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The Cocoon

Chapter Text

The Black Hole residence, Kent, England, the United Kingdom
31st July 1998

 

Eighteen years old. I am an adult in the magical and non-magical worlds, now.

 

Strange. I don’t feel any different.

 

Ironically, I don’t feel any different, either, from the eleven-year-old that was yet to know anything about the undeniable existence of magic or the magical world itself.

 

It’s my birthday today, but all of my measly number of friends and pseudo-family already have things to do, and everyone else likewise, making this small house all too silent and empty, like an oversized cupboard-under-the-stairs. Hermione is training as an Unspeakable while finishing her NEWT year and continuing her Muggle education. Ron is training as Keeper for the Chuddley Cannons. Neville is training as an Auror. Luna is training as the next owner and sole operator of the Quibbler. Ginny is training as a Seeker for the Holyhead Harpies. The Weasley family is still assisting other families in rebuilding their homes. Andy Tonks is in Saint Mungo’s with little Teddy Lupin for a routine check-up regarding the concern of him inheriting the Werewolf condition from his late father. They have all sent me birthday cards and gifts, but they won’t be present at all today.

 

In a way, it’s worse than before I knew anything about the magical world, with their seemingly abandoning me on this important day.

 

It’s not that I’ve got nothing to do to distract myself from the silent emptiness; far from it. I am attempting to address all loose and pending matters regarding myself, my conduct – and lack of it – throughout my short, horribly adventurous, terribly abnormal lifetime, my combined estate of the Houses Potter and Black, and also those that have somehow fallen under my purview by bequeaths from hopeful and/or thankful strangers, as I have been doing since a few months ago. But still.

 

And speaking about the mountain of terrible and terribly boring homework assigned to me, now I can say that, if I have been wavering in my opinion about one Albus Dumbledore, leaning towards forgiving him for everything that he has done to me, by this point I am much more inclined to despise him. This on-going, guilt-heaping, never-ending task is one of the culprits, aside from – surprisingly or not – Andromeda Tonks née Black, with her Pensieve and her shrewd, detailed analyses of events from a somewhat neutral point of view.

 

Growing up with a family of non-magicals who hated even the sight of me? Well, I could have grown up with Andy, a decent mother of one, who also has been brought up knowing how to behave as a child of an Ancient and Noble House; and I found only about a couple of months ago that I am the heir to two of those Houses, vast ones at that when it comes to the matter of estate and power – and therefore, expectations and influence.

 

Not knowing that the title of “Ancient and Noble House” does exist and what it pertains to? Again, this could have been solved by being raised by her – stable, decent, independently well-off, relatively obscure – family, if Dumbledore was so concerned about me being raised in an environment that would either kill me, or drain my coffers dry, or make me big-headed and/or evil.

 

There are many other blunders and deficiencies that could have been avoided if only I were raised “decently,” and I would like to blame all those points on Andy’s biases as a Black in blood and a grieving survivor of a wrecked family, but… well… I can’t.

 

She helped me clear the air and negotiate for reparations with the goblins without having to bleed my vaults – I have vaults – dry. She has been educating me, however belatedly, on how to be a proper lord for not just my own House but also the House of Black that Sirius has left me in his will. (And how mad she was, when it turned out that I didn’t know Dumbledore had represented me in the will reading.) She also dumped tomes of investment accounts and property list and family journals and so many others on my desk just after the business with the goblins was finished, with the blunt declaration that these are my inheritance that’s more worthy, more tangible, nobler, more lasting and more weighty than heaps of gold. She is the one who informed me of the unanswered letters and unopened gifts that had been sitting un-thanked in one of the vaults deep in Gringotts by Albus Dumbledore’s order. She is in fact the one who has been helping me answer the letters that used to sit in that vault, whether on their own or along with gifts; even those that have been cursed, rigged with some harmful substance, or contained unpleasant words.

 

And she has witnessed my waterworks in play more than once, when I tried to thank some senders of nice letters and gifts, only to have the owls I sent off return with the unopened letters within seconds, which, according to the book on post owl’s characteristics, would signify that those senders were no longer among the living, not just enclosed within impermeable wards.

 

The waterworks, embarrassingly, haven’t been exclusive to such instances, either. In fact, the worst happened when I matched the names of more than a few senders with the names of the various caretakers of Potter holdings, humans or otherwise, and realised that they had sent me letters, even birthday wishes and gifts; and, the most poignant of all, requests to see me to assure themselves that they were not going to be dismissed from my life and House’s protection.

 

I have been loved and cared for in absentia, all my life, and I didn’t know it. No wonder that it’s so easy for fellow students at Hogwarts to dismiss me, even when I was being earnest. They never knew me, after all, and their previous attempts of reaching out to me before I had gone to Hogwarts had been in vain. And many had indeed tried to reach out to me before my Hogwarts years, in various ways.

 

Then again, I didn’t even try to reach out to them when they tried once more at Hogwarts, on my own volition; too content with just Ron’s friendship at first, then Hermione, then Neville and Luna, then Ginny…, and too afraid of losing their friendships, if I ever branched out.

 

Well, now, the consequence is: I have nobody indeed.

 

I flee to the small bar installed in the living-room, just so. It’s all too much. I hate silence.

 

I wish I hadn’t agreed with Andy not to apprentice myself to Bill Weasley for a curse-breaking career. I wish I had taken up Luna’s offer to go with her for an Arctic, magical-animal-seeking expedition this summer. I wish I had taken my non-magical education alongside my magical one, so I could have the option to flee to the non-magical world when the pressure feels too much like this. I wish I could have paid more attention, more interest, more mind to the lessons my teachers at Hogwarts tried to impart to me, so my magical education wouldn’t be just so-so….

 

Well, it’s high time for me to forget it all for a little while, when I’m beginning to sound like Hermione.

 

So one bottle of Firewhiskey gets opened.

 

Then two, three, four….

 

I don’t know how, I don’t know when, but blearily, I realise I’m now curled up into myself, rocking back and forth gently, humming the broken version of a melody that, it seems to me, I heard a long, long, long time ago. In all the years, it has never failed to comfort me, to make me safe, to peak my drowsy interest, to cuddle me warmly….

 

And again, as I reach the deepest depth of my own self, something that I have rarely achieved in all recallable memory, the sensation of being cradled in a soft, all-encompassing something with somebody else replaces reality.

 

I could live here forever.

Chapter Text

The Black Hole residence, Kent, England, the United Kingdom
1st August 1998

 

“Harry, you cannot let yourself indulge in the spirits. Don’t you think your life has been ruined enough? What would Teddy think if he saw his godfather like this, if you made this a habit? And don’t you say Albus Dumbledore brought this on you, too. You brought this on yourself.”

 

The same lecture, the same insistence, the same disappointment, the same disapproval, the same sharpness, the same exasperation….

 

Squinting blearily up at the blob of shadow looming over me, I reach up a hand and bring it down, kissing it soundly… somewhere….

 

A small, sharp slap on my cheek is the reward. Oh well.

 

“Get it all out. The potions are on the kitchen table. Sleep that mood of yours off after that. I shall speak with you only when you are sober once more. No seeing Teddy in the meantime, as well.”

 

`Teddy….` A baby is howling lustily somewhere not so far away. The cries go in tandem with the hearty throbbing in my head. “Awwwwh….”

 

A merciless shove from a pair of strong appendages topples me from my comfy perch. “Awwh….”

 

“Get you gone,” is the only response to my whinging, as merciless as the very recent shove was.

 

“Awwwh,” is my protest, but I scramble away, anyhow, mostly on all-fours but sometimes on the knees, and near the end I can even stumble on my legs.

 

But, “Awwwh,” the cries of the baby are much closer from here.

 

Maybe I’m masochistic. Maybe I’m interested despite the heartier pounding in my head. Maybe I’m sad for the sad baby. But all the same, I manage to creep closer to the source of the noise, despite the shooing words and gestures from behind me from the current bane of my comfiness.

 

The baby is important. I want to share something important with the baby, then; something that I have always kept to myself so far, something that comforts me, something that makes me safe, something that cuddles me warmly, something that means family to me.

 

The cocoon from my deepest, earliest memory returns to the fore of my muzzy mind, as well as my constant companion in it; and, most important of all, the wordless song.

 

I hum it, then croon it, then sing it.

 

The baby stops crying, gradually.

 

A gasp sounds behind me.

 

I smile, giddy not only with the alcohol swimming in my head. `Home. Safe. Comfy. Not alone. Warm. Cuddly. Simple. Nice.`

 

I stagger the rest of the way to… somewhere… while still singing, then crooning, then humming the song.

 

The baby’s cries return, if softer than before, as I get far enough away. But there is also some shushing noises from that direction, so I refocus my concentration on walking. Somebody else has handled the returning head-pounding noise; nice.

 

My foot stumbles on something not so hard, though not so large at that. I let myself fall the rest of the way. This is nice, too. My head gets a pillow. It’s enough. I’m used to hard places. Time for some snooze. I won’t be bothered here, right? “Out of sight and out of mind” is the motto, after all; “no question asked” and “earn your keep” and “don’t get better than the beloved star,” too. I’ve done it all. I’m good, right? Now’s my time to rest for a little bit, before those rules go back in place.

 

I curl up tighter. – See? I can cuddle myself. Comfy, too. Not home yet. Not not-alone yet. Not warm yet. Not too safe yet. But freaks can’t choose what they get, right? This is enough.

 

Nobody can take what they don’t know you have, too, and they don’t know I have the cocoon and my cocoon-mate. I’m safe. We’re safe. I can dwell in the cocoon with my cocoon-mate without fear, here in my own head.

 

But the cocoon is… shaken? Shaking?… and somebody is… talking? Shouting?…

 

`Shock. Pain. Danger.`

 

…I cry out, jerk up, fling myself against…

 

…Against?

 

Things break, crunch. Voices cry out.

 

Hard surface. Softer surface. Pain.

 

The cocoon and the cocoon-mate vanish. I cry out for the loss.

 

“Harry! Snap out of it!”

 

Wheezy. Not right. Sort of familiar. The voice of…?

 

I blink, blink, blink, blink, blink, and blink again.

 

Colours swim into view, gradually. Dark. Grey?

 

The scent is familiar. Not the alcohol in my breath, no, but the surface I’m half lying on.

 

“Harry!” – Softer. Wheezier. `Uh-oh.`

 

I slither off the soft surface, with the accompaniment of prolonged groans from the… said… surface?

 

My eyes open wide. `I’ve been lying on somebody!`

 

And Andy is the victim of my confused defence mechanism, lying prone on the floor before me, clutching the side of her chest, with blood seeping in-between her trembling fingers, with her eyes blown wide and her face all too pale.

 

The sight is a very, very effective sobering agent.

 

“Sorry, Andy! Sorry sorry sorry sorry!” I babble, even as I frantically pat my own person in search of my wand. I need to call for a healer now! Where’s the wand when you need it? I need to send a Patronus message!

 

But I don’t find it.

 

And Andy’s breaths are going wheezier.

 

A Firecall it is.

 

I look round. – Chairs. Couches. Tables. Rugs. I’m in the living-room, now; the place I began from, before Andy shooed me away.

 

`Andy!` – No, I mustn’t be distracted. `Firecall. Floo. Entrance hallway.`

 

My feet fly, albeit stumblingly.

 

“Hold on there, Andy! Sorry sorry sorry! I’m calling for help! I didn’t mean to – sorry! I didn’t know you were there! Hold on please!”

 

Oddly enough, frantic pleas and calls of a different kind in a different voice echo in my ears, overlapping my own rambling, even as a squeezing and pushing sensation ghost over my entire body.

 

I’m going mad….

Chapter Text

The Black Hole residence, Kent, England, the United Kingdom
22nd August 1998

 

Getting away from the alcohol is pretty easy when your well-respected guardian nearly died because of your drunkenness.

 

Well, it was my first time binging on alcohol. But suffice to say, there won’t be any second time to that, and not because Andy has forbidden it or threatened me with not seeing Teddy ever again, before that disaster with my uncontrolled magic and the potion bottles and the mixed potions and her potion-and-glass-punctured lung ever happened.

 

Once she was back from Saint Mungo’s and our lives went back to more or less normal, that shrewd, long-suffering, self-titled aunt of mine interrogated me about the reason for my drink-binging and… well… many, many things spilt out.

 

Not the cocoon, though. Never that. And since then, I’ve been trying to return to that state of bliss, to that state of safety, to that state of close companionship, to that state of home….

 

Go figure. This could have been a better motivator for me to study the mind arts, instead of “clear your mind and hope to keep your thoughts to yourself if you don’t want the Dark Lord to take them all.” Snape needn’t torture me so, if only he’d known. (But then again, he did enjoy torturing me, did he, despite his vow to my dead mum?)

 

`Snape. Ha….` Stirring the sweetened tea idly, I listen to the silence of the house for the sound and feel of Andy Portkeying back with Teddy. – With my thoughts getting bleaker again, it’s better if I’m not alone like this. Swearing off alcohol doesn’t mean I won’t get into other kinds of trouble, after all, if I got driven into maudlin land again.

 

But would I feel and get better, if I sought the company of my new fans, the workers belonging to my combined estate, or the friends I don’t really have, right now?

 

Scowling to myself, I gulp down the tea that’s now grown cold and tap the cup with the tip of my wand to clean it.

 

A little too enthusiastically, maybe. The cup is now squeaky clean.

 

Damn. If Andy knows, I will never live this down. Excusing the poor cup as the result of accidental magic will get me teased as an overgrown boy, while blaming the poor teaching of Severus Snape in DADA my sixth year about silent and wordless spell-casting will get me hours of lecturing about looking to the future instead of bemoaning the past.

 

Well, but Teddy will love all the squeaks, won’t he? Besides, this is a good distraction from all the gloomy thoughts.

 

So I set to making the poor, squeaky tea cup unbreakable, temperature retaining and ever-fresh; then making it interchangeable by thought with a nippled bottle, a sippy cup, and a ducky figurine for storage; then making it lighter, transparent, a little bit squishy on contact, and able to change a few sizes up and down; then decorating the sides with the colourful but also freezable animation of a chameleon chasing a wolf chasing a dog chasing a stag chasing a snidget chasing a lily with flapping pair of leaves which is trying to land on the chameleon’s back….

 

Proudly, though rather tiredly, I present my on-the-spot invention to teddy right away, with a flourish at that, just after Andy has found firm footing on the overgrown, small backyard of the equally tiny house, the refuge we hastily bought close to half a year ago for the sake of necessity and practicality.

 

Predictably, he squeals and tries to grab the now-ducky-shaped former tea cup from my extended hand.

 

Unpredictably, Andy gives me a sharp, heavy stare caught between awe (`For Merlin’s sake!`), gratitude, grief (`Whatever for?`), and… other things that are too jumbled to notice.

 

I retract the ducky and fidget with it, giving Andy a puzzled stare and for once ignoring Teddy’s cranky demands for his withheld new toy. “How’s Diagon Alley? Did you hear any new gossip from Madame Malkin?” I ask the rooted woman, in lieu of anything else to say.

 

She shakes her head; shaking off the strange mood in the process, it seems, because then she moves, ushering me back under the roof, escaping the still-burning late-summer afternoon. She doesn’t talk, though.

 

Not until Teddy has been put to bed to sleep off the heat, and not about Diagon Alley or pieces of rumour and news from anybody there, either.

 

“Do you know,” she begins, as we settle at the kitchen counter that doubles as dining table, with each an un-squeaky cup of freshly brewed tea in hand, “that moulding things into other things, things that are far more complicated than the original, has always been the specialty of the Potter bloodline?”

 

I shrug, treating the question as retorical. She knows, after all, that I am yet to find my family book in any of the Potter vaults, although I’m still to visit any Potter property except for the ruined cottage in Godric’s Hollow, and it might be in one of those. (It’s still a surprise that the Potter wealth lies mostly in land, property and the loyalty of its retainers, for that matter.)

 

Judging from how she opens her mouth, closes it again, and gets a faraway look that has more the bitter than the sweet in it, I’ve completely misjudged Andy.

 

I open my own mouth, ready to placate her, or change the topic, or dismiss my ignorance with some hard facts, but she shakes her head before I can let out a sound.

 

Her look, given straight into my own eyes, is so maternal and sad and understanding that my heart twinges in response.

 

Not because I miss someone who could really be my mother, although it does play a role, since Andy has always been just Teddy’s grannie and my self-titled but well-acknowledged aunt, but… that understanding…. Well, it’s new, and as if a mother were regarding her child as grown-up and free to choose to think, and all the other trappings the adult world has, however reluctantly.

 

Nobody ever gave me such acknowledgement and freedom to choose for myself, even though I have never been truly a child, whether by circumstance or design… or designed circumstance….

 

Damn. It all comes back to Albus bloody Dumbledore again, doesn’t it?

 

“Do you wish to know more about your family?” Andy is asking. So, to escape a returning gloominess as induced by the current realisation, I hastily nod to the offer before she can explain further.

 

It all comes back to Albus Dumbledore and his machinations and his secret keeping, but I refuse to play to his fiddle – so to say – long after he’s dead.

 

Go figure. A Black does manage to turn me away from Dumbledore, and the person is not whom people will ever think of, when thinking about a sharply caustic, disturbingly cunning, dangerously ruthless, alarmingly knowledgeable, frighteningly competent magical person with a soul as black as his or her name is.

 

But, well, then again, was Albus Dumbledore as “light” as he let himself be believed to be?

Chapter Text

The Black Hole residence, Kent, England, the United Kingdom
23rd August 1998

 

Every old bloodline in the magical world has its specialties, born from long build-up of natural predilections and strengths of its members, handed down the generations mostly by careful cultivation.

 

The Potter family is not exempt from this. The first Potter was reputedly truly a potter, of both earth and magic, whose skills were well-renowned and largely sought after. His descendents have always been blessed with those, in varying quantity and quality. And the most famous feature of this family, if occurring not to all family members and more often than not not intuitively as I have done it, is the moulding of things – from trinkets and simple spells to landswithout the obvious use of runes, careful arithmantic alignment or specific spells and enchantments.

 

Something that I had achieved before Andy ever told me this, by accident no less.

 

Something that was used to mould people, by someone from the near branch of the Potters that went too much off the beaten path, or so Andy claims the Blacks liked to laugh and admire about when she was small and the first conflict with Voldemort was still not yet a full-out war.

 

Something that has always been greatly valued by the magical community, here and outside of Britain, even outside of Europe, because of various reasons, chief of which is the moulded thing’s durability and unbreakability.

 

Something that Andy can’t tell me how to replicate, let alone help me to achieve consciously, because things like this are always kept just within the bloodline, and Andy is obviously not a Potter by birth or close relation.

 

It’s because the accounts of skills as well as how-tos and deeds are handed down the generations of old, well-established families through the family book, and a family book can’t simply be burnt or stolen or looked at by other people but the family by birth or blood-adoption.

 

And my family book is still missing.

 

Quite a pity, that. The loss of a valuable wealth of family history and knowledge would be great indeed if it turned out that my family book could not be located anywhere, since there’s no longer anybody alive that could tell me about things that would be handed down through the book.

 

It would be especially great for an orphan such as one miserable me.

 

Well, damn, I’m heading down the self-pity path again – or so Andy dubs it – it seems. Now, wouldn’t it be better if I studied something – anything – instead? I haven’t taken my NEWTs, after all, though Professor McGonagall – no, now Headmistress McGonagall – did offer me to take the seventh year that I skipped while searching for the Horcruxes, and Andy here is evidently good at Runes and Arithmancy, in addition to the non-magical subjects she took after marrying Ted Tonks.

 

Well, I figure, I’ll have more luck escaping all the attention from the wrong crowds, the self-pity party induced by the absence of my friends, and also the continued potshot attacks by my enemies, if I move to the non-magical world, and for that I need to study those non-magical subjects above all.

 

So I ask her…

 

…And got a severe frown in reply, plus the statement of “I thought Gryffindors would rather not run away from their problems?” spoken as pointedly as when she rebuked me about my path of self-pity.

 

I frown back at her. “I was considered strongly for Slytherin,” I point out, a little reluctantly, though much less than when I was actually studying at Hogwarts. “Before that, I’d be long dead if I confronted the Dursleys like a Gryffindor all the time, ‘specially when I was small. I was really tiny, you know.”

 

Various looks flit past her face, and she lifts the cup to her lips as if in an attempt to shield herself from something; but, admirably, it doesn’t take long for her to regather herself and, apparently, psych herself for a rebuttal.

 

Admirable, because, from everyone else that I’ve met or encountered thus far, nobody was ever not unsettled before hurrying to change the topic of conversation, after hearing snippets of my less-than-stellar upbringing. Not even Hermione, and not even – or maybe, not especially, given her involvement on that night seventeen years ago – Professor McGonagall.

 

I raise my cup to Andy as a toaste, for that, before gulping its content down.

 

“I’m not running away, you know,” I tell her, before she can belt out whatever she has cooked up in that shrewd, brilliant mind of hers. “I wouldn’t continue with all the lessons you think a head of House should know, else. But it’s gotten too heavy, you know? I need something else to balance it, or I’ll crash down, if you got my meaning. Studying for my O and A levels is perfect for this, don’t you think? I’m still studying, and it’ll still be worth something to my future, while it won’t prevent you from cramming decades of other lessons into my head.”

 

The sad, understanding look makes a return on her face, and it’s no easier to bear on my own heart than the previous instance.

 

I can’t help but think that, if this were Mrs. Weasley, she would have pestered me to follow her prescription of what is considered “good.” And I can’t help but feel that I’m thankful Andy isn’t Mrs. Weasley, also, which makes it worse.

 

The weasleys have been great to me, no doubt of that, but–.

 

“Harryyy.”

 

I jolt back to reality, looking wildly all round me for possible attacks. But all that I see is the kitchen in the house Andy and I jointly bought after Voldemort died, since her old home has been destroyed and I refuse to live in Grimauld Place or any of my other properties, and… well… Andy herself, who is seated across from me at the kitchen+dining table and raising an inquiring eyebrow at me.

