounds, and motioned towards the forest with his wand. "I expect you're here to visit the same person as myself," he commented over his shoulder, not even bothering to pretend he was concerned at having Lily behind him. "You're welcome to take a carriage up with me, assuming you dare."

Lily looked down at Harry and Will. Will offered a pout and said, "My feet hurt."

Lily sighed. "Very well," she said to them before stepping forward to join Voldemort on the grounds.

Harry was unsurprised to see the thestrals pulling the carriage that came for them, but he was entirely unprepared for Will to say, "Those are weird horses."

Both Voldemort and Lily turned surprised eyes towards Will, while Harry closed his eyes, because of course being introduced to Death would fit the criteria for being able to see the magical horses. Damn.

Lily cleared her throat. "They're thestrals, Will," she offered, her voice tight.

"Can they actually fly?" Will asked.

"I assume so," Lily replied.

"They can," Voldemort offered, catching the door to the carriage and opening it. "However, I believe they prefer to walk, as it is uncommon to spot one in the air. If you would?" He motioned to the opened door.

Harry hopped in first, unbothered by the dark lord's attempt at politeness, and Will was quick to follow his example. Lily was a little slower, and she flinched when Voldemort closed the door behind himself when he climbed in. They started moving once Voldemort was settled, and a tense silence fell over them.

Harry rolled his eyes and peered out the window he was next to, watching the forest fly past them. When he knew they were close enough that they should be able to see Hogwarts through the window on the other side, he poked Will and pointed towards it.

"Mum, Mum, I wanna see out the window," Will insisted, straining to look past Lily.

Lily started and looked out herself. "Oh! Right, here, Chris you move over here, and Will can sit in my lap, and Harry...?" she said as she shifted herself and Harry's brothers.

Harry shook his head, smiling.

Lily sighed. "Okay," she allowed, turning back to the window and Will and Chris' awed exclamations.

Voldemort raised a hairless eyebrow at Harry. He responded by flashing the dark lord a grin and wiggling his own eyebrows. Voldemort let out a quiet snort and glanced out at the passing forest.

Snape was waiting in the entrance hall when they all stepped through the main doors, and his skin took on a distinctly unwell cast when he realised who all was there.

"Hi, Secret!" Will chirped, and Harry couldn't quite stifle his amused snort at the continued name.

"My Lord," Snape offered, bowing to Voldemort.

"Severus," Voldemort replied coolly. "It appears as though you're popular today."

"It seems so, my Lord," Snape agreed before turning to the Potters. "Lily, boys. Welcome to Hogwarts."

"It's really, really, really big," Will informed them all in Atlantean.

"English, William," Lily complained tiredly, while Voldemort glanced towards Harry.

"Well, it is," Will insisted in English, as though he hadn't just been speaking in a language half the group couldn't understand.

"Yeah," Chris agreed quietly. "We could fit lots of our house inside."

Harry pulled his speaking notebook out of his bag while his brothers spoke, and quickly scribbled a note, then had the notebook say, "Maybe Mum can give us a little tour?"

Snape offered him a grateful look. "That's an excellent idea. I can meet you back here in half an hour or so?"

"Certainly," Lily agreed. "I can show you how to get to Gryffindor Tower."

"What if we don't end up in Gryffindor?" Will asked as Lily started them toward the stairs.

"Well, I might be able to remember how to get down to Slytherin," Lily admitted. Then, tone going dry, she added, "I expect at least one of you will end up there, with Harry as an example."

Harry shot her a wounded look.

"I want to be a Slytherin!" Will called, tugging on Harry's sleeve.

"I'm going to be the Slytherin," Chris shot back, leaning forward in Lily's grip so he could stick his tongue out at Will.

Lily groaned. "I am so glad your father isn't here," she muttered, and Harry laughed.

-0-

They did get up to the Fat Lady's portrait, but she and Lily got to talking, so by the time they made it back down to the ground floor, there was no way they could have hoped to find the Slytherin common room entrance before they were due to meet Snape. "I'm sorry, boys," Lily offered as they stepped off the last stair.

"That was a boring tour," Will complained.

Chris, curled up in Lily's arms, yawned in agreement.

Lily sighed. "Maybe Severus will be willing to set up a better tour for you."

Will slumped. "Maybe," he mumbled.

"We could go exploring on our own," Harry had his notebook say for him. "The portraits talk, right? So we can just ask one of them directions if we get lost."

"Yeah!" Will said, perking up. "We can find Slytherin on our own!"

Lily frowned. "Not Slytherin, I'm afraid, because there are no portraits in the dungeons." She looked at Harry for a moment, weighing her options.

"Please," Will tried, eyes wide and hopeful.

"Lily?" Snape called from just above them on the stairs.

They all looked up. Voldemort was nowhere in sight, and Lily seemed to relax at that. "Sev. Harry and Will were hoping to explore a bit on their own."

"Me–" Chris started, only to interrupt himself with a yawn.

"I think you're a little too tired for a romp around the castle, sweetie," Lily told him, rocking him a bit. Chris let out a quiet grumble.

Snape came down a few steps, eyeing Harry and Will. "You'll stay on the ground floor or above and you'll let a portrait or ghost know if you need any help. Do not bother any of the students or professors. Understood?"

Harry and Will both nodded, though Harry, in all honesty, fully intended to make a run through the dungeons and basement.

Snape stared at them for a long moment, and when they both looked away, he nodded. "Very well," he told Lily. "If you trust them on their own, I expect they'll be fine; the remaining students and professors aren't the sort to try anything against wandering children, and the ones who might think about it," he added, voice going dry, "will run for it if Harry bares his teeth at them."

Harry grinned at that, showing off too-sharp teeth, and Will giggled.

Snape closed his eyes. "No. Biting."

Harry nodded seriously; he had no interest in passing on his curse, not unless he had no other options.

"Okay. Go on, then," Lily directed.

Harry grabbed Will's hand and led him deeper into the ground floor, towards where he knew Filch's office was. They stopped outside the door, Harry pressing a finger to his lips as he listened to Lily and Snape retreating up the stairs, then turned his attention to ensuring Filch wasn't in his office. Once he was sure it was clear, he tapped the lock.

Will grinned and pointed a finger at the lock. A glimmer of magic jumped between him and the metal, and when Harry pushed the door, it opened without trouble. "What's in here?" Will whispered.

Harry shook his head and led the way over to the filing cabinet. He cast a silent point me while Will was distracted by looking around the office, and opened the drawer the spell directed him to, then to the folder which held the object he'd come for. He pulled out the Marauder's Map and spread it out over Filch's desk. "I solemnly swear I am up to no good," he whispered, tapping a finger against the map.

"It's a map," Will realised, staring over the lines that bled across the page.

Harry nodded and pointed to where the names of the map's creators were written at the top.

"Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs," Will read before turning to stare at Harry. "Uncle Remus, Uncle Wormy, Uncle Sirius, and Dad made this?"

Harry grinned and nodded, turning to look at the path to the Slytherin common. "Shall we go wandering in the dungeons?"

Will grinned. "Can't get lost if we have a map that shows us where we are, can we?" he replied, pointing to their names on the map.

"Exactly," Harry agreed before tapping the map with his finger and whispering, "Mischief managed." He slipped the map into the pocket of his robe, inside his cloak. "Come on."

They wandered down to the entrance to the Slytherin common room and Harry pointed out the exact stone you gave the password to. They didn't go in, though Harry did offer, "The map can tell you most passwords in the school. Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw don't actually have passwords, but Slytherin and Gryffindor both do."

"Can I keep the map?"

"When you start Hogwarts, as long as you swear never to tell Mum or Dad or our uncles, yeah," Harry agreed as he led the way to where the potions classroom had always been, pointing it out to Will once he'd ascertained it was still in use for that.

From there, they walked to the Hufflepuff common room entrance, then Harry taught him about tickling the pear to get into the kitchens. They stopped there for a bit, so the house-elves could ply them with sweets.

On the first floor, Harry showed Will where the history classroom was. He wasn't sure what Voldemort had done in terms of the defence against the dark arts and muggle studies classes, so he didn't bother pointing those rooms out. He didn't have much to mention on the second floor, either, though he knew a few professors had had offices on that floor in his previous realities.

And so it went, with Harry showing Will those classrooms he doubted had changed, as well as the hospital wing and library, on their floors. They met very few other people, and those who they did meet left them to it after Will said they'd been given free run of the castle while their mum was talking to the headmaster. When they got to the fifth floor, Harry showed Will the staircase up to the entrance to the Ravenclaw common, quietly explaining in Atlantean, "The knocker of the door gives you a riddle and you have to solve it to get in, which is why it's not on the map."

"And Hufflepuff is some sort of tune with the barrels?" Will clarified.

"Tapping on the correct one, in the correct pattern," Harry agreed, pulling the knowledge from when he was managing re-staffing Hogwarts in his last life. Then he motioned they should keep on.

On the seventh floor, Harry stopped them in front of the Room of Requirement. "Stand still for a moment," he ordered before quickly walking back and forth three times, asking for the Room of Hidden Things.

"The door just appeared!" Will exclaimed, joining Harry as he opened it.

Harry ushered him inside, grinning at his brother's awed expression at the sight of the piles of items. "This is the Room of Requirement," he explained. "You walk back and forth in front of the wall where the door will appear, thinking of what you need, and the room will provide exactly that. This version is something of a catch-all for everything that students and staff have wanted to hide away over the centuries. Most of it is broken or cursed, but there are some treasures."

"Can we go treasure hunting?" Will pleaded, almost bouncing in place, he was so excited.

"You've got an hour. If something happens, scream and I'll come find you," Harry promised.

Will grinned, then dashed off into the piles.

Harry rubbed a hand over his mouth, wondering if he shouldn't have ordered his brother to stay in view, but he wanted to do some hunting of his own, and he would need to be able to use magic to hide some of the things he thought to find, which meant Will couldn't see him.

He set an alarm spell to heat his arm when it had been an hour, then set off to hunt through the offerings. He found a couple of rare books that looked interesting, some bottles of potions that were unbroken and he couldn't identify without some study, and some gems and other fancy jewellery that he suspected he could pawn for some money that James and Lily didn't know about. Just as his arm was warming, he found a biting money pouch. The curse on it was easy to do away with, using a touch of Death Magic, and he found a small fortune of gold galleons inside. "Well," he whispered before dropping it into a small bag he'd spelled to hold more things than it should have. The bag went into a pocket after being shrunk, then Harry went after Will.

Will had managed to find his own holder for goodies: a rucksack with a broken zip. He was captivated by a particularly sparkly necklace when Harry found him, and when a quick glance at it nearly captivated Harry as well, he snarled and opened a doorway into the Realm of Death underneath it.

"Hey!" Will complained.

Harry raised an eyebrow. "Congratulations," he deadpanned, "you found one of those cursed items I mentioned."

Will flushed. "Oops. Where did it go?"

"The Realm of Death. I expect Death can find a good use for it, assuming he doesn't just let it get buried under a pile of dead things somewhere."

Will made a face, then looked down at his rucksack. "I couldn't find any toys, but I found pretty things."

Harry nodded. "May I look everything over? I don't want you carrying around something that's been cursed."

Will frowned. "Nothing happened when I touched them."

Harry shook his head. "Not all curses are activated by touching the object. Some require you wear it, especially with jewellery, others require you have a specific blood purity, or be a certain age or gender." He snorted in amusement as Will shoved the bag at him. "Curses, like any piece of magic, are as varied as the people casting them."

Will watched for a moment as Harry pulled out the storybook that was on top of a pile of jewellery and looked it over with a practised eye. "How can you tell?" he asked when Harry handed the book to him to keep.

Harry started and blinked at his brother a few times. "How can I tell if an item is cursed?" he asked and Will nodded. He looked around for a moment, looking for something with an obvious curse. There was a statue of a gargoyle not far from them, which had been turned so it's back faced out. "That statue," he directed.

Will looked at the statue and frowned. "What about it?"

"Come here." Harry led them over so they were close enough to touch the statue. "Can you feel that?"

Will rubbed roughly at his arms through his robe. "Is it supposed to be colder?" he asked.

Harry shook his head. "It's not a drop in the temperature you're sensing; your magic is reacting to the malignant magic in that statue."

Will stared at the statue for a moment, then looked at Harry. "What about you? You don't have magic."

"I have magic, I just can't cast spells with it," Harry corrected patiently. "There's a difference." He sighed. "You probably instinctively avoided a number of objects because your magic sensed they meant you harm. It's not foolproof, of course, because there are curses intended to get past that sense, or which will be unnoticeable until it's too late."

"And you can ignore the feeling, too," Will pointed out.

Harry nodded. "Or be distracted by something or someone at just the wrong time. But if you make a point to pay attention to that sixth sense of yours, you'll avoid a great deal of danger."

Will considered the gargoyle. "What does the curse do?"

Harry shrugged. "I haven't the faintest, and I'm not curious enough to find out." He led Will away a bit, then turned his attention back to the bag, looking over the jewellery inside. After a moment, he reached in to pick out one that was cursed. "Here. This bracelet is cursed."

Will pulled his hands close to his chest, frowning. "How do you know? It's not making me cold."

"Werewolf senses," Harry lied, because there was no good way to explain how auror training sharpened your ability to spot cursed items, even when the curse was inactive. It was true, however, that his ability to do so had always been better closer to the full moon, in his first reality, after he'd been cursed. "You'd have to put it on to activate it."

"What is the curse?" Will wondered.

Harry tossed the bracelet over the nearest pile, losing it out of sight. "No idea," he lied, because his brother didn't need to know he'd been the not-so-proud owner of a bracelet that would slowly disintegrate anyone who put it on, and wouldn't come off until the person was completely gone; very likely, its last owner had died in the Room.

"This, however," Harry continued, pulling out a very pretty gold necklace, "you should give to Mum."

"Why?" Will asked, reaching a hand out for it.

Harry let him take it. "It's not cursed, but it is spelled; anyone who wears it will find themselves having good luck in dangerous situations for so long as they have it on. Nowhere near the level of drinking Felix Felicis, but the spell isn't dissimilar in function."

"What's Felix Felicis?"

"A potion that affects the drinker's mind, directing them towards the best possible course of action in any given circumstances, including how best to accomplish a task they were mulling over when they drank the potion. It's often called Liquid Luck."

Will's eyes widened. "Can you make me some of that?"

Harry laughed and shook his head. "It's extremely difficult to brew, and the more often you take it, the less likely you are to survive, besides. It's something that, once you've brewed it, you save it for an emergency. But that necklace–" Harry nodded to the necklace Will was still holding "–isn't mind-altering, it just provides something of a positive influence around the wearer. Sort of like a personal shield that pushes danger away. Dad would probably get more use out of it, but I think Mum will be more likely to wear it just for aesthetic purposes."

Will frowned. "What purposes?"

"Aesthetic," Harry offered in English, remembering what Death had said about how his brothers learning new Atlantean words was tied to their knowledge of English. "It means it looks nice."

His brother nodded in understanding. "Yeah. Maybe I'll give it to her for Christmas."

Harry smiled. "She'd like that." He handed the bag back. "Everything else is safe. You can use it as gifts, or we can try finding a shop willing to trade you money for it." He sighed. "Either way, Mum and Dad are going to ask where you found them."

Will slumped. "Are they going to be mad about us taking things from here?"

Harry shrugged. "I have no idea. We could certainly ask Mum once we find her and Secret if it's going to be a problem. Most of the stuff in here no longer has an owner, either because they've forgotten about it, or because they've died."

Will nodded and slipped his book and the necklace back into the bag. Then he seemed to notice something and looked Harry over. "You didn't find anything?"

Harry allowed a small smile. "I found a few books that looked interesting, and a handful of gems I intend to sell without Mum or Dad knowing about it." He shrugged when Will's eyes widened disbelievingly. "There have been a couple times when I've wished I had some money Mum and Dad didn't know about."

Will huffed. "Want to buy your benefactor something?"

Harry couldn't stop a laugh. "No. He's not...he appreciates things that can't be bought, more than anything else. So, rare objects that've been lost to time, like a vase that survived a natural disaster intact. Stuff you'd probably think was boring."

Will made a face, then looked down at his bag of objects for a moment, before holding it out to Harry. "Can I..." He trailed off, looking uncertain.

Harry sighed and reached past the offered bag to ruffle his brother's hair. "Hey, I tend to go sneaking off at night, but the rare time when you would want to buy something, you're going to be with Mum or Dad. Better to have them hold any money you make off selling what you don't want in trust. Have them buy you a toy or whatever next time something catches your eye."

Will bit his lip and nodded, pulling the bag back against his chest. "But, if I'm the only one bringing stuff back, Mum will wonder," he pointed out.

Harry eyed his brother suspiciously for a moment. "You've been spending too much time around me," he decided, and Will shot him a bright grin. "Let's see if we can't spot a couple of things on the way to the exit, hm?"

Will found two more pieces of jewellery, one of which Harry made him put back as soon as he saw it, because it was cursed, and Harry found a few books that looked interesting, and not so magically-focussed that they'd be useless to a squib.

When they stepped out of the Room, they found Lily and Severus waiting for them, both wearing disapproving frowns.

Will stepped forward after a brief pause, gushing, "Harry and I found this really cool room with lots and lots of junk and Harry says some of it's so old that it can't have an owner any more and he said we should ask if we can keep it all because there a couple things that might make pretty presents for you, Mum, and Harry found some books he wanted to maybe read and I found a really interesting story in this one book and–"

"Silencio," Snape intoned, looking tired, and Will made a face at being magically silenced. Lily was failing to hide a smile as she set Chris down so he could hurry over to grab for the bracelet Will had found on their way out. "My office," Snape ordered, and there was an edge to his voice that made both Harry and Lily look up at him.

Up in the headmaster's office, Snape ordered Harry and Will, "I want everything you found on this table, right now," pointing at a cleared table off to one side.

Will and Harry traded uncertain looks, but did as they were told, though Harry didn't take out his secret bag of things.

Snape waved his wand over the objects, then over Will and Harry. He frowned after waving his wand over Harry, and did it again. "What didn't you put on the table, Harry?" he demanded.

Harry barely resisted reacting to that, instead offering up a confused look and turning enough that he could point to the bag he was still carrying that held the colouring things and his books.

"What's wrong, Sev?" Lily requested, looking concerned.

Snape narrowed his eyes at Harry. "Something you're carrying is cursed."

Harry raised an eyebrow at that, because he'd removed the two curses he'd found on the objects he'd pocketed, then purposefully grew claws on his left hand and held it up.

"Would lycanthropy come back as a curse?" Lily asked.

Snape frowned, finally looking away from Harry. "It shouldn't, but I've never cast it on a werewolf before, in all honesty." He sighed. "Though, now you mention it, that particular issue does make it rather difficult to check him for any curses."

"Why are you worried about curses, Sev?" Lily requested, shooting a concerned look towards Will and Harry.

"That particular room has a number of cursed objects in it, which serve as something of a deterrent against students intent on snooping where they don't really belong." He gave Lily a meaningful look, and she replied with an understanding smile, though it was strained. "What they've brought back is clean, and so is Will, but if I can't get a proper reading on Harry..."

It was probably for the best that Will was still silenced, because he couldn't blurt out that Harry had been able to spot cursed objects.

"You'll just have to trust his word," Lily agreed, turning back to Harry. "Do you understand how dangerous it could be if you're hiding something?"

Harry nodded, hiding his irritation with the continued line of questioning, and drew his finger across his neck.

"There are worse things than death," Snape informed him, and Harry turned an unflinching stare on him. "Very well," Snape allowed before turning to Lily. "They are correct in assuming these objects have no one to claim them. If they wish to take them home, they may do so."

Lily looked over the pile, then at the hopeful expressions Will and Harry had put on. "Oh, very well. We'll have to figure out some way to explain their appearance to your father, though."

"Say nothing; I doubt he'd notice a few more books," Snape muttered as Will grabbed up the rucksack he'd found and brushed all of the jewellery into it.

Lily lightly smacked Snape's shoulder. "I swear, you're both such children. Merlin, Sev."

Snape snorted. "I notice you're not disagreeing with my assessment," he pointed out, and Lily smacked him again. He looked down at where Will had finished packing up all of their new goodies, save that final bracelet, which he'd let Chris take. "You four can use my floo to get home. This way," he directed and showed them to the fireplace.

Harry looked up at the portraits of former headmasters and -mistresses while Snape removed his silencing charm from Will and found his floo powder. Dumbledore caught his eye, the only one not pretending to be asleep, and inclined his head. Harry offered him a smile, acknowledging the greeting, then turned to take a pinch of the powder Snape held out to them.

Will shifted his grip on the rucksack, then took Harry's hand when he held it down to him. They stepped into the floo together, using the same teamwork as they had to get to the Three Broomsticks.

Once they were all home and Lily had gathered them around the kitchen table by means of a healthy snack, Harry used his notebook to explain the idea of selling some of the jewellery for some spending money. He added that he really only cared about the books he'd found, and after looking them over, Lily agreed they were acceptable for him.

Will hid the necklace that Harry had suggested he give to Lily, then held forth the rest to be sold, saying that Chris could keep the bracelet he'd become so attached to and do with it what he wanted.

"Keeps," Chris decided, holding it close. "It sparkles."

"Very true," Lily agreed, smiling, before she looked over the leftover jewellery. "We can probably find someone willing to pay a fair price for all this, but I'll have to tell Dad about it. No," she added, holding up a hand to forestall whatever Will had been about to say, "let me handle making excuses for Dad. But don't expect to see that money until you get your Hogwarts letter."

"Why do I have to wait until then?" Will complained.

Lily smiled. "You'll appreciate it later, trust me. Dad and I are only going to pay for the basic equipment, but you can use that money to upgrade to a nicer trunk, or something else that catches your eyes while we're shopping. Or you can keep it with you on the train and buy treats on the journey."

Will perked up at the mention of treats, and Harry and Lily both laughed.

"Right, go put your things away, all of you," Lily ordered, and the three off them hopped down and made for their room.

Up there, Will touched Harry's shoulder, eyes worried. "None of the other stuff was cursed, right?"

Harry smiled and ruffled his brother's hair. "It's all clean, I promise," he replied, and Will smiled before heading back to his side of the room and leaving Harry to hide his bag of gems and books under his bed, to be sorted into his hidden boxes when his brothers were asleep that night.

.

Chapter Text

Harry had no idea what excuse Lily gave James for the jewellery, but he seemed to have bought it, so they took it out that weekend and sold it all for a reasonable amount of coin. He did agree with Lily about waiting until Will started Hogwarts before he could touch any of it, despite Will's attempts to convince him otherwise.

Harry's own funds were nothing to shake a stick at, once he'd sold off his collection of gems and added it to the coin purse. He celebrated by sneaking bottles of butterbeer and a helping each of fudge to his brothers on the full moon, when only Lily was in the house, as James was with Sirius and Remus, keeping the latter from hurting himself as much as they could.

"Can we celebrate every full moon this way?" Will requested.

Harry rolled his eyes at his brother, not even bothering to look up from his book. "The last thing any of us needs is me bowing to the demands of your sweet tooth."

"My sweet tooth is far more terrifying than Voldemort," Will declared.

"Wouldn't go that far," Chris mumbled, then let out a squeal when Will threw a pillow at him.

"Please don't start another pillow war when Mum thinks we're peacefully in bed," Harry requested, turning the page of his book. "If she sees you two with those bottles and the leftover fudge, we'll all be grounded for a month."

Absolute silence fell over the room.

Harry gave it a moment, then asked, "Hey, Will? Is your sweet tooth more terrifying than Mum?"

"...no," Will decided.

Harry nodded. "I'll buy you two sweets if a full moon falls on one of our birthdays, but otherwise, consider this a one-time treat."

"When will that be?" Will asked hopefully.

Harry finally glanced over at him, raising an eyebrow upon finding Will hanging off the end of his bed upside down. Chris was trying to mimic him, but he wasn't so daring as to trust his bedposts to serve as an anchor. "I'm pretty sure I heard something somewhere about the dangers in letting all the blood rush to your head," he commented.

Will made a face at him, which really just looked ridiculous upside down. "When's the next time a full moon's on one of our birthdays?"

Harry closed his eyes to consider his mental calendar, only to come up blank for at least the next couple years. "Don't put it on your calendar any time soon," he suggested, turning back to his book.

"I don't have a calendar," Will pointed out.

"Talk to Mum and Dad," Chris suggested and Harry snorted.

Will and Chris sniped back a forth a bit more, and pillows were tossed a couple more times, with Harry always reminding them they didn't want Lily coming upstairs. Eventually, they both passed out, and Harry got up to collect and vanish their rubbish, then climbed into bed himself.

-0-

"He's waiting for you," Death offered when Harry stepped into the Realm of Death with Voldemort's present, after having spelled his brothers asleep.

"Yes, I expected that," Harry admitted, offering a smile to the apparition. "I actually would have been surprised if he'd just gone straight to bed."

Death inclined its hood and vanished to handle its duties, leaving Harry to his trek alone.

When he stepped into Voldemort's room, Harry found it empty of its resident. He raised an eyebrow at that and called, "Voldemort?"

"A moment," Voldemort called back from the attached room that Harry had always assumed was a bathroom. When there came the sound of a flushing toilet before Voldemort stepped out, Harry's assumption was proven correct, and he gave himself a mental pat on the back. "Another group of verbal stories?" the dark lord asked, nodding at the new-looking book in Harry's hands.

Harry smirked. "No, though I did have to copy the text over by hand; things created in the Realm of Death don't tend to last long without being fed the correct energy."

Voldemort frowned and accepted the book when Harry held it out to him. He opened the front cover, and Harry knew the moment he figured out what he held because he took a sharp breath and didn't let it out again.

"Happy birthday, Voldemort," Harry offered as he took a seat, amused.

"Is it the whole thing?" Voldemort demanded, flipping through the pages. "Even the tales he didn't get completed before his death?"

"It is," Harry agreed. "And I compared it; he revised his original tales so they flowed better. They're arranged in the order he handed them to me in, as I expect it's how he wanted them to be read."

Voldemort hugged the book to his chest. "Thank you."

Harry felt his heart stutter in his chest at the honest gratitude in the dark lord's voice. "You're welcome," he offered, forcing his voice to remain steady.

They were both quiet for a long moment, the silence comfortable between them.

Finally, Voldemort set the book on his desk. "Your mother is as hostile as ever."

Harry snorted. "Yeah. For some inexplicable reason, she really, really hates you."

Voldemort offered a mean little smile. "I can't imagine what I might have done to earn her ire."

They shared amused looks.

Voldemort settled back in his chair, expression turning curious. "I do wonder how your brother was able to see the thestrals."

Harry shrugged. "Well, we did have a minor Death Eater incident when he and I were much younger."

"Scythe," Voldemort called, unamused.

Harry rolled his eyes. "I may have introduced my brothers to the physical representation of Death."

"To what purpose?"

Harry sighed. "They've both seen him before. Chris created an imaginary friend in his image, and Will jealously thought he'd actually had the chance to meet Death. So Death...introduced himself. Because he does that sometimes."

Voldemort took a suspicious look around the room.

Harry couldn't help but laugh. "No. No, he has other duties to see to right now. I expect you'll meet eventually, but I'll aim to give you proper warning, first; I know how paranoid you are about what he represents."

Voldemort scowled at him. "There is nothing wrong with having a healthy respect for death."

"I never said there wasn't," Harry pointed out. "Though, admittedly, it's not a practice I tend to take part in."

"Yes, I expect you have some leeway in that regard."

"Some," Harry agreed.

Voldemort snorted. "Did your brother call Severus 'Secret'?"

Harry couldn't help but laugh, and he nodded. "Yes." He covered his smile with one hand. "Oh, Merlin, that will never not amuse me, I'm sorry."

Voldemort raised an eyebrow at him, amusement glinting in his eyes.

"I taught Will the motion for keeping something a secret–" Harry pressed a finger to his lips "–before Severus started visiting, and when they first met, I did it for him, so he wouldn't mention Severus’ visit to Dad. When Severus visited the next time, all Will remembered about him was that he was a secret, so that's what he started calling him. Severus seems resigned to it."

"He certainly appears so," Voldemort agreed, laughter in his voice. "Though your brother may wish to change his name for him when he first begins at Hogwarts."

Harry snorted. "Oh, I don't know. Watching Severus react to half of whatever house Will ends up in referring to him as 'Headmaster Secret' could prove entertaining."

"Only because you'll be watching everything from a distance."

"Your point being?"

Voldemort very obviously considered that for a moment, then snorted. "I don't believe I actually had one. It would be amusing to see how he handles matters."

Harry shook his head. "Better 'Headmaster Secret' than 'Headmaster Severus', I expect."

"Or even just doing away with the title of respect entirely," Voldemort agreed. "Lesser of two ev–"

Voldemort's room door slammed open, interrupting him. Harry immediately pulled the power of the Cloak over himself, vanishing from sight, but Voldemort wasn't so mild in his reaction: "Crucio!" he snarled, and the Death Eater dropped to the floor, writhing.

Only then did Voldemort look towards Harry's chair, and his eyes narrowed on what appeared to be an empty spot, even as he ended the curse. "Explain yourself," he ordered his follower.

"Master," the tortured Death Eater gasped out, "attack...at the gates."

Voldemort let out an angry sound. "Go. I will follow directly."

As soon as the door closed behind the Death Eater, Harry let his head reappear. "How nice," he offered drily, and Voldemort's gaze jerked over to him. "Someone was kind enough to give you people to kill as a birthday present."

Voldemort just sort of stared at him for a moment before asking, "Did I know you could do that?"

"The mere fact that you have to ask suggests you didn't," Harry returned, amused. "On that note, I seem to recall offering you the use of my unique services, should you ever require them; did you want me to stay?"

Voldemort narrowed his eyes and stood. "Yes," he decided. "If nothing else, I might actually get a sense for your skills. Assuming you're willing to get your hands dirty, that is?"

Harry laughed and drew his invisibility back over his head, vanishing from view. "Lead on, MacDuff."

Voldemort snorted and led the way from his rooms and down to the entrance hall. A couple of Death Eaters had already been laid out there, some wounded, others very clearly dead. Black-robed men and women with lime green bands around their arms moved among the wounded, helping where they could. When they saw Voldemort passing, they all ducked their head in a quick show of respect before returning to their duties.

Out in front of the mansion where Voldemort resided, they found Death Eaters trading spells with a force wearing blood-red robes. The Death Eaters weren't doing well, by all appearances.

"At least they're not dressed in white," Harry muttered before stalking off to find a good vantage point of the battlefield.

The tide turned once Voldemort lent his not-inconsiderable magic to his followers, and a number of the red-robed opposition fell before they realised they had a new opponent to focus on and regrouped.

Harry caught the first barrage of killing curses aimed at Voldemort with a doorway into the Realm of Death and redirected them back towards the huddled group from behind, using the weird physics of the other realm to his advantage.

Keeping an eye out for killing curses that he could redirect, Harry started picking off those red-robed figures that were standing by themselves, swallowing them with doorways so quickly, they had no idea death was coming for them.

It was the Death Eaters who regrouped then, rallying behind Voldemort and finishing the main bunch while the outliers simply...vanished. Two were captured for questioning, and Voldemort turned his attention to ordering his people to either manage clean-up or be seen by a healer.

Harry stepped up next to Voldemort as the last of the Death Eaters moved away. "It seems you have other things to deal with tonight, and it is quite far past my bedtime as it is."

Voldemort snorted. "You and your bedtime," he muttered, and there was hostility in his voice, but Harry knew it wasn't aimed at him. "As you please, then. Go sleep while the adults toil, Scythe."

Harry chuckled. "Happy birthday, Voldemort. Enjoy your book."

"If I ever get to it," the dark lord grumbled before Harry stepped backwards into one of his doorways.

"Busy night?" Harry asked Death, spotting it not far away.

Death gave its scythe a little twirl and pointed it at the pile of freshly deceased bodies that Harry had sent to its realm. "It often is when you get involved, Master," it agreed, sounding quite pleased by that fact.

Harry laughed. "Let me know what Tom finds out? Assuming he doesn't attempt to play an equal and pass any updates along of his own will."

"A rebellion, Master," Death offered, and Harry turned his attention on his eternal servant. Death tapped the butt of its scythe handle against the decaying hand of one of the bodies. "You cannot hide the truth from Death, Master," it reminded him.

"You can't, can you?" Harry murmured, walking over to the pile of bodies and Death. "Very well, what sort of rebellion? Not something my family is involved in, I hope."

"No," Death soothed. "The leaders of this rebellion are English wizards – muggleborns – but most of their army are from the continent. There is a fear that Voldemort will soon turn his eyes to other countries, and those leaders played on those fears, suggesting that a pre-emptive attack is the only way to stop Voldemort."

Harry snorted, kicking a leg. "Fools. Once he discovers this is a European funded endeavour, he'll turn his attention to the continent. They've doomed themselves."

"It will not be an easy fight," Death warned.

Harry reached up and touched his chest, feeling oddly naked without his rings for the first time in years. "No," he murmured, "I don't expect it will be." He sighed and dropped his hand to his side. "Well, he knows some of what I can do, now. If he gets into a tight spot, he'll hopefully call for me. If not..." He shrugged. "I've fought this war once, I have no interest in leading it again."

Death inclined its hood. "I will inform you the moment he asks for your aid, or if he is in such a position that he should ask for you."

Harry snorted. "I appreciate that, even if he won't."

Death reached out and cupped his cheek. "I only do so for you, Master."

Harry pressed his own hand over Death's and smiled. "I know. Thank you."

"Master, it is but my pleasure." Death drew back. "For now, sleep may be a necessity, recalling how your family tends to act on the last day of the year."

Harry groaned and turned to go. "Yeah, don't remind me." With luck, he'd get home in time and fall asleep quick enough that Sirius' 'Final Wake-up Call of the Year' wouldn't make Harry want to kill the man.

-0-

If Voldemort did leave any messages for Harry, Death didn't bother passing them on. Harry wasn't particularly fussed, though he was intrigued by the fact that no wizarding news media seemed to have even an inkling that an attack had occurred.

When James started coming home looking absolutely done-in after a week or so, Harry started sneaking downstairs at night again.

"There's word of war breaking out with the continent," James admitted the first night. "There have been a few attacks on secluded positions – manor houses, mostly – places where it was easy to cover up, even with the casualty lists. Any captured prisoners have said the same thing: Someone on the continent wants Voldemort gone, and they'll do anything to see to it."

Lily reached across the couch and took a hold of James' hands. "Do you remember that discussion we had? The one about making the best choice for the boys?"

"The one that Harry won?" James returned, a tired smile twisting his lips.

"That's the one," Lily agreed and squeezed his hands. "We need to remember that discussion."

James sighed. "Lils, what is the best choice for them? I mean...Voldemort?"

Lily's expression twisted into something that looked painful, and when she spoke, her words sounded forced, "He's been...good to us. He's passed laws protecting squibs, protecting Harry. And muggleborns, too, he's giving them – giving me – a chance. He's not–"

"He's not the monster under the bed," James offered quietly, and he sounded just as pained.

Lily took a deep breath. "For now, sit tight and do your job," she suggested. "Let's see how this rebellion fares. See if they start putting out feelers for British support, then ask some pertinent questions."

James drew her into a hug, and she returned it with a level of desperation that made Harry look away. "They're our priorities," James whispered. "Harry and Will and Chris."

"Fight for them," Lily agreed.

Harry walked back up to his room, mulling over his options. Given, there wasn't much he could do, but... Death?

"Master?"

How likely is this rebellion to come searching for British support?

"They believe that anyone living peacefully under Voldemort's rule is with him."

Harry turned his eyes towards where Chris and Will were peacefully sleeping, completely unaware of the danger that hovered over their heads. "Well," he whispered into the darkness of their bedroom, "I suppose that simplifies that decision."

If Death had a response for that, it didn't offer it up. Harry walked over and kissed the foreheads of both of his brothers, checking to make sure Chris hadn't completely thrown off his blankets – he'd always been a restless sleeper – then climbed into his own bed to sleep.

-0-

In February, during the first Hogsmeade visit of the year, the European rebellion attacked the village. James was called in to assist by a battle-scarred superior who had fire-called with blood dripping down his cheek from a ruined eye, and the whole family sat in the living room, staring at the fireplace and praying for James' safe return.

He did return safe, and with Sirius at his back, but there was an air of fury around him that kept Will and Chris back, when Harry knew that all they wanted was to hug their father. James met Lily's eyes and shook his head, and Harry could only assume he was saying they would never side with the rebellion; for all of Voldemort's cruelties, for all the deaths to his name, he had never attacked Hogwarts, had never attacked Hogsmeade while there were students there. And, while Harry assumed that was because too many of his followers had children in the school, it still held true that he'd never taken that step. Hell, once Harry'd got to him, he'd even gone out of his way to offer protection for children.

Harry stepped forward and grabbed James' hand, unbothered by his father's anger, because Harry understood it, was struggling to hide his own at the thought of people who believed it was okay to attack children.

James looked down at him, and for a moment, he just stared, a thousand horrors playing across his eyes. And then James sank to his knees and he pulled Harry into a tight hug, one that Harry returned wholeheartedly.

Will and Chris joined them after a moment, with Lily not long after.

"Oh, now I feel left out," Sirius complained, and Will giggled before slipping away and running over to hug his godfather.

With the seriousness eased, James pulled away, a sloppy grin on his face that was so obviously false, it made Harry's chest constrict. "So," he said in a light voice, "it occurs to me that these boys have only ever been in Britain, and that's just–" He clucked his tongue in disapproval. "We can't have that. How about a holiday?"

"It's term, James," Lily reminded her husband as Chris got picked up and swung around by Sirius, earning a squeal that was half terror, half glee.

"So?" James shot back. "They won't be hurt by missing a couple weeks. Merlin knows Harry's always been ahead, and he'll keep Will on track." He shot Harry – who had so far managed to avoid Sirius by keeping close to Lily – a knowing look.

Lily sighed and pulled Harry closer for a hug. "Where would we even go?" she asked, and Harry knew she was really asking where they'd be safe from the brewing storm.

"America or Canada?" James suggested. "Or Australia; they actually speak the Queen's English there, not that bas–"

"Language," Lily warned, and Harry couldn't quite muffle a snicker.

"Are you laughing at me?" James demanded, mock angry. He pulled Harry away from Lily and, rapidly enough that Harry barely had time to think he really should have run for it, held him up towards Sirius. "Got a pup for you, Padfoot!"

Harry groaned and resigned himself to being swung around in the air by his brothers' godfather.

-0-

Lily didn't give in to James' pleas for a holiday until the beginning of April, and only then because there'd been an attack on the ministry and James had spent two days in St Mungo's before being set home with a limp. They settled on Canada, because America was the most likely of their options to side against Voldemort, and Remus had mentioned dangerous animals in Australia, which had Lily vetoing it.

Sirius and Remus came with, both of them having agreed with James all along that the family could do with a trip out of the country. An invitation had been offered to Peter, too, but Voldemort had him running around Europe every time he got an update on where the leaders of the rebellion might be, using his animagus form to get in undetected and see what he could learn before they skipped to their next base.

The holiday had turned out to be extremely relaxing, and all of the adults looked much better after their first two days at the magical resort James had found. And Harry – whose duties during his second life had required he travel the globe regularly – discovered that there were still things he'd yet to do, as he'd never tried skiing before. Will was beyond gleeful to discover Harry didn't know something, and made a point of telling everyone he was better than his big brother at something. (Harry let him have that pleasure, didn't bother trying to master skiing, just so Will could have that one thing he would always do better.)

As the last day of their two week holiday approached, however, the adults started to look tired again, like they weren't sleeping. And Harry hated how much this rebellion was stressing his family out.

So, the night before they were to leave, Harry travelled to Voldemort's mansion. Given the time zones, that meant he arrived early in the morning, and the strain the dark lord was under was obvious in the fact that he'd fallen asleep at his desk.

Harry bit his lip, torn between wanting to help and needing to let Voldemort sleep, because he clearly needed it.

A commotion outside Voldemort's room ended the internal debate, as the dark lord jerked awake, turning to glare at the door of his room, as though it had done him the greatest of harms. "What now?" he complained, sounding so very tired and human.

And then he turned and caught sight of Harry, and every hint of exhaustion and humanity vanished behind a snarl. "Are you incapable of announcing your presence?!"

Harry shrugged, unmoved by the dark lord's temper. "How can I help?" he asked.

Voldemort looked thrown for a moment, staring at Harry as though he had no idea why he'd even ask that question. But then his eyes turned to the map on the wall, which had expanded to include the rest of Europe and parts of Africa and Asia. "Find me their base so I can blast it to hell," he decided, fury dripping from his words.

Death? Harry called, and his servant provided the details as Harry stepped up to the map. "Their running base, the one you keep sending Uncle Peter to, is currently just outside Corlay," he offered, pointing to the French city on the map. "Their main base, however, the one that you should attack, but which they've managed to, so far, keep you from even knowing about, is taking up two buildings in Limassol, on Cyprus." He turned to face Voldemort's disbelieving stare and smiled. "Once you die, you spill all your secrets."

Voldemort lurched to his feet, fury painting his face. "How long have you known this?" he snarled.

Harry frowned at him. "About two minutes," he returned coolly. "I hadn't bothered to go around questioning souls as to their base of operations until you asked about it. In case you missed the memo, I've been on holiday. And if you're going to start blaming me for keeping my nose out of your business, I'm going to bed; I'm taking an international portkey in the morning, and they make me sick even when I've had a full night's sleep."

Voldemort looked, for a moment, as though Harry had smacked him, then he dropped back into his chair, exhaustion painting his features again. "I never even considered..." he muttered.

"It never occurs to people that, once you've died, there's no one to hide your secrets from," Harry commented evenly, stepping towards Voldemort's desk. "To be fair, I doubt I could have told you where their main base was back in December, but you've killed someone since then who knew. How recent that information is–"

"It's current, Master," Death announced, stepping out of a doorway directly behind Harry.

Voldemort was on his feet again, wand pointed at the apparition before Death had finished speaking.

"You really need to get over this need to appear unannounced around people who haven't had occasion to meet you," Harry complained, rubbing at his eyes.

Death rattled a laugh, close enough at Harry's back that he could feel its chill creeping up his spine.

Harry sighed and looked up at where Voldemort was still standing, wand out, though it was clear he'd realised the stick of yew filled with phoenix feather was no better than that very thing against the cloaked form. "You might as well put your wand away, Voldemort. Death means no harm." He turned to his eternal servant as Voldemort lowered his wand. "How current is 'current'?"

"They haven't moved since they established that position before their first attack," Death offered, genderless voice bland. "But I verified it when a spy was killed an hour ago." Its hood raised, looking towards Voldemort. "Your feelers are effective at making contact, but not at remaining undetected."

"I'm aware of the deaths," Voldemort returned coolly.

"But not of how close they got," Harry assumed, walking up to the edge of Voldemort's desk and picking out a piece of parchment that hadn't been written on, as well as the quill currently resting in an inkpot.

"What are you doing, Scythe?" Voldemort demanded, stepping closer to his desk, but making a point to keep an arm's length between himself and Death.

"Writing down their address," Harry replied, amused.

Voldemort plucked the quill from his hand, making Harry frown up at him. "You are capable of simply walking in undetected and putting an end to the problem on your own, are you not?"

Harry raised both eyebrows at him. "Yes. However, I was under the impression that you would want to, as it were, leave your own personal mark on the slaughter. My own manner will simply have everyone involved vanish into thin air; no one would tie that to you."

Voldemort stared down at him for a long moment, then turned his attention to the map, looking past Death. "You said their current – what did you call it? running? – base is in France?"

"They're in a farmhouse outside of Corlay," Death supplied.

Voldemort nodded and turned his gaze back to Harry, who raised an eyebrow at him. "Their main base is not within my grasp, not easily, not when no one even knows about it. And, in all honestly, the last thing any of us need is for the Middle East to turn their collective attention towards us because I'm committing a mass murder too close to someone's border for their comfort."

Harry nodded his understanding, plenty familiar with the explosiveness of the area in question, after his last life. "So, this is rather a case of you publicly taking out the head that's sticking above ground, while I crush the body where no one can see it?"

Voldemort snorted and opened one of the drawers of his desk. "Essentially," he agreed before sorting through a couple smaller, more close-up maps of France. He pulled out the one that had Corlay on it and spread it out over his desk. "This is hardly exact, but show me at least which side of Corlay the farmhouse is on. I can have people fly over the area for more exact coordinates once my people are on the ground."

Death reached over Harry's shoulder and pressed one skeletal finger against the spot on the map. "There."

Voldemort grimaced, but made a mark with the quill he'd taken from Harry. "Excellent. I'll gather my people now." He looked up at Harry. "I expect you'll head directly to Cyprus?"

"Remember what I said about international portkeys?" Harry replied with an amused smile. "The sooner they're dealt with, the sooner I can go to bed."

Voldemort snorted, collecting his marked map. "Rather."

Harry reached up behind himself and tapped Death's shoulder. "If you would, Death? We have souls to pass on."

"As you wish, Master," Death agreed and a doorway swallowed them both. "This way," Death offered, pointing in the direction they needed to go.

Harry joined his eternal servant, idly altering the robe he'd thrown on before leaving Canada so it had a deep hood and longer sleeves, hiding every spot of skin with the black fabric and shadows that magically gathered in his hood. He allowed his eyes to show through, letting months of worry and anger turn them gold.

The appearance was a familiar one, the disguise that got him through the war he'd led in his second life, without revealing Sirius and Remus as a weakness. No one here knew of Lord Sol, but recalling that name reminded Harry of the name this Voldemort had given him, and a scythe formed in his hand, the handle a large replica of the Elder Wand.

Death rattled a laugh. "It suits you, Master."

Harry eyed the scythe, his gold eyes reflecting back at him in the blade. Formed in the image of the Wand that was a part of him, with a nod to the one being that never changed from reality to reality, it felt very much like it belonged in his hand. "Good," he decided, before taking a quick glance around to ensure there was no one in his way, then giving the scythe a twirl and promptly dropping it.

"Perhaps some practise will serve you," Death commented neutrally.

"Perhaps," Harry agreed drily as he picked the scythe back up.

Death stopped after another few steps, extending its own scythe to point at a space in the air. "Here, Master. I shall remain on this side and clean up the inevitable mess."

Harry snorted. "You can tell me to stop any time, Death."

"I should never think to curb your murderous tendencies, Master."

Harry laughed at that, because Death would give that sort of response. "As you will, then. And let me know if we miss anyone because they're out shopping or some such."

"As you order," Death agreed, and Harry stepped forward, through the doorway that opened for him.

The building Harry had stepped into was a multi-storey one with multiple flats, rather than the house he'd expected. He knew this one and one other building on this street were being used by the group, presumably another apartment building. How many innocents? he asked Death.

"None. They kicked out the ones they could and killed off the ones they couldn't."

Harry nodded to himself and walked up to the nearest door. An unlocking spell had it opening at his touch, and he stepped quietly inside. There was only one resident, a reedy man with a full beard and a slow reaction time, as he'd barely begun reaching for his wand when a doorway opened underneath him.

Harry made quick work of the building, stepping into a flat without a word, opening a doorway to the Realm of Death beneath any residents, then walking out and closing the door behind him.

He'd almost finished the second building when he finally met resistance: A witch stepping out of her flat a few doors down from the flat Harry had just finished with, saw him and grabbed for her wand while shouting, "Intruder! Intruder!" in Greek.

Four flats were left, not counting the one the woman who had caught him had just exited, and it took but a moment for their inhabitants to pour out onto the walkway, wands turning towards Harry, who hadn't moved.

"Who the hell are you?" the first woman demanded, looking nervously over Harry's shoulder at the lack of movement.

"Thank you," Harry replied, "for making my job easier." Then he opened a long doorway under their feet, dropping the line of witches and wizards into the Realm of Death without any further fuss. Once the doorway had closed behind them, he walked along the walkway, checking that the flats were empty and closing the doors. Did I miss any? he asked Death.

"Two," Death replied. "I will direct you."

Harry pulled the magic of the Cloak around himself and followed Death's directions through the city to where the two missing wizards worked. For them, Harry silently cast a spell that would give them heart attacks, leaving them for their co-workers to see to.

Back in the Realm of Death, Harry smiled at Death, who was standing over the pile of decaying bodies Harry had dropped through. "I expect you have another slaughter to stand watch over," he commented.

Death turned its hood to stare into the distance. "Soon," it agreed before looking back at Harry. "Shall I direct you back to your holiday spot, Master?"

Harry vanished his scythe and reached out a hand for Death, which it caught without any hint of hesitation. "You might as well. Merlin knows what other messes I might leave around for you to clean up if you're not keeping an eye on me."

Death rattled a laugh and led Harry through the realm to where he could open a door to the room he was sharing with his brothers. Albus Dumbledore was sitting nearby, looking through the Veil in that way that only the dead could, watching the living from afar. Dumbledore had made it something of a duty to keep an eye on Harry's family, when he wasn't watching his brother or the school.

"No one woke," Dumbledore offered, looking towards Harry as Death vanished to – Harry assumed – see to the fight in France. "You were gone a long time. Talking with Tom?"

Harry snorted. "Some. Mostly, I was out making sure Dad doesn't end up in St Mungo's again."

Dumbledore's expression fell. "You are far too young to be assisting Tom in his attempts at world domination."

Harry shook his head. "So you've said. And I still say he's not interested in world domination."

"Not yet, perhaps," Dumbledore allowed.

Harry just rolled his eyes. "You go on thinking the worst of him, Albus, by all means. If I feel like hearing a rant one of these days, I may even pass on your concerns. For the moment, I'm going to bed."

Dumbledore sighed. "Good night, my boy."

Harry ignored the spirit and stepped through to his hotel room. He shucked off his robe, which had returned to its original appearance during the walk from Cyprus, then climbed into bed.

-0-

The news of victory was everywhere when they got back to Britain. Harry was actually quite grateful for his portkey-nausea, because it helped him hide any hint of the smugness he felt at the magical celebrations they heard about over the next couple days.

As holiday endings went, it was the best possible outcome.

.

Chapter Text

Without the threat of a rebellion on the horizon, life seemed to pass far more sluggishly. Ron and Ginny got invited over for a small party made up of mostly muggles the week of Harry's ninth birthday, and Harry made a point to appear super excited about the sweets they'd got him, because he didn't want Ron to be embarrassed at his poor-man's gift. The fact that Will, Chris, and Sirius were all equally excited, especially when Harry let everyone pick something out of the bag, only helped.

Voldemort sent him more rare potions ingredients, as well as a potion recipe that was intended for werefolk suffering from travel-based nausea, because most of the common potions for travel-based nausea didn't work for most werefolk, Harry included.

"Your benefactor is a spy," James decided, and Lily lightly smacked him.

Harry rolled his eyes and made a point of hugging the recipe to his chest, because it was the sort of thing that he'd never have gone looking for himself, and so appreciated it all the more.

The rest of the year passed with very little drama. The youngest four Weasleys and Molly came over to visit every two weeks or so, and Harry and Will introduced them to their muggle friends. Fred and George caused trouble and generally drove everyone bonkers, but Ron and Ginny were easily accepted by the other children, just as Geoffrey had been when he'd started joining them. Ron flourished in a way that Harry had never seen, playing with other children his age who mostly didn't have magic, and there were times when Harry just had to stand back and shake his head in awe at the way the boy that had been his first friend in another life grew with muggle playmates.

By Voldemort's birthday, Harry had managed to track down a cache of books that had survived one of the fires of the Library of Alexandria. About half of them had been beyond saving, but he packaged up the other half and delivered them to Voldemort's office while he was sleeping.

The second half of the school year followed the first half, with regular visits from the Weasleys.

At the beginning of the summer holiday, James decided, "Since our last holiday was so excellent, I insist we take another one!"

Lily laughed and waved a hand at him while Harry and his brothers grinned. "Go on, then," Lily said. "Where and when?"

James let out a dramatic sigh. "Well, I couldn't get any time off until right before Harry's birthday, so we'll have to hold your party overseas this year, pup. Sorry about that."

Harry rolled his eyes, because that was hardly an issue.

James winked at him. "As for where? Well, we could give America a shot, now that they're not likely to decide we're war criminals or some such, or we could try and learn another language in less than a month and go somewhere in Europe."

"Or we could find a guide that could act as a translator," Lily pointed out, amused.

"Or we could do that," James agreed. "Did you have somewhere in mind?"

Lily nodded. "I think I'd like to see Spain."

"What, all of it?" James teased.

Lily rolled her eyes. "Yes, and in one day."

Harry and his brothers all snickered, while James grinned and shook his head. "I'll ask around about popular destinations," he promised, and came home the next day with a list of possibilities to whittle down.

They ended up in Granada for the first week, it being one of the two major magical centres of Spain. Remus hadn't been able to come, with the full moon falling in the middle of the trip, but Sirius and Peter both came, serving as more of a constant source of entertainment than a third and fourth adult to help with corralling Harry, Will, and Chris. (To be fair, Will tended to stick close to Sirius anyway, when he wasn't shadowing Harry, and Chris and Harry both tended to stay relatively close to Lily, when Harry wasn't sneaking off because something had caught his eye, so they managed.)

When Voldemort's gift was in the pile of presents for Harry, despite the change in location, James threw his hands up in the air and declared, "It's Albus Dumbledore, come back from the dead. That's the only possible explanation."

Sirius snorted. "Prongs, practically the entire ministry knew we were holidaying in Granada."

"It could be a house-elf delivering the gifts," Peter suggested with a helpless little shrug.

James pointed a finger at him. "Merlin's pearly whites, why didn't I ever think of that?!"

Lily patted his arm. "Because I won't let you get a house-elf and you're clearly out of practice with them." She turned to Harry while James groaned. "Robes?"

Harry glanced down from the enclosed note at the two pairs of robes that had been in the box. He nodded, then pulled out his speaking notebook to have it explain, "They're spelled so they vanish when I become a wolf, then reappear as I take human form, like an animagus' clothing does."

"I don't know, the embarrassment of being naked after a night spent howling at the moon is supposed to be part of the charm," Sirius pointed out.

Harry shot the man an unimpressed look, and Sirius grinned in response, entirely unrepentant.

"You'll have to try them out," Lily commented, which was the cue for everyone to get up, so Harry, Will, and Chris could take his new things to their room the next over.

The robes, as Harry had expected, worked exactly like Voldemort had promised, and it was a glory, being able to change his form without having to either get undressed first or struggle out of his clothing after shifting form. More so, not having to keep track of his clothing could only serve as a boon if he needed to travel in wolf form. Not that such happened often to him, not since he'd learnt how to use the Realm of Death, but it was always nice to have an alternate method of travel.

Their second week was spent in Toledo, which was the other magical centre of Spain. There was a darker feel to Toledo, which put James and Sirius on edge, but soothed a part of Harry's soul. It meant the adults stuck closer together, and Sirius didn't spend quite so much time screwing with Peter.

On their third day, still distracted by the sense of darkness, Harry drifted a bit behind the rest of his family. Will was walking with him, pointing out everything that caught his attention.

"Catch up, boys!" their guide, Alejandro, called back in accented English, his tone distinctly irritated. He'd been trying to keep Harry with the rest of the group the whole visit, and while Harry would always catch up when it was pointed out he was falling behind, it wouldn't take long for him to fall behind again. That Will was sticking with him that day only seemed to bother Alejandro more, for some reason Harry couldn't hope to figure out without asking Death to cheat on his behalf.

"Come on," Will grumbled in Atlantean, and they both sped up a bit.

Before they caught up with the group, a strange sort of streak of shadow caught Harry's attention, and he grabbed Will's arm to stop him as he turned to try and see where it had gone.

Ahead of them, Lily screamed, while Chris started crying.

"Mum!" Will shouted, straining against Harry's hold, but Harry didn't let him run forward, couldn't, not when he recognised the symbols that had lit the ground less than two steps in front of them: Necromancy. Sacrificing a specific number of souls to grant some gift or another to the casters. A bastardised version of death magic, created by those who wanted the benefits of such, but were too attached to their physical bodies to chance using the real thing.

"Shit!" Alejandro spat in Spanish, glaring past the dome that had sprung up to enclose the rest of the group. "This fucking boy and his inability to stay with the group!"

"It can be fixed," a voice said from behind Harry and Will.

Will let out a noise of distress and pressed tight against Harry's side as Harry turned towards the man who had come up behind them. He bared too-sharp teeth at the man, growling a warning.

"Oh?" the man said, unbothered by the display. "Alejandro! Did you know this child was a were?"

"No. Is that bad?" Alejandro replied.

The man smiled at Harry, showing off decaying teeth. "You will do nicely," he said in English that was more heavily accented than Alejandro's. "Move."

"No," Harry replied, voice as cold as Death itself. "I refuse to play the willing sacrifice to a bastardised ritual," he continued in Spanish, and the man's eyes widened, "and I won't allow you to use my family, either. Set them free, or I will kill you and your partners where you stand."

"Harry?" Will whispered.

The man laughed, and he was echoed by multiple others around the circle behind Harry. "So brave, little were, but you are too young to understand the true power of what you face. Walk to your death with your head held high, or you will be dragged."

Harry glanced over his shoulder, counting the wizards and witches surrounding his family. He could easily catch them all with a single doorway into the Realm of Death, but it would catch his family, too. If he used the Wand, he could deal with all of them without endangering his family, but if his parents had to discover one of his secrets, better it be the one that Voldemort already knew, that he already had something like an explanation for; there was no earthly way he could ever hope to explain how he could do magic without magical pathways.

In Atlantean, Harry said, "Will, do you remember when I said you needed to be in contact with me if you ever approached one of those doorways?"

Will's jaw clenched and he nodded. "Don't let go?" he guessed.

Harry nodded. "Trust me and, when we reach everyone else, grab hands."

"Go!" the man behind Harry shouted in Spanish, shoving him hard in the back.

Harry moved with the motion, let it push him over the spell-line and into the ritual. Will cried out in shock as the magic hit them, and Harry had to resist the urge to simply rip the spell apart, because the backlash would hurt his family as much as it would the casters.

"Oh, boys," Lily whispered as Harry and Will reached them.

Will reached for Chris, ordering, "We have to hold hands. Harry says."

"Hold hands?" Sirius repeated, an hysterical edge to his voice. "What's that supposed to do?"

"Keep you safe," Harry said, and the adults all turned to stare at him. "I can protect you, but you need to trust me and you need to not let go."

"Death," Chris whispered, grabbing hold of Harry's wrist.

Harry held his free hand out to his parents, Sirius, and Peter. "The ritual will hit its peak in approximately two minutes. You need to take my hand now."

Lily clasped his hand in hers, her eyes wide and terrified. James was next, his expression that of an auror prepared to face his death, and he dragged Sirius over even as Peter joined Will and Chris on Harry's other side.

Harry nodded, then turned his focus towards the glowing wards of the ritual spell holding them, and snarled, casting out with death magic, so much more powerful than any simple human ritual could hope to be.

The dome shattered, and a number of the wizards and witches around them let out shouts of terror or pain. Harry found himself facing Alejandro through the shattered remains of the ritual, and he smiled at the man as the doorway into the Realm of Death opened under all of them, surrounding them with the dark, shadowy corners of Harry's second home.

As the wizards and witches around them dropped to the shadowy ground, their spirits appearing above them, Harry opened the doorway back to the living realm, transporting himself and his family back to the now-empty space where they'd been trapped.

"It's safe," he offered, and that was when the terror – the fear that he was about to lose everything – hit him, and he felt himself begin to shake.

And then Lily's arms wrapped around him, pulling him into a hard hug. Harry freed his hands with a desperate shake and hugged her back, barely remembering to have a care for his strength. "Mum," he choked out, unable to keep it quiet, now that he'd spoken in front of her once.

Lily's arms tightened around him. "I love you, baby," she whispered against his ear.

Harry hid his face against her shoulder, letting free the tears that clawed for freedom. They were born of terror and relief and anger and a hundred other emotions that he didn't care to classify.

"Hey," James said after a moment, his hand rubbing comfortingly over Harry's back. "You know, you were supposed to wait another couple years to start talking, so I could win the pot."

Harry let out a watery laugh and gently pulled away from Lily's arms. "Sorry," he offered quietly. "Extenuating circumstances."

"I'll say," Sirius agreed, whistling. When Harry looked at him, though, Sirius' eyes hardened. "I'd really like to know how a squib could break a necromantic ritual."

"Sirius!" Lily snapped.

"Can we...go back to the hotel?" Harry requested, clasping his hands together in front of himself and trying to find the strength of will that always let him go toe-to-toe with Voldemort without flinching. But it was one thing to face down a dark lord with an anger problem, and another thing entirely to stare into the face of his family's disapproval and remain unscathed. "I think it's about time I came clean about a few things."

"I don't think I'm looking forward to this conversation," James complained, even as he wrapped an arm around Harry's shoulders and squeezed him.

The walk back was done in strained silence. Will and Chris both took one of Harry's hands for the walk, being obvious about showing a united front, no matter what, and Harry squeezed their hands in gratitude.

They convened in Harry, Will, and Chris' room. Will and Chris both claimed spots of pride on Harry's bed, while the adults arrayed themselves across the younger two's bed and the uncomfortable couch that had been provided. Harry stood in the middle of the floor, too restless to sit, and tried to organise his thoughts, to remember the half-story he'd told Voldemort all those years ago.

"Harry?" Lily prompted after a long moment.

Harry offered a strained smile. "I'm sorry. There's not really a good place to start."

"At the beginning?" Sirius suggested drily, and Harry had to bite back a slightly hysterical laugh. "Do we need to put up secrecy wards?"

Harry grimaced. "Probably," he admitted, and kept quiet as his father and Sirius cast together, making it twice as strong. Then he turned and walked over to stand beside the empty chair resting against the wall, needing something solid under his fingers to ground himself. "I guess the best starting point is when I was born," he decided, looking up at his parents. "I was born with the memories of another life, you see, one where I spent most of it researching the most forbidden of magic, the magic of the soul. Death magic, you might call it."

"You were a necromancer," James whispered, horrified understanding in his eyes.

Harry barked out an insulted laugh. "Those pretenders? Merlin, no. Necromancy, as it is most commonly practised, is but a shadow of true death magic. Necromancy simply plays in death, gives a false sense of power over life and death. The magic I learnt..." He swallowed and looked away from the disbelieving stares of his parents, Sirius, and Peter.

Will caught his gaze and offered, "You can walk in the Realm of Death, right?"

Harry nodded and looked back at the adults, forced himself to meet each of their eyes before letting a doorway open behind him. The familiar chill was a balm, and he felt his shoulders relaxing. "The Realm of Death, where spirits tread," he offered, waving his hand at the dark hole behind him. "Unless properly protected, anything living will shrivel up to nothing within it – complete necrosis of the tissue and nerves – and they will die within moments. Your average necromancer would be just as dead as anyone else, no matter how many protections they layer over themselves, because the magic they use is alive. It's the magic that flows through your veins, the magic that I cannot cast.

"But death magic, the magic needed to pass safely through the Realm of Death, that is channelled through the soul; once you've learnt it, you know it forever, and even a squib can use it."

"But it's necromancy," Sirius shot back, a note of hostility in his voice. "It revolves around killing people."

"Very much so," Harry agreed, forcing himself to meet Sirius' stare and not react when Lily let out a quiet, horrified noise. "There's not much good that can be done with death magic, and it can be destruction on a massive scale, without the need for those tedious rituals necromancers have to perform."

"Why?" Lily asked quietly, and Harry turned to her. "Why would you want to learn this magic?"

Harry swallowed and clung to the reassurance of cold at his back. "My parents were killed when I was one," he offered, sticking close to the truth so there were fewer lies for him to keep track of. "My guardians hated me, hated the fact that I was magical, because they weren't, and they treated me accordingly. When I got to Hogwarts, I started making friends, and I thought my life was looking up, but not long after I finished, I was turned into a werewolf. A man with power I didn't understand found a way to control me while I was a wolf, and I was made to destroy everything I cared about."

"Oh, Harry," Lily whispered, tears in her eyes. She held one of James' hands in hers, and Harry could tell from the whiteness of both of their knuckles that they were holding each other tightly.

Harry took a deep breath. "Death magic meant being able to travel the Realm of Death, to see everyone I'd lost." He turned to Sirius, whose eyes were brimming with a sort of broken understanding. "I never set out to hurt anyone, but once you have dangerous magic, it's hard not to use it when you're cornered. It's hard not to wonder what sort of rituals you might be able to cast, what sort of bonuses will keep you ahead of the people who are hunting you because you turn into a monster once a month." He turned towards Will and Chris, a smile kicking his mouth up on one side at the acceptance he saw in their eyes. "What languages you can learn overnight."

"Harry James Potter!" Lily snapped, and Harry felt a bit like his heart had stopped. He turned to look at her, vaguely terrified, and found disapproval in her gaze. "Tell me you did not involve your brothers in some sort of ritual so you three could pass messages in code."

Harry held up his hands. "Please believe me when I say that the only ritual that Will and Chris have ever been involved in, was the one we were all caught by today." When Lily's expression didn't relax, Harry winced. "I did start out teaching them the normal way, but a...friend, I suppose you'd call him, offered to speed the process along, at no cost to anyone. Death magic was involved, yes, but not in such a way that would, oh, I don't know. Stain their souls."

"But it stained your friend's soul?" James asked.

Will and Chris both let out snickers, and Harry snorted. "I'm not sure he has a soul," he admitted. "Even if he did, it's his magic, so I doubt the amount required to grant a language to two children was going to make much of a difference."

It took the adults a moment, but Harry could tell by the ways their eyes went wide and they looked worriedly towards Chris and Will, that they understood who Harry was referring to.

Will nodded, expression serious. "I told you Chris' friend taught us. And he has skeleton hands."

James pointed at Harry. "Right. You need to tell us what language it is."

"Aww, no!" Will complained, while Chris made a pitiful noise.

Harry shrugged. "Atlantean," he offered, because he figured that truth was a small price to pay for not getting yelled at for introducing his brothers to Death. "If you want, I can correct that dictionary you and Mum have been building."

"Harry!" Will cried.

"How do you know about that?" James complained while Lily covered a smile.

Harry raised an eyebrow at his father. "Question not the Harry, for the Harry knows all things."

Sirius let out a loud laugh. "Merlin's beard, you actually do, don't you?"

Harry closed his eyes and shook his head. "Not really. I can find out most things pretty easily–" he motioned to the open doorway behind him "–if I find the right spirit, but there's plenty of things that I can only guess at. Or, as Will likes to remind me, that I simply never learnt, such as skiing."

Will nodded. "You're really bad at it."

"You've mentioned," Harry returned drily.

"Could you kill the dark lord?" Peter asked, and everyone went very, very still.

Harry felt his whole body go stiff, and turning towards the rat animagus was far harder than it should have been. "Yes," he admitted.

"But you won't," Peter guessed.

Sirius snorted. "What are you on about, Peter?"

"The first attack of the rebellion," Peter said, not looking away from Harry, "was at the dark lord's mansion. Dark doorways caught spells before they could hit the dark lord and sent them back at the rebels, and others simply...vanished."

"Harry?" Lily whispered.

"You're working with him," Peter accused.

"Really?" Harry shot back, venom in his voice. "Really, you're going to try holding something like this over my head? You sold your wand to him before I was even born!"

"And I'm paying for it!" Peter shouted, jumping to his feet. "But you! You can kill him! You can rid the world of him forever!"

When Harry looked at his parents, he found heartbreak and something that looked too much like disappointment in their eyes. Something in his chest cracked, and Harry spun and ran into the cold embrace of the Realm of Death.

