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Isn't that familiar? We reconstruct ourselves

Chapter Text

His death is a work accident.

Not murder. An accident. As a researcher in the Department of Mysteries, this is not an uncommon way to go.

Maybe once upon a time he had wanted to be an Auror. Once upon a time, he had been an Auror. Once upon a time he had had nothing to go on but the vague dreams of a teenage boy still sheltered behind Hogwarts' protective walls; he had a red-head and a brunette for best friends, and his grounded, unshakeable auburn-haired wife, and three beautiful, beloved children.

Once upon a time there lived a green eyed boy with a dark bird nest of hair. Underneath that wayward thatch of hair, a livid red curse scar lay shaped like a lightning bolt; the mark of a future equal to an insane Dark Lord. The boy became a man, with a silver scar rather than a red one, to mark his nemesis' defeat.

Once upon a time was a long time ago. Over three centuries ago, if technicalities must be observed.

Harry Potter is a revered name, on par with Albus Dumbledore and Nicholas Flamel. Lord Voldemort is the boggart hiding in children's closets. Ron Weasley, Hermione Weasley nee Granger, Ginny Potter nee Weasley, Neville Longbottom, Severus Snape–they are names immortalised in history textbooks. James Sirius Potter, Albus Severus Potter and Lily Luna Potter are names enclosed in biographies, and in the current Potter family Grimoire.

None of the above names are alive anymore.

James Buchanan Barnes is a Muggleborn working in the Department of Mysteries. Orphaned young, moved from France to Britain a few years after he finished his magical education. Brunette, ice blue eyes. No visible scars, just a little chin cleft. Surprisingly knowledgeable about modern magical history (spanning over three hundred years back).

James Barnes is working in the Death Chamber when it happens. Another researcher's botched spell–explodes, tossing everyone in the chamber up against walls. Unfortunately, James is right in front of the Veil when this happens.

Instead of hitting a wall, he sails straight through rot stench and tattered cloth.

James would blame Harry Potter's bizarre luck, but he is not Harry Potter, and that is an individual blame game. He blames James Barnes' bizarre luck instead, which oddly enough seems to mirror the revered Harry Potter's luck, and resigns himself to his fate.

The Death Chamber fades away around him.

 

***

 

Once upon a time, a young man, almost a boy still, stood in a battle torn forest. In one hand, he held a bone-white wand, humming a strange almost-sentience; on his other hand sat a ring with a cracked, black stone. Around his shoulders lay a silvery cloak, and nothing beneath its folds could be seen.

The young man claimed these objects as his own, and for the first time in existence, brought all three Deathly Hallows under the ownership of one man at the same time. He took these objects, and he searched for his enemy, knowing only death lay at the end of the path.

He looked unflinchingly into the oncoming deluge of poisonous green light, and accepted that his death was inevitable.

 

***

 

A fairytale has a hero. A beginning. A middle. An end. Not all parts are necessary to make a point.

That someone owned and used the Deathly Hallows? Yes, it has happened, if not always all three at once.

That someone accepted death's inevitability? Yes, it has happened, several times.

That someone commanded all three Hallows, and while commanding all three of them, was struck by the Killing Curse?

Never.

 

***

 

He dreams, vaguely, of a familiar platform, a bright red train at rest alongside it with one carriage door open.

He dreams of a little boy frozen before that open door. Dark brown hair, blue eyes, tiny limbs and complexion like a porcelain doll, and just as fragile. Isn't he familiar? But then the boy's lip starts wobbling, and he could never bear the sight of children crying, could never leave his own children's tears alone. He must have done something–he remembers his lips moving, and the boys lips moving, eyes tear-bright but still unreleased. Brave boy.

Maybe he learns the boy's name. He cannot remember. Maybe he learns why the boy was there. He cannot remember. What he remembers is that boy almost crying several times, and a hazy panic at that prospect. But the boy is brave, and though almost continuously on the verge of tears, he does not let them fall.

Then he is hugging this teary, brave boy, and guiding him into the train without a struggle. He does not go in himself. The carriage door closes. There is a whistle, shrill but faint as most dream sounds are, and the train pulls out. Against a carriage window, a small shadow moves. Maybe it is a wave. He does not know.

The Master of Death waves back anyway, for that courageous little boy.

Maybe the dream around him fades, or maybe it falls apart. He does not know. All he knows is that he is simultaneously being crushed and pulled apart, not at all like Apparition–

 

***

 

He wakes up, and his body is not his own.

There are this body's hands, tiny and uncallused, had his hands ever been so fragile? And this shrunken body, not even half his height or muscle mass and crushingly small around him, of course he cannot walk properly. He has never used these thin, doll-sized limbs in his life. They are not his, just as the dark, strangely tidy mass of hair on this body's scalp is not his, nor the pale, unscarred skin wrapped too tight around him, nor those ice blue eyes.

None of it is his, except all of it must be his, because these small limbs move when he moves, those blue eyes roll when he rolls his eyes. In the cracked, filthy mirror of a hastily found bathroom, those features reflect back at him, and aren't they familiar? Brunette hair, and ice blue eyes; unmarked skin and the slightest shadow of a chin cleft.

He traces the shape of the cheekbone in the mirror, the line of the jaw, until very slowly the bare bones of James Barnes' face rises up to greet him. It a shock to see; it has been a long time since he has seen James' face in a mirror.

Once the features of a glamour are memorised, there does not seem much point in looking at a glamour in the mirror, after all.

 

***

 

The young man will later, much later, curse himself for not suspecting. When his friends start greying at the temples, when their skin starts to buckle and weather permanently under the constant dragging pressure of old age. When his wife's steadfast frame bends to time despite her soul's vigour, and when even her soul vanishes in time. When he buries her, and his friends, one by one and then by twos and threes and handfuls, until all he knows are younger. When he buries even his sons and daughter, then his first grandchild's tiny stillborn form, and his second grandchild's full grown body.

Behind the glamour of shrivelled old age layered on his still unlined skin, the now-old man will weep and curse–it is just his luck that in his reckless youth, he unknowingly managed to sacrifice the one thing he now wants most dearly–his mortality.

The now-old man blames this solely on Harry Potter's bizarre luck.

 

***

 

The world outside is vintage cars with flat canvas tops and carriage-like wheels. It is men in braces, suits and hats with hair slicked back; women in tomboy-silhouetted flapper dresses and shell-shaped cloche hats, hair in soft finger waves or a swift bob cut beneath. It is cheesy, comic style advertisements glued everywhere, and New York newspapers detailing the latest raids on speakeasies, reinforcement of Prohibition laws, the threat of immigrants, the rise of the Ku Klux Klan.

