It was a normal day in the lower levels of Gringotts, and seventeen year old Bill Weasley was having a successful day. He hadn't accidentally insulted a goblin, ruined the only copy of a document, or mucked up a shield charm against one of the goblins' spelling dummies. All in all, it was a good day. That's how Bill knew, even before the call, that something was going to go wrong.
He wasn't a superstitious guy by nature, but working with the goblins had gotten him used to thinking pessimistically. Slipgoop, his current overseeing goblin, thought it progress. Bill thought it the downside of a (hopefully, eventually) lucrative spell-breaking internship. For now, though, he was a secretary with a fancy internship title.
The fellytone next to him beeped twice and Bill picked it up.
"Er, hello?" Bill replied, motioning to a goblin that he got a call. The goblin quickly walked toward him, then stared down his nose at Bill, just waiting for him to make a mistake. Bill scowled, just a bit. "Welcome to Gringotts emergency fellytone service. My name is Bill, what can I do for you?"
Bill gulped. The one time he thought he'd finally show the goblins he was worthy of at least an occasional good morning, this call comes to him. He was cursed. "Could you hand the fellytone to your Mum or Dad, please?"
"I don't have a Mum and Dad. Aunt Petunia says they died in an automobile crash."
"Alright." Bill put the call on speaker. "Can you tell your Aunt to floo the bank when she gets back? Your line isn't on the list of registered lines, so we'd like to speak to her."
"M'kay. But she doesn't have your number."
The goblin's expression changed, maybe to a form of mild curiosity. Bill had been working for Gringotts for two months and he still couldn't decipher their expressions. "How did you call if you didn't have a Gringotts code?"
"I didn't call. You called me. I just wanted to talk to someone on the phone, and then I heard something on the other end, and you talked back!"
'Accidental magic?' he mouthed to Slipgoop. The goblin nodded, calling over another goblin and speaking to him in Goblingook. Bill had long since decided to refer to all goblins as he in his head, as he could tell the bloody difference between male and female goblins. The two conversed, and Slipgoop motioned for him to keep talking to the child.
"Talk to it until the magic fades. We'll time how long the connection lasts." The goblin left, muttering, "This shouldn't be possible."
Bill agreed; the magic phone lines had been constructed for the use of muggleborn or muggle-sympathetic witches and wizards, and each line was keyed to a single person. For someone, especially a child, to break into the goblins' wards was incredible. Impossible, too, he'd thought.
The child was silent on the other end, so Bill cleared his throat. "Are you still there?"
"Yes." The Bill heard the boy shuffle with something.
"Um. I'd like you to stay on the phone. My... coworkers are looking for the solution to this problem. Don't worry, though, everything's fine."
"I won't get in trouble for using the telephone without permission?"
"Of course not." He paused, thinking of something to say, and Slipgoop motioned angrily for him to continue. "Do you play football?" Muggle children played football, or so he'd gathered from his muggleborn roommates.
"No. I think I'll go, sir. My aunt and uncle are going to come back soon and I have stuff to do."
"No! Wait, look, I— think you should keep talking. You called because you were bored, right? I'm an interesting guy. I have, uh, mad voice imitation skills." He prayed that his reputation wouldn't die before it began, but it seemed he had no other choice.
"Can you do duck sounds?"
Bill looked pleadingly at Slipgoop, who just raised an eyebrow and motioned for him to continue. He sighed. Farewell, dignity. "Quack, quack, quack."
"Wow! Can you teach me?"
And so, for the next two hours, Bill taught a talentless little boy how to make quacking noises. Goblins would occasionally come in, tell him they might pay him extra for this, and grumble about the mysterious boy. He didn't show up on their magical line scans and they couldn't find him using his magical signature. It was like the boy just didn't exist.
Bill told himself it was all for his job, but to be honest, he enjoyed himself, too. The kid was hopeless but enthusiastic, and by the time they'd started on mooing, he'd lost his earlier hesitancy.
"Mooo!" the boy called out, giggling by the middle. "I'm a cow!"
"That you are," Bill replied, amusement coloring his expression. He could almost see the boy grinning. Then, he heard outside noises through the line.