 

My cheeks heat up, rising to exponential levels within seconds.

 

She sighs. “Very well, then,” she concedes. “You do seem to need a new venture badly. Now, shall we begin? Which subject do you want to study first? We can browse for books on that subject with Teddy this evening.”

 

She raises her free hand before I can express my relief and jubilation. “And,” she says, “you have to promise me that you shan’t dawdle any longer with your estates. You need to wrap things up with them, Harry. I can’t always help you, especially with the Potter side.”

 

A flash of a crafty and knowing look later, she adds, “For each day that you study a Muggle subject, you must devote another day to straighten up things related to the Potter and Black estates. Can you promise me that? Will you?”

 

My shoulders slump.

 

Andy chuckles.

 

It sounds frighteningly rather like her mad sister’s, Bella.

 

I’m doomed.

Chapter Text

The Black Hole residence, Kent, England, the United Kingdom
3rd July 2000

 

The first day of our agreement, I enrolled in a study-by-correspondence at a good school in London, for once using the goodwill of Interim Minister Shacklebolt to arrange it, and took pleasure from the fact that Hermione had also been catching up with her non-magical studies like this, at the same school at that.

 

The second day, Andy locked me in the small room overlooking the front lawn – the one that she had designated as my study – only with the accompaniment of a communication mirror linked to the one that she carried on her person, the books and ledgers pertaining to the Houses Potter and Black, a never-full notebook, an array of magical and non-magical writing tools, a pitcher of ever-chilled lemonade, a plate of various breads and/or pastries, an enchanted chamber pot, and the order for me to begin chipping away at understanding the estate of my own birthright. Enough said, that.

 

The third day, wearied from the day before, I approached my non-magical study for the O-Levels with half the enthusiasm I’d thought I’d have. To battle this, I skedaddled to the nearest café and brought my study materials there.

 

Being locked in the small room in the house for the second time on the fourth day didn’t get any easier. I guess the hatred and fear of being locked in small spaces for long stretches of time might never fade. I told Andy that, via the communication mirror, half-way down the day, but she just gave me an unimpressed look in response and a firm, “Get on with your work, Mister Potter.” – She could be a damn cold, heartless bitch,sometimes.

 

The fifth day ran just as the third. But on the sixth day, I ran away from the house before Andy could lock me in my “study,” which was more aptly my prison, and brought all the materials needed to the same café. Not surprisingly, I managed to do much better there.

 

Sunday, which happened to be the seventh day, was spent without any of the materials I was to study, whether magical or non-magical. It was the day for answering letters, playing with Teddy and strolling down a non-magical shopping centre with Andy, briefly visiting with the Weasleys, and getting on with my new hobby of trying my hand on moulding things with raw magic, which was – surprisingly or not – pretty chancy, taxing and dangerous.

 

The cycle continued on in the next week. In fact, it has been going on for close to two years, now, minus my overly negative feeling of the small room overlooking the front lawn that Andy calls my study. – I am long finished with my O-Levels, since my knowledge only needed some refreshment and addition to catch up with what I forgot from my primary school days. By now, I am well into my A-Levels in ancient literature, geography, biology and economics. Magical-study-wise, I have taken my OWLs in ancient runes and arithmancy and retaken those in astronomy and magical history. And currently, I am embroiled in frantic studying in preparation to take the NEWTs of those subjects plus potions, charms, transfiguration and defence against the dark arts.

 

Considering the intensity of my formal studies, Andy’s order for me to visit each and every holding listed under my name at the end of each month and interact with the workers there – from the collective army of house-elves to a pack of werewolf guard retainers – has been quite the delightful change of pace, scenery and topic. Given how the Potter and Black properties – plus a handful of bequeaths from some grateful deceased – are spread literally all round the globe, it’s been a great opportunity for me to learn new magics, new places and new  cultures with all the stories and customs they hold, as well. With how I’m beginning to know the workers personally, learning about and keeping up with the more stationary and unexciting parts of estate management has also lightened up considerably; and, lately, I don’t even run away anywhere anymore during my so-called “prison days”.

 

Teddy has grown in leaps and bounds during the interveening years, and Andy has also grown brighter in both outlook and demeanour, although she has her bad days, same like me. Unfortunately, however, with how preoccupied Ron and Ginny have been with their Quidditch careers, with how George is still deeply mourning Fred all the while, with how Mrs. Weasley has been innundated with offers to care for new little Weasleys from the elder Weasley children, and with how Mr. Weasley and the aforementioned elder Weasley children are trying to help rebuild the Ministry, my ties with the whole Weasley family have grown looser by the year. Letters exchanged with Hermione have grown shorter and absent-minded, too, and we haven’t met each other even once all these twenty-two months, which is actually pretty alarming and upsetting.

 

Neville and Luna have somehow grown closer to me, instead, with all their anecdotes about their beloved plants and animals, respectively, and also the stories the three of us share about the same places we happen to have been to. Neville didn’t take long past the death of his grandmother last year to get out of the Auror programme and join Luna in most of her globe-trotting expeditions, apparently.

 

In fact, both are rarely seen without each other, nowadays.

 

And, well, I often join them for one or two days somewhere outside Britain, dragging Andy and teddy along with me, oftentimes acting as the whole group’s cook, tour guide and/or host.

 

It, oddly enough, truly feels like a family, like I have my own family.

 

Like I have a home, which I lost when I prematurely finished my education at Hogwarts, when Hedwig died so senselessly, when Hogwarts castle and the people in it were mostly destroyed during the last battle with Voldemort.

 

When I grew apart from Ron and Hermione, and Hagrid moved to France to be closer to Madame Maxime….

 

Oh well. Damn. Nope, I am not going to spoil today with dark reminiscences again. Things like this are never conducive for thinking on a “prison day,” and today is one such day.

 

Nope; no, no, no, no; I’ve got to churn out reasonable investments for my combined estate right now and the number crunching is already tortuous enough with how boring it is. No need to torture myself any further.

 

It’s better to wonder what vehicle I’m going to learn to drive next, after I’ve gotten my motorcycle and car international licences last autumn and this autumn, respectively. I never knew that intense scheduling and productivity like this could be so worth all the hard work and fun!

 

Hmm, I wonder if Teddy would like it if I drove him through the countryside, with the promise of a sleepover in the field somewhere, in a caravan truck…. Next year I could even drive him and his nursery-school classmates plus all their families in an outing with my bus!

Chapter Text

The Black Lodge, unplottable mountain-side, Norway
25th September 2003

 

“You know, Harry, you could make a fortune from these things.” Neville slurps appreciatively at the thick, savoury soup I’ve just ladled into his bowl. “So many variations, and all’s great!”

 

“If I got three bodies and a hundred hours a day, maybe,” is my smiling rebuttal, as it has always been every time he brings this topic up, usually when I treat him to a new recipe I’ve just learnt from one of my retainers. “I just like cooking, you know? I had to cook, for the Dursleys, but I don’t have to cook now, and I can enjoy what I’ve cooked. Don’t you think it’d turn into a chore again if I opened a restaurant or café?”

 

“Not if you got fun people to work with,” Luna chimes in dreamily in-between dainty spoonfuls of her own soup, which I’d ladled into her bowl before I did Neville’s. “Lots of blue angels will help you, no doubt. You could even hire some fire spirits to provide lighting and help manning the stoves, as long as the two groups don’t come in contact often. It’d be a hot water bath otherwise!”

 

I laugh out loud to that, and louder when she harrumphs indignantly and flings a mild Tickling Hex at my waist.

 

Batting the hex back at her – with a hand coated in a wandless, silent Protego – while dancing away from its former path of trajectory, I humour her with a continuation as some sort of apology for laughing at her: “Where do you think I can go to hire the blue angels and the fire spirits? I do hope they won’t band together and topple me from my chair of chief chef, though!”

 

“Ask yourself that,” she replies tartly, losing her dreaminess. “After all, you’re a blue angel yourself.”

 

Hastening to her side, with a soup-dripping ladle in one hand, I give her cheek a loud kiss, possible only after five years of nearly constant, all freely tactile interactions with her and Neville; undoing what the Dursleys worked so hard to mould me into, in other words. “Wasn’t mocking you, you know?” I tell her, with a louder kiss on her other cheek and a goofy grin. “Thanks for calling me an angel, by the way. Why blue, though? I’m even wearing brown today!”

 

She socks my upper arm, for that.

 

“Awwwh!” I mince myself back to the stove and the bubbling pot of soup amidst Neville’s gales of laughter, while trying to rub the throbbing spot with my free hand… which is not easy to do given the fact that the biceps being hit belongs to the same arm…. For a delicate-looking witch, one Luna Lovegood apparently packs quite a punch!

 

Before long, though, and with my biceps healed from the assault to it with a nifty bit of – surreptitiously applied – charm, I’m back at the rugged kitchen counter doubling as informal dining table with my own bowl of soup, with the remainder of it sitting in the pot newly spirited away from the stove and preserved with a food stasis charm Mrs. Weasley taught me years ago.

 

Hmm. Years ago…. It’s strange to think that years have gone by since I firstly took up the mantel of lord for the Houses Potter and Black.

 

Since last I communicated regularly with the Weasleys; since last I saw Hermione; since last I staid in Britain long enough to appear in public places like Diagon Alley and Hogsmead….

 

My other biceps gets poked, and I look up only to find both Neville and Luna looking pointedly back at me, from across the table and by my left, respectively.

 

“The wrakspurts and nargles have begun to swarm your head,” Luna proclaims, after a beat of awkward silence. “You know that the only way to keep them away, other than by wearing the caps and the raddishes, is to keep ever alert for them. I didn’t see either on your person, so you’d better watch out.”

 

Neville, meanwhile, gives me a wry look, tempered with shared amusement at Luna’s unique way of showing concern and interpreting the world. “We came here to help you brainstorm for new ideas, didn’t we?” he suggests. “Ways to invest your money or make use of your holdings don’t usually come on their own, you know, and days without Teddy clinging to your back, too. So let’s wrap up the breakfast and go somewhere, shall we? I kinda noticed you think better on your feet, and there’s a perfect forest trail right behind this cabin.”

 

Good old Neville, always so sensible and – sadly – often overlooked,even by me.

 

“I don’t know why Andy thinks investing my money in non-magical companies is bad,” I grouse, amidst shovelling the soup into my mouth. “The investments have been going well! Especially with Luna’s suggestions here.” I throw the witch a wink, which she replies likewise, all previous indignance and seriousness set aside.

 

Neville chuckles ruefully. “Wizarding pride, I’d wager,” he admits. “Gran was like that.” A brief look of grief passes across his face, like a storm cloud briefly blocking the summer afternoon sun, but then he continues, though in a far more sombre note than he must have initially aimed for, “Not all’s about the pride, though, I’d say. All the wars haven’t helped our community, you can see that, especially the last three. They’re so close together, time-wise, and so big. Our economy suffers right alongside our number, and, well, I guess, Missus Tonks would rather your money stay in the Wizarding World, to help its economy recover.”

 

I open my mouth for a tired rebuttal, but he hastily ploughs on, “I know, I know, you told us before this; you even told her, and I believe we all agree on this point: There’s little to no invention or business venture going on lately, and George’s shop hasn’t even been the same after Fred died. But that’s just the point, isn’t it? You could have opened jobs for people within our world, with all the money and resources you have, and with all those ideas floating in your head. You could rejuvenate our economy and culture without tweaking at the sensibilities of some stuffy old people. – I think she meant that all this time, though she never quite told you.”

 

“She should have,” is my only answer, grumbled into my bowl as I resume my speedy breakfast. “We wouldn’t spend years doing nothing, then.”

 

“And you would do that, Harry?” Luna points out rebukingly. “Didn’t you say just now that you couldn’t even open a restaurant to share all these delightful meals with other people?”

 

Damn. Good old Luna, always so blunt with hard, awkward truths and never repentent about it.

 

But, well, I only have today and tomorrow to think up at least two things to do with my combined estate, indeed. I can’t just dawdle this whole time and use it to find excuses not to do things instead. I can live without Andy confiscating my driving licences as though I were a naughty child!

 

And there’s a whole Norwegian forested mountainside right behind this cabin to explore, too.

 

Well, if put like this….

 

“Well, then, let’s go out!”

Chapter Text

An unplottable mountain-side, Norway
25th September 2003

 

“Do you think we’re going on the right direction, Harry?” Neville pants from right behind me.

 

“You should… ask… Luna… that,” I return, briefly looking up at the swaying, rucksack-laden back of our female companion, already quite a few paces up the trail. “Never knew… she’s… so strong! And I… played Quidditch….”

 

A wheezy chuckle answers me, from several paces behind, or so it sounds. “She’s… used… to that,” Neville, who has been in several wilderness expeditions with her, elaborates, a few beats of pause later. “With… her dad. Some… times, a few… places, they… dun like… foreign… magic. So… can’t… Ap’rate… or… ‘key.”

 

My own responding chuckle sounds even more pathetic than his has just been, unbelievably, choked into forced silence by lack of breath mid-sounding as it is.

 

Now that the day’s ending soon, we’ve been trying to find a way back down to the Norwegian hunting lodge of the Blacks, my haunt for this Teddy-and-Andy-free weekend. However, what we’ve achieved, it seems, is getting further up the mountain, instead; through thicker, darker woods and slimmer, harder-to-spot animal trails, at that. We treated it as an adventure, at first, but that’s two hours ago. Apparently, our energy and enthusiasm are very finite things.

 

At least it’s that way for me and Neville; the Gryffindors and the males in the group, ironically enough.

 

And right now, I don’t think I have enough breath to go on, especially further up.

 

Lacking the breath to speak or whistle, and lacking the inclination to do either of those all the same, I give Luna’s shoulder a somewhat uncontrolled nudge with my magic, which has thankfully fared better than my physical body.

 

Just as I trip over a mouldy root barring the way, unfortunately.

 

And it turns out to be sharp, even more unfortunately.

 

And, most unfortunately, Neville, who can’t stop right on time, falls on top of me, rucksack and all.

 

“We’re close to the home of the blue angels, Harry. Come on….” Luna hovers over me, a note of impatience and eagerness in her voice, even as Neville scrambles away from on top of me with lots of apology, and accidentally drives my calf deeper into the thorny root trap. “Don’t you want to go home?”

 

Go figure…. “I meant home as in the lodge, Luna, not somebody else’s home,” I whinge, although it sounds much more like a pitiful whimpering plea than what I’ve aimed for. An even-more-pathetic groan swallows the rest of my words, as Neville gingerly tries to coax my calf away from the jabby, prickly, pesky root.

 

“Why a blue angel, anyway? Harry doesn’t look like an angel to me,” Neville, maybe trying to distract me, maybe asking an earnest question, pipes in nervously. He sounds even a little bit apologetic, for some reason. Although, I don’t pay much attention to the said reason, because, finished with detaching a human limb from a vicious bit of plantlife, he arranges it so that I can rest a while along a patch of non-jabby, not-so-prickly, not-so-pesky other plantlife.

 

Tempered with my groan because of the movement that the calf has to suffer so soon, only to end up resting on a neighbouring knobbly root anyway, Luna jabbers about a society of blue-skinned giants living in and around water and ice, who always behaved nicely to a little girl whenever she encountered them, whether in dream or reality.

 

There’s so, so, so, so much to unpack from that explanation. – Where “in and around water and ice” is it? How could people overlook blue-skinned giants living so near? How could Luna speak as if dream and reality are like grassy meadows that she can cross by some easy strolling? And these are just some of the things. More thinking along this line, and I believe it might do the job that the natural trap I’ve just been freed from didn’t manage, namely sending me into unconsciousness.

 

Long after she has fallen silent and Neville likewise, I speak up, while still being horizontal on the bed of knobbly roots, “Now, how do we go home? And I mean home, the lodge, not the home of the blue giants.”

 

“It’s far closer to Ice Land than to the lodge, Harry,” Luna argues.

 

In the deepening gloom, I can faintly see Neville’s lips move, perhaps mouthing “Ice Land?” as I am also doing. The name is… catchy: not “Iceland,” as in the country of Iceland, but “Ice Land?”

 

Well, regardless, “I’d rather go home. We could always explore when we’re prepared, you know. There’s still tomorrow. If the land’s all ice, we aren’t in warm enough clothes, for one. And I can’t walk far with this leg. It needs to be treated, and none of us knows good healing spells.”

 

The world is truly upside-down, now, apparently. A Gryffindor being more sensible than a Ravenclaw…?

 

“Neville can heal you,” is the simple rebuttal, even as Luna’s petite form steadily lifts my upper body up, till I end up resting in her arms. “I don’t know if we can come this close tomorrow. The alignments are the best in so long today. We can always put a Warming Charm on ourselves, too, in addition to our cloaks, and we can find useful things in our bags. Your house-elves did pack so many just-in-cases. Besides, it takes longer to go down than to go to the doorway, and it’s nearly dark already. Don’t you want to go home, Harry? Who knows, maybe you could meet your other parents there?”

 

“But I’m not a blue-skinned giant, Luna,” I whinge, pointing out the blatant fact to her, even as I struggle to sit up properly and look at my wound. “Not Neville, and not you either. Don’t you think it’d be odd for three humans going there purposefully? And how if they like only little girls, not little boys or young men like us? Maybe they’re like the unicorns? I had no desire to be gaured by a unicorn for getting too close, and I don’t, still.”

 

Neville snorts with laughter, the traitor. But, well, he’s helping me clean the few puncture wounds on my calf, so I guess he’s just a friend who relishes the suffering of another friend so much.

 

The longer we banter with each other, though, the heavier my heart feels. The phrase “your other parents,” coupled with “home,” feel so bizarre yet so wonderful….

 

And when we go on, when we reach a space between two trees that just feels different, when we step past it just to see a new vista entirely, when my foot firstly steps on an alien soil, with the other one still on earth….

 

Inexplicably, I feel like I’m home, at long last.

 

And even as both Luna and Neville shiver hard, even as they frantically put double measures on their Warming Charms, I stretch my hands up to the twilit sky above and beam at it, relishing in the returning, whole sensation of being enveloped by the cocoon and accompanied by my cocoon-mate; something that I have never achieved fully even in my deepest meditation all these years, ; something that I received only by being drunk right out of my mind all those years ago.

 

I’m home!

Chapter Text

Moving: Outside, Unknown; an abandoned house, Unknown
25th september 2003

 

“See?” Luna crows even through her chattering teeth, as she at last witnesses my probably euphoric look. Her own smugness, filtered past the pinched exterior caused by the deep chill she supposedly still suffers from, makes me want to stick my tongue out at her.

 

And I do just that, before helping Neville with moulding his Warming Charm to be thicker and steadier, not to mention able to shield from any sharp wind – although Luna words it as “the spears of the angry tuluso.” (Well, no, I haven’t found my family book yet, although the Black one has been found in the Blacks’ chateau in France, the last known residence of Arcturus Black, the last lord of the House Black. But there’s the famous saying that necessity breeds invention, no? So I just borrowed heavily from that adage for this inherited penchant of mine, with countless dummies as the victim before I managed to find a feel for it.)

 

“Where do we go from here, Harry?” she asks as I do up her Warming Charm, next. “Do you think you can call on your other parents from here? Do you think we could get some kind of antidote for the cold climate? Do you think anybody here could be affected by wrakspurts or nargles? I was never long here!”

 

“There’s no antidote to any climate, Luna, you know that,” Neville laughs, with an abundance of affection of a special kind in his voice that begs to be teased mercilessly.

 

So I do just that, as we make our way gingerly away from the… doorway… which is just a spot of different-feeling air between two huge, ice-layered boulders, similar to the corresponding one on earth – or rather, Earth, since we’re now most likely in a different planet that Luna claims to be inhabited by giant blue people.

 

`Hmm. On earth…. What a concept!` No rocket launch; no long travel; just… here.

 

And, looking up to the sky to check, I’ve just found the three moons hanging there, nearly above our heads. The sky itself is so alight with stars as if it’s day – a pretty, silvery daylight.

 

The landscape feels… broken, though, sadly, and barren of any life even of the wild kind, and there’s even some physical evidence to it, namely the jagged top of some suspiciously smooth rock walls, the absence of tiny critters wandering about or skittering away from us, and the remnant patches of what might be giant cobblestones without the wild grass that usually peeks through those.

 

It’s like we’re walking through a ghost town that even the wildlife shuns.

 

My friends seem to catch up soon to the sad and unnerving environment, or maybe they’ve just realised that I haven’t been participating in the banter for some time already, because they peter out by themselves and look round tensely.

 

“Shall we go back?” Neville offers. There, that again, a Gryffindor being sensible….

 

“I never saw anything like this,” Luna offers in a small, unsure tone. “So many Humpingers. I didn’t realise this before. But then, sometimes they’re covered up or I got too distracted. – War happened here, or maybe a bad robber-raid. Humpdingers love those places.”

 

Her solemn proclamation, as Luna-esque as it is, chills me immensely, while the climate here somehow hasn’t managed to do that much.

 

And then I realise something…. “Do any of us know the way back?”

 

Our tiny party goes to a spontaneous halt on that.

 

“I guess, this means none of us thought of marking the way?” I clarify, resigned.

 

The patch of Neville’s face that’s visible under the hood of his cloak pales considerably. I don’t think I’m faring better.

 

A glance at Luna’s serene countenance, though, and I have to do a double take, ending up with gawking at her. “Luna?”

 

She smiles gently, dreamily. “You can lead us,” she says, with firm confidence that I don’t share at all.

 

“If you forgot, I found this place at the same time and in the same way as Nev here,” I point out dryly. “Come on, Lu. I’m starving and my foot’s still hurting. We could come back here some other time, and we ought to bring something to mark the way, then.”