"Don't touch it!" he heard Will shout behind him, just before the doorway closed completely, leaving Harry in isolation.

And then Death was there, skeletal hands drawing Harry into a hug. Harry choked out a broken noise and grabbed for Death's robe, clinging to the one being that never judged him and was always there when he needed it. Death didn't say a word, just let him hold on.

-0-

Harry opened his eyes to the shadowy blackness of the Realm of Death. He frowned, wondering why the hell he'd fallen asleep there. It wasn't like he had to be awake to keep up his protections against the realm's life-sucking tendencies, like normal death magic practitioners had to do, but he'd still always made a point to avoid going to sleep there, if only because he had a bed.

But then it all came crashing back: The necromantic ritual, telling his family his partial truth, Peter outing his involvement with Voldemort.

"Fuck," he moaned, rubbing at his eyes. "Fuck, fuck, fuck me sideways. Could that have gone any worse?"

"Likely," Death's genderless voice replied.

Harry looked up to find Death standing over him, one skeletal hand held down to help him up. He took it with a groan and let his eternal servant pull him to his feet. "How long was I asleep?"

Death's shoulders shifted in an approximation of a shrug. "Some hours." Its hood cocked slightly. "What will you do now?"

Harry turned to stare across the empty plain, in the general direction that he could sense Toledo in. "I have no idea," he admitted, and the words came out sounding as if they'd been spoken by a child who'd got lost in a shopping centre.

Death let out its dying breath-sigh. "You can go to Tom."

Harry snorted. "And let him laugh at me? No fucking thanks." He let out a heavy breath and glanced up at Death. "I might just wander for a bit."

Death nodded. "As you wish, Master. Should I remain?"

"No." Harry shook his head. "I'll be fine. Please don't let me keep you from your duties."

Death cupped his cheek and Harry managed a grateful smile for it in response.

Once Death vanished, however, Harry let his expression fall blank. He turned away from Toledo and just started walking, letting his feet carry him where they would while he tried not to think, tried not to remember the disappointment in Lily and James' eyes. Because he couldn't choose between his family and the man who he'd loved in another life.

"In another life," Harry whispered and scoffed. "You're getting too used to lying, Potter."

Every thoughtful gift slipped into the pile on his birthday, every law designed with Harry in mind, every heartfelt thank you for a gift that Harry had spent months working for; he'd seen his lover in Voldemort's face almost from day one, because they'd always been the same person. And Harry was destined to ever be tied to him by one prophecy or another, but there wasn't the weight of an entire people on his shoulders this time, demanding he kill the man he loved for their future.

"No," Harry whispered, stopping and closing his eyes, "it's not the magical creatures this time, just the family I'd never thought I could have. Dammit, Tom!" he shouted, looking up into the endless black sky. "This wasn't what I asked for!"

There was no answer, no familiar smirk that made him want to kill its owner a second time, because that Tom was a reality away, living a new life. He didn't remember Harry, didn't have to agonise over everything he'd left behind. He didn't have to stare into a face that he knew like the back of his hand and know those eyes only saw a stranger, a mystery begging to be solved.

He made himself begin walking again, wished he hadn't sent Death away one moment, was glad for the lack of companionship the next. He felt torn in too many different directions, and when he finally stopped again, he found himself sitting down, then lying back to stare at the emptiness above him.

"I miss you," he whispered to the man he'd left behind, and let his eyes fall closed.

-0-

The second time he woke in the Realm of Death was far less jarring, because he remembered where he was and why he was there without having to think about it. He didn't feel much better, regarding his family, but he felt like a bleeding wound in his heart had finally healed over, all the same.

"You shouldn't sleep here," a voice said.

Harry sighed and turned his head to look up at the wizard who was sitting next to him, weaving black grass together. "Hello, Albus."

Dumbledore fitted a couple more blades of grass into his creation, then set it aside and turned his heavy gaze on Harry. "Your family is worried about you."

"Are they?" Harry replied, and his voice sounded empty to his own ears.

Dumbledore sighed. "Very much so. Over two days have passed."

Harry felt his eyebrows raise at that, focussing on the second part because he didn't want to think about what Dumbledore could have meant by the first. "You know," he said, "this is why I hate this place. I mean, what even are physics?"

"And yet," Dumbledore replied, voice dry, "you're still here."

Harry snorted. "Well, yeah. Other than interfering old busybodies who refuse to pass on, no one here bothers me. It's the perfect hiding place from real life. If I could bottle it up, I'd make a fortune."

"You'd make a lot of corpses."

"Just means no one's going to come looking for a refund."

Dumbledore let out a loud sigh and rubbed at his eyes, skewing his spectacles. "You are entirely too grim for a ten-year-old."

"And you have been here way too long to keep assuming I'm only ten."

Dumbledore shot him a tired look that was completely at odds with the youthful appearance he'd adopted in death. "In some ways, Harry, you are even younger."

"Excuse me?" Harry snapped, sitting up.

"You do your family a disservice, believing they would refuse you because of the darkness in your past."

"It's not my past that concerns me; you, yourself, are constantly picking on me for siding with Tom."

"No, Harry," Dumbledore corrected gently, "I merely want you to be less callous in regards to the lives you take, which is the same thing I wish of Tom. You are both so broken, you no longer think of your opponents as real humans."

Harry smiled, and the motion ached. "Please don't think me desensitised to the families I leave to bury empty caskets, simply because I refuse to stop and mourn every life that bloodies my hands. You believe it's something horrible, the way I can just walk away from the carnage I've caused, when it's really just a means of survival. I can never atone for the lives staining my soul, but crying for them does less than nothing.

"I chose to become a monster because I was angry and hurt; I remain a monster because I have something to protect, and if I can keep them from dirtying their hands by dirtying my own, I will."

"You don't always have to dirty your hands," Dumbledore insisted.

Harry looked away. "This world is not a kind one, Albus. You, of all people, should know that."

"There is nothing that says you have to return violence with violence."

"That's true," Harry agreed, staring at his hands, "but my experience suggests that having the bigger stick results in less lives lost, in the long run." He peeked up at the former headmaster. "You made the same choice, in the end. You let him kill you so others would live. Just because you played the part of victim, doesn't mean you have the right to judge our methods."

Dumbledore sighed and shook his head. "I didn't come to debate the ethics of warfare with you."

"No," Harry agreed. "I expect you came here to tell me that I need to go home."

"You expect correctly."

Harry snorted and stood, giving himself a quick brush-off, though he knew there would be nothing there; the black grass Dumbledore had been weaving only existed for him to use in that moment. "I'm leaving, since I know you won't."

"You said you'd keep them safe," Dumbledore call after him, and Harry's steps stuttered. "You can't keep them safe from in here."

Harry clenched his hands into fists, let claws dig into his palms, and kept walking. Because, yes, he'd sworn to keep his family safe, and it was hard to do when he couldn't look through the Veil like the dead, but...

He closed his eyes and forced himself to take a deep breath, unclenched his hands so the self-inflicted wounds could heal.

How could he face that disappointment again? How could he ever hope to choose between Voldemort and his family?

"Harry?" Merope called.

Harry opened his eyes and glanced off to the side, where he saw her walking towards him. "Hello, Merope."

She smiled at him, as fond and motherly as every smile that Lily had ever given him, and Harry's heart ached. "He's asking for you."

It took him a moment to understand who she meant, then he raised both eyebrows. "Tom is looking for me? Why?"

Merope took his hand and tugged him in the direction she'd come from. "You should ask him." Her shoulders slumped and she glanced back at him with a worried expression. "He looked stressed. Could it be another rebellion attempt?"

Images of Will and Chris flashed in Harry's mind's eye and he swallowed hard. "I sincerely hope not," he answered, even as he sped up his steps a bit more. "Albus didn't suggest anything of the sort, but he doesn't tend to pay much attention to anything outside his need to stalk my family."

Merope huffed a laugh. "You'd think he'd pay more attention to his brother."

Or Grindelwald, Harry didn't say, though he'd occasionally wondered if Dumbledore ever checked on his one-time best friend (and potentially more, given that another Fawkes had once asked Harry to send Grindelwald after Dumbledore; not that Harry had ever cared enough to ask anyone who might have known).

When they reached the access to Voldemort's rooms, Merope let go of his hand and offered, "Good luck."

Harry smiled at her. "Thanks, Merope." Then he stepped through the doorway that opened for him and into Voldemort's room.

The dark lord was standing in the middle of the room, looking more than a little irritated. When he saw Harry, though, his eyes went wide and filled with concern. "Merlin, Scythe, you look like death warmed over."

Harry raised an eyebrow at that. "Coming from you, that could be taken as a compliment."

Voldemort snapped out his wand and conjured a hand mirror, which he then held out to Harry. "Not this time."

Harry glanced into the mirror, only to freeze at the sight of himself: Sunken eyes, sallow skin, hair hanging lank, and a certain hollowness to his face, as though he was in the process of starving to death. "Well," he heard himself say, voice dry, "next time I decide to lose time in the Realm of Death, I really must remember to bring water and food."

The mirror shattered to nothing in his hands, and Harry looked up at Voldemort's scowl. "Sit," the dark lord ordered, pointing at his desk. "Shall I assume this is related to your mother storming into the mansion two hours ago and declaring she would be remaining in my receiving room until I produced you?"

Harry dropped heavily into the chair and squeaked, "What?"

"Bangles!" Voldemort called, and a female house-elf in a well-cared for tea towel appeared before him. "Bring something light for Scythe and have someone lead Lily Potter up here."

"Yes, Master," the house-elf replied, her tone polite and not the least bit scared, Harry couldn't help but note, still part-Alpha Lord in some ways.

As soon as she'd vanished, Voldemort turned back towards Harry. "Would you care to explain why I've somehow been dragged into your family drama?"

Harry opened his mouth, realised he wasn't certain how to explain matters, and closed it again.

Voldemort narrowed his eyes. "Harry."

Harry winced, honestly creeped out to hear his given name from the dark lord. "There was an...incident in Toledo, and I had to reveal that I could use death magic. During the ensuing discussion, Uncle Peter realised that I'd helped you in that first attack at the mansion and decided to announce it. I..." He trailed off, not sure how to finish that.

"Ran away?" Voldemort suggested as a tray with soup and bread appeared on the desk in front of Harry. "At least now I know why your mother decided to come to me. Eat."

"Were you a mother hen in another life?" Harry complained, though he did turn his focus to the food.

"I'm still trying to decide whether or not I should curse you, Scythe," Voldemort warned.

"Decide quick," Harry quipped.

Voldemort was just pointing his wand at Harry, when there came a knock on the door. He let out a quiet snarl and slipped his wand away before calling, "In!"

Lily pushed carefully into the room, her expression a mix between mostly-hidden fear and determination. "One of the house-elves–" she started before her eyes landed on Harry. "Harry!" she called, and brushed right past Voldemort to grab him in a hug.

Harry dropped his spoon into the bowl, splattering soup across the tray, and grabbed for his mother's arms, holding on tight in a pathetic attempt to keep her there. Something clogged his throat, and he blinked quickly a few times to keep unexpected tears at bay.

Voldemort was actually quiet for a long moment, closing the room door with a soft click and pacing slowly back over to the desk before snapping, "Let him eat, Mrs Potter."

Lily pulled away and took one good look at Harry before demanding, "What happened?"

"I've been in the Realm of Death," Harry offered, forcing the words past the block in his throat.

"For four days?!" Lily shouted, and Harry winced. "What were you doing?"

Harry considered that as he chewed and swallowed a bite of soup-soaked bread, then offered, "Having an existential crisis, debating the ethics of warfare with Albus Dumbledore, and discussing Albus' habit of spying on my family with Voldemort's mother."

:Of course the old fool would stalk his family,: Voldemort hissed to himself, looking disgusted.

"Oh, and I slept," Harry added before switching to Parseltongue to comment, :You realise I can understand you.:

Voldemort turned a glare on him. :I will curse you bloody.:

Harry shot him a grin. :Mum will have your head.:

"English, Harry," Lily complained, and she sounded so worn that Harry slumped in his seat and turned his attention back to his soup.

He managed a few more sips of soup, then quietly offered, "Incidentally, coming to Voldemort was the best way to get my attention. Albus tried, but our conversations tend to devolve to the point that I just stalk off because he's on his high horse again, but Merope and I actually get on really well."

"Merope?" Lily requested.

Harry waved his fork toward where Voldemort had moved to his bookcase of the rare gifts that Harry kept giving him. "His mum. She's actually really nice."

"She's dead," Voldemort snapped.

Harry rolled his eyes. "I had no idea."

"Harry," Lily warned and he turned his attention back to the last of his soup, because poking at Voldemort's weak points while they had an audience could never end well.

Once he'd finished, he stood and offered, "We'll get out of your non-existent hair, then."

"Good," Voldemort snapped, not looking away from his bookcase.

Harry rolled his eyes and led the way to the door. Before he opened it, though, he glanced back at the tense dark lord. "Voldemort?"

"What?" he snarled, turning to glare at Harry.

Harry met his glare evenly. "Thank you."

Voldemort's shoulders slumped slightly and his expression softened. "Go home, Scythe."

Harry smiled at him, then opened the door and led the way out into the hallway. "Did Uncle Peter bring you?" he asked Lily as they turned towards where he remembered the staircase being.

"Yes," Lily admitted with a sigh. "I expect he's gone now."

"Depends on what he thinks you and I were intending to tell Voldemort about his line of questioning," Harry assumed. "If he stayed, he'll probably be in the main hall."

Lily touched his shoulder, stopping him. "How much time have you spent here, Harry?"

Harry shrugged. "Less time than you fear, more time than you'd prefer," he offered. When she just kept frowning, he sighed. "I bring Voldemort a birthday present every year. Sometimes we talk for a few hours, but usually I sneak in when he's asleep."

"You bring Voldemort birthday presents," Lily deadpanned.

Harry flashed her a grin. "I started doing it just to make him twitchy, but I think I started picking too well; he actually thanked me at one point."

Lily shook her head and started walking again. "How have you survived this long?" she complained and Harry had to bite his lip to keep from responding with a joke that she wouldn't appreciate.

Peter was, in fact, waiting for them in the main hall, twitching nervously.

"I didn't tell him anything," Harry commented as they reached the animagus.

Peter flinched. "You don't look well."

"Imagine that," Harry shot back before turning to his mother. "I am not taking a portkey." Because while international portkeys were the only ones that had ever actually made him sick, he wasn't about to trust any portkey, given his weakened state. (For all that he felt disturbingly fine, he was aware that he was likely dehydrated and half-starved. Doubtless, he was going to be paying for his poor life choices for a few days, assuming his weird biology ever caught up with the damage he'd done to himself.)

Lily grimaced. "No, I wouldn't want you to. It'll have to be apparation."

Harry made a face, never a fan of side-along, but followed the two adults into the receiving room and let Lily hug him and apparate them home all the same.

"Harry!" was the first thing he heard, right before a body bowled into him. It was a show of just how poorly he was doing, that he needed his mum to help brace him against the impact.

"Hey, Will," he whispered, wrapping his arms around his brother.

"Where was he?" James asked, and Harry looked up to find his father approaching with Chris in his arms, Sirius and Remus following close behind.

"He claims he was in Death, chatting with Albus and Voldemort's mother," Lily offered tiredly, while Chris scrambled over to join Will in clinging to Harry.

"Really?" Sirius asked, both eyebrows raised.

"Voldemort totally didn't get his bad attitude from his mum, for the record," Harry offered. "Merope's my second favourite mum."

"Voldemort had a way to get in contact with him," Lily added. "He'd sat Harry down with some soup when I got shown up to them."

"Voldemort got you soup?" Sirius demanded, sounding disbelieving.

"I know, it's a regular jaunt through the Twilight Zone," Harry retorted, and Lily let out a choked laugh behind him, the only one who understood the reference. "Tell you what, you lot can discuss the impossibilities of Voldemort and my bizarre not-a-friendship while I go to bed, because I expect I'm going to turn into something of a deadweight here directly." He frowned. "If he drugged me, I will find a way to set Albus on him."

"I like him when he talks," Sirius decided.

"But not when he's exhausted," Remus insisted, stepping forward to support Harry. "Will, Chris, move. Harry needs to go to bed."

"Can we tuck you in?" Chris asked as he and Will fell in behind Harry and Remus.

"Totally," Harry agreed, amused. At the bottom of the stairs, though, he stopped and looked back towards where Lily, James, Sirius, and Peter were still standing by the door, very clearly waiting for Harry to be out of hearing range so they could start whispering. "He knows, by the way."

"Who knows what?" James asked, frowning.

"Voldemort knows I can kill him. I made that clear the first time we met, before he'd even realised I was the other child from the prophecy." Lily and James traded guilty looks, while Sirius' eyes narrowed and Peter put on an uncertain frown.

"He knows you're a threat to him?" Remus asked at his elbow.

"Yeah. He always has. Since he granted this family amnesty." Harry met Remus' eyes, then looked over the group by the door, making sure to catch each person's gaze. "He didn't have to let us leave the hall that day, but he did. He promised this whole family protection, and you want me to kill him."

Harry rallied himself enough to pull out of Remus' grasp and start up the stairs on his own. "Come on, Will, Chris. You two were going to tuck me in," he called back in Atlantean.

"Coming!" Will shouted as he and Chris darted around Remus and hurried up after Harry.

"On second thought," Harry heard Sirius say, "I don't like him when he talks."

Upstairs, Harry only cared about changing out of his clothing because he'd been wearing it for days. He fell into bed as soon as he was changed, scowling at the heavy feeling of his whole body.

Chris climbed onto his bed, ostensibly to help tuck Harry in, but he ended up under the covers next to Harry, curled up in the crook of his arm. "Story!" he insisted, and Will ran to go pull out the book he'd found in the Room of Requirement, which had quickly become a favourite of his and Chris'.

"High on a hill in an enchanted garden, enclosed by tall walls and protected by strong magic, flowed the Fountain of Fair Fortune," Will read as he joined them on the bed.

Harry closed his eyes and let the dual comforts of Chris' warmth against his side and Will's voice lull him to sleep.

As uncertain as the future looked, as much as he felt torn between Voldemort and his family, Harry knew that he was right where he needed to be, his two brothers safe at his side.

.

Chapter Text

When Harry woke again, the bedroom was dark and the house silent. Someone had moved Chris back to his own bed, and Harry had a moment to mourn that before realising there was someone else in the room, bone fingers tapping quietly together.

"You're late," he whispered to Death as he pushed himself into a sitting position.

Death shifted, and it was too dark for Harry to be sure, but he suspected the apparition had shrugged. "You needed them to come and find you," it offered.

Harry looked down into the pool of shadows in his lap, lacing his fingers together there, where he could only barely make them out.

"Too, they needed some proof that Tom is not the monster they have been made to believe," Death added, and its fingers stopped tapping together just before one skeletal hand pressed against Harry's cheek. Harry closed his eyes and leant into the touch, accepting the cold comfort. "I do apologise for the damage you suffered in exiting my realm," Death added quietly, the sound of honest regret colouring its genderless voice.

Harry frowned at that and glanced up into the deeper shadows of its hood. "What do you mean by that?"

Death let out a death-sigh. "Your ties to me allow you to draw energy from my realm itself, allowing you to remain within it so long as you please without damage to your mortal form. But, had you returned to your family in such pristine shape, after four days missing..."

"There would have been questions," Harry whispered, understanding, "ones I wouldn't want to answer. That's fine. Thank you for watching out for me, even if I did suffer for it a bit." He flashed Death a grateful smile, unable to stay angry at his eternal servant for something that he hadn't even thought to blame on it.

Death's fingers shifted against his cheek, as though petting him. "I have fixed it," it admitted, and Harry's smile widened into more of a grin. "Should there be concerns, I expect you can play it off as a perk of being wereborn."

"So long as I don't lead them to believe I attempted some sort of ritual," Harry muttered, rolling his eyes. "Don't get me wrong, I love them all, but this human squeamishness about death is..."

"Entirely understandable?" Death offered drily.

Harry snorted. "You just like terrifying people," he replied, and Death rattled a quiet laugh. "Thank you, by the way, for not appearing for my parents."

"Of course, Master."

Harry closed his eyes and let himself lean into the familiar touch on his cheek for a moment more, then sighed. "You probably have people to kill, and I should see to some of those irritating necessities of having a living body."

Death rattled another quiet laugh. "As you say, Master," it agreed before pulling away.

"You're still my favourite," Harry felt compelled to offer before Death could vanish.

"I know," Death replied before it was gone.

Harry smiled at the empty space for a moment before getting up to see to his bladder.

Lily stumbled into the kitchen while Harry was in the process of making himself some eggs and bacon. She stood in the doorway for a moment, looking uncertain.

Harry held up two uncracked eggs questioningly.

Lily sighed. "I'm pretty sure I shouldn't be letting my ten-year-old son make me breakfast."

"Which makes you about a thousand times better than my first caretakers," Harry admitted quietly, and Lily closed her eyes in regret. "Do you want eggs?"

"Sure," Lily decided, finally stepping forward. "Best put some on for Dad, too."

Harry nodded and grabbed some more eggs and bacon, then moved on to the kettle while they cooked.

"I'm just going to sit down," Lily decided, amusement in her tone, and Harry flashed her a knowing smile before turning his attention back to the hob.

James came in shortly after Harry had brought the food to the table, and he considered Harry as he sat down. "You look better."

Harry shrugged and nodded.

James' mouth kicked up at one side in a crooked smile. "Are we going back to not talking?"

Harry covered his mouth as he swallowed, shaking his head. "No, sorry. But give me a couple days, yeah? I'm not used to being allowed to talk to you."

" 'Being allowed'?" Lily repeated, frowning.

Harry sighed and set his fork down. "I realised, once I'd developed the motor control necessary to actually speak clearly, that I had no idea how to sound like a child just learning how to speak. I figured it was better to be quiet, than to get caught speaking like an adult when I wasn't even two yet." He grimaced. "Incidentally, once I'd trained myself to keep my mouth shut, it was really hard to get out of the practice."

James nodded. "Makes sense." He pinned Harry with a sharp look that made him hunch his shoulders. "Your book sounds remarkably like you really do."

"I expect that was intentional," Harry admitted, though he'd never bothered verifying it with Voldemort.

"So your benefactor has heard you speak," James guessed.

Harry nodded.

"That can't cover many people," Lily pointed out.

Harry ducked his head to hide a smile. "If you include the deceased, actually, that's a fairly substantial number," he commented.

"You know what your mother means."

"I do," Harry admitted before taking a sip of his tea. Then he looked between his parents and allowed, "Only three living people have ever heard me speak, before. And two of them are sleeping upstairs." He paused while Lily and James traded looks, listening to the movements he could hear from his and his brothers' room. "Correction, one of them is sleeping, the other is heading for the loo."

James shot him a startled look, then snorted to himself. "I forget, sometimes, how good your hearing has to be. You don't show it off too often."

Harry winced. "This is going to sound terrible, but I learn far more when you two don't take into account how good my senses are."

James pointed a fork at him. "Spy."

"Curious," Harry insisted. "The only person I spy for is myself, which is hardly an acceptable comparison."

James turned to Lily and deadpanned, "I'm beginning to understand why he kept his mouth shut for fear of us questioning his maturity."

Lily smiled and got up from the table. "Which of your brothers is up?"

Harry considered that for a moment, judging the weight of steps on the linoleum. "Chris."

Lily nodded and went to pull out the breakfast cereal that Chris was so attached to.

James tapped his fork against his mostly-empty plate, catching Harry's attention. "It's Voldemort, your benefactor, isn't it?"

Harry swallowed and nodded.

"Mum said you'd been giving him presents for his birthday," James continued, as if Harry hadn't already agreed, "and you must have actually spoken to him, to warn him you could kill him." He dropped his fork onto his plate, the sound loud in the silence between them, and met Harry's eyes with an unbending stare. "Why didn't you kill him? Why just warn him off?"

"Harry?" Chris asked from the doorway into the hall, sounding lost. "Where's Harry?"

Harry looked around his father and smiled at his brother. "I'm still here. Mum's got breakfast for you," he offered in Atlantean, hoping that using their language would help soothe Chris' fears.

Chris rushed around the end of the table, and Harry barely had time to turn in his seat so he could catch his brother before Chris was crashing into him. "You were gone!" he babbled, tears in his eyes. "You were gone and I was all alone in my bed and I was afraid it was all a dream and–"

"Shh," Harry whispered, pulling Chris into his lap and hugging him tight. "I'm right here, Chris, I promise. I'm not going anywhere."

Chris let out a loud sniff and unlatched one hand so he could roughly wipe at one cheek. "Kay," he whispered.

Harry smiled and picked up a napkin from the holder on the table to gently wipe Chris' cheeks. "Do you want to eat with me?" he asked, switching to English to include their parents, now that the crisis had passed.

Chris took a moment to debate that, then bit his lip and shook his head.

"Okay. Do you want to sit next to me?"

"Yeah."

Harry nodded and reached out with a foot to catch the nearest chair, pulling it close enough that Chris could crawl over his lap into it.

Lily set a bowl of cereal in front of Chris before leaning over to kiss his forehead. "Good morning, sweetheart."

"Good morning, Mum," Chris offered in return, poking uncertainly at his spoon. "Morning, Dad."

"Morning, trouble," James returned with a smile before glancing at Harry and raising an eyebrow.

Harry sighed and gently combed a hand through Chris' bedhead. "Eat your breakfast," he whispered to his brother, before looking up at James. "A number of reasons," he admitted, finally replying to the question his father had put to him before Chris' arrival. "Fear, to a large extent – I would never be the darling of the ministry, especially not one that had just finished fighting off a dark lord – but, too, you have to understand, I relate to him, on some level. Not the 'muggles are beneath us and they and their offspring must be exterminated' part," he added when both Lily and James frowned, "but I deal in death. And I understand that upsets you both, I really do, and I'm sorry that I'm not afraid of taking a life if the ends justify it, but I can't change who I am. That...that's something Voldemort and I can agree on."

Lily swallowed and came to stand behind her husband, putting her hands on his shoulders. "But why warn him?"

Harry looked over at Chris and smiled at his brother's worried frown. "Because sometimes, when you're going toe-to-toe with a powerful person who has no qualms, and you have something to protect, the only way to make that person listen is by threatening them." He glanced back towards his parents, letting a helpless smile twist his mouth. "Ten times as true when you're only two."

"The amnesty," James whispered, and it was clear he'd figured that out before, but there was a certain level of respect in his eyes that Harry hadn't expected. "You're the reason he offered amnesty to us."

"I told him he had a chance to lessen casualties, to keep from ending that war with only a handful of witches and wizards to rebuild with," Harry admitted. "I made him pay attention, then I gave him the facts that he was ignoring." He met Lily's eyes. "The same facts that eventually had him writing a law to allow muggleborns back into Hogwarts."

"Voldemort wrote that law?" Lily breathed, eyes wide with disbelief.

Harry nodded. "Both of them, yes. I made a couple suggestions when he asked me for my thoughts, but it was his idea."

"I can't– I had no–"

"Even the most monstrous of us are still human, Mum," Harry offered quietly. "His story is no less terrible than mine, he just hasn't earned his second chance yet." Then he turned towards the doorway out into the hallway, aware of an eavesdropper. "Hey, Will. It's safe to come in, you know."

Will stepped into the room, looking vaguely guilty. "Are you getting yelled at?"

Harry shrugged, and it was Chris who offered, "Mum and Dad are grumpy because Harry thinks Voldemort is okay."

"I wouldn't go that far," Harry complained.

"English, boys," Lily complained.

"Sorry, Mum," they chorused.

James snorted. "And we thought it was bad when they could only pass notes in another language. What is it again?"

"Atlantean," Harry replied as Will dragged one of the other chairs over so he could sit on Harry's free side. "From Atlantis. I'd offer to find you an actual dictionary–"

"Aww, no," Will whined.

"–but the only ones I saw in the ruins that you might be able to use were Atlantean to Latin, and I'm not sure how your Latin is," Harry finished, ruffling Will's hair and ignoring his complaining.

"You've been to Atlantis," James replied, voice dry.

Harry ducked his head to hide a grin. "It's a bit wet."

"A bit."

"We'll give you the dictionary we've been working on," Lily decided as she brought a bowl of Will's favourite cereal over to the table for him. Once she'd set it in front of Will, though, she pinned Harry with a narrow-eyed look. "If you promise to actually fix it up."

"I solemnly swear," Harry promised, pressing one hand to his heart.

"Harry," Will whined.

Harry glanced over at him and whispered, "It's not like I'm intending to teach them the alphabet. You can still write secret messages."

"How did we miss how secretive he was?" James complained quietly to Lily.

Lily rolled her eyes. "One of Will's first words was 'secret'; you've clearly been living in a dream world if you missed that."

James snorted and glanced toward the clock. "Ah, blast," he muttered, pushing out of his chair.

The usual goodbyes were exchanged, then James left for work. Harry helped his mum clean the dirty dishes from the table, then led his brothers upstairs to all change into day clothing once they'd finished eating. Once they were all dressed, Will settled down with Chris, determined to teach him to write the Atlantean alphabet – he already knew how to read it, and far better than he could English – while Harry accepted the dictionary that Lily unburied and got to work correcting it for them, adding words that he and his brothers commonly used which weren't already in it.

Over lunch, Lily wondered, "What exactly would you get a dark lord for his birthday, anyway?"

Will giggled into his soup and glanced at Harry, who was trying to swallow without choking. "You get him birthday presents?"

"He's my benefactor," Harry admitted, since neither of his brothers had been there for that part of the morning's conversation. To Lily, he offered, "He's a bibliophile with a fondness for rarities."

"And he writes you notes in Atlantean," Lily commented, shaking her head. "I think I can see where this is going." She let out a quiet laugh and offered Harry a crooked smile. "You know, I never would have thought he'd be a book lover."

"If he'd been any less power-mad, I expect he'd have been a Ravenclaw," Harry said with a shrug. "As it was, his school records rivalled Albus Dumbledore's."

Chris tugged on Harry's sleeve. "Who's Albus Dumbledore?"

"A friend of Mum and Dad's who died in the war," Harry replied, and he couldn't completely keep the disapproval out of his voice as he added, "He was respected by a lot of people."

"Harry and Albus have a few differences of opinion," Lily commented.

"Politics?" Will asked, making a face.

Harry nodded grimly. "I'm afraid so."

"Don't care," Will declared before clearly changing tracks and asking, "Was that book you kept copying from for Voldemort?"

"What book?" Lily asked, looking curious.

Will held his arms out wide. "It was huge. And the pages kept coming out and falling everywhere. Some of them got really badly damaged."

"The Canterbury Tales," Harry offered, grimacing when he remembered the couple of pages that had slipped off his bed one night and begun to decay because they were too far away from him. "Chaucer gave it to me one day," he added, grinning when Lily's eyes went wide and her spoon slipped out of her hand and clattered against the table top. "Regretfully, things created in the Realm of Death don't tend to survive long outside of that realm, unless near someone who practises the right magic, so I couldn't give Voldemort the original, which meant copying the whole thing over, by hand, into something else."

"Do you still have it?" Lily breathed.

"Sure," Harry agreed. "I'd have to go into the Realm of Death to get it, though."

Lily looked torn about that for a moment before shaking herself and admitting, "I would really love the chance to read it."

Harry laughed. "If you give me a few weeks, I can make you a copy. I'm afraid I have to be touching the original while it's on this side of the Veil, or I'd just lend you it." He snorted to himself. "I can even translate it into modern English for you, if you'd prefer."

"It's not in English?" Will asked.

"It's in an older form of English," Harry corrected. "Still mostly understandable, but you have to think about it."

"Cool," Will decided.

Lily smiled. "I think I would appreciate a more modern copy," she admitted.

"Sure." Harry shrugged. "I can get started on it after lunch."

"Can I help?" Will asked.

Harry snorted. "You can read over my shoulder."

Will pouted while Lily laughed.

-0-

Having his parents know the heavily edited truth about what sort of person Harry really was, in the end, didn't change much. There were a couple of strange and/or strained conversations the first week or so, while Lily and James – and, by extension, Remus, Sirius, and Peter – tried to wrap their heads around his darker nature, but things did eventually go back to normal.

The first time Harry spoke around the neighbourhood kids, the Weasleys, and Geoffrey Hooper, everyone sort of stopped for a moment and gave him an odd look, then shrugged it off and accepted the change with very little trouble. Ron, Ginny, Fred, George, and Geoffrey, being magical, had all heard his speaking notebook before, so they commented on the similarities, and Harry just shrugged and suggested, "It was probably spelled to do that. I dunno."

Chris started primary that year, and with all three of them finally out of the house for part of the day, Lily looked into an actual job, rather than occasionally charming objects for people. Remus offered to keep an eye on Harry and his brothers after school, since he was only working part-time at the moment. "Though, I won't be able to help around full moons."

"We can look into a babysitter for those days?" Lily suggested.

"I could do it," Harry offered quietly, glancing around at the adults.

"Yeah," Will agreed, perking up from where he'd been slumping over his dinner. "We don't need no babysitter."

James shook his head. "What if something happens? What if one of you slips and falls on the stairs?" He sighed and met Harry's frown. "I'm sorry, Harry, but there needs to be an adult around, especially since you can't do magic."

Harry scowled down at his food and muttered uncomplimentary things in Russian.

"English," Lily reminded him.

Harry huffed and shut up.

"I'll look into people this week," Lily decided. "I'll probably look for someone full-time, in case you pick up another job, Remus, but I'll let them know that you can take the boys if they're not available."

Remus nodded. "That's fine." He snorted. "I probably should look into another job, anyway, before you get sick of needing to feed me every other night."

"Perish the thought!" James called, and Remus smiled gratefully.

-0-

The first sitter Lily found was an older witch who was clearly proud of her ancestry, judging by the family coat of arms she had emblazoned on everything. She asked Harry and his brothers to call her 'Lady Mabel' and corrected them if they substituted any other prefix for the 'Lady', though she would accept simply referring to her as 'madam'. She was extremely strict about making sure the boys got their homework done first thing when they got home, refusing all three of them snacks if Harry and Will didn't sit down right off with their work.

"I hate her," Will grumbled the third day she was there.

"I know," Harry murmured, not looking up from his work. "Grin and bear it before Dad starts wondering if he was really joking that time he asked if the dark lord would be willing to babysit."

Will choked on a disbelieving laugh and hid his face against his homework.

"Is something funny?" Mabel asked, coming over to stand over them.

"No, ma'am," Harry replied politely. "Just a typo."

Mabel snorted and turned away. "Honestly," Harry heard her muttering to herself, "letting wizards go to a muggle school."

Harry narrowed his eyes at her back, but didn't comment on the – admittedly rather common, any more – scorn for muggles.

-0-

A little over a month into Mabel's tenure, during a rainy day when all three boy were stuck inside, Chris came up to Harry while he was reading, cradling his left hand. "I cut myself," he admitted.

Harry dropped his book and flexed his wrist to call out his wand. "Let me see it," he ordered.

Chris revealed a jagged cut across his palm and let out a sniffle.

"I don't want to know what you were doing, do I?" Harry muttered as he turned his wand on the cut. But, before he could direct the wand's magic, it was snatched out of his hand. "Hey!" he shouted, turning to glare up at the offender.

Mabel stood over him, disapproval darkening her face. "Little boys shouldn't steal wands."

"I didn't steal it!" Harry snapped back. "It was a gift!"

Mabel snorted. "No adult in their right mind would give a child a wand, no matter how close to Hogwarts age you are. I think we'll just confiscate–"

"You will return my property to me right now," Harry ordered, wearing his best 'I'm the Alpha Lord and you will obey me or die' glare.

Mabel jerked back, gaze caught on his eyes. "Monster," she breathed before pointing Harry's wand at him. "Confringo!"

Harry's eyes widened in disbelief. "Did you just try casting the blasting curse at me?"

"What's wrong with this wand?!" Mabel shouted, stumbling backwards and shaking the stick.

"Harry?" Chris whimpered.

"You did, didn't you?" Harry continued, getting to his feet and moving between his brother and the woman. "You actually just tried to curse me."

Mabel tossed Harry's wand to the side. "Monsters will be put down!" she shouted as she reached for her own wand.

Harry snarled and opened a doorway into the Realm of Death under her, and Mabel let out a scream as she dropped out of sight, the sound cutting off as the doorway closed after her. "I really fucking hate anti-non-human people," Harry growled as he stalked over to his discarded wand and snatched it up.

"Did Harry just kill our babysitter?" Harry heard Will ask from the stairs.

"Uh-huh," Chris agreed quietly.

"You are going to be so grounded," Will informed him as Harry forced himself to calm down.

"Strangely, I can't find it in myself to care," he admitted as he walked back over to Chris. "For now, let me see your hand?"

Chris was perfectly happy to let Harry fix him up, then he and Will spent the next twenty minutes trying to get Harry to get them sweets.

"I'm already going to be grounded until next year for killing Mabel," Harry finally told them when he started to get irritated. "I am not compounding it because you two want to feed your sweet teeth. Shut up."

They left wearing pouts and didn't come back to pester Harry again.

When Lily got home, all three of them came to greet her, and she hugged them all before asking, "Where's Ms Mabel?"

"Harry killed her," Will said matter-of-factly and Harry winced.

"Harry James!" Lily shouted, rounding on Harry.

"She tried to cast a blasting curse at me!" Harry insisted.

That brought Lily up short, and she turned to look at Will and Chris, the latter of whom nodded and added, "She got really angry when Harry's eyes turned gold."

Lily squeezed her eyes closed and took a deep breath. "I need tea and the full story, in that order."

Harry ran to put the kettle on.

Fortified with tea, Lily sat quietly while Harry told her what had happened. When he was done, she sat down the mug she'd been sipping from and said, "You realise I'm going to have to ground you."

Harry sighed and nodded.

"But he was protecting himself!" Chris complained, clinging to Harry's arm.

"I still shouldn't have killed her," Harry admitted. "Just because it's my first reaction to a threat doesn't mean it's the right one."

"Exactly," Lily agreed. "Two months."

Harry winced, because that was a long time to be cooped up inside. "Okay."

"Go to your room until dinner."

Harry sighed and dragged himself up to his room, resigned.

-0-

Lily and James had learnt from that mistake, at least, and made a point of asking, up front, if a possible sitter had a problem with non-humans. They refused two out of hand for their views, and a third was discarded when she started saying nasty things about squibs.

Remus took over the duty of watching the boys while Lily and James tried to find a new sitter, but they were all acutely aware of the approach of the beginning of November and the full moon.

"If you trust them to floo by themselves," Molly told Lily one weekend, while Ron, Ginny, Will, and Chris were outside playing, and Harry was stuck inside because he was still grounded, "I'd be happy to watch them during the afternoons. And I know Ron and Ginny would appreciate having their friends over."

Lily was quiet for a long moment before calling, "Harry? Could you come in here?"

Harry sighed and set aside the book he hadn't been reading anyway before walking into the kitchen. "I can get all of us over to the Burrow fine," he offered as he stepped into the kitchen. "I'd ruther Molly than another babysitter, anyway."

Lily shook her head, amused, while Molly laughed. "I'm aware." Then she turned serious. "You'll have to come straight home and through the floo. No mucking about, dragging your feet with your mates."

Harry nodded. "I know. If Geoffrey and Will want to hang out, Geoffrey needs to check with his parents about going to the Burrow, or you and them have to work something out in advance."

Lily nodded. "And you're still grounded–"

"Until the start of winter holidays," Harry finished, resisting the urge to roll his eyes. "I know, Mum."

Lily smiled at him. "I know you do." She turned back to Molly. "I really appreciate this, Molly."

"You know I'm always happy to help," Molly replied as Harry turned around and started back towards his book. Once he was out of sight of the two mums, Molly lowered her voice to say, "I really don't know how you and James did it; not a single one of my children have ever taken a punishment so calmly."

"Will and Chris always kick up a fuss, too," Lily admitted just as quietly. "My best guess is it has something to do with being a werewolf. More important for him to control himself."

"Maybe," Molly agreed. "Still, are you sure two months isn't a little much for threatening to bite that sitter?" she asked, referring to the story James and Lily had given everyone who didn't know about Harry's penchant for murder.

"When he starts complaining, I'll consider shortening it," Lily said, and while Harry believed she might well let him out of his punishment early if he asked for it, he also knew that he'd reacted like the Alpha Lord, and he wasn't that any more.

That said, he was still going to drop the next person who tried to curse him or his brothers into the Realm of Death, because he was a vengeful bastard with a penchant for murder, and no amount of grounding was going to change that.

-0-

On the first Monday of winter holiday, Lily called in sick. "I just want to spend a day with my favourite boys," she told James when he teased her over breakfast about looking perfectly healthy.

"What does that make me?"

"My favourite man," Lily retorted before leaning in to give him a long kiss that had Will and Chris making grossed out noises while Harry rolled his eyes at his whole family. "Now, go to work."

"Rude," James complained good-naturedly before going around and saying his goodbyes.

As soon as the floo had fallen quiet after James left, Harry said, "Severus is coming over today, isn't he?"

"I can still ground you for another week," Lily threatened, even as her cheeks turned pink.

Harry nodded while his brothers both failed to stifle giggles. "Uh-huh. Because you really want me around to eavesdrop on you and him reliving old times."

"Go outside," Lily ordered and Harry flashed her a knowing grin as he herded his brothers upstairs to get dressed.

Snape was indeed there when they came in for lunch.

"Hi, Secret!" Will called as soon as he saw the man.

Snape's eyes glinted with that sort of resigned amusement that the name always produced. "Will, Chris," he offered in that drily amused tone that Harry had become used to hearing from this version of the man, one who had never been forced to mourn the death of his childhood love and one-time best friend. "And what's this I hear about Harry suddenly deciding to speak?"

"It's a Christmas miracle," Harry deadpanned and his brothers both laughed.

"It's not Christmas," Snape shot back, equally deadpan.

"And it wasn't when you started talking, either," Lily added. "Wash your hands, boys."

Lunch went as smooth as ever, the five of them having long developed an easiness between them which wasn't so fragile as to be broken by Harry's occasional dry comments. Indeed, Snape seemed to enjoy his comments much more when Harry could actually add tone of voice to them, rather than the even tone his notebook had always produced.

When they were finishing the last of the food and Will and Chris were bouncing in their seats, clearly ready to run off their fresh infusion of energy, Lily cleared her throat and said, "Harry, I was thinking about telling Sev a few things."

Harry raised an eyebrow at her.

"I trust him," she defended, while Snape looked between them with a frown. "And, should something happen, you're going to get your brothers to Hogwarts by any means, since it's protected."

Harry turned to consider the man. While he actually didn't mind this Snape, he would always carry a healthy helping of distrust for the man, born from the hostility he'd faced his first life. Death? he called, because he needed an unbiased opinion, and this one could ignore occlumency barriers to find the truth.

Snape gave an almost imperceptible shiver and his frown deepened. "What's going on?" he demanded.

"He is actually quite fond of you, Master," Death offered. "He's quite fond of your brothers, as well, but he sees something of himself in you and relates to it, for all he retains some fear for your wolf half. The truths you're willing to share will remain safe in his care, though you may wish to make a stipulation about one Bartemius Crouch Jr."

Harry raised both eyebrows at that. Oh?

"They have been in a sexual relationship for almost five years," Death said.

"Now I'm just insulted on Mum's behalf," Harry announced, and Lily and Snape both gave him confused looks. "It's really not nice, not introducing your lover to your best friend, Severus."

"Lover?" Lily asked, her eyes glinting with the sort of light that made Harry really glad he wasn't on the other end of her attention.

Snape pointed a shaking finger at Harry. "How could you possibly know that?" he demanded, and the tone he used was the same one that he used when James or Sirius were mentioned.

Harry just stared at him until Snape lowered his finger. "I asked Death if I could trust you, he...overshared," he answered evenly before making a face. "He does that."

"Death," Snape repeated disbelievingly.

"Death," Death agreed from behind Harry.

Lily let out a vaguely terrified sound, while Snape's eyes widened far enough, Harry was half convinced his eyeballs would pop out.

"I thought you weren't going to terrify my parents," Harry complained.

"Apologies, Master," Death replied, not sounding even vaguely apologetic.

"Hi, Death!" Will called.

Harry rolled his eyes and snapped his fingers in Snape's face to get his attention, while Death traded greetings with his brothers in Atlantean. "Hi," he offered with a sharp smile that only just avoided involving a mouth full of too-sharp teeth, "I'm a reincarnated werewolf and practitioner of death magic. Which is pretty much necromancy, except about three times as powerful."

"Five times," Death corrected, moving close enough that Harry could feel its unliving chill along his spine.

"Five times as powerful," Harry allowed, amused, before leaning back and looking up into the shadowed hood. "You're like a small child who's been slighted."

Death let out a death-sigh. "As you say, Master."

Harry offered a soft smile to his eternal servant before straightening and shooting Snape's continued wide-eyed expression a wide grin. "Death magic isn't beholden to the same restraints as the living magic witches and wizards use, so I do, actually, have access to a form of magic. It includes a means of travel, so if you ever spot a portal opening into darkness, best assume it's myself."

"And don't touch it," Will suggested, perfectly serious.

"Yes, please don't," Harry agreed. "It's not pleasant if you don't have the proper protections in place."

"Noted," Snape rasped. He swallowed, then asked, "How terrified of you should I be?"

Harry snorted. "I'm not the dark lord," he said before looking back up at Death. "Stop disturbing Mum and go kill someone."

Death's hood dipped. "Master," it agreed before vanishing.

"Harry," Lily complained, though her heart wasn't in it.

Harry rolled his eyes. "The last time I told him to go frolic with ponies, the ponies ended up dead."

Lily sighed and covered her eyes.

"There is a certain resemblance between yourself and the dark lord," Snape commented carefully, looking a little bit like he wasn't certain if he wouldn't be best served running like hell.

"Oh, I know," Harry agreed. "But I lack the ability to crucio people, and I like you too much to kill you, so you're safe." He tilted his head to one side while Snape let out a quiet breath of relief. "That said, Mum might do something terrible if you don't bring Barty by to meet her by this time next year, and I will send her to you at the most embarrassing moment possible if you tell him anything about this conversation before I've met him myself." Harry stood while Lily turned a speculative gaze on Snape. "Will, Chris, shall we go back outside?"

"Yeah!" Will shouted, jumping up and running from the room.

Harry rolled his eyes as he and Chris followed him.

-0-

On the night of the thirtieth of December, Harry cast a couple of silent spells on his brothers to make sure they'd go to sleep at a reasonable time, and took a potion he'd brewed one night while everyone was sleeping, which would help keep him up for the whole night, then skipped off to Voldemort's room, because he had something planned that he wanted the whole night for. He grinned at Merope when he saw her standing around the access to Voldemort's rooms, and she replied with an uncertain smile. "Is he in for the night?"

She nodded. "It seems so. And things sound pretty calm, for once."

"Yeah, I've had people keeping an eye out," Harry admitted, because what was the point of having thousands of souls able and willing to help him in any way if he didn't use them to watch out for any coming trouble? Which wasn't to say he could keep tabs on everything, but he had a pretty good handle on the magical world, at least. "Right, fingers crossed this works like I mean it to," he muttered before stepping through a doorway and into Voldemort's rooms.

Voldemort turned towards him as the doorway closed behind him, raising one hairless eyebrow. "You're unusually early," he commented neutrally, glancing Harry over. Then he frowned. "No gift this year, Scythe?"

Harry spread his hands slightly. "This year's gift isn't something you can store on a shelf, I'm afraid," he offered before putting on an apologetic look. "And, I'm sorry, but I can't leave the room for this."

Voldemort straightened, his eyes narrowing and the air around him sparking with hostility. "For what?"

Harry closed his eyes and called on the power of the Stone, focussing its magics on Merope and hoping that his assumption that he could decide who could interact with the spirit held true.

"Who–?!" Voldemort snapped, fear hidden under anger in his voice.

Harry opened his eyes to find Merope standing next to him, her hands pressed over her mouth as she stared at Voldemort, who was standing and looking a little bit homicidal. "I thought you might like to spend a night with your mum," Harry offered quietly, watching the dark lord for a clear sign that he needed to leave before curses started getting thrown; there was never any telling how Voldemort was going to react to personal things, which seemed doubly true for this version of the man.

Voldemort went stiff, staring at Merope as though he really didn't know how to handle her presence.

But Merope, who had wasted away in the afterlife watching her son struggle through life, had a very specific goal in mind, Harry knew, and when Voldemort didn't immediately demand they leave, she gave up on staring at him and crossed the room to reach up and cup his face with faintly glowing hands. "Oh, my Tom," she whispered, gratitude and sorrow and so much love in her voice. "I'm so very proud of you."

And Voldemort – who had spent his life hating his mother for being too weak to survive, and would have told anyone with enough gumption to ask, that he was glad he'd never had her in his life – sort of slumped and lifted his hands to hover uncertainly over her shoulders, looking so lost it ached. "Mum?" he whispered, and Harry had to look away.

"I'm sorry," Merope whispered, and Harry didn't have to look at her to know she was crying. "I'm so, so sorry that I couldn't be there for you. I'm sorry you had to be alone for so long, that there was never anyone there–" She cut herself off with a sound that was half surprise, half happiness.

Harry glanced back over his shoulder to find that Voldemort had pulled his mother into a hug, one that Merope – Harry knew – would be perfectly happy to never break. He smiled to himself and tiptoed over to the bookcase of rare books, intending to borrow one of the scrolls from Vesuvius, since he'd not had the chance to read them, and he'd need to stay nearby to support Merope's existence on this side of the Veil.

He'd been reading maybe forty minutes, when Voldemort called, "Scythe?"

Harry blinked a few times and looked up. "Yes?" he asked, only to realise that had come out in Latin.

Voldemort didn't seem to notice the slip, however, seated with Merope on a couch that Harry could only assume he'd conjured. "How is she solid?"

Harry carefully set the scroll aside and stood from the corner he'd curled up in next to the bookcase, as far out of the way as he could get while remaining within sight. "She's not a ghost," he offered with a shrug as he started over, wincing at a cramp he hadn't noticed while he'd been reading. "Admittedly, Merope shouldn't be able to appear in the living realm, not having passed on without leaving a ghost, as she did, but I have the ability to call her to this realm in the same form that she takes in the Realm of Death. So, corporeal."

"How long?" Voldemort demanded, and it was only because Harry had lived a lifetime with another version of him that he heard the whisper of desperation in his voice.

Harry offered a crooked smile. "There's not a time limit, but I do have to be nearby." He sighed and shook his head. "I can't promise what will happen if I fall asleep, however, so if you unexpectedly end up back in the Realm of Death," he said to Merope, "I'm sorry. You know it wouldn't be intentional."

"I know," Merope agreed with a fond smile for him. "Any time with Tom is a gift I can never hope to repay."

Harry hurriedly turned away, feeling unaccountably embarrassed. "I'm going back to reading and pretending I'm not here," he announced before going back to the scroll he'd been reading.

He tried to keep from eavesdropping – if nothing else, he knew how Voldemort felt about airing his private affairs – and the scroll was certainly engaging enough to keep him distracted, but he still heard the occasional comment, or internalised a word or a name that spoke to a past that he'd only learnt the barest minimum about (and from a biased source, besides).

He didn't keep particularly close track of time, so was honestly surprised when he got up to switch scrolls at one point and saw a glimmer of light sneaking in around the heavy drapes blocking the windows. He glanced towards the antique grandfather clock that Voldemort had in one corner – Harry knew it worked, though the lack of ticking noise suggested Voldemort had magically silenced it – and raised an eyebrow to discover it was almost nine.

Something about his change from routine must have caught Voldemort's attention, for he drily enquired, "When should I expect your mother to come storming into the mansion?"

Merope let out a quiet laugh and looked away when Harry turned an amused smile on her. "I left a note saying I had business to see to," he told the dark lord.

Voldemort snorted. "I know your mother well enough, I expect, to know that won't hold her back for long."

Harry grimaced and shrugged. "You may be right," he allowed. "In truth, I haven't the faintest; I didn't want to try any tests after I got grounded."

Voldemort's eyes lit at that. "Oh? And why were you grounded, Scythe?"

Harry rolled his eyes. "I killed our babysitter."

Voldemort choked on a laugh, his expression a mix of disbelief and amusement. "What in Slytherin's name could ever have possessed you?"

"I lost my temper," Harry admitted with an easy shrug, moving forward to lean against the corner of Voldemort's desk. "She stole my wand and tried to curse me with it, so I just–" he flicked his fingers and a mini doorway into the Realm of Death opened and closed above his hand. "No more babysitter," he added with a smile.

But Voldemort didn't look amused by the story. "Let me see the wand," he ordered, sounding just shy of murderous.

Harry hid the arm his holster was attached to behind his back. "Why?" he asked, suspicious.

"Scythe, now," Voldemort demanded, his tone every inch the uncompromising dark lord that kept even the most sadistic of his followers in line.

But Harry was no follower, and he'd never made a habit of baring his throat for any version of Voldemort. "No," he returned, using his Alpha Lord voice. "I will not play second fiddle to your whims; tell me why you want it."

"Tom," Merope called when it looked like Voldemort was going to continue trying to order Harry into submission. When she gently touched his arm, he slumped, looking irritated and...worried?

Harry frowned, thrown by the suggestion of concern.

"It does you no good if someone takes your wand from you," Voldemort offered tiredly, looking at his desk, rather than Harry, as though he were embarrassed that he had to explain himself. "There may be a way to spell the wand to always return to you, should it move a certain distance from you."

Harry stared, his mind rushing through calculations, trying to verify that such a thing was possible. "An object-specific summoning charm tied to a magical tether that will activate when stretched?" he guessed.

Voldemort's head came up and they locked eyes for a long moment, connected by the sort of love of experimenting with magic that so few wizards and witches could understand, stuck in the rut of using spells for their intended purposes because that was how they'd been taught.

And then Voldemort smiled, honest and open and everything that made Harry fall in love with him all over again. "May I?" he requested, an equal to an equal.

Harry brought his wand over, voice caught behind a block in his throat.

Voldemort cast his spells quickly and efficiently, then looked up at Harry, who had managed to rally himself while the dark lord had been focussed on his spellwork. "Try it out," he suggested.

Harry raised an eyebrow and started walking backwards. When Voldemort started frowning, he stopped. "Not working?" he guessed.

"No," Voldemort agreed.

Harry considered the problem for a moment while Voldemort cast a couple of diagnostic spells. "Merope," he called at last, realising that, if the Stone was a part of him, the magic keeping her in the living realm would very likely be mistaken as him by Voldemort's spell, "come here, please."

Voldemort looked up, surprised, while Merope obediently got up and walked towards Harry. When she reached the point where Voldemort had started frowning, the wand shot from the dark lord's hand and Harry stepped forward to catch it.

"So, any spirits tied to me read as me, in terms of the tether," Harry assumed, offering Merope an amused smile. "It's unlikely to be an issue, in future, but it is a good limit to be aware of."

"And we can always simply take your wand and return it to you, at that," Merope pointed out.

"Also true," Harry agreed.

"An unexpected hurdle," Voldemort commented, his expression closed. "May I try another test?"

Harry tilted his head curiously. "What do you have in mind?"

"It should like to know who the wand returns to, if you are equally distant from it," Voldemort explained.

Harry blinked. "That would be...good to know, yes," he agreed, stepping forward to return his wand to Voldemort. "Merope, if you'll join me here?" he asked, and she joined him with a smile. "Brilliant. Now, you walk towards the bookcase and I'll go towards the door. Given the difference of height, perhaps go a little slower than your usual pace?"

"Certainly," Merope agreed, and they both started walking away from Voldemort.

The wand flew to Harry, when they got far enough away, and Harry let out a quiet breath of relief, because it could have been quite awkward, his wand going to a spirit who was only marked with his magical signature. "Thank you, Voldemort," he offered as he moved back towards the couch, returning his wand to the sheath as he moved. "It's unspeakably disconcerting to have someone take your wand and know you're incapable of the summoning spell necessary to recall it. Given, I'm hardly defenceless without it, but there are plenty of times when murdering an offender is not an acceptable response."

Voldemort flashed him a mean smile. "Only because you're a child."

Harry snorted, amused. "Child and living with people who consider killing an assailant something of a last resort."

"It is troubling, those morals," Voldemort offered, and his eyes practically danced.

"Sadist," Harry complained, and the word came out unexpectedly fond.

Voldemort's amusement wavered and he looked towards the clock as his expression smoothed out into something more neutral. "Given your mother's penchant for irritating me at any given opportunity, perhaps you should return home before she decides to come find you."

"Are you sure?" Harry asked, frowning at the change in humour. "Like I said at the start, Merope can only exist in this realm if I'm nearby."

Voldemort glanced towards his mother and she offered him a smile full of love and understanding. "The offered time has been sufficient," Voldemort said, and Harry thought he sounded mostly sad, yet also...distant?

What–?

Harry closed his eyes, remembering another version of this man, who had pulled away from any hint of affection from Harry while he believed him a child. Even when Harry had looked to be in his late teens and told the dark lord about his first life, he'd still had to push the man to get him to make a move. 'Ah,' he mouthed before pasting on an easy smile and shrugging. "And it's not like you can never see each other again," he said before snorting. "Though, I may need to bring my own books to read, next time; I'm afraid I've read most of the ones I've given you."

"Taste-testing gifts, Scythe?" Voldemort returned drily, though still with that hint of distance.

"I know, how terribly gauche of me," Harry agreed, and Voldemort let out a startled snort and glanced up at him with a tight smile that was almost normal, for him. Harry smiled back at him, trying to keep it friendly, rather than affectionate. "Happy birthday, Voldemort," he offered.

Voldemort's jaw clenched and he gave a short nod. "Scythe."

Harry waited until he was safely back in the Realm of Death before letting out a loud sigh. "I really fucking hate that man's personal minefield," he complained to himself.

"Harry?" Merope called, and he pulled out a smile for her. She didn't quite smile back, but her bearing wasn't unfriendly, either, as she asked, "Are you courting my son?"

Harry raised both eyebrows at that. "I've been giving him birthday presents for eight years, counting today, and you're only now asking me this?" he asked, disbelieving.

Merope shook her head. "Books are one matter, even ones as rare as you hunt down; giving him and me the chance to meet... Well, that's something else entirely."

Harry wanted to turn away, didn't want to have this conversation, but he couldn't spurn Merope, couldn't just walk away from one of the few spirits he truly enjoyed spending time with. So he closed his eyes and quietly admitted, "I love him. I will always love him." He looked up into her understanding, broken smile. "You can call it courting, every gift, sure. But I'm only ten, in so far as relations between us are concerned, and I'm not going to push his boundaries. Right now, if I can make him smile, that's enough."

"But it hurts," Merope offered quietly.

Harry shrugged, let his mouth curl with a bitter smile. "The greatest sorrow of the lives I have lived is that, while our paths are always destined to collide, we are also destined to suffer along that course; there's not much I can do about that, other than take what I can from what I'm given." He shook his head. "Love," he scoffed.

"Love," Merope echoed, sounding as tired and hurt as Harry felt, before she stepped forward and wrapped him in a hug.

Harry returned the hug with all he was, unconcerned that he might hurt her with his werewolf strength, not in this realm. "Thank you," he whispered against her smock.

Merope pressed a light kiss to his forehead, then pulled back and met his eyes. "Just promise me you'll never follow my path."

Harry immediately shook his head. "I would rather he never look at me again, than force his affection through magical means."

She smiled and said, "Good," before squeezing his arms once and pulling away entirely. "Now, best you head home. I'm sure your family is worried about you."

Harry snorted. "With my luck, I'm going to be grounded for another two months," he agreed, turning to head home.

"Was it worth it?" Merope called after him.

Harry smiled, unexpectedly reminded of something he'd once seen another Snape say in a memory. "Always," he replied, meaning that word every bit as much as that bitter, broken man that had lost everything had.

.

Chapter Text

Remus was waiting for Harry when he stepped back into his bedroom, and he froze under the disapproving, gold-flecked stare of his godfather for a long moment before slumping. "How much trouble am I in?"

"Where were you?" Remus asked in return, because Harry had only put that he had business in his note.

Harry took a moment to decide whether he would be in more trouble if he refused to explain the reason for his outing, or if he admitted he'd spent the night with Voldemort. They're going to figure out when his birthday is eventually, he realised and sighed. "It's Voldemort's birthday," he offered, leaving it for Remus to connect those dots.

Remus' expression didn't change. "And you had to stay out all night to give him a gift?"

Harry straightened and crossed his arms over his chest, refusing to answer that.

Remus held firm for another moment, before sighing and rubbing tiredly at his face. "Have you slept?"

Harry tightened his arms over his chest. "I took a potion that'll keep me up for another couple hours," he admitted.

Remus gave him a tired look. "Which potion?"

Harry resisted the urge to wince as he admitted, "Orange Zing."

Remus started. "That's auror restricted."

Harry raised an eyebrow. "I'm aware. I also know that I can't take it again for another fifty or so hours, and if I take any other stimulant potions to keep awake after its worn off, I'll end up with a blinding migraine and will throw up anything I eat until I can sleep. I'm not thoughtlessly medicating myself."

"It sure looks like you are," Remus informed him, and Harry refused to flinch at the accusation. Remus' mouth tightened and the gold in his eyes intensified. "You're grounded for a month."

"Fine."

"And we're not telling your dad or Uncle Sirius about–"

"The fact that I'm brewing and taking potions that I don't, legally, have any right to?" Harry finished drily.

"Exactly," Remus agreed, giving up on the disapproving look and going for a more resigned appearance, though his eyes still glinted gold. "Could you at least try to be a law-abiding citizen for more than two months at a time?"

Harry rolled his eyes. "I'll work on that," he replied before motioning towards the bedroom door. "Shall we go assure everyone I'm back? And warn them that I'm going to crash for about six hours fairly soon."

Remus frowned as he stood. "Only six? I thought it was eight."

"That's for humans. We're different."

"Right." Remus nodded in understanding before waving Harry ahead of him.

Harry took a deep breath and left his room to face the music, as it were.

-0-

Harry mostly managed to keep his misdeeds on the lowdown for the rest of the school year and into the summer holiday. While he could hardly keep out of the Realm of Death completely, given his attempts to keep tabs on his quasi-spy network, he did avoid making any long trips via it. And, too, with his brothers and him going to the Weasleys' every afternoon, while Lily and James were both working, there wasn't much chance for him to run into people who irritated him the right way that he felt the need to just kill them.

As summer started and Ron started talking about getting his Hogwarts letter, Harry's mind turned to another close friend who would be starting Hogwarts that year.

"Mum, Dad?" he said over dinner a couple nights before his eleventh birthday.

James and Lily eyed him with similar vaguely concerned expressions, and Will coughed a laugh into his dinner.

Harry couldn't help a small smile. "It's nothing bad," he promised.

"You say that, and yet..." James returned.

"You are your father's son," Lily added with a straight face.

James looked like he wasn't sure whether he should be insulted or pleased by that, which had Will in stitches and Chris giggling quietly into one hand.

"Given," Harry admitted with an equally straight face, and Lily's eyes glinted. "All that aside, I know you were talking about giving me the guest room–"

"Did you tell him?" James stage whispered to Lily.

"–and while that would be lovely and all, I'm fine continuing to bunk with Will and Chris. I was thinking, instead, that you might consider looking into hosting one of the muggleborn students." Because Harry could find a way to get Hermione put under the Potters' name, so long as she agreed to attend Hogwarts. And, knowing Hermione, she would.

Lily looked startled, but pleased, while James turned thoughtful. "We could," Lily agreed. "It would be one less muggleborn chancing getting put with a family that's only taking them on for the PR."

"And we meet the requirements," James agreed, waving one hand towards Harry. "It doesn't say your child who's the same general age can't be a squib, and Will's only two years below him, besides."

"You'll have to be careful," Lily warned Harry.

Harry just raised an eyebrow at her. "Yes, because me blabbing my secrets to every overnight guest has actually been a problem in the past."

James snorted. "He has a point."

Lily sighed. "Just–"

"Only in emergencies, I swear," Harry promised, utterly serious. Because he knew Hermione, and the more often he used death magic while she was in residence, the more likely she was to catch him. Yearly visits to deliver Voldemort's birthday presents aside, his regular usage could be arrested during the holidays.

Lily looked at James and he nodded. "I'll put our names into the lottery tomorrow. I can specify year and gender, but nothing else."

"A first year," Lily decided. "And..." She looked around the table, biting her lip.

"We could use a bit more oestrogen around here," Harry commented mildly, and Lily smiled, the only other one at the table who knew enough of muggle biology to get the reference.

"What's 'oestrogen'?" Will asked.

"It's a hormone that girls have more of than boys," Harry offered. When Will's brows tightened further, he reached over and patted his brother's shoulder. "Don't worry about it."

"Harry just means we should ask for a girl, which would be nice," Lily admitted. "It is getting a little boy-heavy around here."

"So?" James asked, and Lily smacked his arm. "Ow," he complained, making a big point of clutching the point of contact and looking wounded.

Chris reached over with his fork and poked James' side. "Listen to Mum."

Lily covered her mouth with one hand and turned her head away, eyes dancing.

"Did you just poke me with the fork that's been in your mouth?" James asked, looking flummoxed, and Chris grinned, showing off the hole where the last of his baby teeth had been. "You did, didn't you? You know what that means."

Chris' eyes went wide and he clutched his fork to his chest. "It's mine!" he insisted. "Harry gave it to me!" Because Harry had set the table.

James nodded slowly. "True, true. But you still poked me with it."

Lily rolled her eyes and snapped her fingers in front of James' nose, making him go cross-eyed. "Leave your youngest to eat in peace, reindeer-boy."

"Not a reindeer!" James complained, and Harry and Will traded grins while Chris ducked his head, because Lily always used that line to distract their father.

Lily patted his shoulder consolingly. "It's fine, dear. You don't have to hide the truth from your family."

"I–" James stared around the table, taking in the grins all three boys were failing to hide. "Oh, ha-ha. Laugh it up."

Lily leant in and kissed his cheek. "First year girl," she reminded him.

James sighed. "Yeah, okay. Tomorrow morning, first thing."

Now all Harry had to do was wait until after everyone had responded – everything he'd heard so far about the process suggested the muggleborn possibilities had until the first weekend of August to make their decision – then sneak into the ministry and ensure the match-ups went as he wanted.

-0-

When Harry opened his presents the morning of his birthday, he found himself short one.

"What, no benefactor gift?" Sirius complained while Harry frowned at the empty space at the bottom of the pile, where it usually was.

"Maybe he decided that, since we knew who he was, he'd best cease with the gifts?" James suggested uncertainly.

"We know who it is?" Peter whispered.

Harry snorted and stood with a handful of new clothing and books. "Yes," he said, and he knew his voice was too sharp, but the snub hurt, as expected as it was, "that is the sort of thing he'd do. Excuse me." He hurried up to his room, where he dropped his things onto his bed in a giant heap before dropping down next to the pile and rubbing angrily at his face. "Damn him," he muttered to himself.

"Language," Lily cautioned as she stepped into the room with the last few gifts that Harry hadn't been able to grab. She set them on top of the pile, then settled gently on the bed next to Harry and pulled him into a hug. "It's okay to be upset, sweetheart."

Harry wrapped his arms around her and hid his face against her shoulder, disgusted with the heat of tears he felt prickling against his eyes. "I should have known he was going to do this," he complained, and his voice cracked.

"No one can hope to know every one of Voldemort's moves before he makes them," Lily offered wisely.