"I have to go. Bye, mister!"
Bill heard the fellytone beep and put down his line as well. The goblin next to him shook his head. "Two and a half hours of connection. That's not accidental magic." He looked Bill up and down. "Look for some muggle raised cousins in your family tree. Maybe it was a family connection that allowed him to contact you in particular."
Bill shook his head. "I don't have any muggle raised cousins. I have an aunt who married a muggle, but she had no children. The family tree would have shown them."
Slipgoop made a copy of the recording, then handed one to Bill. "He's your magical match, then."
"His magic. It matches yours, of course. It sometimes happens naturally between family members, but since you're ruled that out, he must be your match." The goblin snorted. "Your soul mate, as you wizards call it."
Bill would've fainted dead away if he didn't have almost three hours' worth of paperwork to catch up on.
Bill stood near at the outskirts of the Platform 9 and 3/4 crowd, feeling like a complete creep as he looked for someone who might know or might be his soul mate. He had nothing to go on, other than the four year old memory of a child's voice. The boy had an English accent, he knew, so there was a good chance he would go to Hogwarts, and Bill was here hoping that some benevolent god might give Bill a sign of his soul mate. Anything would do, even a—
Something hard crashed into Bill's right side, a luggage cart or something of that size, and Bill moaned, clenching his teeth and grabbing his right arm to stop the bleeding until he could gather his wits.
"I'm sorry! Really, really sorry!" some kid's voice squeaked.
Bill forced a grin and opened his eyes again. With a quick spell, his wound was cleaned and temporarily bandaged. "No problem," Bill assured. A kid this young wouldn't know how ineffective charms were with wounds, anyway. He felt good for the moment, but the wound might reopen at any time until he got some proper potions. "Are you getting on the train?"
The kid nodded, his black hair flopping into and out of his eyes. He looked adorable, so young and innocent and excited, staring at the train with wonder. "Yes sir." The kid's voice also sounded a bit familiar, like he was someone Bill might have known as a child, but otherwise his voice was unrecognizable.
Bill wondered if he himself had ever looked that young. Maybe. At twenty-one, he definitely wasn't an innocent child anymore. He watched absently as the kid got onto the train, already forgotten his quest for his soul mate, and jumped onto the train when he noticed the kid having trouble with his trunk.
"Need some help?" he asked the kid, already picking the trunk up and dragging it onto the train. The kid picked up his owl's cage.
"Thanks. And sorry, again." He looked up at Bill, blushing the way only an awkward preteen boy could.
Bill led him to an empty compartment and hoisted the trunk up on the upper compartment. "Get a prefect to help you later, or an older student. And for Merlin's sake, don't accept help if anyone offers to do it only for pay or favors."
The kid scowled. Bill thought it was more cute than threatening. "I'm a first year, not stupid."
Bill smiled and restrained the urge to ruffle the kid's hair. "Be good and get into Gryffindor, alright?" And he left the boy in the compartment with an easy wave. He thought the boy waved back, but wasn't sure.
"I'm completely happy with my hair, Mum," Bill said for what felt like the fortieth time as he walked into the Burrow's kitchen.
Mrs. Weasley pursed her lips. "I wasn't planning on saying anything at the moment."
Bill kissed her cheek and took a plate from the drying rack. "I'm a Seer."
"Oh, you boys will be the death of me." Mrs. Weasley swatted Bill with her towel. "Go eat some toast and eggs. They're still warm."
As he sat down at the kitchen table, Bill belatedly noticed the kitchen's other occupant. "Hello, I'm Bill," he said, stretching out his hand.
"I'm Harry," the boy replied.
Bill immediately connected the dots. "Ron's friend, right? He's written about you. Good to finally meet you." Well, most of the dots, since the kid also had a small chance of being a new friend of Fred and George's, and he knew the ruckus of last night was caused in part by the twins. But with the way his mother was clucking over Harry and asking him if he wanted more food, he'd get a more unbiased opinion from Dad about what the twins did while out with the Ford Angelina last night.
Harry looked down and moved his eggs around on his plate. "We also met on the train two years ago," he said, shyly glancing up.
