DAILY PROPHET - Henry Evans, author of the controversial international bestsellers Pure Blood(y) Stupidity and The Might of Mud, will be making a rare appearance at The Hog's Head, Hogsmeade, this Saturday evening to discuss his newest book Purity vs. Progress, which was already banned from purchase and printing across Britain more than three weeks before its release. While possession of the book has not strictly been made illegal, many have questioned the wisdom of this event—
And good on them. So did Harry.
"'Mione," he ventured, not looking up from the paper. "What's this rot about me showing up in Hogsmeade and begging Death Eaters to come murder me?"
There was a suspicious absence of shock or upset in Hermione's voice when she replied, "Think of it like a book club. Anyway, you'll be in disguise!"
"Yeah, er, I hate to break this to you, Hermione, but my alter ego is possibly the only living creature less popular with the Dark Lord than I am."
Hermione's head finally popped around the door, and she smiled at him fondly. "I think you're overreacting. The Dark Lord has only ever shown any interest in his pureblooded insurgents, and Henry Evans is a muggleborn. I've been sneaking proposals in front of Wizengamot for years, now, under my real name, and no one's bothered to so much as trash the shop. Well, no more than the usual, I mean. I doubt they’d recognise my name if they heard it called in the street."
Hermione worked at Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour, which was one of the few opportunities for employment available to muggleborns. It wasn't a terrible job—Florean Fortescue was kind and paid her fairly—but it made Harry's blood boil that the most intelligent, talented witch of their generation was barred from reaching her potential simply because her parents hadn't been magical.
"It still sounds like an awful idea," said Harry instead of ranting about the unfairness of their society. Apparently, he'd have plenty of chances to do that on Saturday.
"It really will be just an exchange of ideas, Harry. Not many people will dare to show up, and those who do will probably just make ignorant arguments. This will be your chance to show that you're a poised, educated young man with some intelligent views to share, who's willing to listen to other people's points."
"But I'm not willing to listen to their bigotted garbage!"
Hermione shot him a look. "You're certainly going to pretend to."
Harry scowled at her.
"Harry, this meeting will open up a dialogue! Oh, yes, people have bought your books to laugh and gasp at the scandal, but how many Britons have actually read your books? And how many of those readers have bothered to consider any of the content beyond pulling up a straw man's argument? Meeting them in person will be an opportunity to present yourself not as a radical but as a thinker who's concerned about the state of the magical world!"
"And also for me to get tortured to death," said Harry blandly, but her words had affected him, and she knew it.
"Henry Evans is small beans, Harry. There was no prophecy about Henry Evans, and Henry Evans never survived the Killing Curse, one cast by the Dark Lord himself. No one cares about Henry Evans. Oh, I'm certain a few Death Eaters will show up to hang about menacingly and laugh at you, but the Dark Lord is wearing a rather different hat these days, isn't he? He knows that overreacting to his opposition will only give them more power."
Harry sighed and rubbed his eyes beneath his glasses. "Alright, 'Mione, whatever you say. I've got to get to work. I'll see you this evening?"
"You will," she said. "And Harry—"
Harry paused to look back from where he was already stood at the door with his worn cloak slung haphazardly over his left shoulder.
"Those books—I mean, I know I helped a bit with the research—"
Harry scoffed. Hermione's excellent contributions had turned the books from ranting messes to thoughtful treatises.
"But I couldn't have written anything like that. They're so quirky, so funny and tragic and elegant and artful, all while pointing out real issues with real facts—they're wonderful. And you should be proud of them. This is a chance for you to show that pride."
Harry knew his face had stiffened and closed off only by the way Hermione's fell. For her sake, he forced a small grin and nodded to her before making his escape.
Pride. He wasn't allowed pride. Not in this world.
Unlike Hermione, Harry was nothing special as a wizard, and he didn't mind labouring all day with his body rather than his magic or his brain. In some distant part of his mind was the vague suspicion that, purism or no purism, he might well have found himself working in this position, and so he didn't feel the sting on his own behalf that rose whenever he saw Hermione's sticky aprons and stained hands.
Even more, the goblins delighted in seeing a wizard in a servile position beneath them, and though their sneering smugness was directed at him, he couldn't help but empathise with his pleasure, and he made a point to be as meek as possible towards them to boost their good feelings. It was no hardship for him, after all—he was no arrogant pureblood.
No, just an stupid, cursed half blood.
In the magical world, coming up with an alias was… challenging.
This was because there was actually no such thing as an alias in the magical world—all names were real, and no name could be claimed but one's own.
Names had a special kind of power when it came to magic. This was not necessarily the sort of power that let you control anyone who's name you had, but a more personal power: the power of identity.
There was a reason the Polyjuice Potion was so preferred over human transfiguration when it came to disguises, and it wasn't only the difficulty; after all, the Polyjuice Potion was exceptionally difficult to brew as well.
No, it all came down to names—the strands of hair dropped into the potion conferred the essence of the beings they had been taken from, including their appearances, their voices, and their right to their names. Without that right, granted until the potion wore off, the impersonator could only accept others' pronouncements of their assumed names, but never use them to introduce themselves.
Given names were a little more flexible—names that sounded similar, or that were derivatives, or that were original forms, these were all easily swapped between. Even descriptive nicknames could be claimed, such as in the case of Harry's Uncle Moony.
But surnames, family names—they were conferred by right only. Even the Dark Lord had never claimed a family name for himself.
Family names could only be claimed by right of magic, right of blood, or right of oath, and some families had gone the extra step of ensuring their names needed a combination of the three to be claimed.
Harry had a better knowledge of the complexity of name rights than most, given his employment at Gringotts. Upon first arriving during his application process, the goblins had grabbed his hand, pricked his finger, and dribbled his blood across a blank sheet of parchment. As the liquid made contact with the surface, designs began twisting and weaving their way over the paper, which had changed from the size of a pocket square to an endlessly rolling scroll.
"Hmm," said Griphook, the goblin leading his interview. "Granger, you said?" His voice was dripping smugness.
Harry tried not to look down, but he could see the gleaming Potter coat of arms in the corners of his eyes. He swallowed. "Yes, sir."
"M'yes, I see that you do lay claim to that name. Right of oath? But not a marriage vow."
"No, sir. A lateral adoption."
Griphook's lips sneered. His long, sharp fingers stroked the word HEIR under the Potter coat of arms.
Griphook said nothing more. Harry squirmed as the goblin continued to quietly study the sprawling document, sure that he was being stalled and that the Dark Lord was on his way at that exact moment, cloaked in malice and carrying death.
Finally, Griphook rolled the document closed and said, "We do not tolerate slackers, Mr Granger. You will arrive on time, you will work efficiently according to your instructions, and you will take no unnecessary breaks. Do I make myself clear?"
"Yes, sir," said Harry, and he nearly cried with relief.
His subsequent time at Gringotts observing the goblins had slowly taught him that although right of blood was the most common way to claim names, it was also relatively short-lived. While right of magic could confer a name unused for centuries to someone who mastered a particular, rare magic or spell that has been bound as an inheritance, right of blood was only strong enough to claim an unused name for a few generations at most. Harry could claim his mother's name or his father's name, but not his parents' mother's names, frustrating as it was. His maternal grandmother's name would have greatly reduced the strain over coming up with new disguises.
An ancient way of extending the right of blood was to combine it with the right of magic; this way, as long as the family's magical traditions were passed down, the name could be claimed by any descendents, regardless of whether their parents had claimed that name themselves. Harry knew he could claim the name Peverell in this way, but as a means of flying under the radar in magical society, Peverell would be even worse than Potter.
Modern magical families, on the other hand, tended to prefer to combine the right of blood with right of oath, thus conferring their names to favoured nieces and granddaughters.
Regardless, coming up with an unrecognisable identity was just as difficult in the wizarding world as it was in the muggle world, despite the magic and the potions and the general lack of picture ID cards with embedded chips and watermarks. All anyone had to do to destroy a carefully laid identity was ask, "And you name is?" and the whole disguise would come crumbling apart when the false name could not be spoken.
When Harry and Hermione had met in the crumbling streets of London during the worst part of the war, when daily explosions were the norm and Hogwarts an impossibility for muggleborns, Hermione had offered Harry use of her name.
That, more than the food she ingeniously learned how to scrounge, or the magically masked shelter she'd managed to create—she, an untrained child!—that name had been what saved his life.
And so if Hermione wanted him do to this incredibly stupid thing, Harry would do this incredibly stupid thing and be grateful to do it.
"How do I look?" he asked, standing in front of their cracked mirror.
Hermione looked at him critically. "No, no, I don't think so. You're much too handsome. It would be better if you looked plainer. A boring, common face."
"I didn't change myself that much," Harry said, scowling at his transfigured face and trying to work out what was handsome about it.
"That's what I mean," said Hermione nonsensically, and began waving her wand at him.
Her wand! It was still rather marvelous to think that they were allowed wands now. They had studied magic themselves, piecing together rules and limitations of magic through their own wandless experimentation and whatever books they could find—or steal—on the subject, until Uncle Moony had found them and offered them what lessons he could and access to his old school books.
And then, when Harry had been sixteen, the Dark Lord, apparently finally satisfied with the destruction he had wrought, began passing new laws that were meant to slowly reintegrate muggleborns into magical society—on the purebloods' terms, of course.
When Hermione and Hadrian Granger registered as muggleborn siblings, the witch at the counter didn't even blink, despite them looking nothing alike—being different races, even. Harry would have liked to believe this was due to open-mindedness, but he suspected that it was simply that she cared so little for the children of muggles that she didn't even look at them.
They enrolled in the mandatory cultural courses designed to impress upon them their inferiority, and then they were sent off with study materials, old, worn, barely useable wands, and a month's time to prepare for their OWLs.
They weren't supposed to pass, but they did.
But no, it was a different sort of bigotry he was here to discuss today.
The pub was already full to bursting, and he smiled around vaguely before heading up to the bar.
"Hullo," he said, and he barely managed to stop himself from wincing at the sweet, mellow voice that rose from his throat. "I'm Henry Evans. I believe I'm scheduled to be attacked by pitchforks and torches."
The old man at the bar didn't react to this statement at all other than to shove a stained and crumpled bit of parchment at him, but another patron, nursing a drink at the bar within earshot, laughed.
When Harry turned to face the man, he received a sudden and furious crash course in what Hermione must have been thinking when she made all of her micro-adjustments to his facial features to make him look just a little more bland. He hadn't been able to see the difference in himself beyond the large-scale changes—he reckoned he was rather bland to start with—but in this man, Harry could see how every infinitesimal line and curve of his face added up into perfection, as though some complicated arithmantic equation had been been used to align his face into the apex of beauty. Distilling him down to dark hair, clear skin, and sly blue eyes was really missing the point.
Because a Harry by any other name still acts as stupid, he found himself somehow managing to trip over a bar stool, despite that he'd been standing still. The mysterious, gorgeous stranger did not move to help him, but his smile was not unkind as Harry righted himself, face flaming.
"Pardon me," Harry mumbled, and to distract himself, he peered down at the parchment he'd been handed by the barkeep.
It appeared to be a list of rules, mostly involving the prevention of property damage, and absolutely none of them particularly informative as to where he was meant to set himself up.
"Right," he sighed. "I don't suppose you'd mind terribly if I go stand near the door for this? Having a blocked path to the exit doesn't seem ideal."
The barkeep shrugged, handed him an unasked-for drink, and demanded three sickles in exchange. Harry stared at him, unimpressed.
"Rather a pessimistic little thing, aren't you?" said a terribly lovely voice beside him. The beautiful man had come nearer. Harry was careful not to shiver. "I can put that on my tab, if you like," said the man, nodding to the drink.
Harry's face had barely had the chance to lose his blush, but now he felt all the blood and more returning. "I've got it, thanks," he said firmly, but he softened the words with a smile. "And I'm not pessimistic. Just… cautious."
The man's eyebrows lifted, but Harry's—Henry's—talk was about to begin, so he quickly excused himself and shuffled over to the corner by the door, drink in hand.
"Good evening," he called out, relieved to discover that his disguised voice was able to project despite its softness. "I'm Henry Evans, and I've been told I'm supposed to talk to some people about a book."
This announcement, strangely enough, produced cheers. Harry wondered what they were waiting for, and could only imagine that whatever it was, they were bound to be disappointed.
"That's not actually what I'm going to do, though," Harry continued as the audience quieted—the strangely packed audience! Was he some sort of pre-act? Was there a better show on after him, and all these people just wanted to reserve a table? That would be just like Hermione to plan for.
"Instead, I'm going to use some book to talk about a people."
He spoke, as planned, about dwindling magical power and birthrates as a result of inbreeding. He brought up the benefits that genetic and magical diversity could have on a bloodline. He cited long-dead bloodline researchers and brought up diagrams with a wave of his wand. The reactions to his talk were… strange, honestly. He'd expected jeers, interruptions, and arguments, and Hermione had as much as admitted that she expected the same. Instead, nearly everyone stared at him eagerly, eating up his words like candy. He felt he must be the butt of some joke, but he couldn't figure out what it might be.
Still, he continued, because that was what he had promised to do, until he finally wound down and asked, without any of the fear he felt, if there were any questions.
"Well, of course I agree with your points about the importance of muggleborns to continue our society, that's perfectly obvious to everyone—"
And Harry nearly choked at the absurdity of that statement. As recently as ten years ago, he and Hermione would have been legally killed on sight if they'd been caught in wizarding neighbourhoods, and many, less vigilant or less lucky muggleborns had been.
"And of course there's been some… unpleasantness in the treatment of muggleborns, but that's all in the past. Why bother to kick up a storm over this now, when it's a non-issue?"
It was hard—harder than it had been to be locked in the Dursley's cupboard, harder than it had been to go for days without food, harder than it had been to fall asleep with a back covered in welts from hexes he'd been hit with as he ran from Knockturn Alley clutching Hermione's hand. It was hard, but he smiled at the elderly witch who'd asked the question, and he kept his voice gentle as he replied, "That's an interesting point. You're absolutely right that life as a muggleborn in England is far safer than it was ten years ago." He had to bite back a snarled, and what a low bar that is to cross. He waited until the witch settled back in her seat, satisfied at her point, before he continued. "But how does the situation of muggleborns today compare to fifty years ago? Muggleborns at that time were permitted to own businesses, to enter the ministry, even to lead departments. There was even a muggleborn minister for magic!" Protests began spreading through the crowd, and Harry raised a hand to silence them. It worked, somehow. "I know, I know… Not a particularly popular minister, but I had to make the point." There was a wave of chuckles. "We can take a look at other countries and see the same thing—America, India, China… they all manage to have much more political and social freedom for their muggleborn citizens despite having much stricter laws maintaining their versions of the Statute of Secrecy."
Muttering was rising in the audience again, but this time, Harry let it.