But Harry should have. He knew Voldemort practically as well as he knew himself, knew that he'd pushed too hard on the man's birthday, had let too much slip; discomfited dark lords did not tend to end in gifts, even after half a year of space.

He took a deep breath, let the scent of his mum centre him a bit, then pulled away and put on a smile that felt a little too tight around the edges. "We'd best head back down for cake, lest Will and Chris mutiny."

Lily smiled back, her eyes sad. "I'm rather more concerned about Dad and Uncle Sirius, personally," she admitted.

"Greater reach?"

"Greater destructive abilities."

Harry laughed, let himself enjoy the mental image of Padfoot and Prongs taking to the kitchen with claws and antlers. "Yes, well. Give Chris and Will time."

Lily hugged him around the shoulders before standing. "I'll trust you to assist in keeping them in line."

"What makes you think I won't help them?" Harry asked, curious.

"Mum's intuition," Lily said before sauntering from the room.

Harry grinned after her, the motion feeling more natural than he'd have expected, and followed her down the stairs.

Before they could enter the kitchen – from which Harry could hear James suggesting they start chanting for cake – a knock came at the door, rapid and impatient.

Lily looked over at Harry, who shrugged, then called, "I've got it," before turning towards the door.

Harry lingered in the hallway, feeling less interested in facing the rest of his family without his mum.

"Can I help you?" Lily asked once she'd opened the door.

"I believe so, Mrs Potter," a voice that set Harry's heart thudding offered, cool and cultured. He started forward, even as Lily stiffened, clearly recognising the tone the visitor had spoken her name in, if nothing else.

As Harry rounded Lily, he found himself staring at Tom Riddle; brown eyes with circular pupils, black hair perfectly styled, wearing a slightly outdated muggle suit that, nonetheless, passed far better than the attempts made by most magical people. It was like seeing a ghost, this man every inch the dark lord that Harry had loved in another reality. "Tom?" he breathed.

The man grimaced. "Must you?" he complained.

Harry grinned, wide and so unbelievably happy, because the dark lord was there. Which was...so much better than a present hidden at the bottom of the pile without any hint as to the giver, save handwriting. "Blame Albus," he suggested, and Tom – because Harry couldn't possibly think of him by any other name, not when he looked like that – sneered. "Not that I'm not looking forward to Uncle Peter wetting himself when he figures out who you are," Harry continued, "but why are you here?"

Tom scowled and held up a thin box with a green ribbon tied around it. "House-elf revolt," he replied.

Harry snorted, because he didn't need to smell that lie to know it for what it was, but he let it pass. "Mum?" he asked, because he knew his family was still a little uncertain about his not-a-friendship with the dark lord, would probably always be uncertain about it.

Lily looked down at him and sighed before stepping back. "Please come in," she offered.

"Thank you," Tom replied as he stepped inside, a hint of strain in his voice that Harry knew his mother would never notice.

Lily looked momentarily surprised before blanking her expression and asking, "Did you want to stay for cake?"

Harry immediately started nodding, both for the previously mentioned amusement purposes of Peter's reaction, and because he had an unapologetic love for his mum's cakes.

Tom's mouth quirked. "I don't expect your son intends to give me a choice in the matter," he pointed out.

Lily shot Harry a fondly exasperated look. "Give me a minute to warn Uncle Peter," she ordered before leaving them for the kitchen.

The gift was suddenly directly in front of Harry's face, and he couldn't help flinching before turning an unimpressed look on the dark lord. "Really?" he complained.

"Consider it punishment for using my name," Voldemort replied in perfect German.

Harry rolled his eyes and took the gift so he could untie the bow. "You really need to get over that complex, I swear," he returned, sticking to the same language. "You didn't complain when your mum used it."

"That's her prerogative," Tom defended.

"Given," Harry allowed as he got the box open and found the wand within, so very like the one currently in his sheath. He glanced up at the hovering dark lord, one eyebrow raised. "I expect this one is updated from my current one."

"You expect correct," Tom agreed. "It occurred to me that your abilities with death, while an effective form of self-defence, are not..."

"Morally acceptable in polite society?" Harry suggested somewhat drily.

"Essentially. This one has the same spells as your first wand, as well as a number of offensive additions."

"Harry," Lily said, stepping out into the hall, wearing a knowing look. "Cake, come on. And English, if you both please."

"Sorry, Mum," Harry offered, motioning for Tom to follow him into the dining room, where the whole family was sitting around the table, the adults all looking strained, while Will and Chris looked curious.

"You look different," Will declared upon sighting Tom.

Harry snorted. "You can't really expect he'd get away with visiting in a muggle neighbourhood like that," he pointed out.

Will frowned, clearly considering that, while Harry and Tom finished the trip to the table. An extra chair had been added and people shuffled, which left Tom between Peter and Harry. Harry could only assume it was an attempt to bracket the dark lord with people who were less likely to complain about having to sit next to him, and he couldn't help wondering how hard it had been to convince Peter of the necessity.

Lily brought out the cake and Harry suffered being sang to – Tom didn't join in, which didn't surprise Harry, who knew the Dark Lord was tone deaf – then blew out his candles. As Lily took the cake back to the worktop to cut, Sirius leant forward, staring at the box and wand Harry had set on the table in front of him when he'd sat. "So?" Sirius pressed.

Harry twitched his wrist, calling out his old wand and trading it for the new one. "So, same spells as my old one, plus...?" he prompted the dark lord at his side.

"Confringo, expelliarmus, incendio, petrificus totalus, silencio, and stupefy," Tom replied evenly before his expression twisted with disgust. "And a finite incantatem that will only work on the spells the wand can cast."

Harry covered a smile. "It's a complicated, multipurpose spell," he pointed out. "We discussed illusions."

"Similar, and yet not," Tom returned, blanking his expression. "However, I take your meaning." He picked up Harry's old wand and considered it. "I will have to remove the tether from this one and add it to that one."

"Hence the reason for the house-elf revolt," Harry agreed, amused, and Tom shot him a sharp smile. Harry shifted the box out of the way as cake started floating over, directed by Lily.

"Tether?" Sirius asked, tone just shy of hostile.

"May I?" Harry asked, holding out a hand for his old wand, and Tom handed it back with a nasty glint in his eyes. "Duck," he suggested to his brothers, who were between him and the doorway into the hallway, and they quickly leant out of the way so Harry could throw his old wand, having already seen the trick.

"Harry James!" Lily shouted, and Harry heard Tom let out a quiet snort.

And then, not unlike a boomerang, the wand returned to him. Harry caught it with a bright grin and called, "Sorry, Mum!" before looking at Sirius and agreeing, "Tether."

Sirius just sort of stared in disbelief.

Remus cleared his throat. "That is...ingenious."

"It serves its purpose," Tom replied carelessly.

Harry rolled his eyes.

"What about power capabilities?" James asked, his voice tense, as Lily settled into the chair at his side, the cake served. "I know we had to recharge the old wand."

"They are about similar," Tom allowed before switching to German to add, "However, I had a couple ideas about–"

"Voldemort," Harry interrupted, amused.

Tom pinned him with a glare that had the rest of the table shifting uncertainly, but Harry just raised an eyebrow at him. "How many here know about your death abilities?"

"Everyone," Harry replied, making a point to speak English.

Tom hissed some choice comments about Harry's inability to keep secrets and Harry laughed, returning to his cake.

"Brave, brave Harry," Sirius said under his breath, quiet enough that only Remus and Harry would be able to really make the words out, and Remus snorted before ducking his head to focus on his cake.

After a moment of disgusted silence, Tom gave in and asked, "How possible would it be to convert death magic into something capable of charging the wands?"

Harry jerked in surprise and set his fork down before he could make a mess. He turned to stare at the dark lord next to him. "I have no earthly idea," he admitted.

Tom's eyes glinted. "Miracles are possible, then?"

"You're a regular comedian," Harry shot back, rolling his eyes, and Sirius choked while his brothers both giggled. On Tom's other side, Peter let out a quiet moan. "I suspect the only way to know for certain would be to test it."

"Inevitably."

"But not right now. Eat your cake."

Tom snorted, but obeyed, which told Harry, at least, that the dark lord liked the cake. Score one point to Lily.

Once Tom and Harry were both done, however, the dark lord demanded, "Sometime today, Scythe."

Harry snorted and stood. "Mum, Voldemort and I are gonna go play with illegal magic in the back garden," he announced, just to make Tom's mouth twitch.

Lily sighed while James and Sirius both let out very obvious coughs. "Just...activate the wards first."

"I know," Harry promised, motioning for Tom to follow him.

Will and Chris joined him at the door, Will insisting, "I want to see!"

Harry smiled and ruffled his brother's hair. "Of course you do," he agreed as he let them outside. "Remind me what we do when one of my doorways are open?"

Will scoffed, but Chris obediently answered, "Don't touch it unless you're holding our hand."

"Gold star," Harry promised.

"Hey!" Will complained and Chris stuck his tongue out at him.

"I did not approve of children," Tom informed him in German.

"I'll make a note," Harry shot back before pointing at the two ward stones. "Can you activate those, please?"

Tom sighed, but went to do so while Harry settled his brothers. When the dark lord returned, he held out a hand. "Wands."

Harry raised an eyebrow, but handed them both over. Tom added the tether to the newer wand, took it off the old one, then handed the new one to Harry. "We'll run the tests with the old one," Tom said as Harry slipped his new wand away. "Can you bring up one of your portals?"

Harry nodded and opened a mini one in the palm of his hand, holding it between them.

"Cool!" Will declared, peering over Harry's shoulder.

"I can't see!" Chris complained.

Tom's expression tightened and Harry ordered, "Both of you, sit down."

"But–"

"William, I will call Mum out here and make her take you back inside."

Will went back to the picnic table, huffing the whole way, with Chris trailing him in a slump.

"Sorry," Harry offered, switching back to German.

Tom gave a tight nod. "Your brother said something about holding your hand if touching the portal?"

"Oh, yeah. You'll survive the contact without, but it hurts like you have no idea. I can share my immunity with you with skin contact."

Tom looked, expectedly, uncertain. "You forgot to mention that the first time," he commented.

Harry raised an eyebrow at him. "You weren't, actually, thinking about touching one then." He took a deep breath. "Look, it's not a big deal, having my parents recharge–"

"My mother seems to think you have...feelings for me," Tom got out in a rush, grimacing.

Harry stared at him for a second, then proceeded to fluently curse out Merope in Russian.

Tom burst out laughing and stepped back, getting out of range of the wavering doorway over Harry's hand.

"I hate you so much right now," Harry informed the dark lord, his cheeks far too warm.

"Does your mother know what sort of language you use?" Tom teased him, and there was still a hint of uncertainty in his eyes, but his humour was...completely unexpected.

"So much hatred," Harry insisted, because that was the only response he could wrap his mind around right then.

Tom stepped back into his space and, with only a momentary hesitation, laced his fingers with Harry's, both of their hands palm-up under the still-fluctuating doorway.

:Please don't do this to me,: Harry breathed out in a hiss.

Tom met his eyes and squeezed his fingers, then ordered, "Focus," and turned his attention on the doorway.

Harry took a deep breath and forced his thoughts to clear. "Right," he said, and his voice shook a bit, but he ignored it. "What do you need?"

"I know nothing about this magic," Tom admitted, and he sounded both bitter and intrigued, the sort of dichotomy that Harry usually delighted in causing in the dark lord. "Are there any spells you can cast with it? Something that will let me get a feel for it?"

"I could take you into the Realm of Death," Harry replied drily, even as he wracked his brain for some sort of show of death magic that would serve the purpose the dark lord needed. He knew all of the spells, of course, but most of them needed someone there to cast on, and few of those spells had good connotations.

"Perhaps not," Tom said to his suggestion, his mouth twisting with dislike.

Harry snorted and turned to look back at where his brothers were looking bored at the picnic table. "Feet off the grass," he ordered and they both immediately pulled their feet up, looking excited at the chance to see some magic. Harry glanced towards the house, ensuring no one else had joined them, then raised an eyebrow at Tom. "Ready?"

Tom just raised one perfectly sculpted eyebrow in response.

Harry closed his eyes, focussing on the...it was really more of an ability, but it should work for what Tom wanted. He opened his eyes and looked down, then breathed out.

Spreading out from their feet, in a circle that easily encompassed the picnic table and threatened both the backdoor of the house and Lily's small vegetable garden, every blade of grass, weed, and struggling flower withered and died.

"Salazar," Tom breathed, and Harry glanced up to find him staring at him, eyes wide with something very like awe.

Harry's mouth twitched. "Rather."

"Mum is gonna kill you," Will declared.

Harry snorted and glanced back at his brothers, both of whom were very obviously not touching the dead grass. "I didn't harm her vegetables, just the grass."

Tom shifted his fingers against Harry's, holding the old wand in one hand while he pulled his own wand out with his other hand. He cast a couple quick spells at Harry's old wand, frowned, and met Harry's gaze. "Can you cast something else?"

Harry glanced off to one side, debating, before looking back at the dark lord and asking, "May I cast something on you? I promise it's not harmful."

Tom's mouth quirked. "Inexplicable as it seems, I'm having a hard time imagining you'd be willing to hurt me."

Harry very determinedly did not react to that, instead focussing on the dark lord. A breath of death magic and a mental flip allowed him to see Tom's, well... Death would have called it a living soul, but most living beings would refer to it as a magical aura. Either way, it was a swirl of dark threads surrounding the man, focussing on his heart, brain, and the hand his wand was in. Where their hands met, Harry's own dark grey threads mingled with Tom's, while the doorway above their hands bled black clouds of death magic.

Harry let the death magic roll over his hand, focussed it towards Tom, towards the loci of the man's magic, his mind and heart, and directed it to sort of boost his magical strength. Momentarily, because he very much doubted the world needed a dark lord with even more magic that he already possessed.

Tom's fingers tightened around Harry's, and he blinked his changed sight away, meeting brown eyes that were watching him hungrily. "Please don't," Harry whispered, because that look had always precluded sex, in his long experience with Tom Riddle. Not this Tom, given, but still.

Tom glanced down at their joined hands. "May I assume you can take magic away?"

"Of course."

Brown eyes that were more thoughtful than hungry looked back up at him. "Could you make someone a squib?"

Harry sighed. "Can I drain someone to the point that they're unable to cast even a weak lumos? Absolutely. But, contrary to pureblood dogma, a squib is not, actually, someone born without any magic. Rather, they're born with magic, but at some point during their growth within the womb–"

Will made a disgusted noise behind him.

"–their forming magical pathways were arrested or completely ravaged. The latter is what happened to me, my lycanthropy destroying what had already been created, as you're aware. But, for normal squibs, think of it in terms of a birth defect, like growing an extra finger, or being blind."

"Hence the reason they can make potions and see past anti-muggle wards," Tom murmured, eyes going distant.

"If, however, what you're really asking is, 'Hey, Scythe, there's this uppity pureblood who I think needs to be stuck as a muggle for a couple months, can you take their magic away and then give it back after?' Yeah, absolutely. Point me in their direction and consider it done," Harry completed with a smile that was all teeth.

"Vindictive streak, Scythe?" Tom teased, his eyes practically dancing.

"Oh, you really have no idea."

Tom smirked, turning his attention back to the squib wand.

"Bored," Will complained in Atlantean.

"Then go back inside," Harry replied, struggling to keep his voice neutral. "I'm sorry that our endeavours aren't to your amusement."

Will let out a disgusted noise and made his way back into the house, kicking at the dead grass with every step.

Harry raised an eyebrow at his youngest brother and Chris shook his head, hugging his knees tighter against his chest. "I'm okay."

"Are you sure?" Harry asked. "This isn't going to get any more–"

"Scythe," Tom interrupted, "I can understand just enough that you're distracting me. Let him stay."

Harry wiggled his eyebrows at Chris and he grinned in reply. "Sorry," he offered to Tom as he turned back to the dark lord.

Tom snorted, not looking away from the spells he was trying to weave into the squib wand. After another moment, he let out a frustrated sound and tried to tug away, but Harry tightened his grip until the dark lord was left scowling at him. "This is not working," he snarled.

"It's not like you to just up and give up on something," Harry said calmly, meeting the angry eyes which were starting to shine through red.

"What do you even know about my endeavours?" Tom shot back, clearly unwilling to be soothed.

Harry narrowed his eyes. "I know you made a wand for a squib, something that a thousand purebloods would have called impossible. I know you sent me a notebook that spoke with my own voice after we'd only talked a few times. I know that you kept doggedly after a rebellion force that avoided you at each turn."

Tom looked away, jaw tight. "It's not the same."

"It is," Harry replied, gentling his voice and reaching up to poke the dark lord's cheek, earning him another snarl. "Tell me where you're getting stuck. I can't cast the spells for you, but I know magic, I know this magic."

Tom glowered at him for a long moment, while Harry just stared back. Finally, Tom hissed something uncomplimentary about Harry's ancestors before snapping, "I can't get a hold on this magic. I can sense it, when you cast it, but when I reach to tie a spell around it–"

Harry's eyes widened, realising the trouble: Tom was expecting death magic to move in the same way as living magic, which had a more thread-like quality, but death magic was creeping shadows and last breaths, intangible as the soul it was tied to. "May I cast something on you again?" he requested, unwilling to cast anything on the dark lord without warning.

Tom narrowed his eyes. "Yes," he bit out.

Harry gently held his free hand over the dark lord's eyes, focussing on casting the spell to see magic – which came so naturally to use on himself – on Tom.

Tom jerked away and opened his eyes, snarling, "Scythe, wha–"

Harry smirked as awe bled across the dark lord's face. The man held up his own hand, turning it so he could stare at all sides. "Magic," Harry offered, not even trying to hide how amused he was. "Unlike the living magic variety, this one doesn't have any noticeable after-effects, and light quality doesn't seem to change how much you can or can't see. But, more importantly, this spell lets you see–" Harry cut himself off and rolled his eyes, realising that Tom was too distracted by his own hand to listen. "You're worse than my brothers," he complained, catching the dark lord's hand. "Tom. Focus."

Tom's eyes finally focussed in his general direction, looking through him, rather than meeting his eyes, but Harry had expected that. What he hadn't expected was for Tom to murmur, "You do have magic. How powerful were you?"

"Sufficiently," Harry replied with a careless shrug. "And of course I have magic, I'm a werewolf."

"Is that werewolf magic?"

"Some of it," Harry allowed. He expected the Hallows were also mixed in with his magic, as well as ties to Death and whatever remained of his ties to his original reality, assuming those were visible. He snapped a finger in Tom's face, and the dark lord jerked back, a scowl twisting his mouth. "Doorway's over here." He motioned towards the still active doorway over their entwined fingers.

Tom's brows furrowed and he lifted his hand like he might touch it, but thought better. "That is..." He shook his head.

"Not what you'd been expecting," Harry suggested.

"Rather." Tom looked back towards him, still not focussing on him. "Can I cast magic while–" He motioned to his eyes.

"I've never had a problem with it," Harry admitted, because there had been days where he'd wanted to know how a spell looked whilst being cast, or an object was resisting a spell and he wanted to know why.

Tom nodded and pulled his own wand back out to cast spells over the squib wand. His brow started to furrow, though, and Harry suspected death magic was simply too different to power a living magic wand. "Tom–" he started.

The dark lord's eyes shot towards him, narrowing with irritation. "Would you cea–" and then he froze, staring at Harry.

Harry blinked. "What just...happened?"

Tom's hand slowly came up, his wand held awkwardly away from Harry, and he brushed two fingers against Harry's cheek. Harry slammed his eyes closed, taking in a deep breath. "You have magic," Tom breathed.

"Good catch, genius," Harry snapped, voice too tight because his heart was practically doing a tap-dance in his chest. And, were Harry not so young, he expected it wouldn't be the only organ having a field day because the dark lord was too close.

Because Merlin forbid that Tom Riddle not discover how to completely ruin Harry and use it against him at every opportunity. Were Harry not so enjoying having a family – wasn't so determined to grow up with his brothers, so he could keep them safe – he would be going after that ritual to speed up his ageing again.

"I'm an idiot," Tom whispered, sounding more awed than embarrassed. "I've been trying to tie the wand to magic from a different plane, but there's a nearly untapped source right here, isn't there?"

Harry's eyes widened as understanding dawned. "You want to tie the wand to my magic?"

"Yes," Tom agreed, and his eyes practically glowed, he was so pleased with his own genius. "Bypass your natural magical pathways entirely. You don't need them if the wand already has the blueprints, you just need a connection between those blueprints and your own–" He brushed his fingers against Harry's cheek again, and Harry realised he was touching the strands of Harry's magic.

Harry's own excitement was tempered when something else occurred to him, and he yanked the magical sight from the dark lord, forcing him to focus on Harry. Tom immediately snatched his hand away from his face, and Harry couldn't help a bitter smile at that sign of the reticent dark lord he was used to. "I'm not the only one," he pointed out.

Tom scowled. "Only one what?"

"I'm not the only squib. I'll play guinea pig, and happily, but I have magic, as morally unacceptable as it might be. You figure this out, you make this available to every squib."

"I will not–!"

"You will!" Harry snapped, glaring at the dark lord, because he was apparently incapable of living without fighting the good fight for at least one disenfranchised corner of their world. "I don't care who you give the credit to, I don't care what restrictions you put on this, but if you're going to do this for me, you do this for everyone."

Tom snorted, pulling away from Harry entirely and leaving an uncomfortable chill behind, where their fingers had been locked together. "And if I say no?" he said, tone mocking.

Harry met his eyes, his own gaze steel. "Leave."

Tom stiffened. "Excuse me?" he whispered, and there was murder in his voice, now.

Harry smiled at him, showing too-sharp teeth. "You heard me," he said, his words careful, to be understood around his teeth. "If you want to continue playing the uncaring bastard son of your father, by all means, but leave me out."

"You dare–?" Tom started, fury practically blaring from him.

Harry just widened his smile and motioned with one hand, opening a large doorway behind himself.

Tom disapparated with an angry crack.

Harry closed his eyes and took a deep breath as the doorway vanished behind him, trying to ignore the way his heart was bleeding in his chest, weeping for lost chances.

"Harry?" Lily called as the back door opened.

"What the fuck was that?" Sirius demanded, and the lack of chastisement from Lily about the explicative spoke to just how shaken everyone was.

Harry put on a smile that felt all wrong, and opened his eyes to offer it to them. "We had a minor row," he offered, voice light.

A hand caught the end of his shirt, and Harry glanced over to find Chris standing next to him, looking as sad as Harry felt. Harry tugged him into a hug, letting the familiar comfort soothe him as much as it hopefully soothed Chris.

"Minor," James breathed, disbelieving.

"What about?" Sirius asked.

Harry glanced towards where his wand holster rested against his arm, the newer wand stored safely within. "Privilege," he decided, because that was, at its core, the point of the argument.

"Leave it," Lily ordered when Sirius opened his mouth to comment. She came close enough to rub Harry's arm where it was wrapped around Chris, who seemed quite happy to play leech. "Did his idea work?" she asked. "With you being able to power the wand?"

"No," Harry replied, closing his eyes. "I'm sure he'll figure it out in time, but you'll have to continue recharging it for me. If that's okay?" He glanced up at her again.

Lily smiled, and it looked like it hurt as much as the smile Harry was trying to keep on his own face. "Of course, sweetie," she agreed before wrapping her arms around both Harry and Chris. "You know Dad and I are always happy to keep it usable."

Harry closed his eyes and relaxed against her, letting her presence soothe the ache of his chest. Tried not to wonder when the dark lord would get over himself.

"So, there's cake left?" James offered, and it was apparently the exact thing Harry needed to hear, because his smile felt a little easier.

"I could eat more cake," he decided, and James smiled at him in understanding. "Cake?" he asked Chris.

"We have to get Will," Chris pointed out.

"He'd never let any of us live down eating more cake without him," Lily agreed, pulling away so they could head back inside.

"Go find him," Harry suggested, and Chris dashed ahead of them.

Lily touched his shoulder as Sirius and James followed Chris, looking just as excited at the promise of more sweets. "Are you okay?" she asked.

Harry closed his eyes for a moment, trying to find the correct response. "I will be," he decided on in the end, because it seemed the most truthful.

Lily kissed his cheek. "Okay," she offered. "But I'm here."

Harry found himself blinking back tears and turned to offer her a smile that felt too broken, too telling, and yet, entirely honest. "I know," he whispered. "Thanks, Mum."

Lily smiled back at him, then jerked her head towards the door. "Mutiny," she reminded him, and Harry couldn't help but laugh.

.

Chapter Text

Voldemort kept quiet in all the ways, following Harry's birthday, and Harry determined that he really didn't fucking care. (He did, but he'd had more than enough practise at pretending the dark lord didn't bother him.) He cared even less when he started at the local secondary – he'd had the option to board at a better school, but had insisted he'd rather stay at home, despite being told he'd have better luck with some of the courses he wanted to take if he went elsewhere – because it was one adventure he'd never had before. There were a number of students he'd never met before, as they'd gone to a different primary, and there was a very different air than Hogwarts, between it not being a boarding school and there being no magic.

As the holidays approached, however, Harry realised he wasn't sure what to do about Voldemort's birthday. He'd never actually been angry with the dark lord, per se, and his disappointment had always been second to a sense of resignation, so he saw no reason to avoid passing on the copies of Inventio Fortunata and Itinerarium that he'd managed to hunt down and repair, with help from those in the Realm of Death. But he couldn't guarantee that Voldemort would accept the gift.

Right. And when had that stopped Harry?

But should he leave a note on them? What would he even write? 'I think you're an inconsiderate jerk, but I'm not going to hold it against you'?

"What would you write to let him know you still love him, even though you want to beat his head against the nearest brick wall?" he asked Merope one evening.

She sighed, having made it clear that she thought they were both being children (though she was actually on Harry's side in the debate, he knew). "You could just talk to him."

"I could commit suicide, too," Harry replied agreeably, flashing her a bright smile.

Merope just gave him an unimpressed look.

Harry slumped back against the boulder that had appeared for him to lean back against when he sat down. "I know. But all of my experience with Tom says that, if I come to him, he's going to think he's won."

"And this gift isn't coming to him?" Merope asked.

Harry snorted. "Not if I leave a note saying I still think he's wrong."

Merope sighed again and shook her head. "Is it too much to ask that you two actually be happy together?" she complained.

Harry wrapped his arms around his knees and hugged them to his chest. "Wouldn't that be nice?" he whispered, closing his eyes.

Merope shifted closer after a moment, wrapping one arm around his shoulders and drawing him into a hug. "You could be less stubborn," she murmured.

Harry laughed. "Have you met me?"

She let out a helpless sounding laugh into his hair. "Yes," she admitted.

Harry turned his face into her shoulder, taking a deep breath of the cold death that made up her being. "I miss him," he whispered, his voice so very small, it should have been embarrassing.

"I know," Merope whispered back, and it was as cold a comfort as her hug, but at least there was one person in his life – save Death – who understood exactly how hurt Harry was by the whole mess.

-0-

Harry was up first thing on the fourteenth of December, making breakfast for everyone before they'd even begun to rouse. When Lily finally made it downstairs, James not far behind, she laughed. "Harry, the train doesn't get in until the evening."

Harry fluttered his fingers at her, which had James laughing. "I know that. You think I don't know that? I'm allowed to be excited about making a new friend. Jeez, Mum."

"You know," James commented as he sat at his usual spot at the table, where there was already a plate for him, "for all we know, this girl is an absolute horror. I mean, all we know is her name."

Harry snorted and dropped into his own seat with a plate.

James' eyes narrowed. "Have you been snooping where your nose doesn't belong?" he demanded, while Lily muffled a laugh.

Harry put on his over-the-top innocent face, the one he knew made it clear he was hiding something. "I'm sure I've no earthly idea what you mean by that."

"He's been snooping again," James said to Lily.

Harry snorted again and twirled his fork around in the air a bit as he swallowed. "Oh, please. My nose hasn't been anywhere, I just happen to know people who have nothing to do all day but spy around Hogwarts. Which is how I know she's a Ravenclaw. However," he continued, feeling his mood drop at the reminder of the news he'd heard of Hermione struggling in a school that wasn't fond of muggleborns, "she doesn't have many friends. Too attached to proving her knowledge, at the start, made her very unpopular with all of the other students. Professor Flitwick did finally get her to tone it down a bit, just before Halloween, but the damage'd already been done."

"Oh dear," Lily murmured, brows furrowed.

James cleared his throat, his own expression gloomy. "Sounds like she needs a friend," he commented.

Harry nodded. "Yeah. And a place to get away from it all for a while."

"I think we can provide that much," James decided, his voice determined, and Harry smiled at him, grateful.

Sirius arrived shortly after Will and Chris finally made it downstairs, and while James went to update Sirius about Hermione, Harry stepped up next to Lily at the sink, holding out a hand for the plate she'd just finished washing. "So, heard anything from Secret?" he murmured.

Lily glanced back towards the door to the living room, where James and Sirius were talking, and sighed. "No," she admitted, picking out the next plate in the stack. "I don't expect we will until Monday, honestly."

"I know," Harry admitted with a shrug. "It's why I gave him a full year."

Lily shot him an amused look. "Of course you did."

Harry smirked. "Don't start with me; you haven't warned him one of his students is staying with us, I bet."

"He's perfectly capable of looking for our name on the list," Lily insisted.

"Not that he would."

Lily sucked in her lips in that way that said she was suppressing a smile. "Pretty much."

Harry laughed.

-0-

There was a minor debate about who would be going to King's Cross, when it came time to leave, because Lily and Remus weren't certain it was a good idea to overwhelm Hermione, but Will and Chris were determined to come along, and Remus was the only one who was willing to stay home with them.

For his part, Harry just watched the whole drama from behind a book he'd given up reading when the debate started. No one had bothered asking what he wanted to do, though he expected Lily and James had resigned themselves to his presence as soon as they'd found him making breakfast that morning.

Eventually, however, Lily gave in, throwing up her hands and calling, "Fine! But, if you lot scare her off, I will not be held accountable!"

"She's got to get used to them eventually," James pointed out while Harry got up, keeping his book just because he expected Hermione would find comfort in someone who was carrying a book around with them.

Lily rounded on her husband and shoved a finger against his chest hard enough that he stumbled back a step. "You're half the problem!"

"Only half?" Sirius muttered, and James shoved him.

Harry snorted. "We're going to be late, at this rate," he commented.

That organised matters fairly quickly, and Harry ended up apparating with Remus. "This family," Remus muttered as soon as they'd appeared at King's Cross, the two of them quickly stepping out of the designated apparation zone.

"Don't look at me," Harry replied, quietly enough that only Remus' advanced hearing could have picked it up under the surrounding noise of tens of families, "I wasn't the one that picked them." Then he raised an eyebrow at his godfather.

Remus snorted. "True enough."

"Where are we supposed to wait?" Lily asked, coming up behind them, James and Chris a half-step behind.

"This way," James offered as Sirius and Will apparated in, motioning towards where a handful of families were already waiting, two aurors standing off to the side.

When they reached them, the aurors both offered smiles to James, who was in the lead. "Brought in all the troops, eh, James?" one of them commented.

James grinned and tipped them a wink. "The kids refused to stay behind, and we didn't have the heart to force them."

"Kids," one of them said knowingly. "Well, gather with the group, then. Are you picking anyone save a muggleborn up?"

"Nah," James replied with a shrug. "Couple years yet before that'll happen."

"I thought you had a kid who's Hogwarts' age," the other auror chimed in, frowning.

James' eyes glanced to the side, uncertain, and Harry snorted. "He does, but I'm a squib," he offered, unashamed, before poking James' side. "We're in the way, and the train's coming."

"Right. Gents," James offered, tipping his head to the two aurors, who both looked a little uncertain. Once they were settled off to one side of the crowd, James gave Harry a helpless look. "Really?"

Harry raised an eyebrow at his father. "I refuse to be this family's dirty little secret. Well," he added, grimacing, when Sirius snorted behind him, "not for that."

"You turn 'dirty little secret' into an art form, pup," Sirius teased, ruffling Harry's hair.

Harry rolled his eyes.

The train pulled in and everyone fell quiet as the brakes squealed it to a stop, then the doors flew open. Pureblood and halfblood students poured off first, going immediately to their families. As those not waiting for a muggleborn cleared out, the elder muggleborns started stepping off. They gave their name to the aurors at the head of the group, and the aurors called the family forward, though most of the families clearly knew when their student stepped off.

Finally, it was down to four other families and the Potters – the Malfoys, Boneses, Notts, and Parkinsons – and Harry wondered how much snarling Voldemort had been required to do to get his Death Eaters to put their names in. He also wondered who'd been forced to stay at Hogwarts for the holidays or had chosen not to attend, because he'd felt certain there'd been more than five muggleborns in his year.

Hermione, Hannah Abbott, Terry Boot, Kevin Entwhistle, and Justin Finch-Fletchley were the students who stepped forward to meet them, Hermione struggling with a trunk that was clearly too heavy for her to manage alone, while the others all only had knapsacks. Hannah went with the Bones family, which Harry was glad for, recalling that she and Susan had been friends in his first reality; Terry ended up with the Notts; Kevin with the Parkinsons; and Justin with the Malfoys.

Death, Harry thought as he watched the pair-ups, please have someone keep an eye on Justin, Kevin, and Terry for me.

"Consider it done, Master," Death promised, and he couldn't quite suppress his grateful smile.

"Potters," the more talkative auror called, and they stepped forward to meet with Hermione, who looked so worn down, Harry's heart ached. "This is Hermione Granger. Miss Granger, these are James and Lily Potter and their family. They'll be your host family for the holidays."

"I understand," Hermione replied in a monotone.

"Thanks, Mark, Andrew," James offered to the aurors while Lily stepped forward.

"Hello, Hermione," Lily said, a hopeful smile on her face. "My name is Lily, but you're welcome to call me Mrs Potter, if you'd prefer."

Hermione looked up at her, eyes tired. "Yes'm, Mrs Potter."

Lily's brow furrowed and she glanced around the near-empty station, then sighed. "Why don't we do introductions at home?" she suggested, and Will and Chris both groaned.

"Stop it," Harry ordered, giving his brothers unimpressed looks, and using Atlantean in a purposeful bid to catch Hermione's interest. "This is hardly the best place to be trading about with names, anyway. Go on."

"Harry," Lily called, disapproving. "English."

Harry flashed her a smile, which widened when he saw interest in Hermione's eyes. "Sorry, Mum," he sing-songed as he stepped over to Remus, and his brothers both stifled giggles.

Remus shook his head, but took his hand and apparated them back to the Potters' house without comment.

Once everyone was in the living room, and Hermione had shaken off her first brush with apparation, Lily gently touched her shoulder. "Hermione, this is James, or Mr Potter, that's Sirius–"

"Who refuses to be a 'Mr' anything, thanks," Sirius called, a winning smile splitting his face.

"–or Mr Black," Lily continued, as if Sirius hadn't spoken, "and that's Remus, or Mr Lupin. Remus and Sirius don't live here, but they visit often, so you'll see them a lot. And then these are my sons, Harry, Will, and Chris."

Hermione looked around at them all, looking very uncertain. "Hello," she offered quietly.

Harry stepped forward, an easy smile on his face. "Hey. Want me to show you where to put your things?"

"We can help, too!" Will called out, catching a hand on Harry's shoulder and jumping behind him, waving one hand wildly. "Me and Chris–"

"Chris and I," Harry, Lily, and Remus chorused.

"Me and Chris," Will stressed, sticking his tongue out when Harry looked back at him, amused.

Hermione let out a startled laugh, then clapped a hand over her mouth, looking uncertain.

Harry grinned at her and motioned towards her trunk. "Want me to get that?"

"Oh, it's a bit, uhm–" Hermione started before Will dashed forward and grabbed the nearest end. He tried to tug on it, only to let out a strained noise and let go.

"What do you have in there?" he complained.

Hermione flushed. "Books."

"Scoot," Harry ordered, and Will quickly got out of the way. He tapped the trunk with his finger, ordering, "Wheels," and they popped out the other end, then picked it up with only a little difficulty. "You might consider investing in a feather-light charm," he commented as he started towards the stairs.

"I–" Hermione shook her head and followed after him, Will and Chris bringing up the rear. "It broke."

"Shoddy work, then," Harry guessed. "We'll have Mum apply a new one before you go back to Hogwarts; she's an ace with charms work."

"People used to pay her to charm things," Will agreed.

"I'd appreciate that," Hermione admitted.

"Why do you have a trunk?" Chris asked quietly. "I didn't see any others."

"This is you," Harry called back as he stepped into the room set up for Hermione. Lily had charmed the walls a light blue that afternoon, while the bed was done with pastel purple linens.

"Oh," Hermione whispered, stopping in the doorway and staring around at the room. "It's...It's..." And then she started to cry.

Will and Chris sent Harry panicked looks from behind her, clearly at a loss of what to do for a crying girl, since Ginny had punched Will the last time he'd tried to comfort her when she'd been crying. Which, well, Harry and Ron had both told Will to leave her alone, but he'd been determined to help.

Harry stepped forward and touched Hermione's shoulders. "Hey," he whispered, ducking his head so he could meet her eyes, "you're welcome here, okay? Whatever crap is going on at Hogwarts, whatever horror stories you were told to make you expect the worst? Forget it. We want you here. You're home."

Hermione pushed forward into Harry's arms and clung to him, crying into his shirt. And Harry wrapped his arms around her and closed his eyes, unspeakably relieved to have one of his best friends back.

"Thank you," she whispered after a while, finally pulling away and wiping roughly at her eyes. "I'm sorry, I'm just–"

"It's rough," Harry offered quietly, "trying to be enough in a world that already looks down on you because of the circumstances of your birth."

Hermione blinked at him. "Y-Yeah."

Harry smiled. "I'm a squib," he explained. "Mum and Dad are pretty cool about it, but I'm not much accepted in the wizarding world."

Hermione frowned and glanced towards her trunk. "A...squib?" she asked, clearly unfamiliar with the word, and Harry couldn't help but wonder what all was being left out of books, with Voldemort in control. (Although, for all he knew, she hadn't known what that was in their first year during his first life, either.)

"Harry can't perform magic," Will explained.

Hermione looked over her shoulder at Will and Chris before hurriedly stepping further into her room, so they could stop hovering in the doorway. Then she seemed to realise what Will had said, because she turned horrified eyes on Harry. "You can't do magic?"

Harry shrugged. "I can make potions and ride brooms and the such, and I've a mystery benefactor who gave me a wand with some useful spells that Mum and Dad have to recharge occasionally, but, yeah–" he spread his arms "–I'll never go to Hogwarts."

Hermione covered her mouth, her eyes filling with tears again. "I'm sorry," she whispered.

Harry shook his head. "It's fine." He allowed a wry smile. "Okay, it's really not, but I'm resigned. I've had eleven years to get used to the idea."

"You'd be in my year?" Hermione asked.

"Yeah."

"Dad's afraid Harry'd be a Slytherin," Will insisted. "He says it's for the best we'll never know."

Harry pinned his brother with an unamused look. "I really hope you end up in Slytherin, just because you said that."

"I am going to be a Gryffindor," Will insisted, which was a complete switch-up from a few years ago, but he'd been flipping back and forth for a few years now, in all honesty.

Harry rolled his eyes. "Merlin save me from a family of lions."

Hermione let out a startled laugh. "Well," she offered with a small smile when they all looked over at her, "I'm a Ravenclaw, if that helps?"

"Salvation from the heavens!" Harry declared.

"Aww, eagles aren't that awesome," Will insisted.

"William," Harry said, giving his brother a disapproving look.

"Erm, no offence, Hermione," Will added, glancing towards her.

Hermione shook her head, clearly more amused that insulted. "It's okay." She sighed, looking tired again. "Honestly, there are a lot of not-so-great kids in my House. I should have taken the Hat up on the offer to be in Gryffindor."

Harry shrugged. "I don't know exactly what the problem is, but I don't expect being in Gryffindor would help all that much. Like I said, it's hard fitting in when everyone's already prepared to dislike you."

Hermione slumped. "I guess." She shook her head. "Professor Flitwick – that's the head of Ravenclaw, he teaches charms – said that I was trying too hard. That I should have just kept my head down."

"Maybe," Harry allowed.

"It worked for Terry and Kevin," she added.

Harry bit his lip and shrugged.

"Well, you shouldn't have any of that trouble here," Will insisted.

"Yeah!" Chris chipped in, looking hopeful. "Tell us more about Hogwarts?"

Hermione smiled. "You've never been, have you?"

"Well..." Will looked uncertainly towards the doorway.

Harry snorted. "They're still downstairs," he told his brother before looking at Hermione and lowering his voice to explain, "Mum and Headmaster Snape are friends, and she took us to visit him at the castle one year, over the holiday. Chris didn't get to see much, but Will and I went exploring. So, we know what the castle looks like, but not really anything about the people."

"And we can't tell Dad about Secret," Will added, keeping his own voice down and glancing towards the doorway again.

Harry nodded and explained, "Headmaster Snape and Dad really don't get on, so he only comes when Dad's at work. Dad doesn't know we've ever met him, even."

Hermione shook her head. "That's... Why doesn't your dad get on with the headmaster, do you know? I mean, he's never seemed particularly nice, but if he and your mum are friends..." she said, matching her volume to theirs.

"It's...complicated," Harry admitted, grimacing. "There was a rivalry in school, and it involved Mum somehow. I don't really know the details."

"Dad starts calling Secret names when he gets brought up, and Mum doesn't like talking about it, so we've never heard the whole story," Chris said, shrugging.

Hermione nodded. "Okay. So, don't bring up the headmaster around your dad. Got it."

"Or Uncle Sirius," Will suggested with a knowing nod. "And Uncle Remus gets really quiet when he gets brought up, but he doesn't start calling Secret names."

"Yes, welcome to the Potter family drama," Harry commented drily. "Let us know when you feel the need to run like hell in the other direction."

Hermione choked out a laugh.

"Boys!" Lily called up. "Hermione! Dinner!"

Will and Chris ran for it without further prompting, but Harry stopped in the doorway, looking back towards where Hermione was looking around her new room with a mix of sorrow and gratitude in her eyes. "Hermione?" he asked quietly after a moment.

She glanced up at him. "Oh, sorry. You didn't have to wait for me," she offered as she joined him.

"I wanted to," Harry admitted, because he knew how nice it was to actually have someone care enough to hang back.

Hermione smiled at him, wholly grateful. "Thanks."

Harry smiled back and led the way down to the kitchen.

-0-

Sunday was spent getting Hermione settled in. Lily was happy to cast a lightening charm on her trunk, while James helpfully suggested they could look into buying her a better one. Hermione turned him down, though she did look tempted at the mention of an extra compartment just for books. By the look that passed between Lily and James, Harry suspected he knew exactly what Hermione would be getting for Christmas that year.

She did unpack some things, and Will was happy to comment on each book she pulled out. There followed a great deal of "Harry/Mum has that," until Hermione finally snapped, "Is there anything your family doesn't have?!"

"Possibly," Will agreed, undaunted.

"Will," Harry called from their bedroom, where he'd been working on his holiday homework, "if you don't stop being a pest, I'm telling Mum you volunteered to wash the dishes for the next month."

"That's not even a little fair!" Will complained.

"What language is that?" Hermione asked.

Will was quiet for a moment, and Harry could just imagine the uncertain look on his face while he tried to decide whether he should try keeping it a secret or not. "Atlantean," he said finally.

"Atlantean? What, from Atlantis, or something?" Hermione asked with a laugh. After a beat, she sucked in a breath. "No. Really? Atlantis exists?"

"Existed," Will corrected. "It sank. No one knows where it is."

Harry had already hidden away his collection of Atlantean books, unwilling to leave them out as a puzzle piece for Hermione, but he couldn't help glancing over his bookcase anyway, checking to make sure he hadn't missed any.

"But, so, what? It's a dead language?"

"A...what?" Will asked, sounding vaguely panicked. "Harry!"

Harry sighed and rubbed a hand over his face before setting his things down and walking next door to Hermione's room. Will was lying on her bed, leaning over the footboard, where he had a good view of her sorting attempts in the floor, but he was currently staring towards the doorway, clearly freaking out at the casual mention of death in relation to the language he'd received from the being. "A dead language is what you call one that is no longer spoken," he explained. "It may, actually, be more correct to call Atlantean an extinct language, however, as there remains no written forms of the language, and all of its speakers died in the tsunami that sank the city."

Hermione blinked at him. "Right. And you know it...how?"

It was probably a good thing she was so focussed on Harry, because Will clearly had no good answer to that.

Harry shrugged. "Haven't the faintest. I've always known it, and I taught Will and Chris, so they're nearly as fluent. Mum and Dad have picked up a bit, over the years, but they don't speak it."

"They barely understand it," Will added, grinning widely, and Harry had to resist the urge to roll his eyes.

"You have a secret language," Hermione deadpanned, looking unimpressed.

Harry sighed. "It got us through my starting primary," he admitted. "And I did help Mum and Dad some, fixing up the dictionary they'd been building, but, yeah, it's always been something just for us."

"I see," Hermione said, looking back toward her trunk.

Harry raised an eyebrow at Will, then looked towards Hermione. Will scowled and shook his head, so Harry raised his other eyebrow, putting on his disappointed face.

Will slumped. "Do you want to learn?" he asked Hermione, and Harry turned away to hide a victorious smile.

Hermione startled. "What? You want–? You're willing–?"

"Yeah," Will agreed, and it sounded like he was warming to the idea.

"Really?" Hermione whispered, sounding so very hopeful.

"Absolutely," Harry agreed, offering her a smile over his shoulder. "We can probably even teach you the alphabet, which is different from the Latin one English uses, and you can start coding your class notes."

Hermione made a face. "Why would I want to do that?"

Harry flashed her a grin that was just shy of too toothy. "You mean, you don't want the chance to snub any purebloods who think they can use your notes to study because they're too lazy to take their own?"

Hermione's eyes widened, then she smiled a mean little smile back. "Now that you mention it..." she agreed.

Will jumped off her bed with a snicker. "Let me get my key!"

Harry rolled his eyes as his brother dashed past him. "As if I can't just write a new one."

"Are you sure?" Hermione asked quietly, and when Harry looked at her, he found the same broken confidence he'd seen in her when she got off the train.

He stepped forward and knelt in front of her. "I've always been happy to share Atlantean," he admitted quietly. "But when I taught Will to distract him from my being gone all day, he decided it was something just for us and Chris. He offered, and he might drag his feet a bit, but he'll keep to it. So, yeah, I'm sure."

Hermione swallowed and rubbed at her eyes. "You would have been too nice for Slytherin," she told him.

Harry's smile turned sad. "No," he replied, getting back up as Will dashed back into the room. "I'm afraid I would have fit right in." Then he turned and left Hermione to his brother's less than tender teaching methods.

-0-

With Hermione new to the household, no one had questioned Lily taking the whole week off.

"You know, Mum," Harry commented after James had left for work Monday morning, "you're going to run out of reasons to stay home one of these days."

Lily snorted. "One of you can start breaking limbs."

"Make Harry do it!" Will called from where he was correcting Hermione's attempts at translating something he'd written in Atlantean. "He'll heal faster!"

"True enough," Harry agreed. "If I break a leg, I can even stay in the living room and read for Secret's entire visit."

"On second thought," Lily muttered, and all three boys snickered.

"Why would you heal so fast?" Hermione asked, peering at him like she was wondering if she could dissect his every secret with only her eyes.

Harry smiled at her. "I'm wereborn, a werewolf. Means I'm born a squib, but I get accelerated healing, excellent senses, and a second form, as a trade-off."

Hermione blinked. "You're a werewolf?" she asked, her tone saying she wasn't sure how she felt about that.

Harry shot her a sharp-toothed smile.

"Oh my God," Hermione breathed, and she sounded more intrigued than anything else. "What else can you do?"

A knock came on the front door. "Not while Sev is here," Lily ordered as she got up to get the door.

"Secret doesn't like werewolves," Will offered quietly.

Hermione shot Harry an uncertain look and he snorted. "He knows. It freaks him out a little bit, but he's pretty good about it. Unless I'm showing off."

"Hello, Severus," they all heard Lily say. "And Barty!"

"Hello, Mrs Potter," Barty replied uncertainly.

"Professor Crouch?" Hermione squeaked. "I thought you said it was just going to be the headmaster!"

Harry flashed her a mean little smile. "Whoops."

"Lily is fine," Lily said as she moved out of the way and they stepped inside. She shut the door behind them, adding, "Oh, I don't know if you saw, Sev, but James–"

Severus let out a disgusted sound that had Harry's brothers hiding smiles while Hermione's eyes widened.

"–and I added our names to the list of families willing to take on a muggleborn for the holidays. So one of your students is over."

"Of course you did," Severus said with a resigned sigh. "And you couldn't be bothered to warn me in advance."

"Five years, Severus," Lily shot back. "You had to be blackmailed into telling me you were sleeping with someone."

"Oh my God," Hermione breathed, connecting the dots like only she could.

Harry leant back in his chair, fully enjoying everything.

"Should we just–" Barty started.

"Absolutely not! You're coming in so I can grill you."

"Lily!" Severus complained, sounding more like a child caught out by his mum, than Hogwarts' headmaster.

"This is gold," Harry breathed, and Chris muffled a giggle into his hand next to him.

There was a momentary silence from the living room, then Severus let out a resigned sigh. "They're in the kitchen."

"You were early," Lily replied, entirely unapologetic.

Severus' footsteps sounded against the carpet in the living room for a moment before he appeared in the doorway. "Miss Granger," he offered, his game-face on. "Will, Chris, Harry."

"Morning, Secret!" Will chirped, his eyes dancing.

"Good morning, Headmaster," Hermione whispered, wide-eyed.

Severus sighed again. "I expect you're capable of holding your tongue about anything you happen to learn in this house, Miss Granger."

"Yes, sir."

Harry slipped out of his chair. "Right!" he called. "Time to get dressed and head on outside so the adults can discuss all the sordid details that we're far too young for."

"What are sordid details?" Will asked while he, Hermione, and Chris all got up.

Hermione flushed. "Just walk, Will."

Harry let them get ahead of him, quirking a smile when he heard Hermione trade embarrassed greetings with Barty Crouch Jr. "She doesn't know," he commented to Severus as he stopped next to him. "I'd like to keep it that way, for a while, at least."

"Reasonable," Severus replied quietly. "You don't know how loyal she is."

Harry shook his head. "The sad truth of being a muggleborn in Hogwarts, is that their loyalty is easy to win, if only you're willing to show a little kindness."

"That's not my doing," Severus promised.

"I know," Harry agreed. "It's the sickness of our world." He shook his head. "At least she's allowed to learn." Then he continued on, smiling when he found his mum and Barty standing just outside the doorway. "Play nice, Mum," he offered cheerfully, before heading upstairs to change into outdoors-appropriate clothing.

Lily laughed behind him, while Barty let out a vaguely worried sound.

Once they'd all got outside and were started towards where the Potter boys usually met with their muggle friends, Hermione shook her head and declared, "That was so awkward!"

Harry snickered. "You realise they're going to stay through lunch, at least."

Hermione closed her eyes a bit helplessly. "Good-bye, Outstanding. It was nice knowing you for that single brief moment."

"Don't be so dramatic," Harry ordered, catching her by the elbow when she stumbled over a bit of crooked pavement. "Mum will make them both miserable if she finds out Barty's grading you down because you know something about his private life."

"Your mum's a little bit scary," Hermione admitted.

"You have no idea," Will insisted.

"She's scarier than Voldemort!" Chris agreed.

Hermione let out a startled noise and stopped walking, staring at Chris like he'd said something vile. "You're not supposed to say his name!" she hissed.

Chris and Will both turned to Harry, and he shrugged. "You're not," he admitted, "but Mum and Dad have never been willing to muck about calling him the dark lord or You Know Who or whatever, so they've always called him Voldemort. Though," he added while his brothers nodded in understanding and Hermione continued to stare in disbelief at the casual use of Voldemort's chosen name, "Mum does tend to call him the dark lord while Severus is over, since it makes him twitchy when she doesn't."

"Your parents have a death wish," Hermione breathed.

Harry shook his head. "No, not really. See, when the war was nearing the end, Voldemort offered amnesty and a promise of future protection to anyone who'd been opposing him who came forward and promised to stop fighting. Mum and Dad and Uncle Sirius and Uncle Remus all took the offer, so they're safe. He doesn't like their lack of deference, but he didn't do anything about it when we saw him at Hogwarts that one time."

"Your mum called him his name to his face?" Hermione whispered, looking very much like a stiff wind would knock her over.

Harry and his brothers all nodded. "He didn't look very happy," Will added, "but he didn't say anything. He even offered to let us use the carriage he was taking, so we didn't have to walk all the way up to the castle." He glanced towards Harry, his expression falling. "He was really nice."

"He has his moments," Harry agreed quietly in Atlantean.

"You're all completely barking," Hermione declared before hooking her elbow with Harry's. "Come on, show me to these other friends of yours so I can get away before I catch something."

Harry laughed. "I think it's too late for you."

"Shut up," Hermione ordered, but her eyes were bright and she was clearly trying to suppress a smile.

And Harry... Well, he was so unspeakably happy to see Hermione looking so alive.

Lunch, when they all trooped back inside, was quite awkward to start, Hermione uncertain how to act around her professors, said professors equally uncertain about how to hold themselves in front of the mixed group. Harry finally rolled his eyes and asked about the muggleborn introduction to the magical world, not really knowing anything about it, beyond that something existed.

Hermione was quick to jump in to an explanation, mentioning a few places it had been lacking. Severus was obviously paying attention, because he started asking her questions about her complaints, looking for ways to improve things. Harry, his brothers, and Lily were all happy to add their five pence, having all gone to muggle schools, while Barty sat there and just generally looked lost. But he didn't make any disparaging comments, which raised Harry's estimation of his character a fair bit.

By the time lunch was over, the ice had been broken. There was still an air of uncertainty to Barty, and a certain stiffness to Severus (which Harry couldn't be certain had nothing to do with the truth of who he was, in all honesty) which hadn't been there in the past, and Hermione was very obviously uncertain what to think about being on something of a first names basis with two of her professors, but they were all a fair bit easier with each other.

Harry decided it had been an excellent day.

-0-

On the twenty-first, Hermione came down to breakfast looking unaccountably nervous. Harry was confused as to why until James looked up, then snapped his fingers. "Right! That's what I forgot to ask: Are your parents willing to come out to the meet-up today?"

Harry's eyes widened in understanding, remembering when he'd insisted that the students should be given the option to see their parents at least once a year.

Hermione shifted and nodded. "Yeah. If it's not too much trouble?"

"Of course not," James agreed, glancing towards Lily, who nodded. "I can take you over, get a chance to meet them myself."

"But not everyone," Lily added, casting her gaze over Harry, Will, and Chris. "You three can stay here, with me."

"Aww, but, Mum," Will complained.

"I expect it'd be fairly boring for us, anyway," Harry agreed with a shrug, before shooting Hermione a knowing smile. "You've already told us all the exciting news about Hogwarts."

Hermione offered an uncertain smile back. "I'm sure I missed something."

"We'll squeeze it from you eventually."

Hermione shook her head. "Right."

James took her by floo a little later – another new experience for her, judging by the questions she'd started asking before she'd even stepped into the fireplace – and Will moped around the house for approximately ten minutes before declaring he was going to go hang out with Geoffrey.

"Come on, Chris," Harry suggested while Lily shook her head in amusement. "Let's go amuse ourselves by tormenting the muggles."

"Harry," Lily sighed.

"The tormenting being in an entirely Marauders-esque manner," Harry insisted.

"Harry."

Chris snickered. "No tormenting?" he guessed.

"Parents," Harry complained, and Lily snorted, clearly familiar with that word. "Fine, we're going to play age-appropriate games with our playmates, who happen to be muggles."

"Get outside," Lily ordered, her eyes laughing.

Hermione didn't get back until after lunch, but she looked far happier than she had done, when she joined Harry and Chris outside.

"Feeling better?" Harry asked.

Hermione nodded. "Yeah. And your dad said maybe we can set something up over the summer, even though it's not really the..."

"Done thing?"

"A little illegal," Hermione corrected.

Harry snorted. "Dad and Uncle Sirius became animagi while they were in school, and didn't register until they became aurors. You say 'illegal' he hears 'do the thing'."

Hermione let out a sound that was somewhere between a moan and a laugh. "I'm going to see my parents this summer, aren't I?"

"You are totally going to see your parents this summer," Harry agreed, and Hermione hugged him.

-0-

On the thirtieth, Harry had Death wake him after Voldemort had finally gone to bed, which was so late, Harry had to hurry in dropping off the books and his note, lest Sirius come to wake them before he got back.

'I'm still cross with you, but not so much that I could forget your birthday. Enjoy these books and, if you're looking for someone to torture, you might drop by the Parkinsons and check on how they're treating their muggleborn ward.'

Over lunch, Death murmured into Harry's mind, "The Parkinsons have been dealt with, and Kevin Entwhistle is on his way back to Hogwarts."

Harry didn't even try suppressing his cruel smile, just ducked his head and hid it with his juice glass.

.

Chapter Text

Saying good-bye to Hermione in January was hard, but Harry was soothed knowing he'd bolstered her waning self-confidence and that he'd won a promise from Ron to partner with her in the few classes they shared. Too, she had dirt on one of her professors and her headmaster, which Harry doubted she'd actually use in any way, but might change how she interacted with Barty, at least, enough to win some respect from her housemates.

Her owls, which came bi-weekly and for the whole family, sounded like there was a slow improvement as the term passed. And while Ron was hardly what she'd call a good friend, he and the twins made a concerted effort to show that she wasn't so bad, which had won her some points with both the Ravenclaw and Gryffindor houses. (Personally, Harry wondered how many of those points had to do with half the school having a healthy respect for the twins, and made a note to pass them some money in a few years, should they again decide to form up a joke shop.) She'd also mentioned a certain Ravenclaw prefect who'd started checking in on her in April, and Harry suspected the twins had tried to get Percy in on their plan to help out Hermione, and he'd reacted by brushing them off, then going to Penelope Clearwater and telling her about the problem.

In June, only Harry, James, and Sirius went to pick her up, his brothers both more interested in helping Lily and Remus prepare the welcoming party they'd planned. Sirius had wanted to stay and help out, but Lily had put her foot down, and Remus had helpfully pointed out, "If Harry's going, that means it'll be a portkey or waiting an age for the floo back here, unless you go to help apparating."

"And you don't want to make me take a portkey," Harry added cheerfully.

Sirius had given in at that.

Hermione got off the train surrounded by Weasleys, glowering at Fred and George while they grinned widely in that way that meant they'd been up to no good recently.

"Oh dear," Arthur murmured, the Weasleys having opted to wait with the Potters and Sirius.

"If those boys have been picking on her–" Molly started.

Harry coughed. "That doesn't look like she's upset, just irritated."

"Yeah, that's the same expression Lily gets when she really wants James to leave the house for a couple hours so she can stop herself from cursing him," Sirius agreed cheerfully.

"I'm sorry, who does she usually aim that expression at?" James asked, turning narrowed eyes on Sirius.

Harry and Ginny looked at each other and he wiggled his eyebrows, which started her giggling.

The wave of Weasley boys and Hermione crashed into them, then. Or, well, Hermione certainly crashed into Harry, wrapping her arms around him and whispering, "Thank you," in his ear.

Harry hugged her back, grinning. "I'm sure I haven't the vaguest idea what for," he whispered back.

Hermione gave him a knowing look as she stepped back, then turned to greet Sirius and James, followed by Molly, Arthur, and Ginny, whom she'd all briefly met in December.

Once everyone had traded greetings – and Harry had passed Ron, Fred, and George sweets as thanks for their assistance in easing Hermione's second term – the Weasleys headed out to their car, while Harry grabbed Hermione's trunk with one hand, and Sirius' arm with the other, so he could apparate them, leaving James to take Hermione.

Harry had moved her trunk out of the way by the time James and Hermione arrived, so there was nothing to trip over when Will, Chris, and Sirius all bellowed, "Welcome home!" Harry, Remus, and Lily a much quieter addition.

"Oh," Hermione whispered, looking a little overwhelmed.

And then Lily and Remus stepped apart, revealing a little surprise: Hermione's parents. "Hello, Hermione," her mum offered.

Hermione burst into tears and ran forward to hug them. And Harry, grinning, turned to finish taking her trunk up to her room, figuring it would be a few minutes before they could start passing out the cake.

-0-

On the morning of Harry's birthday, Hermione surprised him when he stepped out of his room by attacking him with a hug and declaring, "It's your birthday!"

Harry laughed and hugged her back, his brothers snickering behind them. "You noticed," he agreed, amused.

"I did," Hermione agreed, her eyes bright.

Harry caught her arm with his and started for the stairs. "Should we make this a new thing? Because I can probably find a way to sneak into Hogwarts and tackle you at the bottom of Ravenclaw Tower's stairs."

"Oh, God, please don't," Hermione complained. "You might actually find a way."

"We can all do it!" Will declared.

Hermione let out a whimper that Harry was about ninety percent certain was all for show.

In the dining room, however, they all came to a halt, finding Lily and James staring in disbelief at the Prophet, which James was holding, while Lily stood behind him. "Mum? Dad?" Harry asked, while Hermione whispered, "Oh no."

Lily reached out a hand towards him, and Harry let go of Hermione to walk over to her, tilting his head to read the headline as she drew him into a hug: 'Squibs to Receive Wands!'

"Merlin," Harry breathed, turning in Lily's hold so he could actually read the article, which went on to explain that the Department of Mysteries had found a way to attach a few spells to a coreless wand, then tie that wand to a squib's inaccessible magic, allowing them to cast some few defensive and offensive spells, the number and strength depending on their magical core's size. These wands were to be offered to any squibs wishing to remain in the magical world when they were given the choice on their eleventh birthday. "He did it. He–"

The floo sounded out in the living room, and Sirius announced himself by shouting, "Have you seen the news?!"

Hermione, Will, and Chris had joined Harry in staring at the article while he'd been reading, and they all turned wide eyes on him while James shouted back an affirmation. "But you have a wand already," Hermione whispered.

And then Sirius was there, picking Harry up and giving him a spin while Harry clung to his arms. "Could you not?" Harry complained once he was on the ground again.

"Shut up, this is awesome," Sirius shot back. "It means he figured it out!"

Harry considered Sirius' gleeful expression for a moment, then offered, "It means he's probably dropping by today."

Sirius just sort of froze, while James whispered, "Shit."

Lily snorted, clearly having figured that part out already. "Right. Breakfast? And where are Remus and Peter?"

The kids let themselves be ushered into seats while the adults managed breakfast, Sirius and James whispering about whether it was wise to let Voldemort in when they had a guest.

"Voldemort," Harry offered to Hermione, who flinched and shot him a mildly betrayed look. "Sorry," Harry offered, not really meaning it. "I lied, back in December, that my benefactor was a mystery. It's Voldemort." He twitched his wrist to call out his wand while Hermione's eyes widened. "He was trying to figure out how to attach the wand to my magic when I saw him last year, and I suggested he make it available to all squibs, when he got it sorted. I guess he finally has." Actually, Harry suspected he'd sorted it out months ago, then sat on it, being grumpy about Harry's silence, before giving in and giving his findings to the Department of Mysteries. And he very much doubted that the announcement date was coincidence; more likely, Voldemort hadn't wanted to chance being turned away at the door, before he could say he'd given in.

"He is nice," Will added.

"Sometimes," Chris murmured, looking uncertainly towards Harry.

Harry snorted. "He does try, when he thinks it might be worth it to play nice, but he's not a fan of children, and he's got something of a short fuse."

"Yes," Lily agreed drily as she came over with most of their food, Sirius and James following, "a dislike of children and a short fuse. That's his entire problem."

"Simplified," Harry insisted. "Please, he'd give a therapist an aneurysm after less than five minutes."

Hermione choked and shot Harry a disbelieving look.

"You're assuming he doesn't just kill the therapist for being a muggle," Sirius pointed out.

"Or their tone of voice," James added.

"Or the way they word things," Sirius continued.

"Or the way they actually have the audacity to ask him to talk about his feelings?" Harry suggested, and Sirius and James both grinned at him.

"Oh my God," Hermione whispered, hiding her face. "We're all going to die."

Everyone let out a slightly strained laugh, while Harry rolled his eyes at the lot of them.

-0-

"I did warn him you've a guest," Peter offered when he arrived late, "but I don't think he cared."

"More likely he already knew," Lily replied with a sigh. "Thanks for trying, Peter."

Peter shrugged and nodded, then ruffled Harry's hair and handed down a gift. "Here you are, pup."

"Thanks, Uncle Wormy," Harry replied cheerfully before carefully opening the gift.

He'd put his gifts upstairs and they were settling around the dining room table when someone knocked on the front door. "I've got it!" Harry called, not bothering to give anyone time to suggest they might go instead, before he was out of his seat and running from the room.

"Bets on who it is?" James offered tightly.

"Please don't antagonise him," Remus muttered.

Harry didn't bother checking to see who it was, because he could smell Tom on the other side, so he just pulled the door open and – because he knew he could get away with it – hugged the dark lord around the stomach.

"Scythe," Tom complained, holding his arms out to the sides like he had no idea what to do with them.

"I'd tell you your mum told me to give you a hug, but I'd be lying," Harry admitted in German, grinning up at the dark lord.

"And Salazar forbid you ever lie," Tom returned with a glint of humour in his eyes. "Let go."

Harry rolled his eyes. "You are entirely too uptight," he muttered, but obediently let go. "Thank you."

Tom sneered at him. "I'm sure I have no idea what you're referring to, you stubborn, impossible–"

"Your mum seems to think you only insult people you really like," Harry informed him with a mean little smile.

Tom narrowed his eyes. "Does she, now?" he returned in a low tone that was clearly meant to have been seductive, but was out of practise.

"Don't start making offers you won't hold to," Harry suggested, and the dark lord made a disgusted noise. "Also, Mum's in the next room, and you really don't want her getting suspicious of your intent–"

"Scythe," Tom interrupted. "Either kick me out or let me in, but desist with this–" He waved a hand at Harry, as though unable to find the words necessary.

"Stop acting like I'm an adult while I look like a child?" Harry suggested, stepping back to let him in.

"Please."

"Only because you said please," Harry replied agreeably, and Tom gave him a tired look. Harry turned away to close the door, hiding his smile from the dark lord. "So, our visiting muggleborn has been let in on you being my benefactor, and that you're coming for a visit, but nothing else. Since I know you like keeping up on how much English you have to use."

"The English is but a minor concern, though I appreciate the warning." Tom snorted. "I expect I'll be forced to sit through cake again before you'll allow me to sort your wand."

Harry rolled his eyes and waited until he was almost to the doorway into the dining room before replying, in English, "Don't even start; you like Mum's cake." Then he stepped into the dining room, wearing a wide smile. "Voldemort's here, and he's got his pretty face on." Sirius and James both choked on a laugh, while Peter moaned and covered his face. Will and Chris both laughed, not even bothering to appear worried about the dark lord's response.

"I should have killed you when you were a baby," Tom muttered as he stepped up behind him.

Harry flashed him a knowing smile. "Too late, lost your chance. Cake?"

Tom sighed and pushed Harry's shoulder hard enough that he couldn't keep from swaying a bit, but didn't actually move out of the way. "Scythe."

Harry laughed and led the way over to the two spaces that had been left empty for them. As he passed her, Harry paused and gave Hermione – who had covered her face with a curtain of hair, as if it would serve as a protection against the dark lord's assumed rage – a quick hug. "You're safe," he whispered to her.

"You saying that is not reassuring," Hermione informed him, eyeing him from between strands of hair.