 

She shakes her hooded head, in response. “No-no-no. Look into yourself, Harry. You’ll find it. Didn’t you feel it when you first came here?”

 

Is she referring to my… dream? Memory? Fantasy? Of the cocoon and my cocoon-mate? But if so, how did she know about it? It’s my best-kept secret, something that not even Voldemort with his infernal link with my own mind ever dug out. Or did she notice my elation when I first set foot here, while I was preoccupied with myself?

 

My mouth dries up. – That bit of myself is private; even more than the night my parents died, because the latter has somehow turned into public spectacle these two decades or so. But if I confront Luna about it now, Neville will inevitably ask – or at least wonder about it – and I’m not ready to share this titbit with him; neither am I ready to prolong the discussion that will sprout from it, for that matter.

 

Neither am I ready to share it with Luna, but, somehow, the cat is already long out of the bag with her, so to say, and you can’t prevent spillage from a glass of milk that has spilt, can you?

 

So I give her a shrug and, ignoring Neville’s curious look, propose a respite for the three of us somewhere nearby, sheltered from the cold wind that’s beginning to blow harder and harder. My foot does hurt, still, and my stomach does protest most enthusiastically to its empty status; so, physically, I’d welcome the rest heartily.

 

I’d rather avoid all the mental and metaphysical reasons altogether, at least for now that I’m still rattled by what Luna may have known about things that I’d rather nobody nows.

 

Thankfully, we find a more-or-less-intact building nearby and immediately set to preparing dinner, therefore forcing me to set aside my conundrum for the time being. Our impromptu campsite is at least roofed and walled, although huge chunks are missing from two of the walls and a section of the roof; the latter of which seems to actually be the ceiling attached to the second story, given the hint of a collapsed staircase on the farthest corner where the hole is.

 

I light a Bluebell Flame in a shallow tin jar on the cleanest and evenest bit of floor we can find, all after separately exploring the immensely spacious – for us – floor and comparing observations. Luna puts a pot full of the soup the house-elf caretaker of the lodge has prepared for us on top of the flame-in-tin, while Neville gets out the bowls and an oilcloth package of thick-crust bread.

 

“Do you think we could forage for some winter berries?” he asks tentatively as I help the soup to boil faster, with a tiny nudge of a Warming Charm aimed at the pot.

 

“Where do you think we can find those? Are they edible? We know nothing about this place, you know?” I shrug. “I’m all for an adventure, but only when I can predict that it’s not terribly dangerous and I’m sure I can go home again. – There’s nothing alive nearby, so we must go farther afield, and… well… we’re lost enough as it is, I’d say.”

 

“The rumours at school said otherwise,” Luna comments, smiling. “They said you deliberately chose to find adventures to further your good name and popularity.”

 

“And you believe those?” I retort, half-hearted.

 

“Touché.” She sounds apologetic now, and a little bit baffled. I shrug at her inquiring stare and choose to busy myself looking round, searching for something that might tell us why this place isn’t lively, as she indirectly described. It’s better than trying to confront her about what and how she knows about me and the cocoon and my cocoon-mate, or thinking about how stranded we are, which has partially been her fault.

 

Neville is giving me a similar stare, unfortunately, now, probably catching up with the awkwardness between me and his “special expedition partner” – as I so often like to tease him. So, not knowing what else to do, I excuse myself to look round this first floor of the building we’re sheltered in, to search for some information about what happened, armed only with a Lumos on the tip of my wand.

 

And then, the weak light I’m maintaining reflects on something peeking out from the bottom of a rubble-pile below one of the missing chunks of wall.

Chapter Text

An abandoned house, Unknown
25th september 2003

 

A mixture between careful levitation and physical work sees the rubble obstructing my prize get reduced little by little. The constant back and forth, stacking the pieces near a corner that might be good for us to stay the night if push comes to shove, helps me stay warm and ruminate on everything.

 

And then, before I arrive at the solution to how I might ask Luna about her earlier statement, the physical task is finished. The rubble now forms a new, somewhat precarious wall on one side where I thought we could camp in for the night, and a few pieces of either glass or crystal lie before me, seeming to be the broken version of a rather-big, stained-glass windowpane. “Reparo,” I murmur, then, and tap what seems to be one of the corner pieces gently with the tip of my wand.

 

The jagged things, gleaming under the recast Lumos, slither towards each other on the gritty floor and clink into place.

 

A glance towards our tiny campfire informs me that Neville and Luna are companionably murmuring to each other over the pot of now-steaming soup. So, not wanting to break their intimacy and not wanting to deal with Luna yet, I resolve to show the picture to them just later.

 

And it’s a picture indeed, of a biped, blue-skinned, red-eyed, hairless and eyebrowless being, who is garbed only in a piece of dark-green loincloth and what looks like a plethora of tattoos. It – or he? She? They? – is in the pose of stabbing into the very, very toothy maw of a bigger… thing… possessing at least a dozen arms, all ending with fearsome claws and framing the maw, with what looks like an icicle growing right from its fist. It – the biped being, not its kill – is snarling viciously, itself, showing off a row of sharp, black teeth, but the hatred towards the thing it’s stabbing is tempered with… grief? Or maybe loss?

 

It reminds me much of my twelve-year-old self, strangely, when I had to kill Slytherin’s basilisk but thought the situation was still hopeless for myself and Ginny, down there, trapped in the Chamber of Secrets with only the Sorting Hat and Fawkes for company.

 

Feeling oddly protective and fond of this bit of artwork, I carefully mould stasis and unbreakability into it, shrink it, then put it in my coat’s inner pocket. (Well, it seems like nobody lives here anymore, or even close to this place, so I can take what I want without disrupting anything, can’t I?)

 

I move to the next pile of rubble, then, brightening my Lumos on the way in hope of catching a glint or an odd shape, while still occasionally keeping an eye on my two companions. (Those lovebirds might need some help watching for their surroundings, as engrossed as they are with each other.)

 

The next heap sadly just brings me more materials for the parameter wall of our might-be campsite.

 

The one after that, which is as large as both previous piles combined and located somewhat farther away from the outer wall of the… house?, turns out to have hidden a large if filthy swatch of something that might be a rug. It is made up of a coarse but strong-seeming fibrous, grey material woven into a thick sheet, then embroidered in apparently random patterns with thick, silvery thread. Ironically, the bits lying outside of the rubble seem to have been torn off or eaten by age, instead, judging by the rugged edges and loose threads that have been softened by more than use. (And I’d think I’m sort of an expert for many things used and/or aged, with how “kind” the Dursleys were to me, how expert the Weasleys were with the things they had, and how long I spent exploring a certain millennium-year-old castle up in Scotland.)

 

Well, it could be some sort of blanket for us, if nothing else. So, with that in mind, and with the hope that the rug might turn out to be large enough for the three of us, I cast a stronger Reparo than what I used on the picture on it.

 

Some bits of thread and fluff fly from all directions to the bit of fabric, and the small tears and wears on it vanish. But nothing else happens, while a rather good amount of my energy has been unexpectedly sapped away by the spell.

 

`Damn. So reckless, Harry.` My Gryffindor side has chosen a “very, very good time” to reemerge and, like in most other occasions, put me in trouble.

 

Fortunately, Luna is calling me for supper….

 

A hasty cleaning and shrinking later, I jog to where she and Neville are seated while stuffing the now-pocket-sized bit of fabric into my other inner pocket. Engorgio could always be applied to it later, should we need more of it to act as adequate blanket for all of us; but for now, I’m famished!

 

Eating soup dipped in bread from a humble tin bowl while sitting on the floor brings sweeter memories from my Horcrux hunt with Ron and Hermione to the fore of my mind, though, and makes the warm, thick, savoury liquid plus its chunks of vegetables and meat feel paradoxically tasteless in my mouth.

 

It’s been years…. Ron seems to adore the good public opinion he and his beloved Quidditch team has been garnering, Ginny likewise; but what about Hermione? Lately, she hasn’t even sent me a letter or a reply to any of my regular letters to her; and in the letters before that, short as they’d increasingly been, she never talked about her own thoughts and feelings and opinions, just tiny snippets of the work she was currently doing. She’s been insisting that she’s too busy to meet for a chat, and she’s always claimed that she’s safe and happy, but isn’t that what a prisoner could be forced to write, also? After all, I was made to write a regular letter telling that I was all right, under the scowling scrutiny of Uncle Vernon, the summer after my fourth year at Hogwarts.

 

I’ve been ignoring the signs so far, telling myself that I’ve been pretty busy, too. But I’ve gained my A-Levels and in fact begun to study my double bachelor degree on geography and anthropology, and I’ve passed my NEWTs as well. So what’s my excuse, now?

 

This place, as dreary as it is, filled with broken memories vannished by age and hidden under rubble, only serves to heighten the guilt, the longing, the dread.

 

Because, the longer I stay here and look round and try to restore some things, the more I feel that the former occupants of this house – and it’s a house, since I’ve spied a few broken legs of stone chairs or maybe tables, during my search – were surprised by a devastating attack, however long time ago, and didn’t manage to save what – or maybe even who – they wanted to save.

 

Lives could be cut so quickly. I should have known that. I nearly died each year I was at Hogwarts, and even for the next two years after the battle had been won, when the bolder and more desperate of Voldemort’s sympathisers tried to target me in random places. But here, I’ve been postponing any kind of plan to drag Hermione away from her work for a little while to unwind, for all kinds of silly reasons.

 

Well, if it turns out that I’ve found nothing else worthwhile here, at least I’ve found how horrible I’ve been to one of my best friends.

Chapter Text

An abandoned house, Unknown
25th September 2003

 

Supper passes crawlingly slowly, to me, but Neville and Luna seem to enjoy it immensely. Neville doesn’t seem to know how to be romantic (Neither do I!), but Luna keeps sharing bits of her bread and soup with him, and she even offers to clean his bowl when he’s finished.

 

His flustered countenance is what actually lifts my mood a little bit, as supper is winding down. I am too occupied with teasing him – and sometimes Luna as well – to brood about anything, and relish in the relief it causes.

 

Neville and Luna help me clear up yet another section of the rubble, after we’re done with repacking the heating and dining tools and reshouldering our packs, both to add to our little fortification and to look for any other hidden treasures that might hint at how things went awry here. (Well, I wanted to leave the packs, with some magical protection in place, but Luna reasoned reasonably that we might have to vacate the premises quickly, or somebody might be by and steal this only means of our survival, so the packs must be with their respective owners at all times.)

 

We uncover a swatch of coarsely woven fabric similar to the shrunken rug stored in my pocket under this latest pile, bigger than the three before combined and resting right under a very, very big and rugged hole on the wall. So maybe there are other bits under other piles? That would explain why I was so tired after casting that last Reparo: I was trying to summon this piece from under the humongous heap of rubble it has so recently been hidden under!

 

Neville reminds us that we still need a good amount of magic to maintain our warmth and protect us along the way back to the lodge, as I immediately move to the next pile after attempting to restore our finding. However, Luna insists that we search longer. “A blue angel is in need of us,” she maintains.

 

“This blue angel, you mean?” Neville jokes, throwing a mirthful glance at me. “He does seem in need of us. His hair, more specifically. Maybe his stubbornness, as well, and his poor situation under the tirany of Missus Tongs, and his awesome disability to stop before he blacks out….”

 

I throw him a mock glare and a stuck-out tongue. It’s so refreshing and nice, encountering a boulder and cheeky Neville, but it doesn’t mean that it could be a hassle sometimes, like now.

 

To be honest, though, it’s only a hassle to my pride, because I can’t very well object to those point he’s making, even though they’re made in jest, because they’re all true.

 

Oh. Well.

 

Exasperated with myself, with him, with Luna, with the current situation, and with my pending plans and obligations, I wave at my two companions and stalk away towards the back of the house, where the collapsed stairs lie. “Got it,” I drawl, meanwhile. “I do need those. Happy? – Well, now, I’m kinda tired, yes, and kinda remember we took a rather long trek here from Luna’s ‘doorway’. So how ‘bout we camp here for the night? Before that, though, let’s check the whole building so we know what’s where and what could be dangerous. Nev, you were an Auror; got any helpful spell to find whoever Luna’s been talking about? And for the record, I’m sure it’s not me, so please don’t arrest me, Mister Auror.”

 

Laughing, Neville responds to my return with a mild stinging hex to my left buttock, one that I don’t dodge timely enough. Then, in an abruptly serious tone, he sighs and confesses, “I never thought I could even put up a smile, in an environment like this. We visited a few places that the Death Eaters ransacked, you know, while I was in the Auror Academy. It’s… rather like this. It’s worse when the target was a magical person, family or community. We’ve got more power than the Muggles, so our emotions leave stronger imprints in places we feel those the most. Deaths would just make those imprints of emotions permanent, in a way, and those victims didn’t die peacefully.”

 

Giving him a similar sigh as my only response, I retrace my steps and loop my non-wand-bearing hand round his shoulders. It’s Luna who speaks up, instead, though not quite in words that I would use to lift his spirit back up.

 

“Children cleanse places and people. The Humpdingers daren’t hurt them, and they can get rid of the Humdingers, though they can still fall prey to these wily little beasts. We need to find one to help us. Harry alone is not enough.”

 

“I’m not a child, you know,” I smile at her behind Neville, who is beginning to mutter spells and swipe at thin air with his wand. “I’m sure twenty-three-year-olds aren’t categorised as ‘children’ in all the known communities.”

 

“But you said you knew nothing about the blue angels. So this one community is not known, isn’t it?” she retorts while returning my smile, with a hint of cautiousness in her playful banter that makes me feel guiltier about distancing myself from her.

 

Before I can confront her about how she knew – or deduced – my deepest secret, though, to hopefully clear the air between us and return us to our former bar-nothing friendship, Neville whirls round and declares with a hint of exasperation in his voice, “There’s no living being on this level other than the three of us; not even plants or little insects. No animate turned inanimate, and no animate turned stasis either. It’s creepy.”

 

I fight to smother an inappropriate laughter on the last of his report. If anybody still doubted Neville’s place in Gryffindor, this would help clinch it: Only a Gryffindor would say a place is creepy while he’s still in it with such exasperation instead of fear.

 

Well, but we’re still here, and we don’t have much time to explore because of various reasons, so, “How could people put living beings in stasis? Can’t you only do that to liquids and non-living solids? I kinda remember you can’t do that to gases either.”

 

Neville’s countenance falls further. Shrugging and waving at me and Luna to follow him, he murmurs in a faraway tone, “Not impossible, if you’ve got desperate parents, increased power and death wishes mixed together.” Then, after a long, strained pause, in which we traverse the ruined cathedral-like hall as if a small procession in a funeral, he whispers, his head bowed and his shoulders hunched, “You told us that a Protego can’t shield against the Unforgivables. Might be true, in most cases. But Mum did it, for me. When the Dementors got near…. You know, that third year. They…. I saw Lestrange – Bellatrix – she demanded that Mum tell her ‘bout… about You-Know-Who, where he might be. I was in a cradle nearby, but not near enough, and I was standing looking at them. Lestrange saw me. She tried to Crucio me. Mum put a Protego in front of me so it missed. It got her mad; Lestrange. She Crucioed Mum instead.”

 

His breaths grow ragged towards the end, and I find my own eyes burning, squeezing in tandem with my heart, remembering my own mother. – `Damn Dementors. Damn Death Eaters. Damn Voldemort. Damn place.` Luna’s right, after all, in a roundabout way that’s so Luna: With the air of abandonment, struggle and desperation so thick here, it takes willful avoidance and opposite emotions to overcome it, and it just takes one gloomy thought to intrude the mind for one to be overcome by it instead.

 

Hopefully, despite how ridiculous the hope is, we’ll find something to banter about again once we’ve reached the second story of this sad house, or at least something to occupy ourselves with other than weeping over things we can’t change.

 

I have to stifle a mirthless snort of laughter on that thought, on that hope. With a war-torn-looking place like this….

Chapter Text

An abandoned house, Unknown
25th september 2003

 

Getting to the second floor without sending it crashing on those waiting below, leaving anybody behind, or crashing back down with or without the accompaniment of the said floor crumbling once we’re there, for that matter, is very, very tricky. It’s a relief for all three of us, I bet, to solve this matter instead of dwelling on hurtful and bittersweet past experiences, since not even Luna has been spared the shared grief after listening to Neville’s no-doubt well-kept secret. (But then again, her mum died in front of her in some kind of accident with an experiment, didn’t she? Just like mine, if for a more serious case – in my opinion, at any rate.)

 

A long, animated discussion ensues, involving lots of expansive gestures and mimicry (mostly Neville and I), measuring the length and width and height of each intact stair and comparing it with our combined heights (that’s Luna’s doing), and lots more things. We at last settle on a few steps. Firstly, we’ll make something to shelter those waiting below safely, then someone – most likely yours truly – will attempt to Reparo the cracks on the ceiling to reduce chance of crumbling under our combined weight, then one of us will get up via Wingardium Leviosa cast by one of those waiting below, while carrying a length of rope that is going to be used to haul up the other two, and lastly the rest will be towed up one by one.

 

For all that to happen, at first, we need a huge, fortified umbrella to act as the shelter for those waiting their turns to go up – as Neville suggests, with much embarrassment but sadly an equal measure of sense, given the concept of it shielding one from rain… maybe even of the rocky type… – and also a charmed, fortified length of rope.

 

So, to fulfil the first order alone, Neville transfigures the nearest rubble into a huge umbrella that could fit up to eight adults standing close together, then Luna charms it permanent. Next, I mould the thing to be heavy or light and harden or soften on will, adding extensions down the sides so that it can act as a makeshift tent if need be, and sure the whole contraption up against hard impact with unbreakability mixed with instant softening of things that crash on it with quite a force – except for living things; Neville insists on that. Lastly, something that I do as well, a further moulding is added, by some of Luna’s suggestions, so that the umbrella – that’s getting more and more bizarrely featured by the moment – can help the said up-to-eight-people fly or float on water. – “An alternative for escape, at least,” Neville comments mollifyingly, looking somewhat constipated with no-doubt badly withheld sniggers.

 

Too exhausted and flabbergasted with the last request to say anything, I just aim a silent glare promising a later retribution at him, grunt my agreement to Luna’s proposal that we check the soundness of the bit of floor we’re about to step on once upstairs, then proceed with moulding load lightening, return-to-owner-or-sender, unbreakability, mild sticking and added-length-on-will to a length of rope I found in my pack. (Blessed be the Black house-elf – or house-elves – who foresaw a need for a rope in my formerly mild excursion!) We’ve agreed that Neville will be the first to go up, given his formal education in scoping out a dangerous place, so next I throw the coil of charmed rope round his neck with more vigor than necessary, then relish the chance to boss him to a good spot for the levitation, complete with a sing-songed, “Don’t forget: I’m the one who’ll levitate you.”

 

The last thing that I hear from him before we figuratively get on the way again is a – maybe true, maybe faked – apprehensive mutter of “Uh-oh.”

 

The bantering mood dies down again, sadly, once the three of us have gotten safely up on the second floor, and it’s not because, despite all the lengthy and convoluted and tiring preparations, nothing bad has happened.

 

Nothing bad has happened to us, true, but now we have the evidence that it did happen to the former occupants of this giant house. – Magic still swirls here, of the wild and desperate and protective kind, fueled by a willing sacrifice, as I encountered in traces up on the second floor of my own babyhood home in Godric’s Hollow. It even feels young, younger than even that of my mother’s. And the setting….

 

I look round, wild-eyed, taking in the evident remnants of homey décor in the rooms – and there have clearly been at least three here, whose walls have been largely knocked down whether by age or by force… or both of them. One could be a master bedroom, or maybe a shared bedroom given the remnants of furs and fabrics that seem to form one massive bedding and a smaller one; another, leading directly from the stairs, could be a family or working room, with all the giant-sized stone contraptions; and the last could be a study and/or library of some sort, occupied by an intact stone table and what look like built-in shelves, with books and other things scattered mostly on the floor.

 

Judging from how barren the first floor has been and how intact this one is, someone – or a few someones – must have fought hard to prevent the intruders from advancing on the heart of their home.

 

Like James Potter, buying some time for his wife and child.

 

And the large patch of darker stone that looks like some liquid has spilt and been left there to dry, just before something that lies on one corner of the maybe-bedroom, visible only now that I’ve sent a Lumos ball to hover over the said maybe-bedroom….

 

I hurry to the spot, disregarding any caution to firstly test for the soundness of the floor as we agreed before, and two sets of footsteps hurry after me.

 

“That’s…. That looks like blood-spill, Harry,” Neville says, his voice gone squeaky with some kind of emotion I don’t want to try to decipher right now.

 

“Somebody died and shrank there,” Luna says matter-of-factly, softened by traces of solemn sadness typical of a sympathetic stranger to a mourning person.

 

“Let me check first,” is Neville’s hasty warning, before I can step across the maybe-bloodstain to reach the bundle that lies beyond it.

 

I step back, watching with vague attention as he casts the same set of detection spells as he did downstairs. But in my mind’s eye and in my ears, the scene in a particular nursery one dark day twenty-two years ago replays itself, with a red-haired young woman being the only barrier between a helpless toddler and a madman bent on destruction.

 

It’s not a surprise to me, then, when Neville declares that the bundle beyond the stain on the stone is actually a living lifeform preserved in stasis.

 

A Lily Potter of this land sacrificed themself for a baby, just like a James Potter – or several of such – tried to buy the baby time to flee. But the time wasn’t enough, or the chance wasn’t there.

 

Just like it was, with a young, tiny family bearing the name Potter.

 

Luna, who has apparently cast her own set of detection spells, this time regarding wards and enchantments, as learnt in NEWT-preparation Ancient Runes, declares that there’s most likely a sacrificial death ward tied to the lifeform in concern; something that, she adds, must have shrunk the “blue angel” who sacrificed themself into nothingness, leaving only a pool of long-dried blood. Even as she speaks, I am stepping over the pool of long-dried blood and crouching, reaching for the bundle.