"I want to be clear that I'm not recommending that Britain adopt any of those policies, or that we return to the laws of 50 years ago. I'm just saying that how good muggleborns have it in Britain right now is relative, and with those examples in place, you can hardly claim that all of the unpleasantness is truly in the past, nor can you claim that all social order would completely crumble from beneath us if a muggleborn were to work at passing laws rather than scrubbing floors."
Bizarrely, another cheer rose up in the audience. He could not for the life of him read these people. Hadn't they just been unhappy with him? Was there another, simultaneous talk happening that they were all listening to instead?
"To be honest, madam, I'm actually very grateful that you asked that question, because it's a perfect lead-in to that new book I brought up in the beginning. So far, my talk has focused on my past books as a kind of background to the topic, but now let’s discuss my newest book, which of course you will never read because it's banned," he paused here to wink cheerfully, and the audience booed. "That book, Purity vs. Progress, focusses on some of the sacrifices we have made for purity that go beyond the biological and social and straight into the cultural."
The audience was dead silent now, hanging on his every word, and it was unnerving.
"You see, and this is a bit embarrassing, but Britain hasn't invented all that many new potions lately, or developed all that many new spells."
A roar of protests went up, and Harry simply waited it out.
"Yes, we have invented some, obviously, and they're brilliant. But compared to almost every other wizarding community, we haven't really been pulling our weight. Even our fashion industry is growing stagnant. Why is that?"
He looked out at the unhappy faces of his audience members. Finally, the correct reactions!
"Okay, I admit—a lot of it has nothing to do with the presence of muggleborns."
His audience guffawed, seemingly with whiplash.
"We've been through war after war, and that's taken its toll on us culturally as well as socially, economically, and politically."
There were somber nods and grunts of agreement, now.
"But keeping muggleborns out of our research and development industries, out of our policy crafting, out of our education system—that hasn't been helping. To have fresh ideas, we need fresh backgrounds, fresh points of view. 28 families, exceptional though they may be, can't push this nation forward on their own. Muggleborns are needed, and if we're going to be of any help, we need to be trusted with some of the responsibility."
Again a cheer. Who were these people?
"Anyway, that's all the time I've been given"—thank Merlin—"but thank you all for listening, and please do not buy my book, as it is illegal to do so. Good night!"
Laughter, and roaring applause. Harry squinted suspiciously at their pints. Maybe they were really drunk? What were they drinking?
He looked down at his own pint, which he had managed to nearly empty as he'd spoken, but now he was wondering if drinking an unknown alcoholic beverage had perhaps been a mistake.
He sidled back up to the bar to return the glass and found another drink being pushed towards him.
"No way, that's not working again," he said, flashing a grin. "All my remaining sickles are mine, thank you, meagre though they might be."
The old man simply muttered that it was "on th'house," before dunking down under the counter.
Harry frowned after him before looking down and poking his drink.
"You look like a suspicious cat," said the gorgeous patron from earlier, coming up to stand nerve-wrackingly close. Harry had managed to spend the entire talk without ever focussing on him for fear of combustion, which had at one point involved an odd jerk of the head at the last moment that had nearly pulled a muscle in his neck.
"Er," said Harry. "Just wondering what I'm drinking, that's all."
"Truly the question of the hour," said the man, smiling. His teeth were extremely straight. Hermione's parents, if they were still out there, would be overcome with admiration. "I'm not sure anyone has ever been brave enough to ask Aberforth for a recipe of his fascinating creations. Did you never come here during school?"
Harry stared at him in surprise and confusion. "I—I mean, I never went to Hogwarts, obviously," he said, laughing awkwardly. "Muggleborn, remember?"
The man was staring at him with a frightening intensity now. "There was never a ban on muggleborns attending."
Harry snorted. "Not officially, I suppose, but we weren't likely to be able to just walk up to the castle, were we, not when being caught in wizarding areas was a death sentence."
"I'm not talking about the laws, I'm talking about the reality," Harry interrupted, and from the flickering in the other man's expression, he suspected that interruptions were not something this man typically experienced, especially not by a muggleborn. "Pardon me, sir," Harry corrected, "But I am fully aware of the laws, both written and unwritten. It was not illegal for a muggleborn to walk down Diagon Alley, no, but it also wasn't illegal to attack any muggleborn there. Our only option was to hide in the muggle sectors, where the Statute of Secrecy, when it was reinstated, offered us some protection. Anyway, how were we to go to school when we weren't permitted to possess a wand without proof of wizarding heritage?"
The man's perfect lips were now pressed together into a thin white line.
Harry had the growing suspicion that all the pitchforks and torches in the world would be less dangerous than this man if he kept pissing him off, but he couldn't stop himself from making one more point.
"Besides which, the Snatchers used to trace Hogwarts letters to find and capture muggleborn children. When letters carried by owls tend to be accompanied by snarling men with torture sticks, you learn pretty quickly to avoid them."
"My mistake," said the man lowly, his eyes burning, and Harry glanced away uncomfortably. The crowd had not diminished, but they seemed to be holding themselves back from approaching the bar, and they all seemed to be staring at him.
Harry cleared his throat. "So, er, who's up next?" he asked.
The man stared at him without blinking, and for a long moment, Harry thought he wasn't going to tolerate the awkward change of topic. Then, the man's shoulders relaxed abruptly, and though no more lovely smiles were forthcoming, Harry felt some of his own tension seep out of him. "Up next?" the man asked.
"Yeah, I mean... There are so many people here. But, as we—I mean, I've never been here before, so I guess I don't know what a normal crowd is for this place."
The man hummed thoughtfully. He rested his hand on the counter, and something in Harry lurched at the sight of those long, elegant fingers stroking the cracked wood. Harry quickly tugged his eyes back to the man's face, where a small smirk provided evidence that his distraction had been noticed. "The normal crowd would be, I suppose, a few unsettling hooded figures crouching in the corners and a circle of terrified students, waiting out the terms of their dare."
Harry laughed, and then worried that it might have been presumptuous of him to share in the joke, but the other man seemed pleased. "I'm Tom, if you're curious," he added, voice now approaching a purr.
Harry somehow managed to blush darker than he had all evening. "I—thank you," he managed. How did one respond in a situation like this? People like this weren't courteous to someone like him. He didn't know what to say.
The man—Tom, and what an interestingly common appellation for such an uncommon person—frowned, as though that wasn't the reaction he had expected.
"That is," Harry stammered on, "I mean—oh, bugger, I'm sorry. I'm afraid that I don't know the correct response."
Tom's eyebrows shot up. "I see," he said. "Well, then, I suppose I shall have to instruct you."
"Thank you," said Harry, increasingly mortified at himself.
"The correct way to respond in our particular case would have been, 'It's such a pleasure to meet you, Tom. Won't you buy me a drink?' Now, why don't you give it a try?"
Harry could no longer raise his eyes from where his hands were clenched around his pint. "You don't mean that."
Tom slid his smooth fingers under Harry's chin and tilted his face up towards him. "Do not tell me what I do and do not mean, Henry Evans."
The use of his alias brought Harry jolting back to himself. What was he doing? He should be making a break for it before the mob got itself sorted. And where was his follow-up act?
"It is a pleasure to meet you, Mr Tom," he said, licking dry lips. Tom's eyes followed the movement, and the man gave a quirking sort of smirk. "I'm afraid I have to be heading out soon, or else I'd be hoping that you'd consider buying me a drink."
Tom's smirk fell, and it was like watching a unicorn die. "So soon?"
"Well, I'm worried that my sister might be waiting up for me"—no, what was he saying, too much information, distract him—"and I'm getting concerned that I might be holding up the whoever's up next."
Tom's expression wavered for a moment. "There's no one 'up next,' Henry. All these people came here to see you."
Harry looked around doubtfully. That was lot of people here to see a muggleborn prance around like a trick pony.
"So your sister… she's a witch, too?"
Bugger, bugger, bugger! How could he have been so careless?
"Er, yeah," he said, squirming. He pushed away his pint, which was still half full of its mystery beverage. "I'd really better get going. Thanks again. It really has been a pleasure.”
Pale, elegant fingers curled around Harry’s forearm. “We should meet again. Here, if you like.”
Harry bit his lip, hesitating. “I’m not sure…”
“Perhaps I could get you a tour of Hogwarts, since you’ve never been. Your sister could come.”
Harry inhaled sharply before he could stop himself, and Tom gave a satisfied smirk. Harry wanted, so desperately, to see what the famed school of witchcraft and wizardry was like, and he knew Hermione felt the same.
“I’ll send you an owl with the details,” Tom promised easily, his posture all loose and smug.
Harry looked away and nodded sharply before gently pulling away.
As he moved away from the bar, the pub’s crowd, apparently waiting for this moment, began to surge towards him, and he took this as a sign to pick up the pace and disapparate directly outside the pub, rude or not.
“Well,” asked Hermione as he shook off his transfiguration and watched with satisfaction as his hands darkened back to normal. “How did it go?”
Harry shrugged. “I honestly have no idea. The place was packed, and I only really left them time for one question—”
“—But no one threw any hexes at me or anything. They even cheered and laughed sometimes! It was strange.”
Uncle Moony said, “I suppose you attracted a rather liberal crowd,” and his scarred face showed none of the unrealistic optimism in humanity that Hermione’s did.
“Yeah. And it was weird, like they were from a whole different world or something. As though they’d never heard of muggleborns not being allowed to go to Hogwarts and getting attacked on the streets and whatnot.”
Uncle Moony frowned as he exchanged glances with Hermione. “Your sister and I—” and Uncle Moony always called Hermione ‘Harry’s sister’ these days. Purebloods had such strange ideas about family and blood. He hadn’t reacted well when he had finally found Harry after years of searching and had then been introduced to someone he very forcefully maintained was not Harry’s sister, thank you, as though he thought it had been Hermione who had held Harry captive in cupboards and lied to him about who he was, or who had kidnapped him and tried to torture him before he was able to escape. Now, as a quiet apology, Uncle Moony made sure to recognise Hermione and Harry’s familial bond at every opportunity, and as a reward, Harry made sure to slip in plenty of ‘uncles,’ which never failed to make Uncle Moony smile. “We’ve discussed this before as well. I actually met someone on the street who—well, they were… very unkind to me in the past. And they greeted me warmly, as though they didn’t remember anything past our schoolboy friendship. It was very… peculiar.”
At the mention of ‘school,’ Harry cleared his throat. “So, er… I also met someone. At the pub.”
Hermione and Uncle Moony both stared at him in disbelief, their jaws hanging open.
“Not like that!” Harry protested, but then honesty drove him to admit, “Okay, it was a little like that. I mean, he was tremendously attractive.”
“Oh?” asked Uncle Moony, flashing a weak grin that didn’t quite hide the concern in his eyes.
“Yeah, and he did flirt with me a bit.”
“You mean, he flirted with Henry Evans,” said Hermione disapprovingly.
Hermione frowned, but finally shrugged and said grudgingly, “I suppose that as long as you don’t see him again, it shouldn’t be a problem.”
“Yeah, about that…”
“He invited us to Hogwarts! He said he could get us a tour. I don’t know if he was just bragging in the moment, but… I mean, if it’s possible, I…”
Hermione had gone still. “Yes,” she agreed in a small voice. “If it’s possible…”
Uncle Moony watched them with sad eyes. He cleared his throat and asked quietly, “How was he meant to contact you?”
“He said he’d send an owl, though I don’t reckon it’d get through our wards. I expect his next step would be to send the owl to my publishers, and that they’ll forward it on to my box at Gringotts.”
“Alright,” said Uncle Moony. “Please be careful.”
Harry reached out and took Hermione’s hand, and she nodded at him, tearful. “We will,” Harry promised solemnly. “We always are.”
He probably hasn’t even bothered to write me in the first place, even if he’s intending to, Harry reminded himself sharply. And it’ll be a while after he does before it will occur to him to contact my publishers instead of me directly.
He thought that he was hiding his desolation fairly well, but then Griphook paused in the middle of a rather confusing diatribe about the inadequacy of wizards to squint at him over his spectacles. After a moment, realisation and a small amount of grudging sympathy crept into his sour expression. “Ah,” he said. “I know that face. Made a bad deal, did you?”
Harry opened his mouth to protest, and then closed it again consideringly. He supposed that that was one way of looking at it. “More like, I was offered a really good deal, and now I’m very suspicious of it and reckon that it won’t happen at all, sir.”
Griphook eyed him appraisingly. “Or worse, that you will be compensated according to the letter of a deal that you didn’t study the details of.”
Harry winced. “Yes, sir. Or that.”
Griphook sighed. “Well, you are young. I made some poor deals in my own youth as well.”
Harry smiled weakly, and the conversation ended there.
When his shift ended, Harry headed to the deposit boxes to check one more time for a message. There were none, and Harry deflated. He was so lost in his misery that he made a series of disastrous mistakes, one after the other.
First, he didn’t watch where he was going, and on exiting the room in his haze, he collided with someone trying to enter. Not so long ago, this could have been a death sentence from a certain type of entitled pureblood wizard, and so Harry snapped onto his guard, readying himself to fight or run. As panic rose within him, he looked up to see who it was he had inconvenienced, and was startled and relieved to discover that it was Tom.
In his relief, he made his next, even worse mistake: he babbled. “Oh! I didn’t expect to see you here! That is, when you said you’d owl, I thought you might try to send it to—oh, but you’re obviously not here for me, I don’t know why I assumed—”
“Henry?” asked Tom, his elegant eyebrows raised.
“Oh, yes, sorry, of course you don’t remember—” because I was bloody well transfigured at the time, Harry remembered abruptly—”I mean… no. Sorry, I’m a… friend of Henry’s.”
Tom laughed at him. “I’m hardly surprised that you chose to disguise yourself, given the controversy of your work.”
Harry nodded silently, furious with himself.
Tom noticed, of course, but it only seemed to amuse him. He took a bold step closer and reached out to gently lift Harry’s hand to his lips. Harry felt that he might explode at any moment, though he wasn’t sure if it would be due to fury with himself, embarrassment at the situation, or joy at seeing Tom again.
“But which is the disguise, Henry?” asked Tom in almost a coo.
Technically, both were disguises, though his current appearance was the truer of the two. Meeting the Snatchers just before he turned 11 had taught Harry the importance of hiding his name and the distinctive curse scar on his forehead, and meeting Uncle Moony later had taught him the importance of hiding his striking resemblance to his long-dead father and thus his status as the prophecised Potter heir. Muggle concealer, invisible to any detection spells, smoothed over the curse scar, and some powerful cosmetic spells calmed the mess of his hair. Between that and a different type of frame for his glasses, the resemblance to his father was fleeting enough that he hadn’t been recognised yet. Sometimes, hiding this last connection to his father seemed like the biggest sacrifice of all. At least he was still able to use his mother’s name, told to him by Uncle Moony.
“I used transfiguration and a few glamour charms to disguise myself for the meeting at Hog’s Head. I was...rather frightened.”
“Yes, I remember,” said Tom, his eyes lazily tracing over Harry’s features. “How unusual, to use glamours to make yourself less appealing.”