Harry offered her a crooked smile, then moved on to slide into his spot, Tom settling in next to him with an almost-polite nod to James, Sirius, and Remus, all of whom nodded cautiously back. Lily brought over the lit cake and Will proceeded to lead them all in an unnecessarily loud rendition of the happy birthday song.

While Lily was cutting the cake and sending slices over one at a time, Will leant forward on the table and boldly asked, "Have you been working on the wands all year?"

Harry closed his eyes a bit helplessly, while James snapped, "William Harrold!"

"Grounded," Chris whispered.

Tom stared silently at Will, face expressionless, until he'd slumped back in his chair, looking like he'd only just realised how bad an idea that question was. Only then did Tom drily comment, "I suppose one of you had to be a Gryffindor."

Will flashed him that grin he'd stolen from Sirius, and Harry was half convinced his quick recovery was due to a slice of cake landing in front of him. "Harry keeps saying he hopes I end up in Slytherin."

"No," Tom snapped, scowling at Harry.

Harry shrugged. "Talk to the Hat, it's what lets firsties pick their houses because it's too lazy to do a proper sorting." He tapped his chin. "Though, be honest, it offered Ravenclaw to you."

Tom snorted. "No."

"Liar."

"Scythe, the Hat never told me I would do well in Ravenclaw."

Harry narrowed his eyes. "Your wording is suspicious." Because that was the exact wording that the Hat had used on Harry in his first reality.

Tom smirked, then turned a cold gaze on Will. "In answer to your inquiry, no, I did not spend all year on the wands. I have other duties that don't revolve around your brother and his unfortunate circumstances."

'Unfortunate circumstances,' Harry saw Sirius mouthing, his expression caught somewhere between disbelief and amusement.

Tom's gaze landed on Hermione, and she ducked her head while he stared at her for a long moment. "No," he finally decided, "I don't expect you would have any trouble with the Potters."

"Trouble?" James asked, straightening.

Tom turned to him, one eyebrow raising. When James didn't flinch, the dark lord's mouth twitched. "Rather. Another placement didn't work out over the winter holidays."

"Kevin?" Hermione guessed, only to shrink when Tom looked at her again. "He came back before anyone else," she offered, voice barely loud enough to be heard by everyone around the table.

"Hm." Tom settled back in his seat as Lily walked back over with her own piece. He nudged Harry. "Children aren't reporting trouble over the holidays," he informed him. "Clearly, it's happening, but no one's saying anything."

Harry raised an eyebrow at him. "What do you expect me to do about it? Force them to talk to you?"

"No. You're a child. Come up with a solution."

Harry rolled his eyes. "That's not, actually, how the world works."

Tom snorted. "Make your mud–"

"Muggleborn," Harry corrected, shooting the dark lord a pointed look.

Tom scowled at him. "Make your muggleborn help you find a solution when I'm no longer here to terrorise her. You know how to reach me."

Harry glanced down the table towards Hermione, who was giving him a wide-eyed look, as though she wasn't sure how to react to him correcting the dark lord about what to call her. He smiled reassuringly at her, then told Tom, "I'll let you know." Then he switched to German to add, "If you can get me a list of all of the students in question and where they're placed, I can set spirits to watch them."

Tom gave a short nod. "I expected it was something like that. I can compile the information for you. Should I owl it, or..."

"Ah, best not. No, leave it out where your mum can see it and she'll let me know when to pop by and pick it up."

"Very well," Tom agreed, and they both fell quiet to eat their cake.

Once everyone was done, Harry suggested, "Back garden again?"

"It would be the best option," Tom agreed and they both got up and made their way outside.

Expectedly, Will and Chris followed close behind, Will dragging Hermione along with. Harry pointed them towards the picnic bench with a stern look while Tom activated the wards, and both of his brothers ducked their heads as they turned that way. "Not much I can do about the audience," Harry offered in apology as the dark lord walked towards him.

"I hardly expect miracles of you," Tom returned with a careless shrug. "Wand."

When Harry held it out, Tom took his wrist instead of the wand, as Harry would have expected, and drew him a couple steps closer. Harry closed his eyes. "Really?" he complained.

"Not hardly," Tom admitted, and Harry could hear the undercurrent of amusement in his voice, though he doubted anyone else would. "Consider it your payment for..." He trailed off.

Harry glanced up to find a thoughtful expression on the dark lord's face. "Everything?" he suggested tiredly.

Tom smirked at him. "Yes, that will do nicely." Then his expression cleared, his eyes focussing on the wand in Harry's hand while he drew his own wand. "You're actually quite unusual, in terms of squibs," he commented as he touched his wand to Harry's hand.

"In what way this time?" Harry enquired before wincing at a quick bite of pain, like a static shock, that sparked where Tom's wand was touching his hand.

"Your magic gathers at your hand when you're holding a wand, as though expecting it to actually work. Most squibs don't get any reaction from their magic, even when handed a wand with a proper core."

"Well, yes, I remember how to use magic, and this wand is remarkably similar to my favourite in my last life." He sighed. "I don't expect I want to ask how you found squibs to experiment with."

"They were all older volunteers, if it makes you feel any better," Tom offered quietly, and Harry looked up into eyes that hated how mistreated those unfortunate children were as much as he did. He quirked a smile at the dark lord, and Tom inclined his head a hair before letting him go and stepping back. "Cast something. Tell me if you can sense anything."

"I don't even know what I'd cast," Harry replied carelessly, glancing towards his brothers and Hermione, all of whom had perked up at the change to English. He took a few steps away from the dark lord, as though meandering would help him think. "I mean, it's not like there's anyone around I can cast a healing spell on, unless one of you lot is hiding something?" The three on the picnic table immediately shook their heads.

"No, I didn't think so," Harry continued, frowning. He let his wand droop in his hand, seeming almost by chance to point towards the dark lord. "I suppose there's always a shield spell, but that's hardly a good test. What else is there?" He glanced back towards Tom, who was giving him an irritated look. "Expelliarmus?"

And Tom's wand, which he'd relaxed his grip on, shot out of his hand and directly into Harry's. The dark lord looked honestly flummoxed for a moment before he narrowed his eyes at Harry. "Scythe," he snarled.

"To be fair," Harry insisted, holding the wand back out towards its owner, while his brothers laughed and Hermione let out a noise that was somewhere between a laugh and a moan, "I didn't actually expect that to work."

Tom snapped out his hand, wandlessly summoning his wand back. "Yes, you did," he insisted.

Harry snorted. "Okay, I wanted it to work. But I didn't think–"

"That nattering on like a fool would distract me enough that I would loosen my grip on my wand?" Tom finished for him, before snapping his wand towards Harry in that motion that meant he was about to throw out a curse.

Harry threw up a shield before he'd even thought about it, and it was only because he was holding the squib wand, that the spell actually came from it. That said, it was as perfectly formed as any shield that would have come from his original holly wand, and a far cry better than the ones the squib wand had cast before it had been connected to his own magic.

A silencing charm splashed harmlessly against the shield, dissipating into nothing between them. Tom raised an eyebrow at him. "Impressive, Scythe."

"That was rude. You are rude," Harry informed him. "I can't believe you just attacked me. I am a defenceless–"

"Lies," Tom muttered.

"–squib, and you are attacking me like a mean dark lord. Which, actually–"

"I am?" Tom suggested before rapidly shooting out two more curses, far stronger.

Harry winced as the second one hammered against his shield, nearly cracking it. "Please don't–"

A third spell shot towards Harry, and he ducked out of the way only because he knew it had the wrong trajectory to hit Hermione and his brothers. He quickly broke his current shield and recast, then shot off two stunning spells at the dark lord. "My spell list is pathetic!" he complained just before three new curses slammed into his shield in quick succession, nearly shattering it. "I hate you!" he added, ducking a fourth curse.

Tom laughed, his barrage of spells ending, and Harry shot him a scowl. "It really is a pity you're a squib, Scythe," he commented.

Harry shot off an incendio, but the dark lord just brushed it aside. "I'd offer to duel you for real, but I don't think it would end well for you," he retorted in German.

Tom grimaced, making a show of slipping his wand away. "I expect you're correct," he admitted. "I haven't the faintest how my shields would stand up against one of your spells."

Harry took a moment to consider that, then snickered and slipped his own wand away. "Yeah, not so much."

"Are you done attempting to curse my son?" Lily snapped from the doorway into the house, her eyes practically spitting fire. James and Sirius were standing just behind her shoulders, looking every inch a dark wizard's worst nightmare.

Tom's mouth twitched. "As always," he offered, his eyes glinting with amusement, "it's a pleasure to share your acquaintance, Mrs Potter."

"Get off my property," Lily returned, unbending.

Harry stepped up and patted the dark lord's arm. "Best you go before she figures out a way to ground you."

Tom snorted. "I'll see you when the list is prepared," he replied, and Harry nodded and took a step back, giving him room to apparate away.

Once he was gone, Lily let out a slightly shaky laugh and leant back against James, who caught her with a relieved expression. "I can't believe that worked," she breathed.

"Makes two of us," Sirius muttered.

"Your mum is scary amazing," Hermione whispered as she, Will, and Chris joined Harry. "Also, I can't believe you duelled the dark lord."

"It was awesome!" Will declared.

"You're grounded for a week, Harry!" Lily called, having recovered from her minor collapse.

"Aw, but, Mum!" Will tried.

"I will ground you, too," Lily threatened.

Harry touched his brother's shoulder and shook his head when Will looked back at him. "Let it be," he suggested before walking towards the three adults. "Sorry, Mum," he offered, honestly regretting freaking her out.

Lily yanked him into a hug. "My heart cannot take your friendship with him," she complained before pushing him away far enough that she could pin him with a glare. "Do not duel Voldemort again."

"I'll make a concerted effort, but I reserve the right to curse him back if he starts it," Harry replied.

Lily closed her eyes and pulled him into another hug. "Of course you will," she complained.

-0-

"How would one go about getting other muggleborns to say they're having trouble with their host families?" Hermione asked the next afternoon, opting to stay indoors with Harry, while his brothers went outside to play with the Weasleys.

Harry frowned and glanced to the side. "I haven't the faintest," he admitted, because he couldn't begin to guess. Normally, he'd say have the students looked over when they got back after the holidays, check for physical signs of abuse, but magic negated that option, and it was hardly comprehensive, as not all abuse was going to leave a mark.

"I suppose you could watch for changes in behaviour," Hermione offered, "or ask their friends."

"Not all abused children tell their friends what's going on," Harry murmured, because he'd never let on how crap it was at the Dursleys, though he expected a lot was obvious.

He straightened. "Friends," he realised. "You might not tell your friends, but that doesn't mean they won't notice. Tell all the students to report any sudden changes in a friend's behaviour, especially if it follows after a holiday, then make a point of following up on those reports. Make it about all the students, not just the muggleborns, and people might be more willing to come forward."

"Or, at least, the muggleborns won't feel like they're being targeted," Hermione agreed, her eyes bright.

They grinned at each other for a long moment before Hermione suddenly slumped, something obviously occurring to her. "What?" Harry asked.

Hermione folded her fingers together. "Would they tell an adult? Even when pressed?"

Harry looked away, reminded of how he'd not told his parents about Mrs White's abuse because a part of him didn't really trust them to be able to do anything about it. He'd told Lily when he'd been caught, sure, but she was his mum. (And terrifying, to boot.) "No," he decided, "I don't think they would. And you can't put that sort of responsibility on the house prefects."

"What sort of responsibility?" Percy asked from the doorway, and Harry winced when he realised he'd been so caught up with Hermione that he'd missed the older boy's approach.

Hermione looked uncertain for a moment before rallying and offering, "Students who are facing abuse at home, especially the muggleborns. We know it's happening, but we're not sure how to go about getting the victims help."

Percy grimaced. "Aren't you two a bit young to worry about this stuff?"

"You're never too young to worry about abuse," Harry replied quietly, and Percy looked away. He sighed. "Hermione mentioned one of the other muggleborns in her year had come back early from the winter holidays. One can only assume that means there was trouble at his host home, but he didn't mention anything about it to anyone."

"We just...want to know if there's a way to..." Hermione closed her eyes, looking vaguely disturbed. "Oh, that sounds terrible."

"Force the issue?" Harry suggested.

She nodded. "Doesn't it?"

With complete honesty, Harry replied, "I'd rather be forced to tell someone I'm in trouble, than suffer in silence because I'm scared."

They were all quiet for a moment before Percy settled uncertainly in an open chair. "In a couple years, I suppose we could set up a sort of mentoring program with those muggleborns who have finished. Set it as a sort of 'helping the new hands sort things out', but also use it to catch abuse, right?"

"Those who have suffered from abuse are more likely to spot the signs in others," Harry admitted. "Which is why I think you're going to have to depend on friends of the victims being the ones to come forward. But you've still got that trouble with talking to a professor."

"Harry," Percy said, expression a weird mix of irritation and resignation, "that's part of what the prefects and head boy and girl are around for. Yeah, we're supposed to serve as the professors' eyes in the common rooms and serve out punishments for rule-breaking in their stead, but that goes the other way, too. A student who's having trouble in classes, or with other students–" he nodded towards Hermione, who flushed and ducked her head "–are supposed to be able to come to one of us instead of trying to corner a professor."

Harry blinked, because he'd never really had that experience during his time at Hogwarts, during his first life. Though, to be fair, the assistance he'd needed was usually more of the sort that was beyond your average student, prefect or no.

"I mean, sure, we have to report any issues to the head of house, and we usually can't do much beyond offering a bit of extra tutoring, or dock some points, but if you're looking for a, a–"

"Middle man?" Hermione suggested.

"Less threatening face of authority," Harry settled on, and Hermione covered her mouth to muffle a giggle.

Percy snorted. "Either one, yes. The prefects can serve."

Harry glanced towards Hermione and she offered a helpless sort of shrug. "It's the best we've got. I'm not sure how it would be implemented, though..."

"Oh, let me handle that," Percy suggested, straightening in his chair. "We've a meeting on the train at the beginning of every year. I'll bring it up and see if we can't get things started right off. Maybe post an owl to Professor McGonagall to see if she'll put it past the other heads of house and the headmaster."

"You do that," Harry agreed, and smiled as Percy hurried off to find writing materials.

"What about You Know Who?" Hermione whispered once Percy was gone.

Harry snorted. "I'll send him an owl tonight. If nothing else, he can force any dissenters among the staff to play along; I'm sure Severus will approve, but I can't begin to guess what sort of pushback he'll have from those professors who don't care about the home lives of the muggleborns."

Hermione sighed and dropped her head to rest on Harry's shoulder. "I can't imagine how you and he..." She let out a frustrated sound.

"Got to be on anything approaching good terms?" Harry suggested after taking a beat to check for spies, because he'd been expecting this talk, sure, but leave it to Hermione to have it while they were at the Weasleys.

"Yes."

He glanced over at the top of her head, uncertain what his response could be, as aware as he'd been of the coming talk. He settled on, "I don't want to lie to you."

Hermione pulled away and met his level stare, her expression a mix of hurt and resignation. "So you're just not going to tell me anything," she guessed quietly.

Harry nodded. "I'll tell you eventually," he admitted, because he knew he would. "Assuming you don't figure everything out on your own, first," he added.

Hermione's eyes lit with the sort of fire that was far too rare in this version of her. "Is that a challenge, Harry Potter?" she returned.

Harry grinned. "Absolutely."

Hermione narrowed her eyes. "I'm going to find out all of your secrets," she insisted. "And I'm going to do it before I finish Hogwarts."

Harry believed every word.

-0-

"He's waiting for you," Death offered mentally that night, after Will and Chris had both fallen asleep.

Harry nodded and slipped out of bed, grabbing his house robe to slip on over his pyjamas. He was just about to step through the doorway that had opened for him when he remembered his challenge to Hermione. He snorted to himself and transfigured a stuffed toy into an approximation of his own sleeping form, then set it under the covers before stepping into the Realm of Death.

"Should have been doing that all along, anyway," he murmured to himself as he started towards Voldemort's rooms. Though, really, the only time he'd been caught by his family had been the one time he'd stayed away past dawn, and they'd already known, by then.

When he stepped through to the dark lord's rooms, he found the man working at his desk, as per usual. Harry had played ruler of the magical world before, and while he'd been plenty willing to delegate the resulting paperwork to those non-humans left in charge of the various governments, he was quite aware of how much work was involved, and how little the dark lord would trust any of his people to manage it. So he really couldn't resist announcing his presence by teasing, "I'm going to tell Albus that he's been replaced as the thing that you fear most."

Voldemort turned to give him a bland stare. "Really. You think I feared Dumbledore more than anything else."

"Ooh, good point," Harry admitted as he dropped gracelessly into a chair. "I'm going to tell Death, then, that he's been usurped by paperwork."

"Of course you are," Voldemort muttered as he pulled out a piece of parchment and held it out towards Harry. "The list of students and their host families. It's tied to a copy I have, so it'll update when I get the list of new placements at the beginning of September."

"Awesome, thanks," Harry said, taking the list. He took a moment to look it over, mentally noting the families he was most uncertain about. "I expect I'll have something before term starts for you to turn your violent streak on."

"Says the child who killed his babysitter," Voldemort retorted before straightening in his seat. His back popped and Harry winced in sympathy. "Did your mudblood–" He stopped and shot Harry a pointed look.

Harry blinked, confused for a moment, before it occurred to him what Voldemort was waiting for. He snorted and rolled his eyes. "I'm not fond of the term 'mudblood', but I'm hardly going to call you out for using it in your own home or, fuck, around purebloods who would expect it. But I don't want you calling Mum or Hermione that to their faces. Not in my house."

Voldemort snorted. "There are times, Scythe, that I wonder how you ever could have been a dark lord."

Harry leant to one side in his chair, bracing against the arm so he could use his palm as a rest for his cheek. "I never said I was a dark lord."

Voldemort shot him a suspicious look. "You could hardly have been else, with your...gifts."

Harry considered that for a moment, amused. He'd never been called a dark lord in his last life, having another title – two other titles, if one counted Master of Death – but the label certainly fit him, given his work in overthrowing governments worldwide by murdering people. "No one ever called me a dark lord to my face, that I can recall," he settled on.

Voldemort's eyes narrowed. "Were you a hermit?" he demanded.

Harry laughed. "For part of my life," he agreed, fully enjoying baiting the dark lord.

Voldemort pointed a finger at him. "I'll figure it out."

Harry stood, grinning at Voldemort in a way that would have seen anyone else dead. "You and Hermione both, evidently," he allowed, and laughed again when the dark lord scowled and hissed something rude. "I expect Hermione will manage better, but you're at something of a disadvantage, to be fair."

"What disadvantage?" Voldemort snarled.

Harry shook his head and waved the parchment at the angry dark lord. "I've spies to set. Good night, Voldemort."

Voldemort responded with something so utterly vile, Harry whistled, impressed, as he stepped into the Realm of Death. When he spotted Merope standing nearby, he offered, "That son of yours needs someone to wash his mouth out."

"You'll have to provide the bleach," Merope deadpanned.

Harry chuckled. "Perhaps I will. But not until after he's had the chance to spend his ire on other people; I've no interest in suffering his curses."

Merope shook her head. "You're as bad as each other."

"We really are," Harry admitted, still far too amused at how easy it was to rile the dark lord. He glanced down at the list in his hand and felt his amusement draining away at the grim task that lay before him. "It seems I have more important matters to see to, at the moment. Please excuse me, Merope."

Merope nodded and didn't speak again as Harry started away, absently pulling on the invisible tethers of those souls that he could spare from their posts for the next month. He'd have to do some more recruiting once term had started up and Hermione wasn't around to prove a hindrance.

It didn't take long to pass out the names he needed watched. As families were crossed off, he could send his watchers on to other students, until they had, hopefully, picked out all of the problems. If he was lucky, he wouldn't have to worry about any muggleborns having to return to an abusive household for the winter holidays, because he'd have caught them all before the train left.

"After that, I guess I'll just have to find a new project," he muttered to himself as he turned towards home. "Stupid saving people thing."

Somewhere, in another reality, a version of Hermione Granger was laughing at another Harry Potter.

.

Chapter Text

While sending Hermione back to Hogwarts that September was hard, Harry felt far better about it than he had after the winter holiday. For one thing, he knew she had friends now – even if he had bought some of them with sweets – and a prefect in her own house who was determined to look out for her. Too, she'd become good friends with Ginny over the summer, who was starting that year with Luna.

Luna and Hermione had made each other's acquaintance a few times – she was a not-uncommon feature in the Burrow, since her mother's death – but Harry knew his best friend had some...concerns, regarding the blonde.

"She's a bit...not all there," Hermione had commented in response to Harry's inquiry, while he was helping her pack the night before the train.

Harry didn't bother suppressing a smile. "She has a habit of living in her head, rather than the physical world."

"And here I thought she was away on Mars," Hermione muttered.

Harry laughed.

Hermione moaned and covered her face with her hands. "Oh my God. I'm turning into a bigot."

"A little bit," Harry admitted and she moaned again. He rolled his eyes and gently pulled her hands away from her face. "Hey, you put up with my particular brand of insanity–"

"Please don't remind me," Hermione complained, though Harry knew she was mostly resigned to his friendship with Voldemort, any more.

"–I think you can play friendly with Luna while you're at Hogwarts," Harry finished, ignoring her complaining. Then he sighed and rubbed his thumbs against the backs of her hands, where he still held them. "You don't need to be best friends, Hermione, but I think Luna could use someone who's watching out for her, especially at first."

"What, you're not going to bribe Fred and George to keep tabs on her?" Hermione muttered, but her expression said she knew exactly what abuse awaited Luna at the castle.

Harry pressed his lips together and shook his head. "They already know she's going to have trouble, I don't need to tell them that, but they weren't the only thing that got you through second term, and you know it." Because that had been Hermione's boosted confidence and Ron and Penelope Clearwater, as much as it was the twins serving as a deterrent against people thinking her easy prey.

Hermione sighed. "I'll try," she offered, and Harry nodded. "I don't suppose there's much chance of her ending anywhere but Ravenclaw, the way she is," she added, her tone resigned.

Harry snorted, ever unable to imagine Luna in any house other than Ravenclaw. "Not a chance."

Hermione stared at Harry for a long moment, her eyes seeming almost to see through him, and Harry forced himself not to tense as he cautiously asked, "Hermione?

Hermione shook her head. "I still can't see it, you being a Slytherin."

Harry blinked. "No?" he asked. "And what house do you see me in, then?"

Hermione frowned and she turned away, back toward her packing. "I don't–" She curled her hand over the spine of a book, not picking it up, just holding it. She glanced back at him, her expression troubled. "I don't know. But not Slytherin. They're always so...mean."

"Cunning and ambition," Harry returned quietly. "The drive to come out ahead, no matter what it takes." He snorted, remembering something Albus had told him in his first reality. "A certain disregard for the rules. They might come across as mean, and they're too oft painted with shades of cruelty, simply because they don't baulk at being in the wrong to get what they want."

Hermione swallowed. "Maybe..." She allowed quietly, before shaking her head again. "No. You're...you like your secrets–" Harry couldn't help an amused smile at the disgusted look she shot him "–and you... Well, there's the...the dark lord, but you're not–" She let out an irritated sound. "You don't care," she settled on. "About being the best, about being at the top of everything, of everyone. Will told me, that you were happy to let him be the best skier."

"There are different sorts of ambition, Hermione," Harry pointed out drily. "Some people want to rule the country, like Voldemort, others want to bring home the best marks at the end of the year. I–" just want Tom back and my family safe "–have other goals in mind."

Hermione sighed and let go of the book to rub at her face. "Fine. Whatever." She grabbed the book again and dropped it carelessly into the section of her trunk meant to hold books.

Harry helped her pack for a few minutes more, before leaving under the onslaught of her irritated silence. "I think," he told his brothers when they both looked up from the racetrack they were building in the middle of their bedroom, "that Hermione is cross with me."

They traded looks, then Will pointed out, "You could just...tell her?"

Harry smiled and shook his head. "Can I join you two?" he asked instead of continuing the topic.

"Yeah," Chris agreed, holding out a handful of track pieces, one of them melting into another shape in his hand, because magical track pieces did that.

"You've got that side," Will added as Harry accepted the track, motioning at where he and Chris had largely trapped themselves in their corners of the room.

"If you're trying to break some sort of longest road record, Mum's going to ground all of us," Harry pointed out as he knelt to reshape the track at his feet.

His brothers both laughed and they set about finishing up the track and racing a few cars until Lily came to make them clean it all up.

In the morning, Hermione hugged Harry tightly at breakfast. "I'm sorry," she whispered as she slid into the seat next to him.

"For what, the silent treatment?" Harry returned with a knowing smile. "Please, I know that's just my karma coming back to me." When he spotted Will and Chris trading grins, he narrowed his eyes at them. "No. Whatever that just was–"

"Did you hear something?" Will asked Chris, frowning a bit.

Chris shook his head, struggling to keep a solemn look on his face. "Nu-uh. Must've been the wind."

James snorted from behind the Prophet. "Karma," he said.

Harry rubbed at his eyes while Hermione muffled a giggle. "How is this my life?" he wondered, and Hermione gave up on muffling her laughter.

"Crickets?" Will suggested and Chris had to cover his face as his grin broke through.

Harry rolled his eyes and turned his attention back towards his breakfast, silently debating ways to get his brothers back.

-0-

Hermione's first letter reached them two days into term, and included a report on the number of muggleborn students who had returned to Hogwarts before classes started back up. Every one of the eight students had suffered some form of abuse at the hands of their magical guardians, and those guardians had suffered Voldemort's displeasure when Harry passed names on.

Harry smirked at the list, not even bothering to hide his knowledge from his family, and the Potters, wisely, didn't ask for specifics.

-0-

Term went by quickly, with Hermione sending bi-weekly letters to the whole family. Luna had, indeed, ended up in Ravenclaw. And while Hermione would probably always struggle with her oddities, she took up the duty of being a buffer between Luna and the rest of the school quite seriously, and had stopped a couple different instances of other students thinking the younger girl an easy target.

"She's still weird," Hermione told Harry her first night back, without prompting, while they were sharing a book Harry had picked up from the public library, "but she's not too bad, once you get her to stop talking about imaginary creatures."

Harry laughed and nudged her shoulder with his. "Sceptic."

"Realist."

Harry wiggled fingers over the book, turning his hand into a claw. "Magic."

"Magical realist," Hermione corrected.

Harry raised an eyebrow at her, disbelieving, and she broke out into helpless giggles. "I can't believe you just said that," he said, shaking his head. "Can I quote you later?"

"I think I hate you," Hermione decided once she'd got her amusement under control.

"Only think?" Harry mused, turning the page. "I'm failing somewhere."

Hermione elbowed him. "I'll tell your mum you're being mean to me," she threatened.

Harry grinned, but obediently stopped teasing her.

-0-

When Harry slipped into Voldemort's rooms on his birthday, a copy of Homer's Margites held in one hand, he found the dark lord sleeping at his desk, paperwork spread out under him. Harry couldn't help a fond smile, even as he cast a silent spell to check that the dark lord was really asleep.

His spies hadn't let on to any brewing trouble, beyond the shuffling of those muggleborns who'd lost their host families, and rushing to find families to take both them and the new class on, so Harry suspected this was a simple case of the dark lord refusing to delegate.

"Paranoid bastard," Harry said fondly as he cast a sleeping spell on Voldemort, aware of how light a sleeper he was. Then he carefully shifted the dark lord to his bed and tucked him in.

Harry caught himself gently brushing his knuckles against Voldemort's cheek and quickly pulled away, closing his eyes to berate himself; just because Voldemort was asleep, didn't give Harry the right to touch.

He sighed and tied the sleep spell to the room door, so Voldemort would wake if someone started pounding on it, or burst inside, but would remain unbothered if there was noise out in the hallway. "Sleep well, Tom," Harry whispered before stepping back into the Realm of Death, the book left behind on the dark lord's desk.

Merope was waiting for him, a fond smile twisting her lips. "Thank you," she offered as Harry sat on the ground next to her. "He's working too hard."

"Mm. Refusal to delegate tasks that can be handled by other people," Harry agreed, nodding. "It's a failing of his. If I need to start coming by to tuck him in–" Harry couldn't resist a smirk, imagining Voldemort's reaction to Harry making it a habit "–let me know."

Merope covered a grin that was so close to one Harry had often seen on his Tom's face when he was up to no good, it was sort of terrifying. "I'll keep that in mind."

Harry snorted. "Yeah, but also keep in mind that I am going to hide behind you when he finally blows up at me."

Merope laughed. "You could bring your own mother to hide behind," she suggested, her crossed eyes sparkling.

Harry took a moment to consider that idea, then groaned and covered his eyes. "Merlin, no. Mum'd be as likely to hand me over to him for getting her involved, as she would protect me."

Merope was silent for a moment, and Harry lowered his hand to shoot her a worried look. She pressed her hands together in front of herself, then offered, "Speaking of getting your mother involved..."

Harry felt himself tense, uncertain where this was going, but knowing he wasn't going to like it. "What?" he asked, suspicion making the word come out sharp.

Merope didn't react to the change in tone, beyond folding her fingers together. "You should tell her, and your father, that you're courting Tom."

Harry stared at the spirit, disbelieving. "Excuse me?" he managed after a moment of moving his mouth and getting no sound out. "What are– Are you– I can't–" Harry shook his head roughly. "In what reality is that even a passingly good idea?" he demanded.

Merope stared at her hands for a long moment, twisting her fingers together in some sort of pattern that only made sense to her, before she took a deep breath and met Harry's eyes. "Would you rather they found out some other way?"

The words fell like a physical blow, knocking the air from Harry's lungs and making him cough, even as images flashed in his mind, of the sort of terrible reactions his parents would have if someone else – if Peter or Severus – were to let it slip that the dark lord had a...

A what? There was nothing between Harry and Voldemort, save some birthday presents and Harry's own twisted attachment.

Isn't there? a traitorous corner of his mind asked, and it sounded worryingly like his mum.

There were touches in the back garden, greeting the dark lord with a hug because he could and not getting cursed for it, half-teasing comments in another language; Tom's bumbling, uncertain responses to Harry's love. Careless, walking the edge of discovery with every smile.

Oh, damn it all. Harry rubbed angrily at his face. He needed to warn his parents, before one of them jumped to the wrong conclusion. Or the right one, even.

A gentle, too-cold hand rested gently on his arm, and Harry forced a helpless smile for Merope. "Should I warn him first?" he asked a bit helplessly. "In case Mum–" flies off the handle "–comes here to–"

"Ask his intentions?" Merope suggested with a knowing look, and Harry grimaced. "Do you think she'd really come to him for that?"

"I don't–" Harry closed his eyes and forced himself to take a breath, tried to imagine how his parents would react to this truth. "No," he decided. "No, Mum only came because he was her last resort, last time. She wouldn't call him out on his own territory, not about this. If he–" If he hurt Harry, if something he did left Harry fighting tears on the edge of his bed, then Lily would come. "She's afraid of him, just enough," Harry settled on, making a silent promise to himself that he would never let his mum find out when Voldemort was being an arse, unless he didn't have any other choice.

Merope smiled, like she knew exactly what Harry wasn't saying. "Then you shouldn't have to, though you may want to warn him before your birthday."

Harry shot her a sharp look. "You think he's intending to come by my house again? After last time, I'm not sure Mum won't kill him the moment he shows his face."

Merope snorted. "If he promises not to try duelling you again–"

"Merlin's beard, no, please stop," Harry pleaded, covering his eyes and trying not to imagine the line of inquiry the dark lord would be faced with before he'd be let into the house. "I'm going to tell him not to come by again. Ever."

Merope laughed.

Harry pushed himself to his feet, shaking his head. "I am going home and crawling into bed and forgetting we ever had this conversation." He turned away, moaning, "I'm going to have so many nightmares."

Merope's hand on his shoulder stopped him from going more than a couple steps, and Harry glanced back at her, frowning at the hard lines of her expression. "Tell them," she ordered.

Harry closed his eyes, felt himself droop. "I will," he whispered, a promise that he knew he would keep, if only because the alternative was...

He pulled away and started back towards home, trying to figure out timing. Not when Hermione was there, and probably best at night, when his brothers were sleeping, because Chris and Will didn't need to be a part of this conversation, didn't need to be in spell range if Lily or James reacted poorly.

Harry stopped just outside the access point to his bedroom, staring into the endless darkness around him and feeling like a stone had sunk in his belly.

Dear Merlin, he was actually going to tell his parents that he wanted to sleep with Voldemort.

"I'm doomed," Harry breathed before letting out a helpless little laugh, half-mad in a way that only the truly insane could manage.

-0-

Harry waited a couple of days into the start of the new term, letting his brothers get back into the swing of things, go to bed earlier and earlier because they had to get up for school in the morning.

With a bonus spell to ensure his brothers would remain peacefully asleep, Harry crept downstairs, to where his parents were sitting in the dining room. Lily had a cup of tea – one of the herbal mixes a neighbour had taken to supplying her with from their own garden – at her elbow, a couple of objects in need of charming in front of her, while James sat hunched over paperwork that Harry recognised as an incident report form that all aurors had to fill out when someone got hurt, whether the hurt party was the auror or the person they were bringing in. Harry raised an eyebrow at that, intrigued.

Then he shook his head, allowing himself a smile; he wasn't here to wonder after his father's day, nor comment on the fact that James wasn't, actually, supposed to bring that paperwork home, even if plenty of aurors did.

"Mum? Dad?" Harry called, stepping into the light glaring down from the overhead.

James twitched, hands trying futility to cover his paperwork, while Lily turned to Harry with a concerned smile. "What's wrong, Harry?" she asked over the sounds of James turning his papers over.

Harry swallowed, trying to remember the carefully constructed conversation that he'd been turning over in his head since Voldemort's birthday. "Can we...talk?" he requested, and he didn't sound nearly as calm as he'd been aiming for, but he also didn't sound like he wanted to run for it; it would do.

"Always," James promised, his 'I'm your dad and nothing you say or do could ever make me not love you' look on, which Harry was pretty sure hadn't been quite so good before he'd come clean about his death magic.

"Do you want tea?" Lily asked as Harry came over to the table, half standing from her chair.

Harry blinked, unexpectedly thrown. Did he want–? No. No, he really didn't want tea right–

Harry took a deep breath, clenched his fingers around the back of the chair that he'd grabbed for because he needed something to hold onto, same as he had in Toledo. "Yeah," he decided, forcing himself to pull the chair out from under the table. "Yes, please," he added, because politeness was good.

James' mouth quirked while Lily went to get Harry tea. "You're making me nervous, pup," he commented, voice light. "Did you kill someone?"

Harry coughed on a laugh, letting himself drop into the chair he hadn't quite settled into yet. Because admitting to killing someone was about a dozen times less stressful than admitting–

Harry rubbed roughly at his face. "It is entirely possible," he mused, half to himself, "that I'm on the verge of a panic attack." Because he'd never done this. He'd never had to tell anyone about his relationships, not in either of his last two realities, because he'd had no one to answer to, with Ginny, and he'd got together with Tom in the middle of a war, and then he'd died.

He could tell people all year long about how he had no qualms about killing in cold blood, that he would do anything to keep his family safe, no matter how horrific, but Tom...Voldemort...

"Breathe," Lily ordered, firm hands resting on his shoulders.

Harry took a shaky breath and caught the scent of lavender. He glanced towards the table and found a cup of tea waiting for him, smelling strongly of lavender. Naturally calming. He took a deep breath, letting the scent fill him for a moment.

"Better?" Lily asked when he let out his breath.

Harry blinked towards her and nodded. "Yeah. Thanks."

Lily smiled and kissed his forehead before she moved back into her own chair.

"What's worse than killing someone?" James asked Lily as Harry folded his hands around the small cup set out for him.

Lily sighed and turned her attention to Harry. "Sweetheart?"

Harry closed his eyes, nothing to do but jump in head first. "I sort of have–" was there a good way to put this that didn't make him sound like a sappy teenager? "–feelings for Voldemort."

"I know," Lily replied.

Harry's eyes snapped open and he turned to stare at his mum. "I– You– What?"

Lily smiled at him and reached out a hand, which Harry grabbed with a sort of desperation that he couldn't explain. "I've known since your eleventh birthday," she offered.

Eleventh birthday, no present from Voldemort, Harry was so fucking upset, even though he'd known... And then Voldemort – Tom – had shown up, and he'd...

"...I'm an idiot," Harry decided, dropping his head to rest against his outstretched arm.

James cleared his throat, and when Harry peeked out at him, he found his father looking so utterly uncomfortable. "So, Mum says these...feelings are the sort of...romantic–"

"Love," Harry offered quietly, and James squeezed his eyes shut. "Yeah, that sort."

"I need a drink," James muttered, tugging off his glasses and pressing his fingertips against his eyelids.

Lily sighed and squeezed Harry's hand until he looked at her. "Does he know?"

Harry frowned. "He...?"

"Voldemort."

James shifted, coming to attention in his chair, Harry saw with a glance. "Yes," he offered.

"You told him?" James exclaimed, and even Lily looked surprised.

Harry shook his head. "Are you kidding? Merlin, no. Despite all evidence to the contrary, I do not, in fact, have a death wish." James let out a strained laugh. "No, his mum told him. He told me he knew just to watch me freak out."

"Did you?" James asked.

"Freak out?" Harry replied drily, and his father offered a shaky grin. "Absolutely. He thought it was hysterical."

James let out a choked sound that could have been a laugh.

Lily squeezed his hand and Harry looked back towards her serious stare. "Does he love you?" she asked, and James drew in a sharp breath.

Harry closed his eyes, touched the answer that he couldn't even bring himself to believe, not yet, and flinched away from it. "I don't think any of us are ready to delve into Voldemort's psychological profile, right now," he offered, keeping his tone dry.

"In other words," James suggested, and there was a hint of strain in his voice, uncomfortable with the topic, but gamely keeping on, "he hasn't told you."

Harry choked out his own laugh and shot his father a look that he knew was a little wild. "Voldemort doesn't do feelings, only talks about them when it'll make someone else more uncomfortable than he is; there is nothing in the universe that will get me to poke that dragon."

"So," Lily said quietly, "you'll never know."

Harry looked down at where his mum was holding his hand, wrapped tight like a hug, and he shook his head. "It's complicated, he's complicated," he admitted just as quietly. "But it's not–"

No, he couldn't think about it, couldn't go down this mental pathway.

Harry drew his hand away from his mum, wrapped it back around his tea. "It's hardly my first broken heart, if it comes to it," he finished, tone dry and leaning towards uncaring, as though his love for the dark lord wasn't one of the few supports he used to hold everything up.

"Harry," Lily whispered, and she sounded as broken as Harry couldn't let himself be.

Harry took a long sip of his tea, unwilling to leave it completely untouched, then stood with a smile that felt a little too sharp. "Good talk, thanks for not completely freaking out on me." He turned away, tried not to see the sorrow in his father's eyes, too close a match for Lily's heartbreak. "I'll leave you to your charming and illegal paperwork."

James twitched and paper rustled. "It's not illegal!" he insisted, and he sounded strained, like he knew he should have laughed, but couldn't.

Harry offered him a knowing smile over one shoulder when he reached the doorway, needing it to feel more real. "So you're saying there isn't a note on the top sheet that says something like, 'Do not, under any circumstances, remove this paperwork from the ministry building'?"

He left his father to sputter behind him and returned to his room to, with any luck, get some sleep.

-0-

"Master," Death called when Harry climbed into bed about a week after he'd told his parents that he loved Voldemort, "he's asking for you."

Death's voice was odd, and Harry frowned at that, even as he looked over his brothers and cast a couple silent spells to make sure they'd sleep through him leaving. A good sort of asking, or a bad one? he had to ask, even as he opened a doorway for himself.

Death didn't respond, and Harry's frown deepened.

Merope wasn't in sight when Harry reached the access to Voldemort's rooms, and he wondered at that, even as he opened a doorway; it wasn't that Merope was never off doing something else, but she was usually there when the dark lord started asking for Harry, if only because she was the one who passed on the message.

"Voldemort?" Harry called cautiously, peeking into the room and not quite stepping through his doorway.

Voldemort was sitting at his desk, posture stiff and face bent to shadow itself in a way that didn't bode well. He held out a piece of parchment towards Harry without looking up from whatever he was writing on another piece of parchment and demanded, "Explain this."

Harry sighed and stepped through to the mortal realm, letting his doorway fall shut behind him as he came close enough to take the parchment. Voldemort didn't react, beyond dropping his hand back to his desk, so Harry turned his attention to the parchment and had to bite back a groan, because there was no way that Voldemort having a letter, even as short as this one looked to be, in Lily's handwriting was a good thing.

'You need to figure out how you feel about my son and make your intentions clear to him.
'Lily Potter'

Well, so, that explained why Merope had made herself scarce, and the air of uncertainty that he almost hadn't noticed around his parents for the last day and a half or so. He couldn't believe–

Okay, actually, yeah, he totally could. At least Lily hadn't come over to talk to Voldemort in person?

"I'm sorry," he managed, and he only sounded a little strained. "This is–" He cut himself off, uncertain how to explain what had possessed his mother to start demanding things of the dark lord.

Parchment shifted and Voldemort said, "You told your parents about–"

Harry glanced up at the dark lord and bit the inside of his cheek to keep from smiling at the vaguely constipated look on Voldemort's face as he stumbled over how to describe Harry's romantic aspirations. "Your mother bullied me into it."

Voldemort closed his eyes, the picture of a long-suffering son (and Harry absolutely was not wishing for a camera). "Of course she did," the dark lord muttered.

Harry looked back down at the letter in his hand and crumpled it in a tight fist, too-sharp nails tearing into the parchment. "I will attempt, again," Harry said, feeling irritation bubbling in his stomach, "to tell her to back off. I'm sorry that–"

"Scythe," Voldemort interrupted, amusement in his voice, and Harry closed his mouth, turning his eyes to the dark lord. Voldemort was leaning back in his chair, watching Harry with something almost like fondness in slit-pupiled eyes. "I'm not cross."

Harry took a moment to look at the dark lord, taking in the hint of tenseness at the corners of his eyes, the way his hand was sprawled too-casually over the papers he'd been working on when Harry had come in. No, Voldemort wasn't angry, but he wasn't comfortable with the topic, either.

And he was getting more and more uncomfortable the longer Harry stared at him.

Harry turned away, looking towards the grandfather clock in the far corner. "What you may or may not feel towards me is hardly Mum's concern," he replied, keeping his tone bland.

"She is...worried for you," Voldemort replied, the words sounding like they hurt to say.

Harry clenched his fist tighter around the crumpled letter, let his too-sharp nails bite into his palm to keep from laughing because Voldemort was siding with his mum.

Tell me I didn't just skip realities again without noticing, he sent to Death.

"You remain in the same reality as you have been in for the past twelve years," Death obediently replied.

Did Tom just skip realities? Harry couldn't help but ask.

"Master," Death replied, a clear note of amusement in its voice.

"Scythe," Voldemort called, and Harry realised he'd been silent for too long.

"Alien abduction," Harry muttered to himself, and Death's bone-rattle laughter rang in his mind. He turned to look back at Voldemort, hiding himself behind the blank mask that had got him through cleaning up his last reality after Tom's death. "Contrary to all appearances, I am a grown man capable of managing my own interpersonal relationships, and I will make that point to both our mothers; you may be willing to tolerate their matchmaking, but I am quite through with following stage directions." He met Voldemort's startled gaze coolly. "Was there anything else?"

"...No," Voldemort allowed.

Harry nodded. "Good night," he offered before stepping through the doorway that opened for him. As soon as it had closed behind him, Harry called, "Merope! Do not make me force you!"

Merope sighed from behind him and Harry turned to stare at her. "I'm done," she promised, holding her hands up in a sign of surrender.

Harry watched her for a moment before turning away, looking towards the access to his home. "Good," he replied before heading home.

Albus was sitting near his house, and the smile he offered Harry faltered quickly when Harry just stared back at him. "Bad night?" the former headmaster asked, his tone one of forced humour.

"Are Mum and Dad in the dining room again?" Harry asked, and his tone came out completely flat.

Albus flinched. "Yes. Alone."

"Thank you." Harry stepped forward, through the doorway that appeared for him, and into the dining room.

Harry stepped out to find both of his parents half out of their seats, wands drawn, and offered them a cold smile before setting the torn and crumpled letter, stained with his own blood, on the table. "If you want to call him out for duelling a squib, or just being a general unmitigated bastard, that's your prerogative, but this–" he pointed at the letter, dropping his smile and focussing on Lily "–you are going to drop this. Right now."

"Harry," Lily tried, looking like he'd cursed her.

"No," Harry interrupted, buried deep enough under the persona that had kept him going through the worst months of his previous life, that her expression didn't move him. "I am older than both of you combined, and while I appreciate that you want me happy, I am going to respectfully request that you keep yourselves out of my relationship with Voldemort, whatever form it takes." He turned away and offered over his shoulder, "Good night," before leaving the dining room and kitchen.

Harry stopped at the bottom of the stairs and leant back against the wall, distantly curious to see what sort of reaction his words would birth.

"I told you not to send that," James finally said, sounding strained. "I told you it was only going to–"

"I had to try, James," Lily snapped, and Harry could hear the sound of the crumpled parchment being smoothed out. "I couldn't just sit back and watch him–" She let out a shuddering breath and they were both quiet for a long moment.

"Older than both of us combined," James finally said.

Lily let out a watery laugh. "No wonder he doesn't want me involved. Merlin, I always forget he's–"

"Not a child," James supplied when Lily didn't immediately continue.

"Yes." Lily sighed. "I've never seen him so cold before. What did Voldemort say to him?"

"And how much of that was Voldemort's reaction and how much was Harry's," James added, and Lily let out a quiet, broken sound. "You need to let this go, Lils. If he needs– When he needs us," James corrected, his voice firming, "he'll come to us. He's got the quaffle, right now."

Lily let out a shuddery laugh. "Please stop using quidditch analogies."

"I like quidditch analogies," James insisted.

Harry finally made his way upstairs, sensing the conversation was over. In his room, he took a moment to check on his brothers, then settled down on the edge of his bed, feeling...hollow.

Bone fingers cupped his face and Harry leant forwards, pressing past Death's touch and letting his forehead rest against the black cloak over where the apparition's stomach would be, were it human. "This would be so much easier if I was angry," he whispered, because then he could just find criminals to kill or somewhere secluded to blow up boulders. Something. There was nothing he could do when he let himself feel nothing.

Death was quiet for a long moment, bone fingers carding gently through Harry's hair. Finally, it pulled away, slowly enough that Harry had time to straighten before he tumbled out of bed. "Death?" he requested as the apparition moved away, towards his brothers' beds. "What are–?"

Death gently shook first Will, then Chris awake. "Your brother needs a hug," it said to their confused expressions.

Harry's brothers were scrambling out of their beds and hurrying over to Harry before he really had time to wrap his head around what his eternal servant was up to. And then arms were wrapping around him, sleep-warm and every bit alive.

"Oh," Harry whispered as the hollow feeling vanished, and he wrapped his brothers in a hug, squeezing his eyes shut against the ache of his chest, which he'd managed to bury under that cold persona. "Thank you," he breathed, to his brothers and to Death, who had known exactly what Harry needed.

"Okay?" Chris asked, concern in his voice.

"Yeah," Harry promised. "I'm better, now. I just had a bad dream."

Will let out a yawn in his ear and leant comfortably against Harry. "No more bad dreams," he mumbled. "Me and Chris'll stay here and keep them away."

"Lazy," Harry replied fondly, but he still shifted all three of them back onto his bed, letting his brothers curl up with him.

Bone fingers brushed against his cheek and Harry smiled up at the dark form as Death vanished back to its own realm.

-0-

Things were a little strained between Harry and his parents for the next couple of days, Lily and James walking on pins and needles while Harry put on a brave front, pretending nothing was wrong.

"I'm sorry," Lily finally said after dinner the second night, cornering Harry while James distracted his brothers with sweets.

Harry sighed and let his smile slide away, turning a tired stare on his mother. "I'm touched that you care," he commented quietly, "but I think you can understand why there are some parts of my life that I would rather you not involve yourselves in."

Lily sighed. "I know," she admitted and rested a cautious hand on Harry's shoulder, like she wasn't certain she was actually allowed to touch him.

Harry sighed and made a point of leaning against her, making her wrap her arm around his shoulders so she could support his weight. "Like I said," he remarked at her quiet noise of surprise, "I'm touched. Not angry."

Lily squeezed his shoulders. "You seemed angry, when you..." She cleared her throat.

Harry hummed. "If you say so." He shook his head and closed his eyes. "No. You'll know when I'm angry, I think. Voldemort and I...we have very similar ways of showing when we've lost our temper."

"Killing people?" Lily suggested, tone dry.

Harry couldn't help but smile at how his parents had resigned themselves to his careless disregard for the lives of those outside his family and friends. "Sometimes," he admitted quietly. "But more... I don't really do cold anger, I explode." He snorted and glanced up at her through his bangs. "Maybe I should say, more, that I have your temper, Mum."

"Oh, that's promising," Lily muttered.

Harry snorted again and returned his head to resting comfortably on her shoulder. "Pretty sure your fuse is shorter."

Harry got jabbed in the side for his comment and laughed. When he looked back up at Lily, she was smiling a bit helplessly, shaking her head at him.

They both looked towards the other three males when Will let out a gleeful shout and then proceeded to chase James into the living room, shouting about his father being a thief. Chris looked a bit helplessly towards Harry and Lily, his expression one that Harry himself often wore when their father started acting like the youngest of the lot of them. Harry responded with a knowing grin while Lily laughed and shook her head.

After Will had run back in and managed to recruit Chris in hunting down James – who had apparently taken off with the container of biscuits that Molly had sent home with the brothers that afternoon – Lily asked, "If you weren't angry, then...?"

Harry frowned, trying to think of a good way to explain the way he sort of shut himself away from his emotions. He closed his eyes, giving in to the inevitable, and quietly explained, "Before, when I was in–" how to explain that whole fucking mess of a war? "–a difficult position, my lover committed suicide to save me."

Lily let out a broken noise. "Harry..."

Harry shook his head, unable to bring himself to look up at her. "I didn't have time to mourn him, so I learnt to sort of..." He sighed. "Merlin, that sounds cold, doesn't it? I had to cut myself off from...I don't know, everything, to function. So I–"

Lily wrapped him in a tight hug. "Oh, baby," she whispered, and she sounded like the old ache in Harry's chest had broken open anew in hers.

Harry hugged her back, as tight as he dared, for just long enough that she wouldn't think she'd reacted the wrong way, then he carefully pulled away from her, meeting her heartbroken gaze with a helpless smile. "It was a long time ago."

Lily shook her head and swallowed. "That doesn't mean it doesn't still hurt."

Harry shrugged and nodded. "I know. But, no, I wasn't angry. I was..." He sighed and rubbed a hand over his face, looking towards where he could hear his brothers and father laughing from upstairs. "I was in a place where nothing you said or did could have touched me. I'm sorry I had to do that to you, but I wasn't going to get you to stop poking at things any other way."

"And...Voldemort?" Lily asked. When Harry shot her a curious look, she explained, "There was blood, on the letter."

"Ah." Harry shook his head. "No. If he was angry, I didn't see it." He snorted, remembering how the dark lord had been amused at Harry's apologies. "If anything, I think he was impressed by your gall. Which, please, on account of my already shaky sanity, don't take that as a challenge."

Lily coughed out a laugh and pulled Harry into a quick hug. "I promise to leave dealing with Voldemort in your hands, from now on," she promised.

Harry nodded, then shot her a knowing smile. "Unless he decides it's a brilliant idea to start duelling me in the back garden again?"

Lily pinned him with a flat look. "Don't remind me."

Harry couldn't help but laugh, so much lighter for having cleared the air.

.

Chapter Text

"Are you–?"

"Shut up," Hermione ordered, not looking up from the Quibbler she was reading on her bed. She'd got back last night, and with the party, Harry hadn't really had a chance to check in with his best friend until the following morning, even with her being in the same house.

Harry leant back against her bedroom doorway. "This is amazing."

"Shut up, Harry."

Harry shook his head, amused beyond words. "Did you want breakfast, or are you too busy buying your ticket for the crazy train?"

Hermione finally looked up at him, her expression bordering on cross. "Are you going to stop if I come down?"

Harry took a moment to consider that, rubbing at his chin. "I make no promises," he decided.

Hermione sighed and climbed out of her bed, leaving the magazine behind. When she reached Harry, who hadn't moved from her doorway, she sort of fell against him, and Harry didn't pause in wrapping an arm around her, grinning. "Hi. I don't know why I missed you," she muttered against his shoulder.

"Glutton for punishment?" Harry suggested.

Hermione let out a helpless sound, then pulled away and poked his side. "Move," she ordered and he led the way towards the stairs. "I haven't heard anyone else up," she added as they started down the stairs.

"Dad left for work about an hour ago," Harry offered with a shrug, because he'd woken up when he heard his father failing to be quiet in the kitchen. He'd been quiet enough that the normal humans of the house had slept through it with only a little turning over, but it had woken Harry up, so he'd come down to make sure James made it out okay. "I'd suspect Uncle Sirius of putting something in the food again–" because the crazy fool had done so for Chris' birthday "–but Mum threatened grievous bodily harm."

Hermione snorted and let herself be pushed towards the table while Harry went to get her some food. "I love your mum."

Harry flashed her a grin. "Makes two of us."

Hermione waited until he'd come over to the table with cereal for her and tea for both of them, then asked, "Did Lily say something about a trip?"

Harry nodded around his tea cup and set it down. "Yeah. We did Canada when there was a rebellion issue back... Oh, it was a while ago."

"Rebellion issue?" Hermione repeated, both eyebrows raised.

Harry couldn't help the way his expression went flat. "British ex-pats who decided they'd rather build a small invasion force of European witches and wizards than live under Voldemort's rule. They attacked Hogsmeade while the students were visiting."

Hermione's spoon clattered against her bowl, her eyes going wide with horror. "That's–"

Harry forced himself to take a sip of tea and shrugged. "Voldemort handled them."

"Oh my G-Merlin. I had–"

"Not covered in history of magic?" Harry guessed, putting on a smile that felt a little tight.

Hermione shook her head. "No. And no one ever–"

"People don't...talk about tragedy," Harry offered carefully, because no one ever talked about the war, either, beyond an occasional nod to the fact that there had been one and it had changed their corner of the magical world. "And, I think, especially for you muggleborns, they don't want to scare you off. So no one talks about it."

Hermione picked a napkin out of the holder in the centre of the table and dabbed at the splatters of milk from when she'd fumbled her spoon. "I guess."

Harry shrugged and took another sip of tea, letting Hermione gather herself before he continued, "Well, we had fun in Canada – you've heard about my shoddy skiing attempts–" Hermione managed a shaky smile "–so Dad suggested mucking about on the continent the next summer, since everything had calmed down. We ended up in Spain, and that was fun, but it didn't get brought up two years ago, and last year you were settling in..." He shrugged again and smiled at her. "Guess we're going again."

Hermione eyed him a bit suspiciously. "Not excited?" she guessed.

Harry couldn't really explain how much of an epic failure the Spain trip had turned into, so he just shrugged and offered, "International portkeys and I don't mix well. There's a potion I can make that helps, but I'd prefer not needing it."

Hermione slumped. "Oh. Well, is there anywhere we can go that won't need an international portkey?"

"Or a number of apparation jumps?" Harry suggested drily, because Sirius had half-jokingly suggested that as an alternative when they'd gone to Spain. "There's a floo pathway between us and France, but the waitlist is a kilometre long, this time of year."

"Even though James is in the ministry?" Hermione asked, shaking her head.

Harry raised an eyebrow at her. "Really?"

Hermione offered a helpless smile and picked up her tea cup to nurse it. "Yeah, I guess that wouldn't make much difference, the number of people who work in the ministry. What about–" Hermione made a face. "Him."

"Him?" Harry repeated, before he realised who he meant. "Voldemort?"

Hermione nodded, focussing all her attention on her tea.

Harry blinked. He'd never thought to ask the dark lord to intercede on his behalf for anything, and while it would probably see them at the head of the list, sure, he didn't really need anyone outside his family knowing exactly how close he was to Voldemort. "No," he finally said. "He'd probably do it, if I asked," he added when Hermione frowned, "but I don't want to give anyone in the ministry a reason to look too closely at his relationship with my family. Best case scenario, they'd think they could come to us if they want something from him. Worst case, we become a target the next time someone gets pissed off."

Hermione hurriedly set her tea cup down. "I didn't even think about that," she admitted. "I'm sorry. I should have–"

Harry shook his head. "I know, it's fine," he promised, waving a hand at her. "It's not a bad idea, but the risks outweigh the pros, in this case." He sighed as she returned to her cereal, looking unhappy. "If Mum and Dad didn't have any other plans, we could put forth France as an idea. It's close enough, as long as we can plan around the full moon or Uncle Peter can come, that we can do an apparation jump across the Channel."

Hermione perked up at that. "You could always make sure Peter can come," she pointed out.

Harry eyed her with amusement. "You're very attached to the idea of me buying favours from Voldemort."

Hermione huffed. "Well, if the option's there," she shot back.

Harry laughed. "We'll see," he decided. "If things end up working out that I have to ask for Uncle Peter to come with, I'll consider it."

-0-

They did end up in France that summer, again straddling Harry's (thirteenth) birthday, which meant Remus couldn't come. Peter did get to come with, without Harry having to ask – which he'd actually sort of expected, because as long as there wasn't a rebellion to hunt down, Peter was far from a necessary member of Voldemort's spy force – so they were able to apparate across the Channel.

As far as Potter family holidays went, their time in France ended up on the better end. There were no necromancer cults trying to make them unwilling parts of a ritual, and they didn't end up needing a guide, since Lily, Hermione, and Peter all knew some French. (Which meant Harry didn't have to play translator, though he was plenty willing to clarify when his mum or Peter had trouble with a word and asked him. Hermione didn't think to ask, as she didn't know he spoke it; so far as she was aware, he spoke Atlantean and had taken up German in school, which Harry had chosen when he found out Voldemort spoke it, just to give himself a plausible reason for knowing it.)

Voldemort had sent his gift with Peter that year, not bothering to pretend he wasn't Harry's benefactor any more, though Harry kept to the habit of opening his last. When he opened the box, he found what appeared to be a first or second edition copy of Mikhail Lermontov's A Hero of Our Time, in the original Russian. Which, well, Harry had never read the novel himself – English translation or original – but he'd heard of it and could make a fair guess as to why Voldemort had sent it to him.

"...Is that Russian?" Hermione asked curiously, while everyone else eyed the unfamiliar alphabet uncertainly.

Harry sighed and gently repackaged the box, so the book wouldn't get damaged. "Yeah," he agreed, and he couldn't keep his amusement from his voice. "He's mocking me." Let her assume Voldemort was mocking him by sending him a book written in a language he couldn't speak, rather than as a comment about Harry's own character.

"It looks old," Lily offered carefully.

Harry eyed her, aware of what she really wanted to say: From a man who treasured hard-to-come-by books, this was a gift that wasn't given lightly. "I guess so," he agreed and left to put his gifts away without another word about it. That said, he fully intended to spend the next few nights reading the book after Hermione had turned in.

-0-

The last night of August, Harry knocked on the doorway to Hermione's room, smiling when she looked up from where she was debating which of her older school books to take with her. "Hey. Can we come in for a minute?" he requested, motioning over his shoulder at where Will was scowling and Chris was looking interested behind him.

Hermione blinked and nodded. "Of course," she agreed, and Harry and his brothers filed in, Chris closing the door behind him. "What's going on?" Hermione asked, looking between them a bit suspiciously.

"When Dad and our uncles were in school," Harry explained, pulling out the blank Marauder's Map and setting it on her bed, "they created a map of the school, which Will and I found when we were there years ago. I told him he could take it with him when he started Hogwarts, and we decided–" Will made a grumpy noise, likely because Harry hadn't given him a choice in the matter, but didn't argue "–that we should share it with you, in case you end up needing it at some point."

"A map," Hermione repeated, unimpressed.

Harry flashed her a grin, then tapped the map with his finger and declared, "I solemnly swear I am up to no good."

As ink bled across the map, Hermione dropped the book she'd been holding and joined the brothers in crowding around the map, which showed most of the teaching staff leaving the great hall after a late supper. "Oh my God," she breathed.

Harry unfolded the map between them and quickly pointed out a couple landmarks, to help orient everyone, then pointed to where each of the house common rooms were, as well as the kitchen, for Hermione and Chris. "The house-elves are always happy to give you some extra food," he added for Hermione, who looked a bit confused about why she cared where the kitchen was. "Good for late-night study parties, or if you get so caught up with a book or an assignment that you miss a meal."

"Or detention," Will cheerily added, having heard from Sirius about why the Marauders had gone hunting for the kitchen in the first place.

"I somehow doubt that is going to be one of Hermione's problems," Harry returned drily, and Will stuck his tongue out at him.

"This is amazing," Hermione admitted, her brow furrowed, "but..."

"It wouldn't end well if the wrong person got their hands on it?" Harry suggested knowingly, and she winced. "I know. Half the fun is in the professors not knowing about it, but if at any time you think it's gone missing–" he looked between Hermione and Will, the latter of whom scowled, because Harry had already made this point to him "–you need to tell Severus."

"Does he know about it?" Hermione asked.

"He knows Dad and them had something, but he doesn't know the specifics, so far as I'm aware," Harry offered. "And Dad and Mum don't know we have it, either," he added, because Hermione needed to know exactly how much of a secret the map was, so she could keep it quiet. "So long as it doesn't get anyone into trouble or get stolen, I don't see the harm in continuing the Marauder tradition of keeping its use from everyone outside of us four."

"Yeah! Dad would disown us if he found out we just handed it over to a professor," Will insisted.

Harry snorted. "Probably right." He touched the map again and said, "Mischief managed," to wipe it, then handed it over to his brother. "Go hide that away before one of the adults catches you with it."

Will ran for it, Chris hot on his heels.

"Harry," Hermione called after him as Harry made to follow his brothers. When he glanced back at her curiously, he found her looking uncertain. "Are you...sure it's a good idea? Keeping it from the professors?"

Harry shrugged. "Not really," he admitted, because he knew, better than any of them, how much trouble one could get into with that map. "But that's why I insisted that you be told about it, because Will won't tell anyone if it becomes a problem, or he misplaces it."

Hermione sighed. "So it's my job to keep tabs on it and report any problems instead," she guessed, looking more resigned than anything else.

"Please," Harry agreed.

"Very well," she said, before pointing a stern finger at him. "But I expect something impressive for my birthday!"

Harry laughed. "I think I can do that," he promised before offering her a grateful smile. "Thank you. I wouldn't have let him take it with him if I didn't think you'd keep tabs on him."

Hermione shook her head. "Overprotective," she insisted.

"Yes, it's a failing of mine," Harry deadpanned before leaving her to laugh and continue her packing.

-0-

It was noticeably quieter with Will gone to Hogwarts, and Chris spent the first couple of nights sneaking into Harry's bed at night, insisting, "It's lonely on my side." Harry didn't stop him, was honestly uncomfortable with having one of his brothers so far away, and Chris being within easy reach helped.

So, too, did the little notes that Will sent throughout the day, using the message paper Harry had made them all years ago. It was how the family found out he'd made Gryffindor – though Harry had told their parents that he'd heard from a spirit, rather than coming clean about the message papers – and made it feel rather like Will was still around, with the way he'd go on about his professors and the other students.

On the other hand, Will spent so much time messaging Harry and Chris, that he didn't bother with owls. Lily made some vague noises of complaint at the beginning of October, because Hermione was still doing bi-weekly letters and Will's silence was all the more obvious.

'Write Mum and Dad before one of them come out there,' Harry ordered his brother as soon as he could get away to do so.

'Oh, right. Forgot,' Will admitted, and the snort of amusement Chris let out across the room said Will had sent the message to both of them. 'I'll go do that in a bit. I was going to go snooping through the dungeons today and maybe set some pranks for those snakes.'

'I disapprove,' Chris sent back. 'And so does Harry, I bet. Leave the snakes alone.'

'Write your letter now, before you forget,' Harry added.

'You 2 are absolutely 0 fun,' Will complained, before going quiet for the rest of the day.

His letter showed up the next evening, and both Lily and James were clearly grateful to hear from him. Something about their response must have got through to Will, because he started sending sporadic letters covering general things. He still kept up with the daily happenings with Harry and Chris, and they always heard about things first, but he made a concerted effort to keep their parents in the loop.

Of course, when Will and Hermione got home for the winter holiday, it was a bit of a shock to have a constant source of noise in the house again.

"When is he going back to Hogwarts?" Chris complained to Harry the second evening, while Will and James were loudly debating different pranks.

"Not nearly soon enough," Harry replied tiredly. As much as he liked having Will home, where he could protect him if shit went down, he much preferred the quiet; there was a reason he'd ended up becoming a hermit during his last life. (Other than to avoid disputes over which country was more awesome, or whatever childish, political nonsense his living among other non-humans would have given birth to.)

Chris snorted and went back to his book.

-0-

That summer, the family went to Egypt on the suggestion of the Weasleys, who had gone the summer before. Bill had been happy to offer himself as a tour guide, same as he'd done for his family, and Harry finally got the chance to spend some time with the young man who had been one of his closest friends in his last reality. Not that this Bill treated him as anything more than a younger brother, but Harry would take what he could get.

Not long after their return to England, word started to circulate about a potential dark lord gathering support in Russia, likely born of the same economic crises that had ruined the USSR. According to James – who would only share after Hermione, Will, and Chris were abed, and sometimes looked like he wasn't certain he wanted to tell Harry – the United Kingdom's ministry was taking something of a distantly cautious stance to the man, who called himself Gosudar. (Harry had made a face and, after explaining that meant something akin to 'ruler', both of his parents joined him in referring to him by his birth name, Alexander Golubev, once Harry had found it out via Death.) Given that Golubev seemed content to focus on just the current Russian Federation, and the United Kingdom's ministry's usual habit of only focussing on matters inside their own borders, that didn't particularly surprise Harry.

Voldemort, Harry heard from Merope, seemed content to stay out of Golubev's dealings for so long as the Russian kept his wand out of British affairs. Which, again, familiar with Voldemort's tendency to focus on the Isles to the exclusion of the rest of the world, unless the rest of the world started causing trouble for him, that didn't really surprise him. Also, everything he'd heard about Golubev's platform suggested that he and Voldemort would get along famously, so it was very unlikely Voldemort would see the Russian as a threat.

Harry, for his part, set a couple of spirits to keep an eye on Golubev and considered the matter handled until something changed.

When Will and Hermione went back to Hogwarts that September, it was doubly a relief, as Harry was facing pressure from his muggle schoolmates to start focussing on studying for their GCSEs, and it was hard to do with Will being chatty. (Which, well, he was still chatty at Hogwarts, but Harry could ignore his message paper far easier than he could the flesh-and-blood article.) Not to say Harry was particularly worried about muggle exams – he was already an ace with potions and knew he had options in the magical world, even as a squib – but it was something he'd never had anything to do with in either of his two previous realities, and it would look weird if he wasn't freaking out, even as smart as he always appeared to be.

-0-

"So," Lily said on Chris' eleventh birthday, after all the presents had been opened and they'd all settled around the table with their cake, "thoughts on where to go this summer?"

"Aren't we a little early to discuss this?" Sirius asked around a mouthful of cake.

Lily shot him an unimpressed look.