 

Harry Potter, meet the Harry Potter of this land. – `Just let’s hope there’s no bloody prophecy and powerful people after you, little somebody.`

 

“Hello,” I murmur, just as my hand rests lightly on the top of the bundle of old leather and cloth.

 

And just so, the world explodes.

Chapter Text

An abandoned house, Unknown
25th september 2003

 

When the world settles down again, the first thing that I feel is… rightness, as if I’ve returned home or to a state that I’m supposed to be in. It’s far more intense, far deeper than what I felt… well, however long ago that was, when I first set foot in this land. It feels like ages since then, now.

 

The second thing that registers in my mind is a consistent burning sensation in my throat, as if I’ve just spent a long, long time screaming on the top of my lungs. It’s usually related to vivid nightmares or real tortures, as far as my experiences go, but I haven’t been asleep or tortured just now… right? Well, my head does hurt mightily, and I ache all over, and my mind feels raw and too open, but these symptoms can mean so many things, can’t they?

 

And then, my sight (Why is it so blurry now?) settles on two blobs hovering above me, jittering but not touching any parts of me. “Who are you?” I want to ask; but what comes out is an unintelligible croaky sound that hurts my throat further, and my head joins in the fun with alacrity.

 

“Harry?” That’s… Neville’s voice, right? But why is it trembling? It hasn’t tremble so much since Bellatrix Lestrange and her ilk broke out of Azkaban.

 

I groan. All the thinking hurts my head! Even the groan hurts it, and moving, and frowning, and… everything.

 

“I hope you don’t become the second sacrifice, Harry,” Luna’s concerned voice floats into my ringing ears, next. “You’re lying on where the last one did.”

 

“Lu!” comes Neville’s scandalised scolding. It sounds so loud – too loud – in my ears.

 

“Awwh….” But so far, I can’t manage beyond that. Damn. I’ve got to move! Luna’s proclamation is pretty alarming. I don’t want to be a sacrifice again! Once is enough. I want to live!

 

But… “Nguh!”

 

One of the shadows over me shrinks, and I can feel a big hand (So hot! Why’s the hand so hot?) tentatively landing over my own. A relieved sigh comes from the shadow, then, Neville’s, even as I let out yet another groan. What I can manage to say is only “Ne’… ho’…” though.

 

“We’re to hot for a blue-angel Harry, Nev,” Luna interprets my pitiful attempt, while her silhouette moves, creating rustles that I can somehow hear now that the ringing has mostly faded from my hearing. The statement only alarms me more, still. Have I… changed? What changed? When? How? Why?

 

Neville’s “Sorry, Harry” clinches it. That kind of apologetic tone….

 

I blink, blink, blink, and blink again. Nothing changes, however. Am I going blind? Is this what Luna alluded with her statement and what Neville just confirmed? But then what about Neville’s overly hot hand on my bare skin? (Thankfully it’s off me now!)

 

“Shall we help you sit up, Harry?” Luna asks, when I’ve exhausted myself trying yet again to move on my own. I hum, hoping it transcribes as “Yes” in her mind, resenting the fact that my throat still hurts.

 

My hope, for once, goes through. An invisible hand seems to gently guide me into a seated position, and stays there to prop me up, after a hummed spell (What kind of spell is it that needs to be hummed?) from the person who has slowly but surely replaced Hermione as my best female friend all these years.

 

Something – my spectacles? – slips down my nose and plops down – literally plop, with an audible sound – onto my lap.

 

And my sight instantly gets sharp. – Every crevice in the remaining wall, every dark stain that look like dried liquid droplets on the said wall, every colour that was only shades of grey to my perception before everything went into the huge, tautological blender, every little feature and blemish on Neville’s and Luna’s wide-eyed faces….

 

“I…,” I croak, gaping, disbelieving, even though I’m the one experiencing this ever-so-unexpected change.

 

But my sight isn’t the only thing that has changed, is it? I can hear well, all too well, down to the faint sound of three sets – no, four sets – of heartbeats and the louder one of breathing, three of which are more like little pants typical of fear or excitement.

 

And now I have to look up to meet my friends’ eyes, even though they are in a crouched position, while I clearly remember that I was taller than Luna, if a little shorter than Neville. No wonder my clothes now feel so baggy and cumbersome!

 

I swallow my saliva, wincing at the sting the combo of movement and saliva creates, and try again. “Ahh… wha’… whattt… hap’n?”

 

“Would you like to drink first, Harry? All that screaming can’t be nice for your throat,” is instead what Luna says. It does explain – or rather, confirm – part of the picture, though.

 

An Aguamenti later, as performed by Luna into a crystal goblet conjured by Neville, I only find something else that has changed on my own person.

 

My voice, to be exact.

 

“What…. Why…. I sound like a little child!”

 

Neville chuckles nervously. The indirect confirmation only freaks me out more.

 

Luna’s clinical assertion of, “Maybe nine years old? You look seven, really, under all those oversized clothes. What a pity, dragonskin can’t be charmed to shrink, and you’re wearing lots of dragonskin today,” in fact sees me throwing her a pleading gaze not to tell me the truth.

 

Well, but Luna Lovegood is a master of uncomfortable truth spoken so blithely, indeed. One can’t deny it, nor avoid it.

 

“Still black hair and green eyes, Harry, don’t worry. But the black hair is a little bit different, and the green eyes too. Your face and skin have changed a little, as well, but you’ll still be recognisable to the closest people in your life. You look like a mixture between James Potter and Stubby Bordman and someone else, now. Your eyes is actually nicer now, at least to me: brighter, and a little rounder.”

 

In short, I’ve turned into somebody else.

Chapter Text

An abandoned house, Unknown
25th september 2003

 

My identity crisis is abruptly interrupted by a soft, hiccupping noise that gets ever louder, accompanied by increasingly more restless rustling and shifting, from behind me. Oddly, neither Neville nor Luna stirs. It’s as if they can’t hear all the alarming noises. But it’s loud!

 

Neville even asks wy I am worried.

 

“Can’t you hear it?” I demand, hating the fact that now even a demand sounds squeaky. I try to scramble to my feet and turn round to face the noise, meanwhile, albeit hampered by my now-oversized clothes and unfamiliar body.

 

Neville gives me a wry smile, even as Luna pokes my nose with a mittened finger.

 

“Won’t we tell you if we hear something, Harry?” she admonishes. “Hmm, I don’t know many children, but I’ve heard they sometimes have a… timeout? Shall we give you a timeout?”

 

My cheeks heat up quite so. “I’m not a child!” I squawk.

 

A mixture between a snort, a gulp and a hum from Neville’s direction alerts me that he is valiantly trying to stifle a snigger; if judging from my now-remembered newly heightened sense of hearing, that is.

 

But still.

 

Huffing, I shrug out of my dragonskin boots and gloves, tuck my now-oversized socks round my feet, roll the legs of my trousers so that they won’t be quite in the way, do the same to the long sleeves of the T-shirt I’ve been wearing under my dragonskin jacket, then scramble away from the said jacket while turning my back on my now softly sniggering friends. Thankfully, I’ve had more than ten years of wearing far-oversized clothing to be able to adjust the garments to my new specifications quickly; without fearing that they’ll fall off on me in inopportune moments, at that. And even more thankfully, my strength is returning, and my balance likewise, so hopefully I won’t embarrass myself further. My pride can’t take yet another hit!

 

And then, all thoughts of traitorous friends and bruised pride fly out of my mind, as my eyes land on the wriggling bundle in the corner.

 

It’s not as small as I thought it was; or maybe it’s not, now, in my… changed state. It’s not as big as something that might be an adult, though, which would be more than a little alarming. The leather and cloth wrappings look to have been done hastily, if securely, however long ago, and there are small dark stains splattered on the front that mirror those on the wall.

 

Whoever died to protect this bundle, they didn’t die peacefully, indeed, even though their death did buy this little one a chance to live.

 

I crawl towards the bundle, ignoring the cold sting on my bare hands and socked feet, not trusting my balance enough yet to walk, then help unwrap whoever trapped inside without negating the protection the cocoon gives them. (The joys of godfatherhood…. I got to take care of Teddy alongside Andy, down to the nitty-gritties, including how to wrap a baby for warmth without suffocating the latter.)

 

A light-blue face with a spattering of white markings – much lighter-hued and younger-looking than the person in the crystalline picture I found downstairs – is revealed when I’ve managed to shift enough fabric and leather away without unravelling the cocoon altogether, not at all helped by the struggling one being cocooned. Small, innocent eyes, if red and glowy, alike and yet quite unlike Voldemort’s, instantly focus on me.

 

And then frightened, heart-rending wails break the general silence in this abandoned, broken relic of a battle long gone, as the small being in the cocoon most likely realises that I am not the person they had been with last, before they got frozen in time.

 

My heart constricts painfully. – Was I like this, when Hagrid picked me up from the wreckage of my nursery? How did he calm me down? How can I calm down this no-doubt traumatised… baby? Toddler? Little child?…

 

I only have the song I associate with the cocoon and my cocoon-mate, which could always calm me down whenever I managed to recall it, however patchy the recollection usually was, but it’s only after a very, very tiring day or in a very, very deep meditation. Besides, Neville and Luna are here….

 

Well, Neville did expose that secret about his mum and her desperate Protego that nobody else seemed to have ever known, didn’t he? And Luna is always blunt, even about herself. So now’s my turn to uncover my deepest secret, isn’t it? It might benefit this poor little one as well, right? If I could summon it to the fore of my mind and let it out?

 

I snort inwardly. – So much reluctance, while I usually jump feet first, so to say, and when there’s a clear need to react fast, too….

 

I open my mouth, but nothing comes out. Then again, the song is never worded, isn’t it? It utilises the vibrations in the chest, and yet… not….

 

Sighing, I murmur sweet-nothings to the struggling, crying child instead: reassurances that I mean no harm to them. Only when the struggles have peter out some do I dare touch their assortment of wrappings, then their cheek (So cold! Why so cold?) and soft black hair.

 

By the time I manage to pick the bundle up and cradle it in my arms (So heavy! For so small a child…?), the unknown, tiny “blue angel,” who is maybe about one-and-a-half to two years if judging from the size of them, is no longer crying so much, thankfully. The tips of my unprotected fingers and not-so-protected toes have begun to pinch, though, which is quite alarming. I don’t bring any frostbite remedy and don’t know how to cure it with spells either!

 

With some awkward, ginger manoeuvring, given the size and heft of the seeming toddler in my arms and the new size and exhaustion of my own self, I clamber back to where I’ve left my dragonskin garments and carefully lay the bundle on the bit of unoccupied floor before me. I let an interested Luna and a cautious Neville have a peek at whom we’ve found in this sad place, while I stuff my hands and feet back into my now ridiculously oversized gloves and boots.

 

A wrong move, apparently. The moment my face vanishes and the faces of Neville and Luna come into view, the loud wails break out again.

 

And then, in the next instance, with nothing heard and smelled and sensed beforehand, a quartet of strangers suddenly materialise behind the three of us and restrain us by clasping our hands behind our backs, with the last one scooping up the wailing bundle from the floor before retreating a short distance away.

 

“Ah, poo,” Luna murmurs, and I’ve got the urge to laugh hysterically at her so-very-apt, calmly delivered remark.

 

Ah, poo, indeed! Why didn’t I think to put parameter wards round us as one of the failsafes before we came up here? Why didn’t Neville think of such, as a former Auror? And why didn’t I notice these strangers sneaking up on us, with all these heightened senses of mine?

 

The little one is wailing louder now, somehow, even though I can see them being cradled rather comfortably and un-hurting-ly in the last assailant’s arms.

 

Damn. I put them through this. I must rectify the problem myself.

Chapter Text

An abandoned house, Unknown
25th september 2003

 

I shift, wiggle, buck, throw my head back – try almost everything feasible and probable to free myself, try to reach for the distressed little mirror-me, barring using magic and wailing to match up the tiny one. Everything meets up with failure, though. I am held too securely for me to free my hands, I am placed too far away for my head to be able to reach the one restraining me, and I can neither move to my feet nor twist my body round because of the awkward position I am held in.

 

The grip, however painless it comparably is to the other instances in which I’ve found myself being restrained in the past, doesn’t slacken even when I slump in place, half dangling by my arms.

 

These people are alarmingly competent, and yet shockingly soft for the type of criminals who like to bodily restrain their victims, according to all the experiences in his former office that Neville has shared with me and those that I’ve experienced myself in my “ever-so-idyllic” childhood and teenhood. They’re totally silent, at that, even now, which contributes to most of the unnerving factor, even beyond the experience of being restrained by possible criminals in a totally foreign land.

 

Come to think of it again, neither of my friends have spoken past Luna’s comment when we’re firstly ambushed, and neither of them seem to have been gagged, whether physically or magically. It has only been a few moments, true, but Luna at least should have spoken up, if not Neville, especially regarding the still-wailing bundle of our latest finding.

 

It would be quite different, I absurdly reflect, if these were Hermione and Ron instead….

 

Now, the question is: Dare I try to free myself with magic?

 

My eyes wildly roam the tableau we’re forcefully held in, trying to catch those of my friends’, trying to gauge their readiness to flee should my magical attempt succeed.

 

Luna’s eyes catch mine. She shakes her head subtly, mouthing what seems like, “Dangerous.”

 

I frown.

 

She shakes her head more visibly and vigorously.

 

I sigh. – Well, yes, it makes sense. Using my magic now might be dangerous both for myself and for others. With this new body of mine, there’s a very, very good chance that my magic has changed in some way as well. Not to mention, I’ve spent so much magic to help warm my friends and our dinner, to clear some of the debris from downstairs, to try to restore my findings from that effort, and also to make everything we needed – or we thought we’d need – to come up here. But I still hate that it makes sense. Being restrained like this just reminds me too much of all the beatings Dudley’s gang gave me at the end of their games of Harry Hunting, the horrifying, horrible spectacle at the graveyard of Riddle Manor, and the smug condescension of Umbridge’s Inquisitorial squad.

 

There’s only one way left, as much as I despise it.

 

“Please let us go? I need to help the little one!”

 

Acting like a begging little child, it is.

 

Our assailants, burly and huge as they are, look and seem decent enough, with eyes flat but not cruel and faces politely rather than coldly impassive, so maybe I can appeal to their sense of decency?

 

“Please? My arms hurt. It can’t be good for that little child to cry for so long, too.”

 

I wiggle my arms and grimace for emphasis. “Please?”

 

The holder of the crying baby shifts their head a little. The flatness of their mossy-green eyes ripples likewise, as if a still pond being disturbed by a small stone, flickering towards the one restraining me.

 

A few moments after, when I’ve stupidly relaxed my guard given the lack of immediate action of any of our captors after that minute, brief disturbance, I suddenly find myself cradled sidewise in my captor’s arms, pressed against their leather-vest-covered chest, much like a baby, complete with comfy but secure rest for my neck on the nook of the said captor’s arm.

 

Humiliating.

 

I try to buck my head and kick out my feet.

 

With try being the keyword, because all the efforts don’t avail me any in actuality.

 

Even worse, the futile thrashing only serves to  make me be cradled snugger. My captor even sways back and forth on their own volition, as if I were a tantruming little baby in need of soothing movements.

 

“Let me go!” I yell and squirm, my cheeks burning hot.

 

And then, almost gradually, I become aware of the silence, which is broken only by my struggles.

 

I stop dead right away.

 

My captor lets out a questioning hum and jostles my head a little, as if to provoke me into moving – into trying to get free – again. I lie rigid in their arms, regardless, not responding to their weird babying effort, petrified on one thought alone: `What has happened to the baby? They were crying so loud! Why did they suddenly stop?`

 

Uncharacteristically, the calm, silent giant of a human – or humanoid? – then sighs and looks pointedly down at me. And for the first time in our forced acquaintance, I hear them speak; as calmly and silently as their behaviour has been thus far, although tinged by some muted exasperation mixed with amusement; and in a lower-timbre androgynous voice that also perfectly matches their visage, at that.

 

“You wanted the littler one to be taken care of. Now you are displeased that they have been taken care of. Shall they be woken up again, then?”

 

I scowl up at them.

 

“No! Let us go! Please! We weren’t doing anything bad!”

 

They smile. This way, they look like an amused, indulgent caretaker when faced by the excuses of a mischievous little child heavily suspected of doing mischief.

 

I huff. It’s so hard to concentrate on being a proper twenty-three-year-old when in this body and being treated like this!

 

“What did you do to the little one?”

 

`Ha! I can behave as my age dictates, still! Take that, you condescending oaf!`

 

But there hasn’t been any condescension involved, thus far, surprisingly, if I’m honest with myself. It’s more akin to my delight when witnessing Teddy’s foibles, if less personal and thus less warm.

 

Oh, well.

 

And then they drone about the little one’s holder being an expert in health and medical practises for little ones, about how the said so-called paediatrician expert gradually induced a natural rest in the little one’s mind through a careful and soft implementation of “elða” and pretty soft-toned “m’aë,” about how little ones need much sleep and milk and cuddles and attention, about some amusing anecdotes of them taking care of their own little ones, and so on, and so on.

 

I am aware that I have been entranced by all the recountings only when a very, very careful something that might be a fingertip cards through my hair, making that section shift a little.

 

The owner of the tentative gesture is not my captor, that I know. The said captor has just fallen into a somehow respectful silence on that gesture, anyway, even though they’ve been in the middle of explaining about lessons that little ones could enjoy very much.

 

A pair of apple-green eyes replaces the silvery ones of my captor’s in my field of vision in short order, and I can feel my captor shift their arms, proffering me to the newcomer.

 

`Wha–?!`

Chapter Text

An abandoned house, Unknown
25th September 2003

 

Before I can do anything in response to the newcomer and my own current situation, the said newcomer – as huge and androgynous-looking as my current captor, but less bulky – moves a little, and I spy an odd glint in their eyes.

 

`Is that… water? Tears? But why?`

 

“Who are you?” I blurt out, squawking loudly despite my hurting throat; perhaps a tad ruder than I would usually say to someone on the verge of weeping, at that. And judging from the brief tightening of the arms holding me up and away from my captor, the said captor is displeased about it, too, though most likely for a different reason than me being an insensitive git. But it’s not really my fault if I get testy from being ambushed and held against my will by a total stranger in an alien land, is it?

 

I open my mouth again; to apologise, maybe, or to excuse my words, or both of them, or something else entirely. But then the look in the newcomer’s eyes registers in my mind, which is still muddled with disorientation after jack-knifing out of the peaceful droning of my captor, and my mouth falls shut with the click of teeth against teeth.

 

Raw grief.

 

Maybe I looked thus, when I realised that Sirius wouldn’t materialise at the other side of the Veil at the end of my fifth year, when the fact that Dumbledore was truly dead finally registered in my mind at the end of sixth year, when Hedwig died so senselessly before what should have been the start of my seventh year, when Dobby died while rescuing me and those with me from Malfoy Manor during that year, when I found that Remus and Tonks had died in the battle near the end of it. But somehow, this is… deeper.

 

“I’m sorry,” I whisper at last, lost in my own painful reminiscences, empathising all too poignantly.

 

And, just so, the tears glittering in those apple-green eyes slide down; silently at first, then accompanied by the increasingly loud sound of what could have been a dying animal, like Snape had let out when reporting the death of his old friend Lily.

 

I am too stunned to try for an escape, and strangely reluctant to do so, when my captor transfers my custody to the shaking arms of the clearly grieving newcomer.

 

And then my mind simply blanks out.

 

Wrapped close in the newcomer’s arms like this, with their body curled all round me as if shielding me from something harmful, with something else that feels suspiciously like their magic doing the same gesture to mine, with the wordless song echoing in my ears, is… is… is…!

 

I keen my own distress and grief, yearning for what might have been and what has never been, cut into ribbons by the realisation that I’m finally home.

 

I don’t know who the greiver is. I don’t know where we are. I don’t know how they’ve found me. All I know is that I am home. They are the cocoon and thus I am home.

 

My keening is echoed by a louder, much more mature voice that reverberates deeply in the jacket-clad chest I’m pressed against, and a name resounds in my mind with bittersweet joy, relief, and a plethora of other emotions, including – somehow – reverence, followed by the frantic babbling of a mother relieved to have found her child safe and sound in a war zone: `Loki. My Loki. My baby. I never thought – I daren’t hope – you are here – we are here – you are safe – it’s over – we are safe – my Loki – my baby, poor baby, my little one – Loí it’s Amma, it’s Amma, Amma’s here, at last – oh Ýmir tallasha – my child, my baby, my little Loí – Amma’s here – Amma won’t leave Loí again.`

 

They – she? – sound so much like Mrs. Weasley when she found her other children still alive, after finding Fred dead, at the end of the battle against Voldemort and his minions.

 

If only….

Chapter Text

An abandoned house, Unknown
25th september 2003

 

My friends, our foundling and our ambushers turn to have been waiting downstairs, within the shelter built from debris that I had carefully piled up in what feels like ages ago, when the both of us – or rather, the griever, carrying me in a very, very snug and cuddly embrace – eventually vacate the second story of the abandoned old house. The mother, who must have been mistaken about my identity, although my little heart absurdly hopes otherwise, is… well, vastly more composed, if compared to… her?… sobbing, shaking, blubbering, clingy self from a pretty recent time; and I, tucked in… her… jacket-clad arms in an unbelievably comfier position than it felt with my previous captor, have also – marginally – recovered from the shock of hearing the wordless song and meeting the cocoon here of all places.

 

A new shock has been waiting downstairs, though, apparently. Because, when my new captor steps into the makeshift camp, fenced in by a high, sturdy dividing wall of various-sized chunks moulded together not by my own doing, our four assailants, three of whom are still holding my friends and foundling captive, immediately shift from their seated position into a nealing one and bow low towards my current captor. With their heads tilted aside to expose the columns of their throats, and with their fingers linked together at the smalls of their backs. Completely vulnerable.