Harry frowned, not entirely certain that he was pleased with the statement.
“Don’t mind me,” said Tom, seeming to catch himself. “I don’t know that I paid you much attention the other day before you opened your mouth and started talking,” he shot Harry a grin.
Harry flushed, confused. Obviously, that was the point!
“But once I did notice you, you were rather cute when I met you back at the pub. Still, there’s a difference between rather cute, and, well,” Tom waved his hand at Harry.
There was really, Harry felt, no way to take that but as an insult, whether Tom meant the comparison to benefit his current form or his alias’. His mind was furious. His mind demanded that he politely excuse himself from Tom’s company and stomp right out the door, beluring eyes and Hogwarts visits be damned.
His mind demanded all of this, but what his mouth actually did was to protest, “My sister thinks I’m perfectly handsome!” And then he had to close his eyes and let the mortification rain down on him.
Tom laughed. Tom could hardly stop laughing. Unlike his smiles, and his voice, and basically everything else about him, Tom’s laughter was rather silly. Harry couldn’t help but like it.
“Love, I’m certain everyone on the planet can see that you’re perfectly handsome, though I would probably describe you more as ‘stunningly beautiful,’” said Tom when he finally managed to calm himself. Even in his mirth, he didn’t miss Harry’s reaction to the pet name, and he smirked in triumph.
“I’m not sure—” Harry began, but then Griphook’s voice echoed behind him.
“Mr Granger? Are you still here? You’re no longer scheduled.”
“No, sir, I’m just leaving” said Harry, attempting to step away from Tom only to find that sometime during their interaction, Tom’s hand had come up to rest at the small of his back and was now holding him in place.
When Griphook came into view, he frowned severely at the sight of the two of them standing together so closely.
Tom smiled again, and this smile contained just as many teeth but none of the teasing of his previous ones. “Griphook,” he greeted mildly. “I apologise for distracting Mr… Granger, did you say?”
“Mr Riddle,” Griphook acknowledged, but then said nothing more.
This new piece of information caught Harry’s attention, though. Riddle wasn’t one of the pureblood names that he could remember, but perhaps it was a smaller family?
Tom seemed displeased at Griphook’s reticence. “Strangely enough, though, I know him as Mr Evans,” he prodded.
“He has the right to both the name of Granger and the name of Evans,” said Griphook neutrally. “Do you require assistance, Mr Riddle?” he asked pointedly. “The bank will be closing soon.”
“Oh, no, I’m all set,” said Tom, turning his sharp gaze to Harry. “I just had a letter here for Mr Granger.”
Harry brightened at once. “Do you?” he asked, forgetting himself.
“Mr Granger, staying after hours tonight does not mean that you will be permitted to begin late tomorrow,” cautioned Griphook sternly.
“No, sir,” Harry agreed. “Pardon me.”
Tom handed him a heavy envelope with a curious smile. “I hope to see you soon, love.”
Harry blushed again, particularly under the weighty stare of Griphook. “Thank you,” he said. “My sister was also very excited at the prospect of visiting Hogwarts.”
“Hermione Granger, is it?”
Harry’s neck ached with the speed that he snapped his head up to stare at Tom.
“I recognise the name ‘Granger’ from proposals submitted to the Wizengamot. Very clever. Rather a political family, aren’t you?”
Tom’s teasing smile seemed to invite reciprocation, but Harry’s mouth was suddenly very dry. “I didn’t realise that she’d attracted much notice.”
“Perhaps not overall.”
Harry did not find that statement particularly reassuring, but he forced his muscles to relax. “I see,” he said. “Well, it was lovely seeing you again, Mr Tom. I will respond to your letter as quickly as possible.”
“I’m gratified,” Tom replied, that soft purr back in his voice. “And when will I convince you to call me just Tom?”
Harry cleared his throat, flustered again despite his fear for his sister. “I couldn’t say.”
Tom smirked at him, but he finally released Harry from his hold, and Harry slipped away with a polite bow to Griphook, who returned it with a solemn nod.
Harry couldn’t resist a glance back as he walked away. Tom was still watching him, his hands casually placed in his pockets, and a smile curving his lips.
Purebloods don’t want to love people like me, they want to dominate us, Harry reminded himself sternly, and somehow, with the smug, possessive light in Tom’s eyes, it wasn’t terribly difficult to convince himself of its truth.
“Hallo, Hadrian,” said Florean as Harry stepped up to the parlour counter. “Come for some discount ice cream, have you?”
“I’m afraid not,” Harry replied, laughing. “Is my sister nearly finished?”
“Near enough,” said Florean. “Hermione,” he called over his shoulder. “A young man is here to carry you off.”
Hermione popped into view from the backroom. “Oh no, not you,” she said as her eyes met Harry’s. “Florean, you got my hopes up!”
Harry made a face at her and waved goodbye to Florean. The bell tinkled just as they were approaching the door, and they stepped aside to make room for the new customer.
The door was glass, and the front of the parlour was walled with windows, and so they would have had a clear view of anyone on the street outside if they’d been paying attention. But they were tired from a long day of work, and Harry was a mess of emotions from his brief run-in with Tom, and so it wasn’t until the Snatcher was directly in front of them that they recognised him.
They knew him. They’d just managed to escape from him countless times before during their long years in hiding. They knew him, and more to the point, he knew them.
Harry didn’t dare take his eyes off the Snatcher, but as he reached for his wand, he knew Hermione was doing the same. They tensed, readying themselves for the attack.
The Snatcher looked at them with disinterested recognition. He nodded at them absently and then headed for the counter, seeming to forget about their presence completely.
Harry and Hermione exchanged uncertain glances. They hurried from the parlour, looking back anxiously to make sure the Snatcher wasn’t following them. He was now standing before the counter, receiving a brightly coloured scoop of ice cream with niffler-shaped sprinkles.
Harry and Hermione gripped one another’s hands tightly and Hermione apparated them home.
“What was that?” demanded Harry, still shaking with nerves even with the familiar feeling of their wards surrounding him.
Hermione bit her lip, wrapping her arms around herself. “He didn’t remember us. Or, he did, but not properly, as though our history with him had been rewritten, or softened. It’s just like Moony described.”
“Merlin,” Harry breathed, pacing around their tiny sitting room.
“It’s fine,” said Hermione. “We’ll figure out whatever this is, and in the meantime, we’ll keep our heads down.”
Harry shook his head. “It’s a little late for that,” he said.
“What do you mean?”
“I met Tom at Gringotts today.”
Hermione stared at him. “What, not the fit bloke from the pub?”
“Yes, that Tom,” said Harry. “And he recognised the name ‘Granger,’ as being one that submits regular proposals to the Wizengamot. He was even able to pull up your given name.”
Hermione put her face into her hands.
“And he knows that I’m Henry Evans,” Harry confessed. “I buggered everything up today, Merlin.”
“It’s fine,” said Hermione again, but this time it sounded less like a statement and more like a plea. “We’ll figure this out.”
Yes, Henry Evans had the secret of only existing in his publisher's author records, and Hadrian Granger had the secret of alternate identities, including both Henry Evans and Harry Potter. But Harry Potter also had a secret, one that he kept even from Uncle Moony.
Hermione entered the room and closed the door softly behind her. "He's in his cage," she whispered. "Are you ready?"
It was terrible that Uncle Moony had to suffer being locked in a cage in the basement every full moon, especially now that Wolfsbane Potion was becoming more and more accessible on the Continent and in the colonies. If they were in Spain, Uncle Moony would be able to curl up in his bed and sleep the night away after a painless and controlled transformation. But here in Britain, he faced the indignity of being caged like an animal and the agony of tearing himself apart.
It was terrible, but it gave Harry the opportunity to do this and keep it a secret.
"I'm ready," said Harry, trying to push all thoughts of Uncle Moony from his mind. "Are you?"
Hermione raised the dagger and the cheap plastic wine glass—their ceremonial goblet—with a tremulous smile. She had never liked that part, when it was necessary. "How long until you plan to return?"
"I get the feeling that this will take a long time. Give me until an hour before sunrise."
The sun had been setting at around 19:30, recently, and not rising until just after 06:30. That would extend Uncle Moony's torment, but it would give Harry more time to try to find answers before his absence would be noticed by Uncle Moony.
Hermione only nodded, pale. The nights of the full moon had become a long double vigil for her.
"It'll be fine, 'Mione," Harry said, smiling crookedly. "I've gotten good at finding my way back again. It's been ages since you've had to, you know," he gestured awkwardly at the glass and dagger.
She nodded again, not seeming overly reassured. But she came over to him and kissed his forehead, hugging him for a long moment. "Come home safely," she said quietly, and he hugged her back just as tightly.
"Always," he promised, as he always did, and she stepped away and watched as he began the ritual.
Harry and Hermione had found the book years before they met Uncle Moony. It was with several others that they'd discovered in the wreckage of a destroyed building—a potions lab of some kind, perhaps. Unlike many of the other lost buildings, this one hadn't been a casualty of the war, but instead had been destroyed by a magical accident. It hadn't yet been picked over by anyone, and the plunder had been excellent.
The book was old and tattered, and it described a means of magic unlike any they'd encountered in their other scavenged books. This magic was not activated by a series of wand movements and an incantation—always frustrating for Harry and Hermione, who had to work backwards from the magical theory to work out how or if they might do the spell wandlessly—but instead with a curious set of symbols—runes, they learned—and strange, bloody rituals. Hermione found the runic theory interesting, and it helped her work out more and different means of wandless application, but she wasn't successful at actually conducting most of the rituals that they attempted from the book. For Harry, though, this new magic came curiously easily, as though it was something he'd learned before and simply needed to brush up on. He had used the rituals from the book to set up powerful wards that were invisible to all of the common types of detection spells and most of the uncommon ones, too.
And then he went a little deeper.
Harry drew a final rune with his pricked finger and closed his eyes. He no longer needed the full ritual, as he once had. Now, he simply needed the activation runes, and with a little mental jiggling, he could open his eyes to find himself—
He used to see this place as a bus centre, with people milling around to stand at all the different stops. None of the buses were labelled, but somehow everyone seemed to know which bus they were meant to get on.
Lately, he usually saw it as a train station. He wasn't sure why, as he rarely used trains, but one day, as he'd walked through King's Cross Station with Hermione on their way to their integration class, he'd looked around with a strange feeling of déjà vu; he had been to King’s Cross before, but he now he felt a wave of unexpected emotion at the sight of it, as though the station were deeply important to him in some way. He'd shaken the feeling off before Hermione noticed, but since then, more and more he found himself greeted by the whistling of trains rather than the honking of buses.
Tonight, he was stood before a train at Hogsmeade station, but rather than the single track belonging to the Hogwarts Express, he was surrounded by a nexus of railways.
He looked up, squinting to see past the swirling fog around him, but he couldn't catch any sight of the ancient looming castle that should be rising above the trains.
"What do you see, little Master?"
Harry tore his eyes away from the horizon and settled them on the elderly man who'd stepped up before him with an odd smile on his face.
But then, everything about this man was odd.
"Gellert," he greeted politely. "Has Albus still not come through, then?"
"I'm afraid not," said Gellert, though he didn't sound unhappy. Of course, if Albus hadn't come through, then he was still alive. Even ghosts made a brief stop at the Station before they returned to haunt their previous world.
"I'm at a train station, still, but it's a different one now. One I visited recently in person."
"Curious," said Gellert, his eyes focussing on Harry unnervingly. "Did something significant occur during the visit?"
"Maybe? I'm not sure."
"Not something significant to your plans or your person. I am speaking of something significant emotionally." His lips quirked, as if he knew the answer already, and his eyes remained fixed on Harry's with a kind of hunger that reminded him, disorientingly, of Tom's. But while there was a, well, a heat in Tom's gaze on him, Gellert had no interest in Harry's body. When alive, Gellert had torn the world apart in his search for the ultimate power, but now, in this place where power in the normal way of things had no meaning, Gellert hungered for a different kind of power: knowledge.
"I met someone," Harry acknowledged, knowing that this was what Gellert expected of him. "But I'm sure he isn't why the landscape changed."
"How can you be so certain, little Master?"
Harry looked around him, feeling—something. Something like choking, like a cruel squeeze in his chest. "Because this is Hogsmeade, the wizarding village on the outskirts of the grounds to Hogwarts. The significant emotional component is sort of… built in."
Gellert had frozen. Harry knew he would, and he felt a little bad about it. Albus had attended Hogwarts, had taught at Hogwarts, been headmaster of Hogwarts, and had disappeared from Hogwarts.
"I see," said Gellert finally. "So you visited the school?"
"No, but I’ll get to have the opportunity to do that soon. I was just in the village."
This was not the conversation Harry wanted to have, but the dead had their own timeframe and their own interests, and Harry had found he tended to have more luck satisfying his own curiosity if he satisfied theirs first.
Gellert was silent, staring around himself searchingly, but Harry knew that he couldn't see what Harry did. Whatever the dead saw when they came here, it wasn't anything like a train station.
"I've never been to Hogwarts," said Gellert finally. "I can offer you no answers on that front." This was an invitation of sorts, permission for Harry to move on from their conversation and seek his answers elsewhere.
But Harry hadn't come here to talk about Hogwarts.
"I know," he said. "There's been this phenomenon that my sister and uncle and I have noticed—people seem like they've started completely forgetting about the war, even when it comes to their own personal grievances."
Gellert's mismatched eyes brightened again, as Harry knew they would. Gellert loved mysteries. "Is this a total lack of recollection? Have entire events been lost to them? Are the lost memories isolated or chronological? How widespread is the attack?"
Gellert was very interested in mindfuckery of all kinds, so it stood to reason that he'd have a special interest in memory.
"I don't really know much of anything yet in terms of verified details. This—Hogsmeade, I mean—is actually where I noticed it, but my sister and uncle had already seen some signs."
"Er… it seems to be a community spread, affecting most everyone. I'm not sure if the memories are completely wiped or anything… It seems as though everyone's walking around in some sort of revisionist history, where the atrocities have become unpleasant rather than just… horrific."
Gellert hummed thoughtfully. "And what makes you think this has a magical cause at all? It could simply be willful ignorance."
"It seems little soon for quite this level of historical revision to take hold, though, doesn't it? It's only been a few years, and it's like they think nothing bad has ever happened to muggleborns!"
"Perhaps," said Gellert with a humourless little smile. "But perhaps not."
"What about the personal-level forgetfulness, then? I met a Snatcher who'd hunted me for years, and he just gave me a vague sort nod and kept on walking! My uncle has met some of his old friends from school who tortured him during the war, and they acted like they'd never stopped being friends, like the only problem between them was a failure to exchange owls regularly!"
Gellert's eyebrows had shot up. "Now that is interesting, yes," he said. "Perhaps your next step should be to determine whether these memories truly are forgotten, and if so, whether the memories are suppressed or removed."
"But if they're not forgotten, then what?"
Gellert looked at him, smiling his strange smile. "This place," he said abruptly, "Hogwarts. You have a great emotional connection to it, yes. But why? You've never been there before."