"There's nothing wrong with a bit of advanced planning, Sirius," Remus pointed out, tone mild. "In fact, it might be a good idea for you and James to put in for two weeks off in advance." Then he smiled.

Sirius slouched in his chair, while James cleared his throat, clearly uncomfortable with the reminder of how they kept scrambling at the last minute, hoping to get the same two weeks off, and only ever managed because they were partnered together and their superior knew better than to let one of the lunatics out in the field without the other.

"Can you come this year, Uncle Remus?" Chris asked quietly.

Remus shrugged. "It depends on when we go."

"I vote Harry's birthday," Sirius insisted. "If we're abroad, Voldemort doesn't show up."

"That you know of," Harry offered, and smiled when Sirius shot him a suspicious look. "But, yes," he continued, "Uncle Remus should be able to come if we aim to make my birthday the centre day."

"It'll never not weird me out, the way he always knows when the moon is," James whispered to Sirius, and Remus and Harry traded amused looks, because keeping track of the full moon was just something you did when you were a werewolf. (Although, to be fair, Harry couldn't say if it was the common practise of wereborns to do so; he'd got in the habit when it had actually mattered for him, and kept it up because it was familiar.)

"Well," Lily said, ignoring her husband and his best friend, "we had a lot of fun in Egypt, and it was informative; we could try for another place where an ancient magical culture had a hold."

"Transylvania?" Harry quickly said, grinning when he received a line of deadpan looks. "Atlantis?"

"Didn't you say that was a 'bit wet'?" James shot back, his eyes gleaming.

Harry blinked, the picture of confused innocence. "You can't hold your breath?"

Chris giggled and ducked his head towards his last couple bites of cake when James sent him a betrayed look.

"Rome?" Peter offered cautiously, ever a little uncertain about making a suggestion.

"Rome could be fun," Remus was quick to agree, looking at Harry. "There are some werewolf legends surrounding that city."

"Not to mention your name," Harry replied drily, and everyone around the table smiled. "We'll have to get a guide, unless someone can give me a good argument for telling Hermione what I am so I can play translator."

James and Lily traded uncertain looks, while Sirius let out a quiet snarl and clicked his fork against his empty plate; clearly, none of them were about to forget what had happened in Spain.

Harry rubbed his thumb over the relief in the handle of his fork. "I can check into any guides we get, make sure we're not about to get led into another ritual," he offered.

" 'Check into'?" Sirius repeated, and the stare he pinned Harry with was every inch an auror looking for wrong-doing.

Harry shrugged. "I can't cast legilimency on anyone, but Death is usually willing to provide the service for me."

There was a long silence following that announcement, broken by Chris asking, "What's legilimency?"

"It's a mind art," Remus offered carefully. "It will give you impressions of a person's thoughts and memories, unless they're protected against such intrusions."

"Have you ever–?" James started, motioning around the table.

"No!" Harry immediately shook his head. "Merlin, no. I wouldn't ask Death to do that to any of you. Or Will or Hermione." He snorted while all of the adults relaxed. "Even if I were a proper legilimens, I wouldn't go around snooping about in your thoughts; I do actually have a moral compass, skewed as it is."

"Pretty sure your 'moral compass' doesn't deserve that title, pup," Sirius informed him drily and Harry shrugged, unrepentant.

"If you can do a quick check, I suppose we can do a guide," Lily decided, glancing between Sirius and James.

"And, if we get our names on the list now, we might even be able to take the floo connection and avoid international portkeys," Remus added with a pointed look at James and Sirius.

"Okay, okay!" James called, while Sirius snickered. "We'll put in for everything tomorrow!"

'Miracle,' Lily mouthed at Harry and Chris, and they both grinned in response.

-0-

They did, indeed, make the list for the floo across the Channel, so Harry was saved the supreme discomfort of international portkeys, trading it for multiple floo trips. (As magical means of travel went, Harry would much rather floo, even if it required someone cast a cleaning spell on him upon their arrival.)

Their first week in Rome was a lot of fun, following around a travel guide who was Death-approved. (His brothers kept randomly bursting out into snickers, whispering that phrase back and forth to one another, much to Hermione's confusion.) Harry, as was always the case on their holidays, had visited Rome before as the Alpha Lord, but he'd never taken the time to see the sights, so he was able to divide his attention between looking around in interest and keeping tabs on his brothers and Hermione, all of whom had a habit of getting distracted by something shiny. (For Will it was usually sweets, for Hermione it was almost always books, for Chris...who knew what would catch his eye that time.)

Harry's fifteenth birthday got off to a late start, with everyone taking a few extra hours' kip, so they did presents a bit later than usual. Harry was just getting up to take his haul back to his room, Will and Chris trailing with the few things he'd missed, when Lily let out a startled breath and a familiar, non-gendered voice said, "Master."

Harry tensed, not looking back at where he could sense Death standing in the corner of the room, while the rest of the adults who hadn't met Death and Hermione all let out various horrified noises. "What?" he snapped, angry at the interruption; Death knew better than to show itself to Hermione.

"There's been an explosion at the ministry," Death reported evenly. "Tom was visiting."

'Tom was the target,' Death didn't say, didn't need to.

Gifts fell from Harry's hands as he spun to face his servant, feeling his heart jump into his throat. "Is he–?" Harry heard himself asking, even though he knew Death wouldn't have shown itself if Voldemort was unharmed. "Fuck," he snarled before turning and running through a doorway that opened for him, heading for his bedroom back in Godric's Hallow and his collection of the dark lord's horcruxes. Because, while he could certainly bring Voldemort back to a physical body without using one, there was a good chance that would tie the man to him, and Harry had done that already, wasn't going to do that to this version of the dark lord.

Death came with him, a silent shadow in Harry's wake, and once Harry had a horcrux – the ring, because it was the easiest to get out of the tiny container – Death reached out one skeletal hand and helped Harry to his feet and back into the Realm of Death. "I will take you to him," it promised.

"Thank you," Harry breathed out, calmed by having part of Voldemort's soul in his hands and the certainty that he could fix this, that Voldemort wasn't going to be forced to float around as a spirit while Harry struggled to hunt down what little of him had survived the attack.

Death led them to, of all places, the graveyard in Little Hangleton. Harry couldn't see Voldemort, but he trusted Death not to lead him wrong. "Voldemort," he called, keeping his voice down just enough that he didn't chance attracting any villagers who happened to be walking nearby.

Something crackling with murderous intent brushed against Harry's side, and he took a moment to let death magic fill his vision before turning to see what was left of the dark lord's soul. He was a sliver of a thing, more magic than man, with a thread of dark energy tying him to the ring Harry had clutched in one white-knuckled hand. "I can fix this," he promised, brushing his free hand through Voldemort's energy in a way that he hoped was soothing. "I need you to calm down and focus on me."

Voldemort's energy gentled under Harry's hand, and he got a strange sense of – Dear Merlin, was that trust? – something from the dark lord.

Harry took a deep breath, centring himself, and opened the hand that still held the ring. Voldemort's spirit shifted, attention diverted, and Harry couldn't help but smile, even as he turned his attention to the thread connecting the dark lord to the physical object in his hand.

Harry had never tried to fashion a living body for a spirit before, but he knew the theory, knew it was possible to do even for ghosts trapped on this side of the Veil, though such would deteriorate far faster than a proper living body, as the soul was already tainted with Death. With Voldemort, the magic was a thousand times easier, because he was only half dead, could have been affected by living magic.

But Harry didn't use living magic. He drew death magic from the still-opened portal against his back and formed a body out of that, let it fashion its shape using the blueprints stored in the horcrux he was holding.

The ring fell from Harry's fingers just before Voldemort's new body hit its knees, and it was an echo of another reality, another time a ring that had been a horcrux suddenly wasn't, and Harry felt, for a moment, like his heart had stopped.

But then Voldemort drew in a shuddering breath, his wandering spirit drawn into the new body, and Harry knelt down in front of him, relief making his knees weak. "T-Voldemort?" he whispered, stumbling over the man's name with that nightmare memory still too fresh in his mind's eye and dark hair topping a head that he was getting too used to seeing bald.

"Scythe," Tom – Voldemort? Harry couldn't keep from stumbling over how to think of the man in his head – whispered, and he reached out a hand to grab Harry's shoulder, steadying himself. "Thank Merlin. That was–"

"Disconcerting?" Harry offered cautiously as he pressed gentle hands against the dark lord's arms, points of physical contact that soothed Harry.

The dark lord choked out a laugh. "Quite. How did you...know? That I–?"

Needed you, Harry completed in his mind. "Death told me."

"Death," the dark lord replied in a voice that said he didn't quite believe that his salvation had been brought by the very being he most feared.

Harry let out a quiet laugh, forever amused by the dark lord's fear of an entity that was so beholden to Harry, it would no sooner take his life than it would Harry's own. (Though, he knew, Death was willing to talk the dark lord to suicide, to protect Harry.)

A gentle hand cupped Harry's cheek and his breath caught even as he looked up into a face that was more Tom Riddle than Voldemort, and so much younger than Harry had ever seen him. He bit his tongue to keep from saying the wrong name, entranced by how ridiculously close they were.

And then Tom leant in and pressed his lips lightly, uncertainly, against Harry's own.

"Tom," Harry whispered against the dark lord's lips, and it was a struggle not to surge forward, to take the man's mouth like he'd longed to, "what–?"

"I am–" Tom grimaced slightly "–making my intentions clear," he admitted.

Harry forced himself to pull away, to meet the red eyes with a hard stare. "Don't you dare do this out of some misguided thank you for my saving your life," he demanded, because if that's all this was, Harry–

"You really believe I would bow to your crush as a thank you?" Tom snapped, his eyes lighting with fury.

But his hand, the one still cupping Harry's cheek was gentle, like he was afraid the slightest pressure would break Harry.

"It's not a crush," Harry insisted, even as he pressed forward, past the dark lord's hand on his cheek, and rested his forehead against Tom's chest, covered in a flimsy robe that smelt of the death magic it had been formed from. "It hasn't been a crush for a long time." Longer than Tom could ever hope to guess, because Harry had already loved him before they'd ever met, before he'd even been born in this reality.

Arms wrapped around Harry, too gentle, as though their owner didn't know how to give hugs, or was afraid he might break him, and Harry couldn't resist a fond smile. "You are, I expect," Tom said, tone too casual, "the expert."

Harry heard himself laughing, the sound a little too strained, and he realised he was shaking, relief and gratitude and the remainder of terror – of 'Merlin, please, not again, don't make me go through this again' – washing over him all at once. He fisted his hands in the sides of Tom's robes, needing something to hold on to.

"Scythe?" Tom asked, and his arms tightened around Harry.

"I'm okay," Harry insisted. "I'm–" How could he possibly explain this to the dark lord? "Delayed reaction." A laugh choked him and he squeezed his eyes shut. "I don't do well with people I care about getting–" Killed. He couldn't say it.

"Hurt?" Tom suggested quietly, likely as unwilling to voice the 'k' word as Harry was.

And then the dark lord tensed and Harry knew he was about to pull away before his arms dropped.

Harry sighed and settled back on his heels, watching as Tom's face darkened, the same anger that he'd been near to brimming with when Harry had first found his spirit coming back to him at the reminder of his near miss. "You'll have to do something about your appearance," he commented drily, and Tom startled, looking down at his hand, as if that would tell him how he'd changed. "You look more like you do when you come visit me," he offered before sending a thought to Death: We could use Tom's wand, if you could be troubled to grab it for me?

"It's in your back pocket, Master," Death replied, sounding far too amused.

Harry reached back and found that, yes, the yew wand was sticking out of his back pocket. Huh. I may still be a little out of it. Thank you, Death, he admitted before offering the wand to Tom. "You might need this. It seems Death picked it up before he collected me."

Before Death appeared before Hermione.

Harry groaned and covered his face with his free hand as Tom took his wand. "Oh, fuck. Hermione."

"What's wrong with your mudblood?" Tom demanded, and Harry peeked out from behind his hand to find the man staring at him over a conjured mirror.

Harry felt a mad little laugh bubbling in his chest and swallowed it back down. "Death was...not subtle about letting me know I was needed. Hermione saw him."

"And here I was, expecting you'd already spilled everything to her," Tom muttered before looking down into the mirror and scowling. "Scythe," he growled.

Harry didn't bother swallowing back the mad little laugh that time, and the dark lord turned a murderous glare on him. "It's not–" Okay, so maybe Harry could have made a concerted effort to force the dark lord's new body into something that more resembled what he'd looked like before, but he was just vain enough to admit that he preferred the man's more human appearance. "You're aware that part of your appearance is because your soul is split so many times, right?"

"Of course I am," Tom snarled. "What does that have to do with–?" He stopped talking, eyes turning to focus on where the ring had fallen when Harry'd dropped it.

"Well, you have more soul now than you did before," Harry admitted, trying not to smile at the dark lord's irritation. "But, too, this body was built off what you looked like when you created the ring, so the – shall we say – blueprint for this body was a far younger you."

Tom picked up the ring and turned his irritated glare on Harry. "You had to use this one," he muttered.

"I could have used your diary?" Harry offered and the dark lord bit out something rude. Harry snorted, ducking his head to try and hide his smile. "The container I'm keeping them in has a small opening, and I was in a bit of a rush; I grabbed the easiest one to remove."

"So you weren't attempting to make me appear more–"

"What? Aesthetically pleasing?" Harry shot back, rolling his eyes at the dark lord. "Oh, for fuck's sake, Voldemort–" the use of his preferred name entirely on purpose "–my loving you has nothing to do with how you look."

Tom sort of froze, looking like a deer in the headlights, and Harry realised what he'd just said.

"Right!" Harry jumped to his feet. "I need to get back to Rome and run damage control. You know how to get in contact with me if you need me," he said, before stepping quickly through a doorway that opened for him.

As soon as the doorway closed behind him, Harry dropped his head into his hands and moaned. He had not just–

Yes. Yes he had.

"Minefield," Harry muttered, before straightening and forcing himself to switch tracks; he really did need to go do damage control with Hermione. He trusted that his family could fill in a number of blanks, and he was sure they would, but they were going to have questions, too. "Fine birthday this is turning out to be," he complained before hurrying back to Rome.

There was no one in the room he, Will, and Chris were sharing when he stepped back into the mortal realm, and Harry took a quiet moment to gather himself before casting a point me to find where everyone had gone.

He found them in the room Sirius, Remus, and Peter were sharing, which was also the room they'd done gifts in, so he headed over and knocked on the door. "It's me," he called.

Lily was the one who opened the door, looking strained. Once the door had fallen shut behind him, she pulled him into a tight hug and whispered, "Are you okay?"

It took Harry an embarrassingly long moment to realise that his mum knew that Tom – well, his last lover, to her – had died and it had half broken Harry, and he'd called Voldemort by his birth name around her before; she hadn't needed confirmation, any more than Harry had, that Death had come to him because of a worst case scenario.

He coughed and carefully pulled away, uncomfortable with the realisation that his mum didn't want Voldemort dead because it would hurt Harry. "Yes," he offered and managed a smile that was honest enough to pass muster, he hoped. "I expect," he continued, tone turning dry, "that Voldemort is currently in the process of making someone regret ever thinking it was a good idea to try killing him."

"It's true?" Peter squeaked, sounding more than a little freaked out.

Harry narrowed his eyes at the rat animagus, grateful for the distraction from having to face Hermione's questions. "Is what true?"

"He's immortal?"

Everyone in the room turned wide eyes on Harry, and he couldn't help but snort. "Immortality is a particularly complicated thing and hardly fool-proof. But if you're asking if you can throw an avada at him and he'll be able to get you back for it?" He allowed a cruel little smile to curl his lips. "Then, yes, he's immortal."

Peter let out a broken sound and hid his face in his hands.

"Then why did you have to go running off to him?" Sirius demanded, his expression hard.

Harry turned a cold stare on the man and Sirius' jaw clenched. "If you expect me to actually tell you how Voldemort's managed his particular brand of immortality, you're crazier than he is," he said, and the words came out flat.

Sirius flinched and looked away.

"Harry?" Hermione whispered, her voice shaky.

Harry took a deep breath and tried to smile as he turned to her, finding her huddled between Will and Chris on Remus' bed. "Hermione. What did they tell you?"

Hermione swallowed, looking sick. "You were a dark lord in your last life."

Harry blinked and turned his eyes up to the ceiling. "I'm stuck with that label," he muttered. "I avoided it in one life, and now I'm stuck with it. How? I haven't even killed anyone."

James coughed. "Babysitter."

Harry grimaced, recalling that he'd also taken out those necromancers and the rebel forces both in Cyprus and when they'd attacked the dark lord's manor that first time. "Okay, so maybe I've killed a–" Calling it a 'few' would be a gross understatement, wouldn't it? "I haven't killed as many as Vol–" No, wait, the Death Eaters killed a lot of people in Voldemort's name, which meant his kill count wasn't as high as everyone always thought it was. "I'm going to shut up, now," he decided.

James let out a noise that was somewhere between a moan and a laugh, and Sirius muttered, "I am not hearing this."

"You're grounded," Lily announced. "As soon as we get home, you're grounded for two months."

"Busted," Chris whispered.

Harry winced and eyed his brothers and Hermione. "Don't turn out like me, okay?" he suggested. "You end up spending a lot of time being grounded."

Hermione let out a whimper and covered her face.

Harry sighed and stepped forward before kneeling before the bed. "Hermione?" he called quietly, and she peeked out at him with wide, terrified eyes; he barely kept from flinching. "Hi," he offered, keeping his voice gentle, "I'm a former dark lord with a penchant for murdering anyone who threatens myself or someone I care about." He offered her a smile that hurt. "You would be one of those people I care about."

Hermione swallowed. "Why?" she whispered.

Harry frowned. "Why what? Why do I care about you?"

She nodded, then burst out with, "I'm a muggleborn!"

"So?" Harry returned and she just sort of stared at him in disbelief. Harry closed his eyes and rubbed at them tiredly. "Contrary to what everyone seems to think, having issues with muggleborns isn't a requirement for turning bat-shit."

"Language," Lily warned, while Chris and Will both snickered and the four Marauders let out muffled noises of amusement.

Harry put on a tired smile for Hermione, who managed an uncertain one back. "I've never had problems with muggleborns, nor with muggles, as a whole. I'm not a fan of judging an entire race or culture or what-have-you simply because of one member." He snorted. "I'm a werewolf; I know what it's like to be seen as a label and treated accordingly."

"Anyway," Will said, poking Hermione's arm and making her jump, "Mum's muggleborn."

Hermione looked towards Lily, who must have offered her some sort of silent response, because then she turned regretful eyes on Harry. "I'm sorry," she whispered.

Harry shook his head, unbothered. "Voldemort leaves an impression," he offered drily.

"No kidding," Sirius muttered.

Hermione's mouth quirked with a hint of a smile, and when Harry winked at her, it widened. He smiled back and stood. "You know, that's probably why no one ever labelled me a 'dark lord'," he mused, half to himself. "The title has rather become synonymous with being the leader of a crusade with a singular target, usually something – or someone, more like – that the current government supports."

"So, who or what did you focus on?" Remus asked.

Harry squeezed his eyes shut; oh, yes, he was sure the fact that he'd turned against humanity as a whole would go over well in a room filled almost entirely with full-blooded humans. "I'm not going to tell you that," he replied before opening his eyes to give Remus an amused look. "You don't really need to know who I was."

"You were a Slytherin," Hermione said, and when Harry looked back at her, she looked smug. "That's why you're always saying–"

"Actually," Harry interrupted, amused, "I was in Gryffindor."

"Wait, what?" Sirius and James chorused, while Will whispered a victorious, "Yes."

Hermione just sort of stare at him in disbelief.

Harry shook his head, grinning. "It is true, however, that the Hat wanted me in Slytherin. We argued about it."

"You were a Hat Stall?" Remus asked, looking surprised.

"Not quite."

A heavy arm went around Harry's shoulders and he looked up into James' face. "You were a Gryffindor," he said.

Harry blinked and gave a cautious nod.

"Prove it."

Harry rolled his eyes. "And how do you expect me to do that?" he replied drily. "Never mind that the common room and dorms very likely have changed over time, Will's told both Chris and I about Gryffindor."

"Yup," Chris agreed.

"Anyway," Harry continued, offering up a sharp smile, "I've been in all of the common rooms before." Because he'd visited both Ravenclaw and Slytherin in his first reality, and Hufflepuff he'd gone to during his last reality, just because he could.

James sighed, looking defeated. "Cheat."

Harry patted his father's arm. "Inherited trait," he promised, and laughed when James eyed him suspiciously.

Someone knocked on the room door and everyone in the room tensed before turning to watch Lily open the door.

Their guide stood there, looking uncertain. "No one came down to meet me?" she offered.

Lily put on an apologetic smile. "Oh, I'm sorry, Signora Lucia. We had..." She faltered, glancing back into the room.

"It's Harry's birthday," James picked up, quickly enough that Lily's uncertainty was easily ignored. "We may have got a bit carried away."

Harry resisted the urge to roll his eyes while their guide very graciously accepted their excuses; his father really didn't have the right to complain about Harry's Slytherin tendencies when he could offer up a lie that smoothly.

Lily closed the door once Lucia had offered to wait a little bit longer downstairs. "Okay," she said, sounding tired. "So, do we still want to head out? Or should we just...apologise to Signora Lucia for today?"

Harry looked over at where Hermione was still sitting between his brothers, because she was the one who'd been blindsided with the truth. "Hermione?"

"What? Oh." Hermione flushed slightly and looked down. "Yes, I'm fine. We can go out."

"So, getting dressed, I guess?" Peter suggested uncertainly, looking towards his bag, because most of them hadn't bothered changing out of whatever they'd slept in, as late as they'd got up.

James cleared his throat. "Right. Everyone out. Come on."

Harry waited until he and his brothers were in their room, pulling out clothing for the day, before he requested, "Can you two stick with Hermione for today?"

Will frowned at him, while Chris frowned down at the shirt he'd just pulled out. "Why?" Will demanded.

Harry sighed. "Because I think she could use a friend, but I'm not sure she's going to want that friend to be me, not right now."

Will's eyes widened. "But why not?"

"Okay," Chris agreed quietly.

Harry offered his youngest brother a smile, even as he explained, "Because I haven't changed, but her impression of me has. She's going to be uncomfortable, same way Mum and Dad were when they found out, remember?"

"They got over it," Will muttered, but Harry could tell he understood.

"And Hermione will, too, but it's still politer to give her space."

"Okay," Will agreed, and they all turned their attention to changing.

.

Chapter Text

Hermione made a concerted effort to look unbothered by everything for the next couple days, but the way she was no longer looking to Harry to share in a joke, or reaching for him when they ended up mixed in a crowd, was telling.

Wednesday night, though, when they all parted in the hallway to their various rooms, Hermione called, "Harry?"

Harry glanced back at her, raising one eyebrow, and tried not to notice how everyone else in their group had also stopped to watch. "Hermione?"

She flushed slightly, under everyone's gaze. "Can we... Could you come in here?" she settled on, her blush darkening.

Harry couldn't help a fond smile. "Yeah, sure," he agreed, and joined her in going into her room after ruffling Will's hair, since he'd been standing right next to him.

Once in Hermione's room, she took up a position next to her bed, looking nervous. Harry walked calmly over to the desk chair and pulled it out to sit in, leaving her a clear path to the exit; he was too much wolf to ever think that getting between someone who could technically be prey and their escape was a wise idea. (Unless he wanted to make them feel trapped, in which case the kid gloves went right out the nearest window and the claws came out. But he wasn't going to do that to Hermione. Ever.)

A tense silence fell between them, Hermione unfolding and folding her hands in front of her, looking for one moment like she might sit on her bed, the next like she might start pacing. Harry just watched her, trying not to look like he was pushing her, but honestly just wanting her to decide what she was going to do.

Finally, Hermione said, "It all makes so much sense now!"

Harry blinked and eyed her uncertainly. "Erm... What does?"

"You and Vol– Him," she said, stumbling over the dark lord's name, "and how you always seem to just know things and your certainty that you'd have been in Slytherin, and–"

"Everything," Harry commented. "Right." He carefully folded his fingers together. "I'm sorry I've turned being a puzzle into an art form."

Hermione pointed a finger at him. "When he told you to come up with ways to keep tabs on other muggleborns, he wasn't really asking for suggestions, was he?"

Harry snorted, shaking his head. "No." He sighed. "That said, your idea did bear some fruit; we weren't keeping tabs on purebloods and halfbloods – I don't have the necessary resources – but a couple of students have come forward with reports. Or, well–" he allowed a tired little smile "–have been made to come forward by worried friends. So thank you for that."

Hermione blinked at him. "You– You're welcome," she replied before shaking her head and asking, " 'Resources'?"

Harry inclined his head. "Necromancer," he offered, because he knew from his brothers that she knew that much about him. "Spirits in the Realm of Death can look through what I refer to as the Veil – the barrier between the living realm and the Realm of Death – and see into this realm. They keep tabs on various people for me."

"You have a spy network," Hermione deadpanned.

Harry flashed her a smile. "Essentially. And there's not a person alive who can protect themselves against it."

Hermione frowned, looking uncertain. "Will said that you– That your necromancy wasn't...common?"

Harry shrugged and nodded. "Necromancy as most people practise it uses the same magic as you're taught at Hogwarts," he explained, and she made a face. "I know, but magic is neither good nor evil, it is a tool. It can be used to kill someone or to create a zombie, the same as it can be used to heal or cheer someone up."

"But what you use..."

"Is different," Harry finished. "I use magic pulled directly from the Realm of Death. Soul magic, you might call it, whereas the magic you use is physical. Because death magic is pulled from the Realm of Death, it's far superior to any magic your average necromancer might use." He offered her a grim smile. "I, quite literally, deal in death."

Hermione shuddered and finally sat on her bed. "And that, the figure that came to get you a couple days ago, Will said that was Death? Like, actual Death?"

"Mmm, simplified," Harry allowed. "A physical representation of a state of being that has no physical definition."

Hermione went a bit cross-eyed before nodding in understanding. "Right. He – it? – called you master?"

Harry couldn't hold back a laugh, startled. "You know, I think, you're the first person who's actually asked me about that," he told her, and she looked like she wasn't certain if she should be proud of that or not. "There's a complicated reason which is so utterly tied up in my last life, you'll have to forgive me for refusing to explain it."

Hermione sighed, slumping. "Somehow," she complained, "I knew you were going to say that."

Harry smiled and shook his head.

She straightened again and eyed him curiously. "So, the black...portal you walked through. Chris said it leads to Death's Realm?"

"Realm of Death, Death's Realm." Harry shrugged. "Yes. The afterlife, essentially." He frowned. "I expect he or Will also told you not to touch the doorway."

Hermione nodded. "Will said it was a really bad idea. Something about shrivelled fingers?" She grimaced.

"Necrosis," Harry agreed, and Hermione's eyes widened. "Extremely painful, yes, please don't touch them. I can fix it, or – if I'm touching you, protect you – but it's not a fun sensation."

"Did you ever–?"

Harry raised his right arm. "Whole arm, yes," he agreed and she looked horrified. "It was an adventure I'd not soon like to repeat. I'd say I would never wish it on anyone, but, well..." He shrugged. "I'd be lying."

Hermione covered her face with her hands. "How can you be so...so..."

"Cold? Cruel?" Harry suggested, and she let out a quiet noise of upset. "I'm not a nice person, Hermione."

"You've always been nice to me!" Hermione shouted.

"Yes," Harry agreed quietly, and she looked away, "I have. And I will do. But I can be nice to a handful of people, and still be a monster to the rest of the world. Perspective is everything."

"Perspective?" Hermione repeated.

Harry nodded. "If some prat breaks your heart and I drop them off the roof of Big Ben, is that chivalrous or monstrous?"

Hermione just sort of stared at him for a long moment in disbelief, before saying, "Please don't ever throw someone off the roof of Big Ben for me."

Harry coughed to hide a smile. "Astronomy Tower?"

Hermione let out a sort of helpless laugh and covered her face again. "Dear Merlin, you're terrible!"

Harry let himself smile for a moment, then sighed and leant forward. "Hermione," he called and she looked up, her eyes sparkling with a strange sort of horrified amusement, like she knew she shouldn't have found his suggestions half as amusing as she actually did. "You're my best friend, my sister, and nothing is ever going to change that," he offered, and she let out a startled sound. "But, if you told me you never wanted to see me again, I would walk out that door and you wouldn't. Because I know I'm completely screwed up and that's hard to deal with. I don't ever want you to feel uncomfortable when you come home for the holidays, okay? You don't deserve that."

Hermione stared at him, tears in her eyes. "I would never–!" she started before her eyes went wide and it was almost like she was seeing a part of Harry that he hadn't even realised she might have. He cleared his throat and sat back, uncomfortable. Hermione blinked a few times, a tear tracking down her cheek, and whispered, "You're my best friend too, Harry. And I wouldn't–" She sucked in a quick breath and another couple tears rolled down her face. "I got so caught up in who you were, I think I forgot who you are. I'm sorry."

Harry shook his head. "It's not–"

"Shut up and give me a hug," Hermione interrupted, looking very much like she was about to start crying for real.

Harry hurried across the room and wrapped her in a hug, so unspeakably grateful that she hadn't taken him up on his offer. He didn't want to lose Hermione, not again. "Thank you," he whispered into her bushy hair, and Hermione let out a broken noise and squeezed him tight.

Maybe, one of these days, Harry would learn to stop underestimating how much the women in his life saw when he wasn't taking pains to guard himself.

-0-

When they were packing up to head home on their last day, Harry had an epiphany.

"Hey, Mum, Dad?" he said, poking his head into their room. Will and Chris had trailed after him, looking curious.

His parents both looked up. "What is it, pup?" James asked with a smile.

Harry stepped into the room and scratched at his cheek. "So, since Hermione knows, can I go home my way?"

"Go home your–" James started before he seemed to realise what Harry meant. "Oh. Hm." He turned to Lily. "Are we trusting Harry to make his own way home?"

"Please," Harry tried, and he really didn't care that it had come out as a whine; standard policy after an attack on an important politician – like the one that had sort of killed Voldemort not even a week ago – always meant restrictions on travel, so it was extremely likely the international floo hub was, if not completely shut down still, struggling to work through a backlog of people who'd missed their slot. Sirius and James, as aurors, could request an international portkey, but Harry didn't have a batch of his anti-nausea potion, and while they could certainly apparate instead, Harry wasn't particularly fond of that brand of travel, either.

Lily snorted and pinned Harry with a stern look. "Straight home. No side stops to check in on anyone."

Harry winced, knowing she meant he couldn't drop by Voldemort's manor and see him. Not that he expected the dark lord would be okay with that, anyway. "I know. I'm grounded."

Lily's mouth twitched, like she was suppressing a smile. "You are, aren't you?" she agreed, as if only just remembering that, and Harry rolled his eyes. She looked at James and nodded. "I suppose we can trust him."

"Can I go with Harry?" Will piped up from just behind Harry.

Harry blinked in surprise and turned to stare at where his brothers had stopped in the doorway of their parents' room. "Wait...what?"

"Me, too!" Chris immediately called, darting forward and grabbing Harry's hand.

James let out a choked sound, which could have been a laugh.

"We just have to hold your hand," Will insisted. "It's safe, right?"

Harry rubbed at his face with his free hand; he really should have known this would happen eventually. "Essentially," he agreed tiredly. "But you realise it's not a bleeding stroll in the park, right?"

Lily made a quiet noise, but didn't actually tell him off for cursing.

"I know that," Will replied, his voice firm. "But I–" Chris made a noise "–but we want to see. You go there all the time."

"I–" Harry turned towards his parents a bit helplessly. Because he knew his brothers, knew they weren't going to let this go, but taking them into the Realm of Death...

Better a controlled experience the first time, than have Harry rushing them through it because something happened and he needed to get them to safety, he realised.

James must have seen him making up his mind, because he sighed and turned to look at Will and Chris. "You do not let go of Harry's hands. Not for anything. Am I clear?"

"Yes, Dad," they both agreed, tone solemn.

James glanced towards Lily and she gave a tired nod. "Then you can go," he allowed.

"Yeah!" Will punched the air, while Chris hugged Harry.

"Is it possible for me to come, too?" Hermione asked from behind Will.

Harry turned to stare at her, his brothers going silent. "You–" Of course Hermione would want to go, as curious as she was about everything, but Harry only had two hands, and it was really hard to walk when you were trying to make sure three people were keeping skin contact with you. "I can't really–"

Harry blinked, his mouth falling closed. He couldn't take three people, but he wasn't the only one capable of taking people through the Realm of Death. Death? he called.

"I would be willing to serve, Master," Death replied with only a moment's delay.

Harry cleared his throat. "Okay," he agreed, and Hermione's eyes lit up. "If Mum and Dad say okay."

The sound James let out made it clear he disapproved of having to okay everyone tagging along. "Just..." He sighed. "Don't let go of Harry and listen to him in there," he finished a bit lamely, and Lily let out a quiet noise of amusement.

"Right," Harry declared, fighting a smile as the other three lit up, "I'm leaving in ten minutes. Finish packing quick."

As he'd expected, that cleared them out.

James touched Harry's shoulder lightly and he glanced back at his father, who was watching him with some concern. "Are you sure you'll be okay with the three of them?"

Harry quirked a smile. "I'll manage," he promised, because he wasn't about to admit that Death had offered to help.

James nodded and squeezed his shoulder. "Straight home."

Harry snorted. "Please. I'm not suicidal enough to force those three on Voldemort without warning. I'd be lucky if he only killed me."

James grimaced while Lily laughed. "Good point," James decided before squeezing his shoulder again and stepping back. "Travel safely?" he offered, sounding uncertain.

Harry shot him a sharp smile. "I'm not the one who's trying to get back into England after Voldemort got attacked in the ministry less than a week ago." James groaned, looking a bit hopeless. "If you don't get back before nightfall, I'm coming after you."

"I'm not sure if that should be reassuring or not," James complained.

"Not really," Harry offered before turning to return to his room. "I'll see you both at home."

"Yeah, yeah."

Harry didn't have to wait long for Hermione and his brothers to declare themselves ready, but he sent all of them back for a second look, to make sure they hadn't forgotten anything. (Hermione and Chris were both fine, but Will found a pair of socks that had fallen under his bed.)

"Right," Harry said as he sensed Death stepping out of a doorway behind him. Hermione's eyes went wide, but both Will and Chris offered cheerful greetings. "At least one of you needs to walk with Death, because I'm not juggling three hands."

"Me!" Chris and Will chorused before trading glares.

Death let out a bone-rattle laugh. "You may both come with me, should Master approve."

Harry waved a careless hand. "I know you'll keep them in line." Because, even if one of them slipped out of Death's grip, it could protect them for long enough for it to grab them again, which wasn't an ability Harry had. (Or maybe it was? He was never certain exactly how much more than a normal mortal he could do when it came to death magic, after the Hallows became a part of him, and he didn't tend to have anyone to run tests with.)

"I, too, am uncertain how much you are capable of, any more, Master," Death offered mentally.

You really should quit this habit of snooping through my thoughts, Harry replied without heat, as he held out his hand to Hermione and said, "I guess that leaves you with me."

"I apologise, Master," Death said, not sounding even a little bit sorry. Not that Harry had really expected his eternal servant to feel bad about reading his mind. He didn't really expect Death to stop, either, wasn't certain Death could stop; their connection would always be a complicated one.

Hermione took Harry's hand and let him draw her through a doorway that opened for them, leaving Will and Chris for Death to manage. Once on the other side, Harry stopped to give Hermione a moment to adjust to the change in...well, pretty much everything, honestly.

"It's a little...cold," Hermione offered uncertainly as Death stepped through a doorway with Will and Chris, both of their bags firmly on their backs, rather than hanging off one shoulder, as they'd been when Harry and Hermione had left them.

"It's Death," Harry replied with a careless shrug.

"We've been here before," Chris offered quietly, and Hermione shot him a startled look. "Harry brought everyone."

"I didn't have a choice," Harry admitted, motioning with his head that they should start out. For Hermione, he explained, "When we were in Spain, our guide led us into a necromantic ritual. The only way I could think of to deal with all the necromancers involved in the casting, was to just transport all of us to the Realm of Death."

Hermione let out a quiet noise of disbelief. "You really do react first with killing people, don't you?" she complained.

Harry shrugged. "It's a character flaw," he admitted, and she choked, while his brothers both laughed.

"Alas, not one you seem concerned about," a resigned voice said from behind Harry and Hermione.

Harry stopped, tugging Hermione to a standstill next to him, and sent the spirit an amused look. "Hello, Albus," he offered, sensing more than seeing Death and his brothers stop a few steps further along. "Are you intending to play chaperone?"

"Perhaps," Albus replied mildly.

"Harry?" Hermione asked, sounding uncertain.

"Ah." Harry cleared his throat. "Sorry. Hermione, Will, Chris–" he glanced over his shoulder, towards where his brothers were watching curiously "–this is Albus Dumbledore, former headmaster of Hogwarts and the leader of Voldemort's opposition during the war. Albus, you know everyone."

"I do," Albus agreed, inclining his head. "It's a pleasure to finally get the chance to meet you all." His mouth quirked with a fond smile. "Well, become reacquainted with William, and meet Christopher and Hermione," he corrected.

"Huh?"

Harry rolled his eyes and explained for his brother, "Before Mum and Dad accepted Voldemort's amnesty offer, they and our uncles were all members of Albus' group. It didn't happen often, but you and I were brought to a couple of meetings."

"Oh." Will frowned. "He's the one you don't like, right?"

Albus chuckled, while Harry snorted. "We have a difference of opinion about..."

"Nearly everything?" Albus suggested.

"Essentially," Harry agreed before shaking his head. "Chaperone or not, as you please, Albus, but I did promise Mum and Dad we'd head straight home."

Albus sighed and said, tone knowing, "You would rather I keep an eye on your parents."

Harry smiled at him. "It would ease my mind a bit," he admitted, because knowing Albus was around, keeping an eye on his family, as much as they argued, did always make him feel better about leaving them to see to other duties.

Albus nodded and turned to go back in the direction they'd come from.

"Come on," Harry ordered, and they started walking again.

"He seems...nice," Hermione offered.

Harry hummed a bit. "He believes that you should be able to solve differences without bloodshed, I think he's an optimistic old fool." Hermione let out a choked laugh and Harry offered her a smile. "Yeah, I know. We've mostly agreed to disagree, any more, but he occasionally gets it in his head to try and talk me around to his side and I respond by calling him names."

"Oh no," Hermione moaned, hiding her face against Harry's shoulder and squeezing his hand.

Harry chuckled and squeezed her hand back. "We agree on some things, like keeping my family safe, so he's usually not too far from the house." He snorted. "If I didn't already have a handful of spirits watching Hogwarts, Albus would probably make a habit of going there every year. As it is, I really don't know who he'll start following around, now Chris is joining you and Will."

"You don't think he'll follow you?" Hermione asked.

Harry shrugged. "I suppose he might, but I don't know why. So far as I'm aware, he doesn't make a habit of following after me when I go my own way."

"But you're not sure," Hermione guessed.

Harry shook his head. "No. I can't actually tell if a spirit in the Realm of Death is watching nearby while I'm in the mortal realm, unless I have a doorway open." He snorted. "Well, I can usually tell if one of them is watching me, the same way you'd know anyone is staring at you, but I'd have to check to know for sure which of them is playing the snoop."

"Do they ever do that?"

"Mm. Usually only when they need to pass on a message."

"Master yells at them, otherwise," Death helpfully offered from where it, Will, and Chris were trailing behind; the two humans had apparently discovered the ability to make things appear with a thought, because stones and grass were trailing behind them, and Will was riding along on a black skateboard.

"Yes, thank you, Death," Harry replied, and Hermione muffled a giggle. "Will, you realise that'll vanish as soon as you walk back through a doorway."

"Not going through a doorway yet!" Will called back.

Harry rolled his eyes and murmured to Hermione, "He's going to stumble because he didn't get off it fast enough and I'm going to laugh."

Hermione reached across with her free hand and smacked his shoulder. "You're terrible."

Harry was absolutely right about Will not getting off the skateboard quickly enough when a doorway opened for Death, and he stumbled and fell onto the carpet of their living room. Harry managed to resist the urge to laugh, but Chris didn't even try, and Will ended up chasing his younger brother up to their room, shouting threats in Atlantean.

Harry left Hermione to follow the other two while he turned to Death. "Thank you for the assistance," he offered fondly. "I know they can be a handful."

Death gently cupped Harry's cheek and he closed his eyes and relaxed into the touch. "You know I am always willing to assist, Master."

"I know," Harry agreed, "but that doesn't mean I can't be grateful."

Death drew away slowly, and Harry smiled up at it. "Your gratitude is a gift, Master."

"Flatterer," Harry accused.

"Only for you, Master," Death promised, amusement colouring its genderless voice.

Harry chuckled. "Still my favourite," he insisted, and Death let out a bone-rattle laugh before stepping back through to its realm. Harry watched after it for a moment, amused, then turned and made his way upstairs. Hermione had retired to her room, leaving it for Harry to keep his brothers from killing each other.

-0-

"Master," Death called the Sunday after they'd all got home, while Harry was making his way downstairs for breakfast, "Merope warns that Tom intends to stop by today."

Harry paused on the last step, blinking. Did she tell you why?

"No. However, the attack against him was done by former Order members."

Harry nodded and continued his way into the kitchen. Very well. Thank you both for the warning.

"Of course, Master."

Harry offered a helpless sort of smile to his parents when they both looked towards him upon entering the room. "So, it sounds like we should expect a guest today?"

"Who?" James asked while Lily turned to get Harry something to eat with a frown.

"Voldemort."

"Why?" James demanded, and Lily abandoned the food to look at Harry.

Harry sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "I don't know for sure," he admitted. "However, the attack on Monday apparently came at the hands of former members of the Order of the Phoenix; my best guess is that he's turning to the only former Order members he's on even passingly good terms with to seek more information."

Lily and James traded frowns. "The first we heard of an attack was Monday."

Harry nodded as he settled into his usual seat at the table. "I figured as much. You're too close to someone who's known to be in Voldemort's circle." Multiple someones, really, though, considering that James hadn't found out about Severus – and, by extension, Barty – by now, it was likely that most people weren't aware Lily was on good terms with him.

"I suppose so," James agreed, frowning.

"I guess we won't know why he's coming until he shows up," Lily decided as she brought over food and tea for Harry. "Do you know when he'll be here?"

"Thanks," Harry offered for the food, before shaking his head. "I expect he has other things planned for today, so he'll drop by whenever he's got a free hour or two."

James snorted, nonverbally making it clear what he thought of the dark lord making them plan around his schedule, but since the plan for the day was already for them to relax at home, Harry really didn't think his father had much to complain about.

He did warn his brothers and Hermione when they came down, however, and received uncertain looks.

"You can still go out and play," Lily insisted. "It's unlikely that Voldemort will want anything to do with any of you."

"Probably safer all around if you scamper," James added under his breath. "Fewer targets."

Harry rolled his eyes.

Will and Hermione both ended up outside, with Chris staying in because (he claimed), he was going to miss Harry next month and he wanted to spend lots of time with him. Which, well, Harry wasn't much looking forward to having both of his brothers off at Hogwarts, either, but he had his own means of keeping tabs on them. (And he was learning to trust those means, after two years of Will being at Hogwarts.)

When Voldemort hadn't shown up by lunch, Chris decided he was going outside after all, and ran out with Will as soon as they were both done eating. For her part, Hermione excused herself to do some studying for the OWLS – Harry absolutely didn't roll his eyes – and went upstairs.

"If he shows up expecting dinner, he can go–"

"James," Lily warned, disapproving.

Harry snorted. "Nah. Nothing against Mum's cooking, but I expect he'd prefer whatever his house-elves make." He huffed. "If he waits until dinnertime to show up, though, I'm sending Death after him."

James laughed and leant forward over the table to ruffle Harry's hair. "I love your 'not-a-friendship'."

Harry ducked out of his father's reach and tried fixing his hair. "You can only say that because you know he's actually kind of terrified of me."

As if the discussion had called him, someone knocked on the front door.

"Right," Harry said, jumping to his feet. "I'll get it."

It was definitely the dark lord – Harry could smell him before he reached the door – and he hadn't bothered glamouring his new form for the visit, so he looked like a younger Tom Riddle. (The difference was no more than twenty years, but absolutely noticeable.) "Hi!" Harry chirped, then winced when he realised how that had come out.

Tom chuckled, red eyes practically dancing. "Hello, Scythe," he returned, and he almost sounded...

Harry closed his eyes. "I didn't tell them," he said, switching to German. "About the ki– About your intentions. I forgot."

"I think I'm supposed to be insulted," Tom returned, scaling back his smile.

Harry winced. "Did you come for that? Because I should probably warn them, and I totally can–"

"Scythe," Tom interrupted, and that was very obviously fondness in his smile, now. "First, let me in," he ordered and Harry let out an embarrassed laugh and stepped back to let the dark lord in. "Second, no, I came about the attack."

"Because there were former Order members involved?" Harry guessed as he shut the door. Tom raised an eyebrow and Harry shrugged. "Death let me know. I didn't ask for any specifics, however. They don't know anything about it."

Tom shook his head. "Neither you nor they know what they might know."

Harry placed a firm hand against the dark lord's chest, keeping him from walking further into the house, and narrowed his eyes at the man. "You are not using legilimency on my parents," he said, his voice hard.

Tom closed his eyes. "Yes, I assumed you were going to say that. I only came to talk." He brushed one hand against Harry's cheek, light and quick, like he wasn't certain it was allowed, or hadn't realised he was going to do it until it was too late to stop himself.

There were times Harry really wished it was easier to read the man.

He sighed and let his hand slide down Tom's chest a bit before dropping back down to his side. Tom narrowed his eyes at him and Harry flashed a smile before turning to lead the way into the dining room, where Lily had brought out tea and settled in next to James, both of them looking tense.

James blinked upon seeing Tom, and Lily's eyebrows went up.

Tom sighed. "Minor change in my appearance, I'm aware. You may lay the blame upon your son."

"Partial blame," Harry insisted and the dark lord snorted, clearly of a differing opinion.

They settled down at the table and Tom allowed a stiff nod when Lily silently offered to pour him some tea. "What all has Scy-Harry explained to you about the events of Monday?"

James cleared his throat. "Essentially what was in The Daily Prophet: You were at the ministry, doing one of your regular checks, and were engulfed in an explosion that didn't seem to be magical in nature. You vanished for a time, before returning and rooting out the perpetrators."

"Harry did say, this morning, that former members of the Order of the Phoenix were responsible," Lily added.

When Tom glanced at Harry, he shrugged. "We were on holiday, and you know I don't go digging unless I have a reason to do so."

"Hm." Tom threaded his fingers together under his chin. "The explosive was muggle in nature, though the trigger was magical. The perpetrators were Dorcas Meadowes, Caradoc Dearborn, and Emmeline Vance."

"Emmy?" Lily whispered, looking particularly pale. "But, I just had lunch with her before we left for Rome."

James straightened. "Dorcas' daughter finished Hogwarts this year, didn't she?"

Lily swallowed and gave a jerky nod. "Caradoc's son, too. And Emmy's son finished last year."

"Yes," Tom remarked drily, watching them with eyes that missed little, "it seems their children no longer needing protection was what led them to restarting Dumbledore's little group."

Lily stiffened. "And their children? You didn't–"

Tom glanced towards Harry out of the corner of his eye, only barely moving his head. "Their offspring are of no concern to me, so long as they don't take to the footsteps of their parents." He waved a careless hand. "The three were quite willing–" Harry barely resisted the urge to snort "–to explain their reasonings and were...insistent that they were the only members involved."

"You don't believe them," James suggested.

Tom put on a cruel smile. "On the contrary, I'm quite certain I have the truth of the matter. However, it is true that other former members of the Order of the Phoenix also have children who will soon be finishing at Hogwarts, and they may be considering similar attempts."

"You want us to spy for you," Lily said flatly.

"Indeed," Tom agreed, finally reaching for his tea.

"No."

"Lily–" James started.

Lily turned to her husband, fire in her eyes. "No. I am not going to play spy against my friends because he–" she waved a hand in Tom's direction, the dark lord watching everything from behind his tea, a hint of amusement glinting in his eyes "–is paranoid!"

"Mum," Harry interrupted, because he had no interest in watching his parents get into a fight about this, "what if the next target isn't Voldemort? Or isn't just him?"

"Who, then?" Lily nearly shrieked, turning on him with wild eyes.

Harry met her eyes coolly. "What if it was Severus?" Because, as headmaster of Hogwarts, he had a very public position, and it was no secret who he owed allegiance to; if you couldn't take out the head of the monster, Harry knew, the next best thing was to take out the support.

Lily flinched back as though struck.

James frowned and opened his mouth.

"What if it was me?" Harry added and everyone – even Tom, which was telling – went very still. "I may not be publicly tied to Voldemort right now, but you have no guarantees that will remain the case once I finish school. You both know I intend to find work in the magical world–" they'd discussed it a couple times, especially since Harry was as good with potions as he'd become, it being one of the few magical things he could openly do without a crutch "–and if you think no one's going to notice how much I support Voldemort, you're living in a fairy land."

"I hardly think that would be the thing that would get you targeted," Tom muttered.

"Please don't complicate this right now," Harry replied quietly. And, yeah, he really needed to tell his parents that he and Tom were...whatever they were, now. Merlin, he hated trying to label them, in any reality.

James cleared his throat and gently covered Lily's hand with his own, looking towards her with serious eyes. "What did we promise?"

Lily swallowed and nodded. "I know."

Harry caught Tom looking towards him with a raised eyebrow and shrugged; he could make a couple of guesses as to what his parents were talking about, but he wasn't about to go sharing any of them with the dark lord.

James turned hard eyes on the dark lord. "Fine, we'll keep an ear to the ground. How should we get news to you? Harry?"

Tom shrugged. "Should he be willing. You may also pass notes through Wormtail."

Lily perked up slightly. " 'Should he be willing'?" she repeated.

Tom sent her a flat look. "I hardly believe Scythe will follow any of my directions."

Harry snickered and ducked his head when the dark lord shot him a knowing look. "Did you want an apology?" he teased, peering up at the man from behind his fringe.

Tom snorted. "Really."

Harry put on a mock surprised look. "You're right. There are other things I should apologise for, first."

"I'll take it in writing," Tom shot back, his eyes glinting with amusement.

"Are you going to pin it up somewhere?" Harry asked, sitting back and waving his hands like he was unveiling something. " 'And here is the list of apologies from one Harry 'Scythe' Potter, the thorn in my side. Please ignore the parts that have been blacked out due to security concerns–' "

"You'll have to write those on a separate paper," Tom decided.

Harry snorted. "Sorry, only one apology letter for you."

"Hm. I'll have to copy the less sensitive ones over on to a separate page," Tom mused before shooting Harry a superior look. "Unlike some people, I can actually do that."

Harry shot him a flat look. "You're just going to keep beating that horse, aren't you?"

Tom smirked. "It's not dead yet."

"I can fix that."

"I can't decide if I'm disturbed," James whispered to Lily, "or entertained."

"Anyway," Harry announced, shooting his father a knowing look before turning back to Tom, "if you didn't have anything else you needed to do here?"

"Kicking me out, Scythe?" Tom asked, but he didn't look bothered as he got to his feet.

"Giving you the chance to actually walk out the front door. For once," Harry shot back, also standing, so he could see the dark lord out.

Tom snorted and led the way to the doorway to the hallway. Once there, he paused and turned around, a strange expression on his face. "Ah, there was one other thing," he announced, before leaning forward and pressing a brief hard kiss to Harry's mouth. "Front doors are tedious," he whispered as he pulled back, too quickly for Harry to do more than blink in surprise. "Goodbye, Scythe." And then he disappeared with a crack of apparation.

Harry closed his eyes, silently cursing the dark lord for surprising him twice now with kisses. I really need to stop letting him get away without me returning the favour, he complained to himself.

"Harry," Lily said from behind him, and Harry flinched. "Is there something you need to tell us?"

Harry couldn't quite bite back a Russian curse as he turned to face his parents. Lily was trying to look stern and mostly managing to hide her smile, while James looked like he didn't quite know how to react to what had just happened. "Voldemort," he offered carefully, "may have, possibly, on Monday, made his intentions clear?"

"And you didn't tell us?" Lily complained, before giving up on suppressing her smile.

"I had other things on my mind," Harry insisted. "We all did, really."

Lily got up and hurried forward to pull Harry into a hug. "I'm happy for you, sweetie. So is Dad, even though he's being suspiciously silent," she added pointedly.

James sighed and came over to join them. He squeezed Harry's shoulder and offered him a tight smile when Harry looked over at him. "I am happy for you," he agreed, before his expression twisted with discomfort. "I know you think of yourself as however many years older than Mum and I, but please remember your body is fifteen and the age of consent–"

Harry covered his face. "Dear Merlin, please stop."

James cleared his throat, clearly as happy as Harry about the topic. "Sixteen, Harry."

Harry groaned and took a moment to rub roughly at his face before looking back at his father. "I know the law," he agreed tiredly.

James shook his head, his expression hardening. "Stick to this one," he ordered. "Out of all the laws you 'know', you need to follow this one."

Harry closed his eyes. In his last reality, when Tom had finally given in, he'd given in all the way, not gone with quick kisses and fond looks. But, then, Harry had been a different man, then – and in an older body – and they'd been heading into a worldwide war. Here, now, they had time, could ease into things the way they were supposed to have done.

"Harry," James warned.

Harry met his stare evenly. "Until next year," he promised quietly, "we'll keep things chaste."

James held his eyes for a long moment, clearly looking for any hint of a lie – not that he'd have found one, had Harry not meant it; he'd mastered lying to his parents before they'd realised he had things to hide – before nodding. "Good." Then he looked away, grimacing. "Let's never have this discussion again."

Harry groaned and rubbed tiredly at his eyes. "Please. And if anyone in this family tries giving me 'The Talk', fair warning, I have a wand and the spell list may be pathetic, but I am fully capable of creativity."

"Not to mention," Lily said, clearly amused by both of them, "you can always ask your boyfriend to add more."

Harry flinched and turned wide eyes on his mother. "You did not just refer to Lord Voldemort as my boyfriend."

James let out a laugh that suggested he needed mental help. "Lily," he choked. "Lily, please."

Lily caught her lower lip between her teeth, her eyes sparkling. "Too soon?" she suggested.

"I need a drink," James decided, running his hands through his hair roughly.

"Mum," Harry tried, and his voice came out sounding strained, "please, if you love me at all, don't call him that. Ever. That is–" Words failed him utterly and Harry just sort of waved his hands uselessly between them.

Lily shook her head. "Fine. What should we call him?"

"The dark lord?" Harry suggested weakly, even as he turned the question over in his head. He'd never actually tried to define his relationship with Tom before, beyond occasionally referring to him as his 'lover', but this version wasn't that, yet, and James might actually do more than talk about getting a drink if Harry suggested that.

Was there a word that could be used to describe his relationship with the dark lord? A word that didn't make him flinch to even think about it, or suggest events that hadn't occurred yet?

"Partner," Harry realised.

Lily's eyes lit up. "I like that," she decided before turning the sort of smile that made Harry want to run for it on him. "Now it's official, you should tell your uncles."

"Can I skip that conversation?" James requested weakly.

"I second that," Harry added.

Lily grabbed Harry's arm and used it to drag him close enough that she could pull him into a hug with his father. "You're both such babies," she said fondly and Harry traded a helpless look with his father. "We'll have a family dinner next weekend."

"Doomed," James whispered, and Harry hid his face against Lily's shoulder and laughed.

.

Chapter Text

When Will asked, over dinner, what Voldemort had wanted, Harry had been quick to answer, "Politics." (And, one of these days, saying 'politics' wouldn't make Will lose interest, but Harry was going to milk that for all it was worth until then.) His parents had held to that, and so talk turned to other matters.

After dinner, though, Hermione silently grabbed Harry's arm and pulled him away from the rest of his family and upstairs to her room.

"Hermione?" Harry asked, uncertain, as she peered out into the hallway for a long moment before quietly closing her bedroom door.

Hermione stared at her feet, hair shading her face for so long, Harry started feeling concerned and reached for her. She flinched away and snapped, "You're a terrible influence!" When she looked up at him, she was glaring, but there were tears in her eyes.

Harry quickly took two steps back, giving her space and holding up his hands in a show of surrender. "I honestly have no idea what I did?" he offered, because this? This was 'Ron ruined the Yule Ball' level of upset, and he really didn't know what to do with it when it was aimed at him, especially when he didn't know why.

Hermione wrapped her arms around herself and ducked her head again, hiding behind her hair. "I heard," she said, quiet enough that, with even so few steps between them, a normal human would have struggled to hear her.

Harry shook his head. "Heard what?" What could Hermione have possibly heard that would make her this upset? Something Tom had said? He'd actually been well-mannered, for him. (He usually was when he visited Harry, at least to Harry's family. Which Harry appreciated.)

"You and the dark lord," Hermione said, the words sounding like they hurt, "sleeping together."

Harry blinked. "Not until next yea– Wait." He shook his head. "Hermione, for Merlin's sake, would you look at me?"

She lifted her head to glare at him, and now Harry could see it, the hurt she was channelling into anger. "Don't bother denying it, Harry Potter!" she snapped, pointing one shaking finger at him. "I know what I heard–"

"The only part I'm denying is that Voldemort and I are actively sleeping together," Harry interrupted, frowning at her, "and that's really only because Dad might actually go apocalyptic if we did. But, yes, we're...dating." And, wow, that word seemed as wrong to use as it had for someone to call the dark lord Harry's boyfriend.

Hermione's mouth snapped shut and she slumped, her outstretched hand dropping back to her side. "Why?" she whispered, sounding so much more hurt than angry.

With a sinking sensation, Harry suddenly realised where this was coming from, and maybe he should have foreseen it, Hermione developing a crush on him because he'd been the first person in the magical world who'd cared. He'd done everything he could to get his best friend back again, to boost her confidence when her first term had seen it stomped down, to give her a family and a home worth coming home to.

"I'm sorry," he offered quietly, and she squeezed her eyes shut. Harry pressed his hands together, using the faint ache to centre himself. "I've loved him since before I met you." This version of Hermione, at least.

Hermione swallowed and nodded. "I never had a chance, did I?"

"No," Harry admitted. "I'm sorry." Because the last thing he'd ever wanted was to hurt her.

Hermione wrapped her arms around herself again. "I– Can you...go?"

"Of course," Harry agreed and stepped back into a doorway that opened for him, because he wasn't going to push past her to get to the door, not right now.

"Not– Harry!" Hermione called after him, looking up with wide eyes, and Harry stopped, halfway between realms. "Not...forever? Just–"

"I know." Harry offered her a smile, trying to make it reassuring, but likely failing miserably. "I'm still grounded. Can't leave the house," he reminded her and she let out a choked noise that was somewhere between a laugh and a sob. He ducked his head in a bow and finished stepping through to the Realm of Death, letting the doorway close behind him.

In the shadowed world, Harry covered his face and took a moment to breathe. "I'm an idiot," he muttered to himself at last, before turning and opening another doorway next to him, this one leading into his bedroom.

He could hear Hermione muffling sobs, the walls between their rooms far from thick enough, and rubbed at his eyes, letting out a quiet curse in Russian. Then, unwilling to stick around and listen to his best friend's heart break, he went downstairs to make some potions, because that was the one place in the house he knew for sure he wouldn't be able to hear her from.

-0-

Monday morning, Harry left a vial of Peace of Mind Potion outside Hermione's door, with a note that explained she could use it if she needed a bit of a pick-me-up. The only reason he knew she'd taken it when she came downstairs, was because he'd seen her after she spent a night being upset before, and she'd never managed to look so very put-together the next morning.

They spent the day over at the Burrow – Molly had shaken her head in disbelief when Harry'd told her he was grounded again – and Harry spent more of it than he'd expected watching out the window as everyone played on broomsticks outside. He was half tempted to see if Lily would actually lighten his punishment if he asked, like she'd once joked she would, because it actually kind of sucked, this time, being punished for something so far in the past.

Harry rubbed at his eyes. "Dear Merlin, I'm turning into a normal kid," he muttered to himself, only to hear someone let out a startled laugh.

When he looked up, he found Hermione standing in the doorway to the living room, a plate of biscuits in one hand. "Aren't you a little old to be turning into a kid?" she teased, and her smile was a little shaky around the edges, but honest enough that it wasn't the lingering effects of the potion that created it.

"Midlife crisis," Harry retorted, and Hermione laughed as she came over to sit across from him. "How'd you get Molly to let you take those off the cooling rack?"

"I didn't," Hermione admitted, a devious turn to her smile as she set the plate on the coffee table between them.

"You stole them?" Harry realised, honestly amazed.

Hermione huffed and picked up a biscuit before leaning back in her chair. "Please," she replied. "The thing about having a known deviant for a foster brother–"

"Oiy!" Harry complained with a laugh, a part of him relaxing to hear her referring to him that way.

"–is that Molly will believe me when I say it was you." She flashed a smile that was nothing but trouble at him.

Harry shook his head and grabbed a few biscuits, figuring he might as well enjoy them, if he was going to get in trouble for them. "I really am a terrible influence."

"You really, really are," Hermione agreed with a laugh.

And when Molly came in a few minutes later, Harry didn't even bother protesting the blame for the theft; it was worth it to see Hermione looking so much happier.

-0-

"Hey, so, I should probably tell you two something," Harry admitted Thursday night to his brothers, after they'd supposedly turned in for the night. Because the family dinner was the next night, and Harry felt it was rude to blindside his brothers with the fact that he was...with Voldemort.

"Uh-oh," Chris whispered, while Will shot Harry a worried frown.

Harry shook his head. "It's not bad," he offered, but neither of them looked reassured. He sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "Voldemort and I are–" yeah, that word was never going to sound right, but there wasn't a better one "–dating."

Will and Chris traded looks, then glanced back at Harry. "Okay," Will said.

Harry blinked. That... "Okay?" he repeated.

Will and Chris both nodded. "Okay," Will agreed.

Harry shook his head and turned to get into bed. "Awesome talk," he muttered, mostly to himself, because of course they wouldn't care. "Let's never do it again." He raised his voice a bit to call back, "Good night!"

"Good night!" the two of them chorused, but their tiny little bedside magical lights stayed lit and Harry heard them writing on something.

'Messaging paper,' he realised and smiled to himself. Well, when your elder brother could hear it if you started whispering to each other and knew all the same languages, he supposed that passing notes was really the only way they could have secret conversations about him.

Harry shook his head and turned over to sleep, leaving his brothers to their private talk.

-0-

"So," Sirius said conversationally, once everyone had served themselves, "who died?"

"Why is that always everyone's first thought?" Harry muttered to himself in Atlantean, and his brothers both let out quiet snickers.

"No one's died," Lily said, when all James did was twitch and stab at his chicken.

"You sure?" Sirius asked, looking suspiciously between James' murder of his food and where Harry was trying not to look like he wanted to sink through the floor. "James and Harry look like someone's died and they don't want to tell us."

"Or something worse happened," Remus offered quietly, his eyes practically bleeding concern.

"It's not– Nobody died," Harry managed, and it only sort of sounded like he wanted to run for it. "It's not even bad, it's just–"

Hermione chose that moment to announce, "Harry's dating Voldemort."

Peter's fork clattered to the floor.

Harry covered his eyes. "Hermione," he complained, trapped somewhere between gratitude that he hadn't had to say it, and a sort of horrified amusement that she'd so carelessly dropped that particular bomb.

He really was a terrible influence.

"Sorry," Hermione said, sounding more smug than anything else.

"Right, so–" Sirius coughed, looking more than a little uncomfortable as he turned to James. "Do we need to give him the talk–?"

James let out a strangled laugh and covered his face with his hands.

Sirius turned on Harry with a grin that was half 'dear Merlin I'm going insane' and half 'you are going to regret everything'. "So, you have to understand, Harry, that when two...people–"

"I will curse you," Harry warned, pointing his fork at the dog animagus.

"I'm not afraid of your toy wand, pup," Sirius shot back, his eyes glinting.

"You have to sleep sometime," Harry insisted.

"Please don't threaten your uncle," Lily muttered, though she was smiling.

"Why him?" Peter complained as he leant over to pick his fork back up.

Harry waited until the man had straightened before, with no little glee, deadpanning, "It's his pretty face."

Peter's fork hit the floor again and Sirius and James let out twin choked laughs.

"He just can't help himself," Will added, nodding and failing to look as serious as Harry expected he was trying to appear.

Chris contributed by making kissing noises against his palm, while Hermione let out a dreamy sigh and stared up towards the ceiling.

"Did they practise that?" Remus asked Lily, his tone mild, while Sirius and James just completely lost their shit, and Harry covered his face to muffle his own helpless snickers.

Lily shook her head. "I have no idea," she admitted. "But, if they don't stop tormenting their uncles and father, they're going to be grounded."

Hermione turned a failure of an innocent look on Lily.

Lily snorted. "Yes, I'm including you, Hermione."

"Busted," Chris whispered, and Will elbowed him.

"No, seriously, keep it up," Harry muttered into his hand. "I could use the company."

"English, boys."

"Sorry, Mum," they chorused, not a one of them sounding like they meant it.

"You lot are my favourite comedy act," Sirius told them, his smile a twisted little thing.

"We do try," Harry replied, glancing towards where Peter was leaning down to pick up his fork again; he wondered if he could make the man drop it a third time.

Sirius snorted. "Sure you do. Hey, why don't we return the favour," he said to James.

James blinked at him. "Return the–? Oh. You mean that?"

Sirius nodded. "Yes. That."

"What? What?" Will chirped, while Chris and Hermione both shot curious looks across the table.

Harry raised an eyebrow, wondering what exciting thing he might have missed this time because he didn't keep closer track of what his ghostly spies discovered.

James hummed and shook his head. "No, I don't think they deserve to know."

"Haven't been good enough?" Sirius guessed.

"This, coming from you two," Remus muttered.

"You don't have to tell us," Chris said before turning to look at Harry. Will and Hermione's eyes both lit up as they copied him, expressions expectant.

"Cheat," James muttered, while Sirius snickered.

Harry closed his eyes. Death, what new and exciting thing is the ministry up to?

"...you will not enjoy this, Master," Death warned.

Harry couldn't help but stiffen, and he heard his brothers and Hermione let out worried noises, even as he demanded, Tell me.

"The TriWizard Tournament."

From a distance, Harry heard his silverware clatter to the table. Two realities gone, and a year after it had occurred in his home reality; he'd foolishly thought he'd never again face that event. "Are you lot fucking insane?" he heard himself ask, and it came out too sharp, too honest a reminder of that nightmare he'd been forced to participate in, because Voldemort–

"Harry James!" Lily snapped.

A light hand touched Harry's shoulder, and he couldn't help but flinch at the touch. He turned to see Hermione staring at him like she was afraid for him, like his name had just come out of that goblet again and–

"People have died during the TriWizard Tournament," he managed to get out, forcing his voice to remain calm, and Lily and Remus both made startled noises; clearly, this was the first either of them had heard of the event.

"What's the TriWizard Tournament?" Will whispered, and Hermione made a shushing noise.

"We've got safeties planned," Sirius said, his posture tense.

"An age line," Harry guessed, and James and Sirius traded surprised looks. "Who's casting it?" Because Albus was dead, and the number of people Harry trusted to cast wards strong enough to flummox any nasty-spirited students was–

"Voldemort," James offered.