It is 1922, declares the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. The Orphan Train Movement is dying. In a cracked, filthy bathroom mirror in the middle of New York somewhere, a little dark-haired, blue-eyed boy looks back.

Isn't he familiar? Maybe he dreamt of him. Maybe. A train. A boy. A wave goodbye.

He does not know the name of the little boy he maybe dreamt of. He hopes the boy reached somewhere good, the soft happy place he imagines his loved ones went to. Too young for the platform, he thinks, but death is inevitable in the end. It sits bitter on his tongue.

He apologises to the little boy, but until he figures out the boy's name somehow, this face will just have to be James Barnes junior. Lousy luck, but it is only temporary.

 

***

 

The now-old man lets Harry Potter die–quietly, pretends old age took him as well–and prays that he put Harry Potter's luck to rest as well.

He gathers up a new name, a new face, spins a glamour and a back story and hopefully a new fate from them, and spells it over his youthful form.

Then he does it again. And again. And again, and again. And. Again.

...

...

He has all the time in the world to try again, and keep hoping.

 

***

 

As it turns out, James Barnes junior is actually called James Buchanan Barnes. Born 1917. Orphaned just three months ago, packed straight to St John's Orphanage, where he joined several dozens of other children living under the same roof; babies, young kids, young teenagers, very few older teenagers.

(By 1933, there will be no older teenagers; the orphanage cannot afford them. No one can afford to hire them either.

No one bats an eye if they vanish, and are never seen again.)

A handful of overworked nuns run this Catholic orphanage, and they are not nearly enough to pay more than the slightest bit of attention to each child, if even that.

It shows. The nun who checks on him screams when she finds James' body moving. Apparently, she expected a corpse.

 

***

 

Harry Potter has two graves. A gaudy, grand memorial on Hogwarts' grounds, near the pillar commemorating the fallen from the Battle of Hogwarts, and Albus Dumbledore's grave. And a small, private spot in the Potter family plot, beside Ginevra Potter's grave, near Lily and James Potter's graves. James Sirius, Albus Severus and Lily Luna's graves sit close by as well.

Both graves are empty.

No one ever finds out.

Meanwhile, there is a dead boy's almost-corpse walking, and an old man's green gaze looking through ice blue eyes.

 

***

 

They whisper about him. The nuns. The other children. They whisper about James the little boy. James Buchanan Barnes, five years old, withdrawn and an absolute rascal by turns. Deadly sick with pneumonia, written off by doctors, had the Last Rites (a Catholic sending off?) administered to him. Overnight just got better, walking around the next morning as if he weren't choking on his last breaths the day before. A miracle. But oh, he's so quiet now, and so withdrawn. No hint of the future hellion he'll be. Was calling out for his Mama and his Poppa in his thought to be last breaths, do you think the poor boy remembers?

The poor boy's soul is no longer alive, but his body is not deaf. Green gaze narrows behind ice blue eyes; the old man present hears everything, and absorbs it. He parses bare bones of truth from the children's whispering, the nuns' gossiping. He gathers information, memorises details. James Buchanan Barnes. 1917. Orphaned. Deadly sick, then miraculously better. Still grieving over his parents' deaths, but normally a curious and gregarious child. Possibly prone to getting into fights, given the unfriendly looks sent by a few of the older orphanage children, but then again most of the actual orphans here have some variation of that look.

He has done this several times, donned a cover identity; he is old hat at it. The problem is, he usually creates all those details himself, while building a persona. This time, he is trying to put on an extremely ill fitting skin, one he only has scrap pieces of.

It shows. Withdrawn, indeed.

James junior is gone, but no one can know. He devotes all of himself to patching together a decently complete image of little James Buchanan Barnes. Until then, the old, British mind in that tiny body stays locked in.

 

***

 

Did you expect more shouting? More enraged cries against the unfairness of it all? More railing against his bizarre luck? He is resigned to all of that.

Did you expect him to try desperately to get back? Get back to what? Home?

Home is rows of gravestones inscribed with the names of his dearly departed. It is a bustling house filled with descendants going about their own lives, with an almost reverential knowledge of him that stems more from textbooks than personal connection. It is glamour after glamour after back story, fleeing an unwrinkled old man's history, a silent plea for–for–

–(a platform and a train that in the end was not for him anyway.)

Home is a long sought death, and it is unattainable. There is nothing else to do but reconstruct. Glamour after glamour after back story. He gets better each time.

Muggleborn James Barnes is one glamour. Little James Buchanan Barnes will be the most real one yet. More real than a glamour.

 

***

 

Little James Buchanan Barnes must be more real than a glamour. His body's inhabitant does not have the magic to cast one right now.

He stops himself from screaming. Barely.

Chapter Text

Alohomora.

It burns in his veins, bright and hot and unbearable. Porcelain pale cheeks flush red from it.

Alohomora.

Deep breaths. Clenched fists.

ALOHOMORA.

His 'borrowed' lock refuses to bloody unlock.

There is a minor explosion behind him. A volley of splinters attempt to lodge into his back.

His veins still burn, his cheeks still burn, and now they sting too.

He gives in and swears a bloody blue streak.

 

***

 

It is not quite like losing a limb. He does not think so, anyway; he has never lost a limb, so he cannot say. They say the loss of limb leaves phantom pains though, aches and agony and itches for a limb that is already gone and cauterised.

He is no longer feverish, no longer ill; little James Barnes took it with him wherever he went (aboard a train? Maybe). There's a burn in his veins though, a low simmer sizzling through him, the sensation of reaching over and over for his magic and hitting a cracked wall. All he can do is stick his fingers through the cracks, and it turns the simmer on medium, on high.

It's like banging on the wall to Diagon Alley, knowing it is there but unable to get in.

 

***

 

One of the nuns watches him closely.

Sister Katherine stares at him when she thinks he is not looking, eyes sharp despite the deeply wrinkled crow's feet around them. It might intimidate a younger boy. Instead there is an old man discreetly staring back, and an orphanage full of people who do not realise there is an adult mind behind a young child's ears, who whisper conversations without much caution.

He is eerie, Sister Katherine insists. Callin' out for his Ma and Pa, then starts talking to a Harry, and it is the realest conversation she's heard from a feverish patient, even hallucinatin'. Near seizin' while he's talking, but he spoke so clear. And now so quiet, he won't talk at all. Not right in the head anymore, that one.