"No, but I always wanted to. It was something like a… a symbol of all the things we were being denied. Or… like it could be salvation from all the pain we were suffering, if only we could get there."
"Yes, of course. A fortress as a symbol of safety, and a school as a symbol of growth. But I think there is more to it than that. I think that it is not only the connection that you, Harry Potter, feel towards Hogwarts that drives you, but also the connection that you, the Master, feel towards Hogwarts."
Harry frowned. "I'm not really a Master, though, not like you mean," he said. "I don't have the Deathly Hallows, and I've never looked for them."
"You had them once, and you'll have them again. But that's no matter—the Hallows are not the only means to master death, and surely your presence here proves to you that you've found another avenue."
Harry wasn't convinced, but he let it go. "So some other me in some other life felt such a profound love for Hogwarts that it carried over to me. Okay, fine. What does that mean for the memories?"
Gellert's smile was pleased. "That was an example of an emotional attachment for a place or event that can span universes; it reverberates within you so strongly that you would carry it with you no matter which of these trains you might travel on, despite the fact that you no longer remember the events that caused the initial emotion. What if we were to take that in reverse? Remove the emotional attachment to an event. Though the memories themselves would remain, they would be considered of no particular value."
"And you think that might be what happened here?"
"Perhaps. Or perhaps a combination of both. Memories may have been very gently suppressed or made less substantial, until they bear more similarities to memories of dreams than of physical experiences. And then, the emotions to those dreamlike memories could have been gently dimmed. In this way, there would be no gaping, debilitating absence of memory, but the memories could be stepped past."
"I think I understand," said Harry, chewing on his lip. "But this all seems sort of… I don't know, delicate? How could this be affecting basically all of Britain?"
Gellert grinned at him as though delighted by the question. Harry felt proud despite himself. "Yes, how? I have seen these techniques combined before in trauma patients, but always on an individual scale over the course of many sessions. However, I did once encounter someone who managed the type of memory suppression I described on a community level. A British beast expert by the name of Newt Scamander. That was fascinating enough in its own right. But to combine this wide-scale memory treatment with a de-emotionalisation… That would take quite the genius. I would be interested to meet him."
"Or her," said Harry pointedly. "Or them."
Gellert waved his hand dismissively.
"What can you tell me about the community spread you did encounter?" Harry asked.
"Oh, I'm hardly the expert," said Gellert. "You'll have to find Mr Scamander for that."
"Is he here? Is he alive?"
"I hardly keep track of the incoming minutia, little Master." Gellert seemed to be enjoying Harry's frustration a great deal.
Harry scowled. Well, he might as well try to call this Newt Scamander. He began to sit down, but Gellert stopped him. "Not now, Harry Potter. It's time for you to go."
"What? But it's not… I had ten hours!"
Gellert's smile was wistful, now. "Many magicks work rather… differently, in this place. Prophecy, though, is inherently linked to death magic, and sometimes I still hear its warnings. They are telling me now that you should return. Speak with your sister first, then sooth your uncle. Rest, if you can."
Harry wanted to be muleish about this, but after a moment, he nodded. "Alright. Goodbye, Gellert."
"Goodbye, little Master," said Gellert. "If you meet Albus, tell him that he was right, and I was wrong, and that I'm sorry."
"I will," Harry promised, as he had for years.
Harry closed his eyes, and then he opened them again.
Hermione was sobbing in front of him, and she was holding the dagger with shaking hands. She hadn't used it yet.
"Harry! You—how did you know?"
"How long has it been? What's going on?"
But then, he heard it. The howling was eerie and unlike any sound he'd ever heard from Uncle Moony during the full moon. "I don't understand. Did something happen to him?"
"Nothing that I know of. It's like he's reacting to some kind of potion somehow, but he's so careful about taking them! And he always mentions when he does. He didn't say anything this month."
Harry's mind reeled as Hermione helped him stand. "Could he have been dosed with something that affects memories?"
Hermione's eyes were shadowed. "What have you learned?"
"Not much." Harry tried to think back to what Gellert had told him, but though he had understood it so well at the time, the knowledge was fading, as it always did.
Hermione grabbed a biro and a notebook, as was their tradition.
Harry cleared his throat, his thoughts all in a jumble. "Memory… there are lots of ways to mess with it. It could be suppression or removal or just quieting them down. But this seems like… like trauma patients, only lots at once. And Newt Scamander, only he only managed half of it, the fading like a dream part. The other half was emotions, like Hogwarts." It was a struggle to think over the terrifying keening rising from the basement.
Hermione dutifully wrote this down despite its total lack of sense. Harry felt a rush of gratitude towards her. Without her careful notes, they would never have been able to complete the research they'd needed for those books, despite Harry sourcing so much of their information from beyond the grave.
"And love," Harry said. "It's… very powerful. I love Hogwarts because I've always loved Hogwarts, even when I wasn't me. But if you took that love away, it'd just be a building. And if you took away the terror and the hatred and the pain, a war would just be… a memory. Or not even that."
Harry watched the words form in her neat penmanship, and he heard himself saying, "Like a person without a name."
Hermione's eyes flickered up to his, but she wrote that down, too.
"And Gellert wants me to tell Albus—"
"Yes," she said softly, and she ended the entry in the same way they always ended.
"Trauma patients…" she said when she was certain he'd finished. "A wizarding treatment for PTSD?"
"Yeah, I think so."
Hermione stared at her notes for a moment longer, and then she closed the notebook and put it aside. "I think I have an idea," she said. She reached for Harry's hand, and together they walked down to the basement.
He was wolf-like, but larger, hulking, twisted, like a caricature of a wolf. The calm warmth of Harry’s uncle was completely absent in this creature’s eyes. A feral monster was all that remained.
This was all to be expected based on their past experiences with the werewolf. Tonight, however, the wolf seemed… distracted.
He wasn’t pacing the confines of his cage, tearing at himself, as he usually did. Even the scent of human prey so near to him wasn’t enough for the werewolf to do more than to occasionally bear his teeth at them, snarling. Instead, he was curled in on himself, uttering that horrible, keening howl.
It was almost as though he were crying, and though Harry had never heard of crying werewolves before, he also hadn’t heard of werewolves ever experiencing a pain so great that it interfered with their hunting instincts.
“Harry,” said Hermione in a whisper. “Write a circle of runes as though you were creating one of your anti-bad-intention wards.”
Harry nodded and quickly got to work. As he pricked his finger and began to write on the floor, he asked, “What’s the plan?”
“Well,” said Hermione. “The runes should make sure that nothing we do will affect Moony before we’re ready. We’re going to try something experimental.”
Hermione squinted down at the runic circle when he was finished, nodded once, and said, “I’ll need one of his hairs.”
Harry looked at her, and then he looked back at the werewolf. Werewolves were highly resistant to magic, so a summoning charm wouldn’t work. Was she expecting him to get in the cage with him?
“Obviously not,” said Hermione, rolling her eyes at him even though he hadn’t voiced the question. She drew her wand and conjured a pair of tongs that were something like a very, very long set of tweezers. “You’ll use this.”
Harry looked at them. “I think this is really more your domain, Hermione.”
Hermione made a face at him, but nodded. “Steady my hands,” she said, and together they very carefully slid the tongs through the bars of the cage. The werewolf barely reacted even when they plucked the fur.
“On one hand, that was much easier than anticipated,” said Harry. “On the other, it seems like a bad sign.”
“Yes,” said Hermione. “Let’s get upstairs with this in case something goes wrong.”
Back in the kitchen, Hermione set the hairs onto the table and began gathering potions ingredients. Harry found their battered cauldron and set it up. “What heat?”
“High. We’ll want water as a base; this won’t be anything too complicated.”
Harry set the water on to boil, and watched as Hermione crushed and ground the few ingredients she’d set out.
“I’m going to add these,” she told him, “and you’ll need to stir anti-clockwise with one revolution every five seconds.”
Harry picked up the stirring stick gingerly and dipped it into the boiling water. When Hermione was satisfied with his speed, she carefully added the ingredients to the cauldron, one at a time, until finally, all that remained were the strands of fur.
“Alright,” she said finally. “We’ll let it brew for another five minutes.”
Harry laid the stirring stick aside with relief. “This is a detection potion?”
“Of a sort. Before, when you were talking about the memory loss, you mentioned Newt Scamander. I’m not sure if you recognised the name, but he’s the leading magizoologist in the world. He quite literally wrote the book on magical creatures. If this memory loss, or suppression, or modification, or whatever it is, if it’s related to him, then it’s very likely that magical creatures are involved. And werewolves—”
“Don’t play nicely with others,” said Harry grimly.
“To put it mildly. They’re largely resistant to human magic and largely antagonistic to most magical creatures. So even if this phenomenon is completely benign to magical humans—”
“Merlin, it could kill him,” Harry breathed, scrubbing at his eyes under his glasses.
“This potion will allow us to see what, if any, magical creature components Moony has come into contact with. That will give us a better idea of both what we’re dealing with out there as well as how we can help Moony.”
They watched the brewing potion for a moment.
“‘Mione,” said Harry hesitantly. “If there’s all this community-wide memory something going on right now, why aren’t we affected? I thought it might be because of our lack of interaction with anyone, or the wards I have up around the house, but if Uncle Moony still got dosed...”
Hermione shook her head matter-of-factly. “You’re assuming that we’re not. It could be that we’re simply affected to a lesser degree, or that we’re affected and react differently.”
But Harry could see from her face that she didn’t believe that any more than he did.
He nodded slowly. “Okay, but just as a thought experiment, then. Why wouldn’t we be affected?”
Hermione bit her lip. “One of the reasons your wards are so effective is because they operate on sort of a different channel from most of the magic practised in modern Britain. I think that whatever this is is being blocked by them, just like other attacks are.”
“But Uncle Moony—”
“He is probably affected much less than the general populace, but… Harry, he doesn’t have all of the same wards that we do,” said Hermione meaningfully, and she drew up the sleeve of her robe and tugged up the small leather bracelet that she never took off, revealing the line of runes beneath.
The same line of runes that were carved on the back of Harry’s wrist, under his own leather bracelet.
“Oh yeah,” he said awkwardly.
“But I wonder…” Hermione frowned at him. “You may be immune regardless. It’s possible that your visits to the station are able to negate the effects of this sort of thing.”
Harry blinked. That was an interesting avenue to explore. He almost wanted to redraw his circle so that he could ask Gellert straight away.
“The potion’s ready,” said Hermione, gently returning him to himself. He sighed, irked at the thought that he’d perhaps have to wait a full month before he could find out.
Hermione ladled a portion of the brew into a glass container and delicately dropped in a single strand of werewolf fur. She swirled it around three times and then upturned it onto the kitchen table. Harry made a face. He’d have to scourify the table at least ten times before he’d be able to stomach eating on it again.
The potion hissed and crackled and then stretched and grew to form the shape of a… blob.
“So it’s not a creature?” Harry asked. “Or is there some sort of sentient oil spill causing all this mess?”
Hermione shot him a dirty look. “It’s a Swooping Evil,” she said.
Harry squinted at it. He didn’t see it, but he’d take Hermione’s word for it. “Aren’t they deadly? So how do we help Uncle Moony?”
“Their venom is, yes. If their venom was used here, it must have been very diluted for the affected humans to not be taking ill. I’ve never heard of its effects being tested on werewolves. But if this is the cause of Moony’s condition, a magical purge would probably help.”
Harry had been afraid she’d say that. He sighed. “I’ll get the dagger and the cup, you get the garlic?”
Hermione looked as displeased as he felt, but she nodded.
Harry could see it in Uncle Moony’s battered face when he registered the scent of blood—not his own blood, as he was accustomed to, but Harry’s.
Harry asked, tentatively, “Alright, Uncle Moony?” He wasn’t sure his presence had been registered over the smell, and indeed, Uncle Moony’s expression when he saw Harry unharmed was soul wrenching.
“What,” he rasped out. Hermione hurried over with water and dittany. He very carefully didn’t move when she entered the cage and began casting healing charms, and he ignored the water when she tried to hand it to him. “What did I do?”
“Nothing,” said Harry. Uncle Moony looked at him with disbelief, and Harry clarified, “You were in agony.”
“That doesn’t excuse—”
“Drink and be quiet!” snapped Hermione. It had been a long night for all of them, and Harry and Hermione would have to head off to work soon.
Uncle Moony drank.
“You really didn’t do anything, Uncle Moony,” said Harry gently. “As I said, you were in agony, so we found a ritual that we thought could help. It involved a lot of my blood, but I drained it in a completely safe manner.”
“Blood rituals are Dark magic!” snarled Uncle Moony.
Harry and Hermione looked at him, equally unimpressed. Uncle Moony took in their expressions and relaxed back against the wall, sighing. “What I mean,” he said carefully, “is that there is a reason some of these practices were illegal for so many years before the Dark Lord took power.”
“Yes,” agreed Harry. “There was a tendency for the blood used in them to not come from willing participants. That was not the case, here, and nothing you can say to me is going to make me feel guilty for having saved you. We reckon the Swooping Evil venom may have been killing you.” They actually hadn’t come to a consensus on that, but it seemed like a reasonable supposition.
“Swooping Evil venom?” asked Uncle Moony, confused.
“Yes,” said Hermione, finishing with her healing spells and helping Uncle Moony to stand. “You’ve been infected with it, somehow. We were wondering if this wasn’t related to the strange forgetting behaviour we’ve seen exhibited in the outside population.”
And just like that, Uncle Moony’s scholarly side took over. As Hermione helped him out of the cage and passed him off to Harry, Uncle Moony said, “Yes, that sounds familiar, actually. An entire city of muggles was effectively obliviated using diluted Swooping Evil venom back in the ‘20s. Something Newt Scamander devised, I think.”
Harry and Hermione exchanged looks as Harry laid Uncle Moony out on the sofa. This felt like the confirmation they’d been looking for. “How did he distribute it?” asked Hermione.
Uncle Moony smiled. “I believed he used a Thunderbird. Rather a strange character.” He refocussed on them again. “If you could bring me Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find them and Most Potente Potions, I believe I could begin to researching while you two try to get a little sleep.”
“I’m alright,” said Harry. “I slept a little after we finished the purging ritual. I think I’ll start on breakfast, instead.” Harry headed to the kitchen, casting yet another scourifying charm on the table as he passed it, and Hermione handed Moony the two books he’d asked for and a pile he hadn’t and laid them beside his wand within easy reach.
“My shift isn’t until ten today, so I think I will try to take a nap,” said Hermione. “Harry, will you come back here before we leave, or should I meet you at Gringotts?”
Harry stared at her uncomprehendingly.
“Hogwarts?” she prompted.
Hogwarts. Just like that, Harry felt his heart soar. Despite his concern over Hermione and the potential attention her proposals had earned, despite his concern over a poisoned city, despite his concern over his ill werewolf uncle, despite his exhaustion, and despite his concern over the everyday trials faced by every muggleborn—despite all of that, he somehow had the feeling that today would be a great day.
