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Winter's Child

Chapter Text

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The morning after Albus Dumbledore left young Harry Potter upon the Dursleys' doorstep, an ungodly shrieking alarm woke him at 6:32am.

This alarm, he knew, indicated that the Dursleys had rejected Harry. It was not entirely unexpected, but he had hoped that Petunia still had some love left for her sister, enough at least to protect the child.

Apparently not.

Albus sighed deeply, used a spell to dress swiftly, and Apparated directly into the Dursleys' living room. He Obliviated them and took Harry, before they could do the boy harm. He did not wait for them to justify their choices, nor for them to act in any way. The Dursleys had rejected Harry, and as far as he was concerned, that was that. They, and Harry, were safest if they did not know what had happened. The only thing that he did do was leave a note for Petunia, confirming Lily and James' deaths, offering his condolences - she had rejected Harry, but Lily had still been her sister - and that Harry had been taken into his care. That way, if any remaining Death Eaters had the wits to investigate them, they would quickly find out that Harry was nowhere near Privet Drive... and, apparently, never had been.

He returned to his study, child safely in tow, and recast the blood ward spells to detect the next-closest living relative. If there was one.

A neat bloodline drew up from Lily's name to her mother; Iris Evans, nee Oswald, born 13th March 1944. As Albus knew, she had died only five years ago.

From there the line ran up to an unmarried couple; Bouvardia Oswald and James Buchanan Barnes. Bouvardia was also deceased, so Albus didn't bother to read her dates, but James Barnes was marked by the spell as still living. Born 10th March 1917, which would make him 84 years old. Not exactly spry for a Muggle - even if he was younger than Albus - but it would have to do.

---

The Asset awoke to the unfamiliar sensation of warmth sweeping over his body. He knew this wasn't normal. He couldn't remember the biting cold he should have felt, only an idea of it, an echo; his body had braced for it yet it never came.

He scanned his surroundings, knowing - not from experience but from something far far deeper - that his Handlers would be waiting for him to speak.

But they weren't. He knew the identification his Handlers wore, here in the security of their own base of operations, where they had no need for secrecy... and it was emblazoned on the clothing of all six unconscious men in the room. It most certainly was not on the one remaining conscious man.

There was no protocol for this.

Protocol only stated; wake and then speak.

"Ready to comply."

The old man frowned at him thoughtfully. "Oh my no, this won't do at all," he said in a soft, almost sad tone.

The Asset flinched. Negative feedback meant punishment for the infraction, even if it was unintended.

The man raised his hand, and there was a flash of muted red light.

---

He woke on a soft, comfortable surface.

A bed, his mind supplied after a couple of seconds.

His head felt like it was buzzing, and when he sat up he felt slightly dizzy... but he carefully kept his balance.

"How are you feeling?" a voice asked.

He looked up. The old man looked familiar, but he couldn't place why. He shook his head to try to get some of the buzzing out.

"Can you tell me your name?"

He opened his mouth automatically to answer, but no words came out... and he found two answers on the tip of his tongue, each determined it was correct and certain the other was wrong.

When he did finally answer, it felt mechanical, familiar, and a touch defiant. "Sergeant James Buchanan Barnes, three two five five seven zero three eight."

The man frowned slightly, cocked his head as if remembering a jingle that he had once heard, before the frown became a slight smile and he nodded in some satisfaction. "Ah. I understand your assumption. You are not a prisoner, Sergeant Barnes. Tell me, how are you feeling?"

The more he tried to think how to answer the further away a valid answer seemed to be, and eventually he shook his head. His head hurt, he felt confused and vulnerable, but he also got the feeling this man wasn't going to hurt him... probably not, at least.

The man watched him for a long time, then sighed slightly, a sad, sympathetic sigh. "You are safe here, Sergeant Barnes. Rest, it will help you heal."

Yeah, that sounded like a great idea.

---

His head was a lot clearer when he woke.

The same guy was watching him, but his mind wasn't feeling so fuzzy and he could better focus on what he was actually seeing. The guy was old, like Gandalf in the Hobbit old, long beard and all.

"How are you feeling, Sergeant Barnes?" he asked.

"It's Bucky," he said, his voice slightly hoarse. Come to think of it, his throat felt dry. No sooner had he thought that than a glass of water appeared in thin air, hovering in front of him.

He stared at it for several long seconds, before mentally shrugging. If it was real, he wanted it. If he was hallucinating, that was the old guy's problem when he looked ridiculous for it.

It was definitely not an hallucination.

Might still be a dream, but this water was cool without being too cold, soothed his sore throat just right, and had been exactly what he wanted.

And it disappeared into thin air when he tried to set it on the bedside table.

"Bucky?"

"Yeah, friends call me Bucky," he said. He felt safe around this guy, but it was the fact that thought crossed his conscious mind that made him hesitate, and turn to look at the man more carefully.

Why the hell would he feel safe around a total stranger? Something was off here.

"Where am I?"

"There is a great deal I wish to tell you, but I wish to ensure you are fully healed from your ordeal first."

He wanted to question that, but as he opened his mouth to ask, a memory came to him. A metal chair, pain, loss.

He shivered.

"It will take some time, but know that I have no desire to harm you. When you are healed, we will talk."

He wasn't comfortable with the way he trusted this man. It felt like a trick, but at the same time he had no reason to argue.

---

He sat opposite the man, in an old-fashioned office with stone walls. The room felt warm, but not uncomfortably so. There was an eerie sense of peacefulness here.

"I remember all of it. Who I was before, what they turned me into... what they made me do."

The old man nodded, what looked like sadness and sympathy appearing again in his twinkling blue eyes. "Are you ready to hear why I brought you here, Bucky?"

He nodded, but didn't quite dare speak.

"My name is Albus Dumbledore. I shall begin first by informing you that magic is real. It was used to heal your mind, after what was done to you, and I can perform a demonstration if you wish."

"Levitating water glass. Magic. Sure." Bucky muttered, nodding slowly, with a slight shrug. It was weird, but he'd still seen weirder. Guns that disintegrate people...Steve's science-experiment of a growth spurt... Johann Schmidt's face. Magic made no less sense than any of those.

Albus' face contorted into something between amusement and exasperation, but then he nodded. "Very well. Those who practice magic chose, approximately three centuries ago, to conceal ourselves from the rest of the world, creating our own closed communities. It was made to appear as though magic was merely a myth, so that none would go looking for us. It is customary, now, not to tell anyone without innate magic - or at least magical potential - of their own that it exists, unless they are a parent, guardian, sibling, or child of a magic-user. I am making an exception for you, as you are in a position to become the guardian of a magic-user."

"Wait, who the hell would trust me with a kid?" he asked sceptically. Nevermind his own mother had trusted him to help raise his sisters, that was not the point. He had a bad reputation to maintain here.

Albus frowned at him, but it still seemed to be mixed with amusement of some sort. "You are the only living blood-relative of the child in question, who has not already rejected him. Due to the circumstances of his parents' death, he is in need of protection. There is deep, old magic that would protect him, but it would only work if he were in the care of a blood relative."

"And you decided a brainwashed abomination was the best option, huh?" he asked sceptically.

"You are no longer under anyone's control but your own," Albus stated bluntly. "It is entirely your choice, though I shall point out that you would be entitled to magical protection that no non-magical technology can penetrate, should you accept."

His mind flashed back to The Rules that he had lived by as The Asset.

There is nowhere he can run that they cannot find him.

If Albus could hide him from them... he could handle a kid, right?

Yeah, he'd taken care of his sisters, and Steve when he'd been sick. He could handle a kid.

He nodded. "Okay. What've I gotta do?"

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