The other nuns hush her, nervously titter at their sister's fragile, overworked nerves. Making stories up in her mind, the silly old lady, maybe they should try and lighten her workload for awhile? But it is so busy at the orphanage, she'll just have to manage.

Maybe a real child might have reacted differently under such scrutiny, the whispers of being strange, not right, maybe unnatural. Hurt, or defiance, or maybe even resentment. He is not a child however, and so he does not react.

There will be no repeat of Tom Riddle.

 

***

 

Once upon a time a little boy lived in the Cupboard-Under-the-Stairs. He had green eyes and a birds nest of dark hair flopping down to cover a livid lightning bolt scar on his forehead. His family consisted of an Uncle who called him Boy, an Aunt who called him Freak, and a cousin who called him both and anything in between. His only friends were the spiders who shared sleeping space with him.

Shivering through winter's bite in the Cupboard-Under-the-Stairs while his Aunt, Uncle and cousin shared Christmas pudding in the kitchen, this little boy dreamt his own once upon a times. Once upon a time James and Lily woke from their coffins, whole and untouched by death as Snow White had been, and claimed their stolen son away from the cold hands of their estranged step-family. Or, once upon a time, a different Uncle came back to Britain after a long absence, found his cousins dead and their son placed with strangers, and furious at the mistake, claimed his nephew far away from these strangers, never to visit Little Whinging again.

He loved Oliver Twist. Was it any wonder why?

This little boy loved his mother and father like he loved his dreams, warm and soft and insubstantial as mist. He loved the concept of family as he dreamt it. He wondered what the reality was, because surely the Dursleys' caricature of it could not be right, otherwise all of his classmates at school would be the same as Dudley. But most of them were scared of Dudley, and scared of talking to him, and he hated them for it at the same time he did not blame them. He pressed his belief in family carefully between his own once upon a times, then draped resignation over the lot.

Magic was a fairytale. Beyond wishfully cheating death it was never his fairytale, blue-haired teachers and mysterious teleportation aside. It was never something he truly wanted, never, until a half-giant found him and led him to the mouth of an alley, and he watched the bricks fold away into a path of possibilities. Of dreams that can come true.

Magic was real. It made other fairytales real.

It could make his once upon a times real.

For that possibility alone, he loved magic, loved it, before it gave him anything more than a taste, before it gave him pain and fear and triumph and his own fairytale ending.

He loved it even as the fairytale ending faded away. Dreams do not last forever.

The little boy grown into manhood, wrapped in a wrinkled grey facade, loved it to his grave. The young-old man that rose from his ashes loved it from his (re)birth.

That young-old man loved it still, even as he smoothed different cheekbones and eye colours and hair and skin over himself, moulded glamour after glamour after backstory, hated it for making him endure and loved it for enduring time with him.

 

***

 

He does not speak, Sister Katherine says.

Of course he does not speak. Harry Potter was an old, British man. Muggleborn James Barnes lived in France before moving to Britain. Half a dozen identities between those two stemmed from Europe in general.

Little James was very thoroughly American.

All the glamours in the world would not disguise this inexplicable difference in accent, and he does not even have a glamour to use. He does not even have a wand to attempt it. In fact, he is not old enough to wield one, and that rankles. He is not a child, except he apparently he is one, for now.

(He reacts to this much better than the first time he wonders if he even has magic. The shock of realising this body might possibly not have his magic literally explodes a tree nearby.)

 

***

 

Magic is this old unwrinkled man's first love. He has loved it from childhood to grave to (re)birth, and isn't that a little odd, to love after your own death.

(He has always been the odd one out. Isn't that familiar?)

Magic is this young-old man's only love now, the only one he could take with him from the grave. When you have few things to love, you hold on even more tightly to what little you have.

To find it gone, locked out of reach, beyond his own clawing, empty fingers–

 

***

 

(It is extremely embarrassing. Accidental magic is uncontrolled, clumsy, for untrained children. An adult wizard should know better.

He has never been more relieved to wield it. Nor has he ever been more infuriated–)

 

***

 

–it makes him want to spit.

 

***

 

He takes his cues from Sister Katherine. James starts smiling a bit more, helps out with the chores more willingly. He still doesn't really play with other kids his age much anymore, never talks, but he is happy enough to help entertain the toddlers, and lend a hand with the babies, outside of his usual kitchen and washing duties.

Sister Katherine stops saying anything; the other nuns get prickly when something is brought up, they do not have time for paranoid ramblings against a much needed extra set of helping hands. She never stops watching, but in this understaffed orphanage, there is little free time for anyone, and she is far too busy to maintain too sharp a focus on one boy.

Glamour-less cover maintained, it is easy for one little boy in an overrun orphanage to slip away for long periods of time. No one notices, and therefore, no one realises Sister Katherine may have been right.

 

***

 

Alohomora, Alohomora, Alohomora

He pulls. Pulls and pulls at the unused magical muscles of this tiny body.

Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Completely out of his reach.

It's a low burn, simmer going on high. He will not accept this. He cannot accept this. Lifetimes' worth of ability, of Notice-Me-Not spells, muffliato, shield charms, expecto patronum, arcane chants and a powerhouse in his wand hand, reduced to a child's first eleven years of barely-there skill of exploding tree bark, he will not accept it. Nor will he wait until this body is eleven again. He is not waiting until he is eleven again to get a wand and perform magic, not when he has been living and breathing magic for decades and decades and decades. Wand-less, yes; small, yes; actually five? No, he is not.

(Thought never to be again, locked away in the Cupboard-Under-the-Stairs, cold and hungry and lonely. Not again, never again.)

Again. Try again.

 

***

 

Head, meet brick wall. In his case, it is debatable which is harder. Isn't that familiar?

 

***

 

Little James Barnes had a rather turbulent relationship with some of the older orphans. The meaner ones; the bullies. The ones who chase after younger and smaller built kids, shove them about, and toss their belongings up trees (the latter is rare, most kids here do not own anything, they are orphaned and/or too poor). It is obvious to see; they glare at him in this tiny body, actually meet eyes and glare, unlike the half-disinterested look cultivated by many of the older children as they go about the orphanage's various chores.

The Dudleys of the orphanage, he privately thinks, except Dudley did it with a child's thoughtless cruelty. But some of these orphanage bullies, they push and push, and take their paddling–corporal punishment is still, horrifyingly, alive in the 1920s–the rare times they are caught, and they go back to it as if they know nothing else (like they must continue like this, or else), and it all stinks of desperation in a way Dudley with his mountain of gifts and two bedrooms and simpering, adoring parents, never did.