A wave of relief crashed over Harry and he sagged back in his chair. "I should have guessed that," Harry muttered to himself, and he really couldn't say what language the words had come out in, though the lack of comprehension around the table suggested it wasn't Atlantean, English, or French.

Voldemort casting it was good. He'd probably put in something nasty for any fools who thought an ageing potion would suffice, and he might even warn about it, if he was feeling nice. Harry could probably talk him into adding a ward that would keep people from entering any name other than their own, too, which would put Harry far more at ease about the whole event.

"You're probably the only person I know who's actually relieved to hear that Voldemort's casting the spells," Sirius complained. "And I can't even pretend to be confused about why any more."

"Incidentally, my relief has nothing to do with Voldemort and my relationship," Harry replied, and he sounded much more himself, even though a part of him was still sinking in an ocean of all the things that could go wrong. "He's one of the strongest wizards alive today, if not the strongest, and enough people are terrified of him that foul play is unlikely."

"Foul play?" Hermione asked quietly, and Harry realised that she and his brothers had been watching the unfolding drama with a mix of confusion and concern.

He cleared his throat and straightened. "The TriWizard Tournament," he explained for the three, "is a contest held between the three largest European magical schools: Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, in Scotland; L'académie de Magie de Beauxbâtons, in France; and Durmstrang-Institut für Zauberei, in Norway."

"You know where Durmstrang is?" Sirius interrupted.

Harry rolled his eyes. "Of course I know where Durmstrang is, I know all. Keep up," he returned, and his brothers and James all snickered. "Three champions are picked, one from each school, and pitted against each other in three tasks over the course of the school year. The tasks tend to be exceedingly dangerous–" Harry turned a pointed stare on his father and Sirius "–and it was discontinued after a tournament near the end of the, I believe, eighteenth century, when one of the tasks resulted in the heads of all three schools being seriously wounded."

"I read about that in Hogwarts: A History!" Hermione realised, her eyes lighting up. "It was a cockatrice, wasn't it?"

Harry smiled at her, entirely too fond, especially since it was only because of another Hermione that he’d known that. "Quite."

Lily cleared her throat. "I'm surprised Beauxbâtons was willing to come here."

"It was a hard sell," James admitted with a helpless shrug, "but Voldemort absolutely refused to allow Hogwarts students to spend the year in France, and Karkaroff seconded the motion."

"France was where the rebellion was based, for the most part," Peter pointed out quietly.

Harry bit the inside of his cheek to keep himself from correcting that statement; so far as everyone outside of Voldemort and himself knew, the rebels had only ever had the one, mobile base.

Sirius snorted. "As if that isn't over and done with."

"Best not to tempt them to start up a new rebellion by handing them hostages," Harry insisted, shaking his head, and the adults all made faces. "No, the only way Voldemort would have agreed to let Beauxbâtons host, was if he was allowed to reside in the school for the whole of the tournament, and the French ministry is nervous enough about him only being on the other side of the English Channel; there's no way they'd have let him move into their school for the entire year."

"Essentially," Sirius agreed, grudgingly.

"So, if Voldemort turned down the French school, and they're not happy about coming here, why not pick the other school?" Will asked.

Harry snorted to himself, while Sirius deadpanned, "Karkaroff is in Voldemort's pocket, same as Snape."

"I’m beginning to understand why the French are nervous," Hermione muttered.

"Durmstrang is, historically, the most dark-minded of the three schools," Remus offered, "and Beauxbatons has always been the more light-minded. Hogwarts has tended to waffle back and forth, depending on the politics of the government and the current head."

Hermione nodded to herself, then eyed Harry uncertainly. "You mentioned an age line?"

Harry nodded. "Makes sense. A lot of the deaths over the years were from too-young students being picked to compete, so a way to limit the minimum age students can be to enter makes sense. I'd guess seventeen?" He glanced at James and Sirius.

"Seventeen," James agreed.

"So," Harry said, his tone going dry, "expect that Fred and George will both be putting their names in and be making a lot of jokes about which of them is more capable."

His brothers and Hermione all laughed, and talk turned to the changes the students should expect with the visiting schools in attendance. None of which would affect Harry, given, but hearing about the security measures did make him feel better.

-0-

Harry managed to wait another couple days before giving in and sneaking off to visit Voldemort in the night. Merope was sitting outside the entrance to the dark lord's rooms, a fond smile curling her lips, and Harry grinned back at her. "Hi. Is it safe for me to go in there?"

Merope's crossed eyes glinted in a way that made Harry suspicious. "You mean you don't have a secret fancy to see Tom in the–"

"Dear Merlin, you're terrible!" Harry interrupted, covering his ears and trying not to laugh. "Aren't you supposed to be, I dunno, preserving his modesty or something?"

"Says the man who wants to bang my son," Merope retorted before dissolving into giggles.

Harry covered his face, feeling it heat with embarrassment, though whether it was from Merope's entirely inappropriate comment or the mental image that comment had spawned, Harry wasn't going to consider too closely. "I am legitimately concerned about the way you spend your free time, when Tom is sleeping," he muttered, mostly to himself, before peeking out at the woman and willing her to answer him truthfully when he asked, "Is he fully dressed and alone?"

Merope sighed. "Yes and yes. You're no fun."

"I am not dealing with his embarrassment, even in the name of your amusement," Harry shot back before opening a doorway and poking his head through. "Voldemort?"

"Scythe?" the dark lord returned, and Harry spotted him seated in a wingback chair over by the grandfather clock, a thick tome in his hands and his Tom face on.

Harry couldn't resist the fond smile that hijacked his lips. "So you do do more than paperwork," he teased.

Tom snorted and picked up a scrap of paper from the table next to him. "You have a habit of visiting during busy periods," he returned, slipping the scrap between the pages he'd been reading and closing the tome. "Are you coming in?"

Somehow, Harry managed to calmly step through into the mortal world, letting the doorway close behind him before moving towards where Tom was sitting, even though all he really wanted to do was throw himself at the dark lord and fuck his father's rules about waiting a year. "I admit," he offered, "I'm sort of here on business. Kind of. A little bit."

Tom chuckled and rose to meet him. "Only a little bit?"

They both stood there for a moment, watching each other, until Harry realised that he was staring and this was pathetic. He snorted at himself and shook his head. "Only a little bit. Can I kiss you?" Because Tom had kissed him twice now, which was very much not fair, and while they were much closer in height when Harry hadn't grown up malnourished and living in the cupboard under the stairs, the dark lord still had a good few inches on him, and Harry wasn't quite secure enough in their relationship to drag the man's head down without some sort of warning.

Tom's lips took on a wry turn, even as he stepped close enough that Harry could feel the burn of his body heat – so very different from his last Tom, who had carried the chill of Death for so long, Harry had almost forgotten what it was like to love someone still alive – and ducked his head towards Harry.

Harry pushed forward, like he'd wanted to do in the graveyard, pressing his mouth tight to the dark lord's and curling one hand around his nape, fingers caught between strands of soft black hair.

Tom let out a quiet, startled sound, but he didn't pull away. Instead, arms wrapped around Harry's waist and drew him closer, wrapped him in the sort of warmth that he hadn't felt in–

Harry let himself sink back to his feet, grinning when Tom chased after him just a bit. "So, hi," he said when the dark lord pulled back with a faint scowl, and he sort of wanted to hit himself for how completely ridiculous he sounded.

Still, Tom's scowl softened to a small smile and, yeah, Harry couldn't even pretend any more, because that was one hundred percent fondness in Tom's red eyes, too close to mistake as anything else. "Are you tongue-tied?" Tom asked, his tone very much amused.

"Distracted," Harry insisted, combing his fingers through the hair at Tom's nape and unable to resist a grin when the dark lord's eyelids fluttered like he really wanted to just stand there and enjoy being petted. "You are extremely distracting, which I'm pretty sure you've figured out already. Kindly desist."

Tom snorted. "I'm not sure how. I could put on my glamour?" he offered, and his eyes were practically dancing.

(Harry maybe, possibly, just a lot, fell in love all over again with this Tom who wasn't afraid to show when he was happy. Or, at the least, show when he was amused about something that didn't involve someone else being in pain.)

"I'm pretty sure I've already mentioned that that doesn't bother me," Harry reminded him.

One ridiculously perfect eyebrow raised in disbelief before one of the arms around Harry's waist twitched, and then he was staring up into Voldemort's face, fingers empty of hair to comb through. "You'd kiss me like this," Voldemort said, tone dry.

"Do your Death Eaters know how vain you are?" Harry teased, before getting back up on his toes to kiss away the forming frown. And, honestly, kissing Voldemort's nearly non-existent lips would always be weird, and he far preferred the man's Tom-face, but he could never let a thing like lips keep him from loving the dark lord.

Voldemort let out a broken sound against Harry's mouth and his arms spasmed around Harry's waist.

Harry gently cupped the man's face between his hands and pulled back enough to frown up at eyes squeezed tightly shut. "Voldemort?" he whispered, and it was only because of the different appearance that he was able to keep himself from using the man's birth name. "Are you–?"

"Dammit, Scythe," Voldemort whispered, and slit-pupiled red eyes opened to stare down into Harry's own. There was a whirl of emotions in them, too much for Harry to begin to decipher.

Harry brushed his thumbs lightly against Voldemort's cheeks, tracing the lines of too-sharp cheekbones, and quietly asked, "Do I need to step back?"

Voldemort's arms tightened around his waist and his eyes pressed closed again. "No," he said, and the word sounded like it had been a struggle to get out.

"Okay," Harry murmured, settling back down on his feet again and dropping his hands from Voldemort's face so he could hug him, pressing his ear against the man's chest, over his heart, and revelling in the rapid thudding that he'd lost decades ago.

It was...comfortable, holding the dark lord and being held back. Like a hug from one of his brothers or Hermione or his parents, except very much not, yet still...

He felt warm and safe, accepted in a way that he never quite found with his family, not once they'd realised how utterly broken he was. There was a security in the knowledge that he didn't need to protect Voldemort, not like he did his brothers and Hermione, not like he sometimes felt he needed to do for his parents. He didn't even need to watch his strength so much, because he knew the dark lord had done rituals of his own, strengthened himself so he could stand against the fists of muggles who'd wanted to beat on him because he was too strange, was too different and just a little bit terrifying, and the only way to deal with things that terrified you was to make them more afraid of you, than you were of them.

Harry would always be part Alpha Lord, would always need to protect his pack, but alphas came in pairs, stood back-to-back with each other and trusted the other could handle themselves.

"I love you," he said, and only knew he'd said the words in a language the dark lord didn't know because the man hadn't tensed.

"...what?" the dark lord asked, a frown in his voice.

Harry pulled back enough to smile up at Tom – he'd dropped the glamour while Harry hadn't been paying attention. "Nothing," he promised.

Tom snorted. "You and your precious secrets, Scythe."

"I don't have nearly so many as you seem to think I do," Harry insisted, and Tom scoffed at him. Harry rolled his eyes and lightly smoothed his hand over the man's chest, feeling for that reassuring thudding. "So, business."

Tom sighed and pulled away, the motion seeming almost as reluctant as Harry felt to let him go. But, yeah, probably best to put aside that particular distraction, even if it did leave Harry feeling distinctly cold.

"Have a seat," Tom suggested, motioning with his wand and summoning a chair to bump against the back of Harry's legs, even as he settled back into his own chair. "To business."

Harry slumped into the chair and threw a leg over one arm, preferring to be comfortable, and hoping to win a small hint of good humour from the dark lord, which showed in a gleam of amusement in his eyes as they followed the careless line of Harry's leg, kicking idly against the air. "I hear tell we're hosting the TriWizard Tournament."

Tom's eyes met his again, a scowl tugging at his lips. "Potter and Black. I should have guessed they wouldn't be able to keep their mouths shut."

Harry snorted. "To be fair, they teased and then clammed up; I got confirmation from Death and then pried the specifics out of Dad and Uncle Sirius."

Tom just sort of stared blankly at him for a moment before snorting and looking away. "Yes," he allowed drily, "I don't suppose I should be cross at anyone for letting slip information to you. Even if you didn't have your own means of obtaining secrets, you have a particular talent for rooting them out."

"You may be underestimating my spy network," Harry retorted.

"Entirely possible," Tom agreed before glancing back at Harry, his eyes bright with a sort of resigned humour. "Yes, I gave in to demands for an attempt to revive lost alliances with the continent by bringing back that tournament."

Harry sighed and rubbed at his eyes. "I should have guessed there was a political motive behind this madness," he complained, and Tom let out a snort that made it quite clear that he fully agreed with Harry in how much he wasn't looking forward to the accursed tournament. He opened his eyes and offered a tired smile to the dark lord. "Might I make a request, in the name of security?"

Tom straightened and raised his eyebrows. "Oh? You believe the aurors have missed something?"

"Not as such," Harry promised. "More, hm... The age line will keep students from putting their own name into the goblet if they're underage, but it won't keep them from bribing an upper year to do it for them. Or, worse, for an upper year with a grudge to enter an underclassman in hopes of getting them killed."

Tom's eyes darkened at that last. "I would kill any student who tried that," he said, barely restrained violence in his voice.

Harry shrugged. "And I'd be right there next to you, but it'll be too late after they've slipped someone's name in with a mind towards foul play. But a ward, say, that would only let in a piece of paper with the bearer's own name on it..."

Tom frowned, clearly considering. "It's certainly worth looking into, but I know of no such wards. Or, well, not any that are aimed specifically at paper."

"And don't result in the troublemaker's death?" Harry suggested.

Tom shot him a smirk. "More the pity."

Harry snorted. And then, because there were magical governments that had very strange ways of deciding who would be the next leader, and he'd faced this very problem in his last reality, while trying to fix the mess he and that Tom had made of their world, offered, "I know two wards that would work."

Tom just sort of stared at him in disbelief.

Harry took a moment to enjoy the dark lord's reaction, then cleared his throat and shifted in his chair, tossing his other leg over the arm so he was sitting more sideways. "One is from Ancient Greece, translated from the original Greek to Aramaic, and is used almost exclusively in the Arab nation." He waved a careless hand while Tom shook his head, very clearly trying to regain control of his expression. "The other originates from the Chibcha language, and has survived in various forms in that region of the Americas."

Tom closed his eyes and chuckled. "Of course. Which one do you think would work best?"

Harry shrugged. "Oh, they're about equally as effective. However, I suspect you'll find the Chibcha version easier to learn, unless you have some sort of background in Semitic languages that I'm unaware of."

Tom shook his head and shot Harry a helpless sort of smile. "I don't have any knowledge of this...Chibcha, either."

Harry nodded. "I didn't expect you to. There's a couple versions that are more Spanish than Chibcha, which, given your grasp of Latin, you should be able to master with little effort."

"Well then, Professor Scythe, teach me foreign magic."

Harry laughed as he resettled himself properly in his chair, then set about doing so.

-0-

"Harry?" Chris tugged on Harry's sleeve the last night of August. "Can we talk?"

"Of course," Harry agreed, and let himself be led downstairs, away from the frantic packing of Will and Hermione. (Honestly, Harry was glad for the excuse to retreat; if he had to listen to Hermione debate which books to take to study for OWLs one more time, he was going to have to resort to desperate measures. Like a silencing charm, or seeing if Voldemort would let him hide in his rooms until after the train had left tomorrow morning.)

Once in the potions lab, the door closed against the flurry from upstairs, Chris wrung his hands together and started pacing.

Harry blinked at his brother, uncertain how to respond to what was fairly uncharacteristic behaviour. "Chris?"

"I don't know if it'll be okay!" Chris burst out with, trading between English and Atlantean in a way that he'd never done, but which Will had done a few times shortly after Death had gifted them knowledge of Atlantean, before the language had fully settled in his head.

Harry reached out and caught his brother's shoulders, forcing him to stop pacing and face Harry. "Hey, whoa. Take a deep breath, Chris. Come on, with me." Harry slowly breathed in and, once Chris had copied him, breathed back out. He kept it up until his brother's shoulders had slumped and he looked a little less like he was about to jump out of his own skin. "Right, try this again."

Chris rubbed roughly at his face, setting his glasses askew, and mumbled, " 'M worried 'bout my 'ouse."

Harry blinked and took a moment to translate that into something understandable – werewolf hearing didn't help him if the person speaking refused to enunciate – then repeated, "You're worried about your house? Hogwarts house?" The last was a guess, but given where Chris was headed in the morning...

Chris nodded, looking miserable. "Dad and Uncle Siri'll hate me if I get Slytherin," he admitted.

"Hey, no. No," Harry insisted, catching his brother's hands and tugging him into a hug. "No way. No hate in this house. For one, Mum'll have both their heads if they start in on you for that, for another, they thought I was a Slytherin until last month, remember? And they never got on me about it."

"You're different," Chris said quietly, sounding so very pathetic.

Harry cheated and conjured a fluffy sofa in a dark corner of the room – Chris wasn't paying attention, and it'd be gone before anyone could wonder where it'd come from – then dragged his youngest brother over to it and sat them both down. "I'm a psychopath," he deadpanned, "but that's hardly a fitting reason for Dad and Uncle Sirius to treat me fine and then turn on you. If anything, they should be more likely to kick me to the road than you."

Chris ducked his head. "But you're...you."

Harry shook his head. "And you're you. What's that got to do with anything?"

"You can take care of yourself if they–"

"Christopher John!" Harry snapped, and his brother flinched before peeking up at him from behind red bangs and his glasses. He sighed and shook his head. "Chris," he said, gentling his tone, "nothing in this world can ever change how much Dad and Uncle Sirius and everyone else loves you. Above anyone, I know this to be a fact. Hogwarts houses... Yeah, sure, they're a big deal at school, and maybe you use them as an excuse to be a jerk to someone who was in another house once you grow up, like Dad is about Secret, but what house you end up in? That's based on who you are, who you've always been. And Dad and Uncle Sirius? They know who you are, and they love you all the same."

Chris squeezed Harry's hands and tried to pull away, but Harry tightened his hold just enough that he was very clearly stuck.

"Hey, Chris?" Harry said, voice quiet, and Chris looked up at him uncertainly, his eyes bright with tears. "You remember what I said? That the Hat wanted me in Slytherin, but I insisted on Gryffindor?"

Chris' eyes widened. "I can–?"

"You can pick," Harry promised, smiling. "You can go to whichever house you most want to be in. You've got that choice. But, hey, do me a favour? Don't pick Gryffindor?"

Chris choked on a giggle and nodded. "Is Ravenclaw good? Hermione always says such nice things about their bookcases."

Harry bit his tongue to keep from saying something wholly inappropriate about Hermione's adoration for the Ravenclaw common room's bookcases. "Ravenclaw is excellent. I'll even accept Hufflepuff, which is not nearly so wimpy as Dad and our uncles are always saying."

Chris nodded, clearly unconvinced. "Uh-huh."

"Loyalty and hard work are excellent ethics to hold to!"

"Doormat," Chris replied, which was Sirius' favourite name for Hufflepuffs that weren't Tonks or, as he put it, 'equally as spirited'.

Harry rolled his eyes. "I'm telling Mum she needs to put a moratorium on bad-mouthing any house the speaker wasn't actively a member of."

Chris covered his mouth, looking much cheered. "You just want to be able to talk mean about Gryffindor, still."

"Someone in this house has to. I swear, some days, you, Hermione, and me are the only sane ones here."

Chris burst out laughing at that and curled forward against Harry. "Doomed!"

Harry grinned and wrapped his arms around his brother, letting him laugh himself out.

"Hey," he said once Chris was quiet again, and his brother grinned up at him. Harry smiled at him and gently ruffled his hair. "No matter what house you get sorted into, even if it's Gryffindor, you know I'm proud of you, right?"

Chris leaned forward again, wrapping his arms around Harry and hiding his face against Harry's chest. "I know," he admitted.

"And anyone gives you shit, you let me know and I'll send Death after them."

Chris started giggling again, utterly helpless, and Harry considered his work done.

-0-

'Slytherin,' Chris sent shortly after dinner, and Harry couldn't help the victorious grin at the knowledge that he'd eased his brother's fears enough that he hadn't gone for the safe choice.

'Do you want me to warn Dad, or do you just want a report of his reaction after your owl arrives?' he sent back.

Chris was notably silent as Harry hunted down a book to read before bed.

'You don't have to decide right this moment,' he added. 'I wouldn't tell him until morning, anyway.'

'Can you just tell Mum?' Chris decided.

'Absolutely.'

Chris didn't write any more after that, which left the paper open for the influx of writing that Will started sending about a half hour later, updating Harry on all of his friends and what they'd been told about the TriWizard Tournament and which Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans he'd eaten on the train and did Harry know Chris had made it into Slytherin and wasn't that awesome and it would have been even better if one of them was a Hufflepuff because then they could have had all the houses represented, because Harry was dating a Slytherin, and–

Harry laughed to himself and eventually turned in after Will finally wound down, comforted at the assurance that his brothers were both fine.

-0-

Will must have brought his messaging paper with him to the great hall for the choosing of the names, because Harry got up-to-date comments on everything, and had to excuse himself from dinner early, lest he give up the long-held secret to his parents because his brother was ridiculous. Especially when he started in on how bored Voldemort looked, sitting up at the head table between Severus and Karkaroff, and he really did look better with hair, and 'Harry, please, promise me you've never kissed him like that.' (Harry took great glee in dashing those hopes, even if he then had to suffer a good five minutes of whining.)

At last, it came time for the champions to be chosen and Will's scribbled comments went quiet, until:

'Durmstrang is a girl named Zofia Wocheck.'

'Beauxbatons is a girl named Jeanne Andre.'

'Hogwarts is Cedric Diggory from Hufflepuff.'

Harry stared at that last name for a long moment, his heart in his throat, before he heard himself whispering, "Please, please, please... Cedric, please don't die again."

And then Will messaged him again, the motion of the text on the page breaking him from his too-old memories: 'Man, why did it have to be a Hufflepuff? Fred and George are nearly inconsolable!'

'Hufflepuffs are awesome. Don't judge; you were the one that wanted one in the family.'

'So, either get him and Hermione together, or Chris or me needs to come out as gay?'

Harry sort of blinked at that in disbelief for a moment before hiding his face in his hands and laughing so hard he couldn't breathe.

'You're laughing, aren't you?' Will had sent by the time Harry managed to control himself. 'It's fine, you can laugh. But admit it would be wicked if we had a TriWizard champion in the family.'

'Go prank a Weasley or something and leave me out of your romance drama,' Harry finally sent, shaking his head.

'You have enough romance drama as it is?' Will guessed.

'I will put this under my bed and ignore it until tomorrow evening,' Harry threatened.

'Spoil sport,' Will complained, but he did stop chattering on for a few hours, which gave Harry the chance to get some work done on his homework. He started back up again when they both headed for bed, but he didn't bring up romancing Cedric again, or Harry's relationship with Voldemort, so Harry let him talk.

-0-

"I have been told," Harry said as he stepped into the dark lord's rooms on the first night of November, "that you looked beyond bored at the picking of the champions last night."

Tom was at his desk, writing something, and he snorted without looking up. "Better bored than murderous," he pointed out.

Harry laughed and dropped into the nearest chair. "The students and Madame Maxime would certainly believe so."

Tom finished writing and set his quill aside as he looked up at Harry, a small, fond smile curling his mouth. "I'm fairly certain," he said, his tone dryly amused, "that there was no one in the great hall who would have preferred I look murderous."

Harry took a moment to consider that. "Ah. Fair point. Unless there was someone in there actively torturing the students in which case–"

"Needs must?" Tom suggested and Harry flashed him a toothy smile. Tom chuckled and finally got up from behind his desk to walk over to Harry, who jumped to his feet to meet him. "Hello, Scythe," he murmured before Harry very firmly shut him up with a kiss.

"So," Harry said once he felt he'd sufficiently side-tracked the dark lord and was quite comfortable in the circle of his arms, "your mum said you wanted me to drop by?" Which, well, Harry had made a habit of dropping by once a week anyway – it was so much easier to sneak out with his brothers both gone – but he didn't usually come in the middle of the week, just so it didn't matter if he stayed too late and wanted to sleep in the next morning.

Tom sighed, his expression shuttering. "We caught three students trying to put in someone else's name without their knowledge," he offered, and Harry felt his own smile vanish. "Your mudblood was one of the victims."

Harry stiffened and quickly pulled his hands away from where they'd been threaded through Tom's hair as he felt them turn into claws. "Of course she was," he managed to say, and the words sounded like they'd been strangled on the way out. "Does she know?"

Tom was watching him, something almost like concern in his eyes, his arms still tight around Harry's waist and doing far more to keep him from going on a murderous rampage than the dark lord would likely guess. "No. It was decided that the perpetrators would be expelled and the victims left unaware of the momentary danger, though Severus did insist on letting the parents know." Tom scowled. "Something about parents deserving to know when their spawn are in danger, even if he won't release the perpetrator's name."

Harry felt himself relax, eased by the dark lord's complaints, as if Tom himself hadn't gone out of the way to warn the family of one of the victims. "Severus was probably imagining what Mum would have done to him if she found out Hermione or Will or Chris had been a victim and he hadn't told her about it."

Tom snorted. "Likely." His expression turned odd, almost uncertain, and he carefully asked, "Do I need to tell you who attempted to put your mudblood's name in the goblet?"

Harry let his fingers – human again – comb back through Tom's hair as he considered that offer. He knew himself well enough to admit that he wouldn't be able to resist hunting the person down and killing them if he knew their name, and he probably shouldn't do that, if only because Hermione wouldn't approve. But he didn't like the idea of letting that person walk free when they might take their grievances out against Hermione at a later date. Death?

"Spirits can be set to watch those ex-students who intended harm against younger students, without you knowing who they are," Death offered. "Should one of them attempt to attack the almost-victim outside of school, you'll be notified and can handle the matter then."

Harry didn't resist a fond smile. Thank you, Death, he offered to his eternal servant, before shaking his head at Tom. "No. I don't want to know their name."

"Of course, Master."

Tom gave him a curious look and brought one of his hands up from Harry's waist to touch the corner of his smile. "A mental connection with...Death?" he guessed after a moment.

Harry felt his smile widen. "Yes."

Tom grimaced slightly. "I'd wondered," he admitted.

Harry shook his head, amused. "I promise he's not in your head."

"How reassuring," Tom deadpanned, and Harry couldn't help a laugh. Tom traced his fingers across his cheek, his eyes fond, before dropping his hand back to Harry's waist and glancing towards the grandfather clock. "You should probably head home," he commented, a hint of regret in the words.

Harry let out a noise of agreement. "School night," he agreed before leaning up and pressing a quick kiss to the dark lord's mouth. When he pulled away, Tom let him go without any trouble, his lips curling with a smile. "I'll come back this weekend and pester you into telling me about the first task."

"Not a chance," Tom returned, very clearly amused. "You'll find out on the twenty-fourth with everyone else."

"Unless I cheat."

Tom snorted. "There's little I can do about your play at omniscience. Good night, Scythe."

"Good night, Voldemort," Harry replied fondly before stepping through to the Realm of Death and heading for home.

.

Chapter Text

Harry didn't end up cheating to find out what the first task was, though he did make a point to pester Tom about it every time he visited, just because he could. That said, he didn't bother acting surprised when Will informed him – writing from the stands, because he'd apparently decided that playing commentator was awesome, and Harry sort of wanted to suggest that he be made the quidditch commentator next time he saw Severus – that the task involved getting a golden egg from a dragon.

'Nesting mother?' Harry guessed.

'How'd you know? Did you cheat?'

'Familiarity with dragons,' Harry lied, because he wasn't about to explain the truth to Will.

Cedric's method remained the same as it had in Harry's first reality, using a transfigured dog to distract the dragon while he grabbed the egg. Age had granted him wisdom, however, as he transfigured three rocks into dogs, then used a disillusionment charm on himself to keep the dragon from turning her attention on the real threat while he was trying to get the egg.

Jeanne André – Harry had found out about the accent for her name and the proper spelling of the Durmstrang champion's last name from The Daily Prophet, and had taken pains to correct his brother about both – had gone with the conjunctivitis curse, and suffered broken eggs for her trouble. Will reported the young woman had looked like she was going to cry when she was led away.

Zofia Wojczyk, Harry knew from the interview in The Daily Prophet, came from a family of dragon handlers, and so was particularly suited to this task. She had approached the Chinese Fireball slowly, speaking to it in a foreign language – the task commentator said it was Chinese, Will reported – the whole way. The dragon shot a fireball at her when she grabbed the golden egg and ran for it, but it mostly missed her, beyond burning a chunk of her hair.

That left Cedric in the lead, with Durmstrang and then Beauxbâtons following.

'Because we ROCK,' Will insisted.

'And you were complaining about the Hogwarts champion being a Hufflepuff,' Harry sent back.

'Shut up. I hope all the other tasks are just as awesome!'

Harry snorted, because if this tournament went anything like it had gone in his first reality, then next two tasks weren't really spectator-friendly. 'One can only hope,' he wrote, preferring not to dash his brother's hopes so soon, especially since he didn't know for certain. 'Are Fred and George cooking up a celebratory party in the Gryffindor common room?'

'Of course! So I'm going to shut up for a while and feed my sweet tooth.'

'I was going to say 'will wonders never cease', but then you mentioned your sweet tooth and I'm no longer impressed,' Harry couldn't resist sending.

Will didn't write him back again that night, and Harry snickered to himself as he went to bed.

-0-

At the beginning of December, Will solemnly informed Harry that Hermione would be remaining at Hogwarts for Christmas, because of the Yule Ball, and he and Chris kind of wanted to stay, too.

'I know,' Harry had replied, amused. 'I'd rather expected it, in all honesty, and Mum and Dad sent off a note this morning to you both, telling you you can stay over, too, if you want to. We'll go to Canada again or somewhere and I can work on my skiing.'

'No way! I'm supposed to stay better than you!' was Will's immediate reply. While Harry was still laughing about how easy his brother was, he sent, 'You're really not upset? I know you don't like it when we're at Hogwarts.'

Harry blinked, surprised, then snorted at himself; he'd hardly made it a secret that he didn't like having his brothers and Hermione out of his easy reach. 'I'm resigned. And the way you keep me updated, I'll know if anything happens.'

'You mean your spies'll tell on us.'

'I'll find out,' Harry settled on. 'Are you going to try getting into the dance?'

'I thought maybe I'd ask Cedric,' Will sent.

'Putting this under my bed, now.'

'Probably not, really,' Will said after a bit, and Harry expected his brother had had to stop laughing before he could respond. 'I might try sneaking into Fred and George's dorm and leave a prank for them.'

Harry snorted, guessing how that was going to turn out. 'You do that and I'll ask my 'spies' how it goes.'

'You suck.'

'You're too young for the response I want to use.'

There was another long silence, and Harry snickered to himself as he envisioned his brother trying to figure out what he hadn't said. And then, finally: 'I am putting this away and we are NEVER talking about this again.'

"Score one for me," Harry whispered, because Will had totally deserved that, what with his continued fascination with Cedric.

-0-

A couple days later, an owl came from Hermione, bearing two letters. One was the expected update for Lily and James (and Harry, technically, but she rarely had news that he hadn't heard from Will or Chris, first), while the other was addressed to just Harry. He frowned as he opened it, ignoring his parents' curious hovering over his shoulders.

'Harry,
'I feel really bad that Will and Chris and I are abandoning you for the holidays, even though Will keeps saying you don't care. I don't have anyone else to ask, so I was wondering if you wanted to attend the Yule Ball with me? Just as friends, I know.
'I already asked, and Professor Flitwick said it's okay to invite you, so you don't even have to borrow a favour from your partner.
'Hermione'

Harry just sort of blinked at the letter for a long moment, touched by the unexpected offer. Though, really, he should have known Hermione would try to include him, somehow.

"So?" Lily pressed, squeezing his shoulder. "Do we need to get you dress robes?"

"Yeah," Harry decided, because he really rather liked the idea of giving the Yule Ball another go, now he was much older and going with someone who he honestly cared about.

Although...

"You know," he mused when his mum hugged him, "I never actually learnt how to dance."

His parents traded conspiring looks. "We can fix that," James promised, and Harry resigned himself to Marauder-given dancing lessons.

-0-

Severus and Barty, as was the yearly tradition, showed up on the first Monday of the holiday. Harry was sprawled out in the living room when they knocked, working on a paper and failing to ignore Will's rambling messages (which Chris appeared to be getting, too, because he kept commenting, so it was a little bit like they'd both come home for the holidays, anyway).

"Studying, Harry?" Severus commented as the three adults stopped in the doorway.

"Lack of brothers to serve as a distraction," Harry replied, looking up with a grin. "Hey, Severus, Barty. Are you sure you should be leaving the school right now?"

"The dark lord is in residence," Severus replied drily. "I expect that will lessen any chance of mayhem."

Harry hid his face against the carpet and snickered to himself, because he knew, from Will, what Fred and George had planned for lunch and he almost felt bad for the two pranksters; it wasn't a secret that Severus left the school the first Monday of the winter holiday, so the twins had made plans to take advantage of his absence by bribing the house-elves to switch out some of the usual fare with magically altered food.

Once Lily had led the two professors into the kitchen, Harry pulled over his messaging paper and wrote, 'Will, bring your paper to lunch.'

'Why? Can't wait to hear about the prank?'

'Something like that.'

'Is Secret not at home?'

'He's here. Barty too.'

'Harry'

'William.'

'What do you know that I don't?'

'Death magic.'

'HARRY'

'How to dance.'

'He's not going to tell us, Will,' Chris offered.

'What the Hufflepuff common room looks like,' Harry continued, because he could.

'You SUCK,' Will complained, followed almost immediately by, 'DON'T'

Harry laughed to himself for a moment, then offered, 'Don't sit next to them.'

Will was quiet for the rest of the morning – Chris commented on the 'blessed silence' and Harry agreed with a laugh – but just as Harry was getting up to answer Lily's call about food, his messaging paper was taken over by Will writing, in huge letters, 'YOUR BOYFRIEND IS HERE?!?!?'

'I thought we'd agreed not to call him that,' Harry complained before finally heading for the dining room. "Sorry!" he called as he hurried into the room. "Hey, Mum, can I take my food back out with me to eat in the living room? I promise not to make a mess."

Lily eyed him suspiciously for a moment, but nodded. "Okay."

"Thanks!" He grabbed his plate and quickly filled his glass with water, then retreated to the living room to watch the drama unfold.

'Fred and George look a little bit like they're gonna crap themselves,' Will had written in his absence. 'I think he knows something's up, because he's looking RIGHT AT THEM and I am so glad I'm not sitting next to them, good call. You realise your boyfriend's terrifying, right?'

'PARTNER,' Harry insisted. 'Don't make me tell him what you call him.'

'You would never. You like me too much.'

'Lies,' Harry returned, though he knew he'd never tell on his brother to the dark lord. If only because he'd probably just laugh at how the word made Harry twitchy.

Will's report was fairly normal to start, other students around the great hall developing animal parts or their hair or skin turning colours, and the professors occasionally shooting knowing looks at the twins, or uncertain looks towards Voldemort, who was apparently eating very calmly and very obviously watching Fred and George. And then...

'Merlin's beard. WHAT THE HELL'

'You're a crap commentator,' Harry complained.

Chris – who had been quiet up to that point, but had clearly brought his paper, too – helpfully explained, 'Fred and George just turned into ghosts.'

"It is a spell, Master," Death helpfully offered, before Harry could even start to feel concerned. "It will wear off in approximately twelve hours."

Harry burst out laughing, really wishing he could be there to see the events. Also, holy shit, he did not peg Voldemort as a prankster, even though he knew the man had a sense of humour.

'HARRY! IT'S TERRIBLE!!!' Will had written, and it just made him laugh harder.

"Harry?" Lily called before appearing in the doorway and looking concerned.

Harry shook his head, trying to catch his breath and still breaking out into occasional snickers.

"What did the Weasley twins do, and are they dead?" Severus asked tiredly from behind Lily, and they could hear Barty snorting from the dining room.

"Oh dear," Lily whispered.

It was only because Harry could play off his immediate knowledge of events on having the dead keep him updated in preparation for the prank they'd all known would happen, that he was willing to tell them, "They bribed the house-elves to switch out the food with some of their creations. The dark lord cast a spell on them that turns them into ghosts for twelve hours or so."

Severus rubbed at his eyes while Lily choked out a laugh. "At least he didn't kill them permanently," he muttered before turning to return to the dining room.

Harry waited until his mum had followed Severus before looking back down at his paper. Both of his brothers had been trying to get his attention, Will in progressively larger letters, and he shook his head at them even as he wrote back, 'It's not permanent. Sorry, Mum and Secret came to see why I was laughing.'

'Your boyfriend is MEAN,' Will informed him, his writing far more normal-sized.

'I dunno. Fred and George can now boast that they're the only people Voldemort only half-killed.'

'FAILED to kill,' Will returned.

'If they actually go around claiming that,' Harry wrote back, frowning, 'he'll fix it.'

Will was quiet for a long moment before agreeing, 'Half-killed is good. I'll pass that on when they're themselves again.'

'Have they stopped panicking, yet?' Harry couldn't help but ask.

'Yeah. Everyone else, however...'

Yeah, Harry still sort of wished he was there.

-0-

Tom had been, unsurprisingly, quite proud of his little prank, when Harry visited him on Friday. He did make a comment on how quickly Harry's brothers had calmed down, but Harry just smiled and changed the subject.

Sunday late afternoon/early evening, Harry set about changing into his dress robes, a dark blue affair with bronze edging. Lily had originally been set on green for Harry, but he'd insisted that, since he didn't have any house pride to get in the way and he was going with a Ravenclaw, he wanted his robes to reflect that, though he'd been set on a darker colour than Hermione's cornflower blue robes, and Madam Malkin had found a colour that she insisted would work well with Hermione's robes.

Looking into the bathroom mirror after he'd changed and managed to mostly tame his hair, Harry decided he liked the robes, and he was particularly fond of the way the bronze edging stood out against the darker shade of blue, which he knew wasn't quite the case with Hermione's robes.

"They look wonderful," Lily told him when he came downstairs.

"I dunno about the hair, though, pup," Sirius helpfully offered from where he was sitting on the couch.

Harry pointed a threatening finger at the man. "Touch my hair and you probably won't live long enough to regret it."

"Stop threatening your uncle," Lily ordered, and it was clear from her tone that the phrase was becoming rote, as often as Harry responded to Sirius' teasing with threats. (The frequency had seen a rather dramatic increase once he no longer had to censor himself around Hermione.)

Lily casually conjured a yellow rose and held it out to Harry. "Give that to Hermione."

Harry grinned at her. "Sure thing," he agreed, and stepped through the doorway that opened for him into the Realm of Death.

Officially, he was flooing to Severus' office. However, given the dirty nature of floo travel, the fact that Harry couldn't – technically – cast cleaning charms on himself, and Severus' own need to be on hand in the great hall when Harry was due to arrive, it had been decided that Harry would travel by his own means to the headmaster's empty office. How Lily had explained this plan to James, Harry had no idea, but he was quite happy to leave managing his father and Severus' rivalry in his mother's hands.

Before he stepped back into the mortal realm, Harry checked with one of the spirits watching Hogwarts as to where Hermione was, as well as ensuring Severus' office was empty. Hermione was still getting ready in Ravenclaw Tower, so Harry headed in that direction once he'd entered the office. He took up a casual position at the bottom of the stairs up to the Ravenclaw common room and tried not to smirk when exiting students cast him uncertain looks.

Hermione showed up after about ten minutes, looking slightly rushed and uncertain. She slowed down when she saw Harry, a smile breaking out across her face, however. "Harry!"

Harry chuckled and caught her in a hug when she ran up to him. "Hey, Hermione." He pulled back and set the rose – which he'd used a bit of magic to turn into a crown of white primroses with three yellow roses woven in – on her head, using his greater height and a silent sticking charm to ensure it was settled securely around the rather fancy up-do she'd fixed it into. "There. Now you look perfect."

"What did you just put on my head?" Hermione complained, reaching up and very gently feeling along the crown. "Flowers?"

"Flower crown," Harry agreed. "Mum's fault, take it up with her. Or don't, actually; I don't want to be lectured on the proper way to give a girl flowers."

Hermione laughed. "Thank you," she offered.

"You're welcome," Harry said, entirely honest, and offered her his arm.

As they started down the stairs, Hermione asked, "I don't suppose you know why Will looked upset when I said I'd invited you to the ball?"

Harry frowned for a moment before the reason occurred to him and he groaned. "William," he said drily, and Hermione giggled at his use of his brother's full name, "has come to the conclusion that we are lacking a Hufflepuff in the family, and since Cedric Diggory is the Hogwarts champion, he's the best choice for the spot. So someone needs to be dating him."

"And the Yule Ball would have been the perfect chance," Hermione finished for him, shaking her head. "Isn't Sirius' cousin a Hufflepuff?"

"Pretty sure he's not counting Tonks because she's not a Potter."

Hermione's steps stuttered and Harry slowed down to keep pace with her. "I'm not a Potter," she pointed out.

Harry gently squeezed her arm and offered her a smile. "Course you are. Fostered, and keeping your dad's family name and all, but you're still a Potter where it counts." He carefully reached around and tapped her robe over her heart. "Right?"

Hermione hugged his arm. "You are going to stop being sappy right now, Harry Potter, or there will be hell to pay when my makeup starts to run."

Harry chuckled. "Yes, ma'am."

Harry couldn't help but notice that the armour wasn't singing Christmas carols in this reality, but the decorations in the halls were comparable to the attempts made during this same event in his original reality, with sparkling garlands draped over each of the portraits and the bannisters of the main stairs illusioned to look like they were covered in a light powder of snow, icicles hanging between the railing supports.

"What do you think of the castle?" Hermione asked, clearly having noticed him looking.

"She's gorgeous," Harry admitted, because Hogwarts would always have a special place in his heart, and he couldn't help but love it when she was dressed to impress.

Hermione looked smug. "Bet you've never seen the castle looking so amazing."

Harry laughed and squeezed her arm. "You may be right," he allowed, because it was hard to pick which reality he found more impressive.

"Oh, come on," Hermione complained.

Harry shook his head and smiled at her. "It is a little hard to top seeing the castle for the first time."

Hermione very clearly took a moment to consider that, then sighed and nodded. "Oh, I suppose."

"Oiy, Granger, what hole'd you pull that poor sod out of?" a voice called up to them from the bottom of the staircase.

Hermione's expression tightened. "Malfoy," she muttered.

Harry patted her arm and pitched his voice to carry to Draco Malfoy as he offered, "Don't mind him, Hermione, he's just jealous that he'll never look even half so gorgeous as you manage on a bad day, never mind right now." And then he turned a sharp-toothed smile on Malfoy.

Malfoy and his date, Pansy Parkinson, both blanched.

"Harry," Hermione hissed, trying to sound disapproving and failing.

"Is there a problem here?" Severus asked, as he stepped up behind the two Slytherins.

Completely opposite from how it had been in Harry's first reality, Malfoy shrank under Severus' glare and quickly shook his head. "Just going into the great hall, Headmaster," he insisted before tugging Parkinson's arm and making good on his escape.

Harry snorted and flashed Severus a wholly-human grin. "Hi, Severus. Thanks for letting me come."

Severus pinned him with a flat look. "What's my rule?"

Harry sighed. "No biting or clawing people, I know. I wasn't going to do anything."

Severus snorted. "Do try to refrain from terrifying my students, if at all possible."

"Leave that particular bad habit to the dark lord?" Harry suggested.

Severus shook his head and stepped back into the crowd of milling students.

Hermione let out a quiet giggle. "Did you hear what he did to Fred and George?"

Harry flashed her a grin. "Yeah. Wish I'd been there, it sounded brilliant."

"It was terrifying!" Hermione insisted, but she was smiling, clearly over the trauma. "We all thought he'd really killed them!"

"Nah, too much chance of those two sticking around to haunt him."

"Harry!" was the only warning that Harry got before someone bowled into him, which was just enough that he kept from knocking into Hermione. He looked over to find Will grinning widely at him. "Found you!"

"Hey, wretch," Harry returned fondly, before looking behind Will to where Ginny was coming down after him, her expression a mix of irritation and amusement. "Hey, Ginny. You look lovely."

"Thanks, Harry," she replied as she reached them, lightly smacking Will's shoulder as she stopped next to him. "Will said Hermione had invited you." She nodded to Hermione, who smiled in response.

"Yes. Apparently, being a squib isn't an automatic exclusion from all Hogwarts events, even if I can't actually attend classes."

Ginny laughed at that. "That's good to know." She motioned with her head towards the great hall. "Should we go find a table?"

"Absolutely!" Will agreed before dragging Ginny towards the doors.

Hermione choked out a laugh and Harry sighed. "There is way too much of Uncle Sirius in him," he complained, and Hermione laughed outright. "Come on. We'd best catch them up before they come across trouble."

"Pretty sure that's a lost cause," Hermione pointed out.

"You may be right."

Once in the great hall, they had to stop and try and spot the two younger students; a far easier task when Ginny's hair stood out in a crowd of black robes, but nearly impossible in the current sea of colour. Harry finally got smart and closed his eyes, taking a deep breath and sorting through all the scents that came back to him for the familiar one that belonged to his brother.

"Found them," he announced after a moment.

"Harry?" Hermione replied, a strange note in her voice. "Did you tell him you were coming?"

"Him who?" Harry asked, even as he followed her gaze towards the front of the room, where Voldemort was watching him with that forcibly blank expression that Harry knew meant he was shocked. "Ah. No, it never came up. I'd sort of expected Severus would let him know." He offered the dark lord an apologetic smile, then nodded towards Hermione, next to him.

Understanding flashed across Voldemort's face before it fell into the bored mask that Harry expected he adopted for every public function.

"I'm sure I'll hear about it later," Harry commented, and Hermione let out a quiet snort of amusement. "Come on, I found Will and Ginny."

Will and Ginny had found Ron, who had come with Lavender Brown, and Seamus Finnigan, who had come with Parvati Patil.

"Great," Harry muttered to Hermione, "it's a lion convention."

"Look who's talking, Gryffindor," Hermione shot back quietly.

Harry snorted. "I should have let you lot keep thinking I was in Slytherin."

"Possibly," Hermione agreed as they joined the table.

Introductions went around the table, as Harry had never met half of them, for all that Seamus was Ron's best friend.

"So," Lavender said, "you're a squib, right?"

Both of the Weasleys, Hermione, and Will all tensed, but Harry just tilted his head to one side. "Yes."

"And they let you in Hogwarts?"

"Lavender!" Ron hissed, flushing.

Harry shrugged. "It's not like there's a rule against letting squibs into Hogwarts. We can see past the anti-muggle wards, same as your lot."

"Well, yeah, but you don't have magic."

"Of course he has magic!" Hermione exploded.

Harry sighed and gently covered his best friend's mouth. "It's a common misconception that squibs don't have magic," he commented quietly as he twitched his wrist in the right way to call out his wand. "A squib is a person who has magic, but cannot access it. These wands, squib wands, are set to draw directly from a squib's magical core, even though there's no developed pathway for the magic to be drawn through. The spells I cast? Yeah, they're set ones, because the wand can only hold the memory of so many spells, but they're cast using my magic." He slipped the wand away in the following silence, eyeing Lavender's embarrassed slump coolly. "I hardly find fault with you, given you're only repeating what you've been taught, and I'm used to hearing that, but I would appreciate it if you kept any further such prejudiced comments to yourself."

"I'm sorry," Lavender whispered.

Harry hummed and was, thankfully, saved from further comment by the entrance of the champions.

The air around their table was strained as they all ordered and started in on their meals.

Finally, Ron cleared his throat and said, "So, how about those Chudley Cannons?"

"Oh, for Merlin's sake, Ron!" Ginny complained.

Harry snorted. "They're losing. Again."

"Always," Seamus added, and he and Harry shared knowing grins. "How about we talk about a winning team for once, like the Kenmare Kestrels."

"Or the Holyhead Harpies," Ginny put in.

"Or Puddlemere United," Will added, citing the team that most of their family supported.

"Harpies," Lavender seconded when Ginny, Will, and Seamus all turned to her.

"I quite like the Appleby Arrows," Parvati admitted.

"Don't bother asking Harry and Hermione," Will suggested, before anyone could look towards them. "Hermione thinks quidditch is a waste of time–"

"And dangerous!" Hermione added, though it was clear she'd only said it because it was expected of her.

"–and Harry refuses to pick a team."

"It's not that I refuse to pick a team," Harry insisted, grinning, "I just don't want to get lynched in my sleep." Because he'd heard Sirius and James ranting about his favourite team often enough to know better than to mention them. (For Sirius, he'd heard the ranting in two realities, even.)

"This should be brilliant," Ron muttered before nodding towards Harry. "Go on, then."

"Lynched," Harry insisted, and Hermione let out a disbelieving snort next to him. "Traitor."

"Should we ask your boyfriend?" Will asked, thankfully switching to Atlantean, and Hermione muffled a snort with one hand, because she understood enough of the language to mostly keep up with the brothers, though she refused to speak it, insisting that her pronunciation was the absolute worst.

"Partner," Harry corrected tiredly. "And, no, he doesn't know. We don't discuss quidditch."

"That's never not rude," Ginny pointed out, and Will mumbled an apology while Harry shrugged, unrepentant. "Come on, Harry. Play the game."

Harry sighed. "Fine. I like the Bulgarian national team."

"Traitor to your country!" Will declared, and they all broke out into laughter.

Quidditch debate got them through the rest of dinner with only a few minor arguments, which were quickly soothed over simply because Ron was the only one completely nutters about his team, which helped keep any team rivalries from turning into a complete train wreck. And, too, Hermione wasn't above interrupting them with an unnecessarily loud comment about the dangers of the sport, which derailed arguments far more effectively than anything Harry could have come up with.

When it came time to dance, Harry was the only one who led his date out onto the dancefloor, and Hermione's bright smile as he twirled her around to the music was totally worth suffering his father's tutelage.

Harry danced two songs with Hermione, then they took a break to get drinks. Hermione dragged a loudly protesting Will out for the next song, while Harry politely offered to dance with Ginny.

"Your brother's a prat," she complained once they were on the floor.

Harry looked away from where Hermione had taken the lead in dancing with Will, barely resisting the urge to laugh. "Sorry about that," he managed with only a hint of his amusement in his voice. "Too much Uncle Sirius in him."

Ginny snorted. "He's the one who asked me, you know. Looked so desperate, I went and said yes. Didn't find out until yesterday that he only cared because you were going to be here."

Harry sighed. "As if I wouldn't have popped up to Gryffindor to see him before I left. I'm sorry, Ginny."

She let out a sigh of her own and patted his shoulder. "Nah," she decided, offering up a smile, "don't worry about it. It's not your fault the prat was more interested in seeing you than he was in doing right by his date." Her smile turned distinctly mischievous. "Actually, it's kind of adorable, the way he attaches himself to–"

"You know," Harry interrupted, amused, "I sometimes forget you're related to Fred and George, and I'm really not sure how."

"It's my winning personality."

"You have one of those? How come I've never met it?"

Harry got his foot stepped on for his joke, and Ginny abandoned him to force Will to remain on the dancefloor with her for the next song, leaving Harry and Hermione to share another dance, Hermione limping slightly, but looking rather like the cat that got the cream.

"Will's been suitably chastised?" Harry guessed.

"I've put the fear of the eagle into him," Hermione agreed smugly.

"Good show."

Ron and Seamus were the only ones remaining at their table once Harry and Hermione managed to extract themselves from the crowd of dancers again, and they made the executive decision to get a cup of punch to share from the drink table, then sneak out into the garden.

"He didn't look like he was having fun," Hermione commented quietly, once they'd walked far enough from the castle that the music was a soft accompaniment, rather than a blast of sound through the opened windows and doors.

"He who?"

"Your partner."

"Ah." Harry shrugged. "I'm pretty sure he only came because it's expected; no one expects the dark lord to dance."

Hermione sighed. "I guess. It seems a pretty lonely spot, though."

"Oh, it is," a familiar voice commented from behind them.

Harry and Hermione both spun around to find the dark lord, wearing his Tom face, standing behind them, his eyes glinting with amusement in the fairy light. Harry took a quick breath to make sure, then scowled and snapped, "I hate scent-blocking charms."

Tom smirked. "Consider it payback for not warning me you were coming."

Hermione cleared her throat, clearly uncomfortable. "Should I leave you two alone?" she suggested, an attempt at humour in her voice.

Tom blinked, then pinned Harry with a flat look. "You told your mud–"

"Voldemort," Harry warned.

"–muggleborn?"

Hermione let out a noise that Harry was pretty sure was going to be a laugh before she choked it back.

"If you didn't want my whole family finding out," Harry retorted, "you shouldn't have kissed me in front of Mum; she made me tell everyone."

"Your mother is–"

"Amazing and wonderful?" Harry suggested, and Tom let out an amused snort. "I quite agree. I'll pass on your kind words."

"Spare me the indignity."

Hermione pressed her face against Harry's shoulder, muffling little sounds of amusement.

Harry wrapped an arm around her in a hug and flashed the dark lord a bright smile. "Hi. Aren't you supposed to be sitting up at the head table, looking imposing and angry, so the Weasley twins don't decide to try something?"

"I left an illusion behind," Tom admitted carelessly. "Miss Granger is quite correct in that it is a tedious position, though one I'm required to at least appear to hold, and for reasons far more grave than a couple of pranksters."

"I know," Harry admitted quietly, because it was no secret that tensions were high between Beauxbâtons and the other two schools. He reached out with his free hand, a motion that he didn't even realise he had made until Tom caught it with his own hand, their fingers lacing together in a way that was entirely too familiar and made Harry's breath catch.

Hermione leaned up and pressed a kiss to his cheek. "Thanks for coming with me, Harry," she said, a fond smile curling her mouth. "Remember to say goodbye to your brothers before you leave."

"I know. Hey!" Harry caught Hermione's arm before she could pull completely away. "Thank you for inviting me."

"Of course." She tipped him a wink and sang, "Have fun~!" as she slipped past Tom and headed back towards the school.

Tom snorted and used their joined hands to pull Harry closer. "I suppose I can forgive you for telling her."

"Arse," Harry complained good-naturedly before leaning up for a kiss, which Tom returned without a pause.

"Dance with me?" Tom requested once Harry'd eased back down to his feet.

"What, inside?" Harry asked, surprised.

Tom frowned. "Not necessarily. You can hear the music well enough out here, and–"

"I wasn't saying no," Harry interrupted, amused. "I'm sure some of your Death Eaters know what you used to look like; I wasn't sure you'd want them to see you dancing with a teenager. Especially since I'm the son of two people who are still publicly against your rule, and a squib to boot."

Tom stared into the bushes in silence for a long moment, the thumb of the hand that was still caught up with Harry's rubbing circles against his hand. "I hadn't thought of that," he admitted. "Your parents–"

"Forget about my parents already," Harry suggested drily, expecting this was about how Tom had asked them to spy on other former Order members. "They already consort with one of your people, and no one thinks that means they're any less serious about their political stance."

Tom's mouth quirked with a weak smile. "Given. You don't care if this affair gets out," he assumed.

"Not particularly," Harry admitted, frowning, "but I'm not the one who might be labelled a paedophile." Tom flinched. "Nor am I trying to keep control of an entire nation, half of which already dislike me; the last thing either of us wants, I think, is to start another war over a dance."

Tom sighed. "Always so sensible, Scythe."

Harry stared at his fingers where they were spread out against Tom's robes, over his heart. "I've been in a similar situation before," he admitted quietly, and Tom stiffened. "Not the same, age wasn't an issue, but respect was." It was part of why Lord Sol had never shown his face to any Death Eaters, why he'd always played up his persona of precocious child when out in public as Harry Potter, only ever acting himself when around his people or that Tom. "It's a...tedious position," he offered, borrowing the dark lord's earlier turn of phrase.

:Irritating,: Tom hissed under his breath.

Harry smiled up at him, feeling far too old and tired. "That, too." He reached up with the hand that had been feeling the beat of the dark lord's heart and cupped his face. "I would love to dance with you," he admitted.

Tom stared down at him for a moment, utterly still, and then his arm tightened around Harry's waist and he found himself being led around the path in a rapid dance that matched the beat of the music coming from the great hall. Harry laughed and matched the dark lord's steps.

The next song was another quick one, but the one after that was slow, and Harry and Tom curled close in the centre of the path, more swaying to the music than dancing to it. Staring up into those red eyes, warm in arms that were both familiar and not, Harry didn't ever want the moment to end, because it was so utterly perfect.

And then Tom quietly hissed, :I love you.:

Harry felt his eyes widening, even as Tom stiffened, his expression shuttering, like he very much had not meant to say that. Harry did the only thing he could think of to keep Tom from completely retreating: He leant up and kissed the man hard.

Tom held still for one long, terrible moment, and Harry almost gave up and pulled away, but then the dark lord kissed him back just as hard, a hint of desperation and fear mixed into the motion of his mouth against Harry's. Harry held firm, gently coaxed him into a calmer kiss, before pulling back enough to whisper, "Do you need me to pretend I didn't hear that?"

Tom choked out a laugh and pressed his forehead against Harry's, his eyes sliding shut. "You are far too willing to sacrifice things in the name of my insecurities," he complained, the words quiet enough that someone would have needed supernatural hearing to know what he was saying.

"I've had to suffer through muggle primary school twice; my patience is well honed," Harry returned drily.

Tom breathed out a quiet laugh. "Muggle-raised. I knew it," he whispered, victorious.

Harry rolled his eyes, resigned to the way the dark lord hunted down scraps of his past realities. "You're absolutely ridiculous. Stop trying to figure out who I was."

"Never," Tom swore, and Harry let out an overly dramatic groan. Tom chuckled quietly at him, the sound kept securely between them. "No," he decided at last, opening his eyes again to stare down at Harry's curious look. "You don't have to pretend." Mischief glinted in his eyes, then, and Harry's momentary sense of victory ran and hid. "So long as you don't expect me to pretend I didn't hear your slip."

Harry blinked. His slip? Ah, in the graveyard, he recalled and barely resisted the urge to snort. "I'm not embarrassed by the fact that I love you," he replied.

Tom wavered slightly and Harry quickly grabbed the dark lord's waist to steady him. "Voldemort?"

Tom let out a snort, his expression twisting with a wry smile. "You say that so calmly."

"I've had years to get used to it," Harry pointed out, though it had really been more like decades. "Anyway, I'm not emotionally stunted."

The hint of strain in the dark lord's expression vanished and he levelled an unimpressed stare on Harry. "Really."

Harry flashed him a smile, letting show a hint of human-shaped teeth, even as he absently waved away an insect buzzing annoyingly close to his face. "Your mum agrees with me."

"Leave my mother out of this," Tom ordered, though it was clear that he was amused. "Go back to your mudblood and brother."

Harry rolled his eyes and leant up for a quick kiss before pulling away. "I'll see you on Sunday," he offered.

Tom's expression turned a bit queer. "Stay the night?" he requested, sounding a bit like he hadn't known he was going to ask that until it had come out.

Harry blinked. "Dad is going to shit bricks." Because he'd mentioned that conversation to the dark lord and been laughed at before Tom had admitted that he wasn't willing to go that far anyway, which Harry had sort of expected, familiar with the man's morals in that regard.

"Not–" Tom coughed. "Not like that. Just–"

Harry quirked a smile that felt a bit awkward. "I'll talk to him," he promised. "Good night, Voldemort."

Tom inclined his head. "Good night, Scythe."

Harry slipped back into the castle and decided to go down to the Slytherin dorms to see Chris before trying to hunt down Hermione or Will again.

-0-

After visiting Chris – and refusing to explain how he'd got into the Slytherin common room when Chris was currently the one with the Map – Harry did return to the ball. He found Will before Hermione, and his brother grabbed his arm and dragged him across the room before he realised there was about to be trouble.

"Hey, Cedric!" Will called as they approached a familiar couple, and Harry let out a helpless groan.

Cedric Diggory and Cho Chang turned to look at them, a sort of helpless smile on the former's face, as though he knew there was nothing he could do about the interruption. "Will," he offered, perfectly cordial, while Cho's expression twisted with dislike.

Will jumped to a stop in front of Cedric, Harry helpless in his wake, and said, "So my brother got permission to attend the dance and I decided he needed to meet you–"

"How many Potters are there?" Cho muttered, quiet enough that Will wouldn't have heard over the music and sounds of students talking.

Cedric shot her a quick frown.

"There are three of us," Harry said, and he couldn't help the way his voice had gone frosty. Will shot him a confused look, while Cho stiffened. Harry stepped up to his brother's side and raised an unimpressed eyebrow at the witch. "I happen to have exceptional hearing, Miss Chang."

Cho looked away, her expression tight.

"Harry?" Will whispered, touching his arm.

Harry flashed his brother a smile and ruffled his hair, because it was clear he hadn't made an attempt to fix it like Harry had his own, then turned towards Cedric, holding out a hand. "Harry Potter. I'm sorry my brother is a pest."

"Hey!"

Cedric's frown eased into a smile that was a little more real than the one he'd greeted Will with and he took Harry's hand firmly. "Cedric Diggory. It's good to finally have a face for the wild stories Fred and George like to spin."

"You know Fred and George?" Will asked, clearly surprised.

Harry snorted. "The Diggorys live on the other side of Ottery St Catchpole," he told Will before evenly informing Cedric, "Knowing those two, about half of those stories are a gross misrepresentation of my character, and a fourth of them are outright lies."

Cedric let out a startled laugh. "I'd offer to compare notes, but..."

Harry chuckled and nodded, wrapping a hand around Will's arm. "I completely understand. Enjoy the rest of the ball. Come on, Will. Let's leave your crush–"

"He's not my crush!" Will snapped, face taking on a distinctly pink tint, as Harry led him away from the sixth and seventh years.

Harry shot his brother an amused look. "And my partner is not my boyfriend, yet you persist in mislabelling him."

"Ugh." Will let his feet drag a bit as they circled the outer edge of the dancefloor, Harry keeping an eye out for Hermione. "Fine. I'll stop calling him your boyfriend."

"I would very much appreciate that," Harry returned. "Ah, there she is," he added as he spotted his best friend. He stopped and turned to look at his brother, feeling his mouth twitch with a smile at Will's mulish expression. "Stop channelling Uncle Sirius for a lark and I won't have to resort to Slytherin tactics."

"I don't like you right now," Will muttered, tugging to free himself from Harry's hold.

Harry let him go. "Go find Ginny and dance with her one more time before she hires Fred and George to deliver some payback for you ignoring her for most of the night."

Will winced and turned to scan the dancefloor. "Crap."

"Mmhmm." Harry gently turned his brother in the direction he could smell Ginny's perfume in. "That way. I'm going to stay long enough to see Hermione to Ravenclaw at the end of the ball, if you wanted to say goodnight," he added before Will could escape.

His brother glanced back at him, conflict in his eyes. "I'll keep that in mind," he said, clearly trying to sound like he didn't care about saying goodnight to Harry.

Harry just smiled and let his brother go; it was hard not to remember Ginny's complaint about how Will had so obviously only asked her to the ball because he'd wanted to see Harry.

Hermione stepped up next to him, wrapping one hand carefully around his arm. "Saying goodbye to Will?"

"Warning him he needed to pay more attention to Ginny before she remembered she could send Fred and George after him as punishment," Harry corrected, offering her a smile. "Which, on that note, very rude of me to skip off on my date for the night." Hermione laughed and shook her head. "Want to dance?"

"Yeah," Hermione agreed and they stepped onto the dancefloor together.

"Did you have a good time with your partner?" Hermione asked during a slower song.

"Yes."

Hermione gave him an expectant look. "Details, Harry."

Harry snorted. "You're as bad as Mum. I don't kiss and tell."

"So you admit there was kissing."

Harry rolled his eyes and wondered which of the terrible things he'd done in his last life he had to blame for Hermione's curiosity. "Yes, fine, there was kissing."

"And?"

"Hermione!"

They had to stop dancing because Hermione was laughing too hard. And, as much as Harry wanted to be cross at her prying, he really couldn't help but be happy that she hadn't dropped him like a bad penny after everything.

That said, he absolutely refused to say any more about the time he'd spent with the dark lord out in the gardens. Other than the fact that they'd danced. And Tom wanted him to spend the night on his birthday, but not that way.

(Okay, so, Hermione won that round.)

.

Chapter Text

Will did hunt him down to say goodnight, as Harry had known he would. After saying his goodbyes to both Will and Hermione – and Ginny, who'd come up with Will – Harry found an empty classroom to open a doorway in, rather than walking up to Severus' office and trying to guess the password so he could pretend to use the floo.

Death was waiting for him on the other side of the doorway, bone fingers tapping out a grim tempo against the handle of its scythe.

Harry tensed. "Who needs to die?" he asked, the words sounding more tired than anything else.

"Rita Skeeter observed part of your interaction with Tom in the gardens," Death reported.

Rita Skeeter? Harry frowned, and it took a moment for him to place why that name gave birth to a twinge of concern, because she hadn't really been a concern for him since she'd published that ridiculous book about him in his original reality. "Oh," he said once he'd remembered. "Her. Bollocks."

He rubbed tiredly at his eyes, trying to figure out what to do, because he could certainly kill her, but it was hard not to remember how useful she'd been when Hermione had blackmailed her. Having a reporter in his pocket could never be a terrible thing, especially someone people had a bad habit of believing.

He frowned and glanced up at Death. "I haven't seen her name in the Prophet."

Death inclined its hood. "She mostly writes for gossip magazines; Tom's rule is not kind to those so inclined to embellish the truth on the front page."

Harry snorted. "Look, another thing he did right," he muttered, and Death rattled a laugh. "Fine, so we just unwittingly handed her some of the juiciest gossip she's heard since...I don't know when. Brilliant."

A skeletal hand cupped Harry's cheek and he leant into the touch with a sigh. "Shall I lead you to her, Master?"

Harry nodded. "She's a beetle in this reality, too?" he asked, checking.

"She is."

"Right." Harry straightened and put on his Alpha Lord face. "Let's go disarm this disaster before it explodes in our faces."

Death obediently led him through the Realm of Death and opened a doorway for him. When Harry stepped through it, he found himself standing in a studio flat, the walls and part of the ceiling wallpapered with articles from magical magazines, The Daily Prophet, and a handful of international magical periodicals. The main room was almost completely dark, save for two candles lit on the desk on the far side of the room, which Rita was leaning over, the tail end of a long quill wagging over her shoulder.

"You know," Harry started, and Rita jumped and spun around in her chair, "I should probably be angry, but I think I'm more impressed at your guts. I mean, not many people are willing to go around telling tales about Lord Voldemort." Rita flinched at the name, as Harry had expected she would, then pointed one faintly shaking hand at him. "You're the boy. The eldest Potter boy."

Harry smiled, showing too-sharp teeth.

"You're supposed to be a squib!" Rita insisted.

"Oh, I am," Harry promised, taking a slow step forward just to watch her flinch back. "I've got a squib wand and everything to prove it." He rocked forward on the balls of his feet, amused at the way she was staring at his eyes like she expected them to set her alight, or some such. "You normal wizards and witches are so funny, assuming the magic they teach at Hogwarts and such is all that exists in the world. Which really kind of sucks for you, because it means you don't actually have any wards that can keep me out of your homes." He dropped his smile and she let out a quiet noise of surprise. "It's actually a bit like how you're always getting dirt on people because they never think to ward against animagi."

"You know–"

"That you're an unregistered beetle animagus?" Harry finished for her, and Rita looked distinctly worried. "Oh, yes. More the fool me for forgetting for a bit, but given I can't, actually, cast the necessary wards, I don't suppose it matters much."