 

It looks suspiciously like obeisance to a barbaric chiftain, or a monarch in an alien culture.

 

It feels uncomfortably like the Death Eaters when in the presence of Voldemort.

 

Is this grieving mother this place’s version of Voldemort, then? But her grief was – is, still – so real! And she’s been genuinely cuddly to me, the sod mistaken as her long-lost child. Comparing this person with Voldemort feels almost blasphemous, seen this way.

 

I frown and struggle – read: squirm until the cocooning arms give in somewhat – to haul myself up into a seated position, with one hand fisted into the front of the mum’s jacket for added lift and balance, while she is talking in low tones in a language I don’t recognise – giving orders, probably – to her four possible subordinates. Next, given no resistance from her or my previous captor – who is positioned pretty near and still empty-handed, probably ready to catch me – and also given the fact that it is easier to go up than to go down, with her arms positioned exactly to prevent the latter, I take the most likely unpredicted route by climbing her front like a monkey. It’s… strange, that, for a mother (or any female past puberty, actually), she is flat-chested like a man; but that only makes it easier for me to climb up to her shoulder, then perch there, contemplating the eight to ten feet of distance it seems to be to the floor.

 

Unfortunately, she chooses to seat herself inside the circle of her subordinate before I can execute my plan to jump down, run upstairs to fetch our belongings, put them all into my ever-present mokeskin pouch, run back down to incapacitate these five probable natives non-permanently (I’m not going to hurt the cocoon – whoever she is in actuality to me!), then flee the land altogether with my friends and also the poor little one we found here. And even more unfortunately, my previous captor is now seated on the only opening I made to this little camp when I erected the debris fence round it, which has been added to and sured up into an encircling wall by – most likely – one of the natives.

 

Seated on the shoulder of this semi-stranger, with my dangling legs tucked snugly in the curl of her left arm, my frown grows fiercer.

 

Contradictorily, Luna and Neville, seated right opposite me, look amused at me, although there’s also a hint of apprehension in Neville’s eyes.

 

Neville’s captor speaks, then, addressing mine, in the same defferential tone the other giants have been aiming towards this one. A hum of agreement later, they rattles off things like Neville was wont to do when recounting about one of the more serious parts of his career to me, which I always imagined he’d sound when reporting to Head Auror Robards. The only thing I recognise from the whole report is “Scotland.”

 

The mum addresses Neville, then, while the fingers of her opposite arm start absently fidgeting with my now-uncovered toes – and sometimes, feet, “Are you older than the one beside you, young one?” Her voice is higher pitched than my previous captor’s is, but it’s just as bland – if still rather hoarse from all the sobbing from earlier – as theirs was, making it hard to judge whether she might be hostile to us. Or at least to my friends, if apparently not to me, with how she’s still treating my feet like toys. (It tickles! Although, strangely, now I realise, none of my body parts feels on the verge of being frostbitten anymore. Huh.)

 

Neville nods, then hastily offers a “Yes, sir” to the inquiry, probably after an unseen nudge from his captor.

 

“If you would like to address me based on a specific gender, do not address me as a male,” is her response, and I don’t need to see her face – which is rather hard, with me seated technically beside her, and with how her thick, long, black gentle waves are obscuring my view – to notice the displeased frown in it, replacing the grief, plus a smidgen of pride that makes me both curious and a little bit bothered.

 

On his hasty “Yes, Ma’am” correction, she hums in approval, prompting me to give the side of her head a glare for being petty to my friend… which she apparently notices, because she tugs semi-gently at my left foot now, but otherwise doesn’t comment on it or bid me to desist.

 

“Are you the mate of the one beside you?” she asks him next, to which he replies with the same answer, hesitantly, with face cherry-red and lots of glances towards an unperturbed Luna.

 

And now, “What kind of relationship do you have with my child?”

 

`Child?!!`

 

I scowl at her. I’m not hers!

 

…Am I?…

 

She’s the cocoon, isn’t she? So does it mean…?

 

Neville stares open-mouthed at my current captor for a long, long moment, then, “Your child, Ma’am?”

 

And, as the answer, the interrogator tugs at both of my legs, making me slide back into her arms and let out a… yell. (No, truly, it’s a yell! Not… anything else.)

 

“Harry?” Neville doesn’t know whether to laugh or to squawk in astonishment.

 

I glare threateningly at him. But a large part of me is distracted by the huge, soft hand rubbing the back of my neck back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, while cuddling me close and humming… something… deep in her chest.

 

And, also, admitedly, by the sign that… she… is actually a male, or at least half male, as rather evidenced by the soft bulge accidentally squished under the side of my thigh, which… she?… hastily if discreetly rectifies by adjusting the sprawling heap of my body into a comfier position.

 

“Harry’s my friend,” Neville clarifies once he seems to have gotten his voice under control. “We’re classmates since we’re eleven.” Then he hesitates, before bravely going on, “From what I know, his parents died Quite a long time ago, though, and he wasn’t like this, before the ward upstairs that he accidentally triggered changed him.”

 

Ward?!” The mum’s voice is sharp and quick as a whip, now. “What ward?”

 

“Maybe the little one will be safe from harm as long as… umm, he?… is with me,” I pipe up, contributing into the… conversation… without being asked, even as, half hidden from view by the tree-trunk-huge arms wrapped round me, I shamelessly use the chance to snuggle deeper into the mum’s embrace, relishing in her scent, sounds, and physical as well as magical presence. Male or female or both, self-titling herself my mother or not, alien or not, another Voldemort or a gang’s leader or a monarch or just a… hybrid girl?… with a tiny cult, she is undeniably the cocoon, and I’ve have subconsciously longed for her – as well as my cocoon-mate – all my life, just as she has apparently longed – madly – for me (us?), and we don’t have much time if we – I mean, my friends and I – want to return home before the Black elves squawk and Andy unleashes a search party, so I’m going to use all the chance I get to bask in the real representation of my home.

 

“We are neither male nor female in truth, Loí,” the mum murmurs in reply to my conjecture, while carding three fingers across the top of my head. I hum noncommittally… maybe also in some contentment, I admit… as her low-toned comment reverberates nicely in her chest, adding to the rhythmic breaths and heartbeats, and also to the gentle, tactile affection she is lavishing my head with.

 

And then the words truly register in my mind and, “Oh,” I mumble. “Why do you position yourself as female, then?” – This has answered my brief confusion of her gender, regardless, and it’s also a nice distraction from any weighty topics.

 

“Amma, Loí, Amma,” she chastises gently but firmly. “And Loí knows….” Her breathing hitches, and I can feel how her emotions roil violently, somehow, before she continues with a rather audible effort, “Our culture, it is based on continuity, and females have a large role in that. Physically, we are born female first, also, before the male part grows in later years. We do not need a male-specific being for us to be able to birth a child, at that. Besides, would Loí like to be smelly and bumbling like most males are? Or strutting quite undeservingly like a handful of them do?”

 

I look at Neville, and Neville looks at me. His face is cherry-red again, awkward to boot; and, judging from how hot my face feels and how much I’m trying not to display any expression on it, I am faring no better.

 

And the mum – my mum?! – notices, with how she huffs out a breath caught between a growl and a laugh and cuffs my temple softly, even as she cuddles me tighter, burying my face in her jacket, in her scent, in her presence.

 

And then, she veers her attention away to Luna.

 

For hours long, it feels.

 

Talking about many, many things, from the existence of crumple-horn snorkaks to the feasibility of building a house over an iced-over crevasse, and from the intricacies of “human magic” – or the lack of it – to my foibles at school and outside of it.

 

While totally ignoring Neville and playing with my limbs and head and whole body as though I were a beloved porcelain doll she’s more than fond of but afraid to break.

 

She talks with Luna, talks to Neville, and talks about me.

 

Go figure. My self-titled mother is a sexist, a speciesist and an ageist.

 

But I’ve never been cuddled for this long and adored this much, and even now she’s letting me play with her – long, strong, neatly cared for – fingers, turning them here and there and putting them into various configurations, just as she has done to mine a few moments ago minus the contortions; not to mention letting me treat one of her arms as a pillow I can hug and curl myself round, and play with some stray hair of hers that falls down her chest, and root about in the many pockets of her jacket, and confiscate the little treasures – a few US dollar notes and coins, a huge bluish coin made up of some glass or crystal with unfamiliar runes etched on its face round its circumference, a faux-leather pocket notebook tied with a plastic curly cord to a sturdy, neon-green, twist-to-use ballpoint pen with magic emanating from both, a palm-sized, worn, old teddy bear, and many, many more – that I find there, and….

 

Well, it feels too nice to vacate my current spot, or to speak, or to bother about my so-called mother’s not-so-good side, or to cease playing the little-child card I’ve been dealt by my reemerging “Potter luck,” or to….

 

Oh, damn. I’m doomed.

Chapter Text

An abandoned house, Unknown
25th September 2003

 

“Can you fly, Harry?” Luna suddenly addresses me, and it jolts me from a nice inspection of a length of necklace with rather thick chains from some kind of shiny, silvery metal, which I have just spotted round the mum’s neck as she’s just fished me away from my pile of lute and back up high in her arms. The necklace is weighed down by the biggest, smoothest, shiniest, most magical pearl I know, as I found out when my fingers managed to snag it out of its hideout beneath the mum’s treasureful jacket, but now it slides back into place with the accompaniment of my disappointed huff.

 

“Of course I can, Lu,” I grumble, throwing the speaker a confused look, a little vexed by the disruption to my current fun. “Youngest Seeker in a century and all.”

 

Grinning, she flicks the tip of her wand with a finger, and the tip of my nose tingles with – suspiciously – a very similar sensation to being flicked at with a finger. “Timeout, harry?” she sing-songs.

 

I scowl at her, for both offences, although it’s hard to maintain it, instead of laughing at her quirks and the reminder about what she said before everything went awry – well, more awry than it already had.

 

“Do not play with your elða yet with my child, young one,” the mum rebukes, although in a far gentler fashion than Aunt Petunia would say to anybody who would physically tease Dudley into scowling like me. “We are yet to investigate what has happened to uncover this hitherto-unknown survivor,” she flicks a glance at the baby resting peacefully in their holder’s arms nearby, “and to return my child to me. Until then, the use of elða on and around the children might prove dangerous for them and everyone else.”

 

“All right, Auntie,” Luna replies easily, as though we grew up together and she’s just addressing my mum indeed, her pseudo-aunt. My heart unexpectedly aches on this thought – this perception, this imagination – even though the mum’s possessiveness and newly hinted-at reluctance to part with me have just been revealed, tweaking my instinct for freedom from anyone’s rule.

 

So, to divert this ludicrous feeling in my traitorous heart, “Why did you ask me about flying, Lu? You did comment on that Quidditch match…, and you did see me fly, multiple times.”

 

Luna’s grin widens. “Because you’ve been acting like a magpie, Harry,” she says simply. “I’ve been wondering why you didn’t use your magpie form to fly and avoid that root, or to scout ahead for us here.”

 

`Magpie…. Oh.`

 

I look down, scowling fiercely at the things I’ve unearthed from the depths of the mum’s many pockets, which must have some nifty Undetectable Expansion Charm because the pockets didn’t bulge at all and I couldn’t detect anything emanating from them. All the disparate items formed a large, neat pile that occupied the whole of my lap, and now they’re scattered on the mum’s much larger lap, after she has so unceremoniously lifted me up into her arms.

 

Then I transfer my scowl at my quirky, playful friend and, in the snootiest voice I can manage, respond with, “If I were a magpie, I wouldn’t have spent so long trudging after you or fallen into that hole. I wouldn’t have bothered learning to fly a motored hang-glider, too.”

 

Recognition, surprise, askance and a sliver of amusement not of my own bleed into my mind, not only from the mum, but none from my friends. I force myself to ignore the odd reaction of the natives – (It must be the natives, by dint of deduction and elimination.) and choose to continue the charade by raising my eyes in the imitation of Draco Malfoy’s most brattish manner when Neville chimes in with, “If you chose to live in the Wizarding World, you could have spent however much time in the air with your broom, instead of that contraption.”

 

“With the remnants of Riddle’s rabid retinue and the unpredictable number and location of the even more rabid fans?” I drawl in reply, borrowing Hermione’s long-winded lecturing mode. “At least nobody is going to shoot me out of the sky for any reason in the non-magical world – if I take care not to go into war zones! And if you call a motored hang-glider a ‘contraption’, then what would you call an aeroplane?” Then, after a pause, “You know, I’ve been preparing to learn how to drive at least a single-seat pioneer aeroplane for some time now. I might even be able to fly into space with some modifications and Bill’s help.”

 

I may have overdone the manic persona, probably, judging from how disturbed and alarmed Neville and the natives look, and how gleeful Luna is.

 

But then the mum breaks the awkward, strained silence and my own alarmed perturbation on thinking of what might make my quirky friend gleeful, and the said alarmed perturbation turns into a chill-down-my-back, face-palming “Uh-oh” moment, as she demands in a voice several octaves higher than her usual pitch, while hefting me under my armpits to be at a level with her rounded eyes, “Shot?! Out of the sky?!! Rabid…?!!!”

 

“…Followers of someone who was always after my life since I had been a baby?” I offer to her weakly, nervously. “And, erm, erh, people who… like me… for accidentally – and stupidly dramatically – defeating him…?”

Chapter Text

Moving: An abandoned house, Unknown; Outside, Unknown
25th september 2003

 

On hindsight, I should have not said anything about life-endangering things to someone who claims herself as my mum. But then again, how would I know? Mrs. Weasley is Ron’s mum, and Andy is my aunt, and nobody else dared – or deigned – to claim such a position otherwise, whether in the magical or non magical world, for various reasons, in all my life – until now, that is.

 

In any case, for the next eternity, I have the dubious pleasure of being in the centre of attention for the natives, and no help from my friends is allowed, as they – or rather, my incensed, furious, flabbergasted, deeply regretful, awefully wide-eyed self-titled mum, with occasional, respectful, discreet input from her following – interrogate me about the highlights of my life’s history.

 

However, after that, I turn the table on them, or at least the mum, asking for her name, status, situation, validity and certainty of claim on me, family, and many, many more, including how she ended up gate-crashing my unexpected party upstairs, in a rapid-fire fashion.

 

In response, she stuffs everything that I got out of her pockets into a big leather pouch that she grabs out of thin air, vanishes the now-full pouch back into thin air, then excuses herself and me from the camp. We move a little outside, and she dawdles even more by shrinking my clothes to a perfect fit – without any spell or feelable aura of magic use – but there’s nothing else that she can do to postpone everything, since the view outside is still the same as before: a broken, barren street with broken, giant stone houses at either side. Only that, now, everything is bathed in dull golden light that is dimmer than the usual afternoon light at… well, on Earth.

 

Strange, for someone who claimed herself as my mother with all alacrity, she feels reluctant to defend her claim when there’s a chance to do so.

 

No, not reluctant, but… defensive? Apprehensive? – Her emotions are roiling worse than ever now, than even when I was narrating my various near-death situations, and it’s so hard to concentrate on what she’s feeling. It’s even making me dizzy!

 

I scrunch my nose up at her when she takes a seat on a piece of stray, more-or-less smooth boulder, reseats me in her lap, but does and says nothing else for a long, long while, just looking at me.

 

“An impatient one, aren’t you, aðyemma?” she says at last, scrunching her own nose, with a sad, tiny smile playing on her lips.

 

The glint in her eyes is dark, though, so I hesitate with a cheeky comeback that’s already balancing at the tip of my tongue. “The baby needs help,” I say instead, deciding to take a safer route against all typical Gryffindor moves, remembering that my friends are still trapped here, that I myself am still very much a hostage, despite my delight that – at long last – I can spend so much time with the cocoon. “We need to go back, too. My friends and I, I mean.”

 

`Oh damn, why did I say that?` I realise when her expression – not only her eyes – grows dark and tight. Why advertise to the more-or-less kidnapper that you’re going to run away soon?

 

“We are going to talk about that later,” she decides at length, still, so I slump in her arms, to the accompaniment of her listless, mirthless chuckle. But she doesn’t talk at all for the next while, just staring off into the middle distance, with a pained and strangely resentful mien that is a little – well, I admit, a lot – worrying.

 

I can’t stand it any longer when her broody mood sees her holding me tight and burying her face in my hair. The cocoon shouldn’t be broody – home shouldn’t be broody.

 

“Please tell me why you think I’m your child?” I insist, with my voice muffled by her oddly Earth-styled – modern non-magical-styled – jacket.

 

Water bathes the top of my head, in reply, and that is the only reply for a long, long time, or so it feels to me.

 

And then, stumblingly, croakily, shakily, she blubbers about the tie that a mother shares with her child, who stays for a year in her womb and spends the next centuries afterwards close to her for at least the reason of easy reach for breastfeeding and other forms of childcare. The child shares a measure of the link; but being largely undeveloped during gestation and some time afterwards, the strength from this end is never enough for the said child to keenly feel – to deeply mourn, should it be broken. The mother, bearing most of the link, would not be this fortunate, should the worst come to pass.

 

And this mother did lose a child to death, at the end of a rather senseless war against two different factions, with the other child – the twin, this child’s elder sibling if by just nearly a day – missing and officially presumed dead.

 

I was dead.

 

I am a reincarnation.

 

What I have been assuming as a dream – the cocoon, the cocoon-mate, the shakes and shock and pain and pleas and worried urges – is instead a memory, but not of me inside Lily Evans’ womb, nor of that dark day when I lost my parents – James Potter and Lily Evans, my human parents.

 

It is a snippet of a memory that I somehow retain from my previous life, about – as the mum (`My mum?!`) tells it, semi coherently – the end of the war, when she and her guards must wade through a knot of enemy troop and, while her guards were occupied, an enemy commander that headed the troop managed to sneak in and bash her pregnant belly with his mace, causing her to deliver her children mid-term and almost then and there, even though the protective wards and armour she focused on that part of her body managed to save their lives. Laughing wetly and hollowly, she describes the low blow as “a lesson for a greedy, barbaric, podgy tyrant not to pick fights with Asgard,” which suggests to me that the basher didn’t know that he was trying to kill a pair of unborn babies and their mother.

 

Still, I’m not going to forget that name: Asgard.

 

I’m not going to forget the name of the children – her spouse’s children – who spirited my former self and my twin away from her almost right after she had delivered us, either: Helblindi and Býleistr. We are going to have words; although, secretly, I do agree with Helblindi that my mother’s life is worth trading off with mine, whatever they did to affect that, which most likely ended up with me dead and this blubbering mess clutching me alive. After all, how many times have I thought that Lily Evans would have a better job fighting against Voldemort if she were alive in my stead?

 

This mum (My mum! I have a mum! Even if she’s the mum of my former self – still two peas in a pod, or maybe two selves in a soul.) might not appreciate the thought, nonetheless, given how she’s been insisting so many times that outliving one’s child is the most horrible thing a mother would feel, and given how she’s raging against the two absent children right now. I had better be silent about it, at least till I can meet the two aforesaid – or aforeranted, rather – children.

 

Or pass a message to them, come to think of it again, since I do have responsibilities to the two Houses I am the head of, back on Earth.

 

And speaking of the location, “Where are we? I mean, on what planet, if we aren’t on Earth?” It should be a safer topic to discuss, right? Something that still pertains to my current… host… and her background? I really, really don’t want the cocoon to keep being a mess like this! (After all, if even the cocoon is a mess, then what about little, insignificant me – the proverbial caterpillar encased in it?)

 

And, “Ýmirheim,” she says. “It is known largely as Jötunheim among those on Earth who put us as legends some time ago, and also to the Asgardians. This specific area used to be a town. Most of the adults went to war on either side. The ones left were the pregnant, the children and the adolescents, with a handful of capable adult guards to supplement the pregnant in keeping them all safe. And then a splinter company among the Asgardians landed here and… Loí probably can see what happened next.”

 

`Legends…,` I groan inwardly, even as I nod tentatively to the implied question at the end. Then, “Were there any survivors? Aside from the baby, I mean?”

 

“There were, although most of them were ironically from the war-front.” The mirthless chuckle makes a return, and I’m beginning to despise it heartily.

 

But she answers when I ask; not with platitudes, not with “when you are older” rubbish, not with evasions, not with half-truths – and is it not an astonishing finding, that I can feel it when somebody is not being entirely truthful? Her mechanical words – forced out of her with an almost tangible pain – and demeanour makes her feel distant, but it also makes her view me as, if not an equal then someone close to it.

 

It’s good, when talking about difficult matters like this. She can return to being my indulgent cocoon once we’re reunited with the others. She’s still being my cocoon, anyway, since she hasn’t let me slip anywhere from her arms.

 

And now, “What are you? What am I now, for that matter? My friend Luna calls you and I ‘the blue angels’…. Well, and what are you to those who’re holding my friends and the baby? And how did you come here? I didn’t see or hear or feel anything when you came – so quickly, too!”

 

Amma and Loí, little kip,” is what she says.

 

Well, there is still this, too, admitedly: her absurd insistence about this odd way of addressing ourselves, which sounds much like a little child and a doting adult talking to each other, to me. I’m beginning to think that she won’t be the cocoon if she doesn’t insist about this.

 

And she won’t answer my questions, either, apparently, if I don’t comply.

 

So, “Please tell Loí, Amma.”

 

I never, never would have expected her to start weeping again, though….

Chapter Text

An abandoned town, Ýmirheim
25th September 2003

 

I… never thought, nor dreamt of, not even in my wildest dream, which shows how unimaginative I am… well, of my other mother being a… a… a… monarch; a monarch of a planet, or maybe even a chain of planets. A monarch – a queen, like the Queen of the United Kingdom, but in a far larger area. It’s… mind-boggling.

 

Then again, Aunt Petunia ‘lovingly’ said that my mother – her sister – had been a drunk and a wastrel, before I found out that she had been a witch and, later, the wife of a lord of a wealthy, well-known and well-skilled House.