He understands this desperation, to some extent. Remembers a little boy, green-eyed and dark haired, learning to understand from Vernon Dursley's rants, his tapping on a newspaper headlined St Peter's London Orphanage shut down due to malpractice and negligence; from Petunia Dursley's instinctive circling around the homeless the rare occasion they stumble into Little Whinging's extremely homeless-hostile territory. That little boy understood enough then to know there were worse places than a constant shelter always stocked with food (even if he could not always access it). As an orphan who knew he was firmly unwanted, that little boy had known he was lucky, he at least got a bit of food most days and somewhere to sleep–

(–he stopped believing that when he was twelve, and locked in a tiny room with only a dog flap and barred windows to connect him to the outside world. Anything, he thought, anything had to be better than this. He was not an unwanted orphan here, he was a caged animal.)

That little boy learnt. The young-old man hiding in another little boy's skin remembers.

So he ignores the glares, keeps alert, avoids any signs of a fight. Child body he has, but there is an old man's ability to strategise behind blue eyes. Against children, he is completely successful.

 

***

 

He steals a blank journal from one of the nuns. This is probably an extremely heinous crime. Harry Potter once stole from a goblin-run bank. In the grand scheme of things, a blank journal is probably not the worst thing to steal from a nun.

He writes. Writes and writes and writes. All the spells he remembers off the top of his head, charms, hexes, jinxes, jumbled and in no order. Then he rewrites them, this time in order of difficulty. He tries to remember what spells he learnt in his first year of magical education, tries to pick the easiest, most useful spell in his long, long list to practise first. Levitation Charm? Useless. Tripping jinx? Too suspicious, possibly noticeable in front of Muggles. Severing charm? He is not actually trying to hurt anyone.

In the end, he picks the Unlocking Charm. He tells himself it is to maximise potential escape routes.

(He will never be caged again.)

 

***

 

Again. Try again. Try again. Try again.

 

***

 

There is a scream perpetually stuck in his throat. He never lets it out, and it joins the seemingly continuous burn coursing through him these days, seething molten lava.

Magic flowed so easily through him before, but it is not what burns him alive now, what flushes his cheeks. He wishes, he so desperately wishes, it were.

(He'll take the burn, he'll take it, if his magic comes with it too, he needs it, needs it–)

Little James' face smiles, because he should know nothing of this molten burn.

 

***

 

Once upon a time a little boy lived in the Cupboard-Under-the-Stairs. He had green eyes and a birds nest of dark hair flopping down to cover a livid lightning bolt scar on his forehead. He loved his mother and father like he loved his dreams, wondered at the concept of friends like wondering at the concept of fairytales.

Magic made them real. All those once upon a times, dreams, fairytales. Magic gave him his fairytale ending. Magic let time take it away from him. Dreams fade.

It is so easy to love something that endures beyond a lifetime. Maybe it is a bit like religion, he does not know for sure since he has never believed in a religion. The Master of Death has no care for religion.

It is much harder to love something that passes before a lifetime. A person loves their pet, and it will die before them, will sadden them. A person loves their grandmother, their parents, their uncles and aunts and extended family, should they be blessed with ones that love them back, and all the family passes on, usually before them, and all they can do is grieve.

They watch their friends leave, their wife leave, to a place they cannot follow. Then they outlive their children. Then their grandchildren. They pretend to leave too, because that is the normal course of things, hair a doctored snowy white and skin painted over in wrinkles and age spots. They watch from a distance as their great-grandchildren are born, and watch as their great-grandchildren die as well.

It is much harder to love something that goes before a lifetime. Even harder still to do it over and over again, and this young-old man has a very, very long lifetime. It still has not ended.

Distance makes it–easier. More lonely, but more bearable to watch. It does not feel so much like stabbing a knife in the same scarred spot every few breaths. Distance is healthy even, he convinces himself. A short respite from pain, doesn't every person need that?

The short respite turns into years, decades, centuries. It does not take that long to convince himself he should just stop altogether. Lonely becomes, in those years, a normal state of being, why does he need to go back to hurting what seems like every few years? Stabbing a knife in the same scarred spot is just unhealthy, he argues with himself.

The young-old man dons another glamour, convinced but uneasy with his conclusion.

It makes him completely unprepared for Rebecca.

 

***

 

Rebecca–

 

***

 

Rebecca is beautiful. Dark wavy hair, wide blue-grey eyes, porcelain skin and Cupid's smile, bow-shaped and mischievous. Rebecca is sunshine smiles and cheerful conversation, she is acceptance at his voicelessness in the face of others' gossip. She is a giggling, wriggling imp riding piggy back on him, and a dark head napping peacefully against his shoulder. Rebecca calls him "Babawee," and he accepts that even as ridiculous as it sounds, lifts her and tries to spin her with the tiny limbs given to him.

Rebecca is two years old, and she is beautiful.

(Peeking through the golden door of Harry Potter's memories, Lily Luna waves, auburn-haired and hazel-eyed vivacity, eternally beautiful as only long-treasured memories can be.)

He loves her.

(He loves her.)

She is not his to love.

 

***

 

–Ann Barnes.

 

***

 

She is James'. Rebecca Ann Barnes is little James Buchanan Barnes' to love.

Rebecca Ann Barnes is little James Buchanan Barnes' to love, but little James Buchanan Barnes is gone. Instead, there is just a young-old man hiding in his tiny skin.

 

***

 

For a long time, he does not know her name.

He knows Sister Katherine is suspicious of his behaviour. He knows helping the nuns and other helpers makes them distantly fond of him, for making things just a little easier. He knows keeping busy throws off suspicion, which gives him more time to sneak off somewhere private.

To try again. And again.

Little James Buchanan Barnes must be more real than a glamour. In the absence of magic, he must use different building blocks for his cover. The body is the easiest thing to change, and it has already been done for him.

The toddlers of the orphanage are his other main building block.

They like him. They laugh gleefully when he plays along with them, sing along with his nursery rhymes, mostly eat and dress and brush their teeth when he tells them, sometimes with some heavy coaxing. They cry and then they stop eventually after he pats their cheeks dry.

(James Sirius, Albus Severus and Lily Luna smile peacefully from their golden resting place.)

The other helpers laugh at him, this little five year old boy, chivvying along small packs of toddlers only two or three years younger than him to do this or that. They ruffle his hair, and they view him as another one of those exact toddlers he chivvies along, if a rather mature one. It irks him, but if they think that then it means the image of little James Buchanan Barnes still holds up.