“I was planning to head back to my place to change, first,” said Harry.
Tom’s eyes slid their way down Harry’s body and then slowly made their way up again while Harry tried not to squirm. He didn’t get the feeling that it was his work robes that had Tom’s attention. “If you like,” said Tom noncommittally. “Why don’t I tag along?”
Harry’s eyes widened in disbelief. Inviting himself home was bold, even for Tom.
“Hadrian!” called Hermione from behind him, and he turned, surprised. “Hallo! I know we agreed to meet back at the house, but then it occurred to me that Mr Riddle might expect to meet you here—and here he is!” Hermione smiled at Tom, and Tom smiled back. There was no malice in either of their smiles, but somehow, Harry still got the impression that he was watching two sharks facing off.
“Tom Riddle,” said Tom, reaching out a hand for Hermione to shake. Hermione was startled, and looked to Harry, who could only shrug at her. No, he hadn’t figured out Tom’s game yet, either.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m Hermione Granger.” She tentatively shook his hand.
“Your brother was just telling me that he planned to change out of his work robes, so I apologise for the wasted trip.”
“Oh, not at all,” said Hermione brightly. “I thought Hadrian might want to change, so I brought some robes with me.” She indicated the small purse she had slung over her shoulder, which looked just about big enough on the outside to hold a set of robes, assuming they were infant-sized.
Tom did not seem particularly happy with this arrangement, but he nodded his head in acceptance. As Harry went off to the restroom with Hermione’s bag, he heard Tom say in a friendly voice, “Hadrian, did you say? Your brother seems to have an endless plethora of names.”
Hermione had chosen Harry’s nicest set of robes for the occasion. They still weren’t particularly impressive, but at least he’d look tolerable enough. How Harry had been blessed with such a brilliant sister, he had no clue.
Tom and Hermione had moved on to a discussion of undetectable extension charms when Harry returned, but Tom took a moment from their debate to eye Harry appreciatively as he handed Hermione’s purse back to her.
“Won’t you lead the way, Mr Riddle?” asked Hermione sweetly, wrapping her arm around Harry’s elbow.
Tom’s eyes flashed. He had very clearly intended to give Harry his arm, and the chain of disruptions to his carefully laid plans was irking him. But after a moment, he smiled again and tilted his head in agreement. As Hermione and Harry followed him out of Gringotts, Hermione leaned in close to Harry and whispered, “Well, he’s an absolute genius, and he’s handsome enough of course—”
“He’s bloody gorgeous, and you know it!” Harry hissed back.
Hermione smirked at him. “Regardless, it seems it’s only his intentions that are in question.”
“They’re perfectly honourable, I assure you!” called Tom from ahead of them.
Harry flushed, and Hermione laughed.
This seemed to thaw her enough that, when the crowd thinned a little as they approached the Leaky Cauldron, Hermione let them draw level with Tom, close enough that Harry’s hand brushed against Tom’s as they walked. Harry carefully did not meet Tom’s eyes.
“We’ll be Flooing into the Headmaster’s office. I requested for it to be linked to the Leaky Cauldron’s Floo for the evening.”
Hermione and Harry smiled politely.
Tom sighed theatrically. “No comments on my political influence or my prowess in negotiations? What a tough crowd you are! How will I ever manage to impress you?”
Harry looked up at Tom and shook his head, mock sorrowfully. “Oh, Mr Tom,” he said. “I’m afraid there’s no chance of that tonight. How can you expect to hold up against Hogwarts?”
Hermione squeezed his arm warningly, but Tom’s smile softened into something genuine. “That, love, is truer than you know.” He passed them each a pouch of Floo powder, and after some brief instructions, disappeared into the green flames.
Hermione and Harry looked at one another. Neither had traveled via Floo before, but they both knew the theory behind it. “I’ll go first?” suggested Harry.
Hermione said, “That sounds good to me, love,” and laughed at his expression.
A simple office shouldn’t have been an impressive way to start such a coveted trip, but Harry couldn’t help but stare at the many strange magical implements displayed tidily along the bookshelves and the desk, and the many figures peering down at him from their portraits on the wall.
He wondered if perhaps he should feel embarrassed at his awe in this display of magical opulence, but then Hermione popped out of the flames as well, and her gasp reassured him. Simple office though it may be, this room was wonderful.
“Hadrian and Hermione Granger, may I introduce you to the headmaster of Hogwarts?” said Tom, catching their attention.
Another person had joined them in the office without them noticing. The man stepped forward lightly, his hands clasped behind his back. “Regulus Black,” he greeted, tone mild. “I’m afraid that the castle is rather too large to be viewed in one evening. Did you have any areas you particularly wanted to see?”
Tom’s lips pressed into a flat line of displeasure, but the headmaster’s statement seemed reasonable enough to Harry. “The kitchens, sir,” he said, at precisely the same time Hermione said, “The library, sir!”
The headmaster blinked at them slowly. “Surprising requests,” he said. “I think we can manage those. Where else?”
Harry and Hermione glanced at each other. “The Come and Go Room,” said Harry, and Hermione countered with “The Charm’s classroom, and the Gryffindor common room.”
“The Slytherin common,” argued Harry.
Tom laughed at them. “I admit that I can’t follow your logic. Why these places?”
“They’re some of the most interesting in terms of the magic used to construct them,” said Hermione.
Harry nodded in agreement. “They’re also in some of the most interesting locations. In a tower, under the lake.”
“You seem to be rather well-informed when it comes to the school for two non-students,” said Headmaster Black. Tom’s eyes flashed at him.
“Hermione has Hogwarts, A History near enough to being memorised,” said Harry, grinning at her.
She refused to be embarrassed. “So do you,” she said easily.
“This sounds doable enough to me, Regulus,” said Tom with a shark’s smile. “We might take in some of the more typical sights, too, such as the Great Hall and the Green Houses.”
“Very well,” said Regulus. “There may be a few students around, though we’re of course not in session over the holiday.” This warning given, he gave Tom a dour look. “Should I have Severus come in to keep you company, Tom?”
“Oh, no—I’m coming along, of course,” said Tom smirking.
Headmaster Black’s eyebrows twitched slightly, but he gave no other sign of protest.
Harry felt Hermione squeeze his elbow again, and he gave her a short nod. Yes, he noticed that this was an incredibly strange situation. Yes, he noticed that Tom seemed to have a good deal of social or political sway, which made his interest in Harry all that much more concerning.
Tom continued to demonstrate his unnerving power when he said, “Perhaps you’d like to lead Ms Granger, Regulus, and I’ll take charge of Hadrian.”
The Headmaster looked as though he’d bitten into a lemon, but he nodded and extended an arm to Hermione, who accepted it cautiously. Tom rested his hand on the small of Harry’s back smugly, and Harry wanted to roll his eyes at him. Yes, yes, you’ve won this round, congratulations.
As the small group moved to exit the office, Harry turned behind himself as though he were just glancing over the office again. Certain that no one was in a position to track his eyes, Harry let his gaze rest for just a moment on the portrait of the most recent former headmaster.
He shot the portrait a shy smile, and the portrait winked at him merrily.
If only he could get a moment alone with the portrait! Of course he would still try to find the man, but it would still be a temporary balm to be able to tell Gellert that he had passed on his message at least in a manner of speaking, and to describe the reaction that Gellert so desperately wanted to hear.
But then the moment was up, and Harry allowed Tom to gently tug him out of the room.
Harry couldn’t believe he was finally here. Harry never wanted to leave.
At some point during their tour, Harry had moved closer to Tom so that he was tucked under the man’s arm, gripping the fabric of the robe like a small child. It was inelegant of him, but he was too awestruck to care, and Tom’s smile, which seesawed between smug and understanding, seemed to suggest that he could tolerate some wrinkles in his robes, particularly as his hand had now found its way down to Harry’s hip.
The tour seemed to progress smoothly until they reached the entrance to the Gryffindor common room. The Fat Lady’s eyes zeroed in on Harry’s face and widened with recognition, and Harry knew that his cover had been blown; the portrait had watched thousands of magical children grow into adults and had then watched their children grow into adults. Even with the most obvious features of his father’s—the hair and the glasses—disguised, someone so intimately familiar with bloodlines who had had both his mother and his father in her house would be able to see his parents in him. His mind whizzed through potential explanations and distractions, but the Fat Lady had barely opened her mouth when Headmaster Black said, “This is Hadrian Granger, madam, and his sister Hermione Granger. They were unable to attend Hogwarts as students due to unfortunate circumstances surrounding their muggleborn status, and so they are here today on tour. And of course, you remember Tom Riddle.”
“Are you planning to read out their whole CVs, Regulus?” asked Tom coldly. His strange interactions with the headmaster from the office had relaxed into friendly barbs throughout the tour, which Harry suspected was much more along their normal lines of interactions. Now, though, all of Tom’s earlier irritation with the headmaster seemed to have returned threefold. Tom glanced down at Harry apologetically, and Harry realised that Tom thought Harry might be embarrassed at having his muggleborn status announced so pointedly, as though it were an insult.
Harry smiled up at Tom and shook his head, trying to communicate that he was unbothered. The odd speech had been a little abrupt and rather too informative given the absence of questions, but Harry knew with a cold, terrified certainty exactly why Headmaster Black had chosen to do so, and he could see from the Fat Lady’s suddenly blank expression that she also understood.
The Fat Lady had recognised Harry to be Harry Potter, but so had the headmaster, and he had taken the time to remind the Fat Lady as to why exactly it was imperative that Harry’s identity remain a secret.
The fact that he, who seemed to be fairly close to Tom, considered it necessary that it remain a secret from Tom in particular was… telling.
Harry wanted to pull away, so he pushed closer instead, leaning his head on Tom’s shoulder for a moment as they watched the portrait swing open to reveal the entrance to the common room.
The students who had remained at school had somehow been warned that they would have visitors, so the room was empty and suspiciously tidy. Harry knew that there were students hiding out of view on the staircases, though, watching to see who it was who was invading their space for a ‘tour.’ He shot a grin in the directions he knew the dorms to lie and heard surprised gasps.
Tom breathed a laugh into his ear. “And what do you think so far, love?”
“Well, I was right,” said Harry. “I’m afraid you’re not nearly as marvelous as Hogwarts, Mr Tom.”
Tom raised an eyebrow. “How curious that you should phrase it that way, Hadrian. My middle name is actually Marvolo.”
Despite his nerves, or perhaps because of them, Harry laughed. “It’s not!” he protested.
“It is,” said Tom, flashing him a grin.
They were standing so close now. Tom’s heat was like a furnace against him. To distract himself, Harry gently tugged them over to a window.
It was a good idea; the window was drafty and the wash of cool air helped to steady him. And even at the lowest level of the tower, the view from the castle was indeed distracting.
“Is it strange for you to be here, in the wrong common room?” Harry asked. “I understand that the Slytherin common room looks rather different.”
Tom raised his eyebrows. “I don’t remember mentioning that I was a Slytherin.”
Harry bit back a smile. “It seems to be the obvious choice for you, though I suppose you could have been a Ravenclaw.”
“Should I be offended?” asked Tom, looking anything but. “Am I so cowardly or disloyal?”
“Not at all. But you don’t seem the type to value courage or loyalty. Or at least, not your own loyalty. I imagine you rather expect it from others.”
Tom was frowning at him now. “Should I be offended?” he asked again, no longer joking.
“It wasn’t so long ago that you said it wasn’t my place to tell you what you’re feeling,” said Harry mildly. “But I didn’t mean it to be offensive, no. Each of the houses teaches its students something integral to life, but that doesn’t mean everyone should value those lessons to the same degree as everyone else. Having a preference is the whole basis for being Sorted, isn’t it?”
Tom hummed. “I suppose you and your sister would be Gryffindors,” he said. “With your willingness to expose yourselves to danger in defense of what you believe to be right.”
“That’s brave of us, yes,” said Harry. “But in our positions, we hardly have any choice but to live in danger. A lot to be gained, nothing much to lose, you know. And what is driving our bravery but our ambition to see our word change for the better? Surely we could just as easily be sorted into Slytherin. And ‘Mione’s bloody brilliant, so why not Ravenclaw? And we’re loyal to one another and to our beliefs, so why not Hufflepuff?”
“It sounds as though you don’t think there’s much difference between the houses at all.”
“I think there’s loads of difference,” said Harry, “Or you wouldn’t be able to identify a person’s former house just by seeing them walk down the street. I just think the difference is mostly from being steeped in the internal culture of the house and not because one house is better than any other.”
“Well said, Hadrian,” said Hermione, coming up beside them. “Are you two ready to move on?”
Headmaster Black stood behind her, his face expressionless.
Hermione tucked her hand into the crook of Tom’s arm. “You know, Mr Riddle, I do have some questions about the Sorting process, if you would be so good as to humour me.”
Tom shot a look down at Harry. “Of course. But surely Regulus would be better suited to answer those questions.”
But Headmaster Black said, “Not at all, Tom. You’re the expert, after all,” and Harry smiled at Tom so encouragingly that Tom reluctantly allowed himself to be drawn away by Hermione, though not before Harry whispered to him, “It means a lot to me to see you and my sister getting along so well.”
And then Tom and Hermione were leading the way out of the common room and down the corridor, with the headmaster and Harry trailing behind just out of earshot. The headmaster said nothing at all until they came to a hall completely bare of portraits, and then, finally, he slowed his gait and turned to Harry. “You’re not much like your father,” he said, barely audibly.
Harry tried not to be disappointed. He realised, embarrassed, that he had hoped for an ally in this man who had been so quick to defend his identity, and after he had tried so carefully to speak with Harry away from Tom’s sharp gaze, Harry had expected something… more from their private conversation.
“Should I be offended?” asked Harry, mimicking Tom from the conversation that he knew the headmaster had overheard.
“No,” said the headmaster with a decisiveness that startled Harry. “If anything, you should take it as a compliment. I never really liked your father, for all that he was my brother’s closest friend. I liked your mother much more, and you’re more like her.”
Harry exhaled slowly, his eyes wide. Uncle Moony was a veritable fountain of information on Harry’s father, but he hadn’t known Harry’s mother nearly as well.
“In fact, a close friend of Lily’s is a professor here. You heard Tom mention him.”
“Severus Snape,” said Harry instantly. Uncle Moony had known that much. “I thought they had a falling out?”
“Yes,” said the headmaster. “They did indeed. However, I know that he and a few other friends would very much like to meet you, my brother included.”
Harry frowned. “I thought he was in prison…?”
“He was, yes. Tom was kind enough to have him released to my custody.”
Harry stared at the headmaster thoughtfully. “I’m sorry, sir, but I find you a little confusing.”
The headmaster smiled at him wryly, and Harry saw a brief flash of similarity between this man and the photos Uncle Moony had shared of his school friends. “My loyalties, you mean? You’re right to be confused. I’m confused by my loyalties. Suffice it to say, I find Tom to be an engaging and valuable friend, but I’m not quite ready to trust him with certain things. Hardly an unnatural element to a friendship, is it?”