 

And comes the question, too, from this: Who is my original mother and who is my other mother, actually? Who is first in my mind, if not in reality: the one who lost me not by her own volition or the one who died to protect me?

 

But still, a Monarch–!

 

…Who has been – marginally – regal only a tenth of the time of our (re?)acquaintance, who has spent some of the other time being blatantly cuddly to… her child?… in front of her subordinates, who is – in the remaining lots of the time – a blubbering mess, who is garbed in an Earth-style jacket and Earth-style trousers and Earth-style boots despite her being the monarch of another planet….

 

And, if it’s not enough yet, she has just shown me what Luna means with being a blue angel… by turning into an absolute giant whose skin colour is deep cerulean blue, with the white markings I saw on the crystal picture earlier, and also red, glowy eyes set on a bald head with craggy face.

 

And I have been changed, too, by dint of being in her arms.

 

The weather feels… pretty warm… in this skin, even though all of my clothing has somehow vanished, or maybe got vanished by her, and… she… has just reclad me in a soft, fluffy white loincloth she pulled from nowhere. And I feel faint, looking at my own blue skin, tracing it with my black fingertips, which look and feel more like claw-tips, also with eyes that notices every detail – even more than the sharp sight of the kiddy body I inhabited just now.

 

And as we rejoin the others – or rather, the others rejoin us, by whatever unseen means she has just employed – and, shockingly, she lets me walk on my own beside the also-free Neville and Luna, I find that I am taller than Neville, if skinnier. The latter provokes displeased mutterings from our… escorts… and she is none too happy, either.

 

Huh, go figure: The Dursleys’ tender care during my childhood apparently extends to this new body, not only to my adult self in the other – human – one. Fortunately they will never have any reason to encounter her

 

…Will they?

 

Well, an unproductive thought, that, so, “Are you all right, Nev? Lu?” (Huh. My voice is changed, too, in this form, if less drastic than in my kiddy body.)

 

“I am,” Neville affirms. But Luna is silent, too busy looking me up and down and sidewise, with clinical interest and appreciation that doesn’t feel much better than a personal one. She even has to be helped navigating the more broken parts of the street by the two of us and, once, by her escort (Maybe? Well, they’ve all changed into bald, red-eyed, blue-skinned giants, anyway, as if the changes to her and me have been an implied permission.) because she is too busy gawking at me. And she doesn’t help, ambling behind the three of us – in almost-mincing steps, I note, to adjust to our far, far shorter legs – and exuding palpable amusement at my expense, if somewhat grimly so.

 

With that kind of amusement, she must have figured out – or even felt – how awkward and bothered I feel, not to mention dizzy from all the revelations she’s dumped on me in such a short time.

 

All right, a lesson, that: Never, ever ask too many questions in one go, if you aren’t prepared to receive the answers in the same manner. But still, she could have been less amused for the sake of my pride! Grim amusement doesn’t make it better.

 

And then, as if I’m on a timed schedule, without any warning whatsoever, she plucks me up from among my friends and back into her arms.

 

“Why did you – why did Amma do that?” I yelp, changing the mode of address hastily when she sends me a displeased glare. Meanwhile, I squirm mightily to hopefully be able to slip back down.

 

“Hush, little kip,” is what she says, as she pins me sidewise in her embrace, with my face buried in her chest.

 

Her bare, nippleless chest, I notice. (What an absurd mind! Why do I notice these little, useless things instead of the much more important ones like the possible approach of a hostile force?)

 

When I manage to shift round a little, evading the rather strong scent emanating from what should have been her breasts, which I’m afraid would have made me homesick for here and never let go, I spy fat bundles of fur and leather and thick-looking cloth being carried by two of the giants—“milaðen, as she said it. “Are those Neville and Luna? What’s wrong with them?” is what naturally come snext, despite my earlier wariness of asking questions, and the Dursleys’ drill of “never ask questions if you wish to be treated semi decently.”

 

“Humans tire easily, Loí, especially in climates that are considered extreme for them,” is the answer.

 

And then, I return to being a giant baby.

 

Go figure…. Apparently this ever-so-special escort of mine just allowed me to look round for a little while, instead of me being able to get freeish on my own.

 

“How did they know to pick my friends up? How did you – Amma, ow, okay okay – time it with them to do the same to… Loí?”

 

Well, apparently, I am not repentent enough about asking more than one question in one go. And, apparently, despite being so tender and even ginger at times, cuddly and clingy to boot, this newfound mother of mine is not above boxing my – barely there – ears should I displease her!

 

And then, blithely, she answers the questions in the same manner as I asked them, with just traces of her earlier display of grief remaining in places.

 

She refers to her earlier answer about how she knew I was here and alive, about how she and her subordinates had come up on us undetected: mind-to-mind communication, from mental perception, otherwise named “osla,” which, added to “elða” that is the… milaðen’s magic, and the five other senses that humans also possess if in a much more limited way, make up the set of senses in this body that I am yet to learn afresh, much like a baby new to the world.

 

And then she murmurs about coordinating mind to mind with Ýmirheim’s elite forces to pick us up at the same time (which she told me earlier the four milaðen that gate-crashed my little party belong to), about the big family of spouses and children that makes up this particular group, about her wanting to introduce them all to me, about the “sweet snow” that she wants me to try….

 

I slide into a state of restful semi-awareness as she describes the said “sweet snow,” which is apparently this place’s version of ice cream, with various dream-like images running across my eyes instead of the reality.

 

Go figure. Even sleep has changed.

Chapter Text

Outside an abandoned town, Ýmirheim
26th September 2003

 

Chaos breaks as chaos does: without warning, like a bludgeon to the head, devastating to order and peace – and sometimes health, too – and leaves everything in scattered pieces in its wake.

 

Physical pieces, sometimes.

 

And sometimes, too, the experience is… unforgetable.

 

Including what has just happened.

 

Past my unexpected, rather unwanted naptime, my ever-present cuddler let me squirm and scramble my way to one of her broad, muscled if otherwise thin shoulders and look round from that vantage point. In this way, I found out that, surprisingly, we hadn’t moved far from the abandoned town, which looked and felt even more devastating from afar like this.

 

She told me it was because she daren’t yet introduce me, my friends and our baby foundling to anything that would require much elða to do, such as teleportation and levitation, for various reasons. She had contacted Anga – the person who had tried to calm her down when she’d first felt my presence, and prevented her from rushing to me and being the first to gate-crash my party, or so she’d told me earlier – and that other… woman?… was going to fetch us all using an airskiff, which would also contain additional troops to secure our journey to the Capital – wherever it is.

 

And then, as I happened to look back, I noted aloud that there was suddenly much fog the way we had come, and it’s getting closer, eating the distance, fast.

 

Panic ensued, although the scramble was rather… organised, and it was quickly decided that someone was going to keep the sleepers – Neville, Luna and the foundling – safe in a tower of ice. I fought with all my might not to be included in that, and, probably as a matter of expedience, they – especially my exasperated mother (I’m still trying to convince myself of that, even now!) – capitulated to my… request… to stay. I was cocooned from head to toe in both the mum’s – my mum’s – elða and a thick sheet of ice, though, with her breaking her earlier resolve not to bathe me with too much elða, and I was tethered by both to her shoulder – like a gas balloon – with an identification ward added that would move my bubble somewhere else when anything physical approached me unless it’s cancelled by her, or so she hastily explained without being asked. (Apparently, an emergency trumps everything, as usual. And probably I ought to have expected that she wouldn’t have let me be in the fight without any kind of protection. Hell, I was sort of surprised that I was permited to stay, to begin with, although I dearly hoped – still do – that the feeling didn’t leak to her mind. If I were with teddy, I wouldn’t have let him stay, as hypocritical as it sounds.)

 

And then danger blared in my mind, and in everyone else’s too – the natives, I mean – if looking at how suddenly ready they were and how there’s suddenly a very high, smooth, dully gleaming construction made of ice not so far away with none of the bundles in sight. And my yelp of fright on finally seeing what had pursued us was apparently the – very, very, very mortifyingly embarrassing – trumpet of battle, or there was just some convenient coincidence to it, because the group of four underlings attacked the danger right afterwards, in unison, from different areas.

 

The… creature… was bipedal, with elongated body that seemed to be all head and no actual body, with about a dozen hook-clawed arms framing the very, very toothy maw on each side and extended to the back like Medusa’s snaky hair, with at least a dozen sharp, beady eyes ringing the top of its head like the red jewels of a macabre circlet, and it seemed to glide above the ground instead of touching it. Fog was ever-present round it, making it hard to know where the arms were going to strike next, or where the body was for that matter, and it did strike fast, tearing gashes on the thick, blue skin of its opponents… who, from the way it looked for us, would have been its meal if they’d lost the battle. And it certainly could eat giants, given how it’s taller and broader than the tallest giant in the company, who coincidentally had been my captor.

 

And it liked to target my mother very, very much, somehow.

 

She fought valiantly, very efficiently, very decisively, and she was surprisingly very, very agile for her size, but she was just one person, and she kept trying to defend my bubble before she tried to defend herself. I’d never regreted something this much, as I regreted insisting to be present.

 

And then, very, very familiar spellcasting rained down on the creature, which told me that Neville and Luna were awake and not heeding the instruction their keeper must have given them about not attracting attention to themselves. It had little effect but for making it madder, and it managed to incapacitate two of the four combatants before its three friends joined the fray and knocked the ice tower down.

 

The only upside to that horror was that two of the newcomers got pinned under the fallen tower, and was thus easy prey for Luna’s alarmingly enthusiastic hacking with her conjured machete. Neville dealt with the remaining newcomer while their keeper was frantically weaving a similar bubble to mine for the still-sleeping foundling; but the hide of these nightmarish creatures was apparently rather spell-proof, and he managed only to distract that particular creature – thankfully of a smaller, less experienced built from the first one – before he fell down exhausted on the uneven ground and the keeper took up the fight.

 

And then I returned my attention to the fight I admitedly was the most invested in,

 

And found out that my mother, the cocoon, my home, had just been knocked breathlessly flat down on an unfortunately very, very jagged patch of the broken former road we’d been travelling on, with five large gashes – two on her belly, one on her chest (and, absurdly, I noticed that she now had nipples), one along her right arm, and the last one peeking out from her left shoulder – oozing a rather thick, dark-silvery-blue liquid that might be milaðen blood.

 

And the first creature was there, yanking her up by kicking up one of her legs and grabbing it while in the air with its lowest arm, as though she’s just a chicken drumstick one would eat for lunch.

 

A screaming chicken drumstick – maybe in pain, maybe in fear, maybe in anger, maybe… well, to hel with it! – that was my mother.

 

My throat vibrated. Maybe I screamed. Maybe I yelled… something…. Still, all that I knew was that the bubble suddenly wasn’t there, and I plopped onto the uneven, blood-slicked ground incongruously gently.

 

Well, my mokeskin pouch was still round my neck despite all the changes, and nobody had sought to separate me from it, so then I reached a trembling hand in it – rather by automaton than conscious thinking – and out came one of the Basilisk fangs I had liberated from Hogwarts a few years ago, in one of my secret visits to my old alma mater.

 

I sank the fang into one of the creatures foot just as it sort of leant down towards its would-be meal.

 

One of its many free arms, no longer occupied with combatants since the lone standing fighter from before was now preoccupied with desperately attempting to defend two incapacitated giants, two magical humans and a sleeping baby alongside the former keeper of the latters, swiped at me in retaliation. So out I sailed through the air that had grown increasingly cold and windy, with a deep gash on my own chest, with the accompaniment of my mother’s howling, which was somehow more pained and devastated than when she had faced the prospect of being eaten alive.

 

And, unbelievably, up she got, painfully stumblingly like an injured drunkard, before continuing the fight as if she hadn’t been bathing in her own blood with five big wounds gaping like macabre grins on her now-alarmingly-pale body.

 

If she had fought gracefully like a warrior or a professional dueller, now she fought like a thing possessed, like a tongue of flame greedily snapping at everything: sharp and unexpected and deadly and all-consuming.

 

And, by herself alone, perhaps aided a little by the years-out-of-freshness Basilisk venom jabbed into its leg, the creature was down in pieces not too long after. She was onto the other one, next, and it took even a shorter time for that creature, too, to lie in pieces, although – I suspect – it helped that one of the fighters had managed to trip this one, before she hacked into it with the ice swords that extended right from her hands with her new, renewed vigor.

 

And then she returned to where a woozy and wincing me was still scrambling out of the jabby hole I had fallen into, fished me out as if plucking a plum out of a bowl, cuddled me in her bloody arms against her bloody chest, then fell kneeling, swaying where she was, before sitting just as hard on the same spot with a pitiful whimper squeaking deep in her throat.

 

And even now, a long moment later, she is still seated where she sort of fell, with me in her weakened, shaky arms and bathed by both her blood and mine, in a dazed stupour but still stubbornly conscious.

 

But now, I am no longer just a shocked observer.

 

HELP!!!”

 

Why, oh why did my mind choose this time to act like a bloody Slytherin? My mother’s life – my mother, my cocoon, my home – was in the line and I acted in self-preservation mode instead.

 

Worse, I don’t know any healing spell. I’ve been practising with any willing partner for offensive and defensive spells, and goofing off with various driving licenses as well as my moulding knack, yet I don’t know any healing spell but Episky. And now I’m going to lose yet another mother because of that stupidity. – How many mothers one can spend in one lifetime?

 

“Don’t go,” I whisper at last, matching the pitiful whimper she uttered in what feels like ages ago, just as various sets of feet stumble and scramble towards us. “Don’t go, please, Amma.”

 

And for the first time since she introduced herself to me, the word has meaning in my tongue.

 

“Amma, please….”

 

“Loí,” she whispers back, after a handful of harsh, laboured breaths; so different from any of her voices and tones before, so pathetic compared to the deep, rumbly voice she has in this form, and all because of me.

 

“Why?” My own voice is wet; but to hell with dignity, I just want to know, “Why, Amma?”

 

I don’t think she has the strength and presence of mind to talk at length, or even to give anybody a smile as some sort of explanation, with how her all-too-trembly arms now have to be supplemented with her legs to help keep me against her chest; but her red eyes, which have been rather clouded moments ago, now sharpen and focus on me, and there is a gentle-but-fierce regard in it that I have never received from anybody else, not even Andy or Mrs. Weasley, although sometimes those women gave some approximation of it when they were being both fussy and proud towards me.

 

I want to say “I could fight.” I want to say “No need to bother yourself with a freak like me.” I want to say “You should have searched for my cocoon-mate and cuddle that one instead of this useless instigator to this disaster.” But before all the words that are crowding my tongue can be unleashed, she whispers, stuttering under her increasingly loud, increasingly laboured breath, “You… are my… child: Loki… Laufey-childe. I… protect….”

 

And then the swarm of panicked non-wounded engulfs us, and the two remaining milaðen get busy casting the healing spells that I am so inept about.

 

But my mother refuses to let me go, and I refuse to let her go.

 

And, quite out of the figurative blue, with the scene of her desperate self hacking at the creature which had so casually slashsed and tossed me away flashing across the fore of my mind, I have just realised that she – my mother – is the person portrayed in that image cast on crystal that I restored some time ago, the one that I identified with my twelve-year-old self in the Chamber of Secrets, with little help from anybody else and with an unconscious eleven-year-old to protect.

 

Well, go figure: Even in this other life, my reckless mother-bear mode has apparently been genetically inherited.

Chapter Text

Palace in Utgarð, Ýmirheim
Earth’s time unknown; Ýmirheim’s time unknown

 

Being treated decently was new to me, started when the Dursleys enrolled me into the local school alongside Dudley because they were forced by the law, and also by fear of the neighbours gossipping about a child forbidden to enjoy a free education, although this treatment has always been rather intermittent, even when I went to Hogwarts and afterwards. Being treated with deference, started at more or less the same time, by scattered folks in odd dresses that passed by me in my rare outings alongside Aunt Petunia and Dudley, and has been somewhat of a norm with the various holdings I have been taking care of lately, especially these last three years. Being treated with reverence, though, and by people who don’t look and behave as humbly as the house-elves, at that–!

 

I don’t know how long has passed since that disaster out in the broken icy ice plains along that horrible, hazardous ruin of a road outside of that sad, hair-raising ghost town. I have been transferred into a huge, odd metal transportation then a hut then a huge hall then a healing ward then a bedroom (Amma’s bedroom, to be exact), since that moment, all the while attached to my mother in mutual reluctance to let go, and I’ve seen only glimpses of the sky reflected on the ground or on a courtyard out of the window all this time. Still, all that aside, wherever I go, whenever my presence is spotted, at least one or two of the giants happening to share the point in space and time will treat me as though I were a monarch myself, or the child of a monarch (which I’m trying not to think about!), and, almost without exception, all of them will execute the odd kind of kneeling bow that my former captor and their cohorts gave my mother that long time ago in that abandoned house.

 

It’s horribly awkward; well, and, not that I want to sound ungrateful or crass, because I’m not either of those, truly, I get tired of the obeisance pretty quickly, having to tideously dismiss them before they will get up and go on with whatever they’ve done before my presence has interrupted them.

 

And, to be even more truthful with myself, if not to others (not just yet, maybe?), Amma’s explanation (and it’s so much easier to acknowledge her as my mum, when I don’t have to call her “Mum,” which I’ve long reserved for Lily Evans-Potter) explained to me, somewhere, somewhen while moving between the various resting places we briefly occupied, that the kneeling and the bow signify getting oneself lower than the monarch and/or her children (and it’s only for the ‘inner cyrcle’ of the Royal Family, indeed), and the bared throat and vulnerable hand position signify the trust put on the latter(s).

 

It stinks too much of what the Death Eaters did in the presence of Voldemort. I don’t know what I’ll do if any of them try to kiss the hem of my nonexistent robes!

 

Well, and, speaking of clothing, it’s yet another thing that I must adapt to, in a culture where clothing itself is optional, especially for the so-called children while indoors. A loincloth suffices for outdoor and/or vigorous activities for children and adults alike, and I’ve seen anybody wear anything approaching a top only when young giants – up to a head shorter than I am – are training with wooden staffs in yet another huge hall, each wearing a laced, sleeveless, high-collared leather shirt that matches the leather goggled helmet each also wears. It’s taken me a ridiculous amount of time and effort arguing with my mother just so that I can wear marginally proper clothes – according to my own sense of sensibility – when I’m in public places! Quite recently, I even had to argue about wearing the said garments – a gauzy, flowingly loose, sleeveless T-shirt with suspiciously skin-coloured tones, paired with one of the ever-present white, fluffy loincloth – when I’m meeting with my friends!

 

It’s the universe in reverse, it feels, when the child has to insist about wearing clothes and the mum argues about not wearing them – since it’ll be comfier, at that.

 

And the limited time I can spend with Neville and Luna is yet another point that I often argue with Amma, although I can’t say that those two are treated unkindly or restrictively – aside from seldom seeing me, that is. (They aren’t even on the verge of hypothermia now, and that’s without the aid of overpowered Warming Charms, at that, which makes Luna’s comment about an antidote to the cold climate sound like a seer’s prediction than what I’ve been assuming as her usual quirky rambling.) I can’t deny my mother’s argument, though, nor her stipulation: that I must get to know the world I’ll be inheriting including the people, language and culture in it as well as the places, that my insistence to meet more often with my friends will cut the time I can spend learning about Ýmirheim and everything in it, therefore making it a longer while before I can visit Earth (Her word, not mine – and that’s something I protest strongly, too! I don’t want to just visit the world I’ve been regarding as where I am supposed to be all my life.), and that I can only… go back to Earth… when she regards that I have grown sufficient roots in Ýmirheim. Fortunately, Ýmirheim’s time runs much, much faster – or, alternatively, much, much slower – than Earth’s, considering that a year in it is equal to eleven-point-nine years on Earth according to the established measurement I know and have verified with Amma, although, somehow, a year here is supposed to be a year there. But still!

 

Even more fortunately, to my on-going guilty feeling whenever I think about it (Well, this makes somebody else get put above the friends who have been sticking out here for me, doesn’t it?), the baby – more of a toddler, according to Amma, which brings me back to the horrible déjà vu and parallelism with my own tragic end of toddlerhood – is always there with me and my mother, almost wherever we are. In fact, Amma has blood-adopted them into the family, upon my request (or rather, plea), after finding out that they’ve got no other family that could and would take them in.

 

I’ve got a little sibling! And Amma often lets me help take care of them, and the three of us sometimes play together, and everybody else treats them as my family indeed….

 

It would be complete if only my elder siblings – Amma’s mostly dead, violently mad, cunningly traitorous (according to her) spouse’s womb-children, which technically makes us kin-siblings and therefore not really siblings in the law of this land and in the most isoteric meaning of “sibling” in most of Earth’s cultures, but to hell with it! – were here with us. But Amma giving them a cold, cold shoulder after they’d spirited me and my twin right from between her legs – her (rather heated, rather bitter, rather haunted, rather stark) words, not mine – until pretty recently has made a bad, bad impact on her relationship with those two, who are still her children regardless of any stupid law or a linguistic lexicologist’s definition – as I often insist. To her credit, though, she apparently doesn’t hesitate to pester and – I suspect, from her increasingly desperate, increasingly sour reports to me – beg them to at least join us when eating and sleeping, although she’s never let me join her in one of those missions.

 

Well, there’s still time, and I still hope.

 

And I do have a plan, which has just been hatched, during my latest lesson in the healing room, after I’ve managed to successfully snuck into the ice-walled, out-of-the-way, triply guarded (with wards, strong and opaque physical barrier, and a boredom-exuding guard) nook where Amma keeps her comatose spouse’s insensate form. (I have a strong suspicion that the Chief Healer let me in, surreptitiously and indirectly, but I’d rather not look the gift horse in the mouth.) I’ll need the help of my friends – and perhaps my new little sibling, too – for this, but that’s no matter to me.