It is not a hardship to spend time with these toddlers. Sometimes, tending to these younger smaller people, he almost forgets the burn in his veins, the constant press of again, try again. Almost. Inevitably, the longer he tries to stave off the burn, the fiercer it grows, until he becomes desperate to find time alone. Most of the toddlers wave him goodbye with little complaint.

One of the toddlers doesn't. One of them finds this unacceptable, and decides not to bother waiting for him. This toddler goes looking for him instead.

He first really meets her when she falls out a window.

Dear Merlin.

(It sets the tone for their relationship.)

 

***

 

Years later, the little boy with green eyes and a birds' nest for hair, now a fully grown man, pulled the sheet of resignation away and took out all his little fantasies. He whispered them into ears framed by long auburn locks, I made up my own fairytales when I was a kid, and told her about the little boy who dreamt of family coming to take him away to a happy ending.

And now, she asked, and he thought of the auburn-haired boy he first met on a train to a magic school, staying and leaving but never too far, and always he came back; the brunette girl with buck teeth and enough smarts and common sense to take over the world on a whim, instead steady at his side and a guiding compass to two idiot boys with too much bravado between them; twin red-heads tapping on barred windows, breaking him out and driving into the night sky in their 'borrowed' flying car; warm, snug hugs from a plump, smiling woman with laugh lines around her eyes; a cramped, leaning building bursting with knick-knacks that fluttered and whistled, a clock with nine hands on its face.

He thought of the auburn-haired woman lying beside him, wrapped in a cocoon of sheets with one hand wrapped firmly around his wrist, pressing his own hand gently to a spot on her rounded belly.

And now I don't need them, he answered. This is reality, and it's so much better.

So much better, it's like looking into the sun after months of overcast weather. The grey tinge washed away by sunlight, so bright it's almost blinding. He will not look away.

 

***

 

She falls out a window into his lap, and it feels a bit like that. Like sunlight washing the grey away, and he takes a breath of fresh air.

"Babawee," she beams, and he is blinded.

 

***

 

"Dear God, REBECCA!"

An older girl pokes her head out the window. Looks side to side, then down, and starts at seeing him. She slumps in relief when she sees Rebecca in his arms, unharmed, happily babbling, "Babawee!"

"Thank God," she stutters, "She just jumped out the window! Rebecca Ann Barnes, you are in so much trou–!"

He does not hear the rest.

 

***

 

Rebecca–

There's a roar in his ears, blood rushing fast and hard through them. Burning burning–

 

***

 

He gives her back. To another helper, not the one who let Rebecca jump out a window. Looks away. Walks back outside, to his little nook under the window before.

He dry heaves into the leaf litter, away from suspicious eyes.

 

***

 

–boiling–

Rebecca Ann Barn–

–explodes.

 

***

 

The 'borrowed' lock clicks open in his hand. He does not notice.

 

***

 

It is one thing to take, even accidentally, a dead boy's body. It is a completely other thing to wear his skin in front of his sibling.

He has stolen her brother. She will never, ever know.

Chapter Text

In 2010, Christine Everhart, on the cusp of receiving a promotion at her magazine firm, contacts Dr Barnes for an interview. She wants to write a piece about the Howling Commandos, about Captain America and Sergeant James Buchanan Barnes specifically in the patriotic spirit of the upcoming 4th of July. She wants to try and figure out the men behind the propaganda.

(Men, behind their airbrushed faces and their celebrity status, are just that, men, with flaws of their own. People love reading about celebrities, and they love reading about their celebrities’ flaws. The more dire, the better. It makes people feel better about themselves, Christine reckons, and there is nothing wrong with that. It is what makes her living, after all.

Captain America and Sergeant Barnes were heroes, but they were just men in the end, gone off to war. They are not so different to golden oldie celebrities. As long as Christine stays on the borderline of criticising, the public will eat up what she has to say.)

Rebecca Barnes declines the interview. She laughs and writes about it in her journal, smoothing wrinkled fingers over white, crisp paper.

I'm old, but I'm not stupid, she writes. Surprise surprise, I do know how to use Google. Christine Everhart's written some real nasty articles, even her own profession sometimes attacks her for it. I know her type anyway; she's not the first journalist or historian or what-have-you to come calling.

No, Christine Everhart is not the first to come after Rebecca Barnes for commentary on Captain America and Sergeant James ‘Bucky’ Barnes.

(One cannot be without the other. It is the one personal thing the public gets right.)

The historians, the military enthusiasts, the journalists and biographers, they may have all of Bucky and Steve’s military exploits. Their heroic deaths. The bare bones of their beginnings.

The details? The ‘men behind the propaganda, the heroism’? Are not for the public. No, they are for the people who were there, and in 2010, there are few besides Rebecca who were there. So really, they are hers now, and the public, after sixty five years of rummaging through the limited items once owned by her brother and Steve, can hang.

Maybe it's selfish, she writes. Her quill scratches quietly over blank paper. The nuns would have had me in for that. Selfishness is a sin, the nuns at the orphanage she lived her childhood in would have said.

Those nuns also told her to be still, to behave well, and to settle down, Rebecca, manners and politeness and piety. Too restless, too reckless, too curious, too boyish.

No such thing as too curious, her brother had scoffed. Not as long as she was careful, and he taught her just how to do that, quiet footsteps, lock picks and hidey-holes. Energetic, he said about her inability to stay still. He agreed with the nuns about manners, and then taught her a dozen different ways to blow off someone annoying. Or, as she grew and boys starting looking at her differently, especially around her chest and further down, how to get rid of assholes, and then he’d shown her how to take down men bigger and stronger than her.

Boyish, he had scoffed. Boyish and girlish, as if those two words separated what a girl and a boy, a man and a woman could do, were able to do. He had never believed a woman was less smart, less able, than a man, nor did he ever believe men to be emotionally 'stronger'. But, he had said, the majority of the world was populated by idiots who believed all sorts of stupid things, and really it was their loss, it left such a blind spot. One day the world would realise it, he’d told her so confidently, as if he’d seen it himself, and maybe he had, because all of the little stories he’d told her as a child had never cared in the least about it, never cared for female or male, just as they hadn’t cared for black or white skin, or sometimes even human or creature for that matter, so fantastical his stories had been. Until the world realised its mistake, it was something she could take advantage of, if she worked her cards right, and then he’d done his best to get her those opportunities with what little they had.

Dr Rebecca Barnes, retired physicist, lives now what her brother had seen decades ago. Her brother, the progressive, she remembers affectionately, really it's no wonder you and Steve were best friends. You called Steve too naive, too big-hearted, huge sense of justice and no common sense at all, but you were a little ball of free will and justice yourself, if more careful about it.