Harry’s only reference for friendship was Hermione and Uncle Moony, with whom he shared practically everything, but he supposed they weren’t good examples of casual friends, so he nodded agreeably.
“Come meet Severus,” said the headmaster, and while his voice was calm, his eyes held a trace of desperation. “Come meet my brother.”
“I’ll meet them,” said Harry, “in the same place that Albus Dumbledore confessed his deepest secret to Gellert Grindelwald.”
Headmaster Black stared at him, thrown. “That would be… the scene of their famous battle? Or… Nurmengard?”
“You’ll have to ask,” shrugged Harry, and then he raised his voice slightly and said, “That’s very interesting, sir; what else can you tell me about the castle’s construction?”
“Honestly, Regulus, surely you can come up with a better topic for the tour. And can’t you walk any faster? I seem to remember you being the one concerned about time…” Tom and Hermione had stopped ahead and were standing before the entrance to the Great Hall.
Headmaster Black cleared his throat. “I answer the questions that are put forward to me, Tom,” he said. “Rather than simply prattling on about something that is interesting only to me without regard for my companion’s preferences.” He shot a pointed look between Tom and Hermione, but she only laughed.
“I’m afraid that I was at least as entertained by our conversation as Mr Riddle was; probably more, honestly. If anything, I was the one boring him.”
Tom smiled at her. “Not at all,” he said, but he was quick to reclaim his place at Harry’s side. “Are you ready for dinner?”
Harry gaped before he could control himself. “We’re eating here? I didn’t expect…”
Tom winked at him. “I think you’ll be impressed,” was all he said.
The Great Hall, lit by floating candles and the last gleam of twilight seen through the enchanted ceiling, was splendid beyond words. Harry could barely stop staring long enough to attend to the conversations flowing around him. In deference to the few students remaining over the holiday, the professors, staff, and students were all gathered at a single, long, table. Harry found himself sat at the faculty end of the table, nestled between Tom and Hermione and across from a man whose cold, dark eyes held no glimmer of recognition when they looked at him. Harry wondered if Headmaster Black had warned him beforehand or if he was simply that masterful of an actor, because there was no doubt in Harry’s mind that Severus Snape knew his parentage the moment he’d laid eyes on him.
Tom didn’t try to force him into conversation; he seemed content to simply drink in Harry’s amazement with all the self-satisfaction that might have been expected had he been the one to personally carve and place each stone and spell that made up the wonderful castle that was the second home to the youth of magical Britain.
Harry remained in his stupour for the rest of dinner. The students had already returned to their dorms and most of the faculty had left for their own rooms before he came back to himself enough to hear Hermione making their excuses.
“Of course. I’ll take you back,” Tom was saying, but then Headmaster Black interrupted him.
“Excuse me, Tom, but there are actually a few matters I had hoped to discuss with you,” he said. “They won’t take long. Severus can show the Grangers up to my office, and we’ll catch up in a few minutes. Would that be agreeable?”
Tom’s expression suggested that it was anything but, but Harry smiled. “We can wait a few moments. The headmaster’s office is so full of interesting items; it will hardly be a hardship.”
The headmaster gave him the same small, cold smile that he had at the beginning of the evening and led Tom away with a nod.
Severus Snape looked at Harry and Hermione, and his lip curled down into a sneer. With a sharp twist that had his robes flaring out in a wave, he turned and walked away without a glance behind him. Hermione made a face at Harry, but the two of them followed the professor silently as he led them past a pair of stone gargoyles and back to the curious room in which they’d started their journey.
Snape didn’t waste a moment. As the doors closed behind them, he turned on Harry. “I suppose you have made arrangements to meet Black.”
Harry smiled at Snape quizzically.
Snape studied Harry closely. Even in private, none of the coldness had left his face. “Bring Lupin with you.”
Harry didn’t let his expression change, but beside him, Hermione gasped audibly.
Snape sneered at them. “I took the liberty of investigating your OWLs. Your marks were mediocre overall, of course; mostly As with a scattering of Es. But if one considers your total lack of formal education and the mere weeks of opportunity you had to legally practise magic with wands, your performance was, to be frank, unnaturally high. The only way to reconcile these facts is to suppose that you had access to a wand, textbooks, and a trained wizard as an instructor. Given that I know exactly where Sirius Black was at the time, the obvious assumption is that your trained supplier was Remus Lupin.”
Hermione was holding Harry’s hand very tightly.
Harry said, “Why did you and my mother fall out?”
Not a muscle twitched on Snape’s face to betray him, but Harry knew he was surprised. He had that strange feeling in his head again, the feeling that had come to him that day when he’d met Uncle Moony, and again that day at King’s Cross Station, and again while walking through the corridors of Hogwarts. He knew this man, though they had never met before, though he had no memories to connect to the hatred and love that were surging through him, fierce and raging like a hurricane.
Finally, Snape said, “Why don’t you ask Lupin? I’m sure he would be thrilled to tell you.”
Harry met his eyes evenly. “He has. But I don’t want an outsider’s perspective, and he can’t tell me what he doesn’t know himself.” As Snape opened his mouth to answer, Harry shook his head. “You don’t have to answer me. I just want to know. I feel like I need to know.”
Snape’s lips, already thin, compressed into a white line.
Harry turned away from him. “Albus Dumbledore,” he said to the watching portrait on the wall. “Your old enemy says that you were right, and he was wrong, and he’s sorry. And someday, I hope to pass that message on to the real you, but for now, you’ll have to do.”
The painted figure was so still that Harry almost thought the magic had left his canvas entirely. But then, the blue eyes behind their half-moon spectacles closed, and the painting said, very softly, “Thank you, my boy.”
“What,” said Snape, very lowly, “can you possibly mean by—”
The door swung open.
“I’m sorry that took so long, love,” said Tom, striding forward. He raised his eyebrows at Severus, who turned and left the room without speaking.
“What an extremely gloomy man,” said Hermione, voice squeaking slightly.
Tom’s expression turned grave. “He upset you?”
Harry snorted. “No, not at all. We just didn’t anticipate being surveyed about our interests in completing our NEWTs.”
Hermione started beside him, but she caught on immediately. “Hadrian,” she said urgently, “you shouldn’t have mentioned it. He did say that nothing was certain.”
“Oh, I know that, and Mr Tom is hardly going to go after him if nothing comes of it,” said Harry brightly.
“No, of course not,” said Tom slowly. He seemed surprised, but unsuspicious.
Harry touched his elbow. “Sorry to rush, but I’m getting rather tired. Would you mind if we…”
Tom recovered himself quickly. “Not at all. Thank you for your time, Regulus.”
“A pleasure,” said Headmaster Black with a courteous tilt of his head. He did not even glance at Harry or Hermione.
Tom led the way through the Floo, and as he disappeared into the green flames, Harry turned back to the headmaster. “Thank you, sir. I expect I’ll see you soon?”
Headmaster Black nodded slowly. “One week from this hour?”
Harry looked to Hermione, who said, “That would be agreeable, sir, thank you.”
And the two left Hogwarts behind.
It was the morning after their visit to Hogwarts, and Harry and Hermione had just finished summarising the trip to Uncle Moony.
“I’m going,” said Harry firmly. “The only way they’ll be able to find the right place to go will be by asking Albus Dumbledore, and if he’s willing to tell them, then I don’t think we have anything to fear from them.”
“You don’t know that,” said Hermione.
“Speaking of things you don’t, or shouldn’t, know,” said Uncle Moony, “how would you have been able to find out something so personal about Albus?”
Harry thought of Headmaster Black and his assertion that Tom was a friend, but not the sort that he could exchange secrets with. And Harry didn’t have the time or inclination to waste on that sort of friend.
“Death magic,” he said. “Gellert Grindelwald told me from beyond the grave.”
Uncle Moony sighed. “Harry… I want to know for a reason. If you found out from a book, the information could be available to others.”
“I didn’t find out from a book,” said Harry. “I’ve been practising death magic since before I met you. How did you think I managed to establish undetectable wards around the house? How did you think I managed to collect all that information for the Henry Evans books?”
Uncle Moony turned to Hermione beseechingly, but whatever he saw on her face caused his own to freeze up.
Harry looked at them both, his most precious people in this world. “I’m tired of secrets. Everything about me is a secret. And now there’s this thing with people seeming to lose their memories, and I just… I don’t want to be denied knowledge that I should be allowed to have, and I don’t want to deny others. I know I have to keep my secrets, our secrets, from the outside world, but not from you. Right?”
“Right,” said Hermione quietly.
Uncle Moony’s jaw worked soundlessly. The longer Harry waited for a response, the more anxious he became about the reply. Far in his periphery, out of sight of Uncle Moony, he saw Hermione readying her wand. Finally, all the muscles in Uncle Moony’s body seemed to release all at once, and he sighed. “Right,” he agreed, and the smile he gave them was humourless. “Thank you for telling me.” He stood creakily and left the room.
Hermione slid closer to Harry and pulled him into a hug. “It’ll be okay,” she said.
Uncle Moony returned only a few minutes later, bearing three mugs and a steaming teapot.
“I agree with Harry,” said Uncle Moony as he poured the tea. Harry felt Hermione start.
“You agree with Harry about what?” she asked.
“He should go to the meeting with Regulus and Severus. We should all go to the meeting.”
“We’ll need to be careful, of course. It was a good idea, Harry, controlling the meeting place. We’ll come up with more ways to protect ourselves, and as many means of emergency escape as we can. But between the memory mystery we’ve encountered and this Tom Riddle’s interest in Harry—even worse, reciprocated interest,” Uncle Moony paused long enough to shoot Harry a look, and Harry winced, “we need allies.” Uncle Moony looked at them. “Living allies, by preference. Should I assume that you are also well-versed in necromancy?” he asked, raising his eyebrows at Hermione.
“We prefer the term ‘death magic,’” Hermione replied haughtily. “It doesn’t carry with it the same sort of negative connotations in England as those raised by the necromancers of the 11th and 15th centuries. And to answer your question: no. I have studied the theory, of course, and I attempted to carry out the rituals, but it seems I haven’t the knack for it.”
Uncle Moony frowned. “But Harry does?”
Harry shrugged his shoulders uncomfortably. “Turns out, yeah. It’s actually easier for me than most other spells, for some reason.”
Uncle Moony leaned against the stained back of their sofa. “Alright,” he said. “Tell me about this death magic that you can do.”
“I didn’t do the ritual,” said Harry. When he woke up, he knew this fact would be very concerning to him, but at the moment, it was merely an interesting piece of news.
“Didn’t you?” said Gellert.
Harry rolled his eyes at him. “No, I’m sure I didn’t. Hard to forget slicing my finger open and drawing runes around me in my own blood.”
“The apprentice requires fewer cues than the novice; the journeyman needs fewer still. How many needs the master?”
Harry thought about how, as time went on, he’d needed fewer and fewer steps and simpler and simpler rituals to make his way to the train station. “What does this mean? Am I truly asleep? Is my body resting while I’m here? What will it take to wake me up again, if I’m needed? Will I find myself here every night?”
“You are here as you’ve been here before,” said Gellert. “All the same rules apply. You have simply shortened the path taken.”
Harry hummed in response. “There was something I wanted to ask you. I can’t quite remember it now. I went to Hogwarts, though, and I met Albus’s portrait. I passed on your message, but I’ll keep looking for the real Albus, too. I might meet him, soon.”
Gellert stood before him, hands in his pockets, a breeze that Harry couldn’t feel ruffling through his white hair. “What makes you think that?”
“I think I might have met some of his allies. Maybe.”
Gellert’s mismatched eyes seemed to stare through him. “Be careful, little Master.”
“Yes, of course I will.”
Gellert looked away. “I have been asking around a little, since you were here last. About your memory problem.”
Harry perked up. “Yes?”
“What do you know about the man who started this war? The man who killed your parents?”
“Voldemort?” Harry asked. Even here, saying his name felt dangerous, as though the taboo might activate even beyond the grave. “Well, he’s… a dark wizard, and a parselmouth. He hates muggles and muggleborns, and he tortures and kills everywhere he goes. He’s a cruel tyrant.”
“So you know nothing, then,” said Gellert.
“Hearsay and rumours.”
Harry wanted to protest further, but he finally shrugged. “I suppose, yeah.” It’s not like he’d ever met the guy. But did he need to?
“Did you know that he is dead?”
Harry’s head shot up. “He’s not! He made a public appearance at a press conference just last week.”
“Someone did,” said Gellert with a sardonic smile. “Perhaps it was even him, or a version of him. But five or so years ago, the Dark Lord Voldemort died.”
“He was seen passing through the station? Is he still here?” Harry looked around surreptitiously, as though at any moment a Dark Lord might come rising through the fog to attack him.
Well, a Dark Lord other than the one he was currently conversing with.
“He appeared here, but only a part of him, and only briefly before he was sucked back down.”
“Like a ghost?”
“Like a ghost, but not a ghost.”
Harry gave a frustrated sigh. “What does that mean?”
Gellert shook his head. “I don’t know,” he said quietly. “But I imagine it’s nothing good. The only thing I could think of was… Well. It doesn’t seem likely. Even I would never have…”
Harry shivered. “Never have what?”
Gellert licked his lips nervously. “Horcruxes,” he said in a rasping voice. “Soul fragments chained to the Earth in magical containers. Immortality, of a sort.”
“Soul fragments?” asked Harry. “Horcruxes…”
Gellert watched him closely. “The concept is familiar to you.”
“I’ve never heard of them,” said Harry. “But yes. I feel like I know about them.”
“They are difficult to destroy,” Gellert began.
“I used basilisk venom before,” said Harry, uncertain of where the words had come from and yet confident in their veracity.
Gellert’s eyebrows shot up. “Yes,” he said. “That would do it, if you happen find yourself in possession of a basilisk.” His expression said that he very much wanted to know how that might happen.
“Where did you hear about this?” asked Harry.
Gellert gestured Harry forward. “I’ll introduce you,” he said.
Harry woke up.
He lurched out of bed and peered out the window. It was still dark outside, the moon newly risen and shining behind the London smog.
Hermione was asleep in her own tiny room, so Harry dug through his books and papers until he found a half-full notebook and a biro. He wrote down all the details he could remember from the dream, and then he stared down at his notes.
Lord Voldemort, dead? It seemed impossible. It was impossible. And yet something about it rang true to him, as though it were a story he’d heard before, but that he’d forgotten the ending to.
Five years ago, Voldemort had done a complete about-face on policy. The Statute of Secrecy came smashing back into effect with stricter regulations than ever, and laws encouraging muggleborn integration into magical society suddenly began cropping up. Was that because Voldemort had died? But he had come back, hadn’t he? Gellert had said he was only at the train station for a brief time. Had that visit to the land of death been enough to completely change his outlook on life? Or had something else happened?
Harry fiddled with his pen nervously.
Harry would somehow need to find out more about them, as well.