Rita swallowed and stood up, bracing one hand against the back of her chair and straightening to her full height, which was about of a height with Harry. "And what are you intending to do with that information?" she asked, her voice admirably steady.

Harry hummed, as though considering his options, before saying, "Nothing."

Rita blinked. "Nothing," she repeated, disbelieving.

Harry nodded. "Pretty much. I mean, I could blackmail you, sure, but I don't really think that holds the same weight as pointing out that, the minute that article you're writing goes to print, Voldemort is going to kill you and everyone involved in its publication." He smiled.

Rita was partway through taking a step back before she caught herself and returned to her original position, standing tall against Harry and waving a careless hand. "He can try," she said. "But I–" And then she stopped.

Harry's smile widened. "Quite easy to overlook a beetle, even when a point me spell leads you right to it, I know. But if he knows he's looking for a beetle..."

Rita's jaw clenched. "What do you want?" she ground out.

"From you?" Harry clarified, letting a hint of humour leak into his voice, and she gave a jerky nod. "Very obviously, I don't want you publishing that article about Voldemort and I." He let his tone fall flat as he continued, "He doesn't need the heat your embellishments will bring him, and I have no interest in dealing with his temper."

Rita failed to stifle an angry noise. "And I go hungry on your behalf?"

"Don't even try it," Harry returned drily. "We weren't the only people out in the gardens tonight; I'm sure you have some other bit of gossip to piss someone off with. Alternately – and, I know, this is a serious stretch for you – you could actually report on the ball like a normal person. So far as I'm aware, you're the only reporter who snuck past the dark lord's cordon, which means you have all the information on who the champions went with, what ridiculous fashion attempts France brought up with them, and, oh, right, Headmaster Snape let a squib attend. Shocking."

The noise Rita made could have been a laugh, if she wasn't clearly trying to hold on to her anger in lieu of looking as terrified as she smelt. "You want me to write drivel."

"I want you to not incite a civil war while two international schools are bunking at Hogwarts," Harry replied coldly, and she flinched. "Stop fishing for sympathy, it just makes me want to kill you to put you out of your misery."

Rita's scent changed, less fear, more true anger, and Harry didn't need Death warning, "Master," to realise that he'd pushed too hard.

"Let him kill me, then," Rita breathed, pointing a shaking finger at Harry. "I'm going to let our whole world know how that monster is corrupting–"

It was only because she would be far more use to Harry alive that he didn't kill her. Instead, he opened a doorway to the Realm of Death in his palm and cast a far more abhorrent version of the imperius curse, one that couldn't be fought off, and wouldn't deteriorate over time. Rita's mouth snapped shut, her expression changing to something more placid, but far from the blank slate that heralded the mortal curse. Harry took a long moment to rearrange her priorities and beliefs, then let the doorway close.

"You know," Harry said quietly, "if you hadn't fought me, I wouldn't have resorted to that. I have this strange respect for letting people make their own bad choices, even when they piss me off, but I'm not going to risk Tom and the world he's built." He stepped easily forward, pasting on a smile, which Rita returned. "Let's try this again, shall we?" he said as he reached her and held out his hand. "Harry Potter."

"Rita Skeeter," she replied, and they shook hands. "Was that really the dark lord I saw you with in the garden during the ball?"

"Mm. Could you destroy that article you were working on?" Harry requested.

"Of course," Rita agreed and turned to pick up the parchment and hold it over the flame of one of the candles. "I suppose he already gets far too much bad press."

"I wouldn't go that far," Harry admitted, because most people were too terrified to even say his name, never mind say something bad about him in a public forum. "But he doesn't need this information to get around. Not yet. You understand."

"I do," Rita agreed as the parchment burnt far enough that none of her scrawl had survived. She vanished what was left and turned to smile at him. "There you go."

"Thank you. Now, why don't you write something up about how unnecessarily revealing Jeanne André's robes were."

"She pulled it off," Rita insisted.

Harry snorted, because the Beauxbâtons champion had, indeed, worn the unusual robes well, and had clearly known she was drawing eyes from everyone; it was nearly as bad as Fleur and her veela ancestry. "Still, it was a bit much for a school event, if you know what I mean."

Rita smiled, her eyes sparkling with something mean. "Oh, do I ever."

"Excellent. Carry on." Then he left her for bed.

-0-

The next morning, Rita's article was front page in the Prophet, taking the star position in spite of her embellishments and mean-spirited asides simply because she was the only reporter who had anything. She had, indeed, ripped apart André for her unconventional robes, and had gone a step further in deriding the French by detailing how unflattering Madame Maxime's robes had been on her over-large frame.

Rita had also covered who had come as the champions' dates – with plenty of commentary about each match – and made mention of the fact that Severus had bowed to, in her own words, 'the pressure of his childhood rival's demands to allow his squib son to attend', meaning Harry, though she never actually said his name. (Harry sent up a silent prayer that Will and Chris knew enough to stay out of Severus' way for a couple days, in case he ended up on a warpath.)

Other than allusions to Harry's attendance, and a passing reference to Voldemort spending the ball up at the head table, they went unmentioned, which was exactly what Harry had wanted, and he couldn't dredge up even an ounce of regret for screwing with Rita's soul to ensure that outcome.

-0-

"Mum?" Harry called Thursday morning, after James had run through the floo, shouting about being late for a morning meeting.

Lily looked up from where she was packing up the last couple of projects she'd finished for work. "What is it, sweetheart?"

Harry cleared his throat and put on his best pathetic expression. "Voldemort asked if I could stay overnight for his birthday. Sleepover, like, not–"

Lily's lips twitched and she looked back down at her bag. "You want me to talk your father into letting you spend the night," she guessed, laughter in her voice.

"Erm, yes. Please?" Because using his mother was the best option Harry had come up with to be allowed to stay over.

"I'll see what I can do," Lily promised before she closed her bag and picked it up. "Be prepared to promise your right arm in exchange anyway."

Harry made a face. "And you complain about my morality. Go to work."

Lily laughed as she stepped around the table to press a quick kiss to his cheek. "Don't get any blood on the carpet," she warned, like she'd started doing every morning of the holiday when she left for work, for some reason that Harry wasn't interested in asking about.

"Ha-ha," Harry returned, rolling his eyes.

Once she'd left, Harry sighed and got up to get changed and debate how best to spend his day; one of the biggest drawbacks of most of the people who usually distracted him during the holidays staying over at Hogwarts, was that his days became markedly boring.

"Well," he said to himself, "there's always the British Library."

-0-

Harry had to swear he wasn't going to do anything sexual with Voldemort about a half-dozen times, but James did finally agree to let him spend the night over with the dark lord.

"But I expect you back in time for counting over to midnight," he added during dinner Saturday night, "or I will send Uncle Sirius after you."

"Spare me," Harry complained, because Sirius had been quite obnoxious about how much he hated that he couldn't celebrate shouting in the new year with the whole family; if Harry tried skipping out, he'd never hear the end of it, as much as he wished he could avoid being the sole recipient of one of Sirius' sloppy kisses on the cheek. (Even Will whined about them, they were that bad.) "I'll be back by dinner, at the latest."

"Good," James decided and, thankfully, the subject was dropped.

Harry stayed with his parents until eleven, then said his goodbyes, changed into something he could sleep in, collected the dark lord's present, and stepped into the Realm of Death to head for Voldemort's rooms. He stopped briefly to exchange greetings with Merope, then poked his head through a doorway. "Voldemort?"

"Come in, Scythe," the dark lord called back, and when Harry stepped though, he found the man sitting at his desk with that fond smile that was becoming disturbingly familiar.

"Hi," Harry offered, hugging the box he was carrying close to his chest. "So, I got permission to stay until dinner tomorrow."

Tom let out an amused snort. "I'm impressed."

Harry snorted himself and stepped up to the desk. "Don't be; I cheated and got Mum to ask for me."

Tom chuckled at that and reached up towards Harry. He leant over for a brief kiss, then glanced at the paperwork spread out across the man's desk, recognising the distracted edge to the kiss.

"I'll let you finish your paperwork," Harry promised, stepping away.

Tom's smile turned wry. "I'd intended to have everything finished before you showed up, but things came up."

Harry frowned as he took his usual seat near the desk. "Anything you need my help with?" he offered.

Tom shook his head. "It's handled."

Harry shrugged and didn't bother pressing; if it was important, he'd hear about it in The Daily Prophet or from Death.

The dark lord finished about an hour later, spelling everything to vanish off to wherever it needed to go. He stood and held a hand out to Harry, who held out the present he'd brought. Tom's mouth quirked and he took the box, set it on his desk, then caught Harry's hand before he could retract it and used it to pull him to his feet. "I'm sure that's something ridiculously rare, but it can wait until morning," he said as he pulled Harry close and wrapped his arms around him.

"Are you trying to romance me?" Harry asked, amused, as he caught his own arms behind Tom's neck, staring up that short distance between them.

"Have I need to?" Tom asked, his eyes glinting with humour.

"Not particularly," Harry admitted, and got a kiss for his answer.

When Tom pulled back from the kiss, he had a vaguely uncertain air to him. "Sleep with me?" he asked, and Harry couldn't stop one eyebrow from raising. "Not–!"

"I know," Harry interrupted, somehow managing not to laugh, though he couldn't help the wide smile that was making his cheeks ache. "I'd be happy to sleep with you." He couldn't resist adding, "Innocently or otherwise."

Tom closed his eyes. "Scythe," he complained.

"Teenaged body, can't help it," Harry said by way of apology.

Tom huffed and pressed a quick kiss to his mouth before letting go of Harry. "I need to change."

"Yeah, okay." Harry watched after the dark lord for a moment as he went over to the wardrobe for clothing, then shook himself and climbed into the bed. He already knew which side Tom preferred, having snuck in while the man was sleeping enough times, so he settled in on the other side. His wand and the auror-issue holster James had given him went on the short table covered in books next to that side of the bed.

Tom climbed into the other side shortly after, an air of awkwardness surrounding him, though he had his game face on. His eyes slid past Harry, landing on the holster, as he slid under the covers, and his mouth quirked. "I expected that, somehow."

"Yeah, sorry. Danger of having a father who's an auror and not particularly good at following regulations," Harry replied, amused, because he knew James wasn't supposed to take those things home for his sons as 'you've got a wand, now!' gifts. Which, well, Sirius would have done so if James hadn't, and Harry and Ron, in his original reality, had had the bad habit of filching holsters for their family and friends, much to Kingsley's amusement, so he really couldn't talk.

Tom snorted and waved a careless hand. "They're simple enough to charm, you can always brush it off as one of your mother's creations."

"Are you complimenting my mum?"

Tom motioned wandlessly and the magical lights in the room flickered off. "No," he said, his tone unimpressed. "I said it was simple, didn't I?"

Harry laughed, because the auror-issue holsters most certainly were not 'simple' charm work, though he was fairly certain they were within his mother's skills.

Harry waited until Tom had settled under the covers, then slid close enough to touch, but but didn’t actually do so. Tom stiffened, and Harry rolled his eyes and idly warned, "If you curse me in your sleep, I'll retaliate."

Tom snorted and one of his arms snaked out and caught Harry around the waist, drawing him against the dark lord's side. "I'll keep that in mind," he replied, tone dry.

Harry rested his head on Tom's chest, listening to his heart's rapid thudding. After a moment, Tom finally started to relax and his heart slowed down to a more normal rhythm. Harry smiled to himself and closed his eyes to sleep.

-0-

Harry woke feeling pleasantly warm, one of Tom's arms wrapped tight around him, as though determined to keep him close. They'd both shifted some overnight, but they'd stayed close, and Harry didn't fight a sleepy smile, because he knew that had been completely Tom's fault; if Tom didn't cling to him, Harry always ended up on the far side of the bed, away from the heat-soak that was his lo–

It hit Harry like a brick wall to the face, then, that this wasn't that Tom. This Tom was alive and had his own warmth, didn't need to steal all of Harry's in the night. It wasn't that Tom, but it was still his Tom, holding tight to Harry all night, wanting him close.

Harry pressed his eyes closed and took a deep breath that shuddered through him, filling him with the scent of Tom, of life. And, dear Merlin, this was everything he'd lost once, everything he'd given up because he hadn't been able– He'd–

"Scythe?" Tom murmured, voice thick with sleep.

And he really needed to get a hold of himself; the last thing either of them needed was for Harry to fall apart because of old memories. "Sorry," he got out, his voice admirably steady. "Need the loo."

"Right," Tom said, sounding more awake, and he quickly let go of Harry.

Harry ran for the bathroom, keeping his face averted so Tom wouldn't realise something was actually wrong. Once he had the bathroom door shut behind him, he leant back against it and closed his eyes, forcing himself to calm down because, dear Merlin, he was not a bloody emotional schoolgirl who broke out in tears every time they remembered their last relationship!

Harry reached up to touch his cheeks and, yeah, okay, so he was an emotional schoolgirl. Boy, whatever. Sue him.

"Scythe?" Tom called while Harry used his sleeve to wipe off his cheeks. "What's wrong?"

Harry blinked, momentarily thrown, because how the hell had Tom realised that he was freaking out? He'd been sure the loo ploy would–

Harry looked at the toilet and sighed. Right, the bathroom had excellent acoustics, and while Harry could keep his emotional roller coaster silent, he couldn't do that and relieve his bladder. Lack of sound meant he'd retreated for a reason other than that, and this Tom cared enough about their relationship that, knowing him, he'd devoured a couple psychology books so he wasn't caught completely flat-footed when Harry didn't hide the fact that he had emotions.

A hand landed lightly on the other side of the bathroom door. "Scythe," Tom repeated.

Harry sighed again and tried to figure out the best way to explain himself without going off-script in terms of what he'd told Tom about his last life, because he suspected he wouldn't be able to just brush this off, not if Tom was pushing this much. "I–" His voice cracked and he winced and cleared his throat. "The last time I shared a bed with someone who wasn't my brothers, was my lover. Before. And he...died, in the morning." A little backwards, because Harry had been the one to actually die, but it would suffice.

Tom was very noticeably silent, and Harry guessed he wasn't sure how to respond to that.

He took a deep breath and pushed off from the door. "It was a long time ago," he offered, going for careless and only sort of managing. "Forget about it." And then he set about doing what he'd implied he'd got up for in the first place.

When he stepped out of the bathroom, Tom was standing against the wall next to the door. He gave Harry one glance-over with sharp eyes, then grunted and stepped into the bathroom once Harry was out of the way.

Harry just sort of shook his head at the man, in turns amused and bemused by the differences between the Tom of his last reality and this one.

Tom exited the bathroom at about the same time as a house-elf appeared with a tray of food. "Good morning, Masters," she offered as she set the tray on a clear patch on Tom's desk, and Harry blinked at being included in the honorific.

"Bangles," Tom replied evenly, and she vanished.

The tray had enough food for both of them, and Harry pulled over his usual chair.

"I don't suppose," Tom said absently as he focussed on spreading jam on a slice of toast, "that you brought anything to change into."

Harry glanced down at the trousers and shirt he'd slept in. "No," he admitted, "but it's a short walk back home, if I need to grab something."

Tom's expression twisted oddly and he glanced up at Harry. "A 'short walk'," he repeated, disbelievingly.

Harry covered a grin and nodded.

"Scythe, the manor is nearly three hundred miles from your home."

Harry coughed to hide a laugh and nodded. "I know. But the Realm of Death doesn't have the same dimensions as the mortal realm." He snorted. "It's probably about the same distance from here to my house, as it is from here to the middle of Russia."

Tom's eyes crossed. "What? How is that even remotely–?"

"Oh," Harry added, not bothering to hide his amusement any more, "and those four days I spent in the Realm of Death? It actually only felt like a day. Maybe."

Tom blinked, shook his head, then turned too-sharp eyes on Harry. "It was only a day, for you," he clarified, tone suspicious.

Harry blinked, trying to figure out what had caught the dark lord's attention. "Yes? I mean, I slept a bit, so it might have been closer to two days, I don't know."

Tom narrowed his eyes. "Explain why you looked like you'd been in there for a week."

Ah. "Because it's the Realm of Death and things die really quickly in there?" Harry suggested.

"You said you can protect against that," Tom reminded him.

Harry stared at the dark lord for a long moment, caught, then sighed and leant back in his chair. "It was Death's idea," he admitted. "I come out looking like crap, it garners sympathy, which means I don't get jumped first thing." He shrugged under Tom's unimpressed stare. "That said, it wasn't just for show, there were physical symptoms, and I hadn't eaten in at least twenty-four hours, so thank you for the soup."

Tom shook his head, his mouth twisted down with a scowl. "So, a day in the Realm of Death, approximately, is equal to about four days in this realm?"

"No. You're thinking about this too linearly which, really, I get, but you need to stop. Because Death doesn't care about time or distance, those are mortal concepts, so the Realm of Death doesn't hold to the physics that you expect in this realm. It takes five minutes to get from London to the middle of nowhere in Alaska, but almost twenty minutes to go from London to Oxford. And ten minutes in the Realm of Death could be ten minutes in the mortal realm, or it could be two minutes, or it could be a whole hour. It doesn't make sense."

And then he looked up at the dark lord and started laughing, because he looked like he wasn't sure if he wanted to stab something or cry. "Tell me about it," he offered once he'd caught his breath.

Tom covered his eyes with one hand. "So," he said, his tone suggesting he was changing the subject, "you didn't bring clothing, but it won't take you long to get some. I'll accept that."

Harry snorted and ducked his head when the dark lord opened his eyes, expression flat. "Did you have something particular in mind? Most of my clothing is muggle, given I spend most of my time around them."

"Muggle is perfect," Tom announced.

Harry glanced up at him, raising one eyebrow. "Oh? Are we celebrating your birthday with a killing spree?"

"Tempting," Tom admitted, and they shared a smile, Harry's a little more toothy than the dark lord's. "But, no. Lunch."

Harry blinked. "Lunch in the muggle world?" he guessed.

Tom narrowed his eyes. "Problem?"

Harry shook his head. "Nope. Just...not what I'd have expected."

The dark lord took a moment to consider that, then let out a snort. "Good to know it's possible to surprise you."

"You do realise I'm not actually omniscient, right?"

"Obviously."

"Just checking."

A comfortable silence fell between them, both focussing on their breakfasts.

When the dark lord was done eating and Harry was nursing his tea, he leant forward and caught the box he'd brought before holding it out to Tom. "Go on."

"How rare is this one, then?" Tom wondered as he carefully opened the box.

"One of a kind," Harry admitted as the collections of paper grouped together by a rough, string-based binding were revealed.

Tom shot him a quick appreciative glance as he picked up the top collection and carefully flipped through the pages, which Harry'd had to magically repair, with some half-hearted assistance from the one who'd created them. "Ernest Hemingway?" he murmured when he reached the author's signature, and quickly glanced over the first page again. "I don't recognise this," he realised, looking back at Harry.

Harry nodded, finally setting aside his empty cup. "He lost a number of short stories and the start of a novel during his travels at one point. I managed to track them down." He smiled as the dark lord looked back down at the collection of writings with the expression that said he'd found a real treasure. "The novel is only so-so, I think, but there are some gems in the short stories."

Tom huffed and eyed him with amusement. "Sampling, were we?"

Harry shrugged. "They didn't survive in one piece," he admitted. "I had to have Hemingway fill in the missing bits, and I read them in the process, yeah."

Tom carefully set the short story he was holding back in the box and set it on his desk, then he caught Harry's hand and used it to draw him out of his chair and – unexpectedly – into the dark lord's lap.

"Really?" Harry complained, trying not to show that he was embarrassed.

Tom cupped his cheek with one hand, the other serving as a steadying touch against Harry's hip. "Thank you," he murmured and leant in for a kiss.

Harry gave in and let himself melt against the dark lord, because he was so ridiculously weak when it came to Tom's gratitude and shows of affection. (Damn the man, anyway.)

When the kiss ended and Tom didn't immediately let him go, Harry rested his head on the man's shoulder and closed his eyes, perfectly content to cuddle. (And he was trying not to be too shocked at the idea of Tom being willing to cuddle. Harry was long resigned to being the more tactile one, as getting the Tom of his last reality to take part in any physical contact that didn't directly result in sex had been akin to pulling teeth the muggle way.)

And then, seemingly out of nowhere, Tom asked, "Did you attend Hogwarts?"

Harry blinked, momentarily thrown, before he pulled back to give the dark lord an unimpressed stare.

Tom just raised an eyebrow at him.

Harry huffed and shook his head a bit disbelievingly, even though he really should have expected Tom would eventually use his birthday as leverage to get some of his past out of him. "You get three answers, and I reserve the right to refuse to answer a question," he decided, and Tom's mouth curled into a smirk, victory gleaming in red eyes. "Yes, I attended Hogwarts."

Tom watched him for a moment, and Harry couldn't quite figure out if he was waiting to see if Harry would give him more – he had no intention in giving freebies – or trying to decide what to ask next. Eventually, though, his expression darkened a little and he said, "You said your lycanthropy is from your former life."

Harry nodded. "Yes."

Tom looked a little...uncertain how to continue, like maybe he wasn't quite certain how to word his question or, maybe, he wasn't certain if he even wanted to ask it.

Honestly, Harry was a little surprised that no one had ever asked how he'd been cursed – at least, no one in this reality; it had come up a couple of times during his last reality – and it was long enough ago that he didn't feel the same need to shy away from that story as he had the last time a Tom had asked him, so he explained, "I killed off a werewolf pack to protect someone and, as revenge, a couple of werewolves drew me out with the help of a wendigo." He paused for a moment to see if Tom knew what that was, but he didn't react to the word. "Wendigos are former humans possessed by a malevolent spirit after consuming human flesh."

Tom grimaced. "Lovely."

Harry snorted. "Quite." He shook his head, refocussing his thoughts on that terrible night. "It wasn't quite the moon, so while the werewolves wanted to turn me as recompense..." He shrugged, smiling a bit at the angry hiss Tom let out and the way his arms tightened around Harry's waist. "The wendigo's solution was to kill one of them and make me eat her."

Tom flinched, his expression twisting with horror and rage.

Harry leant forward and pressed their foreheads together. "They're all very, very dead," he promised.

"Of course they are," Tom hissed, voice dripping with venom.

Harry had a feeling Tom was assuming he had killed them, and since explaining Death's intervention would have stepped a little too close to defining the truth of his and his eternal servant's relationship, he didn't bother correcting him. Instead, he lightly scratched his fingers through the shorter hairs at the back of Tom's head, waiting quietly for the man to calm down.

"You have one more question," he offered once he figured Tom was calm enough to not bite his head off for speaking.

There was still anger in the lines of his face, but the glint in his eyes, when he caught Harry's gaze, was more speculative. "Did we know each other?"

Harry couldn't quite help the way his breath caught – leave it to his way too clever partner to ask such a complicated question – and it was an honest struggle to keep his voice level as he said, "I'm not answering that." Which, really, his reaction was probably answer enough.

Damn Tom, anyway.

Tom's mouth curled with a smirk, even as hints of anger remained in the lines at the corners of his eyes. "Ah, no, you gave that one away a long time ago, Scythe."

Harry scowled and crossed his arms over his chest, trying to imagine when that would have been. "I have no idea what you're talking about."

Tom let out a low, warm chuckle, the sound settling comfortably around Harry, despite his rather uncertain irritation at the man. "Of course not," he agreed, and Harry couldn't quite bite back an irritated huff, which just made Tom's eyes brighten. "Perhaps it's time for you to escape to change?" he suggested, very clearly amused.

Harry took a moment to seriously consider opening a doorway in Tom's lap, but decided he wasn't quite that irritated. "Perhaps," he muttered, and slid out of Tom's lap before motioning a doorway open. "Ten minutes," he promised, then stepped through into the Realm of Death.

Merope was standing a couple of steps away, amusement lighting her whole face, and Harry felt his irritation drain away at the sight of her.

"Your son," he complained, mostly because it was expected.

Merope laughed and shook her head.

Harry left her to her amusement, making his way home to change. Judging by the sleepy silence of the house, his parents had decided to use the rare empty house as an excuse to sleep in, and it didn't take much effort for Harry to quietly change into daytime clothing and sneak down to grab his muggle coat and trainers.

When he returned to the access to Tom's room, Merope promised, "He's decent."

Harry eyed her a bit suspiciously for a moment, but he had warned Tom it wouldn't take long, so hopefully he'd either changed quick, or had retreated to the bathroom. He opened a doorway and poked his head through and, upon seeing Tom putting his gift away, fully dressed in his usual not-quite-modern muggle suit, he let out a breath of relief and stepped through, ignoring Merope's quiet giggle as he did.

"You know," he said as the doorway closed behind him, "you could update your fashion."

Tom raised an eyebrow at him. "You cannot possibly be imagining me in denim or those gaudy patterned shirts the muggles are so fond of."

Harry coughed because, really, he was more imagining him in short-shorts and a t-shirt, like he'd once seen the Tom in his last reality dressed, but no way he was going to be mentioning that. Ever. "Not quite that eye-catching," he insisted. "Just...something not a suit." He waved a hand at the dark lord. "And not from, what, the forties?"

And then Harry realised exactly what he'd just said and covered his face in shame, because he'd sounded so much like Tom's locket had in his last reality, when he'd made the terrible life choice of hiding it in his wardrobe and had had to suffer its critique of his choices in clothing. "Please ignore me," he managed to say without sounding too miserable. He hoped.

Hands gently removed his hand from his face and Harry peeked up at Tom, only to find him wearing something of a resigned smile. "I probably deserved that," he admitted.

Harry blinked, confused for a moment, before it occurred to him that the locket had a part of Tom's soul, which meant that Tom had probably once...

"I used to care about dressing fashionably," Tom admitted with a helpless quirk of his lips. "Wizarding, really, but I travelled in the muggle world often enough to feel the need to keep up with those fashions, too."

Harry assumed that would have been while he was employed at Borgin and Burke's, when being impeccably dressed would have almost certainly helped him charm many of his clients out of their rare magical pieces. "So, you're saying," he offered with a smile, "that I'm karma embodied?"

Tom stared at him for a moment before sighing. "You dislike portkeys, correct?"

Harry huffed and nodded. "I'm not particularly fond of national portkeys, but I can take them. International portkeys are the ones that leave me sick and woozy without a settling potion."

Tom hummed an acknowledgement. "What about side-along?"

Harry shot him a considering look, because it was sounding suspiciously like the dark lord was intending to take them outside of the Isles. "I've never side-alonged further than a couple hundred miles, but I didn't have any trouble with it."

Tom nodded and then, apparently reading Harry's curiosity, asked, "Are you familiar with the German city of Freiburg im Breisgau?"

Harry frowned and tried to remember if he'd ever visited any cities by that name. Upon coming up blank, he shook his head. "No, but I never spent much time in any German cities, other than Dresden and Stuttgart," he admitted; those were the two cities he and Sirius had set up wayhouses for werefolk in, in his last reality. Other than visiting wayhouses in larger cities, honestly, most of his time on the continent had been spent in far more rural areas, especially near dense woods or large bodies of water, where werefolk could roam freely and those non-humans who couldn't pass for human lived.

"Ah. Freiburg is south-west of Stuttgart, on the other side of the Black Forest."

The Black Forest, Harry was familiar with, having been required to step in between the local werelynx pride and werewolf pack, who had been in the habit of getting into a territory dispute every eight moons or so. (That was one issue he'd been quite happy to hand off to the vampire who had become the German Minister for Magic. She, unlike far too many other new leaders, had made a point of making certain her community didn't pester Harry with their disputes right from the start.)

"Well," he offered with his arm, "I'm always up for visiting new places."

Tom's smile was brief, but no less fond, and then he was taking Harry's offered arm and apparating them away.

-0-

Over lunch at a rather nice restaurant that Tom had a reservation at, the dark lord shot him a considering look and said, "You mentioned, over the summer, that you intend to look into work in the magical community."

Harry nodded and politely covered his mouth to indicate he needed to swallow his mouthful and then doing so, before agreeing, "Yeah. I'm afraid I don't have much of a head for politics, assuming I could even find a position, given what I am, so probably potions. Though, Dad keeps trying to talk me into joining his favourite quidditch team."

Tom grimaced at that, but allowed, "Quidditch is certainly within your skills, and, prejudices notwithstanding, your strength would serve you well with those bats."

Harry coughed and ducked his head to hide a grin. "Yeah. Feels a bit like cheating, though. Same with seeker, since my senses are so much better than a human's. But I could do chaser or keeper fine, I think; used to get stuck as keeper a lot, back when I wasn't talking."

Tom eyed him for a moment as he ate a mouthful. Once he'd swallowed, he said, "You sound like you're actually considering it."

Harry blinked a few times, admittedly a little surprised. Because, yeah, he'd put some thought into the possibility of joining a quidditch team and using potions as his fall-back; he knew himself well enough to know he'd get tired of just making potions or keeping a shop in the alleys, but he really didn't want to get into politics, and there weren't a lot of options for someone who was a werewolf and a squib; it was the reason most wereborns and muggle werefolk ended up living in the muggle world. James had been joking the first time he'd mentioned quidditch, but a part of Harry had latched onto it, remembering how much he'd loved the sport during his first reality, before war had put a quick end to his childhood.

He cleared his throat, aware he'd been quiet for a beat too long. "Like you said, it's something I can do, assuming I can find a team willing to accept me, and potion-making will always be there when I can't play any more. And–" he offered Tom a quick, knowing smile "–I was on my house team at Hogwarts. I miss it, a little."

The gleam of Tom's eyes said he absolutely appreciated getting yet another kernel of Harry's past – he wondered, a bit, how much longer he'd be able to hold out before he gave in and just told Tom everything – but all he said in response was, "As much as you don't want to play in politics, it may serve as your way onto a team."

Harry frowned at that. "What, by throwing around your name? I'd rather not use our relationship that way, if I can avoid it."

Tom's expression eased into something almost soft. "Given my general ambivalence towards the sport, I don't know that my name would get you much, in all honesty. No, I was thinking more making it about them hiring a squib. Given neither of your parents are werewolves, you can hide that–"

"No," Harry interrupted, shaking his head. When Tom frowned at him, he held up a finger in a request to let him explain. "I don't particularly care to hide that part of who I am, especially since the first time I lose my temper, everyone will know."

Tom grimaced. "And it's not like you can keep up a glamour to hide that," he allowed.

Well, Harry could, but he still wasn't intending to share that, so... "Exactly. It's not worth getting thrown off the team for lying. I'd rather be straight with them about being wereborn, but..." He sighed and shook his head. "You're right, I can use that if I get turned down enough times. Find the right reporter and spin them a sob story about the auror's son who's being refused a position because he's not human..." He shrugged.

Tom sneered. "Good luck finding a reporter who won't turn it into a hate piece on werewolves."

Harry shrugged. "I have blackmail on Rita Skeeter," he admitted.

Tom sort of froze for a moment, then pinned Harry with a heavy stare. "The woman who somehow got information about the Yule Ball, despite my spells to keep the press out?"

"Ah." Harry took a sip of his water, then offered, "She's an animagus?"

Tom closed his eyes and, were he anyone else or they weren't in public, Harry was fairly certain he'd have slumped. "I should have thought of that. Something flying, I expect?"

"Mmm. A beetle."

Tom's expression tightened, and Harry suspected he was trying to sort out a spell to keep insects out of the rest of the TriWizard Tournament events.

He debated for a moment, before admitting, "I may have used death magic to change her priorities around a little bit; she shouldn't be a problem in future."

Tom raised an eyebrow at him, a glimmer of what might have been respect in his eyes. "Only 'may have', Scythe?" he said drily.

Harry felt tension draining out of his shoulders and couldn't quite keep from grimacing at that. "I'm potentially too used to admitting my misdoings to people with a different moral compass than us," he explained when Tom's other eyebrow went up in a clear question.

"Ah." Tom nodded and returned his attention to his food. "Yes, moral compasses are tedious things."

Harry snorted, amused and maybe a little approving. Given, he knew his morals didn't quite line up with Tom's, but they were far closer in a lot of ways than he was to his parents. It was...freeing, in a way, and probably a part of why he loved Tom as much as he did, because he didn't have to hide with him. He could be morally corrupt and broken, and Tom wouldn't try to fix him or punish him for it.

He shook those thoughts away, turning his mind back to the previous topic. "Well, assuming I do somehow worm my way onto a team, how many people would I have to kill to get you to come to one of my games?"

Tom let out a startled laugh, his eyes bright with delight, and Harry was pretty sure he wasn't the only one who appreciated spending time with someone who had a similarly skewed moral compass. "I suppose I can survive one game without you needing to suffer being grounded again," he offered.

Harry made a face at him, and Tom's responding smirk was utterly gorgeous.

-0-

They spent the day touring Freiburg, and Tom did eventually let Harry talk him into getting some modern muggle clothing. Although, he did make a point to say, "You do realise that visiting your family is the only time I'll wear this."

Harry had rolled his eyes. "So I'm dressing you up to impress my parents." Tom had let out a loud snort, his eyes dancing, and Harry had flashed him a slightly toothy smile, before shaking his head and motioning at the shop around them. "Anyway, that's clearly not the only time you'd wear them."

Tom had shaken his own head, but hadn't argued any further. In return, Harry didn't try to get him into any short-shorts, though he'd been a little tempted.

Eventually, though, Harry had noticed the time and said, "It's almost the time I promised to be home."

Tom sighed and motioned for them to take the next turn, which looked to lead into a dark alley where they could safely vanish without any muggles noticing. "Should I walk you home?" he suggested, and it was only because Harry knew him as well as he did that he knew that had been meant as a joke.

He rolled his eyes. "Probably easier for me to just make my own way home. Save you from the third degree."

Tom snorted. "Save me?"

"Save myself from the fall out," Harry corrected, and Tom let out a low chuckle. He stepped forward and pivoted into Tom, grinning when the dark lord's hands curled around his arms and stopped him before they could crash. "Did you have a good birthday?"

Tom huffed, but Harry was fairly certain it was just for show. "It was acceptable," he said, and paused for a beat before leaning in for a kiss that Harry was quite happy to push up into.

"Thank you," Tom murmured after a long kiss, "for spending the day with me."

"Of course," Harry whispered, admittedly a little charmed by the dark lord actually thanking him for spending the day. He brushed another kiss against Tom's lips, then pulled away a little reluctantly. "I'll see you next weekend?" he offered.

"Of course," Tom agreed without hesitation.

Harry grinned a bit helplessly, and hurriedly opened a doorway to the Realm of Death to keep from further embarrassing himself.

The walk home was just about long enough for him to get the urge to break out into wide smiles under control, but he gave himself an extra minute to settle, since Albus wasn't there to annoy him – Harry suspected he was at Hogwarts, though he could also have been watching his brother or Grindelwald, he supposed. Then he stepped through into the entrance hall and closed his doorway behind himself before calling, "I'm home!"

"Welcome back!" replied a chorus of voices from the kitchen, and Harry raised an eyebrow at that as he kicked off his trainers and shrugged out of his coat. A quick breath told him the unexpected voices were Remus and Peter, so he wasn't surprised to find all four Marauders either helping Lily cook or setting the table.

"Wow," he couldn't resist saying, leaning against the doorway and watching the organised chaos; he was fairly certain that his mum was the only person in the whole world who could get Sirius and James to do kitchen work without breaking out into minor food fights. "So, who tried to prank you this time?" he asked Lily.

James and Sirius both snickered, while Remus sighed and Peter let out a helpless-sounding laugh. Lily, for her part, just rolled her eyes and walked over to give him a hug, which he gladly returned. "No one. Yet." She cast a hard stare over the wizards, and Harry thought it was a bit telling that none of them dared meet her eyes. Then his mum turned back to him and asked, "How was your date?"

Harry couldn't quite stop a grimace at her calling it that, but Sirius' over-the-top moan and Peter's muffled squeak made him snort in amusement. "It was fine. We had lunch and did some sightseeing in Germany."

"That makes sense, since it sounds like he's fluent in German?" Remus commented.

Harry nodded. "Yeah, and there's no chance of either of us being recognised over there."

"Just lunch and sightseeing, really?" Sirius demanded in that tone that meant he was looking for trouble. "No mass muggle slaughter? My expectations are crushed."

Harry rolled his eyes. "Please. He just knows that, if Mum finds out I took part in any muggle slaughters, I'll be grounded until summer, and then I can't sneak out to visit him."

Peter moaned while James turned and raised both eyebrows at him. "Since when have you been sneaking out?" he demanded, his eyes bright with humour.

"Since I was two," Harry deadpanned, and they all laughed.

Lily shook her head and waved her wand towards the hob, setting a spoon in one of the pots stirring. "Pay attention to the food before you burn it," she ordered, and Sirius and James both obediently returned to their duties.

"Do you need my help, or have they got it?" Harry asked his mum.

Lily shot him an amused look. "I think I can find a place for you," she decided.

Harry's groan was absolutely for show.

.

Chapter Text

On the last day of the holiday, it occurred to Harry that, in his first reality, Barty-as-Moody had been the one to tell Cedric how to decipher his golden egg, but that had been more as a way to indirectly help Harry, and since that wasn't the case this time...

He took a brief jaunt through the Realm of Death to the small crowd of dead watching over the inhabitants of Hogwarts, stopping next to Albus, since he was the first one he recognised (and if someone was watching Cedric, it wasn't on his orders), and asking, "I don't suppose you know if Cedric's figured out the egg, yet?"

Albus frowned. "I don't believe so. Why?"

Harry shrugged. "School pride; not particularly interested in watching Hogwarts lose because no one on the staff could unbend enough to pass our champion a hint."

"Only a hint?" someone nearby asked, flashing him a distinctly Slytherin smile.

Harry chuckled and shook his head. "It's no fun if I tell him exactly what to expect."

Some of the spirits laughed, while others scoffed or made disgusted sounds. Albus just sighed and shook his head.

Harry checked in with those spirits he'd set to watching things at Hogwarts, since he was already there, then made his way home after discerning that the tensions between the Beauxbâtons contingent and everyone else were remaining relatively steady, save a brief spike after Rita's article. Which had been handled peacefully, thankfully.

Once back in his room, he pulled out his messaging paper and wrote to Will, 'You should try to mention where Cedric would hear that Mermish sounds like screeching above ground.'

It was a couple hours before Will wrote back, and Harry could only assume he'd been out with his friends. 'Okay. Why? Is it something to do with the next task?'

'It's related to the tournament,' Harry allowed.

'Does the next task involve the lake?'

'Just pass that on to Cedric.'

'ARE THEY GOING TO FIGHT MERPEOPLE? BECAUSE THAT COULD BE COOL'

Harry sighed at his brother and slipped his messaging paper away, then wandered downstairs to see if Lily needed any help with dinner.

Will would figure out he was being ignored eventually.

-0-

'This,' Will wrote the morning of the second task, 'is super boring. Who thought this was a good idea?'

'Someone in the ministry,' Harry replied before going back to the homework he was working on.

When he glanced back at the paper again a bit later, it was clear Chris had brought his paper, too, because the two had had an exchange about why fighting the merfolk would be a bad idea in terms of future relations between them and Hogwarts, Will had complained about Harry ignoring them, and then he'd suggested he and Chris go on an adventure into the Forbidden Forest, since it was so close.

Harry stiffened. 'WILLIAM HARROLD DON'T YOU DARE,' he quickly wrote back.

Harry was just about to call for Death when Will finally replied, 'I'm not.' And then, before Harry could fully relax, added, 'Yet.'

'If you're bored, go do homework,' Harry wrote back.

'Fred and George are always talking about the cool things they've found inside and I want to see too. You can come and then it'll be safe right?' Will wrote, before adding, in response to Harry's suggestion, 'Ew no way'

'If Fred and George jumped off the Astronomy Tower with no brooms, would you follow them?'

'No but that's why I'm asking you to come so you're my broomstick'

Harry made a face at his brother's attempt at a metaphor. Before he could think up a properly scathing response, Death informed him, "Your brother is already headed for the forest, Master. Chris went to Hermione and she's suggesting they find a professor to go after him."

Getting a professor's attention during the task wouldn't be easy, Harry could only assume, and he could almost see Will ducking into the forest to avoid a professor if he spotted one coming at him. Sighing, he wrote back, 'I will meet you OUTSIDE the forest,' then got up to pull out one of the sets of robes Tom had sent him that would change with him, since the nearest access to the Forbidden Forest was both a bit of trip through the Realm of Death, and inside the forest a ways, so travelling as a wolf would be his best option.

He took a moment more to leave a note for his parents that he was checking on something – he intended to be back before either of them came looking for him, but just in case, he'd rather they not panic – then stepped through to the Realm of Death, cast a point me, and grit his teeth against the pain of the change before running in the direction the spell indicated.

The doorway on the other end opened for him, and Harry sent a brief, Thank you! to Death as he paused inside the forest to orient himself. Once he was certain he knew where he was, he started for the edge closest to the lake, correcting his course once he caught scent of his brother.

"Harry!" Will recognised as Harry trotted to the edge of the forest. "I haven't seen you as a wolf in years. You got really big!"

Harry huffed and closed his eyes to focus on the change. "Imagine that," he rasped once he was human again, standing from his crouch. "In terms of wolf maturity, I'm almost an adult."

Will blinked a couple times, then grinned. "So you really will scare anything in the forest!"

Harry stepped forward and caught Will around the shoulders, twisting him so he was facing the stands surrounding the Black Lake again. "I'm not taking you into the forest, William. I don't particularly care to chance your life in a test to see how much of the forest is scared of a werewolf. And, besides, Hermione and Chris have already gone for a professor; if you go into the forest, you'll be in detention until the end of the year. And Mum'll probably ground you for the summer."

Will slumped and didn't fight him when Harry started walking them back to the stands. "Stupid Hermione," he muttered.

Harry shrugged. "You realise someone would have noticed you were gone eventually and a point me would have been all it took to land you in detention."

"Shut up," Will replied. Notably, he didn't try to dispute that.

Hermione, Chris, and Barty rounded the edge of the stands not long before Will and Harry would have reached them, and both Chris and Hermione's shoulders relaxed at the sight of him, Hermione adding a heartfelt, "Thank Merlin."

"Will and I were just discussing whether detention or grounding was worse," Harry offered cheerfully.

Will groaned and shoved at him weakly enough Harry doubted he was trying to get away.

Barty sighed. "Where did you stop him?" he asked, looking more tired than anything else.

"Outside the forest, swear," Harry promised. "Although, if you still want to give him detention for causing an uproar, he'd deserve it."

"Harry," Will complained.

"Well you would!" Hermione snapped. "What if Harry hadn't shown up?! You could have got hurt! Or killed!"

"Harry wouldn't've let me," Will muttered, scowling down at his feet.

Harry sighed and turned Will to face him. "Hey, you, eyes up." He waited until Will looked up at him, expression mulish, before saying, "While I appreciate your faith in my omniscience, I won't always be able to drop everything and get to you when you're in trouble. You've got to do some of the work of keeping yourself safe for me, okay?"

"Okay," Will whispered, slumping.

Harry pulled him into a hug, unable to help a quiet sigh when Will clung to him in return. As much as he wanted to always be able to come to his brothers' rescue, he knew he couldn't. If he was in the middle of a test or class, leaving for long enough to get them out of trouble could prove difficult. Doubly so once he found a job, especially if he ended up playing quidditch; no way he could request a loo run while playing a match and expect it to be granted right that moment.

"Perhaps," Barty commented drily, "we'll not mention this little incident to the headmaster. However, William?" He was quiet until Will finally pulled away from Harry and turned to face his professor. "If I catch you near the Forbidden Forest, intending to go inside, it's not just the headmaster I'll have to tell."

"Mum," Chris commented quietly, "is terrifying."

Barty's grimace and nod won a laugh from Harry and the three Hogwarts students. To Will, he said, "Please don't make me tell your mum?"

"I won't, sir," Will promised quietly.

Barty sighed and shook his head a bit helplessly, clearly familiar enough with teaching teenagers to know that promise wasn't likely to last forever, then turned to Harry. "I can't even begin to imagine how to explain you being here."

Harry winced, while his brothers and Hermione all let out slightly nervous laughs. Barty, at least, knew about as much as Severus about his Death Magic and 'reincarnation', but Harry had a feeling that neither of them actually knew he was even passingly familiar with the dark lord; Tom had suggested as much while they were out on his birthday, and Lily had agreed that she'd never shared that with Severus. Which, well, if Harry stayed, they were both quite likely to find out.

"The headmaster did allow Harry to attend the Yule Ball," Hermione pointed out thoughtfully. "If anyone asks, you could say he gave you something of an open permission to attend the rest of the events? Will did introduce you to Diggory, right?"

"He did," Harry agreed, casting Barty a curious look. "But what's the likelihood of Severus giving me blanket permission to sneak in without an adult?"

Barty shook his head and shrugged. "Unlikely, but given how much he hates your father, I can almost see him telling you to escape here if you're sick of him."

"There is that," Harry agreed while Will snickered. He raised an eyebrow at his brother. "If I stay, will you remain in the stands and behave?"

"Yeah," Will agreed.

Harry shrugged at Barty. "Then I'll stay. Just through the end of the task. Saves on the owls, a bit."

Will snorted, while Chris ducked his head and Hermione cast a worryingly knowing look between Harry and his brothers.

Barty sighed. "Very well. I'll see if I can't warn the headmaster before he sees you and draws attention to your attendance."

"We'll wait a bit to go through," Harry offered, and Barty nodded and hurried back through the break in the stands. With the professor gone, Harry tugged Chris into a hug and said, "Thank you for trying to get help. Although, next time, maybe skip Hermione and go straight to a professor?"

"I will," Chris promised quietly. "She was just closer."

Harry snorted at that, then sighed a bit and met Hermione's sharp stare. "Hi?"

"You have secret paper to pass notes," Hermione said flatly.

Chris hunched in on himself a bit and admitted, "I had to tell her how I knew Will was going to the forest."

"And that I didn't, necessarily, know to stop him," Harry assumed, before reaching over and ruffling Chris' hair. "Well, I suppose you were bound to find out eventually," he said to Hermione.

Hermione rubbed at her eyes for a moment, then gave Harry a tired look. "You take being secretive to an art form."

"Sorry?" Harry offered without any real sincerity.

Hermione just shook her head and huffed out a helpless laugh.

"Speaking of my secretive ways," Harry said, eyeing the path between the stands, "Barty doesn't know to warn Voldemort I'm here."

The other three all choked out laughs, and Hermione said, "How are you planning to explain crashing this event?"

Harry sighed. "It'll have to be the tried and true Gryffindor skill of winging it."

"Yes!" Will crowed, doing a ridiculous little victory dance that Harry was nearly certain he'd learnt from Sirius.

Harry shot Chris a smile and stage whispered, "It's related to the Slytherin skill of bullshitting with a straight face."

Chris snickered at that, while Hermione made a show of huffing and rolling her eyes at all of them.

They snuck back into the stands not long after that, Hermione and Chris going one way, while Harry followed Will back towards his Gryffindor friends on the other side of the stands. He traded greetings with Geoffrey Hooper, Will's best friend, and waved at the various clusters of Weasleys when he spotted them. Somehow, he managed to avoid detection by Voldemort, who appeared to be otherwise distracted by listening to Severus and Karkaroff at the judges' stand.

Jeanne André was the first of the champions to return, though she didn't leave the water with her hostage, the Beauxbâtons boy she'd attended the dance with, having to wait for the gillyweed she'd used to wear off. (Harry'd been required to explain her trick to Will and his friends, as none of them were particularly good at herbology, and probably couldn't see well enough to spot the gills in the sides of her neck.)

Cedric was the next, making it up with Cho just outside the hour mark, much to the utter glee of the mostly-Hogwarts crowd. He'd used the bubble-head charm, the same as he had in Harry's original reality.

They were made to wait another ten minutes before a group of six merfolk surfaced.

"What's going on?" Will asked, looking at Harry.

Harry frowned, trying to listen to the merfolk's speech over the sounds of others in the stands asking the exact same question. "I can't hear well enough," he admitted to Will.

"You can understand them?" Geoffrey asked, looking startled.

Will didn't give him the chance to come up with an answer, instead grabbing Harry's arm and dragging him down the stands to the bottom row, where the presence of the staff and a handful of ministry personnel kept the students from being so loud.

"It sounds like," Harry murmured to Will in Atlantean, "they've misplaced the Durmstrang champion."

"Misplaced?" Will repeated with a wide-eyed look. "Is she...dead?"

Death? Harry called, even as he looked back towards the ministry's translator, who seemed to be struggling a little with the Mermish, and caught Voldemort's narrowed gaze.

"Zofia Wojczyk is not dead, Master," Death informed him. "Likely, she's trapped underwater somewhere."

"She's alive, for now," Harry reassured his brother.

And then Voldemort let out an irritated noise that quickly had everyone shutting up, including the Mermish translator, who was stumbling over the request for the merfolk to slow down and only speak one at a time. The dark lord crooked his finger at Harry, a clear order for him to walk over there.

"Busted," Will whispered with none of the usual good humour that he and Chris had when they said that.

Harry sighed. "Go back to your friends," he suggested, before making his way across the beach and planks to where the dark lord was standing with the other judges.

"Am I correct in assuming you're fluent in Mermish?" Voldemort demanded once Harry had reached him, his voice tight.

Harry nodded. "It sounds like they're not quite certain where Wojczyk got to, but I don't think she's dead," he offered.

It was probably only because he knew him so well that Harry saw some of the tension ease out of Voldemort's form, and it was a struggle to bite back a reassuring smile. Instead, he stepped to the end of the plank, where the Mermish translator was staring down at a book, which looked to be some sort of phonetic dictionary, like it had betrayed him. "May I try?" he asked the man quietly.

The man let out a broken sort of laugh and waved his arm angrily towards the merfolk. "Be my guest, kid."

Harry nodded at that, then crouched at the end of the plank and said, "I'm sorry about all the trouble. Could you please explain what's happened to me?"

Whether in deference to his age, or because of the former translator's inability in keeping up with them, the merfolk took turns filling him in on the events underwater: As it turned out, Wojczyk had suffered a run-in with the grindylows on her way down to the village, and while she'd managed to fight them off fine, the merman keeping an eye on her hadn't been quite so lucky, and he'd lost her. They'd sent out a search party as soon as the merman had returned to the village, but had been unable to locate her.

"I understand," Harry said once they appeared to be done. "Let me report back to the judges and see how they want to handle things."

The chieftainess inclined her head in understanding, so Harry got to his feet and returned to group of judges, resisting the urge to make a face at the disbelieving looks all but Voldemort and Severus had turned on him.

He explained what he'd been told and waited as they debated options. Eventually, Voldemort snapped, "I'll summon her," and pulled out his wand.

Harry didn't really think about it, just stepped forward and grabbed Voldemort's wrist before he could cast, which resulted in a chorus of gasps from the crowd and narrowed red eyes glaring at him. Pushing back his urge to curse his own carelessness, Harry cleared his throat and said, "You can't just summon something from the lake without warning the merfolk. Give me a minute to let them know, please."

"Quickly," Voldemort hissed in a tone that had all of the nearby Death Eaters flinching back.

Harry inclined his head in understanding and hurried back to the end of the plank, dropping to his knees a little too hard and wincing. "The dark lord is going to try summoning the missing girl," he told them. "It shouldn't adversely affect any of your lands, though, unless she's hidden in one of your homes."

"She would have been seen," the chieftainess insisted. "Your dark lord may cast his magic."

"Thank you," Harry replied, making the particular hand motion that he'd learned in his last reality was a sign of great respect among merfolk.

The chieftainess looked momentarily startled, then flashed her teeth in a smile.

Harry turned and nodded to Voldemort's glare as he stood.

The dark lord didn't offer any response beyond stepping up to the edge of the dock and silently casting what Harry knew would be an impressive accio.

For one, long moment, it seemed like everyone in attendance was holding their breath, and then the missing champion shot out of the water and Voldemort hovered her over to the medical tent, where Madam Pomfrey was waiting with her familiar stern glower.

From the brief look Harry got, it looked rather like she'd been raked with multiple lines of thorns or spikes, and he frowned, trying to think of what in the Black Lake could manage that sort of damage. Grindylows, perhaps, though the worst of the cuts were the wrong shape for their claws.

Shaking his head, he turned back to the merfolk, kneeling on the plank again. "I don't believe she'll be collecting her hostage on her own," he offered.

The chieftainess nodded and motioned to one of the other merfolk, who immediately dove.

Harry rubbed at his mouth, then asked, "Are there any other than yourselves and the grindylow that would cut an invader?"

The chieftainess seemed to consider that for a moment, before saying, "The magical passage sometimes lets through strange fish. Recently, it sent us fish covered in spines. It is a game among our adolescents to safely kill one."

"Huh." He shook his head and offered her a grateful smile. "I see. I'll ask around about them, but if they're not causing you any real problems, we won't worry about removing them."

She inclined her head. "They're not yet a concern, though they may become one when they breed."

Harry nodded in understanding. "In case the judges ask, could you tell me how the other two champions did?"

The chieftainess was happy to do so, though there wasn't much to report, as both Cedric and André acquitted themselves well underwater. Cedric had suffered a minor brush with the grindylows, but had got through them with only a couple minor wounds. André had made the far wiser choice of completely avoiding the seaweed patches the grindylows favoured, thereby giving her her lead. Both had freed their hostages with no difficulty, then swam back to the surface.

By the time the chieftainess had finished telling him everything, the merman she'd sent down had returned with Wojczyk's hostage, a slightly older man who didn't seem able to swim, judging by the way he almost sank back under once the merman released him to swim towards where Harry was holding out a hand to help him out.

Karkaroff came to lead the man away after Harry pulled him out of the water – without werewolf strength, he never would have managed – and Harry traded another round of thanks and goodbyes with the merfolk before walking back to where the judges had again gathered. He filled them in about everything he'd learnt, then stepped back while they conferred.

Unsurprisingly, André was awarded first place, with Cedric coming in second, which left Cedric in first place, overall, and André a potential second place, as they had decided to hold off on awarding Wojczyk any points until she'd woken and was able to fill them in about the time she'd been missing.

The date of the final task was announced, as well as the fact that the champions would be given more information a month before it, and then everyone was dismissed.

Harry shook his head at his brothers and Hermione when he caught their uncertain looks towards him, silently telling them to just stay with their houses; better not to completely freak Severus out by involving his students. (Also, Harry honestly couldn't say how likely Voldemort was to curse the next person who annoyed him, and Will, especially, tended to be a little more familiar with the dark lord than was strictly wise in public. Although, maybe his snake-like form was warning enough for him to behave?)

"My Lord," Severus started once most of the stands were cleared, and Harry was admittedly a little surprised to realise the headmaster had moved so he could step between Harry and Voldemort if need be. He wasn't the only adult who'd stayed behind, as the other three judges – Maxime, Karkaroff, and the British head of International Cooperation, Rodolphus Lestrange – the Mermish translator, Barty, and a couple other Hogwarts professors Harry had learnt from during his first life were standing just far enough away to be out of the immediate range of Voldemort's temper, but Severus was the only one who'd stayed close enough to act as a distraction from Harry.

Voldemort shot Severus a particularly cutting look, which shut him up, but also made him take yet another step closer to Harry, close enough that their shoulders would have brushed if Severus wasn't half a step in front of him.

(Harry seriously considered telling his father about this, because James' expression at hearing Severus was so obviously willing to protect Harry from Voldemort was pretty much guaranteed to be excellent.)

Voldemort looked away from Severus and Harry, instead turning narrowed red eyes on the translator, who flinched and did his apparent best to make himself as small as possible. "Would you care to explain, Seabrook, what just happened," he said with a particularly violent edge to his words.

"M-my Lord," the translator, Seabrook, stuttered, "I am– I do not– I–"

"Crucio," Voldemort hissed, clearly reaching the end of his limited patience, and Seabrook collapsed to the ground, screaming.

All of the adults flinched, while the handful of students who'd lingered – including, Harry saw a bit helplessly, Will – let out noises of horror and ran for it. For his part, Harry did his best to look like the torture bothered him – though it really sort of didn't; he knew Voldemort far too well to expect he'd stand patiently through the translator's bumbling explanation – and didn't fight Severus when the man grabbed his arm and pulled him over to stand behind him.

Voldemort turned to Lestrange once he'd ended the curse, and Harry was admittedly a little impressed by the way the Death Eater stood firm under the dark lord's glare. "I hope, Rodolphus, that you have an explanation."

Lestrange swallowed and inclined his head. "I believe, My Lord," he said, sounding a little like he was barely managing to keep his voice steady, "that Mr Seabrook is the most fluent member of the magical creatures department in Mermish. Given the limited necessity to use it and the inherent difficulty in speaking it, I doubt fluency was something they would have looked to hire for."

Harry would totally buy that, since most wizards and witches of the Isles weren't likely to find occasion to speak to any merfolk. The sirens of the Mediterranean were far more inclined towards poking their head up and engaging in conversation with land dwellers than the Scottish selkies or the Irish merrows, and the tribe at the bottom of the Black Lake was the only one actually living in a body of water on magical land, besides. Even as Alpha Lord, Harry had only rarely had a reason to speak to any merfolk, as they were fairly good about settling their own disputes, and being the only fully sapient creature that lived underwater meant they didn't have quite the same issues with determining boundary lines that those species living on land did.

Voldemort clearly decided it wasn't worth punishing anyone for the ministry not turning up someone fully fluent in Mermish, because he didn't throw any more cruciatus curses around, instead ordering, "Someone ensure Seabrook makes it home." When no one immediately moved to do so, he let out a meaningless hiss of anger.

Lestrange hurried forward, then, and helped Seabrook stand, McGonagall moving to help when it was clear they would need it.

Voldemort looked around at everyone else standing around, eyes still angry enough that they all hurried to make their escape ahead of Lestrange, McGonagall, and Seabrook. Severus pushed at Harry with one hand, a silent suggestion that he make a run for it while he could, but Voldemort turned to glare at them both and Severus fell very, very still.

Only after the area had emptied of any gawkers did Voldemort close his eyes, his hard stance softening just enough that Harry made note, but he doubted Severus would. "Scythe," he said, tone edging towards tired, "do I want to know why you're here?"

"Probably not," Harry admitted, before lightly touching Severus' shoulder and saying, "The dark lord is familiar with my particular abilities, Severus."

"Evidentially," Severus bit out, still holding himself tensely.

"In fairness to that translator, he'd probably have been okay if Wojczyk hadn't got lost and knocked unconscious," Harry commented, stepping out from behind the protective headmaster. "Mermish isn't easy to follow above ground, especially if you're used to the languages of land dwellers."

Voldemort opened his eyes and shot Harry a bland look. "If this is your way of telling me not to hold others to your particular language fluency, I'm already aware of that."

Harry shrugged. "Well, you didn't kill him, so I assumed you'd determined he wasn't a complete failure."

Severus breathed out something that sounded suspiciously like a curse, while Voldemort let out a hissing sort of laugh. "Very true," the dark lord allowed, before his eyes sharpened on Harry, a faint glimmer of concern in them. "I do hope you have an explanation for your fluency."

Harry shrugged. "Not really," he admitted. "I suppose I can go the same route as I used to do to explain my fluency in Atlantean."

"Atlantean," Severus hissed disbelievingly.

"Although," Harry admitted, ignoring Severus, "I don't know how likely the truly curious are to believe my saying I was just born knowing it."

"Given the number of other things you were inexplicably born with," Voldemort said in a bland, dry tone.

"I do wonder," Harry said, tapping his chin, "how many people assume Mum cheated on Dad and then they glamoured me so no one would know."

Voldemort closed his eyes again, an air of resignation around him. "How in trouble are you right now?"

Harry opened his mouth to say none, but then stopped, remembering that him coming to Hogwarts was going to be in the Prophet in the morning. "Ah. That's..." He grimaced and scratched the back of his head, then offered, "No one died?"

The look Voldemort shot him made it quite clear he was cackling on the inside.

Harry made a face at him. "I left a note for Mum and Dad that I needed to handle something. Uhm, considering how long I've already stayed, they're gonna be wondering, assuming they've found it already, but they probably won't freak out unless I fail to show for dinner. Why?"

"Given the entire school is now aware you're here, you'd be best served not leaving in your usual manner, which means floo or someone apparating you home," Voldemort replied blandly.

Harry grimaced at the thought of flooing, mostly because he doubted he'd get hit with a cleaning charm before being questioned on his whereabouts, then narrowed his eyes at the dark lord at the mention of apparation. "Was that an offer?"

Voldemort rolled one shoulder in a suggestion of a shrug. "I must remain through lunch, but I believe that will leave you with sufficient time to prove to your brothers and mudblood that I haven't cursed you for overstepping."

"Yeah, thanks for that," Harry allowed, because getting cursed for playing diplomat would have sucked, especially when Voldemort was the one delivering the curse. Still, Harry was too much the Alpha Lord to stand back and let any human – Voldemort or otherwise – ignore what few rights non-humans had. At least, not when he was capable of doing something about it. He sighed and rubbed his face. "Yeah, okay. But you know Mum's going to be a misery."

Voldemort raised one hairless eyebrow at him. "I don't remember saying I intended to step into your home, Scythe."

Harry laughed at that, because he was absolutely intending to hide behind the dark lord if the man took him home. Especially since that was the best way he could think of to keep Will from getting in trouble with their mum. He turned to Severus, then, and requested, "Could you tell me the Gryffindor password? Probably easier to catch each of them while they're still in their commons."

Severus raised an eyebrow at that. "No, but I will walk you to each of the common rooms; you may be familiar with the school, Harry, but you are still a guest and a squib."

Harry sighed at that reminder. He thought about pointing out that Severus had let him on his own in the castle in the past, but then it occurred to him that the headmaster might just be using this as an excuse to get away from Voldemort without looking like a coward. "I suppose someone would be a bit cross with me sneaking into multiple common rooms unaccompanied," he allowed, before turning to shoot the dark lord a smile. "I'll see you at lunch, Voldemort," he said, and Severus flinched next to him at the dark lord's name.

Voldemort inclined his head. "Plan to sit with me," he ordered, eyes cutting to Severus to make it clear it was his job to ensure Harry didn't sit with one of his brothers or Hermione.

Harry rolled his eyes, but didn't bother arguing, while Severus bowed and agreed, "I'll have the house-elves set an extra place, My Lord. Harry?"

"Coming."

Severus waited until they were well clear of the stands – which Voldemort looked to be in the process of vanishing – before saying, "You never mentioned you were acquainted with the dark lord."

Harry shrugged and shoved his hands into the pockets of his robe. "I'm the one who talked him into offering the Order of the Phoenix members amnesty," he admitted.

Severus breathed out a curse and grabbed Harry's shoulder, forcing him to stop. "You could have been killed," he hissed, eyes narrowed.

Harry scowled at him and somewhat lightly shoved a finger against his chest. "You did practically the same thing to save my mum, don't even start with me." Severus let out a choked sound. "Anyway, I had blackmail and magic he didn't even know about; the benefits significantly outweighed the risks."

Severus stepped away and roughly rubbed at his eyes. "You're mad," he said, sounding a bit helpless.

"Very likely," Harry admitted, and Severus shot him a flat look. "I'm also still very much alive, and so is my family. Speaking of, you were going to take me up to Gryffindor so I could assure Will that the dark lord didn't curse me?"

"James deserves you," Severus muttered, motioning for Harry to start walking again.

Harry did so with a laugh.

-0-

The post-task party was already well underway when Harry stepped into the Gryffindor common, Severus remaining outside the portrait to, he'd said, call a house-elf to ensure an extra place would be set for Harry, though Harry suspected he also hadn't wanted to put a damper on the party.

He didn't see Will immediately, but Ron spotted him and hurried over quickly enough, looking relieved. "Good to see you in one piece, mate," he admitted, clapping Harry on the shoulder. "The way you went and grabbed You Know Who earlier..." He drew a finger across his throat.

Harry winced. "My family's protected under the amnesty clause, so he couldn't have killed me, but I'm kinda surprised I didn't get cursed," he lied. "I guess he was cutting me slack because of my age?"

Ron slowly shook his head, looking unconvinced. "Maybe," he allowed.

"Have you seen my brother?" Harry asked, both because he still wasn't seeing Will, and as a bid to refocus Ron's attention.

Ron blinked, then turned towards the stairway up to the boys' dorm. "Saw him come in and go upstairs. Don't know if he ever came back down."

Harry nodded and patted his shoulder as he stepped past him. "Thanks, Ron!"

Will was, in fact, up in his dorm room, huddled on his bed and staring down at his messaging paper. He looked a bit pale and completely miserable, and Harry felt his heart break, just a bit.

"Hey," Harry called, stepping into the room.

Will's head snapped up and around fast enough it had to have hurt a little bit, and then he was scrambling out of his bed and tripping over his bedclothes.

Harry took two quick steps forward and caught him before he could land on his face, utterly unsurprised when Will clung to him. "I'm okay," he promised while his brother gasped sobs against his shoulder, holding him as tightly as he dared. "I'm right here and I'm okay."

Once Will had calmed down and Harry sat them both down on his bed, he quietly said, "I thought– I didn't really think he'd do anything, not to you, even angry as he looked, but the others, they kept making bets on curses, and then I saw him–that translator–"

"Voldemort...doesn't suffer fools well," Harry offered carefully. "But he can be scary enough to make even the bravest people act a little slow, like that translator. So he loses his temper and compounds the issue. It's a failing of his."

As Harry had hoped, that last got a small smile out of Will, brief though it was before he asked, "But would he ever curse you?" And he looked so worried, Harry couldn't find it in himself to lie to him.

So he admitted, "I don't know. He has a certain persona he has to keep in public, but I think, like today, he'll be more likely to make everyone leave than curse me." Will relaxed a bit, and Harry offered him a tired smile before adding, "But, you know that argument we had a few years ago? About my wand?"

Will frowned in thought for a moment before nodding; he'd left before the argument, but Harry knew Chris had filled him in after. "Chris said he looked really, really angry. And Mum was scared."

Harry nodded. "If he gets angry enough at me, he might curse me. But he's a little bit scared of me, too, so I can threaten him if we're not in public. And I'm not really intending to make him that angry in public. Okay?"

"Okay," Will agreed, staring down at where he was worrying the cuff of his sleeve.

Harry ruffled his hair and offered him a fond smile when he peeked up at him. Before he could say anything further, though, there was a ruckus out in the hall and, when Harry looked over, he found Fred and George in a jumble on the landing outside the room, both looking a little bit relieved. "Do I want to know?" he had to ask.

The twins jumped to their feet, barely avoiding knocking their heads together, and opened their mouths to speak, but Ginny chose that moment to poke her head around the doorway and shoot Harry a relieved smile. "Ron said you were okay, but we had to come check."

"Ginny!" Fred and George complained.

Harry chuckled and, when Ginny flashed her brothers a sharp grin, Will burst out laughing next to him. "I appreciate your concern," he promised. "As you can see, however–" he held his arms out to either side, taking care not to hit Will "–I somehow retain all of my limbs and what little sanity has managed to survive the pair of you."

The grins the twins put on would have made any normal person want to run for their lives. Harry was, however, inured to such expressions, between living with the Marauders and having known the twins for three lifetimes, so he casually turned to Will to say, "Remind me to ask my partner to charm some pants to follow me between forms."

Will blinked once, then started snickering, ducking his head to avoid Harry's unimpressed stare. "Did you want to borrow a pair?" he offered, amusement in his voice.

"Yes, please," Harry agreed, as Ginny let out a huff in the doorway. "Don't you have a party to be causing mayhem during?" he said to the three Weasleys.

Ginny stuck her tongue out at him. "See if I ever worry about you again," she said, before following her brothers, who had grinned a bit madly and run off at Harry's comment.