Rebecca declining probably spared Everhart and everyone before her a headache. Her brother, her brothers (Steve had been a second brother in all but blood) were nothing like how propaganda portrayed them in the fifties, the sixties, and so on. Steve would have turned in his grave if he could see how wrong the world got him, and Bucky would have gone after everyone with a bat for getting Steve that wrong.

Anti-discriminative, pro-equality, pro-choice; a dozen labels to describe his belief in a person’s right to choose, to be free of constraints and safe from prejudice. Steve, little ball (really big ball, later) of justice he had been, had believed in those things to his last breath, and Bucky had admired Steve's conviction in them.

Then again, Bucky would have gone after everyone for turning him into a teenage sidekick. Rebecca still has some of the first comics depicting him as that. She takes it out on days she really misses her brothers, for a good laugh.

They don't know what you both were like, and their main concern is Captain America. In the end, it's easy for me to say to the vultures you were closer to him than I was, and knew you better. They eat it up and don't press further.

It makes her angry sometimes. That the media made her brother a teenage sidekick, that they demeaned him and demeaned his friendship with Steve like that. Her brother and Steve had been equals. Usually though, she thanks the media for it; they don't throw Bucky's name around like they throw Captain America's, they don't try to superimpose opinions that would have made him spit if he had heard them, and usually they don't try to pry deeper into his nature besides 'lady's man' and 'loyal'.

The world will never know her brother's ocean-wide hatred for prejudice (which Steve admired, among several things). They won't know his lady's man reputation was born from 1940's standards and starry-eyed good girls chattering, not consecutive nights bedding down different women. They won't know his sincere desperation, sitting beside a sickbed and praying to a God he didn't believe in, please just one more miracle, I swear I'll pay it back, I vow it, and his back-breaking loads of work, even during good seasons, so there would be a little extra money to put in the donations box at church during Easter and Christmas, after saving up for medicine and bad days.

They won't ever know his stories; he had been a regular storyteller, fantastical and imaginative, with green glints in his blue eyes as he wove a tale. Magic eyes to go with his magic stories.

(Magic hands too, she writes, and does not elaborate. Even here, in private quill and ink instead of insecure digital format, she dares not say more.)

A thousand and one facets her brother had, matched so strangely and perfectly to Steve’s own thousand and one facets, all of it lined with diamond-hard faith in their own vision of right. The thousand and one facets they shared with her, and that she developed for herself in turn, growing up with them. The world will never know, but Rebecca’s always been a bit possessive, her brother would have attested to that if he could, so this is something she approves. And her brother, for all that the he was made out to be a lady’s man and charming, was a private man, so she thinks he might have approved too, and thanked her for her discretion.

Selfish? Yes, maybe. Selfishness is a sin, the nuns had said, and her brother had said, in everything he taught her and everything he believed in, it’s a sin except when you’re looking out for yourself, and for the ones you love. That’s not sin, that’s self-preservation, that’s love, that’s common sense, and your loved ones would be very grateful if you used it; God knows Steve had none, and her brother had smiled, affectionate and exasperated and understanding, in the face of Steve’s protests.

Then again, they way you talked, you could have made people believe the sky was green if you tried hard enough, she jots down, amused. Bucky and his silver tongue, always ready with three excuses and a wide-eyed innocent look to get his ‘trouble-makers’ (as if you weren’t one yourself Buck! Hypocrite) out of hot water.

It doesn’t mean she disagrees though.

She is not going to apologise. Not to the world, not to the public. They have the propaganda versions already; the Bucky and Steve of her memories are for her alone.

She signs off, as she has done over ten and ten hundred and ten thousand times before, love Becca, and leaves her journal on the desk to dry. The wet words fade to nothing, and leave the pages crisp and empty white.

 

 

...

...

...

 

 

She always loved magic tricks, someone will later think. That someone will tilt a black light pen over those blank pages; watch those spidery words glisten, luminescent, under the blue-black light. They will trace the words carefully, tender and playful words addressing a long-dead person, love Becca, and they will lower their head and cry.

She always thought the best of me, that someone will also think. She never saw the monster in front of her.

She never saw the monster hiding in her brother's skin.

 

 

...

...

...

 

 


 

She’s like a bloodhound. A scent once sniffed is a scent remembered; she finds him once, and suddenly she can find him anywhere, given time. In the kitchens, in the laundry, in the dorm rooms, the recreational areas, the garden. In his little private spaces even, under trees, under windows, behind sheds and bushes, stumbling into them with all the grace of a baby elephant and just as loud.

And her searching method involves a lot of falling down, off, and on things. Out of windows (several times), off tables and cupboards (more than several times), on floors and grass and people (him, specifically, the most often).

It drives him mad.

For Merlin’s sake, she can’t even walk steadily yet! How is she getting to all these places?!

It drives the nuns and the caretakers mad as well, because she will not be still. She wriggles, and hides, and sneaks away, and against overworked carers overseeing two dozen other children and tasks, her two year old tactics win.

Against an old-young man with centuries’ worth of experience, her tactics win. She is two.

Besides him, the carers never know how she does it either. What they do know is how to find her again. All they have to do is find him. And little James Barnes, bless his soul, is a helpful child. He comes when they search for him, dragging his sister with him, and he sits down and stays put where they want him, his little hellion of a sister next to him.

She doesn’t wander off then. Stays put like she didn’t give the carer a heart attack falling down half a flight of stairs and continuing on down anyway. She has what she wants after all, her Babawee is paying attention.

He is almost impressed, this tiny, seemingly indestructible (no broken bones yet, surprisingly) toddler outsmarting adults and a young-old man with centuries of experience. Almost.

But mostly, he is angry. Angry and frustrated.

There’s a lock burning a hole in his pocket. It matches the burn in his veins, magma flowing thick and simmering through them. Only a low simmer, because apparently it has already erupted once, its outlet the lock. It leaves behind an unopened lock and a less pressurised burn.

He cannot replicate it.

Frantic, he stuck his fingers through the cracked wall, and for just a moment, he caught something. In that same moment, it escaped, and left behind burnt fingertips. He claws and claws searching for it again, but nothing. Nothing at all, except the bitter burn of tryagaintryagaintryagain. He gets frustrated, explodes tree bark, and still the lock remains unopened, no matter how much he tries and rages and wills.

And now there is this little girl, mischievous and sweetly adoring of her brother, too young to see beneath the skin he wears; too young to see him hiding away, him giving her back to her minders each time she escapes, as anything other than a game. One she wins by getting to stay with him, no matter if there are minders watching. No matter if it eats away his time alone, his privacy.