He closed the notebook and put it away.
This time, when he fell asleep, he was greeted by normal dreams. Tom was in them, with strange, crimson eyes and a wicked smile. Harry thought he should be afraid, but somehow he wasn’t. When the dream Tom reached for his hand, Harry reached back.
Griphook followed Harry's gaze. "That bad deal you struck," he said suddenly. "How did that go?"
"It was wonderful," said Harry. "Except that I'm still waiting for the fine print to make itself known." The Daily Prophet headliner that morning had been: Evening NEWT courses to be established for underprivileged muggleborns, and Harry was still reeling.
"Yes," said Griphook. He jerked his chin in Tom's direction. "That is some hefty fine print. I hope it was worth it."
Harry looked out at Tom, who was now holding the door open for an elderly witch, smiling sweetly at her. He looked unbearably beautiful. "Do you know who he is?"
"Yes," said Griphook. "And no."
Harry nodded, unsurprised by the vagueness of the answer.
Griphook signed the form he had been working on and moved it to his out-tray, shuffling the papers fussily. "I can tell you that he is incredibly dangerous, particularly to you."
"Because I'm a muggleborn?"
"Because you're Harry Potter."
Harry swallowed. "So I'm doomed, basically."
Griphook looked up at him with a steady gaze. "We're all doomed, Mr Granger. It's just a matter of timing. As to whether or not Mr Riddle will be your doom, I couldn't say. From what I know of him, he certainly would be. And yet, much of his recent behaviour is unexplainable from that knowledge."
Harry shivered. He thought of his dream Tom with his crimson eyes. He knew what he needed to ask, but he wasn't certain that he wanted to know the answer. "How recent? When did his behaviour start to change?"
Griphook returned to his paperwork. "We noticed the change five years ago, near the end of summer. I don't know what might have caused it."
Harry nodded slowly. "I see. Thank you, sir. Do you require anything else of me?"
"No," said Griphook. "I will see you tomorrow."
Harry stepped out of the backroom and made his way across the lobby floor. As soon as Tom caught sight of him, he cast Harry a smile so lovely that it made his stomach twist into knots.
"Hello, Hadrian," said Tom as Harry approached. He bowed over Harry's hand and then held it in his own. "I had hoped you might join me for dinner."
"And if I said I had other plans?" asked Harry, gently admonishing.
"Then I would be very disappointed but would try to reschedule," said Tom.
Reschedule, as though they'd had something planned in the first place! Harry knew he should be irritated, but instead he was only amused. "Let me stop by Fortescues to let Hermione know," he said, and Tom grinned at him brightly.
Tom had selected, as though with precision divined by arithmancy, a restaurant that was as posh as it was possible to be while still not being so exclusive that Harry's robes—quickly exchanged for his nicer pair, which he had taken to carrying around with him on the assumption that Tom might appear at any moment—weren't out of place.
Harry was charmed despite himself, and he wondered what it would be like to be someone else, someone who could go on a date with a handsome bloke without suspecting that his romance was all some devious plot to unveil his secrets.
If he were someone else, he imagined, he wouldn't withdraw when Tom reached across the table to curl his fingers around Harry's, and he'd laugh freely when Tom told him silly stories about the ministry, and he'd share some small stories about himself in return.
And when Tom's hand travelled up his arm, and he leaned in to whisper an invitation into Harry's ear, Harry-who-was-someone-else would say ‘yes’ and let himself be carted off to some unknown place with some unknown bed.
Tomorrow, I'll be me again, Harry promised himself. Today, I'll be someone else. Today, I'll pretend I can have this.
And when Tom's lips found his, Harry kissed back.
Being someone else felt good.
Harry wasn't sure what he was expecting, but Tom was gentle as he opened Harry with experienced fingers that stroked and played as Tom's mouth travelled from Harry's lips to his jaw to his neck and then back again. Harry gasped and whined and basically mortified himself until Tom was lining himself up and pushing in, whereupon Harry went so silent so quickly that Tom stilled above him.
"Alright?" he asked.
Harry couldn't speak for a long moment. "Yes," Harry said, his voice breathy in the most horrible of ways. He went to clear his throat but his lungs seemed to catch when he tried. "It's just… a lot."
Tom smirked at him, and Harry came back to himself enough to roll his eyes. "I mean, it's intense."
"Hmmm," said Tom, and he sank in deeper.
Harry bit his lip and squeezed Tom's shoulders more tightly.
"Still good?" asked Tom, and Harry tried to answer in the affirmative, but then Tom was moving again, bottoming out, and all capacity for speech left him in a rush.
"Yes, just like that, love," said Tom, and Harry wasn't sure what he was talking about. Harry wasn't even doing anything; that was all Tom, Tom's snapping hips and Tom's stroking fingers, and Tom's wandering, sucking mouth. "Just like that."
After, Harry tried to slide out of Tom's arms, but Tom only held him more tightly. "Sleep, my love," Tom whispered into his ear.
"I have work tomorrow," Harry tried to protest.
But Tom only said, "All the better reason to sleep. I'll sort you out; you won't be late."
And so Harry allowed himself to be pulled closer against Tom's body, and he closed his eyes.
I'm such an idiot, was his final waking thought.
“Here, little Master,” said Gellert, and he gestured Harry forward. “This way.”
Time and space followed different rules, here, and Harry had never yet understood what those rules were. They walked past a train and turned to walk along another train for two car-lengths, and then there she was, standing straight-backed and fierce, with her hands clenched down at her side. She was staring off into the distance, unmoving as a pillar.
Waiting for someone, then. Like Gellert was waiting for Albus.
Gellert put a hand on his shoulder as they approached. He was watching the woman closely.
Harry wondered if she was dangerous. Could the shades he encountered here harm him? Could they harm one another? None of them had tried around him before.
“Hello,” said Harry. “I have some questions for you, if you don’t mind.”
The woman turned to face him, and Harry knew her twice.
The first, an old memory: A sepia photo in Uncle Moony’s copy of the Daily Prophet. General Bellatrix Lestrange née Black, her dark hair flowing in a wild halo around her, casting the Cruciatus Curse on a pair of ‘muggleborn insurgents’ who had been captured by the Snatchers.
The second, an older memory: Blinding, raging hatred.
Harry smiled at her. “You’ve seen the Dark Lord here? In this place?”
She glowed with ecstasy. “I followed him here,” she whispered. She couldn’t seem to see him properly; her dark eyes darted around wildly. “They murdered our lord, and then he returned to see them punished for their sins against him.”
She’s completely barmy, Harry noted. This realisation did not appreciably lessen the loathing coursing through him at the sight of her.
“Who murdered him?” he asked.
“Traitors!” she hissed, her blissful smile transforming into a snarl in the blink of an eye.
Very specific, thought Harry irritably. He tried to centre his thoughts, to push back his hatred for later inspection. “What were their names?”
For a moment, Harry thought names might be beyond her, but then she laughed, and the sound of it made Harry shiver in terror. Gellert’s grip on his shoulder squeezed for a moment. “All my lord’s favourites, and look what became of them! That worthless bastard, Snape, who my lord honoured with his trust and attention despite his tainted blood! My own cousin, my own sister! My family, all traitors!”
Harry opened his mouth to speak again, but before he could, she continued, “And worst of all, the child! My lord’s own child! The splitting image of his father, and he dared to raise his wand against my lord! How surprised he’ll be when his punishment is laid down unto him!”
Harry licked his lips. “His name?”
“I don’t know. I never heard what the other traitors called him.” Her mouth twisted bitterly. “And the Dark Lord never felt it necessary to inform me of the child’s existence.”
“I see,” said Harry, though he didn’t. “Thank you for your time.”
Harry and Gellert walked away, and Bellatrix Lestrange faded into the fog again.
“Can a horcrux kill a main soul piece?” he asked Gellert.
“My instinct would have been to say ‘no,’ but the evidence at hand suggests rather overwhelmingly that the answer is ‘yes,’” Gellert replied musingly. “Under what circumstances would a horcrux be self-aware and independent enough to do so? Under what circumstances would a horcrux have the power to do so?”
“When the main soul piece was only the tiniest fraction of the horcrux,” said Harry, another flash of insight from memories he no longer held.
“That would imply multiple horcruxes,” said Gellert doubtfully.
“He made seven,” said Harry.
Gellert’s steps faltered for a moment. “Ah,” he said.
Harry nodded, unable to maintain eye contact and uncertain of why. “They must have collected the other horcruxes and combined them, somehow.”
“And so we operate under the assumption that though the main soul piece returned to the living plane, it is somehow the horcrux who is in control?”
“Yes,” said Harry.
Gellert eyed him. “You’ve met it.”
Harry didn’t know the answer for sure until he heard the word leave his lips. “Yes.”
“You’re in love with it.”
“No. Or—I don’t know.” Harry looked away, his heart aching. “I knew he wasn’t… good. I’m not surprised or anything.”
Gellert shrugged. “There are worse emotions to feel than love.” He looked back into the fog. “And yet you hated her, that woman we spoke with. He murdered your parents and created a world that existed to torment you and others like you. You have met him and fought him in lives before. And yet it was her you hated.”
“I learned about him. I understood him.”
Gellert nodded thoughtfully. “But not her?”
Harry woke up to Tom’s face. Tom’s eyes were wide and frightened, but his voice was very calm. “Hadrian. Focus on breathing. Can you hear me?”
Harry blinked up at him. “Yes? Tom? Is anything the matter?”
Tom let out a slow breath. His hands were cupping Harry’s face, his thumbs stroking Harry’s cheeks. “You wouldn’t wake up. Your body was cold. I thought, for a moment, that you were…”
“I’m fine. I can be a heavy sleeper, sometimes,” Harry lied. “That’s probably all it was.”
Tom looked disbelieving, but he let the topic lie for the moment. “You still have some time before you’re expected at Gringotts,” said Tom, who shouldn’t know the details of Harry’s schedule, as Harry had never told him. “How do you feel about breakfast?”
Moments ago, Harry had been speaking to Gellert Grindelwald about Lord Voldemort’s horcrux, the soul piece that now ruled the magical world in the name of the man who’d destroyed it. Now, he was lying in bed with it—with him—their naked bodies pressed warmly together, their limbs entwined, bearing no bruises that hadn’t given pleasure.
Tom’s fingers stilled on Harry’s face. “Hadrian?” His voice sounded hesitant, unsure of his welcome.
Harry cleared his throat. “In general? I feel pretty positive about breakfast. Solid meal, good way to start the day, doesn’t skimp on the eggs.”
Tom huffed a laugh. His eyes were bright and lovely.
“But are you sure you want to offer it to me?” asked Harry. “I might start to get expectations.”
Tom smirked at him smugly. “You’ve been calling me ‘Tom’ since yesterday evening, with no misters or sirs in sight. I think I’ve managed to establish some expectations in you, though it was no small task.”
Harry flushed. He hadn’t even noticed.
“Hadrian,” said Tom. “I am serious about you. About us. I think we could be good together. I think we are good together, even with you holding back as you do. I know we haven’t known each other for long, but—”
“But we have,” said Harry. “We’ve known each other for lifetimes.”
Tom smiled at him wonderingly. “You feel it, too? As though we were meant to be.”
“We were meant to be something,” Harry agreed. “I don’t know what it was, except that I don’t think ambivalence was ever an option.”
Tom laughed. “Come have breakfast with me,” he said, and Harry went.
Harry and Uncle Moony looked at her, and she sighed. “Well, I just… Even if Albus Dumbledore is part of this meeting, how will we know we can trust them?”
Uncle Moony opened his mouth to respond, but Harry was faster. “We can’t,” he said. “Not with everything. Just like I can’t trust you to clean the kitchen properly after you make potions or Uncle Moony to make a simple sauce. But I think we can trust them with what we want, politically, and we have no choice but to trust them with who we are. They already know.”
Hermione frowned unhappily, but she nodded, and the three of them apparated to their three positions in Godric’s Hollow, one after the other.
From where he appeared, Harry could see a small group gathered in a copse of trees set just off from the graveyard. He couldn’t see Uncle Moony or Hermione, disillusioned as they were, but there was no disturbance among the gathering to indicate that they’d been noticed.
Harry examined the waiting group carefully before removing his disillusionment charm and moving towards them. Identifying them was easy enough: Regulus Black, Sirius Black, Andromeda Tonks née Black, Severus Snape, and Albus Dumbledore. Sirius Black stepped forwards, reaching to him, and Harry’s heart lurched with unremembered emotions, but Harry had something he had to do before he could greet his godfather.
“Albus Dumbledore,” Harry said to the old, faded man watching him silently from the centre of the group. “I have none of the Hallows, but I am a Master. An enemy of yours has given me a message for you. He said to tell you that you were right, and he was wrong, and he’s sorry.”
Albus’s bright blue eyes were shiny. “Thank you,” he said. “I suppose he has moved on, since he gave you the message. Are you still able to contact him?”
Harry quirked a smile at him. “He hasn’t been waiting for me to pass on the message. He’s been waiting for you. And he’ll keep waiting.”
Albus smiled back, watery and a little disbelieving. “I see.” He looked down at his wrinkled hands. “I suppose I’ll be seeing him soon regardless,” he said, “but perhaps you could inform him that I’ve been making plenty of plans to make his afterlife miserable, starting with the full recitation of a 3,000-inch ballad on Flobberworms that I’ve composed.” He sounded extremely pleased at the prospect.
“Sir,” said Snape. “Perhaps we could conclude our pleasantries and move on to a more secure location?”
Harry gave Snape a polite smile. “Oh, there’s no need to call me ‘sir,’ professor,” he said sweetly. Sirius Black snorted a laugh, and Albus bit back a smile. “And I assure you that this location has been made perfectly secure.” He flicked his fingers—more for drama than for anything else—and his pre-set wards snapped into place. The small group jumped despite only being able to sense a small portion of the complex web of spells surrounding them.
“What did you do?” asked Headmaster Black. His wand was gripped tightly in one hand and his brother’s arm in the other.
“What you’re sensing are a collection of disillusionment and protection spells, all undetectable from outside the circle. What you’re not sensing is death magic doing more of the same.”
“Death magic,” snarled Snape, rounding on him furiously as the Black cousins stared, mouths agape. “Necromancy?”
Albus waved them all down, though it was a few moments before Snape obeyed. “Yes,” he said cheerfully. “A very interesting branch of magic, isn’t it? I dabbled with it myself, in my youth, though I’m afraid I didn’t have any particular skill in it.”
“It would seem you dabbled in a great number of things in your youth,” Snape sneered.
“And of course,” Albus continued, ignoring him, “the Potters are descended from some of the most prominent necromancers in the world! How lovely to see the youth keeping up the old family traditions.”
His entire group of allies stared at him incredulously. Harry laughed.
“Sirius,” he said, finally turning to the man whose eyes he’d be avoiding. “I want to know you. If you still want to know me, I mean.”
