Harry had been drifting for a long while now, though he could never be sure of exactly how long it was. Tumbling freely through the time stream had distorted his sense of periods, of length and breadth and moments. It was rather like Apparition gone awry, he sometimes thought, but instead of wheres, he was whirled through whens, cast from one time period to another in the blink of an eye.
It had been a long time, he knew, since he had stayed in any one when for more than a few days consecutively, and even longer since he had been in his own when, but it was a small price to pay for killing Voldemort in the Department of Mysteries, three days after his eighteenth birthday. That had something to do with his new ability, if he remembered correctly. The events were hazy, as though the memory was seen from a great distance of time and space, but he could recall falling backwards into a cabinet as Voldemort collapsed in a lifeless heap, could recall the sharp sting of thin glass breaking as the Ministry's collection of time-turners once again shattered under his weight.
When he thought back on it, and tried to understand what had happened—not that he did that much anymore, since he had grown strangely accustomed to this odd way of living—Harry supposed that some part of the time-turners, the glass or the sand or maybe even both, had reacted with his blood or his magic or the Deathly Hallows and sent him spinning out of his own time and into another.
And then another, and another, and another, until he had lost all sense of where, and the only thing that mattered was the when.
It was, in all actuality, not a terrible way to live.
The anger he had felt growing ever since his fifth year was gone, like a bad nightmare banished by the dawn. He was resigned to this constant tumbling, though resigned didn't quite encompass his strange feelings of relief and rightness in living untouched by time. At one time in his life, he might have fought against it, tried to find some way to undo what had been done, but his purpose had been finished. Voldemort was defeated, the majority of those who had helped him had survived, and he held all three Hallows, despite his attempt to lose them after the disastrous Battle of Hogwarts. The Hallows had chosen a master, it seemed, and wouldn't let him give them up. Fawkes had brought him the Elder Wand two weeks after the Battle, and one of the centaurs had delivered the Resurrection Stone a few days later, murmuring something about restless ghosts and Mars soon reaching its brightest point.
Harry, having grown to respect such vague warnings after several years of friendship with Luna, had accepted the ring, and it now hung on a chain around his neck. There was little temptation to use it anymore. Having been cut off from his world had made the happenings of his entire former life feel oddly dreamlike, and he decided that it was better that way—far, far better than the tearing grief he had felt after the Battle, or the determined hopelessness he had felt going into the Ministry for the final encounter. Being cast out of time cut him off from all of that—not just the good, such as his friends and his people, but also from the bad, the pressure and the expectations and the set beliefs that everyone there (then) had held about him.
Freefalling in such a way was far from an unpleasant sensation.
This when was a very nice one, Harry thought, observing the boisterous, half-drunk crowd ebbing in and out of the bar like a tide of humanity. He was seated at one end of the bar, a drink at his elbow to keep the bartender happy, and was content to watch the other patrons in the small New Orleans bar. Several poker games were going on, and one in particular held his attention, because one of the men playing—the one who was always winning, he noted with amusement—was a mutant.
It wasn't all power that was letting him win, Harry acknowledged, watching his fingers flicker over the cards and his easy smile captivate and dazzle his companions. It was partly him, too, in addition to a few handy tricks and the ability to charm the other players. He was simply good. Handsome, too, with his auburn hair and hazel eyes, and an enchanting grin that was full of equal parts devilish wickedness and boyish delight as he cleaned out his opponents with good-natured ease. Harry chuckled softly as he watched, amazed that, even after losing their entire paychecks to him, the others at the table just laughed it off and shook their heads, as though they were used to it. Maybe they were. Harry hadn't been in this when very long—a few hours at most—so he couldn't judge if this was a ritual to those involved or not.
Finally, though, he dragged his eyes away from the handsome stranger and back to the rest of the bar, because his observations would be rather limited if kept to only one man. But, somehow, everyone else seemed dull and uninteresting in comparison. The big man at the door—a bouncer, Harry guessed—was in the process of wrestling a pair of troublemakers out into the street. The bartender was shaking his head, and caught Harry's sympathetic gaze. His answering smile was aggrieved and weary, and Harry could all but hear his sigh. Harry had worked as a bartender, at some point, in some when that had held on to him for several months instead of several days, as most did. He understood the irritation.
Then a hand was on Harry's shoulder, unexpected and startling, and he stiffened. Every instinct was clamoring throw of the grip, to fight back, but he managed to hold himself—and Kingsley's hand-to-hand lessons—in check as he glanced up at the person holding him.
As his eyes settled on the stranger, his breath caught softly in his throat. It was the man from before, the poker player, looking at him as though he was a winning hand in a high-stakes game. That devilish smile tipped one corner of his mouth up as he slid into the seat next to Harry, tipping his fedora back at a rakish angle.
"'Evenin', petit," he offered, voice thick with the lazy Southern drawl that still sounded utterly foreign to Harry's ears. "Lookin' lonesome, sittin' 'ere by yaself. A pretty girl be leavin' ya, mon cher?"
Harry offered an easy smile in return, and shook his head. "Not quite. I was just…watching."
The man's grin was unrepentantly mischievous. "Be seein' anytin' ya like, mon ami?"
"Maybe." Harry gave him an amused glance and took another sip of his drink. It burned his throat on the way down, but left him feeling vaguely warm, and he smiled again. "That's an interesting talent you have. Is it just for cards?"
With a soft chuckle, the stranger picked up Harry's hand and drew his fingers over the skin. Red sparks skittered away from the touch, and Harry gasped, body tensing as a tingle raced up him arm. The man's smile was well pleased. "Non, mon ami. Not jus' cards."
Harry laughed, trying to control his suddenly racing heart—but he didn't reclaim his hand, and the stranger didn't relinquish it. It was heady, this interaction, intoxicating to feel such a strong, instantaneous connection after having spent so long divorced from everything. "Harry Potter," he offered, catching those warm hazel eyes. "A traveler."
The man winked and raised Harry's captured hand to his lips, feathering a kiss over the back of it. "Charmed, mon ami. Dis one be Gambit—or Remy, if ya be likin' dat better. Welcome, den, ta de Big Easy."
"Thank you, Remy." Harry held up his glass as though to offer a toast, and chuckled when Remy plucked it from his fingers and stole a sip. "Are you always this friendly to strangers?"
"Ah, only when de're as pretty as you, mon petit," Remy assured him with a quick wink. "Ya be havin' a place to stay alrea'y, or can Remy offer his bed fo' ya ta sleep in?"
Harry chuckled, charmed by his boldness. He was lonely, no matter how much he had come to enjoy falling through time, and the idea of a night of simple companionship, easy company with a handsome man, was more than enough to sway him. "Just to sleep? Are you sure?"
"Oh, Remy's sure we can come up wit' sometin' else ta do." The man rose smoothly to his feet, tugging Harry up as well with the grip he still had on the green-eyed man's hand. His grin was roguish. "Maybe some dancin' of de horizontal kind, hm, mon chèri?"
As Remy drew them both out of the bar and into the crowded street, Harry twined their fingers together and squeezed gently. In his blood, something throbbed, a gentle heat and pressure. It was almost as though the shards of the Time Turner were finally settling in his veins, no longer flowing freely but sinking into his muscle and granting him the tiniest bit more control.
"Dancing," he echoed with a thoughtful smile, knowing that here and now was exactly where he was meant to be. He turned his smile on Remy, and let the other man pull him close as he murmured, "Dancing sounds…just right."
The kiss they shared, half-hidden in the shadows and half-drenched with the dusky brilliance of streetlamps, tasted of bourbon and spices and simmered with heat that rose up like a phoenix's flame, leaving something new in its wake.