The nuns eye both of them in concern. Sister Katherine fixes a gimlet eye on him once again. This is obviously not James’ normal behaviour. Maybe little James Barnes doted on his sister. He was a recent orphan after all, his only living family left was his sister. Maybe he wouldn’t have said no to his sister wanting to spend more time with him, maybe he would have tried helping his sister even. Or maybe he would have whined about this, about baby siblings being too clingy; he was five after old, a lofty and advanced age compared to two.

He is not little James Barnes. He stays silent, and he stays still, hiding beneath his blue-eyed skin.

(He stays. Rebecca babbles on happily, oblivious.)

 

***

 

It is not that he doesn’t want to love her.

Actually, no, it is exactly that. He doesn’t want to love her, it shouldn’t be him, and it is not even his right. It should be little James Barnes.

(Little James Barnes is dead.)

 

***

 

(James Sirius, Albus Severus and Lily Luna laugh from their golden resting place. Their dad had always spoiled them with contact, constant hugs and hair ruffles, handkerchiefs aimed at their dirt-smudged faces and hands, and that continued well into their teenage years despite their protests of being too old. He had obviously taken a page out of Molly Weasley’s book when it came to being affectionate with his children.

Of course, he hadn’t held back with stern lectures when he thought they were warranted. Pranks and teasing language were a sensitive topic for him, for good reason, their mum warned when they were old enough to protest their dad’s lack of humour. It wasn’t that he lacked humour so much as he wanted them to be careful with their pranks and teasing; he had known the crueller aspects of both when he was younger, and known others who had needlessly suffered the same.

He lectured, but he never yelled. And after any lectures, there would be a deluge of wriggly, reluctant-but-not hugs.

They knew. They knew they would always have someone there, they knew someone cared no matter what they did. Not like that boy in the cupboard under the stairs, with his fairytales and his resentful relatives, questioning why everything about him, everything he did and didn’t do, was so undesirable. It was a fact of life to them: the sun rose in the east, magic could be convoluted and completely inexplicable, and they were loved, unconditionally.

James, Albus and Lily never doubted that.)

 

***

 

Rebecca never doubted that. From her earliest memory to her last memory of him; right up until her death, she knew Bucky had always loved her.

 

***

 

Some nights he dreams of a mirror. A special one; in curling script, written backwards–I show not your face but your heart's desire.

There he is in the mirror, little James Barnes, naked as the day he was born. Here his doll limbs, his porcelain complexion, those ice blue eyes. But the skin wraps too tightly around those tiny limbs and fragile bones, so tightly it stretches taut over the surface, causes those bright eyes to bulge obscenely. It stretches and stretches, and what happens when paper is stretched too far?

It rips.

The skin splits, tears with jagged edges, and little James Barnes in the mirror unravels; blue eyes fall out of their sockets, hard and lifeless as marble, to land in a pile of shredded skin as dry and rough as paperbark. It pools at his feet, macabre packaging, and what is left behind is a face.

Not his face. Not little James' face. No, it is James Barnes, Muggleborn, his defined jaw and adult proportions who reflects back, does not stare. Does not stare, because those sockets are empty, eyes lying at his feet, and his eyelids droop flatly, lacking anything convex underneath. Those adult features beneath the child's skin, is it any wonder the skin burst?

Here Muggleborn James Barnes' skin fits perfectly, appears as normal skin should, but his image reaches up, digs a thumb under each sagging eyelid, and yanks hard. Nothing rips or tears this time; the face slides off like a mask, the skin of the neck and torso and limbs following like the slick, sticky stripping of a wetsuit. The ensemble, a whole unruined skin, flops to the ground, rubber casing no longer wrapped around a shape to protect.

Another face looks back. Eyeless, eyelids drooping unnaturally once again. And, once this face has been pulled off and left to flop like Muggleborn James Barnes', another. And another. And another.

The skins left behind are grotesque, texture like thick, oil-slicked rubber, how could he breathe wearing them? The skins come off faster, fingers yanking harder, more frantic to find an end. Is he breathing now? What if he isn't? Faster, faster!

There comes a time when the last skin pulls off, and what is left behind is not another eyeless skin. No, this one has eyes. Green, fixed firmly in place, moving as they track the progress of hands that lift up to yank, and pause.

Green eyes. Birds nest of dark hair. That pale skin, that lightning bolt scar burned silver onto his forehead. Isn’t that familiar?

Well hello, Harry Potter. It has been a long, long while. Centuries-long while.

What does it say, that he still remembers those features so clearly? What does it say, that this mirror, Erised gilded into its frame, reflects the image of a man he has been hiding from, running from, for centuries?

 

***

 

It is Autumn.

The Americans call the season Fall. F-A-L-L. Write it out ten times, children.

Merlin, he doesn’t remember Muggle school being this tedious. Then again, he is not a child, and what is learnt here has long become subconscious memory.

Rebecca does not appear here. Even she has her limits, and sneaking out of the orphanage altogether is still a limit.

(In two years, it will not be an issue.)

He does not know whether to be grateful for the respite away from Rebecca, or to desperately wish she were here. He is so bored, and he cannot even tune out, or he will be punished. He really would like to avoid that, the first time had been humiliating enough, and it had smarted.

 

***

 

Catholicism is new to him. Religion is new to him.

He is not sure what to think of it.

Harry Potter’s Aunt and Uncle had been atheists, to the best of his knowledge. They had dragged him to church a few times when he was very young, saying God despised freakishness, and sneering down at his irredeemable form, told him to pay attention and maybe he would learn something, but they themselves had never attended mass, or prayed. Even then, Harry Potter had rather felt that the Dursleys needed more of God’s words about kindness, you shall love your neighbour as yourself, than Harry himself.

Of course, Harry had never said anything, because he did not enjoy extended stays in his tiny little room.

Mass involves a lot of praying (in Latin, which he does know but mouths along to anyway because accent), praising the Lord, kneeling at the right moments. The nuns are strict about Mass. They keep a close eye on their charges, and any hint of misbehaviour is heavily punished after.

It is, no mistake, an obligation for him, not a choice, not even for curiosity’s sake. It is extremely awkward standing there, promising eternal faith and devotion, while being extremely aware of his actual (old old old) age, and oh, by the way, the Master of Death cares little about religion because death is (should be) universal.

He wonders, is this an obligation for everyone in this place, this time, for the rest of their lives? He didn’t sign up for this.

(And isn’t that familiar? Harry Potter never signed up for trouble. He got it anyway.)