Sirius shook off his surprise almost instantly. Harry supposed that more than a decade in Azkaban probably pared down his priorities fairly thoroughly. “Of course I want to know you, Harry,” he said, his voice rasping.
Harry nodded at him, trying not to show his relief. “But first, there’s some official business we need to handle. Hermione, Uncle Moony?”
The two stepped forward from their hiding places, and Hermione summoned a table and chairs with an elegance that Harry couldn’t help but envy.
Sirius stared at Uncle Moony as though he couldn’t tear his eyes away. “‘Uncle Moony,’” he repeated with a shadow of a grin, and Uncle Moony shrugged his shoulders back at him, smiling.
“We’ve decided to trust you,” said Hermione, settling down with a battered notebook and a biro and looking for all the world like a student preparing for class. “Against my explicit recommendation, may I add. So we’ll tell you what we know, or what we think we know, and you’ll do the same.”
“That sounds perfectly reasonable,” said Albus Dumbledore over the protests of the others.
“Albus, I don’t think that’s wise,” cautioned Andromeda Tonks. “It’s been years since we’ve known Remus, and these children are entirely unknown to us.”
“I don’t recall you being so forthcoming with information when dealing with us,” said Snape, his voice bitter.
“Oh, no, you completely misunderstand me!” Albus’s eyes had returned to their trademark twinkle. “I’m quite allergic to full-disclosure. It gives me a terrible rash. No, that wouldn’t do at all.”
Hermione frowned severely.
“No, my dear boy,” said Albus. “I’m afraid you’ll have to do all the information-sharing. All of you. I’m much too old for that sort of thing.”
Sirius said, voice dry, “And you’ve been too old for it since birth, have you?”
Harry nodded at Albus. “Shall we begin with the Dark Lord’s soul?”
“Oh goodness, no!” said Albus. “Surely that’s much too depressing.”
Hermione shot Harry a look, clearly trying to communicate how right she was that this had been a terrible idea.
“What’s this about souls?” asked Andromeda Tonks.
“The Dark Lord gave his up in exchange for immortality,” said Harry, prevaricating. He would accept Albus’s warning for the moment. Surely everyone in the gathering—except, maybe, for Sirius—had some idea what he was talking about, but perhaps bringing up a how-to guide on how to become an insane dark lord was an unnecessary detail for the moment. “And then, five years ago, you, you, and you,” he said, pointing at Headmaster Black, Severus Snape, and Andromeda Tonks, “found his soul, woke it up somehow, gave it a body, I don’t know, and helped it to kill the Dark Lord and a few of his most loyal Death Eaters. And now the soul is wandering around, acting as him, and reversing some of the crazier laws that the Dark Lord put into place. Is that basically right?”
Albus waved his hand. “Basically, basically,” he agreed.
Snape and Headmaster Black were staring at him, stunned.
Andromeda Tonks said, “I don’t understand. The Dark Lord is dead?” She looked at Sirius, who shook his head.
“I have no idea,” he said. “I just got out of prison, remember.”
Harry bit his lip, looking at Andromeda Tonks. Her confusion seemed sincere, but... “But I’m sure it was you. Bellatrix Lestrange said that her sister—” Except that she didn’t acknowledge Andromeda Tonks as her sister anymore, did she? So the only person she could have been speaking of was—“What, not Narcissa Malfoy, surely?”
“You spoke to—”
“How the hell did you—”
“Yes,” said Albus, smiling. “I’m afraid so.”
Harry nodded slowly. “Okay. And then, for some reason, someone did something to everyone’s memories. We’re not sure exactly what or why, but it seems like it had something to do with Swooping Evil venom and emotional suppression.”
Albus clapped his hands. “Bravo! How remarkable.”
Harry waited, but nothing more seemed forthcoming from the old man.
Headmaster Black sighed, glancing irritably at his predecessor. “The… ‘soul,’ as you called him, while not being particularly interested in muggleborn rights per se, saw the rampant destruction caused by the… other him. The soul wished to repair and undo some of that damage.”
Harry looked at Hermione, not completely understanding. As always, her mind saw the answer well before his had even fully processed the question. “You mean that he tried to undo the damage of the war by pretending that it didn’t happen?”
Harry’s heart seemed to stop.
“Effectively, yes,” said Headmaster Black tonelessly. “He felt that the fears and biases promoted during the war and early reign of the Dark Lord were too entrenched within wizarding society to address in a more mundane way, and that the best route forward would be to remove the events themselves. Simply rewrite history, in both the books and the minds of the public, and he would be able to reshape the zeitgeist and move the nation forwards.”
Harry felt Uncle Moony gripping his shoulder. “Breathe,” Uncle Moony whispered to him.
“I see,” said Hermione, her voice high. “What an appropriately magical solution.” Harry had never heard that word sound so disdainful coming from Hermione’s mouth before. For every horror it had unleashed upon them, it had shown them wonder, too, and they always spoke it of with reverence. “Did you drop a pitcher of pumpkin juice? Well, just wave your wand and vanish the evidence! Don’t have a care for the wasted resources, or the bleeding wounds where the shards sliced into your skin! No, just vanish the evidence and forget all about it!”
“I have to go,” said Harry.
Hermione whirled on him. She was crying. “No! You can’t seriously want to talk this over with him! Not after this!”
“Hermione—” said Uncle Moony gently.
“Don’t!” she snapped. “You have no idea what it was like! You can’t understand what it was like!”
“No,” he said softly. “I can’t. But I do know what it’s like to be hunted, and to be tortured, and to be treated like a dumb animal, all because of something I can’t control.”
Hermione bit her lip and looked away.
Harry reached out to her and held her close.
“It isn’t just Harry’s… friend, Hermione,” Uncle Moony said. “People think that because it happened in the past, it no longer needs to be addressed. These things didn’t happen to them, and so they don’t understand. They need us to explain it to them.”
Hermione stiffened in Harry’s arms. “Oh, so now it’s our responsibility to educate our tormenters and murderers? When is it their turn to be held accountable? When is the onus on them?”
Harry stroked her hair. He didn’t have an answer for her.
“It is hard to feel hatred,” said Albus quietly, “for something that is wholly and profoundly understood.”
Hermione turned her face away from him for a moment, pressing deeper against Harry’s shoulder. Then she pulled away and straightened. “Fine,” she said, wiping her face. “I’ll finish up here with Moony. You go on. And be safe.”
Harry squeezed her hand and stood. “Thank you,” he turned to the group. “I’m certain that I’ll see you again soon.”
And he disapparated, reappearing outside of the strange muggle manor that Tom had brought him to when he stayed the night.
It was only a moment before Tom appeared beside him with a pop, likely alerted to Harry’s presence by his wards. “Hadrian,” he said, looking at Harry quizzically. “Please, come in.”
Harry didn’t move.
He had known, he really had, that Tom was dangerous, that there was something not quite right about him, that he probably wasn’t the sweet, standup citizen he pretended to be. He had suspected close connections with the Dark Lord’s regime, which had more than been confirmed with the revelation of the horcruxes. But he had still placed the majority of the blame for the horrors of his world on the Dark Lord, keeping Tom distinct in his mind. And now, he had been presented with testimonial evidence of Tom’s misdeeds, and they were monstrous.
“Did you really erase everyone’s memories?” Harry asked quietly. He felt sick.
Tom’s eyes were intense as he took Harry in. He didn’t speak for several long moments, perhaps thinking through whether or not denial was an option. Finally, he said simply, “Yes.”
Harry closed his eyes. He’d known this already, and he would have argued fiercely and furiously had Tom attempted to lie or prevaricate. And yet, somehow hearing the calm admission was almost as painful as the first revelation. “Why would you think that’s a good idea?” he asked, his voice breaking.
“Hadrian,” said Tom, his voice cajoling. “Please, think through this logically.”
“Logically,” Harry repeated, tonelessly.
Tom reached out to hold Harry’s elbow, but Harry flinched away. Tom lowered his hand slowly, face blank. “Consider the change that has been produced in these meagre years. You yourself have admitted that you’ve gone from being unable to openly walk down the streets of Diagon Alley to having a wand, a job, an opportunity for education. Is this not worth some sacrifice?”
“It is,” said Harry coldly. “But I can’t help but notice that all the sacrifices seem to come from the muggleborns. We sacrifice our culture, our pasts, our families, and now you take our memories, too?”
“I took your nightmares,” snarled Tom. “I took your pain. The entire intervention was based on legitimate medical treatments.”
Harry stared at Tom incredulously. “You don’t see the difference between treatments that are consented to in a safe setting and the nonconsensual deployment of a drug to an entire nation?”
“It was perfectly safe! I tested it thoroughly myself.”
“Really? Because it almost killed a werewolf I know.”
Tom clenched his hands into fists. “Obviously I couldn’t consider every possible contingency—”
“Which is why the acceptance of this sort of ‘treatment’ should be left up to the individual!”
“Ideally, yes,” said Tom. “But the purpose of the treatment would hardly have been served if I had gone door-to-door with informed consent forms.”
“Perhaps that should have been a clue to you that your treatment plan was flawed.”
“Should it? At its core, my intervention was no different from the long-established method used to protect the Statute of Security—the method still used by your oh-so-enlightened foreign nations, may I add. You believe that muggles are no less human than wizards, yes? How is it different to obliviate them?”
“Because the Statute of Security uses memory charms to protect society, not to oppress victims!”
Tom gave an icy smile and gestured broadly. “Are you not safer now than you were before?”
Harry flushed. “For how long? At best, you’ve treated a symptom. Fine, your trauma patients no longer remember the cause of their trauma. Their nightmares are cured! So now you just send them back out to be traumatised again?”
“I’ve removed the memories from those who caused the trauma as well, and I’m working on reeducating—”
“The best education is surely experience,” said Harry. “Which you have taken from them. When you were woken up, you were horrified by what had become of the plans of your main soul piece, weren’t you?”
Tom stared at him. “How did you—”
“Tom,” Harry snapped.
Tom crossed his arms. “Yes, I was.”
“And, although those plans were ones which you had, in general, been a proponent of, the aftermath was what convinced you that those policies were wrong, right?”
Tom’s jaw worked soundlessly for a long moment. He nodded.
“The suffering of muggles and muggleborns at the hands of the Dark Lord was real, and covering it up doesn’t remove the scars.”
“I know that. I have other plans at work to—”
“And by removing the memories, you also removed the lessons. What will stop history from repeating itself?”
“History repeats itself regardless!”
“That doesn’t mean you need to help it along!”
They stared at each other.
Finally, Harry sighed and deflated. He and Tom weren’t the same. Arguments that would work for him couldn’t be expected to work for Tom. He had to translate this to something Tom could understand and empathise with. “Tom,” he said. “Have you ever had someone do something bad to you? Something really bad. Something you wanted vengeance over.”
Tom stared at him, hard. “I have, yes.”
“If those people forgot what they’d ever done to you instead, would that have been enough for you?”
Tom winced. “Hadrian…” he began.
“Answer the question, Tom.”
“No,” said Tom grudgingly.
“Then why should it be enough for me?”
Tom exhaled sharply. “What do you want me to do?” he asked.
“Right now? I need you to admit that you were wrong to do what you did, and to understand why.”
Tom’s lips curled up in a snarl.
“Can you do that?”
“I did the best I could with a disastrous situation and the resources I had on hand!”
“I know that,” said Harry. “But do you understand that it was wrong?”
Tom looked away.
Harry waited for what felt like a lifetime. When it seemed clear that Tom had no answer for him, he nodded and turned to leave.
“Maybe—” said Tom. Harry stilled. “Maybe it was wrong. Show me a better way, then.”
Harry smiled at him hesitantly. “Let’s find a better way together.”
THREE YEARS LATER
Harry blinked blearily up from his toast. “Yeah,” he said once he’d parsed the comment. “That was Griphook’s idea. It’s part of our deal—Hermione and I need good press for Gringotts if we’re going to get the Goblins Rights bill passed in the Wizengamot, and in exchange for the bill, the goblins have promised to promote rights for muggleborn humans and other non-human magical creatures.”
Tom smiled. “Political favour exchanges? My, my, I smell corruption.”
Harry rolled his eyes. “I learn from the best,” he snarked, turning back to his breakfast.
“How flattering,” said Tom. “Regardless, I wasn’t referring to you, Hadrian Granger, when I said you’re in the paper.”
“What, me as Harry Potter?” Harry stabbed angrily at his eggs. “How in Merlin’s name did that Skeeter woman even find out that I’m still alive? Just last week, I was cornered coming out of Gringotts, and I had to repeat that my name is Hadrian Granger ten times just to get people to believe I wasn’t him—er, me—so they would back off.”
“Yes, I recall,” said Tom mildly, pouring Harry more tea. “Though the family resemblance is rather striking once the idea is planted.”
Harry muttered a gloomy ‘ta’ as Tom finished stirring in the sugar and slid the cup across the table.
“But no,” Tom continued. “Not you as Hadrian Granger or you as Harry Potter or you as whatever new alias you’ve managed to contrive since I last checked. You as Henry Evans.”
“Oh,” said Harry, brightening. “About the book release?”
Tom obligingly passed over the Prophet, and Harry scanned the page eagerly. He frowned. “Wait, is that talking about you? Did you try to sue my publishers?”
“Of course I did,” said Tom, leaning back comfortably. “It makes the books’ arguments seem more legitimate if people are trying to hush it up, and scandal is good for publicity regardless. Oh, I didn’t sue under my own name, of course; I made sure that several key members of the ministry inferred that certain unfortunate misdoings of theirs would be appearing in the book. My own misdoings, thankfully, were all committed under the name of Lord Voldemort, who is no longer among the living.”
“So I’ve been told,” said Harry, wry. “So, what do you think?”
“I’ve already given you my opinion on the book, love. Need I repeat myself for your gratification?”
Harry smirked. “That would be nice, yes. But I mean… Look at how far we’ve come. What do you think of this world we’re building?”
Tom met Harry’s eyes seriously. “Things are changing for the better.”
“They are,” said Harry, smiling softly.
“Although,” said Tom, reclaiming the Prophet. “My way was faster.”
“Excuse me?” snapped Harry. “Your way was morally disgusting.”
“That’s true,” agreed Tom easily. “But it was faster.”
“If you die before me, don’t bother waiting,” said Harry sweetly. “I intend to move on immediately.”
Tom snapped the paper open to turn the page. “That’s perfectly alright,” he said. “To be honest, I’ve never properly learned your name anyway. Henry Potter? Hadrian Evans? I’ve been with too many men to keep you all straight.”
Harry laughed into his tea.
“Or maybe...” said Tom musingly. “Might it have been Harry Riddle?”
Harry raised his eyebrows. “Definitely not that one.” There had better not be a ring at the bottom of my tea, Harry thought.
Tom hummed. “We’ll see,” he said, and he grinned as Harry drained his cup. “See anything interesting in the leaves?”
“...No,” said Harry. “Fuck you, I’m going to work. And I’m not taking your name, either.”
“Fine, fine,” said Tom, and his smile was the loveliest thing Harry had ever seen.