 

I’ve at last got a family of my own – a real, living family – and I shan’t let anything get in the way of it; not old hurts, not stubborn pride, and not a possibly curable situation, either.

Chapter Text

Royal wing at the palace in Utgarð, Ýmirheim
Earth’s time unknown; Ýmirheim’s time unknown

 

The living quarters for the Royal Family – and that does include one for the spouse of a monarch plus their monarch-sired children, however reluctant Amma sounded when she lectured me about that during our tour of the palace – are located in a kind of bubble, removed from the main area of the palace, just as the kitchens are. This, Amma said, was arranged a long time ago, after the palace had been built, after a series of attempts on the Royal Family’s life – and therefore the throne’s continuity – through both the indirect way of food stocks and preparations and the direct way of aiming at the place where the family members would be the most vulnerable. Only select people can enter these places, and they must also know the secret, convoluted way there before they can enter.

 

At first, it was a bit of novelty that amused and intrigued me. And then, after I noticed more than a few people regarding me and my newfound family less than amiably, albeit covertly, the rather paranoid safeguard became a comfort. But now, as I must conceal a hamper of food and beverage while carrying it from the kitchens to the royal wing, as I’m also trying to keep my baby sibling – who is clinging to my front in a sling I’ve fashioned from a strip of fur – from attracting attention to us by babbling and squealing, this quirk becomes a hassle.

 

I plod on, though, with the mantra of “For family” running over and over again in my mind.

 

It may be excused, then, that I don’t – can’t – really pay attention to my surroundings, past any possible hostile or tattling people or things, and also past my attempt to juggle the hamper and my little sibling. But still, it’s terribly embarrassing – and humiliating, to boot – that I end up crashing against the very person I’ve been wanting to meet, that I’ve planned to soften up by way of food and a cuddle with little siblings (since it always worked among the Weasleys, according to Ron and Ginny, and the Weasleys are my only pointer to a healthy, more-than-three-member family). It’s even more humiliating when the said person, who is my eldest sibling Helblindi according to the crystal-cast formal picture album Amma used to – rather reluctantly – show me about her spouse and their two first children, sniffs my admitedly pathetic plot at once, even as I’m scrambling to my feet – after crumpling at theirs, accidentally like a desperate supplicant – and trying mightily to shush Belaumir, formerly Ðirona, my now-yowling little sibling. The tone is pretty disappointed and sarcastically contemptuous, at that.

 

“Trying to bribe me with food and a screaming baby, little Loki? Could you be less obvious about it? Maybe with some elaborate threat or even little nicks with those tiny claws of yours? Or maybe – even better – with your entire absence from my life? Or am I mistaken that the food is actually poisoned and the baby is here to deafen me before I die? Or is this pathetic tackle your failed attempt to topple me back onto a sharp blade?”

 

My ears burn; my face burn; and, the most humiliating of all, my eyes burn, as well.

 

And now I prove that my temper is just as short as it has always been, even in my other, adult human form, especially when the thought of `They gave me up to die for the sake of somebody else` flashes traitorously in my mind: “I never meant you harm, you know, and I never do, even now. I know what you did, though, so are you terribly disappointed that I’ve somehow found my way back to the living? Are you disappointed that I’m here and trying to reconnect with my murderer? Don’t mistake me; I want Amma to live at least as much as you did; but you won’t win The Best Sibling of the Year Award any time soon.”

 

I stand figuratively toe to toe with them in the middle of the hallway that runs meanderingly down the wing, splitting it into two and allowing smaller branches to run elsewhere, even though they’re lots and lots taller than I am – and I’m not speaking about just one or two feet taller, here. I feel like a child having a tantrum after an adult said something they don’t like, though, and it shames me, and I resent the stupid shame and the source of it, and–.

 

I gag, flail, try to push away, but there’s no floor to stand on and there’s no perch for my hands to grasp and ‘Laumir is positively howling now against my front and Helblindi’s hand is so tight round my neck.

 

“Do not presume about what I think and feel, little brat,” is what they growl right on my face, before sensations flood me, blank my own awareness out, sweep my sense of self away.

 

I become younger and taller at the same time, while the chaos and agony of battle impinge from outside and despair licks with tongues of hot, throbbing heat from inside. The pitiful whimpers of someone whom I consider my second mother waft towards me from behind, sounding like they have been stifled as much as possible; maybe by instinct of not projecting any kind of weakness in a time of war; maybe for some consideration remaining in their last shred of awareness for my worries, the only child left after Leí went away with Loptr to try to secure themself and their charge somewhere, away from the battles. I know, if I turn round, I’ll see Abý laid out in a pathetic, weak, vulnerably open, wounded, sweaty, bloody sprawl on what should have been a discarded banquet table, on what has been a birthing table instead; not at all a birthing pool, at that, since the way there was both too long and too treacherous to attempt, after they have been dealt such a blow right on their distended belly, right on their first womb-children, whom they have promised will love me and Leí as womb-siblings. Those wombless, honourless, cowardly Asgardian worms–!

 

But the tromping feet who approach this hidden, out-of-the-way storeroom do not belong to the Asgardians. I know this sound well, from growing up here and watching for footsteps when raiding the pantry for treats and, occasionally, sadly, hiding from Amma when she was in a dangerous mood.

 

Milaðen.

 

Milaðen in armour, or maybe too tired to tread lightly.

 

But Abý is supposed to be safe and hidden here! The only people who know where we are are Leí and Naðyé Anga, and I believe wholeheartedly that they will never tell anybody where Abý is.

 

Hostiles, then.

 

An ice sword extends from my right hand from my will and power alone, and a shield of the same make likewise on my left. I know I am young; I know I am unready; I know there are too many to defend against and too many for me to defend; and yet I must.

 

Noðrangr – my eldest mother-sibling’s best henchperson – stands at the doorway after kicking the door down. They sneer at a point past my shoulder, and my heart falls into the bottom of my belly, it feels.

 

Amma’s side of the war has found Abý.

 

A little tremblingly, I move my sword and shield into a guarding position when they step in, and I can feel at least five others half shrouded, loitering outside. “Go away,” I say, my voice wavering just a tiny bit.

 

But a tiny bit that they notice.

 

They laugh, and I feel stupid for trying to order them, for trying to fight against them. And yet I do not waver – cannot waver – my second mother and sire and nurser is lying helpless behind me! – I am the only barrier between death or worse and them and I cannot waver and–.

 

“You take their side, then?” Noðrangr’s sneer widens and turns from contemptuous into hateful, even as they advance with deliberate slowness into this long-abandoned storeroom. “You heard about your own dam’s death, didn’t you? In the hand of this pathetic king-boy’s family? And you still take their side?”

 

My heart pounds in my chest as though it would love to flee, just like I do – but I can’t! Noðrangr is thousands of years my elder and has been studying battlefield fighting under Ýmirheim’s most competent and ruthless warriors, while I am still two thirds of the way to my age of majority and have only studied duelling this last millennium. And Noðrangr is also far, far taller than I am, than even Abý when they could still stand tall, before the burden of the pregnancy and the war put in one bows their back a little.

 

Abý…. I cannot hear any sound from them! What is wrong with Abý now? Where is Naðyé Anga? Where is Leí?

 

A sound – a sound – a sound! But it is only the weak, hiccuppy cries of Loki, my littlest kin-sibling, born the younger of the twins, both four months too early and not in birthing water at that. This one must be wondering why their dam hasn’t picked them up yet for their first nursing, even though the said dam has been conscious enough not too long ago to at least put their hand on that too-little, too-pale chest and name its owner “Loki Laufey-childe.”

 

I’m wondering about the same thing. But I can’t let my eyes stray from these hostiles, or–.

 

“Give that little brat to me, little blind one, and I shall spare your sire’s body for you to cuddle,” Noðrangr growls, and there’s malicious green in their lowered voice, and my hair – cut short now, almost warrior-bald, so that I can flee better from any battle should I need to – stands on end.

 

My little sibling or my parent?

 

The still-living one or the nearly dead one?

 

Abý entrusted Loki to me, when they could yet speak, when they were yet aware. But both will most likely be dead if I refuse this offer.

 

Maybe Noðrangr just wants to influence Loki – one of the two real first heirs to the throne by kidnapping the latter? Maybe I could steal Loki back when everything has calmed down?

 

Noðrangr always, always keeps their promises, although those have always been at least a little harsh. So, maybe…?

 

“Do not hurt them?” I mean to say firmly, authoritatively. (They are still a henchperson of my dam’s younger womb-sibling!) But what comes out is a squeaked whisper of a question instead.

 

No wonder, then, that Noðrangr laughs – a loud, grating, mocking, gleeful cackle.

 

Pathetic,” they comment in a drawl, as they airily motion with a hand – a bare hand, now I notice – for the weeping newborn. “Ner Farbauti would be so disappointed in you, little blind one.”

 

“Promise me,” I insist in a stronger voice, even as they advance further and I point my sword at them. A twinge disturbs my still-pounding heart on the knowledge that Amma would not be impressed indeed with this show of weakness; but I have never been good enough for them, all the same, and I have long suspected that Leí has been marginally better in their eyes only because that younger womb-sibling of mine may be the last child they might be able or have the chance to bear. Their regard would not dip down severely should they have ever known about this.

 

So, after Noðrangr has resited their oath, witnessed by the five other milaðen that have just stepped into the room behind them, I half turn round, evaporate my shield, pluck Loki up with one hand and a dash of elða from between my sire’s bloody legs where they have still been lying, and pass their tiny, weakly wriggling, crying form to that hated, hateful beast.

 

And, before I can prevent it, right before my eyes, done so quickly as if it had indeed been intended this way (or maybe it indeed has!), that beast speaks a spell to encase my still-living little, newborn sibling in burial ice.

 

“You promised you wouldn’t hurt them!” I howl, even as the chunk of ice that contains my formerly living little sibling is thrown aside like some filthy rubbish.

 

And that beast laughs, although there’s some tiredness in it, after killing my sibling.

 

“I did not hurt them, little blind one. It was instantaneous, as you yourself saw,” they say, half-drawling and half-wheezing, and fire reaches up high and hot in me, resulting from that bit of painful, painful kindling.

 

Especially when their cohorts use the macabre distraction to rush towards Abý, and I realise that Noðrangr was the only one who promised that Abý would be spared.

 

It is a blood-bathe, afterwards, but none of it is my own. I do not stop to worry about my youth and inexperience. I do not stop to worry about Abý or myself, or what may wait for me when Abý and the others inevitably know about this horrifying lack of judgement and forethought that killed an heir to the throne.

 

But at the end of it, Loki is still dead almost by my own hand, Abý is still nearly dead and will be dead soon if there’s no help coming, and both Leí and Loptr are gone and maybe dead, too.

 

And then, everything turns into black void.

Chapter Text

Healing wing at the palace in Utgarð, Ýmirheim
Earth’s time unknown; Ýmirheim’s time unknown

 

I wake up slowly, slowly, slowly, but wherever I am coming into is not better than the black void I have just reluctantly moved away from.

 

It is worse, in fact.

 

My head feels like it wishes to split in two, and my sense of self likewise. I feel mainly older and smaller, shorter; however, a still-big chunk of me also feels younger and taller. And both selves have weighty baggages, each.

 

If I could throw up to relieve some of this conflicting burden, I would. But as it is, I cannot even move this achy, alien-feeling body – with all its ‘glorious’ splitting sensations – even slightly. I might fall into real pieces, too, if I moved!

 

The constant, unfamiliar song-humming that seems like it comes from all round me helps me to focus, to resettle myself, but the progress is so slow. And this song-humming feels wrong; it’s not the one that I am accustomed to hearing, that I wish to hear, and both selves concur with that.

 

I can’t open my mouth – everything feels laden – so I let out my own humming, to express what I cannot express through words.

 

It is both harder and easier to do: harder because the lethargy makes my concentration falter every so often and similarly affect my ability to speak through this means, distorting what I wish to convey, and easier because I do not need to prevaricate, hesitate, omit anything or try to find the right words.

 

As easy as it is to communicate through this means, all the same, it seems to sap a great amount of my energy, especially since the unfamiliar song-humming is still going on – and in fact, I’ve been liberally using it to focus my concentration. Drowsiness begins to dull my headache and sense of splitting unreality, and before long the black void welcomes me like an old friend.

 

It seems to be just a second afterwards that I become aware once more, although thankfully the return trip is no longer so maddenningly slow or tortuously weird and painful. Gladly and with not a little amount of relief, I also notice that my head doesn’t hurt so much anymore, and my sense of self is back to normal – well, normal-ish – with only the edges being blurred.

 

I am Harry James Potter, son of Lily Evans and James Potter. I am also Loki Laufey-childe, child of Laufey and… her spouse… which I think was named Farbauti, according to the memory that – `Owwwh!` My head throbs anew on that thought. But now that I remember that one, it won’t leave my mind alone, and consequently… “Owwwh.”

 

Damn. I must be more careful next time… if there’s a next time… with how Helblindi has managed to score such a blow in… “Owwwh.” I don’t even know if I want to have a second try when the first is already so – “Mmmh!”

 

And, “Loí?” – `Who is that?`

 

Someone – or more? – is nearby; so near. Hostile…?

 

No, I don’t think so. But still. The last time I was with somebody else, that person….

 

No, I wasn’t just with one person. `Laumir!` Where is my little sibling? Then again, where am I? My sense of smell feels dulled, just like my other senses; while I have gradually grown accustomed to the heightened ones of my “blue-angel” form, at that.

 

Go figure. When I have been too relaxed with the status quo….

 

`Whoa! Who is touching me?!`

 

“Arghhhh! Ngh.”

 

Damn. Come on, tongue! Speak! This is so frustrating! And why can’t I see?!

 

Another strain of song-humming from the same unfamiliar person begins to make itself known after a brief, loaded silence. It seeks to lull me back into the black void, I know; but I want to be awake!

 

Thankfully, what I’m dubbing the sleep-siren song soon ceases, and the agitation it has caused in me seems to be a better motivator for my body to obey my – however scattered – will than the lack of stimulus that greeted me in the beginning of this period of awareness. I manage to move my fingers now, in any case, and also to twitch my nostrils a little. (Well, at least it’s something!)

 

And then, a development that’s even more perfect in my current perception, level of immobility and anxiousness to just move, a huge someone scoops me up into their arms. To my increased happiness, they disregard the ensuing worried entreaties from the unfamiliar song-hummer from before, who now I realise must be a healer, who also cites what seem like facts drawn from a deep-scan unit, a tool that I have just begun to learn before… well, before that disaster of an encounter with one’s own sibling. I agree with them – my calm cuddler, that is, not the overwrought healer: How can being cuddled be bad for my health? And the said cuddler is so, so, so familiar, too, in a good way at that.

 

And my face is carefully directed to nuzzle into…?

 

`Oh.`

 

My cheeks burn. Honestly, I am caught between mortified embarrassment, gleeful anticipation and relieved happiness. – It’s Amma! Her scent here is so strong, and it always reminds me about the first time that I found out, during that nearly catastrophic encounter with the creatures that I know now as being called “the nightmare gliders” (What an apt name, that!), when she firstly… grew those back, for lack of a better term (And what a fascinating – if cheek-burning – topic, that: that milaðen can more or less control the appearance and disappearance of their breasts as well as… some other parts.)

 

And, as it has happened so many times before while I am staying here, I am once again encouraged to breastfeed from her. It doesn’t help that, from the previous instances in which I couldn’t evade being literally babied like this, the taste of the milk is… addicting; and the energising sensation that it always gives my whole self, even more.

 

It’s just so very embarrassing that my traitorous body and mind and all have chosen to get addicted to this against my will! And to top it all, here, there are however many people present and maybe even watching. If only I could shoo them away – or better yet, don’t get tempted like this!

 

I manage to tilt my face further instead, to bury it under Amma’s arm like a baby indeed, just as there’s some rustling of loincloth from somewhere nearer to where I lay before, followed by light, ginger-sounding padding feet.

 

A presence that feels unfamiliar but somehow rather related to me and Amma is approaching us, and, under the elation that my senses seem to be returning to their new normal, worry – and even a healthy dose of apprehension – grips my innards.

 

Is this Býleistr? (Helblindi won’t be unfamiliar-but-related to me, after all, in more ways than one. And I won’t forget the feel of their presence any time soon, given how it’s left confusing, headaching residue in my own sense of self after that disaster in the hallway.) But if it’s indeed my second-eldest sibling, why are they approaching now? Are they the one who greeted me some time ago – before this latest return to consciousness? Are they going to judge me before knowing me, like their elder womb-sibling did to such a disastrous effect? Are they going to hurt me now, while I am in quite a vulnerable state?

 

I become aware of digging my claws – not only fingers – into Amma’s unprotected skin when she hisses lowly in stifled pain. The pain seems to be quickly overlooked, nevertheless, as she coolly snaps something in Ýmska – the language of the milaðen, of which I am still learning, and know only a few stock phrases – and the healer echoes it in a gentler, more impassive tone.

 

A wavering, whimpering reply comes from nearer than the approximate distance of the presence suggests; so near. I cringe deeper into Amma’s embrace by reflex, startled by the closeness while the encounter with Helblindi is still on the fore of my mind.

 

Well, but I was sorted into Gryffindor, wasn’t I? And that me has not been at all changed or subverted by the acquisition of this form and the “hot-weather” one – the approximation of human height and shape, the one that I was changed into by that bit of protective magic I accidentally triggered in that abandoned house.

 

And courage is not the absence of fear.

 

Besides, one ought to not fear one’s family, right?

 

I dig my fingers into Amma’s belly – deliberately, now, but without the claws (And how strange is that still, having claws without being a typical childish or popular-trope monster!) – before she can deliver yet another harsh scolding – or so I assume – and ruin her relationship with her elder children further. And then, with much more effort to move than when I firstly woke up, having such an urgent goal to motivate me, I turn away from her and struggle to sit up.

 

She huffs and grumbles under her breath, but she helps me up anyway, even when I seek to lean my back against her instead of sitting facing her, and I count it as a win.

 

Apparently, Býleistr – if my guess nails it – thinks similarly, for they tentatively move forward and lower themself to their knees before Amma and I, making them have to look up into my blinking eyes.

 

But still, their presence is… lacking. I never knew one’s physical distance could mismatch with the mental one like this.

 

And I’m already ruining the chance for reintroduction to my own sibling, apparently, because they seem to misconstrue my thoughtful frown as a displeased one and proceed to babble things in Ýmska, as if a desperate supplicant before a monarch.

 

It sickens me. – A family member – an elder sibling, even – shouldn’t behave like this!

 

A protesting noise still suffices to shut them up, regardless, however pathetic it sounds – caught between a weak croak and a kitten’s yowl. So I continue trying…

 

…And bungle it further, by blurting out, “I couldn’t feel you much. But you were so near already!,” once I manage to clear out my throat a little bit, instead of asking for their name or… well, anything else that might be less touchy.

 

The humiliation on their face – craggy as ours all are in this form, but less craggy than Amma’s or Helblindi’s, perhaps due to age, familiar – and no longer seeming so ugly or monstrous – now after so long and so often interacting with milaðen – says it well.

 

And, belatedly, or maybe by design (though I’d hate to think so negatively of my own mother), Amma tells me mind to mind: `Leí is afraid, Loí.`

 

Great. I am afraid of Helblindi, and Býleistr is afraid of me. What a nice family reunion.

Chapter Text

Moving: An unplottable mountain-side, Norway; the Black Lodge, unplottable mountain-side, Norway
3rd October 2003

 

I curl up on the boulder that is placed right beside the unseen (at least by human eyes) portal that connects Earth and Ýmirheim, staring at everything but taking in nothing in particular.

 

It has been ages, it feels, since the last time I breathed Earth’s atmosphere, since the last time I was purely human. I have been wondering about both, longing for both; but now that I am finally here and back in my human form – my first form, my proper form…. Well, I don’t know what is different, and it should not have felt different in the first place, but it does, and not in a good way.

 

Neville is standing quietly nearby, leaning against a tree and inhaling deeply, with intermittent, self-indulgent body stretches that show me how he loves to be back here, which just makes me more miserable with the added feeling of guilt. After all, I am the one who, indirectly or not, has made him and Luna stay in Ýmirheim for however long it has been: staying for an unknown, extended period of time, for the sake of somebody else that they do not often get to meet, let alone be with, in a place with that extreme a climate – which even necessitated a special treatment so that they could survive – must not have been good for them.

 

But they did stay, even with everything that entailed that stay. And, come to think of it again, Luna is not as visibly relieved to be back as Neville is.

 

In fact, she is busy going further up the trail, skipping every two steps, humming what suspiciously sounds like a non-magical children skipping-rope song, trailed by one of the security attachés belonging to the contingent of milaðen in “hot-weather form” that is a part of the stipulations for me to come back here.

 

Well, that is something else that might burden my friends unduly, even here, back in their – our – homeworld. They knew about it; I did talk to them about this particular stipulation of me returning here before we departed; but they could also acquiesce to being haunted by the security detail until there’s a change of arrangement just because they wanted to go home, and they wanted to do it with me somehow, and I could only come if I agreed to having this band of guards and advisors with me and monitoring my friends – at all times, for both aspects.