 

***

 

The orphanage has few toys. He notices this in his attempts to keep Rebecca still and pacified and away from him.

It’s no wonder she keeps searching for him. Searching for him is probably one of the more entertaining things to do in the orphanage. Everyone gets loud and worked up, he is forced to sit with her, and it all results in her spending a few hours entertained.

The few toys the orphanage does have are old and damaged, and Rebecca seems little interested in playing with them.

(The dolls go to the girls. Always. Boys who even come close to one are mocked by some of the other children. The occasional girl trying for cars and soldiers are shooed away and directed back to the dolls and small mish-mash of toy kitchen appliances if there is a boy who also wants it—by both boys and adults.

Maybe he is being too critical about it. They are just toys, and this is 1922, patience.

He is a little angry about it anyway.)

He learns to make toys for her. He twines red and yellow leaves together by their stems to make leafy crowns, and drapes them over Rebecca’s head, watches her preside over invisible courtiers and, well, that seems wrong, so he constructs ugly, misshapen stick dolls and tries to disguise their appearance with more colourful leaves. She seems happy enough with them, but she tires of the game quickly.

He hits the jackpot when he finds little rocks that scratch out colour against rough surfaces. He shows Rebecca how to draw with them on the ground, and she goes crazy with it. Draws people and flowers, clouds and the sun, scraggly lines against dirty asphalt. She spends hours drawing, or flipping through the limited picture books the orphanage has looking for something to draw. When she bores of drawing things out of picture books or things she sees, she starts making it up, scratching out what might be a butterfly or a fairy, a hand or an owl.

(It takes a few years and some help from a blonde, blue-eyed boy to improve her drawing skills.)

He had meant to find something to occupy her so he could sneak away, or at least move a short distance away and work with the lock in his pocket. But he finds trying to guess what Rebecca is drawing strangely (familiarly) entertaining, and somehow time slips by and he’s lost an hour staring at clumsily sketched lines.

He supposes he should be angry at himself for that, but it is exhausting spending hours driving himself into a frustrated temper, and it makes him feel just a bit better to sit and stare at crudely drawn pictures, Rebecca proudly providing explanations for each one in mixture of baby-babble and actual words.

(Had she known words already when he first saw her, in the toddlers’ ward, or did he miss it, clutching desperately at that damned stubborn lock that he might have hallucinated unlocking?)

Then he remembers that this, drawings and playing and Rebecca are not for him, and it is awhile before he can bring himself to make something else for her, and a day longer before he plucks up the courage to come back with his (apology) present.

(It is never long before he comes back.)

 

***

 

Some nights he dreams. A mirror. I show not your face but your heart's desire.

There is a man. Green-eyed and dark-haired, limbs fully grown, the glint of a silver scar upon his forehead. There are skins, grotesque in their whole state, except for one tiny skin, left in shreds like torn paper.

It’s unhygienic, really. Leaving those skins on the floor. It is a platform after all, who knows what has been smeared there, under the shoeprints of the passing. Then again, it matters little. The mirror shows those skins discarded for a reason. Erised.

No, what matters is the train. Bright red and dark green, piping steam. A door open, beckoning. And Harry Potter, backing slowly through the entrance, face openly wondrous and eager as it has not been for centuries, accepted through those open carriage doors.

He leaves behind the shed skins.

But this is just a mirror, a rather special mirror. Erised gilded into its frame. When he looks down, away from the reflection, it is not Harry Potter’s grown limbs that greet him, but the tiny limbs of a little boy gone already.

And there his heart beats to the left of his little chest, strong and even, he can hear the beat of it in his own ears. X marks the spot, or so the Hallows must believe; their ghostly mark traces, pale and fine as quill strokes, on his skin, above his heart. Not a tattoo, but a claim, a claim he is so aware of it might as well have been tattooed on him.

Magic, here to accompany him again. The Master of Death has no use for earthly mortality. And meanwhile, there’s a little boy-man at an orphanage scrambling for more than just exploding tree bark, a lock burning a hole in his pocket as concerned and suspicious and adoring eyes fix on him.

The mark doesn’t show in the mirror. Of course not. Erised, remember?

 

***

 

It is possible to desire something, desire it desperately, and still love what you have.

Harry Potter desired family desperately, saw father and mother and aunts and uncles and grandparents, cousins, generations of family surrounding him in that strange mirror. He yearned even as he was adjusting himself to even having friends, to like them as well as well as the concept; lifelong friends, he understood as they prepared to face criminals together, to face an insane madman together, to become fugitives together, and loved them doubly, triply, infinitely so.

Here he is, this young-old boy-man born from Harry Potter's ashes, seeing his well-known yearning for a train to that golden resting place, and his more shocking desire for him to be Harry Potter again. Or rather, to stop wearing glamour after glamour after backstory.

(It is lonely, the running. In its own way, as painful as being hurt over and over, stabbing the same barely scarred wound again and again. Trapping himself in ice, distant and aching cold, and hurting because he remembers warmth, remembers Harry Potter’s life, and that for a time that young man had been so happy.)

And the here is this little girl, who loves him as much and as freely as a toddler understands the concept, and who will never remember the brother she should have had, only the brother he would choose to give or not give her.

She would never notice if the man peeking out behind blue eyes was not little James Barnes, nor would she realise if that young-old man was Harry Potter, more alive than his death (first and second and third) should have allowed.

(It's an all too familiar story.)

Monster. It's disgusting. To even think of doing that. To steal a child's body, and then his life, and his only remaining family.

She is there, and she loves him, and it has been so long.

(He is tired of hiding. Of running away.)

 

***

 

It is Autumn. Fall. He blows hot and cold with Rebecca, and she forgives and forgets easily as most young children do, and she adores him. Unquestionably.

He loves magic. Has loved it for centuries. It is easy to love something that endures beyond a lifetime.

He does not want to love Rebecca. It is much harder to love something that passes before a lifetime.

Then again, Harry Potter never meant to love his friends, to love them, and not just the concept, the daydream. Harry Potter seemed to cement most of his life-long relationships through some sort of mortally dangerous misadventure.

It is not so surprising that he repeats Harry Potter's pattern with Rebecca. Glamour after glamour after backstory, and yet his luck seems to mirror Harry Potter’s bizarre luck.

(He reconstructs and reconstructs his pieces, and yet it is the same familiar story. Those pieces change appearance, not function.)

It is Fall when he knows he does not want to love her (but he stays and stays and never seems to note it, eyes trained on a lock and the burn in his veins).

It is Winter when he realises he does, and it is Winter that cements it.