"We did. You've grown." Bill glanced over Harry. The kid was still scrawny and boyish, but something in the lines of his face had changed. He'd lost or gained a bit of fat here and there, put on a bit of muscle from Quiddich if Ron's letters were to be believed. "And hopefully gotten less clumsy?"
Harry's cheeks pinked. "Yeah, that too."
"So, Harry, could you tell me about what Ron's been up to in school? He sends letters once a blue moon," Bill said with a joking wink.
As Harry talked, Bill decided that he had done something wrong while at Hogwarts, since his years there weren't nearly as exciting as Ron, Hermione, and Harry's.
Dear Harry Potter,
I'm not sure if you remember our conversation, but you said you were still interested in basilisks when we talked over the summer. I thought you might like this book; it's an ancient Egyptian story of a basilisk. It is obviously dramatized (the basilisk has some very human feelings), but I enjoyed it when I read it.
Dear Bill Weasley,
I remember our conversation. Thanks for sending me the book. I was really curious when you described the story to me. You're right, it's dramatized-the basilisk I met definitely wouldn't fall in love with a princess-but I liked it a lot. I'm returning your copy, but I'm definitely buying one for myself at Flourish and Blotts.
Bill stepped outside onto the Burrow's porch, rubbing his temples and wishing that for just one day, Christmas Eve, his fiancée and his mother would just get along. He could still hear them bickering inside over Celestia Warbeck and her ripped heart, but he didn't have his winter boots and couldn't walk father away from the house. He couldn't go back inside, either, since he knew one of the two women would follow him and ask him to take sides.
He heard the door open and close behind him and cringed, waiting for whichever woman it was to say her part.
"It's just me," said a familiar voice, and Harry sat down next to him on the porch step. "I just came out to see if you're okay. I could go..."
"It's fine," Bill assured, half honestly. He didn't mind Harry, liked him well enough, even, but he was in a bad mood tonight and he didn't want to take it out on him. "I'm just having women troubles."
They watched the snow for a little while, Bill thinking about his engagement, Harry thinking about who knows what.
"Are you still going to marry Fleur?" Harry asked, not looking at Bill.
Bill wanted to say yes definitively, but couldn't. He loved Fleur; she was beautiful and sweet, and made him feel like the luckiest man on earth whenever he saw her. But sometimes he still thought of—"I have a soul mate," Bill blurted out, knowing he'd probably regret it. He hadn't told anyone except his father after he'd failed to find his soul mate.
"Yeah, Fleur," Harry said, glumly.
"No, I don't mean Fleur." He could tell Harry was shocked—soul mates were rare, even with witches and wizards, who had better chances of finding them than muggles. "I talked to him once by accident. It was nine years ago, now."
Bill's eyes followed Harry's adam's apple as he swallowed before saying, "Him?"
"Yes. We only talked for a few hours. I didn't even realize he was my soul mate at the time. I worked at the Diagon Alley Gringotts branch at that time, and he called the Gringotts emergency fellytone service by accident. Didn't even know the number." Bill made a fellytone shape in the sand, thinking about the boy. He'd lost hope of finding him years ago—no magic was precise enough to find someone by their magical signature—but he still thought about what could've been from time to time. Less often now that he had Fleur, but more often than he'd admit.
"What would you do..." Harry trailed off, and odd expression on his face. "What would you do if you found him?"
Bill shrugged. "I don't know. Get to know him?" He looked toward Harry again, who still had the oddest expression. Something between surprise and happiness and sadness.
"But wouldn't it break you and Fleur up?"
"Soul mates are something special. We'd make it work, somehow."
Harry's hands clenched the steps until Bill could see then turn white. "I learned how to imitate animals from a friend I made on the phone while my relatives were out," Harry whispered, staring at Bill.
Bill said nothing for a moment, very much in shock. "Cow noises?"
"Ducks first," Harry replied.
Bill took Harry's hand and pulled him up. "Well then," he said, thinking about his future. "We should tell Mum and Fleur they have nothing to fight over anymore."
The way Harry smiled happily made Bill so happy he hadn't gone through with an earlier wedding.