"Hey, Ginny!" Harry called after her as Will got up to go through his trunk. When she poked her head around the doorway again, he offered her a fond smile. "Thanks, really. I promise to return the favour if you ever annoy the dark lord."

Ginny pointed a finger at him, scowling. "Some of us aren't that dumb," she snapped at him, then vanished back around the doorway, her feet sounding as she hurried down the stairs.

"Here," Will said, holding out a pair of pants that smelt clean. "I've enough extras, you can just leave them in my wardrobe once they've been washed."

"Thank you," Harry offered as he accepted them, then stepped into the floor's toilet to both relief himself and slip them on; he'd been a werewolf for long enough that he wasn't too bothered about running around in just a robe, but there was something rather off-putting about doing so while sitting at the head table, especially if he was going to be seated next to the man he loved. His lack of shoes was another issue, though his feet were bigger than his brother's, and wearing shoes around the castle and grounds was far less important, especially since he could easily toughen the soles of his feet.

Once back in the dorm room, he said, "I'm going to go check in with Hermione and Chris, make sure they both know I'm okay."

Will started nodding a bit fervently, and Harry couldn't help but look towards the messaging paper; it looked to have been wiped clear fairly recently, but he knew his brothers well enough to guess that Will had filled Chris in about Voldemort cursing Seabrook as soon as he'd calmed down enough to write. "I'll let Chris know you're coming," he promised, following Harry's gaze.

Harry ruffled his hair and offered him a smile. "Thanks. Let him know, too, that I'm going to stop past Ravenclaw, first."

"Of course."

"And then go enjoy the party; half the fun of victory parties is eating so many sweets, the thought of the next proper meal makes you sick to your stomach."

Will made a face at him. "Not gonna eat that much; I've gotta go to lunch so I can say good-bye."

Harry pulled him into a quick hug, so unspeakably grateful that he existed, then hurried back down to the common and dodged the twins when they tried to grab him to taste-test one of their most recent concoctions. Severus was still waiting for him out in the hallway, scowling, and Harry offered, "The Weasley twins," as his excuse for taking so long.

Severus snorted and turned without a word to lead the way to Ravenclaw.

-0-

Hermione hadn't been as worried as Will, admitting that she'd seen enough of Harry and the dark lord interacting that she didn't think he would actually hurt Harry. "Although," she'd added, having stepped out into the hall to talk, since Harry couldn't go up to her dorm, and Ravenclaw was having their own, far less rambunctious, party in the common room, "I don't think you should make a habit of questioning him in public. Someone is eventually going to start asking why he's so lenient with you."

"I know," Harry admitted with a slightly helpless shrug. "I honestly didn't even realise I'd done it until everyone gasped."

Hermione eyed him for a moment, wearing that expression that said she was fitting another piece of a puzzle together, then stepped forward and hugged him. "Creature rights," she whispered, and Harry couldn't help the way he tensed. Her smile, when she pulled back, was absolutely victorious.

(She was as bad as the dark lord, when it came to catching him with unfortunate questions about his past. Harry's saving grace, it seemed, was that the pair of them would never compare notes.)

Chris, like Will, had wasted no time in claiming a hug as soon as he saw Harry, but he'd looked far calmer and didn't start crying, so Harry assumed Will had managed to sufficiently assuage any fears. Severus seemed content to leave Harry to his own devices in the dungeons, so he got dragged into the Slytherin celebration – far safer than in Gryffindor, given the lack of prank sweets – and then made his way up to the great hall with Chris and his Slytherin friends, laughing off the occasional questions as to his knowledge of Mermish.

In the great hall, he walked with the Slytherins to the point along their table where they usually sat, then gave Chris a quick hug before continuing up to the space left for him between Voldemort and Severus.

"Your brothers are sufficiently assured as to your good health," Voldemort assumed in Atlantean, taking care with each word, as though not completely certain he was pronouncing it properly.

Harry bit back a smile, helplessly charmed; given that he'd learnt the language from books and what little he'd heard Harry speak with his brothers, his pronunciation was really good, though he'd sort of expected that, familiar with how much of an overachiever his partner was. "They are," he agreed. "And Hermione reminded me that I should probably not make a habit of grabbing you in public."

Harry understood the hiss Voldemort let out to be a noise of slightly amused agreement, but if the way Severus stiffened and Karkaroff dropped his utensils was anything to go by, he was the only one who did. "That would be for the best," he agreed in his careful Atlantean. "If only for the sake of those who worry about your safety."

Harry hummed in agreement and turned his focus to eating and – when they entered the great hall – looking up to flash smiles at Hermione, Will, and the Weasleys.

As Harry finished his plate and sat back to wait on Voldemort, Severus turned to him and asked, "Should I save us all a bit of trouble and simply invite you to the next task?"

Harry couldn't help but look around Severus and Madam Maxime at Barty, who was carefully not meeting his eyes. "Rude," he said to Severus, who cocked an imperious eyebrow at him. "Don't tell Mum."

"I shall avoid sending any owls," Severus allowed. "This time."

"Yeah, okay," Harry agreed, because that was really about as much as Will could expect, after making a bid for the Forbidden Forest while all the professors were otherwise occupied. He rubbed at his nose, considering Severus' offer, then shrugged and said, "I guess so, sure. Assuming it's going to be as spectator unfriendly as this task was."

Severus shot him a look that made it clear he knew – or suspected, at least – that Harry already knew quite well what the third task would be. "I'll send you an owl at the end of May, either way. Until then, please do recall you were given the password to my floo in the case of an emergency, not as a way to avoid walking up from Hogsmeade when you feel the need to avoid homework with your brothers."

Harry ducked his head to hide his approval at that cover story; as a squib, both his ability to protect himself and get to safety in the event of an attack would be severely hampered, so giving him the password to the Hogwarts floo was an excellent way to ensure that he could both retreat and request help, should such be necessary. "Yes, sir," he said in as quietly ashamed a voice as he could manage.

"Harry," Voldemort said after a beat of silence, and Harry grimaced at hearing his name from the dark lord. Still, he obediently got up without any further prompting and followed him from the great hall.

Voldemort had his hand on the door out of the castle when a hauntingly familiar voice called, "Harry!" Harry spun almost without thinking about it, and watching Cedric jog up to him was the best/worst kind of déjà vu. "Cedric," he managed, hoping his voice only sounded odd to himself.

Cedric stopped within arm's reach, cast the dark lord behind Harry a slightly uncertain look, then leant in a bit and quietly said, "Thank you."

Harry blinked and took a moment to debate pretending he had no idea why Cedric would be thanking him. But he'd sort of let that cat out of the bag when he'd proven to the entire school that he was fluent in Mermish, so he put on a slightly helpless smile and shrugged. "Just because I don't attend, doesn't mean I want to see Hogwarts losing face to those self-important French lot."

Cedric flashed him a quick, easy grin, before he seemed to remember the man standing behind Harry, because his smile took on a strained edge. "I'll do my best," he promised, holding out a hand.

Harry took Cedric's hand and offered him a smile that ached, even as he said, completely honest, "I have every faith in your abilities."

Cedric looked briefly startled, before quirking a grateful smile and hurrying back into the great hall.

Voldemort was quiet as they left the castle and started across the lawn towards the gate to Hogsmeade. Only once they could see the gate, the castle well behind them, did the dark lord ask, "What foolish thing did your brothers do?"

Harry sighed and ran a hand through his hair, because of course the dark lord would have caught that. "Will decided he was bored with the task and wanted to go snooping in the Forbidden Forest. I ended up coming to persuade him otherwise."

Voldemort snorted. "Gryffindors."

Harry laughed and cast him an amused look. "Oh, come on. You never felt the urge to go exploring?"

"The urge?" Voldemort returned blandly as he pushed the gate open. "Perhaps. But I was never suicidal enough to actually go into the forest."

Harry snorted, because suicidal was about right, then let out a quiet, surprised sound when Voldemort caught his hand and drew him forward, against his chest. The publicness of their position was the only thing that kept him from making a comment, and he held still as Voldemort apparated them to the darkened corner of Godric's Hollow that had been saturated with enough muggle-repelling charms to serve as a safe apparation point for visitors.

The dark lord's form melted into his more human appearance, then he leant down and brushed his mouth against Harry's. "Hello, my Scythe," he murmured.

A chill went down Harry's spine, the endearment reminding him of the similar way another Tom had addressed him, equally as determined to avoid using his birth name.

He leant up to kiss Tom, letting the familiar act distract him from memories of a world and a man that he'd long since left behind.

"So," he said after settling back onto his feet, having decided Tom had been suitably kissed to distraction, "you're going to let me blame you for my disappearing act, so Will doesn't end up grounded, right?"

Tom snorted. "You don't think he'd deserve it?"

"I think, if he tries to go in there again, I'm going to let Severus give him a month's worth of detention and ensure Mum grounds him for the whole summer. But I'm inclined to let him off lightly this time," he admitted.

"You're far too lenient."

Harry shrugged. "It's my experience that some people learn better from guilting them into good behaviour, then torturing them."

"Was that a comment?" Tom asked, his mouth twisting like he'd tasted something particularly vile.

Harry sighed and reached up to trace along the dark lord's lips. "Not particularly," he said. "Torture certainly has its benefits, and does serve as an excellent outlet when you've suffered one too many idiots, but I'm quite fond of my brothers, so I'd rather not go that route with them. Even if I do, occasionally, want to toss them into the nearest dark hole."

Tom's mouth quirked with a sardonic smile. "Of course."

Harry made a show of rolling his eyes, which won a more honest smile, then leant up to kiss his partner one last time before stepping back, catching their hands together and tugging lightly to imply the dark lord should follow him.

Tom let out a loud, put upon sigh, but did follow him, twisting his hand in Harry's until their fingers could fold together.

Harry absolutely did not flush with pleasure.

James stepped out of the living room to meet them, expression tightening when he saw Tom. "This promises to be good," he muttered, before inclining his head in the barest show of deference. "Voldemort."

"Auror Potter," Tom returned blandly.

Harry rolled his eyes at them and motioned for his father to lead the way into the living room, where Lily was sitting with a book in her lap and a slightly strained expression on her face. James sat on the sofa next to Lily, while Harry led Tom to the other sofa, pulling him down next to him.

"I do not expect," Tom said before Harry could fully arrange his thoughts to decide how to approach the lie of where he'd vanished off to, "that you will be particularly surprised to discover that the ministry lacks anyone fluent in Mermish."

The comment was directed at James, and he frowned for a moment, looking a little confused, before turning a helpless look on Harry. "Really? Mermish?"

Harry shrugged. "You're going to have an extremely difficult time finding a language I'm not fluent in," he admitted.

James sighed, while Lily said, "I assume this task involved the lake somehow, then?"

Tom gave a brief nod. "The champions were required to collect a person they cared about from the merfolk village. Miss Wojczyk suffered an altercation with some grindylows and was unable to make it back to the surface before falling unconscious." He cast Harry a quick glance. "I do believe Scythe came to keep me from killing the pathetic attempt at a translator the ministry turned up."

Harry shrugged. "Well, and to make sure you got Wojczyk out without starting an interspecies incident with the merfolk."

Tom sighed.

"I suppose I can't ground you for stopping someone from getting killed," Lily decided, and Harry let out a slightly relieved breath. "However," she said, clearly having waited for him to relax before continuing, "next time you decide to make a run to Hogwarts, we would appreciate something a bit more descriptive than, 'I'm checking on a thing'."

"Whoops."

Tom snorted and stood. "If you're done hiding behind me, I have work to return to."

James let out a slightly strained laugh at that, covering his face with one hand.

Harry jumped to his feet and motioned for the dark lord to precede him out of the living room. In the entryway, Tom turned and leant down for a brief kiss. "I will see you next weekend?" he murmured, after pulling back an inch, the words tickling against Harry's mouth.

"Yeah," Harry promised, and went up on his toes for another brief kiss, then stepped back so the dark lord could apparate away.

When he turned to return to the living room, he found his dad leaning against the doorway, watching him with a helpless sort of smile. "So," James said while Harry tried not to flush at the realisation that his father had watched that goodbye, "how are we going to explain this particular ability of yours?"

"I was born with it?" Harry suggested.

James snorted. "That's going to stop working eventually."

Harry considered that for a moment, then shrugged. "If you've got a better idea, I'm all ears."

James sighed and turned to return to the living room. "Born with it it is," he offered over his shoulder.

Harry rolled his eyes and made for his room and his abandoned homework.

.

Chapter Text

"So," James said one evening in the middle of March, when both Sirius and Remus decided to join them for dinner on the same night, "did we want to go on a trip to anywhere this summer?"

Harry snorted, having a pretty good idea why his father wanted to go on another trip out of the country.

Remus cleared his throat and pointed out, "If you're intending it to fall on Harry's birthday again, know I won't be able to come."

James slumped a bit, while Sirius blinked and asked, "When's the full moon?"

"The thirtieth," Harry and Remus chorused, then traded amused looks.

"Creepy," Sirius insisted, pointing his fork between them.

"Well," Lily interrupted, "I wouldn't mind going to a beach, this year. Mary-Anne, from work, she and her family did Mallorca last year and she spent months glowing about it."

"There were beaches in Rome," James muttered, then yelped when Lily jabbed him with her elbow.

"I think," Remus offered drily, "that your wife is saying she'd rather the relaxing over the educational aspect, Prongs."

"I didn't say that," Lily insisted, making a face. "If we can find some place with a magical history and beaches, though..."

Almost as one, all of them turned to Harry.

Harry raised both of his eyebrows at them. "Speaking of creepy," he said, and Sirius snickered. He rolled his eyes, then took a moment to think of all the magical places he'd been over the years. "Mmm... Greece would probably be the best serve of both, honestly, but I'd suggest something a little further west."

"Golubev?" James guessed, expression darkening.

Harry shrugged and nodded; Russia's resident dark lord's political platform had taken on a distinctly anti-nonhuman slant at the start of the year – sooner than that, really, but it had taken a few months for that news to filter past the distraction that was the TriWizard Tournament. He suspected his family was more inclined to avoid Russia's borders for the sake of Harry and Remus' safety, but Harry, himself, was more concerned with the potential for him to lose his temper and go full-on Alpha Lord. Which, well, he wouldn't necessarily be wrong to do so – probably wouldn't even have to defend himself to his family – but he was trying to avoid any killing sprees, and the magical world's political climate was close enough to a tipping point as it was; best not to involve yet another murderous psychopath.

The four adults traded troubled looks, before Lily suggested, "Portugal?"

"Lisbon isn't a terrible destination," Harry allowed, turning his mind to that area of the continent, "but, actually, I'd almost suggest Gibraltar? Neither of them are particularly magically relevant–" as far as he was aware; he knew of two relatively large vampire covens that made their home in and around Lisbon, whose existence and centuries-long quarrels tended to dissuade human magicals from settling for long, and Gibraltar's size and uncertain muggle governance made developing a notable magical neighbourhood difficult "–but the official language of Gibraltar is English, so I won't need to be constantly playing translator."

"That's not a bad point," Remus offered with a smile that was only a little strained.

"I'll look up magical resorts tomorrow," James promised, before grimacing slightly and turning to Harry. "Given what happened the last time we were in Spain–"

"Gibraltar isn't Spain, technically," Harry couldn't resist pointing out.

"Close enough," Remus said before James could do more than narrow his eyes.

James motioned towards Remus with his fork, then turned a bland look on Harry. "Resist the urge to vanish for extended periods."

Harry huffed a bit, because there was a note of uncertainty in his father's voice that was familiar. "You can just say, 'Harry, the thought of you visiting Voldemort while we're on holiday is disturbing; don't do it'."

Sirius barked out a laugh and reached over to smack James' arm. "Kid's got a point, Prongs."

James took a moment to rub at his eyes, then resettled his glasses before turning a slightly tired look on Harry. "Please remain in whatever country we're visiting for the extent of the holiday, for this trip and in future. Unless it's an emergency."

Harry flashed him a grateful smile at that last bit. "I think I can promise that much," he agreed.

"Good. Let's never have this discussion again."

Sirius' following cackle may or may not have started a food fight.

-0-

"Kill the spare," Voldemort said, his voice too high-pitched, and Harry looked up, found himself pointing his old holly wand at Cedric as he'd know him two lifetimes ago.

"Avada kedavra," he heard himself say, and violent green light shot from the tip of his wand, bathing Cedric in death.

He blinked – this wasn't how it happened – and Voldemort said, again, "Kill the spares," but his voice was more normal, the pitch of his more snake-like appearance in the current reality.

Harry looked up, and it wasn't Cedric he was looking at, but Will and Chris. The extra Potter boys. The ones who wouldn't have existed if Harry wasn't wereborn. He stared at them for a moment, taking in their terror, and then he opened his mouth and–

The shock of pain woke him, and Harry took a moment to gasp for air against the carpeting of his bedroom, shoulder throbbing where he must have hit it against the frame of his bed on his way out of it.

When he was finally settled enough to sit up, he wasn't surprised to find tears on his face. "Death," he whispered, because he knew his brothers were safe, that it had just been a dream, but–

"They are both sleeping safely in their dorms, Master, as is Cedric," Death was quick to promise.

"Thank you," he whispered, closing his eyes to rub at them.

Except he could still see them in the dark behind his eyes, staring at him with terror from the other end of the holly wand he'd only ever had in his first life.

"Fuck," he hissed, opening his eyes again to stare out at the darkened room.

Really, he should have known he wouldn't be able to get any sleep the night before the final task. He'd actually considered, during his GCSEs the previous week, making himself some Dreamless Sleep, but he'd occasionally had nightmares despite the potion, during his last reality, especially in the days following both Voldemort's and the non-humans' separate victories, and taking the potion meant he couldn't wake up as easily. Rather than chance nightmares he couldn't wake from, Harry would always prefer just forcing himself to ignore his own exhaustion, exams or no. (Possibly helped by some of those auror-restricted potions he wasn't supposed to know how to make.)

Sighing in resignation, Harry untangled himself from his sheets, then made his way down to the kitchen and filled the kettle with water. It was just starting to boil when he heard his mum on the stairs, and he hesitated for a moment before pulling down a mug for her.

"Couldn't sleep?" he guessed when she stopped in the kitchen doorway.

"Something like that," she agreed with an unexpected amount of care, and Harry shot her a confused look. She offered a sad sort of smile in return and walked over to draw him into a hug.

"Mum?" Harry asked, confused, even as he hugged her back.

She pulled away enough to meet his eyes, her hands bracketing his shoulders, and said, "You've taken part in a TriWizard Tournament before."

Harry couldn't stop himself from stiffening, and his throat felt too dry to attempt a denial.

Lily pulled him into another hug, and Harry felt too stiff for a long moment, and then she whispered, "It's okay, baby," and he felt a little like someone had hit him with a jelly-legs jinx, clinging to her because he really wasn't certain he could hold his own weight.

Somehow – Harry was nearly certain magic was involved, though he didn't see her casting any spells – Lily got both of them to one of the sofas in the living room, two mugs with fully steeped tea waiting for them on the coffee table.

Once they were settled, and Harry had a warm mug held tight between his hands, Lily quietly commented, "When you heard about the tournament, the expression on your face was the same as when Voldemort got attacked."

"Ah," Harry breathed, staring down into his mug and trying to figure out how to spin this, because it had been over two hundred years since the last tournament, and while Tom was the only one who knew that he'd known the dark lord in the past, he'd never taken pains to suggest he'd lived so long ago.

Lily brushed a hand through his hair, and Harry peeked up at her, taking in her tired smile, the familiar gleam of love in the eyes he'd inherited, and he realised he...couldn't lie to her.

He turned his attention back down to his mug, staring at the faint ripples in the liquid that formed with every breath, and said, "When I died, the first time, before I studied death magic–" Lily let out a startled breath, which Harry didn't acknowledge, though he knew he'd been leaving everyone to believe this was only his second life "–I already had a sort of...relationship, I guess, with Death. He let me pick between dying, or being brought back to life, or moving to another version of myself. To an alternate reality."

He peeked out at her, saw her wide eyes, and had to look back down at his tea, couldn't bring himself to determine whether or not she believed him. "My first – original – reality, I wasn't a squib, was a threat, so Voldemort came to kill me Halloween of '81. He– Severus had pled for your life in that reality, too, and Voldemort gave you the option to get out of the way, to leave, but you...you wouldn't. And when he killed you, that created a sort of protective spell over me, rebounded the killing curse he cast on me, and he ended up not quite dead, like what happened last summer.

"That," he admitted quietly, closing his eyes against tears, because he hated that it had taken him three lives to be able to make any memories with his parents while they were alive, "hearing Dad tell you to get me and run, hearing you ask Voldemort to kill you and not me...that was the only memory I had of you for–"

Lily yanking him into a tight hug cut him off, and he didn't even care that his tea spilt everywhere, grabbing for her and barely managing to bite back a sob, because remembering the echoes of that terrible night hurt, especially on the tail of his earlier nightmare.

"I'm sorry," he whispered into her hair.

Her arms tightened around him and she sounded like she was crying, too, but there was plenty of steel in her voice when she ordered, "Don't you dare. You have nothing to apologise for." Then she pushed him back, cupping his face in her hands and catching his eyes before saying, "I love you, Harry."

"I know," Harry whispered, because he did, even if he was sometimes a little afraid that he'd eventually do something so abhorrent, she'd never be able to forgive him.

She stared at him for a long moment, like she was looking for any hint of a lie, before relaxing slightly and brushing her thumbs over the tear tracks Harry knew were on his face. "So, you've always been Harry Potter?"

He nodded. "Yeah." He shrugged and couldn't quite meet her eyes when he admitted, "Third time's the charm; you and Dad survived this time."

She stiffened and, when Harry peeked up at her, her expression was twisted with something a lot bit terrible and a little bit knowing.

"Mum?"

"Aunt Petunia raised you," she said, a sort of hollow sound to her voice.

Harry swallowed and caught her shoulders, half expecting she'd apparate to Privet Drive and let her sister have it. "You and Dad made Peter your secret-keeper, but everyone assumed it was Sirius, so he ended up going to Azkaban when Peter faked his death. So I–" He coughed. "Yes, Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon raised me. The first time."

Lily looked like she'd very much like to have words with her sister, but she forced herself to take a deep breath, then another, before asking, "And the second time?"

Harry shrugged. "I knew where Peter was; I hunted him down and imperiused him so he'd turn himself in and Sirius would be freed."

Lily opened her mouth, closed it, then squeezed her eyes shut and sighed. "I don't know how to feel about that," she admitted.

Harry shifted back slightly, to the other side of the sofa, and shrugged. "Yeah. Being turned into a mindless killing beast on the full moon, then coming to your senses in time to stare a fellow auror in the eyes right before he smiles and offs you isn't, it turns out, particularly good for your sanity."

There was a heavy silence following that, and then James – who Harry hadn't heard come downstairs – said, "I picked a bad time, didn't I?"

Harry winced and covered his face, sort of wishing the couch would just eat him or something.

"Harry was just telling me," Lily said in a voice that was trying to be steady, "that this is his third life as Harry Potter. Apparently, he got stuck with my sister the first time, because Sirius was in Azkaban."

"Well, shit," James said.

Harry choked on a laugh and peeked between his fingers at where his dad was stepping carefully into the room, his expression twisted with something that could have been pain. That Lily didn't tell him off for cursing was pretty telling, and Harry wondered, for a moment, if maybe telling them the truth was a really bad idea.

And then James reached the sofa and leant down to tug Harry into a tight, sideways hug.

He couldn't quite manage to bite back a quiet noise of surprise, and his dad's arms tightened around him in reaction to it. Harry swallowed and reached up with his hands, wrapping them around James' arm and leaning against him. Then he closed his eyes and just breathed. And it was hard not to notice the horror and grief so obvious in both their scents, but there was so much love, too, and he focussed on that, let that reminder that they cared about him settle him.

Finally, though, James pulled back, shoving him slightly closer to Lily. "Scoot so I can sit," he ordered, and Harry did so, grimacing a bit when he ended up on top of the patch of cushion that was still wet from his spilt tea. Lily magically dried the mess while James got settled, and he asked, as he draped an arm across Harry's shoulders, "So, how did Mum get you to spill the truth?"

Harry winced at that, reminded of the topic that started the whole thing. He caught the hem of his sleep shirt between his fingers, fussing with a section that the thread had pulled out of, and explained, "After Voldemort came to kill me and his curse rebounded, he was sort of stuck as a kind of spirit. He could possess living things for short periods, but not much else. Uhm, my fourth year – so what would have been last year? – the ministry decided to revive the TriWizard Tournament. Voldemort, he'd found a couple of his Death Eaters by then, he heard about it and decided to use it to get to me."

"Oh no," Lily breathed, and one of her hands reached out and covered Harry's hands.

Harry shrugged. "Mad-Eye Moody was supposed to be our defence professor that year, but Barty Crouch Jr got him, used polyjuice to take his place. He put my name in the goblet, confounded it so it would pick me for certain."

"You were underage," James said, an edge of anger in his voice. "Surely you couldn't be beholden to a magical contract that you didn't even agree to!"

Harry shrugged and glanced over at his father. "The age of majority wasn't the same in the seventeen hundreds as it is today, and no one was going to go around mucking with a magical artefact that powerful to update it so it complies with modern magical law," he pointed out, because he'd looked into that, a bit, when he'd heard about the tournament happening again.

James scowled and looked away. "Still," he muttered.

Harry sighed. "I didn't have a magical guardian to fight for me," he offered quietly, and his dad's eyes squeezed shut, pain lining his face. Harry freed one of his hands from Lily's hold and patted James' knee, then continued, "The tasks were...pretty much the same as this time: Getting a gold egg from a dragon, going down into the Black Lake to get someone you cared about from the merfolk village, and fighting your way through a giant maze to the Cup."

"You didn't even have to cheat to find out," James realised, and the smile he shot at Harry looked like it hurt.

Harry let out a snort. "Not really," he admitted. "Though, I wasn't certain how similar the tasks would actually be, at first. After the dragon, and finding out Ludo Bagman's the head of Games and Sports, same as he was during the tournament my first reality, I'd sort of realised they were going to be about the same. Probably some differences to the maze, since Hagrid's dead, but the basics are the same."

James and Lily both let out similar snorts of amusement at the mention of Hagrid. "I take it you're familiar with Hagrid's penchant for dangerous creatures, then," James commented with some slightly strained humour.

Harry flashed him a smile that ached just a little. "He got a dragon egg my first year; we got detention sneaking the baby up to the roof for Charlie Weasley and his mates to collect."

James burst out laughing at that, while Lily let out a helpless sort of laugh. "Of course he did," she said, shaking her head.

Harry snorted at their reactions; clearly, both of them had had their own occasions to discover Hagrid's unfortunate tendency towards violent magical creatures. "Cedric," he offered, once his dad had mostly stopped laughing, "was the other Hogwarts champion, same as this year. We ended up tied for first place, after the first two tasks, so we entered the maze together. Reached the Cup about the same time, too, and agreed to take it together. Hogwarts win either way, right?"

"But, if Voldemort had used the tournament as a trap–" Lily said, horror in her voice.

Harry nodded. "The Cup was a portkey, and we landed in a graveyard. Cedric was killed, Voldemort returned to his full power, and I barely made it out with my life," he explained, and he hated the way his voice shook.

They were all quiet for a long moment, and then James squeezed Harry's shoulder. "That's not going to happen this time."

Harry drew in a careful breath. "I know that," he admitted. "Everything's very different, and I'm not involved, besides. Still, the tournament is...a lot of bad memories; I'll be glad when it's over."

"We all will," Lily offered, squeezing Harry's hand.

There was quiet for another beat, then James said, "You faced a dragon."

Harry couldn't completely bite back a slightly mad little laugh, because little did his father know about his many adventures with dragons; he'd actually had to go, after the wars in his second reality, and mediate between a couple of dragons who had decided they both liked the same peak in the Alps, because the local ministries hadn't been dumb enough to try to get between a couple of dragons, but since they technically fell under the Alpha Lord's purview...

"I summoned my broom," he told James, focussing back on the first task in his original reality. "Flew circles around her until she started to take off, then swooped in and grabbed the egg."

James sort of stared at him, wide-eyed, for a long moment, before his mouth split with a grin and he dragged Harry into a hug. "That must have been amazing. Tell me you played for Gryffindor's team."

"James!" Lily snapped.

Harry, though, laughed and nodded. "I made seeker my first year." He glanced at Lily's glare and offered, "Once I was on my broom, I was actually pretty calm. Play quidditch long enough, even a dragon's an easy opponent."

Lily sighed and slumped, looking a bit tired. "Of course it is," she said a bit helplessly.

James let Harry go and ruffled his hair. "You realise," he said in a conspiratorial tone, "that I'm not going to let you alone, now, until I've seen you play at least one professional game."

Harry rolled his eyes. "Have to find a team that'll accept me, first."

The determined glint in James' eyes promised that he would find a way to get Harry on a team. "Leave that to me, pup. I've got connections."

"It sort of worries me when he says that," Harry stage whispered to his mum, and James huffed, while she shook her head. He flashed his dad a smile, then said, "I got Voldemort to agree to come to one game if I make a team."

James' expression twisted, caught somewhere between amused and disbelieving. "You got Voldemort to agree to attend a quidditch game."

Harry nodded, probably a little too amused. "I don't even have to kill anyone as a bribe!" he offered in as cheerful a tone as he could manage.

James choked out a laugh, looking a little like it hurt. "If he comes to a second game, don't tell Mum, or she'll ground you on principle."

Harry's managed a slightly strained laugh in response, peeking over his shoulder at Lily. When he saw she wasn't smiling, was actually looking a little bit pale, he swallowed his amusement and asked, "Mum?"

Lily reached out and caught both of Harry's hands in hers. "Your lover," she said carefully, "the one you said committed suicide..." She paused for a moment while Harry stiffened, then looked up and caught his eyes. "It was Voldemort," she guessed.

Harry swallowed and somehow managed a nod, was fairly certain words were beyond him right that moment.

Lily caught her bottom lip between her teeth, worrying at it and looking like she wanted to ask for more details, but it was actually James who asked, "Why? I can't imagine Voldemort just...killing himself. Even if you're in trouble."

"I wasn't–" slipped out before Harry could quite manage to stop himself, and he cleared his throat, looking down at where his mum was holding his hands, trying to figure out how to explain the events that had led up to that Tom's suicide. "In my last reality," he offered carefully, "I...sort of needed the ministry out of the way, so I decided to let Voldemort do it. We sort of...became friends, in the process. And then more. But when–" He stopped, shook his head, and grabbed for the cold persona that had protected him at the time. "Voldemort served his purpose, and he'd realised the next step would be his death. So he killed himself, so I didn't have to."

And then he was being pulled into a warm hug by Lily, James' hands twin points of comfort on his shoulders, and Harry had no control over the ruined almost-sob he choked out. Because this was–

There had never been anyone to comfort Harry after that Tom's death, because no one had known they were more than allies, so he'd just buried his grief, pretended he was okay. But, as evidenced by his near-breakdown on the dark lord's birthday, not to mention his reaction to Voldemort being attacked in the ministry, he wasn't okay. Probably never would be, not if he kept falling in love with the man.

"I'm so fucked up," he said, almost didn't realise he'd said it out loud right away, because neither of his parents reacted.

Eventually, Lily pulled back and caught a hand under his chin, making him look up. "Language," she warned.

Harry huffed and couldn't quite resist saying, "You're not arguing."

"I think we all know that you would...what is it you once said?" James said behind him. "Give a therapist an aneurysm?"

Harry choked on a slightly mad little giggle, because his father had a point about that.

Lily sighed and brushed some of Harry's hair back behind his ear, as though that would really help with getting it out of his face. "Well," she said quietly, "unless there's something you've avoided telling Dad or me, Voldemort won't be committing suicide this time."

More to the point, the dark lord would have a far harder time finding his horcruxes to accept them back into himself, since Harry hadn't left them laying around the house, nor was he in the habit of wearing one around his neck. And the place Harry had hidden them should have been beyond his abilities, since he was a squib and he'd used living magic to create and hide the container.

He smiled and shook his head. "I know," he admitted, "and I know how to revive him if someone tries killing him again."

James huffed and, when Harry twisted to glance back at him, offered him a tired smile before explaining, "I'm still a little bit stuck between wanting him out, and glad he makes you happy."

Harry felt his face warm at that, just a bit, and he cleared his throat. "Yeah, well, hazard of being an auror, I guess?"

"Something like that," James agreed, before something seemed to occur to him and he narrowed his eyes. "Did I hear you right, earlier? You were an auror?"

Harry blinked, then nodded, because he saw no reason to lie about that. "In my first reality. I joined up at the end of the war, soon as Voldemort was dead. Had to quit for a couple years, after I got turned, but I did a bit of fighting for werefolk rights and the ministry hired me back with a couple other werewolves."

James considered him for a long moment, then huffed and shook his head. "I suppose that explains how you learnt recipes for auror-restricted potions."

Harry rolled his eyes; somehow, he wasn't surprised that Remus had eventually folded and filled James in about Harry knowing how to make some potions he shouldn't have done. "Yes, I'm afraid so. Not a case of me sticking my nose where it doesn't belong, this time, just having a good memory."

James shook his head. "I'm going to have to pretend I don't see one of those potions later today, aren't I?"

Harry considered that for a moment, then grimaced and nodded. "Yeah. 'Fraid I'm not going to be getting back to sleep, and I can't not go to the final task."

James just sighed.

Lily touched his shoulder and he turned back to her as she offered, "I know Severus only technically invited you, but would you like Dad or me to come with?"

Harry opened his mouth to say no, a part of him baulking at the idea of needing his parents with him, before making himself stop and actually consider his current emotional state. After a moment, he decided, "No, I should be okay. I'll probably sit with Will and Geoffrey and make bets about how long it'll take for Fred and George to get bored with waiting and start pranking people."

"Oh, hey!" James called, a certain note of mischief in his voice that made Harry simultaneously interested and vaguely terrified. "I might have some things you can take with you. Prank the pranksters in true Marauder style by letting them take the fall for things you set up."

Harry laughed.

-0-

Severus' owl had suggested Harry come in time for dinner, so he waved to his parents, then stepped through the doorway that opened for him and made his way to Hogwarts.

Merope was lounging around outside the access to the headmaster's office, and Harry raised an eyebrow as he slowed to a stop next to her. "Tom's in Severus' office?" he guessed.

Merope smiled and nodded. "Severus was required to attend to an altercation following the last transfiguration exam of the day. Rather than him handling it in his office and chancing someone seeing you, Tom suggested he be the one to wait for you."

"No one had to wait for me," Harry pointed out.

Merope shook her head at him. "Of course not, but Tom wanted to."

Harry couldn't quite help a pleased smile at that, and he hurried to step through the doorway that opened for him before Merope thought to comment on it.

Voldemort looked up from where he appeared to be working on paperwork at Severus' desk, his expression going soft and a little fond as he caught sight of Harry's smile. "Hello, Scythe."

"Hi! Your mum said you were waiting for me."

Voldemort sighed in that way he tended to do when Harry let on that Merope was watching him and reporting back to Harry, then stood from the desk and stepped around it, meeting Harry partway. He cupped Harry's cheek, his expression going a little bit concerned. "You look tired."

Harry winced. "I had a rough night. It happens."

Voldemort frowned. "You didn't need to come."

Harry leant up and pressed a brief kiss to his mouth. "I'm already here, nothing for it but to keep Will in line."

"Just don't fall asleep during the task," Voldemort warned. "Especially if you're intending to be seated near the Weasleys."

Harry snorted. "Not a concern."

Voldemort cast him a suspicious look. "Illegal potions, Scythe?" he guessed. "What will your parents think?"

Harry rolled his eyes, then caught a hand behind the dark lord's nape and made him lean down enough that Harry didn't have to be on his tiptoes for a proper kiss.

They were eventually interrupted by someone clearing their throat, and both of them turned to glare at Albus' portrait, which simply smiled and said, "You wouldn't want to be late to supper, my boys."

"I am going to burn you," Voldemort hissed.

Harry sighed and caught the dark lord's wrist before he could get out his wand. "Let the bleeding heart alone, Voldemort," he said. "You know the school's magic will just make another one, anyway."

Voldemort hissed some rather inventive curses in Parseltongue, but he didn't fight Harry when he led him away from the desk and Albus' smile. On the staircase down to the gargoyle, though, Voldemort gently freed his wrist from Harry's hold and made a point of straightening his robes and putting on the scowl he usually wore in public.

Harry just shook his head, amused by his partner's absolute refusal to let anyone assume he might have a kind bone in his body. "Are you going to make me sit at the head table again?" he asked as they stepped out past the opened gargoyle.

Voldemort let out a hiss that, to Harry, sounded more amused than anything else. "Can you manage to not start a war over which table you're sitting at?"

"Ah." Harry considered that for a moment, then decided, "I think so." Because Hermione likely wouldn't care whether or not he sat with her, and since he'd promised to sit with Will during the task, it was only fair that he took dinner with Chris. Though he'd probably have to stop next to Will and let him know that.

"Very well."

Harry got lucky, actually; Will was standing in the entrance hall, apparently being introduced to Cedric's parents when Harry and Voldemort started down the main staircase. Voldemort's appearance made everyone go very, very quiet, but then Will apparently spotted Harry, because he grinned and called, "Harry!"

Rather than continuing to behave on account of Voldemort's presence, Harry hurried down the rest of the staircase with a grin of his own, completely unsurprised when Will met him at the bottom with a hug. "Hi, trouble," he offered as he ruffled Will's hair.

Will stuck his tongue out at him, then caught his arm and dragged him back over to the Diggorys. "This is my brother, Harry!" he told them.

All three of the Diggorys offered Harry slightly strained smiles, and Harry sighed and offered, "I apologise for my brother's usual lack of tact."

"Hey!"

Cedric's smile turned a bit more honest. "I'm getting used to it," he commented.

Harry snorted and shook his head, then turned to his brother as Voldemort finally passed into the great hall. "Since I'm going to sit with you during the task, do you mind if I sit with Chris for dinner?"

Will huffed a bit, but Harry had a feeling it was all for show.

"You won't be sitting with your own house?" Mrs Diggory asked.

Harry blinked at that; after the article about the second task, where he'd been outted as a squib, he'd sort of expected everyone to know that about him. Though, he supposed, being the eldest Potter brother was hardly as recognisable as being the Boy Who Lived. "I'm a squib," he told Mrs Diggory, and all three Diggorys winced. He shrugged at their response and turned a raised eyebrow on his brother.

Will nodded. "I suppose you can sit with the stupid snakes."

Harry rolled his eyes and ruffled Will's hair again, then turned and held out a hand to Cedric. "Good luck."

Cedric took his hand with a strained smile. "Thanks."

Harry shook his head and promised, "You'll be fine," then turned and shooed Will into the great hall ahead of him.

He waved at Hermione and other students he knew as he saw them, and settled in next to Chris, who had been quick to make space for him when he made it to his part of the Slytherin table. While no one said anything to his face, his werewolf hearing let him hear plenty of other students muttering about him being a squib while they all ate, and he knew from his brothers that they had both suffered their share of insults shortly after the article had come out. The Weasley twins had only had to step in a couple times to get the lot in Gryffindor to shut up, and Chris had, wisely, used his familiarity with Severus and Barty to get his fellow Slytherins to back off, so at least they were no longer getting any abuse for being related to a squib.

Harry walked to the maze with the Slytherins, once they'd been dismissed to head out there, and used the noise and chaos of the crowd to pass Chris a handful of the pranks James had given him that afternoon, figuring it was only fair that Chris got a chance to cause some mayhem and blame it on the twins, same as Harry intended to do. (Given the rivalry between Slytherin and Gryffindor, and the number of times the twins had left pranks for unsuspecting Slytherins, they were far more likely culprits than the youngest Potter son.)

Harry waved his goodbyes to Chris when they reached the stands and went to hunt down Will, eventually finding him with Hermione, Geoffrey, Luna, and all four of the Weasleys in the middle of the Gryffindor section of the stands.

"Someone looking to earn last minute points in the name of inter-house friendships?" he had to ask as he settled into the open seat between Will and Hermione.

Hermione huffed and hugged him. "No. I just knew the likelihood of my getting to see you increased if I sat with the lions. And since I was coming over here, I figured it was best if I brought Luna with me, rather than leave her to the other eagles."

Harry flashed her an approving grin, then leant forward to trade greetings with the rest of the surrounding students he was familiar with, laughingly refusing to put bets on the outcome of the tournament when he was asked.

When Voldemort stepped up to the circle of champions, the stands quickly fell silent, and he didn't bother with casting any magic to make his voice louder as, despite his preference for speaking quietly – believing, Harry knew, that it came across as far more threatening – he was quite capable of projecting his voice the muggle way.

"The third and final task of the TriWizard Tournament will begin directly. The champions will be required to make their way through the maze to the centre, where the TriWizard Cup awaits them. The first to collect it will be named the winner. Based on the current points, Mr Cedric Diggory, of Hogwarts School, will enter the maze first."

The students didn't let their fear of Voldemort stop them from roaring their approval and support, and the dark lord waited them out with, for him, an unusual show of patience.

Still, when he motioned for their silence, they shut up, letting him continue with, "After five minutes, Miss Jeanne André, of Beauxbatons Academy will enter the maze." He paused again, giving the Beauxbâtons contingent the chance to voice their support. "Miss Zofia Wojczyk, of Durmstrang Institute, will enter last." Again, he allowed the school in question the chance to cheer. When they shut up, the dark lord held up a globe that caught the last few rays of sunlight, which was small enough to fit easily in his hand. "These balls will be following the champions through the maze, remaining high enough to not cause a hindrance, and will project images of their progress over the maze."

Harry blinked in surprise, because that he hadn't expected. Leave it to the too-clever dark lord to find a way to keep the audience from getting bored.

Voldemort tapped the globe in his hand with his wand and it lit up bright yellow, then left his hand and zoomed over to hover above Cedric's head, high enough that it would be above the hedges of the maze and, Harry could only assume, above the range of any spells cast to trip the champions up. After another moment, an image of the champions from above flickered into being over the entrance to the maze, and the crowd roared their approval; they clearly remembered how tedious the second task had been.

Voldemort turned to the champions and, under the dying cheers of the crowd, Harry could just make out him telling Cedric to step up to the entrance of the maze, which he did, wand held tightly in his right hand. There was a moment of silence, the crowd holding their breath, and then a whistle sounded – Harry looked to the judges table just in time to see Severus passing a silver whistle down to Madame Maxime – and Cedric vanished into the hedges.

"Those globes are brilliant," Hermione breathed as they watched Cedric pause for a moment at a T-intersection, before going left.

"I'm sure he's ridiculously proud of them," Harry murmured, amused. "A little surprised he's so far resisted bragging about them." When Hermione cast him a quick, questioning glance, he rolled his eyes, and she started giggling.

As the other two champions were released into the maze, two additional images flickered into existence over the front of the maze, and while they couldn't always tell what magical hazards the champions faced, they always knew when something was there, because they would slow or stop entirely as they fought the hazard off. The crowd alternated cheers and cries, depending on which image they were watching and how that champion was getting on, which was rather a different experience than any other spectator event Harry had attended.

As a general rule, all three champions were doing quite well, though they all had slightly different ways of making their way through the maze: Cedric, notably, kept to kinder reactions to hazards, often leaving any magical creatures behind with nothing worse than some minor burns, and most spell hazards, he found ways to duck around without destroying them. In opposition, Wojczyk tended to blast spells out of existence when she came across them, and while she was harsher about getting creatures to leave her alone, she didn't outright kill any of them, which Harry approved of. André was somewhere between the other two when it came to dealing with magical hazards, destroying as many as she left, and most creatures she came across ended up tangled in the hedge, which she seemed to have a certain fondness for. (Given her use of gillyweed during the second task, Harry wasn't as surprised about that as some of his particularly vocal neighbours were.)

With entertainment provided, the twins didn't actually start pranking people, and Harry kept his own store of pranks from James in his pocket. Judging by an outcry from the section of the stands the Slytherins had claimed, not long after Wojczyk entered the maze, Chris hadn't been quite so kind to his fellow snakes. (Given that one of the pranked appeared to be Draco Malfoy, if his newly red skin was anything to go by, Harry rather approved.)

Despite the images serving as entertainment, the students did start to get a little restless as they started approaching the hour mark. Likewise, the champions seemed to be tiring, if their slowing movements were anything to go by.

Somewhat unexpectedly, Cedric and André entered a wide-open area at about the same time. Both of their globes panned, showing the Cup between them, as well as the acromantula standing over it, which explained why neither of them had run forward. (Cue horrified noises from Ron on account of the massive spider.)

They both started stepping carefully forward. André must have made some sort of noise – or else the acromantula happened to spot her first – because she stumbled backwards without any warning, waving her wand in that way she'd often done to use the hedges against creatures. Except there were no hedges in range, and a hairy foot came into the frame, André just barely dodging it.

Cedric, for his part, had used the acromantula's distraction to hurry forward, quickly covering the distance between him and the Cup, which made the Hogwarts stands roar with victory. But Cedric – as Harry had, privately, half-expected – didn't take the Cup, staring past it at where André was losing more ground against the acromantula. After a beat, he motioned with his wand, sending a spell out of the frame of his image.

"What is he doing?" a number of students around Harry demanded.

Harry just shook his head, amused and resigned. With any luck, Cedric wouldn't be so noble as to offer the Cup to André, as another version of him had once tried to do for Harry. (If he did, he'd probably end up needing to be protected from the crowd, because at least a third of the Hogwarts students looked ready to lynch him for not taking the Cup when he had the chance, never mind if he passed it on to the French.)

Once she realised she had help, André stopped retreating and started shooting out spells of her own. Together, the two champions must have managed to take out the acromantula, because they stopped casting nearly at the same time, while hairy legs the width of a person's leg sort of slid out across the ground, visible in both of their images.

There was a tense moment – Cedric had moved far enough from the Cup, it was no longer in his frame, and it was difficult to judge which of them would have an easier time getting around the acromantula to grab it – the whole audience holding its breath, and then André gave a short bow and motioned for Cedric to go.

Wisely, Cedric did so without arguing about it, and the stands roared their approval as he took the handle of the Cup and vanished from his image, shortly after appearing in the space in front of the maze, where he stared around with wide eyes for a moment, then raised the Cup in a show of victory.

André and Wojczyk appeared behind him after a moment – the globes apparently doubled as portkeys – both looking tired and Wojczyk, at least, looking cross.

Somewhat unexpectedly, the British Minister for Magic, Corban Yaxley, was the one to step forward and congratulate all of the champions, giving Cedric the prize money in trade for the Cup. Harry glanced towards the judges' table, frowning, but Voldemort seemed to have vanished, and he hoped it wasn't because something had gone wrong, though that was always a possibility, especially with their corner of the world's attention focussed on the tournament.

Well, Harry would hear about it, one way or the other, eventually. Until either Voldemort asked for help, or Death suggested he might need to get involved, there was no point in him worrying about it.

Will made noises like he wanted to congratulate Cedric, but Harry – with the help of Ginny and Hermione – managed to talk him into waiting until the next day, given the mob of Hogwarts students currently intent on congratulating their champion. (Anyway, judging by the expression on Madam Pomfrey's face, the champions would all very shortly be on their way to the infirmary.)

"Getting to the party early," Ginny commented as they followed the twins from the stands, "is the best way to lessen the chance of getting food that's been pranked."

"She has a point," Harry agreed, and Hermione snorted next to him.

"I suppose," Will agreed, before glancing over at Harry. "Are you going to stay for the party this time?"

Harry shrugged. "I can probably stay for a little bit," he decided, and Will's face lit up. "But I do have to be back eventually, or Mum'll come after me."

Will grimaced. "Oh, yeah."

Harry chuckled, and was just turning to see where Hermione was – she'd fallen behind him a bit, and he didn't want to lose her in the crowd without getting the chance to say goodbye – when he spotted a group of sixth and seventh year Slytherins with murder in their eyes, wands aimed at the unaware Weasley twins. "Fred! George!" he shouted, even as he called his squib wand to his hand and threw up a shield spell between them and the Slytherins.

Spellfire splashed against the shield, lighting the grass and the surrounding students, many of whom screamed and stumbled out of the way. The shield held, easily, and Harry breathed a quick word of gratitude for the dark lord's work in attaching the wand to his magical core, because the shield from the original wand would have broken after the second curse.

Fred, George, Lee Jordan, Angelina Johnson, Ron, Seamus, and a couple of Gryffindor sixth years all turned to face the Slytherins, pulling out their wands. When Will moved to join them, Harry grabbed his shoulder and snarled, "Get inside, William!"

Will, wisely, didn't fight him, instead taking Luna and Geoffrey's arms and pulling them with him towards the open doors of the castle. Hermione hurried after them, casting a brief, worried look back over her shoulder at Harry.

Harry wished he could spare her a reassuring smile, but he was already hurrying over to the Gryffindors, grabbing Ron's wrist before he could cast a spell. "Wands down!" he snapped, casting a glare over the upper year Gryffindors. While most of them looked content to ignore him, the twins (somewhat surprisingly) and Angelina lowered their wands, motioning for their neighbours to do the same. "Do you want detention for the last week of term?" Harry hissed to Ron, and he let out an irritated sound, but lowered his wand, Seamus following suit.

"Cowards!" one of the Slytherins shouted. "You'll only attack us when our backs are turned, now?"

Harry squinted against the glow of his shield as one of the twins shot back, "Look who's talking!" He spotted the tell-tale signs of one of the pranks James had sent with him on at least two of them and bit back a sigh; perhaps leaving the pranks to be blamed on the twins hadn't been the wisest course.

As the Slytherins raised their wands again, Harry stepped past his shield and flatly stated, "If you want to be cross with someone for pranking you, you're best looking to me." Because no way he was going to point fingers at Chris, and he couldn't think of any other way to keep a massive end-of-term war from breaking out between the two houses.

The Slytherins sort of stared at him for a moment, while the Gryffindors let out noises of surprise. And then one of the Slytherins laughed and said, "You're the Potter squib! What can you do?"

Harry tilted his head to the side. "Surely you took potions? It's amazing the sorts of things you can do without a wand." And then he flashed a smile, taking care to keep his teeth human-shaped, because he doubted showing off he was a werewolf would help matters.

"You dirty little freak," one of them snarled, before throwing a violet-coloured spell at Harry.

Harry snapped up a new shield around himself, then cast the disarming charm. Either the Slytherin hadn't expected that move, or he just had a generally shitty hold on his wand, because it jumped from his grip almost before Harry finished the wand motion. He directed it to his feet, rather than catching it, and moved his foot to hover over where it landed in the grass.

"You know," he said in his best icy tone into the tense silence that followed, "this habit you wand-users have of name-calling on account of my not being able to use a wand is pretty much the entire reason you got pranked. So, tell you what, you little snakes leave my brothers the hell alone, and I won't snap every single one of your precious sticks."

A couple of the Slytherins looked like they were considering cursing him, but the snake whose wand he had hissed for them to back off.

One of the Slytherins took a step forward, holding up his hands to show they were empty. "Point made, Potter. We won't be using your being a squib against your brothers in future."

Harry considered the boy for a moment. His instincts were screaming that he wasn't being completely honest, but there wasn't really a whole lot he could do to protect his brothers, given he wasn't at Hogwarts. With luck, Severus and Barty would continue to serve as a deterrent against anyone who thought Chris and Will were easy targets. So he nodded and picked up the stolen wand, then tossed it towards the closer Slytherin.

As he turned to rejoin the Gryffindors, his own wand slipped from his grasp, and he turned to raise an unimpressed eyebrow as the Slytherin who'd stepped forward to talk to him reached out a hand to catch it with a nasty smirk.

Just before it reached him, the tether activated and Harry's wand snapped back towards him, returning to the hand he held out for it. "Yeah," he said to the disbelieving stares, "not the first time someone's tried taking my wand from me."

And then, before matters could further devolve – Harry honestly wasn't certain whether the Gryffindors behind him or the Slytherins would explode first – Severus stalked into the space between them, looking furious. Barty and McGonagall weren't far behind him, both looking pretty pissed off themselves. "My office," Severus snarled, looking between the two sides. "All of you. Now."

Harry turned to follow the Gryffindors into the castle, rather unsurprised when he found himself quickly shuffled into the middle of them, like they thought he needed to be protected. (Really, though, they weren't likely to be able to protect him from Lily, who would probably ground him for causing trouble. Even if James had been the one to slip him the pranks.)

Severus led the way to the gargoyle, McGonagall and Barty bringing up the rear to – Harry could only assume – ensure none of the students tried to make a run for it. As he stepped into his office, however, Severus' steps stuttered, and he said, "My Lord, I thought you'd left."

"Not quite," Voldemort replied flatly, and the scent of the students changed to nearly overwhelming terror, which made Harry sigh a bit. "I do hope none of the students decided to cross wands with the French," the dark lord added, a note of warning in his voice, as the students started stepping off the staircase and into the office.

"Not quite, My Lord," Severus replied.

Harry glanced up as he was tugged off to one side of the office by Angelina and caught Voldemort's gaze. The dark lord closed his eyes briefly, then said, in Parseltongue (further terrifying the students and the three professors), :Scythe, I sincerely hope this isn't your doing.:

Harry winced.

Voldemort let out a hiss that sounded a bit resigned, to Harry, and stood from behind Severus' desk. "A fight between houses," he said flatly, and the students all flinched, not a one of them daring to look at the dark lord.

Everyone was silent for a moment, and then Voldemort motioned towards Severus, who cleared his throat before requesting, "Harry, perhaps you can supply an unbiased account?"

Harry sighed and stepped forward. "I don't know about unbiased," he admitted, and Severus narrowed his eyes. "After that article came out, Will and Chris got a lot of flak for having a squib as a brother. I brought pranks to get back some of the worst of the perpetrators. Set some up for the Slytherins at dinner, but I didn't manage to get any of the Gryffindors, figured I'd wait for the party in their common. The Slytherins assumed Fred and George were the perpetrators and tried attacked them. When I corrected them, they turned their ire on me." He cleared his throat, then admitted, "I may have threatened to snap some wands."

Severus rubbed at the bridge of his nose, looking a bit like he couldn't decide if he should laugh or yell. Finally, he ordered, "Give me the rest of the pranks."

Harry pulled the bag of them out of his pocket and stepped forward to hand them over without complaint. As he handed them over, the dark lord crooked a finger at him and, sighing again, Harry stepped over to him. "I believe," Voldemort said in a bland tone that Harry was nearly certain was hiding laughter, "I told you not to start any wars while you were visiting."

"Sorry," Harry offered. Mostly honestly.

"Fifty points from Slytherin, and detention tomorrow night for all of you," Severus announced and, judging by the shifting some of them did, they would have been arguing that if Voldemort weren't in the room. "It doesn't matter what they've done, you do not attack visitors to this school, especially if that visitor is a squib. As punishment for not attempting to find a professor, neither of your houses will be enjoying a victory party tonight."

The Gryffindors let out quiet groans, but none of them dared to argue.

"Professors McGonagall and Crouch will see you back to your common rooms," Severus ordered, and the professors in question set about leading their students out of the office.

Once the last of the students had left the office, Severus turned to Harry with a tired look and held up the bag of pranks. "I expect I have your father to thank for this."

Harry shrugged. "I'm afraid so. Do I need to forewarn Mum she's going to be grounding me once your owl gets to her?"

Voldemort snorted.

Severus gave Harry a considering look, clearly debating his options, before deciding, "As you resisted the urge to either break any wands or kill any students, I won't owl her. This time."

"Thank you," Harry replied with a quick, grateful smile. "I expect you want me to leave before I can accidentally cause any more trouble, though."

"Please."

Harry glanced up at Voldemort. "I'll see you over the weekend," he offered in Atlantean.

"Assuming your mother doesn't find out and ground you anyway," Voldemort returned in his careful Atlantean.

Harry grimaced, then motioned with one hand and stepped into the doorway that opened for him, turning and making his way home. He fully intended to share the news about Cedric winning the tournament, then crawl into bed and wait for the potion he'd taken to wear off so he could sleep.

.

Chapter Text

Somehow, Lily managed to find out about the altercation before Hogwarts let out the following week, and Harry couldn't decide if it was more likely that the Weasleys had told their parents and she'd heard from Molly, or that the Slytherins had written home and one of their parents had caught Lily at work. Either way, Lily told off James for starting the whole mess, but she seemed to be of the same mind as Severus, that since Harry hadn't killed anyone or broken any of their wands, he wouldn't have to suffer a grounding.

Harry half suspected it was a sort of attempt to reward him for moderation, but he didn't bother questioning the reason for his good fortune, just accepted it with silent gratitude.

The welcome home party was especially overdone that summer, as Sirius and James apparently decided to use it as an excuse for all of them to celebrate Hogwarts winning the TriWizard Tournament. Honestly, Harry was rather relieved that, when they happened to spot the Diggorys at the station, the pair of loons resisted the urge to do more than loudly congratulate Cedric. (Judging by the helpless sort of smile Cedric wore when he glanced at Will, he'd a pretty good idea of where he had got his particular brand of over-the-top exuberance.)

They'd scheduled a day for the Hogwarts students to unpack their trunks, then they were off to Gibraltar for a week and a half. Lily absolutely got her beaches, and they all had the chance to pick up a bit of muggle history and wander around the local sites. They ended up taking a day trip to Tangier near the end of the holiday, because Hermione and Remus had conspired to track down information about the ferry and sites to see across the strait, apparently attracted to the less-European architecture and the chance to see a bit of a new foreign country.

All told, it was a nice holiday with its own particular charm, but Harry was kind of glad to return to England. If only because he could visit the dark lord again. (Which he absolutely didn't do their first night back, no way.)

Once they were back in England, James set about dragging Harry – and Sirius, Will, and Chris, who had actually invited themselves along, usually with Peter or Remus to act as a third for apprating – around to watch various quidditch practices. Because he'd apparently decided that Harry wasn't going to continue his muggle education, since he was so set on a job in the magical world. (For his part, Harry was a bit torn about his future education, and had pretty much decided to wait until his GCSE results came in to settle on a course. Which he'd told both of his parents, and the tiredly amused look Lily offered him each time James declared they were going to watch a practice said that she, at least, remembered that conversation. Not that either of them made any attempts to get James to slow down.)

Unsurprisingly, James and Sirius – and Will and Chris, though they were less vocal, by far – were pushing for him to focus his efforts on Puddlemere United, and that was the team they went to see the first three visits. Ron, when he got wind of events – Harry blamed Will – was quick to insist Harry join the Chudley Cannons, while the twins wasted almost three hours on a loud row about which team would be the best option, eventually settling on the Holyhead Harpies. (Harry was convinced the whole thing was staged just to annoy everyone else, especially since the Holyhead Harpies was a women-only team. When Ginny had pointed that out, Fred had very seriously brought up a sex reassignment, at which point Harry had made a tactical retreat for the sake of his limited sanity.)

Harry didn't actually have a preference for which team he joined, other than it not being the Cannons, and he spent a lot of time rolling his eyes at everyone else. He'd almost resorted to getting Lily to talk to James about letting him look at other teams, but he ended up not having to, as the Puddlemere manager, Philbert Deverill, approached them during their third practice, two days before Harry's birthday.

"We usually scout new players through Hogwarts teams," Deverill said after James had introduced them and explained that Harry was looking at a possible career in quidditch, "which is something you're going to find true for most of the league teams, though you wouldn't be the first hopeful who either didn't attend Hogwarts, or never made it onto their house team. We'll usually run a little mock practice for those sorts at the end of the summer, see how they do on a broom and working with a team, and I'm happy to set something up for you, but we don't actually have any open slots on either the main team or the reserves, so it's very unlikely anything will come of it. I'm sorry."

James looked pretty close to heartbroken – Harry suspected his brothers and Sirius wouldn't look much better, if he turned to where they were eavesdropping from – and Harry rolled his eyes before saying, "I understand. Are any of the other league teams looking to fill open positions, do you know?"

Deverill cast him a sly look. "No team loyalty, is it?"

Harry shrugged and admitted, "I don't really prefer any one league team over the others, no, though it's true that most of my family's a bit mad about Puddlemere." He shot a sideways glance at his father when James huffed. "I just want to play quidditch; the uniform I'm in doesn't really matter to me."

Deverill raised his eyebrows. "You might look into amateur teams, in that case, get your quidditch fix that way."

Harry tilted his head to the side slightly, considering the man. James had been clear upfront that Harry was looking to turn quidditch into a career, not just play as a hobby, and he knew Deverill had caught that, because he'd straightened and given Harry a more careful look-over when James had said it. But now he was suggesting Harry join one of the amateur teams, the ones that tended to play pick-up games once every other week in someone's back garden?

He understood team pride, and that there wasn't any point in playing the game if you didn't go into it intending to win, but he wasn't sure why his lack of attachment to any one specific team meant he shouldn't play professionally. Did Deverill think that, because he hadn't spent half his life wearing their colours in a show of support, he wouldn't do his best to kick their opponents' arses?

"Maybe I will," he said in a slightly careless tone.

Something that looked like victory flashed in Deverill's eyes, and it was a struggle to keep from narrowing his own eyes as the manager offered, "Come back in a couple years if you've still got the itch; Jocelind might actually stop talking about retiring and actually do it, by then."

Harry glanced up at where Jocelind Wadcock, who was well into her eighties, was passing a quaffle back and forth with Diana Booth and John Campbell, the other two chasers on the main team. Her form was pretty much perfect, and Harry hadn't seen her fumble the quaffle once during the three practices they'd attended; he seriously doubted she would be retiring any time soon. "Maybe," he agreed absently, before turning his focus back on Deverill and offering him a smile that felt a little too false. "That you for your time, Mr Deverill."

"Messrs Potter," Deverill replied politely and inclined his head before moving away to talk with some other fans.

"So," Sirius said from behind Harry and James, "I guess Puddlemere doesn't like picking up players who aren't diehard fans."

"Mr Deverill certainly doesn't," James replied, a hint of anger in his voice.

Harry shrugged. "It doesn't really matter, since they don't have room on their team, anyway." He turned to look at his dad. "Since it's clear Puddlemere isn't happening, can we start going to the practises of other teams?"

"More quidditch visits?" Will called, sounding delighted.

James cast a brief glance towards Harry's brothers, an amused twist to his mouth, before focussing on Harry. "Let me see if the league has any record of which teams aren't full-up on players."

"Fair enough," Harry agreed, and they settled in to finish watching the practice, because they were a bunch of quidditch nuts, and there was really no getting around that.

(Still. Harry was maybe a little bit relieved that he wouldn't end up playing for his family's team, if only because that eased some of the pressure.)

-0-

Given that they'd never actually discussed any special plans for his birthday – other than Harry admitting he was probably best waking up at his home, since his family preferred to do presents and cake in the morning – Harry wasn't particularly surprised when there was a knock on the door while he was on his way down from putting his gifts away, the dark lord's familiar scent obvious before Harry got the door open. "Hi!" he called, grinning widely. Because, half expected or not, he was always happy to see his partner. (Also, Tom was wearing some of the clothing Harry'd bullied him into buying on the dark lord's birthday, and seeing him in not-a-suit was a treat.)

Tom's mouth twisted with his fond smile and he offered, "Happy birthday, Scythe," as Harry stepped back to let him in. Once the door was closed, he caught an arm around Harry's waist and pulled him into a kiss that Harry was all-too-happy to take part in.

"I presume you'll be forcing me to suffer your mother's cake again," Tom said, but he was still smiling.

Harry rolled his eyes. "If you're not careful, I'm gonna get Mum to bake a cake for your birthday one of these years," he threatened, even as he caught Tom's hand and led him towards the kitchen.

"Resist the urge," was Tom's unimpressed reply.

"Whoa," Will said when Harry and Tom entered the dining room, staring at the dark lord. And he was fairly clearly not the only one surprised by the change in Tom's appearance from the last time he'd visited on Harry's birthday – James, Lily, and Hermione were the only ones who'd seen him since the attack – but he was the most obvious about it.

Tom sighed, while Harry quickly said, "The attack last summer took a few years off, I know."

James choked on his drink, while Sirius said, "Really," in the driest, most obviously disbelieving tone Harry had probably ever heard from him.

Remus sighed, then rather pointedly said, "We're not asking."

Sirius made a show of rolling his eyes and replied in a stage whisper, "Like either of them would actually fill us in."

Harry caught the dark lord's raised eyebrow out of the corner of his eye and shrugged; Tom really couldn't have expected he'd share the truth of his horcruxes with his family, not when he wasn't even willing to share the truth of his past with them. (Or, well, not all of them. Not that Tom knew he'd told his parents who he'd been during his past lives.)

"So," James said, with a hint of discomfort, after Harry had been sung to and the cake pieces were being floated around to everyone, "what are your plans for today?"

"We hadn't actually discussed anything," Harry admitted with a shrug, glancing over at his partner.

Tom shrugged. "Scy–Harry insisted he was here for the morning. I made dinner reservations for the two of us, but they can be changed," he finished, raising one eyebrow at Harry.

"Dinner sounds great," Harry insisted, because no way he would refuse dinner with his partner. "We can just play it by ear, after. And I can send word home if we get caught up with something until late."

"Caught up with something," Sirius repeated in a whisper, then grunted when Remus elbowed him, which got snickers from Will and Chris.

James sighed and rubbed at his eyes, leaving it to Lily to say, as she returned to the table with her own slice of cake, "That sounds fine. Do try to be back early tomorrow, though. Unless you want to explain to Molly why you're late."

"Not particularly," Harry admitted, even as he reached around Hermione to shove Will's shoulder in a useless attempt to get him to stop snickering.

"You can stay until lunch, then," Lily insisted. "That should give Harry time to enjoy his gifts."

Harry narrowed his eyes at his mum, because he hadn't got anything so exciting that he'd want to spend a couple of hours playing with it. "Voldemort," he said, "tell me you haven't been conspiring with my parents."

"There was no conspiring," Tom said in a tone of voice that was ever so slightly insulted.

James and Lily both sighed and shook their heads at Harry when he looked at them.

So, no conspiring, but his parents definitely knew what the dark lord had got him. Interesting.

Hermione cleared her throat and, before anyone could start asking any leading questions about the mystery gift, asked, "Sir, you wouldn't happen to know when the OWL results are coming, would you?"

Tom frowned. "They haven't been released yet?"

Everyone shook their heads, because while Hermione was the only one expecting results, they'd all been a bit tensely awaiting their arrival. (Harry's own GCSE results, he knew from upperclassmen, shouldn't be expected until after his birthday, but they'd all expected the OWLs to come out sooner.)

"I'll look into it tomorrow," Tom decided, before turning to Harry. "Let me know if they don't arrive Friday morning."

"Sure," Harry agreed. Honestly, if they didn't arrive the morning after the dark lord started asking some probing questions, the exam team deserved the curses his partner would start throwing around.

"The back yard, I think," Tom decided once both he and Harry had finished their serving of cake.

"This should be good," Sirius muttered as everyone got up nearly as one; clearly, Harry wasn't the only one interested in seeing what his partner had got him.

Out in the yard, James and Lily broke away to activate the ward stones, and Harry didn't need to see the shape of the miniature package Tom pulled out of his pocket to guess what was going on. "You got me a broom," he guessed.

Tom raised an eyebrow at him, even as Will and Chris both moved forward, clearly interested. "I did," he said, then tapped the package to resize it and held it out to him. "You're welcome to return it, if you really don't want it," he added with a smirk.

Harry narrowed his eyes and accepted the gift; the Potter family had six Nimbus 2000s in the broom shed, one for each of them and Hermione, in case of an emergency.