 

Not that I’m not touched or grateful about this, though! It’s nice for Amma to acknowledge that I am not only Loki but also Harry, however reluctantly, and for her to also fret about my safety and comfort and communication line and all. It’s honestly new to me, pleasantly so, after twenty-two years of neglect and abuse and manipulations that did not benefit me at all. (Well, I can’t deny it now, after lots of sessions with a magical-world-informed, non-magical counsellor.) It’s comforting, too, to have a tangible, secure and evident link to the family I have just found through these people that she has assigned to be my retinue and companions. And besides, this is a good bargaining tool for her to try to treat my elder siblings – on the milaðen part of my life – better: not prosecuting Helblindi for their unfounded, harmful aggression to me  while trying to understand their point of view of why it had happened in the first place (Well, I don’t want to be hated by my eldest sibling, honestly; and they have also been punished well and fittingly, at that, in my opinion, by being forced to watch every moment of me trying to recover and piece myself back together without trying to intervene.); and not deliberately intimidating and antagonising Býleistr, too, since I read recently that a lack of presence is usually caused by not wanting to attract attention to oneself, whether in fear or deliberately, and it’s not good to maintain for a long time – more than a few minutes, as it were. But still, did she need to provide for every aspect of things that I might need and even those that I don’t think I’ll ever need? I may have to suffer being smothered in safety procedures, but must my friends suffer that, too? And Amma even assigned someone to be my nurser – and that is, literally, a person who breastfeeds me in lieu of or in addition to her own supply of breast milk!

 

Well, and now, the said nurser, one Eðlenstr Eðainur-childe, is playfully poking me in the ears, maybe to get me out of my sudden gloom and disorientation and off this boulder at long last, but acting like an overgrown child while doing that. To think that they are about four-thousand years old! They used to be the chief of the defence forces in a town in Ýmirheim before Amma shoved them into this contingent, at that!

 

And, to top it all off, Luna is skipping down and throwing herself onto my back, now.

 

I’m thrown clear out of the boulder, of course, and, just my luck, straight into Eðlenstr’s arms. And this overgrown child that I have been trying to avoid or ignore chirps a thank-you at the culprit of me toppling from my ‘throne’ and, while I’m still spluttering at my traitor of a friend, proceeds to say, “Loí is ready to go on, then? Very well, off we go!”

 

“Hey! I don’t–!” I sputter at them instead, as they jog with relish down the trail, with me still in their arms. I totally don’t want to arrive back at the Black Lodge in anybody’s arms! Let alone when in my human, all too recogniseable form! – I’m perfectly aware that we’ve spent more than an Earth’s day in Ýmirheim despite the notion that time runs differently in the latter, so the Black elves in charge of the lodge – or, all-holiness forbid, Andy – must have been worried and even sent out a search party. And if the search party sees “Harry Potter” being cuddled like this….

 

My blood chills uncomfortably on the last thought, and seems to freeze over when, somehow ahead of me but not down below, Luna chirps, “Missus Tonks! Hello! We’re back from holidaying with the blue angels! There are even some, here! And we have presents for you from ourselves and Harry’s mum! Isn’t that delightful?”

 

Oh, my, and she says that!

Chapter Text

the Black Lodge, unplottable mountain-side, Norway
3rd October 2003

 

Seeing Luna being scolded for giving out information before consulting me and my advisors by the collective contingent of milaðen is just as upsetting as seeing Andy fall into a dead faint after expending so much energy and time searching for us, and both happened, barely half an hour ago.

 

Well, but come to think of it again, it may not be the lack of rest and overabundance of stress that caused the poor woman – my poor, poor better-than-Aunt-Petunia aunt – to faint like that.

 

From the doorway, now also back in my comfiest – human – clothes, I stare at the people crowding the small kitchen of the lodge, now added with the milaðen who were gone checking the rooms and grounds. On the far left corner, a still-woozy Andy is seated, flanked by a concerned Neville and Luna, with a cup of hot, sweetened tea in each of their hands, but they are not my main focus right now.

 

No, they aren’t. I’m trying to… understand what made Andy faint, without asking the woman myself, which, in my admitedly limited social knowledge and graces, might be a crass thing to do.

 

It’s far easier to say or think than to do, nevertheless, because I see nothing wrong with those sent by Amma to guard, aid, educate, look after – and, I highly suspect, report on – me. The milaðen, in this “hot-weather form,” look pretty human, with almost uniform black hair but different density as well as shape, pale – sometimes pallid – skin, androgynous features and voices, tall and oftentimes thin built, and variously coloured eyes. Admitedly, I doubt any human would have lavender eye colour naturally, something that Eðlenstr possesses, but it can easily be explained with the increasingly popular invention of contact lenses among the non-magical population. To help them blend in among the humans, I had even been tasked to painstakingly sketch out outfits that were then reproduced by the palace’s tailor for everyone. (And how surprising is that, for a society that prefers to be either nude or garbed only in loincloths, the milaðen do hire tailors to sketch and sew scraps of fabric that they will wear and show off in big and/or important events, to accentuate the silvery markings on their bodies – their kinlines or family lines, their “jitya.”) This not-so-little band hasn’t been visibly, “properly” deferential to me, either, as soon as we have stepped upon Earth’s soil, so as not to attract unwanted attention, by prior arrangement with Amma. And each of them has brought only a pack with them – large, old-fashioned, clearly hand-made and made of leather, true, but still just a normal pack – and also an assortment of pouches tied to their belt, with no weapon in sight. So…?

 

I fidget with the hem of my baggy T-shirt, then immediately still and compose myself the best that I can, remembering Amma’s oft-repeated, gentle but long-suffering lecture about not giving out tells whenever I can, especially when I am in public.

 

Oddly and unexpectedly, it’s Andy who notices the no-doubt painfully visible safe and comments on it, in a thready but nonetheless audible voice in this new, strained, awkward silence: “Whatever you did, whatever caused you to behave while you were away, it did a good job in this aspect, at least; better than what I have managed to cram into your head and muscle memory all these years. You do look like a lord of an Ancient and Noble House, now, but for your clothing. If it is not dangerous, you might want to repeat that again, but now after you have informed me where you are going and what you will be doing.”

 

I must be ruining the image that I have allegedly been portraying, presently, as I gawk uncomprehendingly at her and mutter a quiet “Huh?” Before I can say anything – rectify the matter – to her, however, Elder Kelyari, the eldest milað in the contingent – at approximately ten millennia and five centuries old – and also the unofficial leader of the said contingent, politely grabs my attention and puts forward a request all in one: “Might I speak, Harry?” (Well if there’s a nearly tangible hesitation on the name – my name, still, regardless of anything and everything! – in their quiet, calm, cultured voice that always exudes an “old people” vibe to me, I’d better not comment on that, or this awkward, uncomfortable topic will drag out and even digress to various other things.)

 

“What would Elder like to speak about?” I carefully return. – Amma has also painstakingly instilled this in me, in addition to speaking in the third person way to an elder person one defers to and treating everyone politely: Never give permission to anybody – including oneself – or agree to go into any situation or contract without first of all knowing what the said permission or agreement entails, to the smallest, slightest detail possible, whenever time and chance permit it.

 

“The Queen,” they say simply, and I fight hard to conceal my flinch. A very, very weighty topic needing a very, very long time to discuss, that!

 

Making the situation even worse and more awkward, Andy might suspect that Elder Kelyari wishes to talk about Queen Elizabeth II, because she looks puzzled on hearing their declaration. But, truly, it’s not about her. How to tell her that “the Queen” here is my mother and the said mother is somehow, also, not Lily Potter neé Evans?

 

Not something I could delegate the telling to anyone else, the offer notwithstanding, I think; too delicate and important and private.

 

So, resignedly, I instruct the contingent to base themselves in the guest wing of the lodge with Neville’s and Luna’s help, while I face the music – so to say – here and now in the kitchen.

 

This is a very, very good moment for some divine intervention.

 

Especially when Elder Kelyari assigns a pair of milaðen to guard and attend me, while they graciously allow themself to be ushered away.

 

Awesome. Barely here and I am already assigned a couple of minders like a particularly errant child.

 

And Andy is looking at me with added suspicion.

 

Oh, God, Merlin, Ýmir, whatever… please!

Chapter Text

Level 10 of the Ministry of Magic, London , England, the United Kingdom
9th October 2003

 

Elder Kelyari is mad at me for ditching my two minders, without excusing myself to them, to a place they were not able to easily follow – namely my Potter land that is somehow located in a patch of the Afghanistan desert, through the direct Portkey that is operable only for the Potter Head of House, along with Andy, for total privacy in our Q&A – read: interrogation – session).

 

Andy is mad at me, it turned out in the said Q&A session, for ditching Earth so summarily, without leaving any message to her, despite Luna being the actual culprit of that and me reuniting with my “other mother” by a somewhat happy coincidence.

 

Teddy is mad at me, I knew once I reunited with him, too, right after that session had ended, for ditching him before an “exciting adventure” in a foreign planet – not even a foreign land – for days.

 

Neville is mad at me, I found when I retrieved him and Luna, fleeing from Andy and teddy and our little residence away in Kent (deliberately ditching them, this time), for ditching him in the guest wing of the lodge with eight upset milaðen, although Luna being also there has tempered his temper some.

 

Luna is somehow mad at me for ditching her before my “desert picnic,” and for not checking and stocking up the little infirmary section in my Afghanistan wizarding hut while I was there.

 

Eðlenstr – who has been insisting that I call them Ýto Etta – is mad at me for ditching them whenever they declare it’s my “nursing session,” which is actually whenever they manage to corner me somewhere.

 

Ron is mad at me for ditching his latest invitation to one of the Quidditch games played by the Chuddley Cannons – with him still their Keeper, of course.

 

Ginny is mad at me for ditching her invitation to a meet-and-greet with Hollyhead Harpies, with her starring in it after their latest winning streak.

 

Amma is mad at me for ditching the contingent (whose name-label is better capitalised from now on, seeing how self-important its members have been behaving in my eyes, those tattlers), after one or maybe all of them as one – most likely Elder Kelyari, though – has managed to send that particular communiqué to her.

 

Well, I am mad at Amma, too, and those others mentioned, but mostly at Amma, for sicking it all on me. And, especially at Amma, for concealing something that I can sense is awefully terrible; because, in our last chat via the imaging sphere she’d given me before I departed Utgarð, she looked so strained, even pained, although whatever her condition was didn’t prevent her from lecturing about safety and necessity and fulfilling my needs – and fulfilling my obligations, too, by staying put and studying and keeping alive and what-not.

 

Well, Hermione still hasn’t sent me a letter or a word or anything, so, instead of thinking about how many people are mad at me right now, I occupy myself with fashioning plans to get her to come out of the bowels of the Ministry of Magic building for at least a brief – face-to-face – chat.

 

I am used to people being mad at me, anyway, and shunning me, and calling me all sorts of names, and accusing me – whether legitimately or not. I don’t like situations like this, of course (Who does?); but… well… we take what we get, don’t we? The Dursleys have taught me amply about that; the people round me needn’t worry about instilling that in me.

 

It’s why, presently, I’m strolling down the corridor leading to the Department of Mysteries, alone but with a letter of permission written and signed by Kingsley – now the official Minister of Magic, after more than four years in a limbo of sorts – tucked in one of my inner robes pockets, ready to confront Hermione; for the last time, should she wish to sever all ties with me. Ron and Ginny seem to have chosen to distance themselves from me after this so-called latest blunder of mine regarding the two of them, and I’m just waiting to rip the last figurative bandage off with this one: the fourth friend I’ve ever made in my whole life, after Hagrid and Hedwig and Ron.

 

`We take what we get.` I repeat it, on and on and on, as my legs pump along like a pair of pendulums, getting closer to the grim, unadorned black door that leads to the heart of the Ministry.

 

And then, somewhat expectedly, just as the door opens for my letter of permission, I get ambushed by non-descript people in non-descript charcoal-grey battle robes, whose unified intent seems to be not to escort me, not to kill me, but to make use of me, with how eager and intensely curious and greedy they all feel.

 

I have never been more thankful of the new senses and flexibility that have bled over to this human form of mine ever since the barrier to my old self has been broken.

 

Still, despite the fact that I manage to escape, despite the fact that I manage to avoid whatever they wish to do to me, one thing remains, and it feels especially vexing with how near it has just been: I am yet to meet with one Hermione Jane Granger.

 

And, to top it all off, everyone at home – in both senses of the word – is mad at me for persisting to go to the Department of Mysteries despite the notion that I might get ambushed on the way there, and Amma is mad at Hermione for letting me walk into such ambush.

 

“Whoa. Wait there, Amma! Loí’s not going to be a second Dudley Dursley! The decision was all me and not her so don’t lump it with her!”

Chapter Text

Moving: The Black Hole Residence, Kent, England, the United Kingdom; The neighbourhood park near the Black Hole Residence, Kent, England, the United Kingdom
10th October 2003

 

A pissing contest – or rather, a propriatory contest, over me – between Amma and Andy is awesome, aweful, shocking, and the scariest thing that I’ve got the misfortune to be trapped in the middle of. They’re scarier and much more lethal than Tom Riddle and Albus Dumbledore combined when duelling against each other at the atrium of the Ministry of Magic near the end of my fifth year at Hogwarts, somehow.

 

But then, considering the fact that Andy is a Black in nature and nurture and Amma has chopped more than one of the scariest man-eating monsters I’ve encountered into pieces and it wasn’t her first time doing it either….

 

Well, still. Amma, coming here, just to fight with Andy over my care? I’m not a baby, for one! Andy has been “taking care” of me and my two Houses just fine, at that! And that, on top of taking care of Teddy full-time!

 

And where are those who are supposed to “guard and take care” of me? They should have spirited me away to wherever they’ve made a bolthole in! This serious verbal sparring – which looks like it is going to get physical soon – is bad for my health! It’s terribly fortunate – or terribly convenient – that Teddy is not here at the moment, still at the non-magical nursery school we’ve enrolled him in.

 

`Aha! The school!` – I peek cautiously at Andy then Amma from beneath my fringes, then sidle as quickly as I can to the doorway that leads to my path of escape.

 

Why? Because I do not wish to attract both of their highly flammable attention, of course.

 

But now, it seems that both are no longer just exchanging insults and caustic remarks from either end of the kitchen table. It looks as if Amma is one insult away from vaulting over the counter to exchange physical blows with a fierce, incensed-looking Andy…

 

Who now has her wand out in attack position.

 

So I run, abandoning all caution.

 

And crash violently against somebody, who feels like a solid wall instead of a being of flesh and blood and bones. – Well, it’s too late to rein my speed in by the time I notice anything obstructing the front door, anyway!

 

Too late to shake of my dazedness and escape elsewhere, too. Quick like a striking cobra from the nature documenter I watched with Andy and teddy last year, the living wall unbends enough to swipe me up into their arms.

 

Fortunately, it turns out to be Elder Rústla, my first contact with the milaðen, head of Amma’s so-called “most special military force” and the spokesperson of their family group, who firstly got acquainted with me in Ýmirheim  by taking me captive and cuddling my far-smaller other human-like form.

 

The “Potter luck” strikes again.

 

“Where are the others?” I ask, even as I squirm mightily in their embrace, silently demanding to be put back down. (I’m not even in my younger, human-like version that milaðen call… their? Our?… “warm-weather” form!)

 

“The others, who, Ashlakonnar?” is the calm – infuriatingly calm – and soft response, even as the culprit cuddles me closer and pads their slow, leisurely way outside of the house.

 

“Your family, Elder Kilyari and the rest, Neville and Luna,” I grit out. “Now put me down!”

 

“Rústla’s family is mostly back in Ýmirheim,” comes the explanation, half-sing-songed, as my captor crosses the front lawn, without loosening their embrace even a little. “Ashlakonnar’s… other caretakers… are with Kip Luna and Kip Neville, and we are going there. Rústla believes Ashlakonnar would like to… get away, from the discussion inside?”

 

I snort, momentarily slackening my effort to escape. “Discussion, yes,” I remark asserbically, with a heavy dose of sarcasm and irony. “With wand and fist brandished, of course, as disgussions always go. And they don’t even think about me. What am I? A chair?”

 

Contrary to my expectation, Elder Rústla neither goes silent nor chastises me about my irreverence towards my mother and aunt. They laugh, instead. (Although, to be fair and exact, it’s more a hearty chuckle than a chortle.)

 

And then they nuzzle into my mop of hair.

 

“Elder Rústlaaaa!” I whinge, mortified and acutely embarrassed. The feeling slides into a total if brief petrification when, quite clearly, I can hear Neville and Luna laughing – and it’s definitely a great, booming, roaring chortle from both of them, this time.

 

Face flaming, I shove my captor’s head away none-too-gently – and definitely not politely – and resume my effort to escape this cuddle-thirsty, touchy-feely, overly motherly lunatic. The effort doubles when, giving the general surrounding another wild look, I realise with quite a sinking feeling in my heart that we’re somehow in the neighbourhood park now. No sane, self-respecting twenty-three-year-old human, male or female or neither or both, even an affection-starved one, wishes to be caught being carried and nuzzled like a baby in public!

 

“Behave, Harry,” Luna grins, poking my nose with a finger, as my desperate gaze catches her twinkling one. “Or it’ll be timeout for you,” she adds in a sing-song voice.

 

I scrunch up the offended body part at the offender.

 

Neville is… kinder, in a way. Without saying or doing anything to me, although still grinning quite like a loon, he slashes and swishes and swoops his wand in the all-too-familiar pattern of Notice-Me-Not charm, ending it with a rather playful jab at me and my on-and-off gigantic captor.

 

But then, he ruins it by proclaiming in a grandiose tone and flamboyant bow (that he must have perfected quite in secret with how Malfoy-esque it is), “There. Now you could freely and safely indulge your inner child without shame, my prince.”

 

“Princess,” Elder Rústla reminds him mildly, and Neville the Git nods with apologetic seriousness.

 

“Traitors, the lot of you,” I growl, lacking any witty comeback to parry the unexpected tag-team effort.

 

Ashlakonnar should be careful with that proclamation,” now my captor says in a slightly more serious and sterner tone, to me. “It is not long yet, in our minds, when the last war passed, and it was a… ah, what do these people call it? A… civil war, for the most part.”

 

I let out a sigh. – The War; a civil war, indeed, from all the accounts that I have read in the library back in Ýmirheim, also from snippets of people’s recollections, and of course the physical evidence that lingers even until now, one of which led me (quite accidentally, literally on the first step of my former selfs birthland) to the finding of my adoptive baby sibling.

 

And to the fact of my former self’s death, at that.

 

“Sorry,” I mutter to the grassy lawn far down below, slumping in Elder Rústla’s admitedly cuddly hold. If I felt abashed to the point of horrified flailing a second ago, now I feel both horrible and horrified for a far more serious matter, and it (surprisingly or not) feels worse than before, especially since it affects my three interlocutors just as badly. (With Neville and Luna, I suspect, remembering how we found little Laumir in that ghost town.)

 

“You’re still learning, Harry,” Luna kindly points out, as she and Neville seat themselves in a pair of swings that are conveniently nearby. Then she continues, with a lighter tone in her voice that seems to be aimed both at me and my captor, plus a softly teasing smile, “Now, what got you into the same trap as before? I thought you’d learnt about not getting into ambushes?”

 

I let out a huff, half smiling (with much reluctance) while jabbing my pointer and middle fingers at Elder Rústla’s muscled forearm. “Amma,” I confess quietly, with a lingering melancholy from a second before. Then, in a much more indignant voice (and feeling), “And Andy, too. They’ve been fighting like hungry cats over a day-old fish, all morning, and it’s over my care; of all things! I can’t believe it.”

 

And from the surprised – no, flabbergasted – looks she and Neville sport, they can’t believe it, either.

 

Apparently, it’s just Elder Rústla who can believe it, judging from how amusedly they chuckle and how fondly exasperatedly they now tuck my head under their chin and tustle with it that way, as though I were five and recently discovered of doing some cute childish mischief.

 

Fortunately, or because they wish to avoid my returning temper and make use of my fast disappearing melancholy, my current, pretty exasperating captor soon elaborates about their opposite stance to the sentiment that we, the three humans, share.

 

“They are mothers, and such is the purview of mothers, to defend their children and their right for those children. It is vexing and baffling when one is the child, oftentimes, however well the explanation might be, but it usually becomes clear after one becomes the mother, in time.

 

Ðolakonnar is not an exception to this, and the feeling has only been made more acute after the disaster that befell the… Ðolu womb-children at the end of the war. Ashlakonnar being reborn and returned home has truly been an unlooked-for boon, especially after such long, difficult years. In fact, Rústla was immensely surprised when Ðolakonnar permited Ashlakonnar to visit here, under such paltry guard at that. And then Ðolu found out that Ashlakonnar fell into a stranger’s care….”

 

“Andy is not a stranger! And it’s my choice that–.”

 

“Please hush and let Rústla continue for a little while more, Ashlakonnar. The problem would be much clearer, Rústla hopes, with all the details laid out.” The huge, strong hand presses lightly against my mouth, and I fall silent, wide-eyed.

 

No Milaðen ever interrupted me, except for my mother. And she rarely did that, too.

 

Shock and confusion turn into grave understanding as Elder Rústla then says, “Ðolakonnar was… angry, very angry, when they found out, by accident, from… Losë Eðlenstr; in a moment of irritation-driven carelessness in Losë Eðlenstr’s part, or so Rústla believes.”

 

It turns into horror when they continues with, “The previous team has been detained in Ýmirheim until further notice, since none of its members even tried to prevent the takeover of care from happening. We can only hope that Ðolu will be merciful to them all.

 

“Rústla thought Ashlakonnar should not be burdened by this matter. However, it then became clear that Ashlakonnar… should know, if only so that Ashlakonnar would understand why.”

 

“Amma won’t hurt…,” I stutter. But then my mouth clicks shut without Elder Rústla ever having to shut me up again. Because Amma will hurt the Contingent, definitely, I know that well, although I haven’t known her for a long time. And all the Contingent’s fault is letting me live my life.

 

I feel sick.

 

Elder Kilyari the agile grannie, Eðlenstr the aggrevating but well-meaning overgrown child, the people who have been keeping Andy and Teddy and Neville and Luna safe for me, whom I haven’t bothered to know even the names of….

 

I free myself from Elder Rústla’s arms in one strong, sudden jerk, then speed down the streets back home, quicker than I ever did.

 

Amma entrusted my care to the Contingent. But Amma also entrusted their lives into my care, by assigning me to teach them how to survive and blend in on Earth. And they’re not going to die because of me and because Amma is being a stupid git.